The Neuroscience of Insight


The Center for Healthy Minds, Dr. Richard Davidson’s research group at the University of Wisconsin, has published an important article about their educational aims and research agenda for the upcoming years. The Center is a pioneer in the neuroscience community in its research on the benefits of meditation for enhancing well-being.

The Center asserts, and I agree, that it is essential to recognize that the majority of existing neuroscience research on meditation has focused on the category of “attentional,” or mindfulness-based meditation. While the positive impacts of this type of meditation have become popularly understood, they remind us that there are other types of meditation that are worthy of neuroscientific analysis. Namely, they argue that we must study the effects of “deconstructive,” “self-inquiry based,” “insight” meditation.

As I discuss in my book, Shift Into Freedom: The Science and Practice of Open-Hearted Awareness, the most powerful and liberating modes of meditation are those that help us transcend, deconstruct, or dissolve identification with our anxiety-prone thought-based sense of self. These deconstructive methods of inquiry provide us with glimpses of our ground of Being, awake awareness, which is not constructed by the mind. In my book, I emphasize that it is essential that we not only “wake up” from our thought-based ego, but then “wake in” to our new awake awareness-based identity.

Our current research does not include the cognitive and neural implications of such an identity shift. I am confident that the neuroscience community will be thrilled to learn that these modes of insight meditation have the capacity to promote unprecedented levels of peace, clarity, compassion, focus, and well-being. Kudos to the Center for being pioneers in this next wave of contemplative research.

Read the Center’s article, Mindfulness and Beyond »

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