This week I am focusing on the second scientific development that changed our attitude toward meditation: epigenetics – the science of gene expression. Dr Richardson likens it to the genes having controls that can turn the volume up or down. While we are born with a compliment of fixed pairs that constitute our DNA, the gene’s “volume” is highly dynamic and experience driven. Research shows the way a mother interacts with her infant can significantly impact the child’s gene expression. These changes can persist for the child’s entire life.
Dr Richardson and colleagues recently published a study in a leading journal where they took blood before and after a day of 8 hour intensive-practice from long-term meditators and found a measurable alteration of gene expression. Previously we thought that our brain and genome were fixed and the only changes that occur are degeneration and decomposition.
There are actions we can take to enhance our well-being. Dr Richardson’s view is that, wellbeing is fundamentally no different from learning to play the violin (or perfecting an arm-balancing asana).
Growing up in India, in a remote village, with no TV, books (other than used text books which are handed down from siblings or neighbours) even newspapers were scarce (they weren’t free) other than those used to pack groceries – there was no way to learn about the outside world. The only high-tech things I saw as a child was an occasional aeroplane in the sky and a television (for the first time) on an American ship. From scarcity to living here with the abundance of books and information, I feel the urgency to catch up, as well as share with my children and everyone around me 🙂
According to Dr Richardson, generosity/altruism is one of the constituents that enhances wellbeing. Studies found that some brains are wired to respond altruistically more than others – like the people who donate one kidney to a stranger. At times it can be “you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours” – especially with children as I experienced this week with my 10 year-old. I spilled some tea leaves while making lunch so I asked him to vacuum it. He retorted, “The tea you spilled?” I said, ok you can make your own lunch. Before I finished he was on his way to get the vacuum.
We can keep both kidneys and instead volunteer, donate to a cause or start a new altruistic habit – great ways to start the New Year. These habits don’t have to be big – my friend shared two habits: 1) hold the door for the person behind you, 2) in the restroom, leave the paper towel hanging for the next person so that they don’t have to struggle to find it.
According to Harvard’s HealthGuide, volunteering is good for physical and psychological health: when we help others it makes us happy. The Bureau of Labor Statistics says that 25% of Americans volunteer. We can change that if more of us volunteer in 2019.
“A life lived for others, is the only life worth living.” ― Albert Einstein
To find a match with your personality, perhaps the following will help with your search. Is there something specific you want to do? For example, do I want:
…to improve the neighbourhood where I live?
…to meet people who are different from me?
…to help someone learn?
…to share something I’m good at?