On-line research for “mindfulness education in schools” gets about 34,000 hits. Believe it or not, enormous resources and research are being devoted to educating children about mindfulness and the development of their relatively dormant, frontal structures. Congressman Tim Ryan, author of A Mindful Nation, has promoted mindfulness practice in Congress and has supported the delivery of mindfulness education to at-need populations, including veterans with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and children in inner city public schools.
As more and more people practice various forms of meditation (contemplation and self-reflection), there seems to be an increasing appreciation that mindfulness is a completely separate faculty of consciousness, independent of the other four faculties: cognition (thought and visualizations), emotion and intuition, behavior and kinesthetic-related activity and sensation (the five senses).
Mindfulness-based psychotherapies are becoming popular and are being combined with many kinds of earlier approaches such as cognitive therapy—now being relabeled as mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT). Formal, peer-reviewed, psychological testing instruments can measure improvements in the psychological and behavioral function of patients who have engaged in mindfulness-based therapies, and are even being standardized to measure the facets of mindfulness itself.
More recently, mindfulness is being appreciated as not only a faculty of consciousness—an experience—but also as a faculty which is conferred by certain brain regions. Neuroimagery studies have demonstrated dramatic changes in brain function of mindfulness practitioners, especially in the prefrontal cortex and associated structures.
Activation of the prefrontal cortex modulates anger and fear in the limbic regions of the brain, the experience of somatic pain via gating mechanisms in the thalamus, behavioral compulsions emanating from primitive reptilian structures (striatal cortex), fight/flight sympathetic discharges from the brain stem and the talkativeness of the intellect via feed-forward and feedback loops to cortical columns in the gray matter of the cerebral cortex. This all suggests that we are inherently designed to be using a part of our brain’s anatomy which appears to be relatively dormant in most people.
That we have a whole region of our brain which is specialized to make us compassionate and tolerant and less aggressive and fearful may, at first, seem astonishing, but its evolutionary value is obvious. Our whole social order depends on it.
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