The Mechanisms of Meditation

COPYRIGHT © 2019 TOMÁS MORALES DURAN. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

gnorance jealously guards those mechanisms that can end with itself. The most powerful, meditation, is covered with a halo of mystery, magic, spirituality, hope … so that any attempt to be used is deactivated.

Meditation taken as a spiritual activity has as little use as the existence of the same «spirit». To meditate is not to put a pose similar to a statue of the Buddha and keep it long enough for the «miracle» to occur. Maybe it’s because «miracles» do not exist either and because sitting with closed eyes leads to exactly the same thing that leads to sitting with closed eyes.

Ignorance does not need great efforts to keep people away from the exit of Samsara. The same people, by their own architecture, have included a sufficient dose of ignorance.

If we start talking seriously, we have to first of all describe what conditions and determines the consciousness of the people, that is, what it organizes the information with: the brain.

Within it is the limbic system, known as the paleomammaliana cortex, which is a set of brain structures located on both sides of the thalamus, immediately below the medial temporal lobe of the brain, mainly in the midbrain. Although most of these structures are immersed within the brain in structures below the cerebral cortex, the orbitofrontal cortex and the hippocampus belong to the same cortex.

The limbic system a variety of functions that include emotion, behavior, motivation, long-term memory and smell. Emotional life is largely housed in the limbic system, and critically aids the formation of memories. With a primordial structure, the limbic system is involved in the lower order emotional processing of information from sensory systems. Its mission is to control those aspects related to the preservation of oneself and the survival of the species.

Although the limbic system shows greater development in mammals and birds, but most of its components, such as the structures of the thalamus and hypothalamus, are also present in reptiles, amphibians and fish.

There is a misconception that they are «inherited» archaic structures that «are there» but do not have the greatest importance. This is totally wrong, the limbic system has priority in the organization of information from the stimuli on the neocortex, it can work autonomously, so that an individual can behave similarly to an amphibian, reptile or fish, without the need to think and even be evolutionarily successful.

Another misconception is that it is the limbic system that has exclusive emotional organization. The neocortex can take control of emotions and give rational responses instead of primitive responses.

This is where the heart of the matter lies.

Before entering the subject, let’s review some of the components of the limbic system from their functional characteristics.

The limbic cortex , located around the corpus callosum, is a transition zone, since information is exchanged between the neocortex and subcortical structures of the limbic system. It is an area of ​​association, that is, one that integrates information of various types and brings it together to give it meaning. Thus, we can give an interpretation to something that has happened to us and classify it as pleasant, unpleasant, painful, or pleasurable. The limbic cortex obviously conditions attachment, aversion and, therefore, suffering.

The areas that include the limbic cortex are the cingulate gyrus, responsible for processing and controlling the expression of emotions and learning them. It also seems to have an important role in motivation, being involved in goal-directed behaviors, in maternal behavior, attachment, and reaction to odors; and the parahipocampal rotation, in charge of the storage and recovery of memories.

The hippocampus is what consolidates learning and memory. It is connected to the cerebral cortex, the hypothalamus, the septal area and the amygdala thanks to its multiple connections. It is responsible for introducing what we learn into our long-term memory store. It is the gateway to memories, not the memories themselves.The hippocampus is also active in the recovery of memories. That way, when we recognize something, as a place or a path we owe it, in part, to this structure. In fact, it is essential for our spatial orientation and to identify the clues of the environment that are known to us.

There is a very important link between emotions and memory. In particular, an optimal level of emotional activation will facilitate the formation of memories.Thus, we remember better those situations that had emotional meaning for us, since we consider them more useful for our future than those that do not.

The hypothalamus is a structure that is located in the lower part of the thalamus, inside the optic tracts. One of its most important functions is to control that the functioning of our organism stays in homeostatic equilibrium, for it has sensors that come from most of our body: olfactory system, retinas, viscera … In addition to being able to capture the temperature, glucose and sodium levels, hormone levels, etc.

The hypothalamus influences autonomous functions, the sympathetic nervous system (typical stress responses such as increased heart rate and sweating), the parasympathetic (regulation of internal organs when we are at rest), endocrine functions, and behaviors such as emotional reactions . It is involved in appetite, satiety, sexual responses and sleep.

The amygdala is almond shaped and consists of two nuclei, each located inside a temporal lobe. When you have intense emotional experiences the amygdala releases the stress hormones that makes affective memories consolidate. This brain area also intervenes in the recognition of facial emotional expressions quickly, automatically, and even unconsciously.

The amygdala processes fear; It serves to learn how to relate a stimulus to a danger that must be prepared to defend itself. The amygdala is responsible for the most unconscious memory while the hippocampus does the same with the conscious or declarative.

The septal area is responsible for inhibiting the limbic system and the alert level when they have been overtaxed by a false alarm. Thanks to this regulation, the individual will be able to maintain their attention and memory, and will be ready to respond correctly to the demands of the environment. That is, it controls extreme activation states that would be counterproductive. In addition, they have an integrating function of emotional, motivational, alert, memory, and pleasurable sensations such as sexual arousal.

The Ventral Tegmental Area is located in the brain stem and presents dopaminergic pathways that are responsible for pleasant sensations. Any injury in this area will cause difficulty in the individual to feel pleasure and try to seek it through addictive behaviors (drugs, food, games of chance …).

The Insula is located within the Sylvian fissure and traditionally seems to have an important role in the processing and interpretation of pain, especially its anterior area. It also processes subjective aspects of primary emotions such as love, hate, fear, anger, joy and sadness. The insula gives meaning to changes in the organism, making the person aware that he is hungry or that he wants to use a certain drug again.

 

The orbitofrontal cortex is responsible for coding data on social signals, and planning these interactions with others, anticipating the intention of others by their look, gestures and language. It is also important in the valuation of rewards and punishments.

 

The basal ganglia are composed of nucleus accumbens, caudate nucleus, putamen, pale globe and substantia nigra, are involved in motor control.

Parts like the nucleus of accumbens are fundamental in the addictive behaviors, since here are the reward circuits of the brain and the sensations of pleasure. On the other hand, they also take care of aggression, anger and fear.

Although the functioning of the limbic system can be modulated by the neocortex, it is the first to respond. The limbic system acts using chemicals, the neurotransmitters. It is not possible to maintain rational behavior while the limbic system is chemically unbalanced. This includes the repertoire that we have seen, especially what is pleasing or unpleasant, attachment and aversion; the reception of memory and the processing and response to stress, fear, calm, sexual arousal, dopaminergic reward, addictions, pain and its interpretation; love, hatred, fear, anger, joy and sadness; in valuing rewards and punishments; the rewards, the aggression, the anger and the fear.

On the other hand, the neocortex has no way, in a declarative way, to convince the limbic system not to act, at most, all it can do is try to control the consequences of its operation. It is as if you have a runaway horse that does not obey.

Here we have three options:

  1. we get carried away by the limbic system and then we try to justify ourselves
  2. We stoically bear the lunge of the limbic system saying to us that «we do not care» or «that is not me» or things like that.
  3. We domed the limbic system.

These are the three possible answers.

It is evident that only option C is logic and that the other two do not solve the problem, but that the B could achieve, at most, the resignation of the individual and only through a constant exercise of attention to arbitrary responses. of the limbic system.

And if we talk about the eradication of suffering, not stoically enduring it, C is the only way.

For option C we have the jhānas, which teach us to generate and regulate the levels of neurotransmitters to keep them at optimum values ​​so that the limbic system does not get out of hand while the absorption states allow to set these levels, besides eliminating the sources internal undesirable stimuli.

From there, with the limbic system tamed, it is possible to start reprogramming the neocortex so that it does not act in an irrational way, that is, we can start teaching horsemanship to the rider.

The rider of a frog. That same frog that you have inserted into the brain.

Are you going to continue to be carried away by her?

Are you going to be continually resignándote your attacks?

Or will you tame it?

It’s your frog, it’s your life.

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