With apps for every gadget and enough books to fill a bunker, meditation has become a trend in the stressed-out Western world. In the East, of course, it’s a way of life dating to ancient times.
In the 1970s, neuroscientist Richard “Richie” Davidson hiked through the Himalayas lugging heavy equipment to measure the brainwaves of meditators. At the time, the scientific community considered mindfulness unworthy of serious academic consideration. Undeterred, Davidson made the demanding journey to collect data from the world’s most experienced practitioners.
In the years since that foray, Davidson has become world-renowned in the science of linking the brain with contemplative practice. He counts the Dalai Lama among his friends.
Davidson and Daniel Goleman’s 2017 book, Altered Traits: Science Reveals How Meditation Changes Your Mind, Brain, and Body (Avery), teases the hype from the facts about the benefits of meditation.
As the William James and Vilas professor of psychology and psychiatry at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Davidson is blazing trails regarding meditation and how it can enhance well-being by forming new and improved neural pathways. If humans adopted mindfulness on a wide scale, he said, we could chart a superior shared existence.
Your keynote speech at TCU’s Ronald E. Moore Humanities Symposium is on the nature of well-being. What will you discuss?
The title of my talk, at least in part, is “Well-Being Is a Skill.” The research that we have conducted has led us inevitably to this conclusion. The brain mechanisms that serve different components of well-being all exhibit plasticity, so they can be shaped by experience, and they also can be modified through training. So this has led us to the conclusion that it’s best to regard well-being as a skill.