We all know that being judgmental isn't a relationship-enhancer. And still, most of us step into that trap, doing damage to our relationships and friendships on a stubbornly regular basis. How about knocking that judge out with a one-two punch -- taking the latest neuroscientific findings about the brain and judgments, and then bringing in a Buddhist nun to finish things off?
Take a look at this new research study in the November 2009 issue of Brain Topography. The title is "Meditators and Non-Meditators: EEG Source Imaging During Resting." The researchers looked at the patterns of brain activity in people who meditate (that is, who practice noticing what their busy, defensive brains are up to and not getting carried away by it), and compared them to non-meditators. You'd expect that meditators would have different patterns of brain activity while meditating than non-meditators do.
What was different in this study? Even when they were at rest, when they were not meditating, the brains of the meditators behaved differently than the control subject. In the brains of the meditators, "appraisal systems were inhibited, while brain areas involved in the detection and integration of internal and external sensory information showed increased activation."
In other words, the meditators' brains weren't judging. They were tuned in to, and integrating, what they were actually experiencing, inside and out -- what could be described as being "in the moment."
Even when they weren't meditating, the brains of the meditators were not getting hooked into patterns of judgment, and the activity recorded on the EEGs suggested that they were more aware of what was really happening in the moment, more present -- even during plain old rest.
This is another piece of evidence which supports that meditation is not just some state you get into for twenty minutes, but that you are changing the way your brain is wired -- so that even when you aren't meditating, you're more mindful and present, and less "stuck" in judging.
I liked that finding, but I liked it even more when, later in the same day, I came across the following "non-scientific" quote, from Pema Chödrön, an American ordained Buddhist nun in the Tibetan Vajrayana tradition:
"Love and compassion are like the weak spots in the walls of ego."
What I take this to mean: The defensive walls that stand between you and deeper, more loving
connections with yourself and others will tumble if you let go of judgments and see the humanity of yourself and the person you're with.
Pema Chödrön managed to say in one simple sentence what the neuroscience researchers found: Practicing love and compassion, as we do in meditation, allows you to find the weak spot in the wall. When you meditate regularly, your ego (the wall) isn't as caught up in judging -- which makes room for something more real. Your brain becomes wired differently: It becomes less likely to get into a pattern of judging and being somewhere other than the present moment.
Fire the judge -- and your brain's capacity to be in the moment with your partner goes up.
Down comes the wall.
And that means there's less standing between you and a healthy relationship.
If you'd like a funny and meaningful glimpse of Pema Chödrön, here's a great short video of her, titled "This Lousy World".
Marsha Lucas, PhD is a psychologist / neuropsychologist in Washington, DC. Learn more about rewiring your brain at RewireYourBrainForLove.com, where Dr. Lucas offers a free mindfulness meditation download and a monthly e-newsletter with meditation tips. You can also follow @DrMarsha on Twitter, and join her on her Facebook page.
© 2009 Marsha Lucas. All Rights Reserved