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Issue 7-13

Mindfulness: A Neuroscientist Examines Meditation


In his groundbreaking book The Mindful Brain: Reflection and Attunement in the Cultivation of Well-Being, Daniel Siegel applies the latest discoveries in neurobiology to explain the positive impact of what many of us would call the contemplative life. To say the least, it is a stunning examination.

The neuroscientists speak of “mindfulness”—living deeply and richly in the moment, in the here-and-now. Hard studies with resulting empirical evidence indicate that “mindfulness,” slowing our lives in order to become self-aware, creates a measurable array of benefits—emotional balance, for instance, improved cardiac and immune function, an enhanced sense of empathy for others, and healthier self-understanding—in fact, what has been termed by the scientists as a resulting overall well-being.

I love it when science verifies what the wisdom literature of the ages has firmly maintained. From the book-flap copy: “Ancient cultures and religions worldwide have long drawn on various methods, from meditation and prayer to yoga and Tai-chi, to help individuals move toward well-being by focusing their attention and attuning to the present. Now, mindful awareness has been scientifically proven to enhance our physical, mental, and social well-being.”

There. I knew there was a reason for all those “Retreats of Silence” Hungry Souls has sponsored over the seven years of its existence. According to the scientific literature, certain kinds of silence are a biological, neuro-physical, psychologically enhancing activity to do! And this is before we add the Christian notion of transcendence, of entering into silence for the sake of joining ourselves to God in a way that cannot happen when our minds are full, busy, planning or crowded.

“Why silence?” asks Siegel. Then he answers. “Silence creates a rare opportunity to pause and drop into stillness, to become intimate with your own mind. So often we have things to do, places to be, people to see. In our busy lives our minds are full and reactive. When we start the journey to attune to our own minds by pausing into stillness, we enter a new realm of experience that can produce surprise in each moment.”

The writer lists some of the surprises: (1) One surprise is that the mind is never “empty.” “As the stillness permits the mind to ‘settle,’ it becomes possible to be aware of the subtleties in the fine structures of the mind’s functions. Stillness is not the same as a void in activity; it’s more like a stabilizing strength.” (2) Another surprise is to experience the transient ever-changing nature of the activity of the mind. (3) Yet another surprise is the ways in which the distinct streams of awareness intermix to create the texture of awareness in the moment. Siegel goes on to make the point that the very process of going into silence, of becoming stilled, of listening to our own minds often in dialogue with our own souls, activates the neurons and cortexes in our brains that create health and well-being. (I am giving an outrageously simplistic summary—but it is the major point of the author’s writing!)

So this is how God has made us, is it?—with a brain that is wired such that, given time, given stillness enough, given silence, given attentiveness to the way the mind functions and to the environment in which it functions—that humans will be delivered toward a state of unusual connectedness, to God, to one another, to ourselves, and to the world (I added the God part)? What a wonder, if this is true. With the psalmist we sing, “I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made!” Psalm 139:14. We might paraphrase this just a bit and sing, “We praise you, for our brains are fearfully and wonderfully created!” Yes, indeed.

Hungry Souls will begin our regular schedules of retreats with the annual 24-hour Advent Retreat of Silence, December 3-4, 2008. The four weeks of Advent, leading to the Christmas season, are the beginning of the church calendar year. As usual we will gather at the Bishop Lane Retreat Center in Rockford, IL. Sibyl Towner and Valerie Bell will be leading us to consider deeply the first words of most biblical Nativity announcements: “Fear not!” How appropriate in this unsteady and treacherous economy that we consider our fears. How appropriate in this anxiety-provoking modern life that we give ourselves to an extended period of silence to hear that personal word spoken in the deepest of ways: “Fear not!”

The cost will be $120 for this guided retreat.
If you register by October 1, this cost will be reduced to $100.
If you invite and register one or two new attendees by October 1,
we will reduce the price of the retreat to $90 for each of you.
Now that is a bargain!

We have room for 60 retreatants in private rooms with their own baths. You can register now by contacting our volunteer registrar Melody Cook ( ). Checks should be written to Hungry Souls/Advent and mailed to Box 30, Wheaton, IL 60187. We can return checks for cancellations only if notified by November 25. This is when we must give the number to the Retreat Center and pay for that number.

May I say, very boldly, if you do not attend our retreat, please, please schedule some other retreat of silence into your life—preferably several a year. Not only does your spirit need this, your whole bio-chemical neurological system needs it!

Daniel Siegel’s early work as an educator, psychiatrist and scientist concentrated on studying the reality of attachment theory between the infant and its primary caregivers. Children with secure attachments develop the capacity for intimate relationships, resilience and well-being. Siegel makes the point that “mindfulness”—this quality of being richly aware—also develops the same capacities in an adult. Brain studies showed that successful attachment with trusted caregivers in the infant and child promoted the growth of fibers in the prefrontal cortex of the brain. Siegel goes on in this recent work, The Mindful Brain, to demonstrate that “mindfulness” in the adult also capacitates the integrative functions of the mind, similar to that of the infant, in regulating body systems, balancing emotions, attuning to others, modulating fear, responding flexibly, and exhibiting insight and empathy. Quite a category. And then, as if this all were not enough, we Christians add transcendence.

We invite you to enter into silence. Please. Give your brains a chance.

Karen Mains

GOAL: 600 Global Bag Ladies Project shopping bags
to be sold

600 bags @ an average of $20 margin each = an estimated $12,000
 -91 bags already sold = $1,145 toward our goal.                                        
Goal to Go: 509 bags = $10,855 (!)

Have you considered giving GBLP tote bags as gifts? One of these shopping bags was recently purchased "in honor of" a person being celebrated, who really appreciated the donation in their name and the purpose of the GBLP bag. Other suggestions have been to fill a GBLP tote bag with shower gift items for an upcoming wedding, give these bags as Christmas gifts, or purchase several as favors for a women's retreat.

To receive your own Global Bag Ladies Project tote bags, click on this GBLP Purchase Order, print it off, fill it out and send it with a check made out to Hungry Souls/GBLP for $20-$50 to Box 30, Wheaton, IL 60187.

Hungry Souls Christmas Party in September

For those of you who are in the Chicago area, Hungry Souls will be holding a Christmas eco-shopping party for micro-credit purposes. Carla Boelkens brought $500 worth of jewelry back from HIV/AIDS widows in Kenya. The purpose of this party is:

  1. To provide you with Christmas gift choices that will help other women and their children live.
  2. To expose you to our growing line of eco-shopping bag products.
  3. To give you a brief exposure as to how micro-credit works.
  4. To talk about the Kenya Micro-Enterprise Journey in March.

If any of you are interested, we will answer questions and take suggestions.

WHERE: Mains’ home in West Chicago IL at 29W377 Hawthorne Lane
DATES:  Saturday, September 27 at 7:00 P.M.
             Sunday, September 28 at 4:00 P.M.

Please give me some idea if you are coming.  My e-mail address is . We would love for you to bring interested friends and family, but I need to have a head count.

A Meeting of Women’s Minds:
A Microenterprise Journey to Kenya in March 2009

The details and day matrix for the Kenyan Microenterprise Journey are complete! I am terribly excited about this trip. We will be meeting and dialoguing with many Kenyan women who are working to solve their own problems. The purpose of this journey will be to discover ways we can collaborate in these solving-problem ventures. United Nations and WHO (World Health Organization) studies have shown that the most successful grassroots projects in Africa, ones that are sustainable and effective, are organized and run by women.

We will be leaving the States March 25 and returning April 6. Interested? Follow this link for more details and costs.

2008 Pilgrimage to France

There is room for 10 more people to participate in the upcoming pilgrimage to France. The deadline is August 31st and full payment will be due at that time. We truly hope you can come, as this will be a personal and unique opportunity to experience France in the company of other pilgrims lead by Karen Mains ( ) and Valerie Bell ( ).

Reminder!

The Soulish Food e-mails are being posted bi-weekly on the Hungry Souls Web site. Newcomers can look that over and decide if they want to register on the Web site to receive the bi-weekly newsletter. You might want to recommend this to friends also. They can go to www.hungrysouls.org.


Karen Mains

Karen Mains

"I love it when science verifies what the wisdom literature of the ages has firmly maintained."
The Mindful Brain

The Mindful Brain: Reflection and Attunement in the Cultivation of Well-Being

Siegel, co-director of the UCLA Mindful Awareness Center, blends personal experience with scientific research, attempting to capture the spiritual as well as the physiological phenomenon of "mindfulness"-or, in Siegel's acronym-speak, COAL: the state of simultaneous Curiosity, Openness, Acceptance and Love. Siegel's endeavor is timely and well-intentioned, but his is an elusive subject, and his text is peppered with confusing, semi-technical descriptions of mind-states (like meditation) and processes (like egocentric and allocentric circuitry) that frequently frustrate. Despite this, Siegel does introduce persuasive scientific evidence that meditation and the mindful state not only produce improvement in well-being, but also detectable physical changes in the brain, such as a thickening of the middle prefrontal lobes. He also introduces exotic new vocabulary, such as "ipseity," "the core sense of self beneath the usual personal identity." If the result of Siegel's marriage of medicine and mysticism is something of a muddle, he is to be commended for the effort, and his attitude toward science is unique in a medical doctor (tellingly, Siegal took a sabbatical from med school after being reprimanded for empathizing with his patients, rather than objectifying them, and used the time to pursue drawing and dancing). Though uneven and weighed down with too many acronyms, this is a notable science title that smartly combines the personal, the clinical and the spiritual.

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2008 Pilgrimage to France

God Through the Eyes of the Artist and the Artist In the Eye of God
October 24 - November 10, 2008

This is a journey for men and women. We have room for 10 more pilgrims. The land fee of $2,592 is due August 31, 2008. Airfare is not included. Depending upon the exchange rate (the dollar being low), we may have to add a bit more to the land price, but we hope not to do this.

If you have any questions,
contact Karen Mains ( ) or Valerie Bell ( ).
We can provide you with a flyer that has all the details and the general itinerary or you can go to the travel Web site at www.hungry-souls.com to print off the pages you need for full information.

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Hungry Souls
Christmas in August

In this year, when economics are tight for so many, we invite you to give gifts from the Mainstay Ministries catalogue that can have rich meaning in the days ahead. If you think about your gifts in August and order them early, you will be sparing yourself the grief that often comes from last minute frantic shopping. Let us help!

Advent Desktop Calendars



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