I was delighted to host the Fourth Annual University of Limerick Medical School Research Forum last Wednesday, 19 January, where over twenty researchers from the University of Limerick and local teaching hospitals made presentations on topics ranging from pharmaceuticals, biomedical devices, medical technology, community health, gastrointestinal and vascular surgery, psychiatry and communications.
A leading clinical psychologist and Director of Psychosocial and Bereavement Services at Blackrock Hospice, Dublin, Ms Ursula Bates, delivered the keynote address “Mindfulness Based Interventions in Oncology and Palliative Care and Bereavement-Research Advances”.
Ursula’s talk has prompted me to explore in more detail the nature of mindfulness and how its practice can lead to improved brain function and mental health.
Let’s start by taking a look at the latest scientific research which has shown that the practice of meditation actually changes the shape of the brain, allowing specific areas in the brain to grow or change. This finding has established a new field of contemplative neuroscience – the brain science of meditation – and helps to explain how meditation acts to improve brain function and mental health.
Mindfulness and mindlessness
Have you ever written a cheque in January with the previous years date? …for most of us the answer is probably yes. Scientists now know that these small mistakes are actually the tip of a mindlessness iceberg! Mindfulness harnesses one of the great themes in all self help literature – the need to be free of unconsciously accepted habits and norms.
Five qualities of a mindful person
- Ability to create new categories
- Openness to new information
- Awareness of more than one perspective
- Attention to process (i.e. ‘doing’) rather than outcome or results.
- Trusting in one’s own intuition
Over the coming week we will explore these points in more detail and look at ways in which we can learn to break free from the trap of mindlessness.