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How mindfulness meditation redefines pain, happiness & satisfaction | Dr. Kasim Al-Mashat | TEDxSFU

Translator: Rhonda Jacobs
Reviewer: Peter van de Ven I’m here to speak
about the elephant in the room. I know, but it’s there for all of us,
in one form or another. It’s this dissatisfaction and unhappiness
with what we have in our lives. Maybe if you’re here or watching this,
you have all the basics covered – food, water, safety, shelter. But somehow, we long for something more. As a psychologist, I’ve really seen
how we all want to be happy, but keep chasing it in the future. And I know that myself, really well, because I had everything in life. I had loving support, education, career, but it wasn’t enough, and that really frustrated me. Eventually, I discovered
the real, obvious reason. It’s really obvious. It’s our mind. It really gets distracted
and lost in negatives, and has a difficult time being right here in the present moment. What helped me see that so clearly
was mindfulness meditation. I came across it
in the research in my field, and started using it with clients. And that took me on a personal journey, which eventually led me
to this ridiculous gut feeling of what I had to do, which was drop everything in my life and go to a six-month meditation retreat in Southeast Asia, in a forest monastery, in silence. I tell you, it was the most difficult,
unpleasant, painful six months of my life. (Laughter) But it really taught me profound lessons
that have inspired me to be here today. So I’m here to really share with you
my personal insights and professional understanding
of mindfulness meditation with the hope that you give it a chance,
so you can see for yourself how it can redefine the way
we approach happiness, satisfaction, and reduce the suffering in our lives from the pain that’s already there. Okay, so back to some
not-so-good news about our mind: it has the tendency for a negativity bias, or evolutionary psychologists
refer to it as a survival mechanism. So, if there’s a bunny in the bushes, and there are sounds, our mind is ready with a stress response,
for a flight-or-fight response – I did it backwards actually – (Laughter) fight-or-flight response. Even if there’s just a bunny,
we’re getting ready for a tiger. And neuro-psychologists refer to that as our brain being
like Velcro to the negatives. (Thoop) Latches on to negatives. Anyone familiar with that?
Just hang on. And being like Teflon fabric
to the positives. (Whoosh) Letting them all slip away. Okay, so it’s not all bad news. With the advances in neuroscience, mindfulness meditation has been shown
to change the structure of our brain. And you don’t have to do a six-month
retreat in a [forest monastery]. That’s the good news. Even in eight weeks
in mindfulness programs, practicing 40-45 minutes a day, we can improve concentration,
decision-making, compassion, and, life satisfaction. So, what exactly
is mindfulness meditation? It’s one form of meditation, and basically it’s training
the brain to be present. It’s based on thousands of years
of wisdom tradition in Asia. And how we do it, one way,
is we place our attention on the belly, to watch our breath. But we do that in a particular way, or as Jon Kabat-Zinn,
who brought mindfulness to medicine, which is quite big, actually, he defines it in four words: we pay attention on purpose,
so with an intention. And in the present moment, so, right now, and the hardest part for all of us: non-judgmentally. Really tough. So, let’s say this is our attention. We place it right on the belly. Guess what’s going
to happen with our mind? (Whoo) We’re going to get distracted. But, without pushing against the thoughts
or hating the thoughts, or clinging onto them, good or bad, [we bring it] right back. Now, you can get
a sense of that if you like now, if you’d like to join me, by placing your hand on the belly, and we’re just going
to observe two breaths. Natural inhale; natural exhale. Even slightly. Inhale… exhale. Inhale… exhale. Okay, now, when we do that,
and some of you maybe noticed that, there will be thoughts, emotions, or sensations. But we don’t get lost in them. We bring our attention back. And every time we do that,
guess what we’re doing to our brain? We’re strengthening the muscles
in the brain, every time. It’s a gym workout for the brain. And in the process
of doing that, patiently – I mean it takes a lot of patience – and compassionately, we learn to work with our mind, and be present with whatever is here. We don’t have to like what’s here. When I first arrived
at the forest monastery, I asked the monk, “Is it true there
are poisonous snakes on the compound?” He said, “Yes, yes. Deadly. Deadly.” (Laughter) “Just stay away from them.
Walk mindfully.” Great. (Laughter) “Use a flashlight at night.” And I love this one too: “Check your meditation cushion
before you sit on it.” (Laughter) I mean… I could have died. That was, you know, a possibility. But the best part, he said, “Send them love.” (Laughter) “They were here before us.” Okay, Mr. Monk,
I wasn’t ready for that yet. (Laughter) But I did notice, even before
going to this long retreat, I noticed some changes in my mind
and how I reacted, just from daily meditation. One day I was stuck in a traffic jam,
really early in the morning, 5:40, on my way to the gym, and unexpected. And, instead of the usual,
“Why aren’t these people moving?”, get uptight, agitated, and the mind going into “This is going to be a horrible day.
I’m late for stuff,” what surprised me is what I heard,
and I thought, “Oh, interesting.” The thought? “I hope no one’s hurt.” Maybe there was an accident, or maybe it’s construction
and those workers were up all night, and I started wishing them well. “May they be safe today.” Now, I still was late,
so that didn’t change, but I didn’t spiral
into the negativity of the mind. And it really showed me,
“Wow, it was worth working that muscle, and the daily practice.” So, let’s put together
what I shared so far, with a little illustration. Imagine this is pain It could be anything. Let’s just say, stomach pain. Signals travel to the brain. If you magine this is our brain,
our mind, relatively calm. We have now a signal of pain. But it doesn’t stop there. We’re not usually loving to it. We hate it, and we get agitated,
and wish it wasn’t there. And then what we do, we let negativity leak into the rest of our mind. “Why me?” “Why is this happening?” And then? We stir it all up with negativity. “What kind of horrible thing this is.” We worry. And instead of being
present with the pain? We get taken for a ride in our mind. I know that really well, because I experienced that deeply
at this forest retreat. You see, the honeymoon phase
of “Ahh, following my dream, meditating for so long,” (Laughter) that ended after the first night. (Laughter) You know, everything
that brought me happiness, or I thought brought me happiness, was pulled from under my legs. The people I love, there’s no technology, no social media, no Internet, just seclusion and deprivation. And there was a wake-up call
in the morning, 3 a.m. every day. But, it wasn’t this nice chime of (Ding), (Laughter) “Good morning, Kasim.” No, it wasn’t that, it was,
(Boom, boom, boom) every morning – startling – which would begin our 13-14 hours
of daily meditation. In the heat with the lovely insects, scorpions, yeah, scorpions. Actually, someone got stung by one as they sat on their cushion
when I was there, so… (Laughter) And sleeping on this lovely wooden bed
with just a little bit of foam. Daily hunger. Because last meal of the day? Guess what? Lunch. And when? 10:30 in the morning. (Laughter) That was the reality. So whenever my mind
got stirred up in any of that pain, it was crushing. I felt trapped. I actually woke up one night
screaming from it all. I really saw how when we begin
to fight and resist our reality, it gets worse. Things began to change for me when I just started to look at pain as pain, and saw so clearly that it was my mind
that was creating the suffering, which is optional. Wow. All I have to do is just
be in this moment. And mindfulness showed me
we can be in the eye of the storm. Watch it all pass, moment by moment. And there is such freedom
in trusting impermanence in that way. And then, really holding our pain
with great compassion. Because it’s painful already. You don’t need to hate it more;
just be with it. You know, there’s
a psychiatrist, Viktor Frankl, and he said, “Choice
is the last human freedom.” Choice. I learned that using
mindfulness is a choice. And even when all my freedoms
felt like they were taken away, I experienced freedom right here. And my biggest, biggest epiphany, is happiness and satisfaction
is not in the distant future, or when I go back home, it’s actually available
for all of us in every moment. It blooms naturally
from a state of mind that’s calm, not agitated, and peaceful. So I want to leave you with this… – Oh, that was me there – (Laughter) I want to leave you with this acronym
that captures some of my learning, and I hope you use it when you find
yourself lost in any kind of suffering. And it’s LOST. The first letter: L. Just know you are lost
in suffering and thoughts. Come back to the present moment. O: Offer loving kindness. You don’t have to like the pain;
just hold it with compassion. See and smile. See pain as pain, or, joy as joy, without the added agitation of the mind. And smile knowing you just did that. And T for take a deep breath,
knowing you are not alone; we are all dealing
with the condition of the mind. So I invite you to join me
in taking a deep breath into the nose. (Inhales) And exhale. (Exhales) So to sum up: if we don’t retrain
the brain, it can cause added pain, and the training can begin
with mindfulness meditation. It’s not a quick fix with magical results, nor is it going to make us immune
to the challenges in life. But imagine, imagine if half of us
created a daily meditation practice to be more present in life
with the good and the bad, offer more compassion, and feel more moments
of satisfaction and happiness, and let that bloom naturally
from a state of mind that’s more peaceful. That’s a recipe for positive change, and it can start with you. Thank you. (Applause)

100 thoughts on “How mindfulness meditation redefines pain, happiness & satisfaction | Dr. Kasim Al-Mashat | TEDxSFU


  2. What Mindfulness Research Neglects

    Mindfulness is defined as non-judgmental or choice-less awareness. Choices in turn may be divided into non-perseverative choices (what to have for breakfast, what route to take to go home, or choices with no dilemmas) and perseverative choices (worries, distractions, and rumination, or mental dilemmas wherein every alternative is bad). All meditative procedures, including mindfulness, avoid both.

    The consistent avoidance of perseverative choice alone represents resting protocols, wherein the neuro-muscular activity is sharply reduced. In other words, when we want to be relaxed we isolate ourselves from distractive and worrisome events and thoughts. These states in turn correlate with increased levels of endogenous opioids or ‘endorphins’ in the brain. The benefits of this are manifest, as the sustained increase of endogenous opioids down regulates opioid receptors, and thus inhibits the salience or reward value of other substances (food, alcohol, drugs) that otherwise increase opioid levels, and therefore reduces cravings, as well as mitigating our sensitivity to pain. Profound relaxation also inhibits muscular tension and its concomitant discomfort. In this way, relaxation causes pleasure, enhances self-control, counteracts and inhibits stress, reduces pain, and provides for a feeling of satisfaction and equanimity that is the hallmark of the so-called meditative state.

    It may be deduced therefore that meditative states are primarily resting states, and that meditative procedures over-prescribe the cognitive operations that may be altered to provide its salutary benefits (that is, you just need to avoid perseverative choices, not all choices), and that meditation as a concept must be redefined.

    Finally, the objective measurement of neuro-muscular activity and its neuro-chemical correlates (long established in the academic literature on resting states) is in general ignored by the academic literature on mindfulness, which is primarily based upon self-reports and neurological measures (fMRI) that cannot account for these facts. The problem with mindfulness research is therefore not theoretical, but empirical, and until it clearly accounts for all relevant observables for brain and body, the concept will never be fully explained.

    More of this argument, including references, below including a link to the first study (published last year) that has discovered the presence of opioid activity due to mindfulness practice, as well as the 1988 Holmes paper which provided the most extensive argument to date that meditation was rest.

  3. He said completed a six-month meditation retreat at a forest monastery in Southeast Asia. Why can't he say which country, which monastery? Why was he afraid to give a gratitude or mention?

  4. Why do some speakers "over sell" with the diction, stressing of words, pauses? Just deliver the message .. I PROMISE WE WILL GET THE IMPACT. It comes off as a sales practice versus sincerity.

  5. Identifying (and visualizing) the negative spiral and how it's caused so much stress unchecked has helped me understand that meditation really works. Great talk.

  6. I loved your talk! You were witty with a serious message. I have chronic back pain – three discs that that have become completely mushy and two vertebrae that have crushed into many pieces. Sometimes I imagine the waves from the ocean are flowing down my spine and when they get to my injury they get stronger and stronger but in a comforting way. Then the waves become calm and just hold my injury in a very peaceful and again a very comforting way. It really helps me with my pain. Thanks again for your fab talk. Also , I've never commented on a Teds Talk before. ☺

  7. Thank you Dr. Kasim Al Moshat for putting yourself out there and helping with the simple but vulnerable task of to reducing suffering.

  8. I have ptsd…. I tried meditation but the badness kept creeping in.. I have used medication and it is not for me.. Cannabis works but is illegal.. I am so desperate to get some relief.. Any one please help me out?.. What do I do It's making me feel suicidal at times.. But I have kids and will never be able to kill myself.. Others I know like me drink,.. That is not an option for me.

  9. "I'm here to talk about the elephant in the room…
    Yes, my purple shirt is hideous, and I got my haircut
    from Helen Keller."

  10. Actually 5 minutes a day will improve your life dramatically. It's not the whole enchilada. But just do something. You can build on it as you go.

  11. I live in UK and would like to go to a forest or somewhere for a reatret like 3_6 months, where do I find this kind of service ?

  12. What a great and educational talk. We think that so many people would do well if they discovered mindfulness meditation!

  13. Lovely, clear, and engaging beginning-level talk. He mentions Viktor Frankl's statement about the importance of having inner choice, no matter what the outer circumstances may be. What makes that quotation even more remarkable is that Frankl was a concentration camp survivor.

    One note: beginners who don't know brain physiology should understand that the speaker's references to exercising the brain's "muscles" is mostly a metaphor. Meditation probably helps with increased blood flow in the brain; however, the tiny involuntary muscles within blood vessels aren't what we think of when we see someone lifting weights. Still, it's a good way to demonstrate the importance of regular meditation practice, which does affect the brain's neural (nerve cell) "wiring." (There are many billions of neurons in the human brain.)

  14. Hello, I'm excited to tell you a method where you can find good number of new meditation procedures. All you have to do is type: "MindYoga4U" in Google. This will definitely help you.

  15. When he mentioned there was an elephant in the room, I was genuinely surprised he didn't then talk about his haircut. A great talk on mindfulness though, well presented.

  16. Im siting in a parking lot watching this and thinking this man has a very unique hair cut then a man walks by my car with the same hair cut lol.

  17. 20 years living a life in addiction. Mindfulness and compassion is the way out. Every day feels great without having to act anymore on triggers which may or may not come. Who needs any drug like alcohol, sugar, attention etc. when you can start to be at peace with what is, and enjoy every moment to the fullest by just being present….. As Eckart would say, this is re-defying your Ego, your personalty to something pure and good. What an enlightenment this all is

  18. Superb- LOST
    Lost in thought.
    Offer loving kindness.
    See & smile.
    Take a deep breath.
    Thank you for new insights.

  19. Awesome talk 🙏
    Mindfulness it's so simple, but so often our mind takes flight, we lose touch with our body, and pretty soon we’re engrossed in obsessive thoughts about something that just happened or fretting about the future. And that makes us anxious.

  20. The only true peace and happiness comes not through the right type of meditation, philosophy, or insight, but from living in the Spirit through Christ’s redemption and infinite Love.

  21. After meditating on how he looks and sounds, he reminds me of Peter Lorre. “NO, Master! Don’t turn me into a RAVEN! (I hate that.)”

  22. It's a testament to how mindful the commenters are – that none of the top comments are about that manual camera moving around like a 7.1 on the Richter scale. 😁

  23. A million Thoughts by Om Swami is a wonderful book on different meditation techniques and how to do them.

  24. "Meditate profoundly, that the secret of things unseen may be revealed unto you, that you may inhale the sweetness of a spiritual and imperishable fragrance, and that you may acknowledge the truth … so that light may be distinguished from darkness, truth from falsehood, right from wrong,.." – Baha’u’llah, Baha'i Faith

  25. I listened to your talk at just the right time when I really needed it. Thank you Dr Kasim for affirming that nothing is permanent, and even though we improve our lives with Mindfulness, we are still not Immune to life's problems. I was still struggling with that.

  26. I’d like to see someone be in the present while suffering overwhelming nausea. Not being in the present is the only solution.

  27. I would like to know where in South Asia and how did he manage to get a 6 Month Visa for that country because I dont know any country in SE Asia that issues a 6 Month Visa to anybody. The Buddha taught Vipassana and the act of letting go all desires, to let go of all the negative, and even positive, acts of holding onto what we perceive as reality.
    Just sit and notice the insanity of the mind and watch it jump around until such time as it settles into its game of "gotcha" making you think you have stopped thinking which is of course impossible. Just let it all be.

  28. I dont have dissatisfaction with my life therefore i know you are wrong. You might be educated and yet its how you are going to understand the world arround thanks to that knowledge. Ted gets worst and worst really.

  29. It's so weird that we even need mindfulness meditation- its all about getting out of our head and focusing on the present moment, and the fact that we need it means that our thoughts are basically more "real" to us than what's right in front of us!

  30. A profound art of living so beautifully and simplistically explained, my heartfelt thank you to you 🙏🏽🙏🏽 , Dr Kasim. It’s phenomenal souls like you whose teachings and guidance that make the remarkable difference in my journey of seeking. God bless you….from Malaysia 💞

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