I went to a lecture with one of the foremost spokesmen for mindfulness in the West, Jon Kabat-Zinn, in Oslo last week. There are many interesting parallels with Acem’s approach to meditation, and some interesting differences.
Like Acem, he points out that meditation can build on basic traits of the human mind that are not culture-specific: “Buddha wasn’t a Buddhist.” And: “Anything ‘ancient’ in this lies in our DNA.
He is also concerned with recent research on neuroplasticity and knows, of course, that meditation may change both the size of the brain’s cortex and the way the brain functions. He is interested in epigenetics, the science of how even our gene pool is directly affected by our environment and experiences. For instance, he points out how stress degrades the telemores (the end parts of our chromosomes) and thereby makes us age before time, while meditation may do the opposite. In other words, many of the things we used to think were set from birth have been shown to be much more flexible and adaptable, and meditation seems to have a positive influence.