“The true value of a human being is determined by the measure and the sense in which they have obtained liberation from the self.

Our task must be to free ourselves; by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.”

 Albert Einstein, 1954


Meditation can move us closer to promoting compassion within ourselves and those that we touch.

Through meditation we become more responsible.  This responsibility lies in the balance we discover by unlocking the synergy of our mind….. our heart….. and our inner spirit. We propose that through a continued and ongoing dedication to a personal meditation practice, great strides are possible for ourselves, our relationships, our family, and our society.  It allows us to subdue the self.  It allows us to “just let go”.  In doing so, a remarkable thing happens.  We do not cease to be.  We do not lose control.  We do not lose self; instead we liberate it.  We find a beautiful place of peace, harmony, and balance.  We now frame the self within a much purer form of loving and nurturing energy.  We begin to see a clearer picture of the world and our place in it.  We learn the art of alchemy in converting passion into compassion.  Our decision making process then incorporates a powerful and far reaching wisdom.  We are in tune within a rhythm of life, our surroundings, and those we touch.

“Love and compassion are necessities, not luxuries. Without them humanity cannot survive.”

 Dalai Lama

A great soul once responded when asked the question, “What is the most important time?” 

The response went somewhat as follows, “The most important time is this present moment.  It is the only time that we will ever have control of.  It is what we do in this present moment that determines the direction of our lives.”

We can use this time wisely and responsibly or we can diminish its value.  Remember this; the value of this present moment is colored by our deepest feelings and subsequent thoughts and desires.  Any decision in life will have their imprint.


“There are two basic motivating forces: fear and love. When we are afraid, we pull back from life. When we are in love, we open to all that life has to offer with passion, excitement, and acceptance. We need to learn to love ourselves first, in all our glory and our imperfections. If we cannot love ourselves, we cannot fully open to our ability to love others or our potential to create. Evolution and all hopes for a better world rest in the fearlessness and open-hearted vision of people who embrace life.”

John Lennon


Ask yourself these questions:

Who am I?

Where am I going?

How will I get there?

Who am I?  Where am I going?  How will I get there?

These very important questions take on a very different response when we open our heart to discover its secrets.  Through the act of quieting the mind, we allow the content resting deep within the heart to awaken.  When we contemplate our awareness and again ask these same questions after cultivating the heart, our responses are altered and given a much deeper meaning and significance.




 “Kindness in words creates confidence. Kindness in thinking creates profoundness. Kindness in giving creates love.”

Lao Tzu

 A “loving kindness” meditation

After a long day, including some difficult personal encounters we tend to build stress within our bodies and our mind.  Our mind keeps going over the situations reviewing the negative pictures and the emotions attached.

Take the time to brew yourself a cup of tea, preferably green or herbal, sit down in a comfortable and quiet setting, alone by yourself.   

Sip your tea and inhale, filling the lungs while lowering the diaphragm with breath, enjoying the beverage.  Review the day, the good and the bad.  Continue enjoying the tea and the review.  After a few minutes…..close the eyelids…..

Inhale, filling the lungs lowering the diaphragm…..on the exhale…..say the word “listen” quietly on the exhale letting it last as long as the exhale itself.

Inhale, filling the lungs lowering the diaphragm…..on the exhale…..say the word “observe” quietly on the exhale letting it last as long as the exhale itself.

Inhale, filling the lungs lowering the diaphragm…..on the exhale…..say the word “value” quietly on the exhale letting it last as long as the exhale itself.

Inhale, filling the lungs lowering the diaphragm…..on the exhale…..say the word “embrace” quietly on the exhale letting it last as long as the exhale itself.

Inhale, filling the lungs lowering the diaphragm…..on the inhale…..say the word “I”….. then say the word “love” quietly on the exhale letting it last as long as the exhale itself.






Repeat the above, quietly feeling the impression of each word, surrendering to the emotional impact of each word and each breath.

After a few rounds, just say the word, “I” on the inhale and “love” on the exhale, surrendering to the ebb and flow of the breath.  Start to let the breath find its own rhythm without any personal effort.  Allow the breath to breathe you.  Surrender to its mastery of the moment itself.  Now is when the meditation begins.  Now is when we listen to the breath…..we listen to the awakened heart.  Do not be concerned when you find the mind begin to wander.  This is normal.  It’s what the mind does.  Gently bring the attention of the mind back to the breath, back to the mantra.  The mind is like a young excited child.  Be loving, kind, and gentle with it.  The words on the inhale and the exhale help to still and calm our mind.  The relationship between our awareness and our breath is our goal.  This relationship unlocks the secrets of our heart.  It is only when we subdue the mind can we discover what the heart has to say.  It is as if the mind is a like a pond that has stones cast into it relentlessly.  It is only when the stones are stopped that the surface of the pond finds its calm.  It is then that we can see the beauty hidden beneath its surface.  The breath will guide us.  The heart beckons us upon our journey.  We just need to listen, then observe, then value, and finally surrender and embrace what we find.  In this moment we are open to the very magic of the heart.  Rediscover, in the solitude of your being, the very private and special tenderness that goes before no other soul.  Let this place and this moment embrace you with its wonder.  Let the Love and Grace found within your being expand to every cell, every breath, and every moment.  Breathe Love – Be Love.   Let it last as long as you will.

Upon completion of this meditation, revisit the problems of the day with this affirmation:  “I let go….. I listen….. I love….. I forgive…..  My heart – My love, extends to all that I meet in loving kindness.” 

 What do we hear when opening our heart?

…..Listen to the silence.

What do we see when opening our heart?

…..Observe the stillness. 

What do we find when opening our heart?

…..Value the fullness of this moment.

What do we do when opening our heart?

…..Embrace this moment with the compassion of loving kindness.

Listen to the silence of a loving heart, observe the stillness of a loving heart, value the fullness of a loving heart, and then, embrace this special moment in time with compassionate courage, generosity, and humility born from loving kindness.

 I listen, I observe, I value, I embrace…….I am…….I love…….In thee, I am…….In thee, I love.

“Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life.”

Proverbs 4:23

The act of meditation has not the goal of gaining anything.  The purpose of meditation is to surrender, to release, to “let go”; to just listen and observe.  We then value and embrace what remains.

What do we find when we still our mind?



“Our knowledge of God is perfected by gratitude: we are thankful and rejoice in the experience of the truth that He is love.”

Thomas Merton

When do you recall ever having taken the time to explore the depths of your own heart?

Will the discovery of the secrets lying dormant within your heart alter the direction of your life’s journey?  Have you ever wondered which fork in the road to take?  Have you done all the necessary preparation to make the choice valid?

May we extend this invitation to self examination.  

We are all given gifts at birth.  Discover them for yourself and their ultimate power for personal transformation.  Explore how their cultivation can add meaning to your life and the lives of those you touch.

“I always begin my prayer in silence, for it is in the silence of the heart that God speaks.  God is the friend of silence–we need to listen to God because it is not what we say but what He says to us and through us that matters.”

Mother Teresa


Mindfulness Meditation and the Vagus Nerve by Christopher Bergland &

Mindfulness Meditation and the Vagus Nerve Share Many Powers

Mindfulness and vagus nerve stimulation can optimize the default mode network.

Posted Feb 05, 2016

John Graner/Public Domain
Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) highlighting areas of the brain in the default mode network that may be optimized through both mindfulness meditation and vagus nerve stimulation.
Source: John Graner/Public Domain

This morning, I noticed an exciting correlation between two new studies which separately identified that optimizing the functional brain connectivity of the default mode network (DMN) can have significant psychological and physical health benefits.

The first study found that stimulating the vagus nerve dramatically reduces the severity of depression. The second study found that mindfulnessmeditation also optimized functional connectivity of the default mode network which lowered inflammation and improved the brain’s ability to manage stress and anxiety.

After reading dozens of new scientific studies over coffee this morning, I had an ‘aha’ moment when I realized that these two studies—both published in the current issue of Biological Psychiatry—are using similar language to describe very different research.

Both of these studies offer holistic ways to optimize the functional connectivity of the default mode network using non-pharmacological interventions that have the power to improve psychological and physical well-being. 

Non-Invasive Vagus Nerve Stimulation Can Significantly Reduce Depression

Wellcome Library/Public Domain
The vagus nerve wanders everywhere between your brain and gut as part of a feedback loop and the “gut-brain axis.”
Source: Wellcome Library/Public Domain

The first study used a new non-invasive vagus nerve stimulator (tVNS) to improve functional connectivity of the default mode network which reduced symptoms of major depressive disorder (MDD).

The February 2016 study, “Transcutaneous Vagus Nerve Stimulation Modulates Default Mode Network in Major Depressive Disorder,” was published in Biological Psychiatry. This research was a collaborationbetween the China Academy of Chinese Medical Sciences and Harvard Medical School. 

Patients with major depressive disorder who volunteered to participate in this study either received the new transcutaneous VNS or a ‘sham’ VNS, which served as a placebo. Then, they underwent a functional neuroimaging (fMRI) scan both before and after one month of treatment. When the researchers compared patients who received real or sham VNS, they found that the patients who received real VNS showed significant improvement of their depressive symptoms

The real breakthrough of this new vagus nerve stimulator is that it’s inexpensive and completely non-invasive. The device sits in the ear like a pair of headphones. Traditional VNS is a neurostimulation technique that has been used to alleviate treatment-resistant symptoms of depression. Typically, VNS is costly and requires potentially risky neurosurgery to implant the device.

In a press release, lead author Peijing Rong concluded, “This non-invasive, safe and low cost method of depression treatment can significantly reduce the severity of depression in patients and shows promise for future use.”

Mindfulness Meditation Alters Default Mode Network Brain Connectivity 

The second study identified that practicing mindfulness meditation improves the functional connectivity of the default mode network which lowers a biomarker for inflammation (Interleukin-6) while improving executive control and stress resilience

Andreashorn/Wikimedia Commons
Default mode network in yellow with color-coded brain connectivity in other colors.
Source: Andreashorn/Wikimedia Commons

The Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) researchers identified how mindfulness meditation optimizes brain connectivity and lowers stress. The fMRI brain scans from this study showed that mindfulness meditation training increased the functional connectivity of the participants’ resting default mode network in areas directly linked to attentionand executive control

The February 2016 study, “Alterations in Resting State Functional Connectivity Link Mindfulness Meditation with Reduced Interleukin-6: A Randomized Controlled Trial,” was published in Biological Psychiatry.  

For this randomized controlled trial, 35 job-seeking, adults—who were experiencing the stress of unemployment—were enrolled in an intensive three-day mindfulness meditation retreat program or a well-matched relaxation retreat program that did not have a mindfulness component. 

The participants who completed the mindfulness meditation program showed changes in brain functional connectivity and reduced Interleukin-6  which accounted for the lower inflammation levels. Participants who relaxed, but didn’t practice mindfulness meditation, did not show similar outcomes. 

In a press release, David Creswell, lead author and associate professor of psychology in the Dietrich College of Humanities and Social Sciences at CMU, said, 

“We’ve now seen that mindfulness meditation training can reduce inflammatory biomarkers in several initial studies, and this new work sheds light into what mindfulness training is doing to the brain to produce these inflammatory health benefits. 

We think that these brain changes provide a neurobiological marker for improved executive control and stress resilience, such that mindfulness meditation training improves your brain’s ability to help you manage stress, and these changes improve a broad range of stress-related health outcomes, such as your inflammatory health.

Conclusion: Mindfulness Meditation and Vagus Nerve Stimulation As a Dynamic Duo

Source: KieferPix/Shutterstock

The most exciting aspect of these studies is the prospect of combining mindfulness meditation with the new non-invasive vagus nerve stimulator to create a double whammy that leads to a wide range of psychological and physical health benefits.

Currently, I listen to an ‘Om/Aum’ playlist from iTunes when practicing my daily mindfulness meditation. I can easily see plugging in the new VNS headphone-like device while meditating to reap all the benefits of both mindfulness meditation and vagus nerve stimulation simultaneously.

Both of these studies offer inexpensive and effective ways to improve people’s health without the use of pharmaceuticals or invasive surgeries. Stay tuned for more on the fascinating interconnections between the vagus nerve, mindfulness meditation, and the default mode network. 

To read more on this topic, check out my Psychology Today blog posts,

© 2016 Christopher Bergland. All rights reserved.

Follow me on Twitter @ckbergland for updates on The Athlete’s Way blog posts.

The Athlete’s Way ® is a registered trademark of Christopher Bergland.

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