By Dana Gornall
The headline jumped out at me for a number of reasons: When Steve Jobs Died at 56 his Brain was Only 27.
The words flashed in front of my eyes on my phone. I have a lot of respect for Steve Jobs. I realize there is quite a bit of controversy around his business methods and apparently he was at times quite the jerk, but he inspired a huge movement with Apple. He was not the engineer, he was not the inventor, he was the one who pushed, who inspired, who orchestrated an entire brand that is still one of the leading brands today, almost a decade after his death.
You might be an Apple hater. That’s okay. You can’t deny, the iPhone and all of the Apple products are known throughout the world. Steve Jobs was not one to sit down, and when things went south, he was not afraid to start over from the beginning.
And now I read that his brain was like a 27 year old’s brain when he passed from Pancreatic Cancer at 56 years old? Is this true?
Right now I am 47 years old…I may or may not be in a mid-life crisis. I really don’t know. I haven’t bought any sports cars, but I do know one thing—I fear for what is coming. I’ve written articles before about my kids growing up and needing me less and less. This time next year I will be sitting in an almost complete empty nest. The truth is, I am standing right at the top of the hill, possibly slightly on the other side of it, and I’d really like to walk the other side as gracefully as possible.
Interest piqued on how Steve Jobs had such a youthful mind, I read on. It seems Jobs was a regular meditator. I knew this—I had read it before. This was during a time when corporate mindfulness and mindful apps were not really a thing yet.
Jobs began this practice after dropping out of college and traveling to India in 1974. When he returned he studied with his spiritual advisor, Kobun Chino in the practice of Zen meditation and also worked with one of Shunryu Suzuki’s students, Kobun Otogawa. He was quoted in Business Week magazine, “Simplicity is harder than complication. To make your thinking clear and simple requires a lot of effort. When you reach the level of being able to think simply, you can move mountains.”
So is meditation and the practice of Zen the catalyst behind Jobs’ success? It’s certainly possible.
In 2011 an eight week study was done on participants meditating 27 minutes a day. After the eight weeks, one group was separated and placed in a mindfulness stress based reduction program while the other group continued meditating. Magnetic resonance (MR) images were taken of the brain structure of the 16 participants two weeks before and two weeks after they took part in the program, which included meditation that focused on non-judgemental awareness of sensations, feelings, and the state of their mind. These brain scans revealed that the group that meditated, compared to the group that did not, had increased gray-matter density in the brain’s hippocampus and decreased gray-matter density in the amygdala.
The amygdala is the part of the brain that is responsible for processing fear, anger, and controlling agressive behaviors. When we experience stress, the amygdala releases glutamate, GABA, noradrenaline, and serotonin, which then begins to shape how the brain responds to stressful events in the future. In short, it sets us up for increased responses to anxiety, depression and mainly…aggression.
But how does this make one’s brain be “younger?”
Remember the study I mentioned earlier? The gray matter (brain functioning) increased in hippocampus. This part of the brain is responsible for organizing and storing memories which is a part of the learning process. As we age, the hippocampus tends to shrink a bit. By the time we hit our 40s it is normal to begin seeing a little of this in small ways—walk into a room and try to remember why we went in there, forget to pick up laundry detergent at the store and remember when we get home. The older we get, this area shrinks more and more typically. MRI scans of human brains have found that the human hippocampus shrinks by around 13 percent between the ages of 30 and 80.
Meditation has been shown to not only increase the gray matter in this area of the brain, but make the area thicker and improving function.
They also saw changes in several other areas of the brain such as the temporo parietal junction which is responsible for empathy and compassion and the posterior cingulate cortex, which keeps us on task, focused and keeps our attention from wandering.
So with all of these studies and tests, all of this data, it seems obvious that sitting every day can do us all a world of good. Not only will it keep our minds younger and functioning better, but has the capacity to become a ripple effect and encourage a more compassionate society. So why don’t we do it more? Why aren’t we all meditating?
Is it fear of the unknown? Boredom? Not wanting to sit still? Not liking the process of paying attention to our thoughts? Laziness?
Daniel Scharpenburg, one of The Tattooed Buddha team, mentioned yesterday that he has given up on his Monday meditation group. There just wasn’t enough people (even though he ranged around eight people on average, and he didn’t want to charge money for it, so he simply can’t pay for the space. A discussion ensued afterward in our group chat about why people attend or don’t attend.
We are a busy society. We have jobs and chores and families. We have our favorite TV shows and we have to get to the gym/yoga/whatever else you do in your free time. But can sitting just a little bit change our lives? Can it change our society? Science proves that it can. And Steve Jobs built an entire brand and movement…essentially he set out to do exactly what he wanted to do—put a “ding” in the universe. He did it by sitting…every day.
What could you do if you made that one simple change in your own life? What could we all do?
Maybe I am in the middle of a mid-life crisis. Maybe meditation, yoga and kickboxing is my “sports car?” It is certainly possible. But why not see where it goes?
I challenge you to try.
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