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"The practice of contemplation is one of the great spiritual arts," writes Martin Laird in A Sunlit Absence. "Not a technique but a skill, it harnesses the winds of grace that lead us out into the liberating sea of silence." In this companion volume to his bestselling Into the Silent Land, Laird focuses on a quality often overlooked by books on Christian meditation: a vast and flowing spaciousness that embraces both silence and sound, and transcends all subject/object dualisms. Drawing on the wisdom of great contemplatives from St. Augustine and St. Teresa of Avila to St. Hesychios, Simone Weil, and many others, Laird shows how we can uncover the deeper levels of awareness that rest within us like buried treasure waiting to be found. The key insight of the book is that as our practice matures, so will our experience of life's ordeals, sorrows, and joys expand into generous, receptive maturity. We learn to see whatever difficulties we experience in meditation--boredom, lethargy, arrogance, depression, grief, anxiety--not as obstacles to be overcome but as opportunities to practice surrender to what is. With clarity and grace Laird shows how we can move away from identifying with our turbulent, ever-changing thoughts and emotions to the cultivation of a "sunlit absence"--the luminous awareness in which God's presence can most profoundly be felt. Addressed to both beginners and intermediates on the pathless path of still prayer, A Sunlit Absence offers wise guidance on the specifics of contemplative practice as well as an inspiring vision of the purpose of such practice and the central role it can play in our spiritual lives.

This article completes the analysis of parental narratives of tantrums had by 335 children aged 18 to 60 months. Modal tantrum durations were 0.5 to 1 minute; 75% of the tantrums lasted 5 minutes or less. If the child stamped or dropped to the floor in the first 30 seconds, the tantrum was likely to be shorter and the likelihood of parental intervention less. A novel analysis of behavior probabilities that permitted grouping of tantrums of different durations converged with our previous statistically independent results to yield a model of tantrums as the expression of two independent but partially overlapping emotional and behavioral processes: Anger and Distress. Anger rises quickly, has its peak at or near the beginning of the tantrum, and declines thereafter. Crying and comfort-seeking, components of Distress, slowly increase in probability across the tantrum. This model indicates that tantrums can provide a window on the intense emotional processes of childhood.
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We investigated the top-down influence of working memory (WM) maintenance on feedforward perceptual processing within occipito-temporal face processing structures. During event-related potential (ERP) recordings, subjects performed a delayed-recognition task requiring WM maintenance of faces or houses. The face-sensitive N170 component elicited by delay-spanning task-irrelevant grayscale noise probes was examined. If early feedforward perceptual activity is biased by maintenance requirements, the N170 ERP component elicited by probes should have a greater N170 amplitude response during face relative to house WM trials. Consistent with this prediction, N170 elicited by probes presented at the beginning, middle, and end of the delay interval was greater in amplitude during face relative to house WM. Thus, these results suggest that WM maintenance demands may modulate early feedforward perceptual processing for the entirety of the delay duration. We argue based on these results that temporally early biasing of domain-specific perceptual processing may be a critical mechanism by which WM maintenance is achieved.
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In the present study, we examined the stability of one measure of emotion, the emotion-modulated acoustic startle response, in an undergraduate sample. Using the acoustic startle paradigm on two different occasions, we measured stability of affective modulation of the startle response during and following the presentation of pictures selected to be of positive, negative, or neutral emotional valence. The two assessments were separated by 4 weeks. Two groups of subjects were compared: one group that viewed the same pictures at each assessment and a second group that viewed different pictures at the second assessment. We found that viewing different pictures at two assessments separated by 4 weeks yielded moderate stability of the emotion modulation of startle magnitude, whereas subjects who viewed the same pictures at both assessments showed poor stability. Furthermore, this difference was due to the stability of responses to high versus low arousal pictures, not to differences in valence.
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The information processing capacity of the human mind is limited, as is evidenced by the attentional blink-a deficit in identifying the second of two targets (T1 and T2) presented in close succession. This deficit is thought to result from an overinvestment of limited resources in T1 processing. We previously reported that intensive mental training in a style of meditation aimed at reducing elaborate object processing, reduced brain resource allocation to T1, and improved T2 accuracy [Slagter, H. A., Lutz, A., Greischar, L. L., Francis, A. D., Nieuwenhuis, S., Davis, J., et al. Mental training affects distribution of limited brain resources. PloS Biology, 5, e138, 2007]. Here we report EEG spectral analyses to examine the possibility that this reduction in elaborate T1 processing rendered the system more available to process new target information, as indexed by T2-locked phase variability. Intensive mental training was associated with decreased cross-trial variability in the phase of oscillatory theta activity after successfully detected T2s, in particular, for those individuals who showed the greatest reduction in brain resource allocation to T1. These data implicate theta phase locking in conscious target perception, and suggest that after mental training the cognitive system is more rapidly available to process new target information. Mental training was not associated with changes in the amplitude of T2-induced responses or oscillatory activity before task onset. In combination, these findings illustrate the usefulness of systematic mental training in the study of the human mind by revealing the neural mechanisms that enable the brain to successfully represent target information.
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The study of emotional signaling has focused almost exclusively on the face and voice. In 2 studies, the authors investigated whether people can identify emotions from the experience of being touched by a stranger on the arm (without seeing the touch). In the 3rd study, they investigated whether observers can identify emotions from watching someone being touched on the arm. Two kinds of evidence suggest that humans can communicate numerous emotions with touch. First, participants in the United States (Study 1) and Spain (Study 2) could decode anger, fear, disgust, love, gratitude, and sympathy via touch at much-better-than-chance levels. Second, fine-grained coding documented specific touch behaviors associated with different emotions. In Study 3, the authors provide evidence that participants can accurately decode distinct emotions by merely watching others communicate via touch. The findings are discussed in terms of their contributions to affective science and the evolution of altruism and cooperation.
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Spatial working memory is a cognitive brain mechanism that enables the temporary maintenance and manipulation of spatial information. Recent neuroimaging and behavioral studies have led to the proposal that directed spatial attention is the mechanism by which location information is maintained in spatial working memory. Yet it is unclear whether attentional involvement is required throughout the period of active maintenance or is only invoked during discrete task-phases such as mnemonic encoding. In the current study, we aimed to track the time-course of attentional involvement during spatial working memory by recording event-related brain potentials (ERPs) from healthy volunteers. In Experiment 1, subjects performed a delayed-recognition task. Each trial began with the presentation of a brief stimulus (S1) that indicated the relevant location that subjects were to maintain in working memory. A 4.8-5.3 sec delay interval followed during which a single task-irrelevant probe was presented. The delay interval concluded with a test item (S2) to which subjects made a response indicating whether the S2-location was the same as the S1-memory location. To determine if attention was differentially engaged during discrete phases of the trial, task-irrelevant probes were presented early (400-800 msec following S1-offset) or late (2600-3000 msec following S1-offset) during the delay interval. Sensory-evoked ERPs (P1 and N1) elicited by these irrelevant probes showed attention-like modulations with greater amplitude responses for probes occurring at the S1-memory locations in comparison to probes presented at other locations. This pattern was obtained for both early- and late-delay probes. Probe-evoked activity during delayed-recognition trials was similar to activity observed when spatial attention was explicitly focused on a location in visual space (Experiment 2). These results are consistent with a model of spatial working memory in which perceptual level selective attention is utilized throughout the entire period of active maintenance to keep relevant spatial information in mind.
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Studies of emotion signaling inform claims about the taxonomic structure, evolutionary origins, and physiological correlates of emotions. Emotion vocalization research has tended to focus on a limited set of emotions: anger, disgust, fear, sadness, surprise, happiness, and for the voice, also tenderness. Here, we examine how well brief vocal bursts can communicate 22 different emotions: 9 negative (Study 1) and 13 positive (Study 2), and whether prototypical vocal bursts convey emotions more reliably than heterogeneous vocal bursts (Study 3). Results show that vocal bursts communicate emotions like anger, fear, and sadness, as well as seldom-studied states like awe, compassion, interest, and embarrassment. Ancillary analyses reveal family-wise patterns of vocal burst expression. Errors in classification were more common within emotion families (e.g., 'self-conscious,' 'pro-social') than between emotion families. The three studies reported highlight the voice as a rich modality for emotion display that can inform fundamental constructs about emotion.
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BACKGROUND: Patterns of temporal variation of cardiac arrests may be important for understanding mechanisms leading to the onset of acute cardiovascular disorders. Previous studies have reported diurnal variation of the onset of cardiac arrests, with high incidence in the morning and in the evening, lack of daily variation during the week, and some seasonal variation. METHODS AND RESULTS: We explored weekly and yearly (seasonal) temporal variation in 6603 out-of-hospital cardiac arrests attended by the Seattle Fire Department. We observed daily variation that peaks on Monday and seasonal variation that peaks in the winter. CONCLUSIONS: Cardiac arrests do not occur randomly during the week or year but follow certain periodic patterns. These patterns are probably associated with patterns of activities.
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BACKGROUND Seasonal and circadian variations in the occurrence of myocardial infarction and sudden cardiac death have been documented, suggesting that triggering factors may play a role in the causation of cardiac events. However, there are only sparse and conflicting data on the weekly distribution of the disorders. METHODS AND RESULTS To determine the weekly variation of acute myocardial infarction and sudden cardiac death, 5596 consecutive patients (71% men; age, 63 +/- 1 years) were analyzed in a regionally defined population (n = 330,000; age, 25 to 74 years) monitored from 1985 to 1990. The exact time of onset of symptoms was used to determine the day of the event. Patients with myocardial infarction (n = 2636) demonstrated a significant weekly variation (P < .01) with a peak on Monday, whereas patients with sudden cardiac death (n = 2960) were evenly distributed throughout the week. A similar weekly pattern was observed in subgroups of patients with myocardial infarction defined with respect to age, sex, cardiac risk factors, prior cardiac medication, and infarct characteristics. The working population demonstrated a weekly variation of myocardial infarction as opposed to the nonworking population, with a 33% increase in relative risk of disease onset on Monday (P < .05) and a trough on Sunday compared with the expected number of cases, if homogeneity was assumed. CONCLUSIONS The onset of acute myocardial infarction demonstrates a peak on Monday primarily in the working population. If this finding is confirmed in other communities, it may aid in identifying acute triggering events of myocardial infarction and perhaps in improving prevention of the disease. (Copyright © 1994 by American Heart Association)
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One of the most important goals and outcomes of social life is to attain status in the groups to which we belong. Such face-to-face status is defined by the amount of respect, influence, and prominence each member enjoys in the eyes of the others. Three studies investigated personological determinants of status in social groups (fraternity, sorority, and dormitory), relating the Big Five personality traits and physical attractiveness to peer ratings of status. High Extraversion substantially predicted elevated status for both sexes. High Neuroticism, incompatible with male gender norms, predicted lower status in men. None of the other Big Five traits predicted status. These effects were independent of attractiveness, which predicted higher status only in men. Contrary to previous claims, women's status ordering was just as stable as men's but emerged later. Discussion focuses on personological pathways to attaining status and on potential mediators.
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Dynamic adjustments in cognitive control are well documented in conflict tasks, wherein competition from irrelevant stimulus attributes intensifies selection demands and leads to subsequent performance benefits. The current study investigated whether mnemonic demands, in a working memory (WM) task, can drive similar online control modifications. Demand levels (high vs. low) of WM maintenance (memory load of 2 items vs. 1 item) and delay-spanning distractor interference (confusable vs. not confusable with memoranda) were manipulated using a factorial design during a WM delayed-recognition task. Performance was best subsequent to trials in which both maintenance and distractor interference demands were high, followed by trials with high demand in either of these 2 control domains, and worst following trials with low demand in both domains. These results suggest that dynamic adjustments in cognitive control are not triggered exclusively by conflict-specific contexts but are also triggered by WM demands, revealing a putative mechanism by which this system configures itself for successful task performance.
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BACKGROUND: Although yoga and meditation have been used for stress reduction with reported improvement in inflammation, little is known about the biological mechanisms mediating such effects. The present study examined if a yogic meditation might alter the activity of inflammatory and antiviral transcription control pathways that shape immune cell gene expression. METHODS: Forty-five family dementia caregivers were randomized to either Kirtan Kriya Meditation (KKM) or Relaxing Music (RM) listening for 12 min daily for 8 weeks and 39 caregivers completed the study. Genome-wide transcriptional profiles were collected from peripheral blood leukocytes sampled at baseline and 8-week follow-up. Promoter-based bioinformatics analyses tested the hypothesis that observed transcriptional alterations were structured by reduced activity of the pro-inflammatory nuclear factor (NF)-κB family of transcription factors and increased activity of Interferon Response Factors (IRFs; i.e., reversal of patterns previously linked to stress). RESULTS: In response to KKM treatment, 68 genes were found to be differentially expressed (19 up-regulated, 49 down-regulated) after adjusting for potentially confounded differences in sex, illness burden, and BMI. Up-regulated genes included immunoglobulin-related transcripts. Down-regulated transcripts included pro-inflammatory cytokines and activation-related immediate-early genes. Transcript origin analyses identified plasmacytoid dendritic cells and B lymphocytes as the primary cellular context of these transcriptional alterations (both p<.001). Promoter-based bioinformatic analysis implicated reduced NF-κB signaling and increased activity of IRF1 in structuring those effects (both p<.05). CONCLUSION: A brief daily yogic meditation intervention may reverse the pattern of increased NF-κB-related transcription of pro-inflammatory cytokines and decreased IRF1-related transcription of innate antiviral response genes previously observed in healthy individuals confronting a significant life stressor.
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