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Researcher delves into 'the quiet space'.

In the 1960s, Dr. Herbert Benson hadn't long graduated from Harvard Medical School when he became intrigued by "the white coat syndrome," the fact one's blood pressure usually goes up during a doctor's office visit. Cardiologist Benson developed a model, conditioning monkeys to develop high blood pressure, and delved into stress-induced high blood pressure issues.

"People came to me and said, 'Why are you fooling around with monkeys? Please study us. We practice transcendental meditation.'" They convinced him to inaugurate a study of meditation and its physiological changes, exactly opposite to those of stress. Out of that came his first book, The Relaxation Response, and the Mind Body Medical Institute.

"I've discovered nothing new," Benson recently told NCR. "All I am doing is putting numbers on what people have been practicing for millennia, going back 2,000 years in the Western Christian world; to the fourth to fifth century B.C., the time of the Second Temple in Judaism; and the seventh to eigth century B.C. in Hinduism.

"In the very room at Harvard Medical School where I was doing my transcendental meditation studies, Walter B. Cannon had discovered the 'fight or flight' response 60 years before. And good heavens, this is the opposite.

"So what I did was define two basic components of transcendental meditation: One was repetition--it can be word, a sound, a prayer, a praise or a movement. The second is, another thought comes to mind, you simply return to the repetition. Every single culture had this within it," said Benson, "normally within a religious concept."

Said Benson, "I'm of the Jewish faith, but I've had the good fortune to work with many religious leaders. When I spent an hour with Cardinal John O'Connor [the late New York archbishop]. what I was saying was universal. He swore I was a Catholic, that what I was saying was part of Catholicism, whereas I find it part of every religion, this quiet space. One could argue it has nothing to do with religion, that it is evolutionarily derived. But from my point of view, it's God-given."
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Author:Jones, Arthur
Publication:National Catholic Reporter
Date:May 6, 2005
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