Last week I was able to hear a talk by Rick Hanson, author ofBuddha’s Brain. I enjoyed it so much and really wanted to share a couple of his thoughts with you. First – wow our brain is amazing! Below is an excerpt from his paper: Buddha’s Brain: The New Neuroscience and the Path of Awakening Inquiring Mind Fall, 2007. Thousands of years teachers and spiritual leaders of all paths have taught the benefits of meditation and contemplation…and yet it is still helpful for this meditator to hear the science. The understanding of how my practice actually impacts my brain helps me stick with it. Secondly, he emphasized each time we sit, each time we practice, we add to the benefits of the brain – it is cumulative. This is heartening. I think we often think if we have a break in practice we are starting all over – but we are not where we were – so we are adding to the work we have already done. He shared a quote from Buddha found in the Dhammapada text:
“Drop by drop is the water pot filled. Likewise, the wise man, gathering it little by little, fills himself with good.” – Buddha.
For example, the mental activity of meditation changes your brain in numerous ways, including:
- It adds billions of synaptic connections – and thus, a measurable thickening of brain tissues – in the regions handling control of attention and sensory awareness (most obvious in the comparison between aging meditators and older nonmeditators: good news for those of us with gray hair).
- It increases serotonin, the neurotransmitter that helps regulates mood and sleep
- It changes your brainwaves depending on whether you are doing a concentration or a mindfulness meditation
As the psychologist, Donald Hebb, put it: “Neurons that fire together, wire together. Fleeting thoughts, feelings, etc. leave behind lasting marks on your brain – much like a spring shower leaves little tracks on a hillside – which form the tendencies and views that make us suffer, or lead us to happiness. This means that your experience really, really matters. Which is a profound and scientifically substantiated rationale for being kind to yourself and creating the causes of more wholesome experiences and fewer unwholesome ones.”
Rick Hanson, Ph.D., is a psychologist, Senior Fellow of the Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley, and New York Times best-selling author. His books include Hardwiring Happiness,Buddha’s Brain, Just One Thing, and Mother Nurture. Founder of theWellspring Institute for Neuroscience and Contemplative Wisdom.