Buddha's Brain: The Practical Neuroscience of Happiness, Love & Wisdom (Anglais) CD – Livre audio, 15 novembre 2010
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He presents a medical jargon-filled neurologists view of how the brain distorts reality and leads to suffering of the sort long ago described by Buddha. This happens through a built-in "negativity bias [that] fosters or intensifies other unpleasant emotions, such as anger, sorrow, depression, guilt, and shame." "it typically takes about five positive interactions to overcome the effects of a single negative one"
He lists a set of cures based on "Activating the Parasympathetic Nervous System" including relaxation, Run warm water over your hands, diaphragm breathing, progressive relaxation, big exhalation, touching the lips, imagery, balancing your heartbeat and, predictably, meditation, among other things.
He talks about the illusory nature of human experience which he calls self-ing, how the brain constructs an apparent, fragmented false self.
"Your brain simulates the world--each of us lives in a virtual reality that's close enough to the real thing that we don't bump into the furniture."
"Just because we have a sense of self does not mean that we are a self. The brain strings together heterogeneous moments of self-ing and subjectivity into an illusion of homogenous coherence and continuity. The self is truly a fictional character. Sometimes it's useful to act as if it's real..."
"The self has no independent existence whatsoever.Lire la suite ›
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Hanson and Mendius, a neuropsychologist and a neurologist and both practicing Buddhists, show us just how the brain programs us to experience the world a certain way by combining information from the external world with information held in neural pathways within the brain. These pathways operate in the background of our awareness, influencing our conscious mental activity. Unless we consciously interrupt this process, we are destined to develop deeper neural networks and even stronger programming.
The argument that the brain has the ability to simulate the world is not new. What is interesting is how Hanson and Mendius link Buddhist teachings on the causes of suffering (painful situations cannot be avoided but our emotional responses to them can) to the deep programming in our brains caused by ancestral survival strategies. They suggest that this hardwiring helped us survive constant life-threatening situations but is based on erroneous beliefs that we are separate, that it is possible to stabilize an ever changing world, that we can avoid situations that create pain and pursue only those that give us pleasure. None of these beliefs are true or can be attained. Their inherent contradictions cause us to live with an underlying feeling of anxiety taking us away from our true ground of being and causing much physical and psychological ill-health.
The main part of the book is a practical guide and is packed with useful exercises and guided meditations to help us develop a more loving, happier, and wiser state of being. The methods Hanson and Mendius suggest are informed by their experiences as therapists and management consultants, and are rooted in Buddhist teachings on mindfulness, virtue, and wisdom. I particularly liked the way they use neuroscience to underpin the tools they offer, only choosing "methods that have a plausible scientific explanation for how they light up neural networks of contentment, kindness and peace." Now I know why taking five deep inhalations and exhalations calms me.
Many of their methods show how to activate desired brain states by consciously changing the association between an event and its painful or pleasurable feelings. This can take a long time. Understanding the neuroscience behind the process can help us be compassionate with ourselves when "swimming against ancient currents within our nervous system."
This book is very informative, with helpful summaries at the end of each chapter. The authors' writing, even when explaining the intricacies of neuroscience, is infused with humor and fun to read. This is a good working manual to help us to become who we already are, and an important contribution to the growing body of knowledge on the relationship between mind, brain, and consciousness. Highly Recommended.
Review by Marta Freundlich
- Rick Hanson
Buddha's Brain will not only explain 'why' you should take in the good but 'how' you can achieve a more positive outlook with some basic awareness skills. The authors, Neuropsychologist, Rick Hanson and neurologist, Richard Mendius are the Click and Clack (Car Talk) of the brain. These two brainiacs/meditation teachers will show you how to create positive feelings that have many emotional and health benefits such as a stronger immune system and a cardiovascular system that is less reactive to stress. You'll learn how to create a positive cycle of good feelings that you can then spread to others. Enough with all the negativity out there! Haven't we all had enough?
As a Type-A New Yorker, one of my favorite exercises in the book is 'Hush the Verbal Centers.' Here you use the power of prefrontal intention to politely (or impolitely) suggest that the verbal activity (voices in your head) shut the hell up. Tell them if they are quiet and well-behaved you will invite them to come yammer away later on after the job interview/tax return/golf putt/midterm exam. For us control freaks this is especially wonderful because now we can control our brains, as well as everything else. Who knew life could be so swell!?!
Last, Hanson's wife, acupuncturist Jan Hanson writes an appendix on nutritional neurochemistry recommending nutrients, supplements and dietary basics to support brain function. "I've repeatedly seen that small, thoughtful, sensible changes in what you put in your mouth each day can gradually produce significant benefits," writes Hanson.
The authors have simplified the latest neuroscientific research and presented it in a wise and compassionate style that comforts and educates at the same time. Read this book and then pass it on to the cranky person in your life!
For more about Buddha's Brain or articles, talks and other educational resources, [...]
Let me explain.
The aim of the book is to guide people to increase the frequency and power of positive emotions in their lives--emotions like equanimity, compassion, gratitude and joy. (And, of course, to decrease the power of negative emotions like fear and hate.) There are a number of ways to do this, but the technique which the authors describe in the most detail is guided imagery. In guided imagery one imagines a situation that will trigger the desired emotion. Each time one creates these emotions, one strengthens their pathways in the brain/mind and thus makes oneself a happier/better person.
The problem is that when some people do this imagery they are unable to generate the intended feelings. Instead they feel disappointment and frustration at being unable to do what comes so easily (it seems) to other people. If the person has a history of failure at trying to improve her mood, and if the person has been told all her life to cheer up, look at the bright side, etc., than this can be quite painful, and, ultimately, psychologically harmful.
To see if these methods will work for you, try calling up some happy memory and see if it makes you feel happy. If it does, buy this book. There's a lot of good stuff here. If it doesn't, I recommend trying "The Mindful Way Through Depression". It has much of the same material but it is directed at people who have experienced long-term mental pain--not just depressives, but also people suffering from anxiety, chronic pain, and so forth. It is a tremendously good, useful, insightful book. (No, I have no connection with the book or its authors. I just think it's a great book.)
When you are feeling bad, (low dopamine), your attention is scattered so you can find things in the environment that will spike your mood: you are going to be more likely to be able to find food, sight potential mates, etc. When there is a spike in dopamine, you need to open your attention to be alert to the new threat/opportunity. Otherwise you can let the contents of your working memory remain constant so you can work on whatever problems are currently on your mind.
Remember the concept of "flow" by Mihali Csikszentmihalyi? "Being in the zone?" This may operate through similar principles. When a task is too easy for you, there will be low stimulation, so you will be easily distracted. When a task is too hard for you, you will not be able to solve it. But when it is sufficiently hard and when your skills are sufficiently trained, there will be a steady flow of dopamine, leading you to be "in the zone", happy and undistracted and fully engaged in the problem. (Your working memory won't flow open and you won't be prone to random distractions.) Many psychologists, including Martin Seligman, believe that regular experience of "flow" is an important component to long term happiness, and I'm inclined to agree.
How about meditation? Breathing is important to Buddhism. The reason for this is because exhaling invokes the parasympathetic nervous system - the branch of your autonomic nervous system that "slows you down". By the way, I know that "parar" means "to stop" in Spanish, which is how I distinguish between the parasympathetic and sympathetic nervous systems.
Another ideal of Buddhism is "no-mind": to stop thinking. We know that thinking is often non-deliberate, and stresses us out, such as when we are trying to fall asleep. What the authors of Buddha's Brain insightfully point out is that when one area of the brain is engaged, other components/processes will not be used. So if talking/thought loops operate through the left hemisphere, then we should engage the right hemisphere if we want to relax and stop thinking. An excellent way to engage the right hemisphere is by trying to feel and experience the body as a unified whole... this is called proprioception.
Many helpful concepts are detailed alongside their neuroscientific mechanisms. You'll get a great explanation of how the Prefrontal Cortex, Basal Ganglia, Anterior Cingulate Cortex, Hypothalamic-Pituitary-Adrenal Axis, and autonomic nervous system all operate in concert to create your experience of consciousness. If you enjoy the hand-wavey feel good books like Eckhart Tolle's "The Power of Now" but get frustrated when grandiose claims of peacefulness are invoked without any material grounding, you'll LOVE Buddha's Brain. It explains the theory and then uses the theoretical framework to produce practical tips that anyone can use - even if you are a regular person living a hectic life and don't have the luxury of a monastery. (For example, it tells you exercises that will invoke the parasympathetic nervous system, or that will release oxytocin, or dopamine... it even contains an appendix of vitamin supplements that affect the production of neurotransmitters! I'm going to try an experiment of taking Vitamin E (gamma-tocopherol), DHA/EPA, Vitamin B-6 (as P5P), and 5-Hydroxytryptophan in the morning. I'll let you know how it goes (check [...] for updates.)
I also learned some two VERY helpful ideas that help me understand "living in the now" even better, from a practical perspective.
The Two Dart System. When something bad happens, it as if we are hit by two darts. The bad thing, the pain, is often very real... we can call it the first dart. For example, if we stumble and hit our head, it probably hurts. This is the first dart. If we then think about how unlucky we are, and why couldn't we have known better, and keep replaying the incident in our head, this is the second dart. The second dart is insidious because we don't realize that we have control over it. We can structure our life in a way to minimize the chance of getting hit by First Darts, but we can deliberately practice not being affected by Second Darts. The best way to do this is probably to practice being conscious of when we are indulging in self-pity and replaying - and realize that this is a kind of pain that is within our locus of control. These are the second darts.
Feeling Tones. Apparently there's an idea in Buddhism called feeling tones: in our head, things can be subjectively experienced as positive, negative, or neutral. When things get really positive or negative, our ego ("self") gets involved, attaching a story to the experience: this probably helps us strive towards more positive things and away from more negative things. However, equanimity (another important component), mind-balance in the face of nettlesome (or exceptionally positive) circumstances, encourages us to practice renouncing ownership over positive or neutral experiences. Equanimity leads to an enduring tranquility.
Anyway, "Buddha's Brain" is available from Amazon for only $[...]. So far, it is one of my favorite books I've read this year.