buddha mind brain neuroscience

Adventures in neuroscience mental coding – mindfulness

In my last post, I gave a very brief introduction to our mind’s use of object relations as a way of storing and processing information. The mind is very useful, but as they say – the mind is a good servant, but a lousy master. The mind is perfect for what it does – record, recall, compare and extrapolate data, but there are a few flies in our mental ointment:

  1. Buddha's BrainThe brain body/mind starts receiving and recording impressions long before we take our first breath. For months after that first breath, our nervous system, physical body and psyche are still an undifferentiated system.
  2. We are born into this world as extremely sensitive and impressionable beings., which results in very powerful imprinting on the body/mind/soul. From about 5 years of age on, our sensitivity wanes and new impressions carry less and less of emotional/body charge which lessens the creation of deep, lasting impressions (except in the case of trauma).
  3. As an organism, we are hardwired for survival. The brain’s evolution is skewed to give instantaneous attention to negative perceptions to support our fight or flight response. This helps to establish veils of perception that are skewed more toward the “negative” than the positive and sets in motion inertia of constant mental activity – chatter, chatter, chatter.
  4. Our parents and holding environment bombard us with a constant stream of thoughts, sensations and emotions that had little connection to or alignment with our sublime spiritual nature – we are objectified long before we are born and are seen as just another thing, albeit a living entity thing.

So, we wind up with a voice in our head that chatters all the time, which might not be so bad if we were constantly chanting the sacred. But, even this would suffer from our early conditioning because by the time we start seeking the real, we are an entity identity operating system with bloated, outdated, suboptimal, looping code that makes Windows look lean, mean and full of dazzling light.

A few excerpts from Buddha’s Brain by Rick Hanson:

  • buddha mind brain neuroscienceThe bias of the brain tilts implicit memories in a negative direction, even when most of your experiences are actually positive.
  • The brain is designed to change through experiences, especially negative ones; we learn from our experiences, particularly those that happened during childhood, and it is natural for that learning to stick with us.
  • A toddler has about three times as many synapses as an adult; on the way to adulthood, adolescents can lose up to 10,000 synapses per second in the prefrontal cortex.
  • Emotional arousal facilitates learning by increasing neural excitation and consolidating synaptic change.
  • Given the negativity bias of the brain, it takes an active effort to internalize positive experiences and heal negative ones.
  • Because of all the ways your brain changes its structure, your experience matters beyond its momentary, subjective impact. It makes enduring changes in the physical tissues of your brain which affect your well-being, functioning, and relationships. Based on science, this is a fundamental reason for being kind to yourself, cultivating wholesome experiences, and taking them in.
  • Focus on your emotions and body sensations, since these are the essence of implicit memory. Let the experience fill your body and be as intense as possible.
  • …most of the shaping of your mind remains forever unconscious. This is called implicit memory, and it includes your expectations, models of relationships, emotional tendencies, and general outlook. Implicit memory establishes the interior landscape of your mind— what it feels like to be you— based on the slowly accumulating residues of lived experience.
  • Only we humans worry about the future, regret the past, and blame ourselves for the present. We get frustrated when we can’t have what we want, and disappointed when what we like ends. We suffer that we suffer. We get upset about being in pain, angry about dying, sad about waking up sad yet another day. This kind of suffering— which encompasses most of our unhappiness and dissatisfaction— is constructed by the brain. It is made up.
The discoveries being made in neuroscience are bringing new insights into ancient spiritual practices and psychodynamics. This knowledge can be supportive and assist us in deepening our spiritual practice and movement toward realization and enlightenment. Understanding the mechanics of how the brain filters and assimilates perception  into our subjective reality of self and the world affords us with more opportunity for precise and powerful practice that is more being and less doing.