Mind/Brain Change. . .
We all understand change – from seasons to personal tastes its no stretch to say that as humans we have a fond grasp of the concept of change. But, just what changes first? Mind? Spirit? Perceptions?
Scientists have shown that your mind and brain routinely change each other. This fact opens many gates to deepening our understanding and our practice. For example, the mental activity of meditation changes your brain in numerous ways, including:
- Adding billions of synaptic connections – and thus, a measurable thickening of brain tissues – in the regions handling control of attention and sensory awareness.
- 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.
And as your brain changes over time, so does your mind. For example:
- If the left side of your frontal lobes becomes increasingly active compared to the right side, you become more prone to positive emotions.
- If serotonin increases through medication or through supplementing the amino acid it’s built from, tryptophan, that can lift depression and free attention for psychological growth and spiritual practice.
- If the circuits of the soothing parasympathetic nervous system become more sensitized with practice, they help dampen stress reactions and support equanimity.
In sum, with a little skillfulness, you can use your mind to change your brain to benefit your whole being – and everyone else you affect or allow to affect you. The intertwining of mind and brain, information and matter, means that we need psychology to understand the brain . . . and neurology to understand the mind. Both are illuminated by centuries of practical experience in the world’s contemplative traditions. The intersection and integration of these three – psychology, neurology, and contemplation – is the heartwood of personal well-being and spiritual growth. The movement of Buddhism into the West has created an historically unprecedented opportunity for the dharma to inform science and vice versa, for the benefit of all beings.
Peace and Love, Jim