Today, Buddhism has become almost synonymous with mindfulness practices. Contemporary research on the brain effects of mindfulness and meditation has proven that there are real physical and psychological benefits. This, of course, apart from all the spiritual virtues that meditation can offer.
My recent review of a book by the highly qualified Professor Robert Rosenbaum entitled It's not your mind!. Anyone who knows me or has read my articles for BDG will be fully aware of my interest in neurology. Professor Rosenbaum's book focuses on the Surangama Sutra through the eyes of a contemporary Zen practitioner, neurotherapist and human being, and takes us into disciplines such as phenomenology, epistemology, metaphysics, psychology and the brain, and practical applications in our daily life.
It's not your mind! is much more existential and philosophical than this essay, but reflections on what it means to be normal or to have a normal brain started ruminating in my own brain, especially in the daily capacity of enlightened waking life. This book also made me question things, things that I invite you to question. At one point, some deeply difficult philosophical questions posed to Buddha Shakyamuni seemed to become so difficult that he informed his followers that he should be left out. However, life does not always give us this option. Is it okay to set aside difficult things when we don't have the answers? What if those difficult things were troubled teenagers, a precarious job, an unhappy relationship?
Professor Rosenbaum also cited an incident involving a village of starving people who had sworn to abide by a vow not to kill. The villagers approached a stranger who was not bound by the vow and asked them to end the life of a creature that was already suffering. But once the animal was killed, all the villagers feasted on the flesh of the animal.
Is it okay to keep your own hands clean at the expense of someone else who has blood on theirs? How does karma work here? How many animal lovers are there who would vow never to do harm, let alone kill an animal, while closing their eyes, ears and hearts to the suffering incurred by the beings who die? in slaughterhouses for the pleasure of a meal? There is no "just meat" without a creature losing its body, that's life. How often do we justify such actions to feel better?
I must emphasize here that I am to a neurologist. The closest qualification I have is to possess a brain. And when I say possess, I do not mean to imply that I have actual ownership or governance of said biological matter held within my skull. Sure, it's a part of me biologically, and it's a composite and repository of my life's programming so far, but it'll do its own thing the second I don't look. My brain has times when it behaves like a spoiled child and times when it becomes a dismissive parent. There are times when there is a mental noise like a raging cascade of information, and times when my brain seems to go AWOL, even MIA, as it just quietly stares into the air, utterly devoid of cognition. There are even times when trying to lift every thought of value is akin to swimming in custard or straining to get up from the couch after hours of junk TV and unwanted snacks. There are moments of dark destitution, and even the silliness of baby brain and puppy brain. Talk about the monkey spirit!
Maybe I just need to meditate more? However, meditation is the perfect time for my brain to activate. This is, of course, part of the training and a point of meditation practice. We train our mind to learn not to get attached to our thoughts. But for that, we have to calibrate our views, our motivations and our habits, which are like a bag of stones that we get used to carrying around. To change our reality, we must put down the bag, open it wide, and see the rocks inside for what they are. When we reach this point, we have a choice of what we do next: close the bag and carry on as before? Find new rocks and start over? Put the rocks in the river and leave the bag behind? You had the idea.
Speaking of the dual nature of the mind, have you experienced the benefits of inner dialogue that attempts to counter a particular negative brain state? It's a kind of inner pep talk or inner redirection that happens when you become aware that your brain is walking on the wrong side of town. Buddhism often speaks of duality, and most of us are aware of the two aspects of the brain – the left and right hemispheres. It is a curious experience when we sincerely enjoy the phenomenon of hearing an inner voice arguing against a current state of mind, or contemplating the fact that we may desire to override a behavioral tendency. For example, knowing that you are afraid of flying, you might choose to reprogram your brain to il what will you do I want, in this case to fly without fear. The same voice might remind you that you are, in fact, worthy when you are otherwise drowning. Who is the I who makes these decisions? THE I which has autonomy from the other I?
Meditation, especially clear-mind meditations, reminds us that crystal blue skies are often obscured by clouds. Clouds (like the aforementioned rocks) are, of course, the programming the brain undergoes during life experience, while clear skies are the unfettered mind of the essential. I. Most clouds form in infancy, making it extremely difficult to really know quoi is I, in relation to what has been learned and hardwired deep within our brains. Is your favorite color your favorite because you are in tune with the frequency of that color at that time? Or is it because it was the color of the dress your mother wore one day when you were happy? Do you like to cook because you have discovered the pleasure of sharing food? Or is it because your family always cooked around you when you were young?
Simple questions like these can help determine what your truth is and what programming is. Although one does not necessarily exclude the other, self-awareness is the foundation of self-awareness: ontology opens the door to epistemological conversation.
It should be noted here that meditation alone cannot solve all neurological problems or behavioral traits, so it is essential to be gentle with ourselves. It is only after many years of frustrating meditation that many practitioners may realize that there are other factors at play.
Sometimes some form of intervention can be beneficial because the “wiring” of the brain may be compromised or because we carry unhealed trauma, which bubbles to the surface when we least expect it. And sometimes we can remedy specific imbalances ourselves that create “unnecessary clouds”.
Chronic daily stress creates cortisol, which induces inflammation, which wreaks havoc on our physical systems and, inevitably, our emotional well-being. Too often our diets, high in processed foods, add to inflammation and toxicity. For example, refined sugar is a major contributor to brain poisoning, and processed foods are often lacking in essential ingredients our brains need to function healthily. For example, many of us suffer from deficiencies of dopamine, serotonin, and B vitamins. We can benefit from a myriad of natural herbs and supplements, which can cleanse our bodies of toxic heavy metals and molds, and certain species of fungi can help us develop new synaptic connections. The list is not endless, but the healthy resources that nature has provided to us are impressive. These are just examples of actions we can take at any time, and I urge you to research the benefits of brain foods and nootropics.
Of course, the brain isn't just a supplement-hungry piece of meat; it is an interconnected, formless, timeless, and ultimately ineffable seat of mind and consciousness. But while our realities can only be seen as fluctuations in energy, here and not here, the bills still have to be paid. And while our stress may not have evaporated like a cloud, meditation can offer insight into how we can deal with our daily concerns more effectively and clearly.
It seems that the Noble Eightfold Path of the Buddha is as much a map of what we might describe as the law of assumption and attraction. What would happen if you dropped the bag of stones that are the unquestioned thoughts and programming that have defined your personality over the years? What if you redefine who you are and take action?
Don't be afraid to be yourself.