Buddha Brain: The Practical Neuroscience of Happiness, Love and Wisdom by Rick Hanson

Buddha Brain

Summary
  1. Buddha Brain takes ancient Buddhist practices and scientific data to show us how to strengthen our brain in order to have stronger relationships and an overall happier and more fulfilling life.
Key Takeaways
  1. Thoughts literally shape our brain. With this knowledge, be mindful of your thoughts as over time they will be ingrained
  2. If brain is cause of suffering it can also be its cure
  3. Wisdom is applied common sense. Let go of things that hurt and strengthen what brings joy
  4. When you see your body as distinct, as what defines you, that leads to suffering, fear and weakness as you take the body’s weaknesses and frailties for your own
  5. Simulating an amazing evolutionary advantage but it brings us out of the present moment – present only place where one can find true happiness and often induces negative emotions. Most emotions in real life not as intense as what we simulate and usually contains limiting or simplistic beliefs. Simulating makes you chase carrots which aren’t as good as you think they’ll be and sticks aren’t as bad
  6. First and second darts – mental and physical discomforts unavoidable (first dart) but our reactions to them often amplify the suffering (second dart). Our reactions to situations are either positive or negative cycles as it is reinforcing either way
  7. When aware that brain doesn’t know the difference between a thought and reality, you realize how important it is to control your thoughts and reactions to situations. Thoughts are reality
  8. Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional
  9. Consciously look for positive experiences. Look for and let positive events sink in and savor it. Can infuse a negative memory with a positive to one to slowly uproot it
  10. Craving something, more than simply desiring it, is what leads to suffering. Can desire something without craving it to happen or play out a certain way
  11. With equanimity, things have only characteristics, not demands. Can view things as unbiased and not react in a negative way. Engaged with world but not troubled by it. Not disappointed or ecstatic with charms of life, simply see things as they are – neither good nor bad. Not reacting to reactions
  12. Aim for a mind with no preferences, free from reactions
  13. Recognize that pleasures and rewards are fleeting and often not nearly as great as what we build up in our heads
  14. Respond, don’t react
  15. Be careful about attributing intentions to others
  16. You don’t have to be the justice system. Trust that others actions, good or bad, will be rewarded or punished respectively
  17. Being mindful simply means having good control over your attention. One of the most important steps your an take to shape your thoughts, actions and brain. Best way to improve mindfulness is through meditation
  18. Try doing just one thing at a time in order to cultivate mindfulness. When washing dishes, wash dishes. Use recurring, everyday events such as going to the bathroom as reminders to be mindful
What I got out of it
  1. Dr. Rick Hanson gives a lot of pragmatic tips that you can work into your daily routine in order to be happier and learn to detach from your “self.” I think the three biggest concept are: learning to respond and not react, try to be as free from preferences as possible, and “good” events are rarely as good as we build up in our heads and “bad” events nearly never as devastating. Also, Hanson’s weekly newsletter, Just One Thing, offers some straightforward and helpful insights.

  • How we focus our attention and how mindful we are have direct consequences on the brain
  • Mind and brain and intricately linked and can be considered one as they develop together. Can be said that mind is what the brain does. The relation between these two is one of the worlds great mysteries
  • We are not as separate or distinct from our environment or those around us as our brain perceives it.
  • Body and mind require a balance to function properly and only when it comes into conscious thought (hungry, cold, etc.) do we really pay attention to it. Often as a threat
  • Your brain is forever trying to chase the present moment to understand and react to it
  • Feeling tone – everything produces a pleasant, unpleasant or neutral feeling. Way of telling the brain what to do
  • Desiring leads to suffering. Often quenching desire not that fulfilling and not getting the desire leads to feelings of unpleasantness
  • 6 ways to avoid “the stick” (negative consequences) – default mode of anxiety as always alert for threats, sensitivity to negative situations, high priority storage for negative experiences, negative events have more impact than positive ones, lingering traces of negative experiences, vicious cycles of pessimism, avoiding involves suffering
  • 3 poisons of Buddhism – greed, hatred and delusion
  • Important to cultivate compassion and self-compassion. Can do this by thinking of pleasant situations and of people who love you
  • 3 survival strategies that also lead to suffering – creating separations, stabilizing opportunities and avoiding unpleasant experiences
  • Happiness comes from discomfort of distinguishing your mental afflictions and discomfort of being ruled by them
  • Little moments are the best time to practice avoiding second darts and 3 poisons as it’s not overly difficult and lays path for better reactions in more difficult situations
  • Enlightenment will come with cultivation of mindfulness, virtue and wisdom
  • Implicit memory formed over time through experience and is your default mode, what you consider “you”. Can be beneficial or harmful so make sure to cultivate good memories and eliminate bad ones. Actively look for the good in life, be mindful of it and savor and stay with it, internalize and enrich it, imagine experience is entering your mind and body deeply – a smile, the smell of an orange, can be almost anything
  • Memories are incomplete and fallible. Only retain key points and not vivid recollections
  • Synapses that fire together, wire together. Simple idea that what is consistently acted out or thought of get deeper and longer lasting connections
  • Explicit memories are conscious recollections of specific events or experiences.
  • Actively relax as this helps show body there are no threats – relax tongue, jaw and eye muscles, feel tension drain out of body and into the earth, run warm water over your hands, scan and relax tense parts of your body
  • Diaphragm breathing helps reduce anxiety – breathe into lower abdomen so stomach expands outwards
  • Progressive relaxation – focus on specific parts of body and learn to relax it completely
  • Big exhalation – big inhalation and slowly exhale
  • Touch the lips brings up soothing feelings
  • Yoga and meditation fantastic daily additions to anybody’s routine
  • Being mindful of traumatic childhood experiences and/or types of relationship with parents can bring to light many issues you might currently be having
  • Strength often internal and quiet. No chest bumping. Is comprised of energy and determination. Think of times when you’ve felt strong and recount how it made you feel. Can bring that strength to anything at anytime
  • Set aside just a couple moments every day to set aside and do away with all preferences
  • All sentient beings evolved so that pleasurable things tend to have positive impacts
  • Make it a practice to notice what you have in common with others as opposed to the differences
  • Combination of compassion/empathy and assertion is vital.
  • Improve empathy by putting yourself in other persons shoes and imagine yourself how that would feel and how you would react. Pay special attention to face and eyes. Can get more empathy by others by being present, open and honest. Practice compassion by sending random people or animal a compassionate thought
  • Speak less and listen more.
  • All happiness comes from making others happy and all suffering comes from attempting to make one self happy
  • Kindness meditation – wishing 5 different people happiness, health, strength and living at ease – mentor, friend, neutral person, difficult person and self. Helps foster unconditional love for everyone, everything and every event
  • Always look for the good and things to be happy about
  • Hate can only be tamed with love
  • Practice non-contention
  • When you feel someone has wronged you, imagine the “10,000” things that went into their action – childhood, background, bad relationships, etc. gives you a chance to understand their POV
  • Forgive – let go of feeling of being wronged. You are the biggest beneficiary of forgiveness
  • Think of ill will as an illness and notice how it makes you feel. Poisons you more than the person you’re thinking of
  • Get enough sleep, have good posture, breathe deeply and slowly
  • See thoughts and preferences as distinct and separate from you
  • Awareness does not need a self to operate and making this distinction is often very helpful to fostering true mindfulness
  • To us, our self seems continuous but it is in fact updated and reconstructed all the time
  • Don’t identify with the self
  • Be wary of doing things just for praise or acceptance. Just do your best and the rest will take care of itself
  • You don’t need to be special to be loved and accepted by others and self
  • The self is necessary evolutionarily and for relationships but that doesn’t mean we need to identify with it as it often leads to suffering

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