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The Neuroscience of Mindfulness

Rick Hanson & Melli O'Brien






Scan the following QR code with your camera app to open it on your phone

The Neuroscience of Mindfulness

Rick shares the science-backed benefits of mindfulness and how the practice affects the body and brain, and therefore our lives.

I'm your host Melli O'Brien.

And with me today, I

am thrilled to have Dr.

Rick Hanson with us today.

And Rick is a neuro psychologist and he's

also a New York Times bestselling author.

His books include Hardwiring Happiness,

my favorite is Buddha Brain and Just

One Thing and also Mother Nurture.

And he's also the founder of

the Wellspring Institute for

Contemplating Wisdom and Neuroscience.

Rick has spoken at universities like

Oxford and Harvard, and also taught at

meditation centers around the world and

is also the creator of an online course

called the Foundations of Well-being.

And can I just say also for all of you

out there who want to just find some

really great free resources on how to

live a more happy, contented and peaceful

life, Rick's website, RickHanson.net,

which is spelled Hanson, H A N S O N

is just like an amazing resource of

free information to go and check out.

So I highly recommend going

and checking that out as well.

Rick, I'm absolutely thrilled

to have you here with us today.

Thank you.

And I can't wait to talk all things

neuroscience and mindfulness with you.

You're welcome.

I'm happy to be here.


So as I mentioned, I want to talk about

with you today mainly how mindfulness

changes our brains and changes our

whole lives really from the inside out.

But I'd love to talk with you first

of all, about, well, I have kind of

like a two-fold question for you.

First of all, would you consider

yourself, on reflection now, would

you say that you were a contemplative

child, a spiritually inclined child?

And if you could tell us the story

of how you came to be practicing

mindfulness and interested in the

contemplative traditions of the world.

That's such a great question.

You know, Melli, I think a lot of

people, when they are kids and a lot

of kids, when they're kids, a lot of

kids, period, like me, including at

a young age, you know, my earliest

memories go back to being nearly three.

I wasn't quite three, or

I had just turned three.

And in those vivid memories as well

as other vivid memories is really

continuously, or it shows up in most of

them, a background sense that there was

a tremendous amount of construction of

unnecessary unhappiness - in my family,

the other kids around me, school.

I was in schools watching the adults,

just a lot of needless tension, worry,

bickering, fault-finding, hassling,

stress, frazzledness, and so forth.

And there was in me a very strong sense

of a kind of poignant, wistful wishfulness

that it did not need to be this way.

I didn't know how people could

reliably, stably find lasting true

happiness, love and inner peace.

But I honestly had a sense of a

kind of quest to find out in the

back of my mind, partly motivated

by being quite unhappy myself.

Nothing like pain to want you to pull

your hand back from the hot stove.

So that was the beginning for me.

And I went to a very conventional kind of

high school and grew up in a conventional

setting, raised a casual Christian,

no particular spirituality there.

And then in college, I stumbled on

the whole human potential movement in

the early seventies, which then led me

to Eastern perspectives and practices

by the time I was a senior at UCLA.

And in the spring of 1974, which is when

I began meditating, and at that point,

kind of the doors popped quite open.

I'd had a lot of background

previously in human potential,

humanistic psychology, et cetera.

I'd had beginnings of interest in the

nervous system, the physical, natural

basis for suffering or happiness.

And then when I came across the analysis

of the mind in ultimate reality from

the more Eastern traditions, including

Buddhism, which became kind of my own

home tradition, that just felt wow,

deeply true and a penetrating window

into what we could do to establish

the basis for lasting, unconditional

contentment, love and inner peace.

And so that was kind of the

beginning for me back in 1974.

Been at it pretty steadily ever

since, for better or worse.

And that was my own journey,

if you will, that's where my

journey began with mindfulness.

It's so interesting, you know,

as I hear you talk about what

it was like for you as a child.

It's pretty much my own story.

And I would hazard a guess that so

many people who would be watching

this summit would have the same story

that starts as a child, that sense

of longing for a way of being with

more contentedness and wholeness.

So, and you find yourself now at these

amazing place of, you know, understanding

deeply the way that our brain works.

I mean, I've heard you say that

neuroscience is a baby science,

but still having this understanding

of that world and as well as

the, the contemplative sciences.

So we now have a fairly decent body

of research about how mindfulness

affects the body and the brain.

Could you tell us about some of that?

So when we practice mindfulness,

what actually happens in our

brain and what does that do?

How does that roll out in a person's

life in terms of behavior and emotional

intelligence and those kinds of things?

That's a great question.

So, people use the term mindfulness

as you all know in different ways.

That's true.

Yeah, I tend to, I'm fine with however,

we use it, as long as we know how

we're using it and flag movements

from one definition or meaning to

another, not getting all semantic

or anything, but just for clarity.

You know?

And so I go kind of old school to

the original notions of mindfulness

rooted in Buddhism as sustained present

moment awareness that itself is neutral

with regard to what it's aware of it.

And, yet alongside with mindfulness

are other important factors,

such as curiosity, investigation,

self-compassion, insight and so forth.


So we can be mindful under any and

all conditions, a kind of intense

epitome of mindfulness is sustained

contemplative practice, such as

mindfulness of the body or if someone's

doing this in a more theistic frame

in which there's a relationship

with something transcendental, we

could think of prayer as a kind of

sustained mindfulness practice as well.


So research has been done on people

who have greater trait mindfulness.

They're more mindful in general.

Without practice?

For various reasons.

So it correlates with being a more mindful

person, however, you became mindful.

Maybe you are just naturally more mindful.


But whatever it is, you know,

mindfulness itself is a trait.

It correlates with a lot of good

things, including resilience, mental

health, happiness, positive emotion,

empathy for others and so forth.


Intervention studies that more

specifically look at what happens to

the brain when people deliberately do

mindfulness practice are very interesting.

Particularly people who do, you know,

a significant amount of meditative

practice, not perfect meditators, but

you know, 20, 30 minutes most days

maybe, or, you know, with experience

perhaps less time, but they're still

doing a fair amount of practice.

So they tend to have different brains

in some important and interesting ways.

First, they tend to have

more cortical tissue.

That's the outer shell of the brain,

if you will, from the root of the Latin

word bark, like the bark of a tree.

And those thicknesses really matter

because you could put roughly five

thousand synapses, little connections

between neurons side by side in

the width of just one single hair.

So increasing cortical thickness

by even a fraction of a

millimeter makes a big difference.

So long-term mindfulness meditators,

for example, have a measurably

thicker cortex behind their foreheads,

prefrontal regions that help regulate

attention, emotion, and actions.

They also have thicker cortex in the

insula, a part of the brain that helps

us tune into ourselves and also tune

into the emotions of other people.

They have measurably thicker cortex

third in the hippocampus, a part

of the brain that puts things in

perspective and also calms down the

alarm bell of the brain, the amygdala.

So we get more resilient.

Also meditators, interestingly,

have smaller amygdalae.

They have, the amygdala

is a little smaller.

The alarm bell is a little,

not quite so loud and freaky.

Also people who routinely practice

meditation, or even at the end of

just an eight week intervention

study have a stronger immune

system that's outside of the brain.


But they also have increased activation

of the left side of the prefrontal

cortex, which for most people, you know,

right-handed people and roughly half of

all, left-handed people have language on

the left and visual-spatial on the right.

Anyway, meditators have greater

activation of the left prefrontal

cortex, which is associated with more

positive emotion and a better mood.

In part because left prefrontal cortex

puts the brakes on negative emotions.

Just to finish up with two more

interesting findings, we have

brainwaves which basically track

the synchronized activity of large

swaths of neural real estate, kind

of all firing in synchronization

with each other many times a second.

And the fastest of these brainwaves,

the gamma range brainwaves, beating

roughly 30 to 80 times a second, which

is associated with greater learning

from life's experiences and also more

sense of integration and wholeness.

Long-term meditation practitioners

have greater intensity and

reach of this range of important

brainwaves, gamma wave brainwaves.

And last, it's beginning to be found that

people who meditate, particularly those

who maybe do intensive concentration

practices, preserve the length of,

what are called telomeres, which are

strips of atoms at the very ends of the

chromosomes that protect us against the

age related illnesses of various kinds.

So if you want to stay younger in

a sense, one of the many ways to

do that of course, is to meditate.

So if I were to just summarize it, I

mean, it's really quite extraordinary the

benefits just in the brain, which then

translate to benefits in the emotions

and our psychology and our relationships

altogether - greater resilience, greater

happiness, more capacity to weather

life's ups and downs, more insight into

yourself, more insight into other people,

less depression, less anxiety, quicker

recovery from illnesses of various kinds

or surgeries, and faster healing of

wounds, less inflammation in the body.

To sum up, if the big pharmaceutical

companies like Merck or Pfizer

could patent meditation or patent

MBSR, mindfulness based stress

reduction, whatever, they could

patent it and make money from it.

We'd be seeing ads for

meditation routinely.

Well, certainly in American TV where

you see ads for Prozac, Viagra and

the rest of that all night long.

I don't know if the ads for Viagra

would diminish, but I think the answer

Prozac would be replaced by ads for

MBSR and other forms of meditation.


I was just thinking when you were talking

about, you know, the anti-aging aspect

of mindfulness, wouldn't it be great

if we could open a beauty magazine

one day and instead of seeing product

after product of, you know, putting

all this stuff all over your face

and spraying it all over your hair,

if it could just say, well, Hey, why

don't you just practice mindfulness?

And it gives you an inner glow to boot.

Well, actually, it's a

pitch for adolescents.

For those of you who are teenagers or

have teenagers, one of the more powerful

ways to motivate teenagers to do some

kind of emotional intelligence practice,

including mindfulness practice is

that it will lower your stress level.

That's one of the most dominant findings.

It will lower your stress level

and stress gives you pimples.


So you want to improve your complexion?

One of the good odds, not a

guarantee but a good odd strategy,

is to practice mindfulness.

That's motivating.

That is motivating, not only for

teenagers, but that is motivating.

So, what I'd love to, at least from your

point of view, from the point of view

of neuropsychology is, is there, do we

know if there is some kind of minimum

effective dose or some kind of ideal dose?

How dose dependent is mindfulness?

What happens in the brain

with different dosages?

It's a great question.

And it relates to the type of

practice you do, of course, and

also the kind of person you are.



And some people are very receptive.

They really tune in, you know.

Other people, they probably

are, you know, slower learners.

And so they just need to have

higher doses to get the same effect.


What I've seen looking at this is that,

at least in terms of the body of knowledge

that we have neuroscientifically, in

terms of measurable changes in the

nervous system, I mean, there's a general

principle, which is the more the better.


And the briefest intervention study I'm

aware of would be eight weeks of MBSR.


The larger point though, I think, really

is to commit to something routinely.

So my personal vow is to always meditate

at least one minute or more a day.

And sometimes I remember that

minute just before going to

sleep and that's the minute I do.

But I think there's something very

powerful about, you know, the dailiness

of it, whatever that is you'll do.

And second, I think it's important to

adapt your practice to your own needs.

Maybe you're a person who's more toward

the spirited, ADD end of the normal

temperamental spectrum, and so for you

just sitting isn't going to do it for you.

But being guided in a practice, you

have a lovely voice, listening to

one of your practices perhaps, or

walking, because it's more stimulating.

If that's the minute or the 20 minutes

or the 45 minutes that you're going to

do every day, or maybe something more

heartfelt, like loving kindness or

gratitude or opening to some sense of God

is love, if that's meaningful for you.

Whatever your practice is that

you'll do, that's the one to do.

What is crystal clear is that people in

just eight weeks of MBSR had significant

and measurable changes in their brains.

And current neuroimaging technology needs

to see pretty big changes in the brain

to be able to measure it because it's a

little bit like the early microscopes.

You know, those little amoebas or

whatever they were seeing, you know,

and the saliva, whatnot had to be

really big to be able to see them.

Same with neuroimaging.

It's got to be pretty big to see it.

So if you can get a scientific

study about changing the brain,

something big has happened there.




I'm really glad that you, I'm really

glad that you brought that up as

well that people have different

personality types and there really

isn't one right way to practice.

And that's, that's a really great insight.

I'm so glad that you shared that.

We all have such different tendencies.

The thing I would really say is

that you can have your body and

your emotions as a real marker.

For example, one of the most reliable,

probably the most reliable indicator

of long-term meditation practice is how

rapidly people's heart rate and breathing

rate drops when they go into meditation.

Oh, interesting.

Yeah, it's interesting.

Beginners, if you will, in most

cases, on average, take quite a

while for the body to settle down.

Whereas experienced meditators who start

out at that same baseline, let's call

it, as a, these are beginners, these are

regular meditators, let's say their heart

rates are the same, or they come zooming

in, like I did for this interview from

having doing, having done a lot of emails.

You know, the meditators, they're

going to drop really fast.

So that's a marker.

And second, positive emotion.

How readily does a person,

you know, move into some sense

of peacefulness, wellbeing?

Key point, you're not craving

that, you're not chasing it, you're

not clinging to it because that

interrupts wellbeing obviously.

But, so my point is that what's going to

have an impact on you is if you're, in

terms of this question of dosing, it's

not about duration, it's about impact.

You have an experienced meditator drops

into the very deep zone in one minute,

and then hangs out there for five minutes.


So they get four minutes in the deep

zone, but a beginning meditator does 20

minutes of meditation and they clock,

you know, 20 seconds in the deep zone,

even though they're spending more time,

they're going to have less impact.

So I think the takeaway from this is

not to strive and seek some kind of,

you know, Zen moment on one hand.

But on the other hand, let

your body be your teacher, let

your emotions be your teacher.

They're telling you, and

they are giving you feedback.

So find out which really helps you

relax and open into some kind of

really beautiful, peaceful place.

I'm aware of a lot of meditative

practices, a lot of traditions and

a lot of methods, including outside

Buddhism, and it's humbling to appreciate

that a very large fraction of the

value of mindfulness and meditation

is carried by two things that are

not unique to mindfulness meditation,

stress relief, and positive emotion.

But the fact of that doesn't diminish

the impact of meditation because

whatever your skillful means is to

get to the ends, let's say, of stress

relief and including relaxation and

second positive emotion, that's going

to have a lot of benefit for you.

And then in addition to that, you can

look for what also is available in things

like mindfulness, such as the development

of that, what's called ,that observing,

witnessing, you know, disidentification

from the streaming of consciousness or

particular insights, such as insights

into impermanence, transience, and so

on, or other benefits in your particular

practice, like a sense of union with

the divine or your guru or whatever.

But, yeah, but to sum up,

you want to help yourself.

You know, drop into a powerful, good,

deep place because that's going to

have a lot more benefit for you.


It's really interesting, you know,

that was one of my teachers who was

actually a Swami in the yogic tradition.

He always had, he really kind of hopped on

with us about the point, if we ever talked

about dosage or, you know, how often we

should do things, he always used to say

to us, look, five minutes of high quality

practice is worth an entire retreat

of, you know, kind of coming and going.

And he was just like, you know, you,

you want to be thinking about high

quality practice more so than anything.

And also just, you know,

respecting where you're at.

But having that in mind as you do.

There's no use sitting there for thinking

for an hour, but lost in thoughts.

I know it's a really tricky thing

because mindfulness is a relationship

to states, states of mind, right?

It's our relationship where

we're being, we're not being

forgetful, we're recollected.

That's out of the root meaning of the word

from mindfulness and early teachings of

the Buddha, it's around recollectedness.

It's our relationship to states.

And sometimes people make the mistake

of thinking that mindfulness is a state.

That's a mistake.

You know, mindfulness is

a relationship to states.


It's not to be equated with bare

witnessing or choiceless awareness.

In bare witnessing, there's

little but mindfulness present.

But mindfulness is not conflated

with or equated to that condition

so that anything except choiceless

awareness is not mindfulness.

A very important point.

And I think a lot of people in the

modern mindfulness movement, you know,

I've inadvertently really misunderstood

that, and that's an important point.

But second, mindfulness

is a means to an end.

You know, it's not an end in itself.

And I think some people get really

caught up and kind of glamorize or

glorify the technique of mindfulness.

And there they are, you know, kind

of being mindful of the streaming of

consciousness and what streams through

their consciousness and the overall change

in their being is fairly nonexistent.

And it's really okay to both be mindful

while also, from time to time, as

appropriate, you know, from time to

time, gently encourage a relaxing

of the body, an opening into warmth,

warmheartedness, you know, a coming

into gratitude, a letting go, an

opening out into allness altogether.


It's okay to do that.

It doesn't, I mean, there's a place

for radical choiceless awareness where

you don't do anything about that.

But much of the time, I think it's

really okay to be both mindful, while

periodically, gently inviting in a

deepening of that which you would

like to cultivate more of in yourself.


So some people, I've heard the same thing

before where people think it's kind of

mutually, you cannot be mindful and at

the same time, for instance, wanting

to cultivate more love or compassion or

wanting to create something in your life.

So what you're saying is, and I

completely 100% agree with you,

that they don't have to be separate.

Mindfulness is not choiceless

awareness where you never cultivate,

or in your language, you never pull

any weeds or you never cultivate

any good things in your life.

They absolutely go together.

And in fact, mindfulness is, I

guess the first step to being

able to do that in our lives.

I think that's a

critically important point.

I mean, if we are, again, going back old

school to the original's best teachings

of the Buddha, if we were to be mindful

and he has this long list, you know,

while walking, while sitting while

lying, while talking, while eating,

while going to the bathroom and he puts

it in there, if we were to be mindful

under all those conditions, why not be

also mindful while we are, as you put

it, you know, quoting me too, trying to

release the negative or grow the positive.

Yeah, it's really okay.


Glad you brought that up.

And we spoke a little bit, we kind of just

touched on briefly something that I'd love

to expand on a little bit more, and that

is that, you know, over time with repeated

practice of mindfulness, it seems that

certain insights, certain realizations

about, you know, the nature of things

or ourselves tend to naturally arise.

And one of those things that

seems to be very common is a kind

of a reorientation of our sense

of self to a much more expansive

and, interconnected sense of self.

And I was wondering about what

this is like in the brain.

Do we know if there are structural changes

in the brain that create this experience

of a reorientation of our sense of self?

I would love to hear, first of all,

what are the typical insights that

seem to arise out of the practice and

how does that relate to our brains?

It's such an interesting question.

So, a couple things.

So first, if you scan the brains,

let's say, of long time meditation

practitioners, much of the research on

this has been done on Tibetan lamas,

yogis, tulkus, monks, monastic nuns.


We're talking 20,000, 30,000 hours,

literally people doing twelve-year

retreats, stuff like that.

And the first interesting thing is

their brains look almost exactly like

the brain of some kind of anxious,

driven, aggressive stockbroker, right?

They all look the same

because they are brains.


They're still walking or talking,

they're maintaining a heart.

You know, structurally, they

look very, very similar.

There's some small differences that

you start to see like, as I said,

thicker tissue in certain parts

of the brain and also differences

that can make a big difference.

Also this thing I said about more

gamma wave activity, more sense of, you

know, more integrating, synchronization

of large swaths of the brain.

So on the one hand, there there's a

similarity, but on the other hand,

there are differences that do seem

to equate and to really pop out.

One, is this sense of gamma wave brain

activity that's very integrative.

And it makes me think about, you

may be familiar with this, one of

the five factors of those so-called

dhyanas, these non-ordinary states

of awareness that constitute the wise

concentration, right concentration

element of the eightfold path.

Those states of awareness in the

Southeast Asian Buddhist tradition

that I'm most rooted in, have those

states of awareness arise due to

factors, right and arise to the causes.

They arise dependently.


One of those five factors is called

unification of consciousness, singleness

of mind, which probably involves this

kind of gamma wave integrative, wholeness.

You start to experience, we have a

poet in America called Walt Whitman.

He had a lovely line, "I am multitudes."

It's a sense of accepting and

embracing and including all the

multitudes, you know, that you are.

So there's this movement from a

sense of this contracted tense, a

congealed I looking out through the

eyes, this entity somewhere inside.

It has to defend itself and glamorize

and glorify itself and claims

things and identifies with things.

And you start more opening out into...

you are a person.

Persons certainly exist

and they have duties, moral

duties and also moral rights.

But it's not easy to find and you cannot

find it so far in neuroscience, and I

think nor in your own direct experience,

the full package of the presumed

entity, I, that's assumed to exist

in Western psychology and philosophy,

and that has huge implications.

So it's, we're talking here about the

sense of opening out into the whole

person which looks plausibly like it is

supported in part by this integrative

whole brain gamma wave activity.

So that's the first major finding and

it has a lot of implications, including

training in whole body awareness in part

to support those gamma wave patterns.

So when you say training in whole

body awareness as in having that,

you know, like something like a

body scan practice where you just

hold the whole body in awareness?

It depends what you mean by the body scan.

So usually the way attention works

with the body is that if you think

of awareness like a stage, right?

One way to think of it is attention

and intention is the spotlight

on the whole stage of awareness.

Attention kind of skitters around from

sensation to sensation to sensation.

If you're tracking your body or

just simply sensations of breathing,

right, or put a little differently,

you know, different things get

foregrounded under the spotlight

moment after moment after moment.

But what we can also do is to widen

that spotlight to include, in a sense of

gestalt awareness, a wider and wider field

in which everything in it is experienced

as a single percept, one single

integrated experience, but has different

aspects, but experienced as one thing.

All right.

So it's kind of like if you go

outside, you can have your gaze fled

from thing to thing to thing, or you

can kind of soften your gaze, yeah,

and like, whoa, the whole thing.

So if you practice that with your body,

which is a wonderful, powerful practice,

I think that one of the probable benefits

of it is that it supports this gamma

wave activity, which is one of the

major findings of people who have, in

their own report, more of a sense of

selflessness and less inclination to

take life so personally, et cetera.

The other major finding, which has a

lot of practical implications, is that

when people are doing me, myself and

I - I've been cheated and mistreated.

When will I be loved?

Why'd you treat me like that?

And you know, I think this.

It's my precious.

When we're doing that kind of stuff,

right, we tend to activate networks in the

middle of the brain, middle and cortical

networks, either when we're goal-directed

toward the front of the midline or

when we're just kind of spacing out a

daydreaming, the soulful default mode

toward the back of the midline networks.

Either way, there's a lot of

I in those midline networks, a

lot of me making and I making.

All right.

So on the other hand, uh, studies show,

and people can check out work from

a fellow named Norman Farb, F-A-R-B,

his papers, but anyway, when people

go more into open awareness, where

they're in the present moment, they're

not engaged with the future oforthe

past, there's less and less sense of I,

they're not taking things so personally,

these midline activations reduce.

They decrease.

And what starts to happen is networks

on the science of the brain, especially

the right side for right-handed

people, which is where visual gestalt,

holistic processing more resides in

the right hemisphere, they tend to

activate lateral networks over here.

And with mindfulness training, at the end

of like eight weeks of MBSR, there's more

stable capacity to go into the lateral

mode of present moment, more self-love,

less problem solving, less abstracting,

less taking things personally, really

being in the now kinds of awareness.

And with practice, you can strengthen

those lateral modes because

neurons that fire together wire

together, as the saying has it.

So if you stimulate those particular

networks, they're going to get stronger

over time, kind of like working a

muscle again and again, and again.

And people who are more able to

drop into present moment awareness,

which has a less sense of self in

it, you're still a person, you're

aware, you're abiding but as the

multitude, but not so much as an ego.

People like that have more reliable

activation of the lateral mode.

And so one way into that is to do

the whole body awareness, the gestalt

awareness I was talking about, your

training in lateral mode activation.

And as you do that, what also really

tends to fall away is the sense of I.

There's still a person there.

You're still aware.

And still able to function.

Yeah, and making choices and for

having perspectives and being

determined and all the rest of that.

But, you know, you start operating

more and more in life as the whole

package, the whole person you are

rather than, you know, protecting and

endlessly bound to this little presumed

dictator, you know, the inner I.


That's really, really interesting.

That's fascinating.

And again, over time, more and more

practice, especially with that kind of

whole body awareness, things like that,

you would expect that that sense of not

being such a limited little I would deepen

and deepen and deepen as time goes on.


I think that's really true.

There's a way in which mindfulness

practice or spiritual practice altogether,

contemplative practice often has a

sense of rounded, of kind of grim,

dour, bummer recognition of suffering.

You know, if you're not miserable,

you're not really paying attention.

And it's, you know, oh,

happiness who needs it.

It's just more poignant, like blah.

And, you know, it's, what's interesting

is that if you look at the people,

generally speaking, who are the most

developed in any tradition you care

about - of Christian, Judaism, Islam,

Hinduism - even people who have really

gone a long way with a kind of more

secular paths of self-actualization.


And certainly Buddhism.

The farther along people are,

generally the happier they get.

Their heart is lifted.

They're inspired.

They're peaceful.

They're contented.

You know, it's a path, as Jack Kornfield

puts it, it's a path with heart.

It's a path of heart,

with heart, to heart.

And one of the things that's been really

striking in terms of the beneficial

applications of modern psychology and

neuropsychology to contemplative practice

is to really appreciate the healing power

and the spiritually transforming power of

positive emotion, of one kind or another.

Peacefulness, compassion,

kindness, gratitude, sense of

your own worth, enjoying wholesome

pleasures in life, you know.

The trick of course is to appreciate the

value of positive emotion and open to it

and receive it, including the positive

experiences you have on the cushion or

in your body scan, or in your mindfulness

class, to appreciate these emotionally

positive, emotionally, enjoyable

experiences, to really appreciate them

so they sink into your brain, right?

While at the same time letting go of

them and not claiming them as mine.


Yeah, wonderful.

Well, I want to be

respectful of your time.

So I just have one, final kind

of comment, question for you.

So it's been said that mindfulness has

the capacity to change the world from

the inside out one, person at a time.

And so what I'd love to know is that from

your perspective, from the perspective

of neuroscience, but as well, just

drawing on your own direct experience

of what unfolds in our life when you

practice mindfulness, what do you think

the changes would be like on the world

stage if mindfulness hit critical mass?

You know, I'm talking a billion,

two billion people, what

would that world look like?

It gets very interesting in terms of

how, I mean, it's a beautiful thought

and what do we mean, mindfulness?


And, you know, it's been pointed out that

burglars are mindful, snipers are mindful.

Mindfulness itself, even in Buddhist

psychology in the Abhidhamma

traditional early psychology.

So it is a neutral mental factor.

On the other hand, it is striking

that this simple, neutral present

moment awareness for most people,

has enormous positive benefits.

They kind of ripple out from it.

And I, myself reflected as have

others on why would that be?


And I think part of it is the ways

in which mindfulness by its very

nature disentangles us from negative

reactive patterns streaming along.

We start understanding them better.

And, implicit in the act of mindfulness

itself is a disidentification.

You kind of step out of the horror

movie or the crazy explosions, action

thriller and suddenly you're 20 rows

back looking at it going, wow, too bad.

Whoa, that looks pretty intense.

You know, that itself is huge

and could really make a big

difference in the world altogether.

So I think that part is really true.

In addition to mindfulness itself

though, my own opinion and I think

others probably share, is that we need

to add a moral dimension to mindfulness.

I think it's, I think to some extent,

maybe for some people, a more moral

dimension of compassion or benevolence,

kind of a sense of interconnectedness.

You know, if I hurt you,

it hurts me eventually.

If I help you, it helps me eventually.

Things like that.

To some extent, kind of maybe-sort

of for some people drift out

of or emerge out of mindfulness

itself, pure mindfulness practice.

But it's a slow process.

And that's why I think that great teachers

like the Buddha, who certainly appreciated

mindfulness, he allocated one of the eight

elements of the noble eightfold path to

it had seven other elements, as well.

It's the eightfold path,

not the one fold path.

So I think cultivating a warm heart,

kindness for others, moral commitments,

a sense of social justice, things

like that are also really important.


Last, in addition to that, I've

been really focusing on the second

and third noble truths in Buddhism,

which are essentially a purely

psychological drive theory of suffering.

And there's nothing mystical about

the four noble truths, you know.

There is suffering.

It's not that the entirety of life

is suffering, but there's a lot

of self-constructed suffering.

Think of that as the first noble truth.

Whoa, I'm startled by

another call that came in.

But anyway, back to this.

There is the first noble truth, you know,

that there is constructed suffering.

And then there's the second noble truth

that basically says, why do we suffer?

Suffering arises due to

causes, causes being craving.

Then third noble truth says

it's possible to reduce causes.

Fourth noble truth says how to do it.


What's the modern

neuropsychology of craving.

Why do we crave?

Well, craving is a drive state

that itself arises due to causes.

What are the underlying causes of

craving, broadly defined, right?

Underlying causes of craving are

internal sense of deficit or disturbance.


So how do we remedy the internal

sense of deficit or disturbance,

especially for people who have every

reason in the world to not experience

an underlying sense of deficit or

disturbance, typically people in the

more advantaged populations of the world?

This time, you know, at this day and

age, certainly two thirds of the world's

population is, if not 5/6th of it, really

do have the object of conditions in their

everyday life to feel fundamentally safe,

fundamentally satisfied, and fundamentally

connected, our three fundamental needs

loosely related to the inner lizard, mouse

and monkey of the reptilian brainstem,

mammalian subcortex, primate human cortex.


So it's not enough to just have

the object of conditions outside us

that address our fundamental needs.

People have to actually experience

deep in their bones again and again

and again that their core needs

are taken care of because otherwise

the brain goes into its red zone.

I don't care how mindful it is

or how morally committed it is.

It tips into the red zone in which

it starts feeling threatened and

fearful and angry in terms of safety.

Or, you know, driven or frustrated or

disappointed in terms of satisfaction.

Or, the brain tips into a sense

of hurt, shame, loneliness and the

resentment, tribalistic aggressiveness

towards them to protect us, whatever.

So mindfulness alone I think

is not enough certainly.

Even compassion and benevolence

alone is not enough.

We need to respect the power of

the caveman brain, the cavewoman

brain, the Stone Age brain.

And realize that this brain that

we have is extremely vulnerable

to tipping into the second noble

truth, in which there's an internal

sense of deficit and disturbance.

That's why it's so important, 10,000

times, 10 seconds at a time to

register the core sense of safety,

satisfaction and connection, the

sense of peace, contentment and love.

So that as when one does that over

time, one is able to deal with the

challenges of life from the green zone.

You know, in other words, on the

basis of an internal sense of peace,

contentment and love, rather than

fear, frustration and heartache.

And my own view and hope like yours, which

is one reason why I was very motivated to

do this program with you is that if we can

just get a critical mass of human brains,

you know, you said a billion or two

billion, I think that's the tipping point.

It doesn't take a majority, but it

does take a critical mass of brains

that spend most minutes of most

days in the green zone, drawing on

mindfulness as an extraordinarily

useful resource for doing that.

But I think mindfulness is a necessary

resource to help our planet, you know,

come to a softer landing than the one it's

headed toward by the end of the century.

Mindfulness is a necessary condition

for that, but it's not a sufficient one.

We need to also add moral commitments and

a process of really, really experiencing

core needs met to take fuel away

from those ancient fires or craving.



Thank you so much, Rick.

Well, thank you.

That was really sweet.

It's great to talk with you, Melli.

Yeah, it's been lovely to connect.

And I highly highly recommend

that you checkout Rick's books.

They're really amazing.

And they're really well-written

and really, really easy to read.

So jam packed with really,

really useful stuff for practical

stuff for everyday people.

And Rick, before we go, do you

want to share a little bit with

us about your online program,

the foundations of well-being?

I know there's probably some people

are going to want to check that out.

Oh, thank you.

Basically, I wanted to put into one

online accessible program most of

what I know about transformation,

happiness, healing, effectiveness

in relationships and so forth.

So that's what I've done.

It's jam packed with transformational,

inspirational tools that are

grounded in science, in the science

of positive neuroplasticity.

You can go through at

it any pace you want.

You can just focus on one thing in it.

It's got amazing interviews with lots of

people like Tara Brach, Jack Kornfield.

I just did an interview earlier with

John Ratey earlier today about exercise

and going wild, getting out into nature.

And the fundamental idea is that, you

know, I was just thinking, you know,

for the price of one or two sessions

with your therapist, you could have

an incredibly rich collection of

tools to transform your life with.

And that's what that program is about.

And if people are in financial need,

we give scholarships to people.

We hope that you're telling the

truth that you're actually in need

and you can't afford less than a

dollar a day, you know, for a year.

But we really want to make this

available to people worldwide.

So that's what that program is.

Thanks for asking me about it.

Yeah, no worries.

So go on and check that out.

And is there anything else that you'd

like to share before we close, Rick?

I have a quote from the Buddha

that seems very relevant here

and I'd like to offer it.

It's brief.

He said, "Think not lightly of good

saying, it will not come to me.

Drop by drop is the water pot filled.

Likewise, the wise one, gathering it

little by little fills oneself with good."


It's a lovely note to end on.

Thank you so much for watching.

And Rick, thank you so much.

Go well, my friend and

keep up the great work.

Thank you very much.

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The Mindfulness Summit  null Playlist · 23 tracks

The Mindfulness Summit

Playlist · 23 tracks4.9

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