Can the brain be trained to cope with suffering and bring about feeling of contentment?

In the last post I talked about how we feel inside, depends on how we view the world . We produce stress hormone if you see the world as hostile and healing hormone if you view the world as friendly.

It would be nice to live in a world where we feel safe and nurtured. You may wonder if such a world exists in reality; for most of us it probably doesn’t.  Even the father of the young Buddha tried to create such a world for him  but he failed. Later the Buddha himself realised that we cannot live without unpleasant things happening to us; in fact he thought life was suffused with suffering and that it was not just periodic good and bad events in life. The continuous suffering from ordinary life events ,such being late for work , getting a speeding ticket , weather either too hot or too cold , seasonal allergies , burning the tongue with hot beverage, argument with a colleague etc  can all contribute to the ongoing suffering; and chronic suffering will eventually give us ill-health. Buddha suggested minimising this suffering by being fully aware of it at all times; by being aware allows us the opportunity to react appropriately when we do suffer so that our behaviour or our reaction to it doesn’t produces more suffering to us or others.

The obvious question is if we can train our brain to always come up with the right action so that we cause no or minimal suffering to others and ourselves. The answer is yes; we can train our minds to do extraordinary things. We train our soldiers to kill when in combat. The training they get prepares them to kill in the war zone, if they don’t they will put their selves and their comrades in danger.  If mind can be trained to kill in certain situations why can’t it be trained to come up with right action at the right time? The right action is generated by cultivating compassion for all living being. It is the compassion that ultimately matters and guides us towards the right action. The science, with the new technology have studied brains of Buddhist monks and who practice cultivating compassion for all living beings. The part of the brain that is involved in compassion is markedly more developed than the average person who led an ordinary life. The monks have the ability to show compassion even to a psychopath. That does not mean they condone their bad actions or behavior, rather that even when they see how bad their behavior has been they still don’t want to cause them more suffering. The compassion they show is by seeing the situation as it really is, yes the psychopath may have lied, cheated, harmed others but after seeing all that their action is going to be based on how to prevent further suffering to psychopath and others. They do not believe (like most of us have the tendency to) that punishing and causing more suffering to them can avoid further suffering. Rather they believe that change in psychopath’s behavior is going to come from behaving differently towards him so that his view of the world is slowly converted to one where the world looks lot more friendly and caring. When one feels cared for and feels safe in the world then one will be predisposed to acting in a beneficial way to himself and to others. Of course the behavior of the psychopath is not going to change from one interaction but it may give him pause to think that there is another way of acting which maybe more beneficial to all concerned. With repeated showing of compassion his behavior may change.

When one is showing compassion to others don’t forget there is also a great benefit for to the one showing the compassion. As I suggested in my last posting they act from place where the world feels and seem friendly and their relationships are better; their level of stress hormones are lower and their feel good brain chemicals higher and their immune systems are more robust. The same is true when one show compassion to themselves.

So how can we learn to be compassionate and receive/give these good benefits? I said in my last posting I will go over some exercises to enhance the system that controls the feeling of contentment, but before I do that we need to know more about compassion; which will be the topic of the next posting. Until then may you see and find the world friendly.

Resources

The Compassionate Mind by Paul Gilbert

Elusive Pleasures and Contentment

We spend a lifetime pursuing things that we think will give us pleasure and contentment. Great minds like Aristotle and many others have devoted time thinking about pleasures that would bring happiness and contentment. The puritans were fearful of pursuing such feel good pleasures in case they led them into temptation. Some claim that Buddha was also not too keen on feel good pleasures; he taught real happiness comes from completely eliminating these desires.

We have come a long way to understanding what these pleasures are. Let us take a step back and try to understand what’s going on when we find pleasure in something. When we seek out certain types of food or sexual experiences, new job, new car etc; and when we actually acquire it, our brain then gives us a boost of certain chemicals such as dopamine, which gives us a feeling of good ripples through our consciousness, making us feel happy. This acts as an incentive or the reward for pursuing our object of desire. The more we acquire, more rewarded we feel and more we want. This is the force or the urges and feelings of the incentive / resource seeking system.

Think about the last time you did something that you really enjoyed, perhaps enjoying an evening with friends, having a good holiday or sexual experience. It may have felt good, but it probably didn’t last that long because those kinds of pleasures usually don’t. Pleasure ALWAYS come to an end. Sometimes the feeling of the fulfilled desire is so fleeting that we are on the lookout for the next one in no time at all.

All this does not mean that we renounce our pleasures, but we can engage in seeking pleasure in more skillful way. If we base our happiness only on operating from our incentive system and fulfilling our desires, life will be a roller coaster ride of short-lasting pleasures, striving, seeking, frustration, wanting more and better, with increasing effort s to control our lives and those of others to give us the next fix of pleasure.  These kinds of pleasures are dependent on the world and other people giving us something in some way. In this way we are always distracted or running away from the unpleasant thoughts or experiences of life; we try to lose ourselves and forget the unpleasantness of life by indulging in pleasure. These short-lived pleasures leave us wanting more and we live in constant pursuit of them, hoping we will be content one day but we never seem to reach that state. Moreover, the pleasure prevents us from reflection, exploration, gaining insight into and experiences of the very nature of our mind.

Insight into our mind will allow us to experience other positive feelings that are based on contentment, non striving, being mindful and living –in – the moment.

We will explore these in more detail in the next article.

Resources

The Compassionate Mind  by Paul Gilbert

http://flickrhivemind.net/

We Are Not To Blame For What Goes On In Our Mind.

You may have noticed that what goes on in your mind you may not have much control over. In many ways much of whats goes on in our mind is not our fault or even our intention. It is amazing that nearly 3000 years ago Buddha had this insight about the mind and come to the same fundamental conclusion; that because we have no control over whats in our minds then it implies that it’s not our fault or our intention to have those thought in our mind.

It is now well accepted that two major factors that influences us are our genes and our early environment; and we have no control over neither of them. We are hard-wired, so to speak, by our genes and our early childhood experiences but had no say in the process. We were not consulted, no one asked our permission. But it is the interaction of the genes and the early childhood experiences that gives us our sense of “being oneself “; this experience of oneself may vary from feeling amazing to feeling severely traumatized, and we had no say in the matter.

Even though we had no say in the design of  ourselves and we have little control over our mind we can still take responsibility in a new way so that we can live in and work with such a mind. It is like taking responsibility for our physical body; we had no choice over what body we were given but we still have the responsibility of looking after it to keep it healthy. We have to eat right, exercise etc. The same is true for our mind, we are learning that our brain and mind need certain kind of input to function well.

We will explore what kind of input is required for our brain and mind to function well. But until than it is important to realize that we are not to blame  about whats going on in our minds. We can be kind and compassionate to ourselves.

Resources

The Compassionate Mind. by  Paul Gilbert

Interchange Blog

Interchange Blog

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