Mind and Brain
(Wisebrain.org) In terms of Western science, changing our mind means changing our brain. Many believe that there are transcendental factors at work in the mind outside of the realm of matter and energy. Apart from those potential influences, mind must be what the nervous system does. What else could it be possibly be?
While acknowledging the possibility of the transcendental, for the rest of this article, we will stay within the framework of what’s known scientifically about the mind and brain. And we will explore how we can use that information to support our own path of practice.
For example, psychology, neurology, and “contemplative neuroscience” have recently made discoveries about attention, cultivating positive emotions, and controlling craving that support the development of virtue, concentration, and wisdom.
Furthermore, the growing synergies between science and contemplative practice are a vital resource for a world poised on the edge of the sword: The way it tips will depend a lot on whether enough people become more skillful at managing the reactive patterns of their minds – and thus their brains.
Scientists have shown that our mind and brain routinely change each other. This fact opens many gates to deepening practice. For example, the mental activity of meditation changes your brain in numerous ways including these:
- It adds billions of synaptic connections – a measurable thickening of brain tissues – in the regions handling control of attention and sensory awareness (most obvious in the comparison between aging meditators and older nonmeditators: good news for those of us with gray hair).
- It increases serotonin, the neurotransmitter that helps regulates mood and sleep.
- It changes our brainwaves depending on whether we are doing a concentration or a mindfulness meditation.