Tag Archives: Buddha’s Brain

Countdown Reason # 7: Life Channel or Pain Channel?

Research tells us that although 70 % of our day is relatively good, 28 % of it neutral, and only about 2 % of what happens to us is actually bad, we think about that negative 2 % almost all the time; it’s what we ruminate over as we shower, drive, and fall asleep.[i]

It reminds me of that old saying that we wear 2 % of our wardrobe 90 % of the time. We button ourselves up in our misery cloak a lot.

I think of it this way. For most of us, two different sound tracks are playing simultaneously in our mind. I call them The Life Channel and The Pain Channel. It just depends which one we tune into — and turn up.

The Life Channel is the channel on which uplifting and joyful moments play. It’s the feeling I get when I am braiding my daughter’s hair. Watching my family doubled over laughing at a bad joke at the dinner table. Holding hands with my husband, or my daughter (if she lets me) as we cross a parking lot.

The Life Channel, pure and simple.

The feeling I get when I am staring at the snow covered trees as the sun transforms their icy branches into twinkling silver lights. Or when I am meditating, clearing the mind, focusing on nothing but my breath, and I manage (now and then) to reach that sweet spot of inner quiet, inner smiling. The aha of being half way through a yoga class, and realizing I’m in a peaceful place of well-being as I focus on every muscle and breath that goes into my downward facing dog. The joy of looking into one of my best friend’s eyes and feeling the inner love that’s exchanged in our haven’t-seen-you-in-far-too-long glance, in just an ordinary instant.

The Pain Channel is where we live, however, most of the time. It blares our anger, resentment, fear. Our ruminations over what happened, how it shouldn’t have, what should be happening instead. Our self-doubt. Our regret and recrimination. Our physical pain and fear over any health issues we’re facing.

Sometimes we have to be on The Pain Channel; it’s what wakes us up to deal with difficult situations, make change, take action.

But we don’t need to be listening to The Pain Channel 90% of the time. We just don’t.

We know The Pain Channel doesn’t feel good. We just don’t know how to shut it off. It’s powerful and seductive to get wrapped up in what’s playing on The Pain Channel, especially when we are feeling at our most vulnerable.

We have to have the tools to reach out and turn The Pain Channel off — and turn The Life Channel on.

THE LAST BEST CURE is about having a high-speed connection to dial up to The Life Channel, especially in those moments when we need it most. So we have a real chance at living life on the right track.

[i] it’s what we ruminate over as we shower, drive, and fall asleep: Rick Hanson, Ph.D., and Richard Mendius, MD. Buddha’s Brain: the Practical Neuroscience of Happiness, Love and Wisdom. New Harbinger Publications, Oakland, CA, 2009.  To see a fascinating talk given by Hanson at Google in June 2010 see http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0EM45CpeQb4.



Countdown Reason # 18: Bless

just one thing book cover rick hanson
Rick Hanson's wonderful new book, Just One Thing

Recently, Stanford researchers put folks into two groups. One group went through a 9-week compassion course, the other didn’t. Afterwards participants who had taken the course were not only found to be more compassionate to others — they had more compassion for themselves. They liked themselves better by learning to be more compassionate to those around them.

When I read this I couldn’t help but think about a practice called bless that neurobiologist Rick Hanson, Ph. D., author of  Just One Thing: Developing a Buddha Brain One Simple Practice at a Time, suggests we all practice. Hanson doesn’t use the concept of bless, which means to see what’s tender and beautiful, in a religious sense. He talks about it as showing “compassion, kindness, appreciating, honoring, non-harming, cherishing . . . helping rather than harming, giving rather than withholding …wishing well rather than ill, delighting in rather than finding fault… [seeing others’] goodness, efforts, hopes, suffering, and what’s neat about them… You can express good wishes with actions – a touch, a door opened, …or inside your heart alone.”

I want to live more like that. Bless, bless, bless. Rather than rush, rush, rush or grrr, grrr, grrrr. Don’t you?

Rick Hanson's book, Buddha's Brain


Countdown Reason # 19: Why Emotional Memories of Joy Matter so Much

We’ve learned so much in the course of our lives. Math problems, how to punctuate a sentence, set the table, use an iPhone, hit the right buttons on our blog dashboard or twitter (okay, the latter three are still not so easy for some of us!). But can you remember exactly when you learned how to do each of these? Unlikely.

That’s because our brain stores memories in one of two ways. The first is to file away facts we need. The details we depend on to survive, succeed, thrive. These are called declarative memories. We can declare the facts we know.

But the second way the brain stores memories is through our emotional responses —  in the emotional big moments that matter to us most. That’s why I can remember (and I bet you can too) the time the teacher called you up in front of the class and you didn’t have the right answer; the moment a child was born and first placed upon your chest; the minute you got engaged; the time you and your friend were in tears over a diagnosis, a husband, a child; or the joy of finding out you were expecting, or got the big job. Memories that have signficance in some way to you are emotional memories.

When we need a declarative memory our brain usually retrieves it for us unconsciously and we’re not even aware it’s happening. So we can drive all the way to work without even realizing we made all the right turns. And bing, there we are, in the parking lot. That’s why we work so hard with our kids with their math facts, so they have what they need, easy to retrieve, when they go on to algebra or, later, calculus.

But here’s where it gets interesting. Emotional memories are treated by the brain in an entirely different way than are factual (declarative) memories: the part of the brain used to create, retain, store, permanize and retrieve our emotional memories is called the hippocampus. This is also the area where amnesia occurs, erasing emotional memories but not factual ones (which is why patients with amnesia can still set the table or do calculus).

Because the brain stores these two types of memories so differently, emotional memories are so much stronger, and as we get older, we accumulate more and more of them.

This means a few things. A lot of things. But here are the two most interesting to me. If you learn something new in the process of making an emotional association, you’ll retain it a lot longer. If you really care about a topic or issue in your heart, you’ll be able to keep that information and store it and retrieve differently than if you don’t.

But it also means that the things we are doing today that create our emotional memories — good, chest-swelling memories — will be protective LONG into the future. They are like gifts we pay forward to ourselves and those we love. This is really a good reason to reach for joy moments right here, right now, in your day just as it is. Whatever might be happening around you. Joy is a strong emotion, and we all know when we recall moments of joy it’s a healing balm. I think of joy memories as memories we need.

After reading this study today, I’m going to think of how to make a joy memory today. I’ll let you know how that works out on an icy, windy Friday evening in a house with with two tired working parents at the end of the week and two teenagers 🙂