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Episode 59

Neurodharma – Where New Science and Ancient Wisdom Meet

As the world remains in lockdown and the dominant structures of capitalism are called into question, should we also be questioning our internal structures?

In this conversation with psychologist Rick Hanson we explore how neuroscience supports Buddhist teachings, why this is a particularly potent time to focus on self-actualisation, and simple practices to understand and embody the key principles of awakening.

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Reverse-Engineering Awakening

In the wake of decades of a culture of consumerism, we have largely forgotten about self-actualisation. People have been propped up by feel-good states without acquiring positive traits. In this time of the corona crisis many people are looking inside and realising there’s not much there.

What we need to focus on again is the inner work of building a resilient nervous system. We need to reinvest in ourselves, and remember what is possible for human development, what is possible for us individually and collectively if we cultivate the higher aspects of our nature.

The seven qualities Rick unpacks in his book are:

  1. Steadiness of mind
  2. Lovingness in your heart
  3. A sense of fullness
  4. A sense of wholeness
  5. A sense of now-ness
  6. Opening into all-ness
  7. Finding timelessness

These are qualities that are innate to us, our natural state. Disturbances move through but these are the foundation of what we are. We can, for example work on moving from an egocentric (self-oriented) way of seeing the world, to an allocentric (impersonal) perspective, so that our informational openness includes and transcends what is about us, which is crucial for moving towards experiencing a sense of interrelatedness.

Life-Hacking with Neuroscience

Something that’s highly relevant for us as coaches is how to help our clients turn states into traits. Rick explains that there are always to processes happening in the brain simultaneously; momentary activation and the effects of activation. As the adage goes, “Neurons that fire together, wire together.” Our task then, is to foster a deepening of the state, to help it become wired as a trait.

How can we help our clients do this?

  1. Extend the duration of the experience
  2. Feel it in the body
  3. Focus on what’s enjoyable

Another useful practice, especially in this period where people finally have time to look within and may begin to question how they’ve been living their lives, is gaining an awareness of the difference between liking and wanting as this facilitates freedom from desire.

We can also help them to move from egocentric to allocentric awareness with a simple exercise of moving their focus of gaze from close to their bodies to a few meters away; as the gaze moves further away from the body, the breadth of perspective opens up to include more than just ourselves.

Resources Mentioned:
Neurodharma, Rick Hanson

About Rick

Photo of Rick Hanson
Rick Hanson

Rick Hanson, Ph.D., is a psychologist, Senior Fellow of the Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley, and New York Times best-selling author. He also edits the Wise Brain BULLETIN and has numerous audio programs. Founder of the Wellspring Institute for Neuroscience and Contemplative Wisdom, he’s been an invited speaker at NASA, Oxford, Stanford, Harvard, and other major universities, and taught in meditation centers worldwide.

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