This week a friend of mine mailed me a book, which is probably the best gift ever. Is there anything more amazing than when someone thinks of you while reading a book and then sends it to you?
Anyway, this friend and I aren’t particularly close. I actually think we’ve only talked in person a few times and it was probably all superficial stuff, but thanks to Facebook I know he and I share a lot of things in common. I imagine that if we lived near each other we would be much closer and go on lots of adventures together. So, when I got a book from him I knew that it would be good because of the connection we’ve had online.
The book, “Why Buddhism is True” by Robert Wright, has been absolutely phenomenal and entered my life at a perfect time. I’ve flown through 75 percent of the book in only a couple days and each chapter brings at least one “Aha!” moment. There are two things that have really impacted my life immediately.
The first thing, that our minds are “modular”, really changed how I view self-control. There is no logical, dictator that is in charge of our minds. There is no “me”. Instead, my mind is made up of a variety of modules that overlap, compete, and cooperate according to the way in which our minds evolved. Instead of viewing self-control as “logic vs. emotion” I’ve come to discover that everything is emotion-based, and that knowledge can be leveraged to make better decisions. I am trying to no longer view things as “me vs. craving for pizza”, but instead recruit the other modules in my mind. It becomes “evolutionary drive for salty, savory, high-calorie food vs desire for longevity, desire for secure finances, desire to be sexually attractive, desire to live an ethical life”.
Our minds are more like the House of Representative than a dictatorial king. There are impulses and urges and drives pulling in different directions and c0mpeting for control during different circumstances. These impulses and urges evolved in a different world with different struggles and they aren’t well suited to the modern world, but at least we are self-aware and work to adapt to the modern world.
The second thing is a new way to view my meditation. I struggle with meditation (as I’m sure all meditators do). I get carried away by thoughts and even counting ten breaths without getting distracted is incredibly rare for me. One method discussed in the book is to identify the thought and then try to find the emotional root of it. For example, when my mind wanders to an embarrassing moment in the past instead of just noting “thinking about the past” I investigate the memory and see why I might be thinking about it. It becomes “The past came to mind because it was a time when I craved friendship and I currently don’t feel like I have close friends in Wilmington”, and that is something that I can work with.
It provides a solution to the thought, which weakens the thought and it slowly fades away. Instead of fighting thoughts I now lean into them and investigate them with a detached curiosity. I’ve already noticed that I can apply this technique when my mind wanders in my normal day-to-day activities and not just when I’m meditating. It has helped me concentrate on work, my reading, and my writing. This might not be revolutionary to other people, but it has stuck with me.
I’m really looking forward to finishing the book (probably today or tomorrow), and I’ll write up a summary when I do but I already recommend it to anyone who is interested in the intersection of psychology and meditation and wants a science-based analysis of Buddhist practices. It is probably the best book I’ve read all year and has been a great book for these early days of my new project to read one book per week for a year.