Pursue What Matters
Episode 217: Book Review – Neurodharma
Please excuse any typos, transcripts are generated by an automated service
Dr. Melissa Smith 0:00
What’s so hard about a mindfulness practice? So many things. We live in a world designed to distract us from what really matters. Mindfulness is an invitation to climb the mountain against forces designed to keep you distracted, stressed, and numb to the beauty of life. Join me today, as I discussed an excellent book designed to help you bring mindfulness into your life in simple, practical ways.
Dr. Melissa Smith 0:25
Hi, I’m Dr. Melissa Smith, welcome to the Pursue What Matters podcast, where we focus on what it takes to thrive in love and work. So maybe you’ve been hearing a lot about mindfulness, it’s certainly a popular topic. Maybe you’ve heard about meditation, meditation is one specific mindfulness practice. So you know, one of the reasons you’re hearing a lot about it is because we’re finally doing a lot of research on it. And there, the research is really compelling. The other thing is that, you know, neuroscience has, has developed by leaps and bounds in the past decade, in the past 15 years, we have much better imaging. And so we can better understand what’s happening in the brain. And what that points to, are the benefits of mindfulness. And so I’m really excited to bring a book to you today. That is a very simple practical guide to help you understand the neuroscience of mindfulness. Now, this is not a highly conceptual conversation. It’s not theoretical, it’s not academic. Of course, it’s based on really rigorous academic research. But this is a practical guide. So this is all about helping you to consider how you can cultivate a little more mindfulness in your daily life, because the benefits are really significant. And so every week with the podcast, my goal is to help you pursue what matters by strengthening your confidence to lead in one of three areas. So first, leading to clarity, which is all about connecting you to purpose. And when we’re climbing that mountain of mindfulness, right, we’re heading towards wellbeing to a life well lived. And that’s all about purpose and meaning. So we’ll definitely hit on that second is clarity, or sorry, leading with curiosity, which is all about self awareness and self leadership. And mindfulness. First and foremost, is an invitation to self awareness and self leadership. And then, of course, the third way that we help you, with your leadership, both at home and at work is by leading and building a community. And so you know, we won’t be talking about specific ways you can use this with the teams that you lead. But it’s important to remember that we first and foremost, lead by example. And so your willingness to engage mindfulness and be more grounded and more calm, with those you interact with will make a huge difference in the quality of your leadership and the quality of your relationships. So definitely helpful for everyone that you interact with.
Dr. Melissa Smith 0:54
So what is the book, the book that we’re reviewing is called Neurodharma, which is a fun and curious name. It is the new science of ancient wisdom and seven practices of the highest happiness. So this is by Rick Hansen, PhD, he’s a psychologist. And when he’s talking about the highest happiness, he’s really talking about, well being, how do we thrive in life. And so let’s learn a little bit more about the book. So throughout history, people have sought the heights of human potential to become as wise and strong, happy and loving as any person can ever be. That sounds pretty good, right? And now recent science is revealing how these remarkable ways of being are based on equally remarkable changes in our own nervous system, making them more attainable than ever before. And so in this book, Rick Hansen not only explores the new neuroscience of awakening, but also offers a bold, yet plausible plan from reverse engineering, peak experiences, a sense of oneness, and even enlightenment itself. So one of the things I really love about this book is that while it’s groundbreaking right or really does a great job of documenting the research, it is eminently practical. It is about the small, simple, practical, daily practices that can help you to have greater wellbeing. And so, you know, there are seven components to this path of happiness. But don’t feel like you have to do all of them. Because that right there right out of the gate, you’re gonna undermine yourself, but maybe just choose one or two, that that resonate with you, that you that you can recognize, like, oh, I would, I would benefit from more of this in my life. And so again, it’s based on really solid research. But it’s very practical. And it’s conversational. I love Rick Hansen’s books. For that, he does that really, really well. And so neuro Dharma shares seven practices for strengthening the neural circuitry of profound contentment and inner peace practices that provide essential support for everyday life, while also leading to the most radical reaches of human consciousness. So that’s a little bit about the book, and let’s hear what others are saying about the book. So first, from Tara Brach. We recently reviewed one of her excellent books. She said, this is an illuminating and transformational book. So there you go. That’s awesome. And then another endorsement from Sharon Salzberg author of loving kindness and real change. She’s also very well known in the mindfulness movement. She said, Rick Hansen, seven steps of awakening, are are a remarkable presentation of how the brain mindfulness and meditation are interconnected.
Dr. Melissa Smith 6:27
So if you’ve ever wondered, why should I consider mindfulness? Or why should I consider meditation, this is the book for you. And if you find yourself persuaded by good quality research, you would really resonate with this book. So from Laurie Gottlieb, she’s a marriage and family therapist. She’s also a best selling author. She said, this is an easy to follow roadmap for creating day to day inner peace in today’s increasingly complex world. So now let’s learn a little bit more about Rick Hansen. So I have definitely introduced him on the podcast before, I really like his work. And so we’ve definitely discussed some of his books on the podcast and brought in some of his writings. So he’s a psychologist, senior fellow at the Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley, and New York Times bestselling author, his books have been published in 28 languages and include neuro Dharma, that’s his most recent, resilient, which I absolutely love. Actually, I think resilience is maybe more recent than neuro Dharma anyway, they came out pretty closely together, hardwiring happiness, which I totally love. Just one thing, also really like Buddha’s Brain, which I haven’t read, but I would like to and Mother Nature. And so he has been invited to speak all over the place. He’s a very popular speaker. And he has neuro Dharma, which is an experiential program, where he, he engages people weekly on these topics. And so he is really a great author, a great thinker. And so let’s just talk a little bit about the book. So you can kind of have a sense for what to expect, of course, we’re not going to summarize the whole book. But I just want to point out, maybe a couple of points. And so the first thing is that Rick Hansen in this book, he talks about seven practices that have the highest happiness, and so he uses the metaphor of the mountain, he’s got a mountain on the cover, which I love that metaphor. And he’s really talking about the daily steps, a journey that really helped us to reach this highest happiness. And of course, it’s not necessarily a destination that once you’re there, you’re done. It’s a process. It’s a journey. And that’s really the best way to think about it. And so let’s just list those seven practices, so you can kind of get a sense for what to expect with the book.
Dr. Melissa Smith 8:58
First is studying the mind. That’s usually the hardest one. So it’s good that it’s first because if you can, if you can, if you can figure that out, you’re ready for the other ones. Second is warming the heart. Third is resting in fullness, fourth is being wholeness. Fifth is receiving now onene ss. Six is opening into allness. And 7 is finding timelessness. And so that gives you just a nice little overview of what to expect with the book.
Dr. Melissa Smith 9:34
So Rick Hansen opens the book by asking the question Who inspires you? And if you just think about that question, right? We all have individuals either in our life or history in our own family, who are inspirations to us for different reasons. And so maybe you’ve only read about them in a book or you’ve heard about them in history, that these are individuals They are models to us of what is possible. So they are often aspirational, right? They’re real. But they can be aspirational, meaning we see the choices that they make, we see their values, and it inspires us, and helps us to aspire to be our own best selves. So what he says about these people is, very often they are down to earth, humorous, realistic and supportive. They’re not a cartoon like stereotype of exotic character. So they’re not Indiana Jones. And some have, have taken this a spiritual approach, while others have been secular, right. So you can think about some of these individuals in various walks of life, he says they have no interest in celebrity.
Dr. Melissa Smith 10:47
So that’s an important thing to pay attention to. Because celebrity is all about ego. And when we think about mindfulness, it is really working towards an absence of ego. So their realization is genuine. And it’s the result of the path they have traveled, not some unique transformation that’s unattainable for the rest of us. And I think that that’s a really important point that he continues to return to again, and again, in the book that, you know, when you see people who inspire you, it’s not that they’re uniquely different or better, or are more talented, or gifted or whatever. But the characteristics that you see in them that you aspire to, and that you admire, are a result of the path they’ve traveled. So what does that mean? Well, the path we travel are those daily habits, daily practices, daily focus and attention, this sense of purpose and meaning. And the really great news is, these are practices that all of us can cultivate, and that is really the focus of the book. So what are, why do some of the folks with the greatest well being do consistently. And then he pairs that with the underlying neuroscience to, you know, for those, those logical thinkers among us to really understand the framework. And so that results in these seven practices of awakening, which I just outlined. And so he talks a bit about, at the beginning neuroscience, right, that it’s a really young science. But as I mentioned, boy, we’ve seen leaps and bounds in our understanding of the brain and the body. And so you know, this question when it comes to mindfulness, or seeing someone who’s gone far up the mountain, right, they’re living their best life, this question of how do you do that is an honest question. And so you know, what, what must be happening in your body so that you can stay centered when things are falling apart around you? What changes in your brain help you be compassionate and strong, when others are hurtful or threatening? And so as you think about these questions, this is really the focus of the book in terms of answering these questions.
Dr. Melissa Smith 13:15
So he says that there there aren’t neurologically definitive answers at this point. But we, we have a path, we have some good information that helps to that helps to answer these questions. And so what what he talks about is that we can each find real benefits for everyday well being, and effectiveness. And he’s really talking to everyone, right? He’s not talking to those going on a three month retreat or living in a monastery, he’s talking to you. He’s talking to you with your carpool. And you’re crazy schedule and trying to get kids here. And they’re trying to meet the demands of a busy work life. So he’s talking to people who have limited time for formal practice, and need tools they can use right now. And so his focus in this book is more on the process of practice than on the eventual destination with the hope that you will find this useful on your own path. So it’s really designed to help you cope with stress, to help you to find more peace and more grounding in your everyday life. And so that’s really the important, the important piece of this. And so he talks about the fact that he really comes from a Buddhist tradition, and that the concepts that he shares, some of them are from Buddhist thought, but they’re applicable to everyone.
Dr. Melissa Smith 14:50
So you don’t need to get too tied up worrying about that if that is a concern for you. The teachings of the Buddha are applicable in many I mean, regardless of your religious persuasion, or, you know, atheism or agnosticism, or anything like that, but why he taught is that the Buddha and others have explored the mental factors of suffering, and happiness. And then in the past, you know, couple of decades, past 20 years, we’ve learned so much about the neural basis of these mental factors. So they looked at what’s happening in the mind, right, they kind of talked about the monkey mind. And in the past 20 years, now we can really look at what’s happening in the brain, when we’ve got the monkey mind happening, what’s happening in the brain, when someone is deep in meditation, what is happening in the brain, for someone who is incredibly compassionate, and forgiving. And that’s really the sweet spot that this book focuses on. And so let’s just explain Dharma, maybe you’re not familiar with that. So this is from Reverend Angel Chiodo Williams, the Dharma, the Dharma, which is understanding, peering into the nature of reality is not specific to Buddhism, the Dharma is truth. And the only choice we really have is whether to try to be in relationship with the truth, or to live in ignorance. So when you think about Dharma, think about truth. And, you know, this is one of the themes that you will see in mindfulness. It’s a thing that I talk about a lot in the podcast, and that is living in alignment with reality, that we can have acceptance and non judgement, of reality as it is. And that’s another way of saying, living in alignment to truth. And so much of the misery that we experience as humans is when we resist reality is when we deny, ignore, avoid, run from the challenges of life, our own emotions, about the things we’re experiencing. And so when we do that, we put ourselves in opposition to truth. And I hope that you will consider that concept. We all fall victim to that, because life is challenging, right? climbing that mountain, is work. And so it’s certainly understandable that at times, we want to shrink from that, we just want to take a break. And we don’t want to, you know, we don’t want to face reality in our life. But our ability and our willingness to, to live life on life’s terms, really is the path of greater wellbeing. And it’s also the path of service where we can be of greater service to other people. And for me, that’s really, personally meaningful, right? When I think about purpose, and meaning that to me, is really key. And so when Rick Hansen uses the word dharma, what he means is the truth of things. This is both the way things actually are, and accurate descriptions of them. So he says, Whatever the truth is, it is not the property of any tradition. So it’s not just about Buddhism, it’s not about Christianity. It’s not about Judaism. He says, it is for everyone. And so neuro Dharma, right, which is the name of the book is the term that he uses for the truth of the mind, grounded in the truth of the body.
Dr. Melissa Smith 18:34
And so let’s unpack that just a little bit. What he means by that is, what’s happening in your mind, and at the same time, what’s happening in your body? And a good way to think about what’s happening in the body, I want you to think in terms of the nervous system. Okay, so this is our emotional experience. This is our stress response system, when we have thoughts, right. So in the mind, the mental, the mental action happening, when we have thoughts in our minds, that very quickly intersects with our nervous system, right? We think about the vagus nerve as a really big driver of that. And that can lead to heightened nervous system arousal, which makes it hard for us to stay grounded, right. So one of the things that happens in a stress response is, is disconnecting from reality, not feeling grounded in yourself. Sometimes we talk about that, as a dissociative experience, getting this tunnel vision like we’re totally overwhelmed by our emotions and by the the overwhelming experience that we’re having, that it’s difficult for us to remain grounded. In reality, it makes it difficult for us to be grounded in what we know. It makes it difficult for us to be grounded in our values. And so when we look at neurodharma with this book, we’re really, we’re really looking at, okay, what are the seven ways of being that really help us to awaken or help us to live our best lives? And then second is learning about their bases in your own brain. So what is that? What does that experience like in your brain. And then the third one, which is really important, is using this understanding to strengthen them in yourself. And so that’s just a little introduction to this excellent book neuro Dharma, I highly recommend it.
Dr. Melissa Smith 20:38
So head on over to my website to check out the show notes with the resources for this episode at www.drmelissasmith.com/217-neurodharma. Of course join me on Instagram @dr.melissasmith I’ve got lots of more resources about this topic and others every single day, and in the meantime, I’m Dr. Melissa Smith. Remember love and work, work and love. That’s all there is. Until next time, take good care.
Transcribed by https://otter.ai