My reflections on reading “Buddah’s Brain” (written by Rick Hanson & Richard Mendius, MD)

As I’ve been embarking on my 200 hour Yoga Teacher Training this year (turned virtual in March), I’ve been reading a lot of amazing books and I thought I’d share my reflection and life-changing takeaways. This also serves as a review and I highly recommend Buddah’s Brain, although it starts off with a lot of Science-based information on the brain, you can always skip that part (if you’re not a science nerd like me) and get right to the juiciness.

Here are my top takeaways:

1.“First darts are unpleasant like stubbing a toe, but then we add our reactions to them, like getting mad and saying, “Who moved the darn chair” (page 50). These negative reactions are called second darts which can create vicious cycles when a lot of times there are no darts to begin with – they are self-created! I tend to get upset if the dishes are left piled up in the sink, even though there’s no inherent pain in the condition. My family is well fed and happy and the dishes sitting there are not hurting anyone. Yet I will add suffering to this condition by getting upset, instead of handling it calmly and doing the dishes later on so I can enjoy quality time with my family. Instead, I will get angry that my husband left the dishes for me. “When we react to a first dart with one or more of the Three Poisons of greed, hatred or delusion, we start throwing second darts at ourselves and others” (page 62). If I don’t handle the dishes not being done calmly, then second darts start landing. Greed makes me rigid on how I want things to be, hatred gets me bothered by the dishes being piled up, and delusion makes me take it personally. I realized I do this ALL the time, which is causing unnecessary stress in my life and something I have been working on ever since I read the book.

2. Getting fired up for good reason like becoming passionate or excited has its place. “But second darts are a bad reason to light up the SNS/HPAA system, and if they become routine, they can push the needle on your personal stress meter…” (page 55). I realize I am experiencing ongoing SNS/HPAA arousal due to constant second dart activation, which is quite unhealthy. What blew my mind is that this type of stress shunts resources away from the bodies ability to build a strong immune system and other more important functions. I can see now why in times of ongoing stress I always get sick, have trouble sleeping and have an increased level of anxiety.

3. “If you can simply stay present with whatever is arising in awareness, whether it’s a first dart or second one – without reacting further, then you will break the chain of suffering” (page 60). I am working on being with whatever arises, work with the tendencies of the mind to transform them, and take refuge in the ground of being and understanding that it takes time and effort to clear old patterns and build new ways of thinking, being and reacting. The book explains this as the four stages of growth. With patience and consistency, it will get easier, if I stay mindful. Happiness, love and wisdom is always the goal.

4. “Fostering positive experiences to remedy negative ones” (page 68). If I have a negative experience like feeling unworthy, I will focus on someone who is showing me love, I will allow the feeling of being cherished bring warmth to my heart. Then I will think about how good it feels to get a big hug. I will imagine the experience entering my mind and body, like the sun’s warmth.  Focusing on these rewards increase dopamine so I can eventually learn to internalize the good feelings and experiences so I carry them inside myself and can recall them whenever I need them – a very powerful tool I plan to use.

5. “If you weed dandelions, they will always grow back if you don’t pull out the entire root” (page 73). This is like childhood experiences that have been embedded deep within us and we must peel the layers to and get to the root so we can begin to heal. These deep sources for me are feeling like I am alone, not good enough, getting loving attention and feeling safe. Since painful experiences are often best healed by positive ones, in times of feeling weak and unworthy, I will replace these thoughts with thoughts of my strength. I can do this through affirmations like, “after all I have been through, I have grown stronger and can accomplish anything”.

6. HRV (heart rate variability) is a good indicator of overall well-being. Stress and negative emotions decrease HRV (page 84). Breathing techniques and meditation are both powerful tools in increasing HRV and its coherence. I already knew the power of breath and stillness from my own practice but learning the science behind it makes it that much more important. Breathe keeping your inhales and exhales even, imagine that you’re breathing in and out through the area of the heart and call to mind a heartfelt happy moment filled of gratitude and love. This is a beautiful practice.

7. Child-hood experiences and relationships with parents have a big impact on emotions and actions as an adult. There are four modes of attachment – secure, insecure-avoidant, insecure-anxious, and disorganized (page 92). I found this interesting, as I recall my upbringing and relationship with my parents and my behavior and relationships now as an adult. I need to have compassion for myself, understanding that any sense of insecurity that I feel now, is greatly due to my experience as a child. By practicing mindful meditation consistently, I can give myself the attention I should have received as a child.

8. “Tranquility involves not acting based on feelings” (page 116). Allowing thoughts and feelings to come and go without giving it worth or additional reactions to them will deepen equanimity. This practice will help decrease daily stressors like getting upset over someone else’s bad mood, etc. As an emphatic and sensitive being, I can get upset or stressed out quite easily, so this has been a great practice for me to find more internal peace through equanimity.

9. Living virtuous, from my innate goodness is something I want to strive for. In thinking about my personal code for how I want to interact in relationships, I think of all the ways my marriage can be improved by simply shifting how I react, thinking before I speak and practicing deep listening. Instead of quick reactions based on emotion which will only cause more tension, I will pause and be thoughtful with how I respond. I think we all can benefit from this practice.

10. I love these kind intentions for others (and myself), “May you be safe, may you be healthy, may you be happy, may you live with ease” (page 158). This is a loving-kindness practice calls on equanimity, to keep the heart open to those who’ve wronged me and it allows me to show myself compassion as well as those I love.

I hope you find these reflections helpful, even if you don’t intend to read the book. If you do read the book, I would love to hear your greatest takeaways.

XO, Stephanie

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