Posts filed under Attention and Mindfulness

What makes us happy?

Years ago I met Willoughby Britton at Brown University. She is an assistant professor of psychiatry and human behavior, director of her own lab at Brown, and also works with Hal Roth and his Contemplative Studies Initiative. That's how I met her. Hal Roth had invited me to screen Alms and Vows as part of his program that year. That's when I learned about Willoughby Britton's fascinating and very relevant work. The Britton Lab at Brown "researches the effects of contemplative practices on cognitive, emotional, and physiological aspects of affective disturbances in the interest of the cultivation of greater well-being." To put it another way, she's studying the mechanics, the chemistry, (the alchemy?) of happiness, contentedness, and compassion. It's the real work. I think it's very exciting science. 

Today I discovered a TEDx talk Willoughby gave last year. If you ever wanted to know what neuroscience has to say about happiness, this is a great, very concise 15-minute introduction. And it's hopeful. It says that mind is ours to mold - and that if we want happiness, we have to work at it, just like anything else. The key, it seems, is to understand what it is exactly that makes us human beings happy, and let that be the point of departure. She says getting what we want doesn't make us happy. So what does? Watch the video to find out. 

As a Buddhist and meditator, I have my own way of processing and appreciating this kind of science. What's your take on it?


Why Buddhists Tell Stories


Story-telling and Buddhist life: not just how we tell them or live them but where we find them in the very being of things.  The sunyata of all things is a kind of story itself, as I see it – a narrative that tells us where something comes from and where it’s going to. Looking deeply into a sheet of paper, for example, we see wood from a tree that grew from soil and rain and sun and time (soil takes time, the sun took some time too, oh yes and the universe…) and space and chemical reactions… and that’s not even the folks who cut the tree down, work in the mill, the paper factor, who buy and sell the stuff on telephones and with computers made by who? What a story. The Story.

I’ll begin with this quote from Shunryo Suzuki:

A wonderful painting is the result of feeling in your fingers. If you have the feeling of the thickness of the ink in your brush, the painting is already there before you paint. When you dip your brush into the ink you already know the result of your drawing, or else you cannot paint. So before you do something, being is there, the result is there. Even though you look as if you were sitting quietly, all your activity, past and present, is included; and the result of your sitting is also already there. You are not resting at all. All the activity is included within you. That is your being. So all results of your practice are included in your sitting. This is our practice, our zazen.

Posted on November 11, 2012 and filed under Attention and Mindfulness, Process of Inquiry.