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The book "Buddha's Brain, the practical neuroscience of happiness, love and wisdom" is a great book written by neuropsychologist Rick Hanson. This book presents the latest evidence in neuroscience for the efficacy of meditation, along with many practical exercises.
The traditional view of the brain has been that after reaching adulthood, a the brain of a human has a set number of neurons which lasts for a human's entire life. Recent neuroscience research has proven this to be dead wrong. The brain actually has a property called neuroplasticity, and the brain of a human being is building new synapses from birth until death.
Furthermore, neuroscience research has validated that mind actually changes the structure of the brain. What you think and the experiences you have are changing your brain at every moment. Your experience matters. How you feel in the moment leaves lasting residues behind which become woven into the fabric of your being.
The book has a chapter that goes into the importance of optimism. For example, let's say that you have a negative experience, e.g. "a woman is rude to you". A typical response may be feeling of anger, rage, embarrassment, shame, and so forth. You can think of this initial activating event as a "dart" being thrown into your body. But the negative feelings you have afterwards are the "second dart". Then, every time you think about the event in your imagination with angry feeling, you are throwing a third dart, a forth dart, etc. At the end, you look like a pin cushion and all the darts were yours, except for the first one. Typically, for most events, the second, and further darts create more suffering then the initial first dart. If you could restrain your pain to just the first dart, you would hardly feel it. Neurologically, running negative scenarios in your mind, changes your brain, and increases the negative pathways, making further negative thinking more likely. A more logical approach would be, after receiving the first dart, to think of feelings of compassion for yourself, which would create positive thoughts to balance out and override the one negative experience. But, to do this requires training of the mind. A proven method for training the mind is meditation.
Meditation is a way to train your mind, and a specific procedure to get yourself out of the matrix. The precise procedures for doing this were layed down by the Buddha over 2500 years ago. Neuroscience research has identified the specific parts of the brain involved with mediation, as well as proving the meditation permanently changes the brain in a positive way. Additionally, it has recently been discovered that DNA which regulates stress is more likely to activate stress-reduction agents under meditation. So, it has also been proven then meditation actually effects, not only your brain structure, but also your DNA. Studies also show increased gray matter in the insula, hippocampus, and prefrontal cortex, decreased stress-related cortisol, and powerful fast gamma-range brainwaves in experienced Tibetan practitioners.
In summary, anything you think in your mind, changes your brain. Neurons that fire together wire together. The brain of a human being is building new synapses from birth until death.
This is really exciting research because it appears that nature has given us a natural way to heal our minds. This way is meditation. There is no need for complex psychological theories, drugs, experts, and authorities. Nature has provided a mechanism for your mind to effect your brain and restructure it to produce deep meditative states wherein you can heal yourself and live in the world with equanimity and ease not dependent on conditions.
The author runs several free sites, shown below, which give tons of valuable and free information, including links to research in neuroscience, slide shows, as well as practical ways to improve your thinking.
Rick Hanson, Phd Resources for Happiness, Love, and Wisdom
The Five Essential Inner Skills (pdfs)
http://www.wisebrain.org/tools-and-skil ... ner-skills