Suffering – is it real or in your head?

Suffering can be a cycle that is self- perpetuated but also can be unlearned.

The news today is full of stories about injustices, wrongs committed, suffering and disappointments which can feed our minds with anxiety and worry, which perpetuates the suffering cycle. What if you were told this suffering was made up by your brain? Would you believe it? In the book Buddha’s Brain – the practical neuroscience of happiness, love, and wisdom it tells how this notion is real. On a good note, the book states that “if the brain is the cause of our suffering, it can also be the cure.”

The authors define Buddha before he was “enlightened” and given the name Buddha, as a man who spent many years training his mind and thus his brain. He saw both the causes of suffering and a path to freedom from suffering and spent 40 years wandering northern India teaching all who would listen how to cool the fires of greed and hatred to live with integrity, steady and concentrate the mind to see through its confusion, and to develop liberating insight.

I am intrigued by the discipline that it takes to develop these characteristic traits better known as virtue, mindfulness (concentration) and wisdom. I wonder if these disciplines will end suffering? The authors define Virtue as regulating your actions, words and thoughts to create benefits rather than harm for yourself and others. Mindfulness involves the skillful use of attention to both your inner and outer worlds. Wisdom is defined in the book as applied common sense.

You may be wondering by now how does virtue, mindfulness or concentration and wisdom have to do with the mind or neuroscience? Believe it or not, all three of these characteristics are supported by the three fundamental functions of the brain. These three functions are regulation, learning and selection. These three functions are involved in any important mental activity.

In summary, developing virtue, mindfulness and wisdom in your mind depends on improving regulation, learning, and selection in your brain. Michigan State University Extension provides social-emotional health and well-being programming and have a series entitled Stress Less with Mindfulness and RELAX: Alternatives to Anger. Peruse the MSU Extension website to locate more information or for dates of events in your county. What have you been regulating, learning and selecting? Will it lead to less suffering and wisdom? 

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