I’ve studied the brain for more than 25 years - as a researcher, consultant, teacher, therapist, and meditator - and it’s been an exciting time. Advances in research technology have given us a window into the brain in action, unlocking fresh insights into its components, their connections, and how things work together.
Now we can harness these discoveries to understand our brains, what helps us to heal and be happy, and which approaches and tools are helpful in everyday life.
Here you’ll find practical knowledge and insights about your brain that can help you make sense of
- Your thoughts
- Your emotions
- Your behaviors
- The motivations and values that shape your thoughts, emotions and behaviors
You’ll find guidance, grounded in cutting-edge scientific knowledge and in the wisdom of humanity’s great religious and spiritual traditions, for healing suffering and bringing genuine happiness into daily life.
The human brain is incredibly complex, with about 100 billion neurons (or brain cells). Neuroscience research is similarly vast in its breadth and depth.
As a psychologist who has studied neuroscience for decades, and conducted brain imaging studies to understand traumatized people, I appreciate that vast complexity. I’ve also learned some important things about studying the brain and making that knowledge accessible.
To make sense of what we learn about the brain, and to share it with others, we must simplify. But that must never mean watering-down the science, or contradicting it.
The best teachers strive to ensure that their ideas truly reflect scientific knowledge, and never distort it. So the information and guidance given here may seem simple to understand, but is based on the complex findings of scientific study.
Another caution: Brain-based explanations have been over-valued lately, and the media regularly sensationalizes research studies with impressive-looking pictures of the brain. If you’ve already been reading about the brain, be aware that some of the grand and sweeping claims of recent years are flawed, confused and misleading, or even false.
So let’s explore some fundamental neuroscience knowledge, on some key circuitries of the human brain, and focus on how this can help us achieve fuller and more satisfying lives.
My Guiding Principles
I use the term brain circuitries to refer to brain areas that work together to perform functions. For example, one circuitry plays a central role in fear and detecting danger, as it makes us more alert when we’re driving on a busy highway; another helps us feel satisfaction, like when we know we’ve done a good job and it’s time to rest and relax.
I focus on a few key brain circuitries, and brain-based processes involving those circuitries, so that people can
- Easily connect them to their own experience
- Choose to reflect upon and change those circuitries and processes that aren’t working to reduce suffering and increase happiness
I want you to be confident in the guidance offered here, so I strive to make sure that my ideas and thinking are in line with the latest neuroscientific research.
Something I don’t do is talk about how very stressful or traumatic experiences, or negative behaviors such as addictions, can “damage” the brain. It’s simply not helpful to believe, especially based on what someone else is saying about your brain, that healing and finding happiness can be prevented by past adversity or the ways you’ve tried to cope. We now know that the human brain’s resilience - and capacities for changing and healing - are remarkable and influenced by many different factors.
So let’s begin by finding clarity in the brain’s complexity, and explore the key circuitries and processes involved in healing and finding happiness.