In the Learning pillar of the Foundations of Well-Being program this week’s theme is “The Enchanted Loom”. The neurophysiologist Sir Charles Sherrington referred to the brain and the nervous system as:
An enchanted loom
where millions of flashing shuttles
weave a dissolving pattern,
always a meaningful pattern
though never an abiding one;
a shifting harmony of sub-patterns.
The metaphor of the brain as the loom means that the mind is the tapestry that the brain is weaving.
We can better our brains by savoring our experiences, which deepens the installation of the memories by absorbing the good experiences. This encodes passing experiences into lasting neural structures.
We may have positive experiences, but we tend not to deliberately internalize them. Perhaps the idea of consciously enriching our experiences – helping them last, be more intense, be felt in the body, be novel, or seem personally relevant – seems artificial or self-manipulative. Or one might think that focusing on positive experiences will just increase attachment to them and thus suffer when they inevitably end. But think of a friend having positive experiences: wouldn’t you want these experiences to have lasting value? Similarly, you probably have lots of opportunities to help experiences sink deeper, to grow more of the good inside you.
The three fundamental needs that all animals have, including the very sophisticated human animal, are safety, satisfaction and connection. Honoring our needs makes us less needy: cultivation clears out craving. A sense of deficit or disturbance in these core needs can be the underlying neuropsychological cause of the craving — which leads to suffering and harm to ourselves and others. Decreasing these deficits decreases craving which in turn decreases suffering. If you repeatedly take in experiences which meet your core needs — experiences of peace, contentment and love that help you feel safe, satisfied and connected — this gradually builds a sense of fullness inside you, replacing craving and suffering with an increasingly unconditional ease, wisdom and happiness.
How can we cultivate the causes of happiness? Internalizing the sense of safety, satisfaction and connection gradually replaces deficit and disturbance with fullness and balance; fear, frustration and heartache with peace, contentment, and love. As we weave the causes of happiness into the fabric of our brain, our body and our being, our happiness – broadly defined as our peace, our contentment and our love – becomes increasingly unconditional. It becomes increasingly independent, that is not based upon external conditions.
As we cultivate what is wholesome, the practice of peace, contentment and love inside ourselves, it becomes a part of us. Then we have less and less need to look for good facts. Cultivation becomes an automatic habit and the fruits of the cultivation increasingly flower in us.
There is a metaphor, if we come to a river of suffering we can build a raft to cross over it. Once we reach the other shore, we don’t need to carry the raft on our head. In the same way, we cultivate practice of cultivation, to get us through the suffering. Once we get to the other side, our practice of cultivation falls away, as we carry the fruits of cultivation inside us.
Think not lightly of good, saying: “It will not
come to me.” Drop by drop is the water pot
filled. Likewise, the wise one, gathering it
little by little, fills oneself with good. -The Buddha