Shout out to Buddha the neuroscientist!

A thought is just an artifact of the mind.

That’s right. It’s nothing but a mundane, run-of-the-mill widget manufactured wholesale by the endless synaptic activity of the neurons in your brain. 

Ah. I can hear you bristle with argument. Isn’t the human brain one of the most ingenious, incredible biological marvels? Thought is produced by 100 billion nerve cells in a complex circuit that even the most advanced computer networks can’t hold a candle to. Surely that deserves some respect?

I couldn’t agree more. But if that is true, dear changemaker, why do you spend most of your waking hours at thought sites of historical interest digging up ancient stories or mired in the imagined ruins of the future?

The Buddha spent his life investigating the nature of mind and thought. Central to his teachings is the reminder to never accept a theory on face value, but to try it on for size in our own lives.

Take a cue from the Buddha. Hang up your archaeological hat. Become a scientist instead. Your mind is an amazing laboratory where you can turn thought artifacts from relics to objects of art. Here’s how.

First things first. You have absolutely no control over the widget a.k.a. thought production line. So quit trying to “control” or “stop” your thoughts. Picture them instead as the ticker tape at the bottom of your mind screen, just streaming along.

Herein lies the key.

“You” are not your thoughts. ”You” are the observor, the dispassionate witness to your thoughts. The brilliant scientist in charge of your mind lab.

This process of stepping back and becoming aware is the foundation for the practice of mindfulness or meditation.

As you become mindful, you will notice that thoughts have a way of spontaneous combustion into moods and emotions. So treat each thought as merely an invitation passing by. You get to decide which party you’re going to attend – the one that gets you down or the one that is life-affirming.

Training your mind to choose thoughts that evoke positive moods or emotions has a very literal effect on your perspective. A June 2009 study in the Journal of Neuroscience looked at functional MRI images of the visual cortex in the brains of subjects in good, bad  and neutral moods. Looking at the world with rose-tinted glasses actually expanded the window of observation i.e. allowed the subjects to take in more information from their environment – a better view of the big picture, so to speak rather than the tunnel vision of bad moods.

Be a fearless scientist! Investigate and experiment with your thought assembly line. Throw a fabulous party and pick the thoughts you want to hang out with – the ones that will get you to your best life.

Who knew life in a lab could be this much fun?