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Now Reading: Buddha’s Brain

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Buddha’s Brain: The Practical Neuroscience of Happiness, Love & Wisdom

This was a book I had on hold at the library forever. What a delight to find it mailed to me out of the blue. Now that we live in Astoria, we paid extra to keep our Multnomah County Library cards. So when a book on my holds list comes up, they mail it to me. This makes me ridiculously happy.

It took a long time for me to get my hands on this book because a ton of people had it on hold. Which also means I can’t renew it, which is a bummer. This is a book that I’d like to go back and reread from the beginning, even though I haven’t even finished it yet.

I would have quickly gotten bored or irritated if this book had strayed too far into self helpy, religious or spiritual territory. Because, you know, Buddhism is exotic, and from The Orient, and therefore “mystical,” and it also makes me want either chicken tikka masala or sushi. But in a very calm, detached sort of way.

Thankfully, the authors spoke more about the science of the brain. This was both super interesting and dense to read at the same time. I don’t think I’ve given a second thought to brain biology or neuroscience since I had to pass tests in high school, (which is funny, because I didn’t pass any tests in high school). I’m not a reader that can just gloss over the dense, heavy parts. I want to understand every word. And when speaking of the brain, which I haven’t thought about in 20 years, I had a lot of catching up to do. I found myself rereading paragraphs a couple of times, to the point of distraction.

I was grateful for the reminder that the human brain is unbelievably complex. I make jokes often about me and my anxious, nutty brain. To grossly oversimplify: our thoughts, memories, and emotions are neurochemicals, hormones and electrical impulses. I sort of forgot all about that. I forgot all about neurons, axons and synapses. I forgot about our cerebellum, amygdala, and basal ganglia. I forgot it all. I was a humanities major for a reason. With humanities, you can make shit up and still sound like you know what you’re talking about. It’s harder to do that with science.

So I had to slow down and concentrate on what I was reading. I couldn’t hope to absorb this book before bed. I’d get through a couple pages and feel like I was reading a different language. And not because it wasn’t interesting. It was TOTALLY interesting. And it wasn’t all biology. The authors explained the brain’s development, how we are wired for survival, and how we are prone to remember and replay our threatening or anxious memories, because that is how our ancestors beat off the saber tooth tigers.

The Buddhist aspect comes in in the form of meditation, quieting our “monkey brain,” and observing and rewiring our threat memories and survival scripts that play over and over. Boy, I need help with this. Neuroticism can be charming and entertaining sometimes, but anxiety can quickly become a beast. With big, big teeth.

I was nearly done with this book, but not completely finished. Normally, the three week deadlines of library books give me the incentive to hurry up and get through them, instead of causally picking them up for half a year at a stretch. With this book, I do need more time. I don’t want to buy more books. So I will put it on hold again, and wait for the delightful day it shows up in my mailbox again.



  1. I bounce back and forth between wanting to get rid of my books/cut the collection to a certain number (generally 100)/or just say screw it and keep ’em all till I can’t set foot in my apartment. Books are one of the few things I don’t think I could do without. I’m fine with Netflix and Spotify and getting rid of my DVDs, etc, I can cut my wardrobe to near nothing, but getting rid of my library and relying on the library/getting an e-reader just doesn’t feel right to me. If I’m reading a non-fiction book I tend to highlight the shit out of it and scribble notes all over. Unfortunately, the library kind of frowns of this practice.

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