Human brain with the view of Earth from space superimposed on it

Change Your Brain, Change the World

Have you heard the one about the monk, the neuroscientist, and the tax-evading poet?

The Dalai Lama was in Washington, DC a few days ago, meeting with world-class neuroscientists, national leaders and policy-makers on education, and advanced contemplatives, one of whom has been dubbed the Happiest Man in the World. And I got to be there.

Admittedly, I attended with an agenda: to get the scoop on the latest findings and the future of mindfulness meditation and its impact on the brain.

I want to share just one quote from the meeting. It was offered by one of the world’s premier neuroscientists, psychologist Richie Davidson, PhD, whose expert pursuit of understanding emotions and the brain makes him one of my heroes (and one of Time Magazine’s “100 Most Influential People”).

It was a bit of a surprise, in the midst of the very 21st-century discussion about the challenges of education and brain research — to hear Dr. Davidson share a bit of wisdom from Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862):

Henry David Thoreau
Henry David Thoreau

“As a single footstep will not make a path on the earth, so a single thought will not make a pathway in the mind. To make a deep physical path, we walk again and again. To make a deep mental path, we must think over and over the kind of thoughts we wish to dominate our lives.”

How does this relate to you (and to all of us, and to each one of us)? Let me count the ways:

  • Your thoughts create new brain pathways, and even new neurons, throughout your life.
  • The new pathways and neurons support the creation of new habits of the mind, crowding out the old, dysfunctional habits.
  • Shedding old habits of the mind and re-shaping your brain creates new possibilities in how you feel and respond in relationships.
  • New ways of feeling and responding in relationships allow for new global relationships, a new awareness that we’re all in this together, creating a new path for humanity.

Change one brain, and it is as if you have changed the world.

And according to a now very substantial body of research, as little as three minutes of meditation practice a day might be all it takes to get the ball rolling.

As another august thinker, my grandmother, used to say: “So, it wouldn’t hurt to try a little.”

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