Saturday, August 7, 2010

'Taking in the Good' with Rick Hanson

I had the great privilege to attend a day-long with Rick Hanson, at IMC. Rich Hanson, a neuropsychologist and long time Vipassana meditator, is the author of the bestseller, 'Buddha's Brain: The Practical Neuroscience of Happiness, Love & Wisdom'. The title of his presentation was 'Taking in the Good'.

Taking in the good, we certainly did, as Rick explored with us the exciting area of confluence between neuroscience, neuropsychology, and Dharma practice. The good news is negative patterns in the brain can be reversed, through deliberate changes in the mind. This is called self-directed neuroplasticity. The bad news is the brain's negativity bias, a collateral damage from years of biological evolution. To counter this negativity bias, we need to reshape our implicit memory bank by consciously taking in good experiences over and over again. This is where right mindfulness and right effort come into play. 

Often we may think we are taking in the good stuff in our life, but we are not really, or at least not completely. I found the following TIG (Taking in the Good) practice from Rick, especially useful. It goes like this:
  1. Look for a positive fact, and let it become a positive experience. (I picked 'breathing')
  2. Savor the positive experience, sustaining it for 10 to 30 seconds, feeling it in the body and emotions, and intensifying it. (Never before did breathing feel so 'sweet' . . .)
  3. Sense and intend that the positive experience is soaking into your brain and body, registering deeply in emotional memory. (Oh! such a blissful state, the sweetness of breathing)
I was reminded of Jack Kornfield's raisins exercise.

Too often I rush to gratitude, without taking the time to completely appreciate what I am grateful for. This is definitely a practice to add to my happiness toolbox!

Taking in the Good. All of the Good.

If you have the time, you may want to go through the complete deck of Rick Hanson's slides, available here in pdf file


  1. Many thanks for posting the slides. A wonderful day! Glad to connect with you in person. Metta...

  2. Thanks for this. I've seen Hanson in the "Awakening Joy" course and it's great to be reminded of it again. Very powerful, practical stuff.

  3. Wow! Thanks for sharing this Marguerite. Now I have another book to add to my list for reading. I'm very much interested in psychology, so anything related to meditation and its psychological effects is extremely interesting to me.

  4. Thank you Lori (dharmadancer). Same here! I love the way Rick approaches positivity. A difficult practice that can easily slip into denial of negativity, if not handled skillfully. Rick figured it out!

  5. Carole (zendotstudio), interesting that you mention "Awakening Joy" course. I got such a different feeling from daylong I took with James Baraz a while ago. Continuing on point made in comment above, and comparing between the two teachers, I felt James Baraz does not properly lay the foundation for joy practice.

    Of course, strictly from personal view point, hence very limited . . . and subjective.

  6. Nate, I am so glad you find this helpful. Make sure to check out Rick's websites as well. Both are gold mines of information about neuroscience and Buddhism practice.