Customer Review

683 of 752 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Not for everybody, April 24, 2010
This review is from: Buddha's Brain: The Practical Neuroscience of Happiness, Love, and Wisdom (Paperback)
This is a very good book in many ways, but it has one drawback that I think is very serious. Basically, the authors do not explain that the exercises they describe may lead to pain and frustration instead of increased well-being. They do point out, briefly, that if doing one of the exercises is uncomfortable, the reader should "feel free" to stop. This is not, however, nearly enough.

Let me explain.

The aim of the book is to guide people to increase the frequency and power of positive emotions in their lives--emotions like equanimity, compassion, gratitude and joy. (And, of course, to decrease the power of negative emotions like fear and hate.) There are a number of ways to do this, but the technique which the authors describe in the most detail is guided imagery. In guided imagery one imagines a situation that will trigger the desired emotion. Each time one creates these emotions, one strengthens their pathways in the brain/mind and thus makes oneself a happier/better person.

The problem is that when some people do this imagery they are unable to generate the intended feelings. Instead they feel disappointment and frustration at being unable to do what comes so easily (it seems) to other people. If the person has a history of failure at trying to improve her mood, and if the person has been told all her life to cheer up, look at the bright side, etc., than this can be quite painful, and, ultimately, psychologically harmful.

To see if these methods will work for you, try calling up some happy memory and see if it makes you feel happy. If it does, buy this book. There's a lot of good stuff here. If it doesn't, I recommend trying "The Mindful Way Through Depression". It has much of the same material but it is directed at people who have experienced long-term mental pain--not just depressives, but also people suffering from anxiety, chronic pain, and so forth. It is a tremendously good, useful, insightful book. (No, I have no connection with the book or its authors. I just think it's a great book.)
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Tracked by 9 customers

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Showing 1-10 of 35 posts in this discussion
Initial post: May 1, 2010 9:26:21 PM PDT
Agree completely with your comment about the drawbacks to guided imagery, this based on the really limited usefulness of "sense memory" for most actors. Granted there are a few(I not being among them most of the time)who may be naturally gifted at it or learned as a skill early in life, but by and large the effort to summon forth a particular emotion for a scene is unsuccessful and unproductive.

Posted on Jun 8, 2010 5:28:11 PM PDT
I ordered this book but have not read it yet. However, in my experience it is more helpful to use actual experience, such as not moving away from a painful or joyful experience in the moment, but allowing it and experiencing it in the body without judgement or identification with it as "me." One finds that the energy dissipates or flows out. I have problems with conjuring up images. Another teaching of Buddishm is to watch and know the impermanency of all things. Healthy brain cucuits are created in this way also.
We/ll see how I like the book.

We'll see what I think of the book. I understand a foreward was written by Jack Kornfiled, one of my favorite Buddist authors.

Posted on Jun 28, 2010 2:17:13 PM PDT
It is maybe hard to see at first, but Rick states that ANY negativity is the brain on auto-pilot taking control of the mind, meaning absolutely any negative thought. If you are in doubht, just look at the emotion that is up at the moment you think something like:
"This won't work. Im such a mess", or anything like that. It is not true, it is the brain unconsciously looking for negativity by controlling your mind/your thoughts, and the emotion present in the body will feel something like <pain>. Change this simply by noticing this has happened when it occurs, and start thinking positively about yourself("I am such a good person", "I will become happy again soon" or any thought like that(basically self-compassion)) and see how the emotion changes to a good feeling.

In reply to an earlier post on Jun 28, 2010 6:15:13 PM PDT
"Change this simply by noticing this has happened when it occurs, and start thinking positively about yourself("I am such a good person", "I will become happy again soon" or any thought like that(basically self-compassion)) and see how the emotion changes to a good feeling."

But why would you even resort to postive thinking "affirmations"? That's simply more energy invested into thinking.

The real "goal" should be the absence of thinking or more realistically speaking the absence of the IDENTIFICATION with thinking(since thoughts can't be eliminated anyway).

In reply to an earlier post on Jun 29, 2010 6:53:15 AM PDT
Ah, I guess you have read Eckhart Tolle's material, and so have I.
As much as i love the books("PoN", "ANE"), there are flaws in describing the ego that are invisible until you study how the brain actually works. Thinking happens constantly, and with no end to it--this is a fact and it has been proven in recent times(although Descartes were onto something("cogito ergo sum") in his days, and Plato and Aristoteles before him). The enlightenment presented both in Eckhart's books as well as the teachings of the Buddha, is changing "unconscious incompetence" to "unconscious COMPETENCE" through awareness of thoughts(mind), and changing the brain's negativity bias to positive(method is explained better in "Buddha's Brain" obviously) through controlling the mind(awareness of thinking).

In reply to an earlier post on Jun 29, 2010 7:22:01 AM PDT
I would imagine this works for some(or maybe many) but for me, the best prescription of all is via Nisargadatta Maharaj's "I Am" meditative inquiry(also referred to as "The Stateless State"). Here thoughts aren't given any "life" at all, merely ignored.

In reply to an earlier post on Jun 29, 2010 10:42:44 AM PDT
I think it is enough to know that there is eternal life(consciousness) as nisargadatta states, accept it, then move on with life and staying positive in all situations(which this book is great for).

Posted on Nov 30, 2010 10:53:17 PM PST
Not Moses says:
I very much agree that =The Mindful Way...= is the bomb in terms of "getting it done." Likewise Hayes & Smith's =Get Out of Your Mind and Into Your Life=. But for those who've been intrigued by Le Doux, Cozzolino, Gazzaniga, Kaszniak, Watt and the rest of brain function crowd, this is a worthy addition, for sure. RG, Psy.D.

Posted on Dec 19, 2010 1:10:59 AM PST
You are so right. They even did a scientific study a couple of years ago that demonstrated that positive thinking usually makes depressed people more depressed - something that I have repeatedly experienced throughout my life.

Posted on Mar 6, 2011 5:41:29 PM PST
Last edited by the author on Mar 6, 2011 5:46:54 PM PST
Tcoopnj says:
You make a good point. I suffer from horrible constant chronic post surgical pain. I had the surgeries 4 years ago. I have tried mindfullness meditation, Jon Kabat Zinn CDs, multiple Andrew Weil CDs, self hypnosis. I listen to Alan Watts every night to go to sleep. I listen to meditation music but I still cannot meditate. And it is frustrating.

However, for me another failed technique is not harmful, it is expected. So I will keep on looking. I do want to try visualization and I will certainly look into the Mindful Way Through Depression. As any chronic pain sufferer knows, chronic pain always leads to depression and anxiety.

Thank you again for your review and comments.
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