You Can Perform Neurosurgery on Yourself

From "Enlightenment for the Rest of Us," Kenneth Folk, Buddhist Geeks: The Conference, July 2011

What is enlightenment? There’s a 2007 University of Toronto Study that used fMRI scans to look at the brains of meditators. They posited two modes of attention, which I don’t think they made up. I think this goes back to William James at least. Two modes of attention: experiential focus and narrative focus.

Experiential focus would be paying attention to something that’s going on. You’re engaged in what’s going on. Vipassana would be a good way to do that or even just listening now to the sound of the air-conditioner will move your mind into experiential focus.

Narrative focus is when we’re telling ourselves a story about our experience. These are two very different ways that the mind works.

Your essential job in order to get enlightened is to change the mode from the narrative, which is the default focus, to the experience. If you do this consistently, you will change the wiring of your brain. This is what the study in question found, that the brain structure and functioning change and this is what these fMRI studies continue to find. You can perform neurosurgery on yourself by again and again shifting the mode from the narrative to the experience. This is not easy because the default is the narrative. This is how human beings are set up.