More Like Working Out

Excerpt from Evolving Dharma: Meditation, Buddhism, and the Next Generation of Enlightenment by Jay Michaelson:

“Brainhacking works. By following a few simple instructions, you can, over time, change the nature of your brain to make it more resilient, more resistant to aging, and more capable of happiness, compassion, and clarity. The data is in, and it matters.

It matters, in fact, in two distinct ways. First, as this hard data filters through the U.S. healthcare industry, the educational system, the military, and the corporate world, to name just a few examples, it will become clear that mindfulness is among the most cost-effective methods ever for reducing hospital stays, advancing educational opportunity, and improving the functioning of organizations. This will be a game-changer.

Second, the science changes how the dharma is even to be understood. This hard data is the opposite of soft spirituality. Meditation and mindfulness are tools, not a set of spiritual exercises whose merit depends on faith or some unknown forces. This is why I’ve used the word ‘technology’ in describing the work of meditation, why Kenneth Folk calls it a form of ‘contemplative fitness,’ and why I like the term ‘brainhacking.’

We’re not referring here to actual, physical technologies like electrodes or vibrating implants or special sounds that put you into an altered state (although all of these exist). Rather, when I say ‘technology,’ I’m thinking of how meditation and mindfulness are tools—processes that lead to predictable results.


When people go to the gym, for example, they know pretty much what’s going to happen, and how it’s going to happen. Lifting weights causes muscles to stretch and even tear a little, causing lactic acid to build up, causing the muscles to rebuild themselves bigger and with more capacity than they had before.

It’s a physical process, and while trainers will debate the best methods until the end of time, the basic operation is clearly understood.

Meditation is similar. If you do the work, predictable changes in the mind and the brain tend to result, in a fairly reliable way. This, in a sense, is the very opposite of spirituality—and it’s certainly not religion either. It’s more like working out: Each time I come back to the breath, I’m strengthening very specific neural networks.

This perspective has already informed how millions of people around the world are enhancing their mental and emotional capacities. And the revolution has only just begun.”

Michaelson, J. (2013). Evolving dharma: Meditation, Buddhism, and the next generation of enlightenment. Berkeley, California: Evolver Editions. (author, Amazon, Goodreads, library)