The amazing, fascinating and mindblowing book of the week is Brain and meditation written by a Buddhist monk and scientist Matthieu Ricard and neurophysicist Wolf Singer. In their long discussion, they come to the conclusion that we don’t have a located “self” in our brain. What we do have is just a continuum made of cognitive reactions (a.k.a. a lot of stuff going on in our brain and we have no idea what it all means).
Therefore, with no self, there is nothing in your brain that is actually YOU. You are just a lot of things going on at the same time. You are made of your memory (that lets you think you are your experiences), your nerves (that let you think that you are your body) and your prefrontal cortex (that lets you know you are your thoughts)…
It took me some time to fully comprehend the fact that we have no self, no ego, nothing that is really me. Weird feeling… So take it easy.
But what does it concretely mean that you have no self? And how can we apply that fact in our day to day life?
To understand and apply that we have to understand another thing first: synaptic plasticity. What the hell is that? It is the ability of your brain to literally change its form regarding on what you use it for. Which means that if you use a lot of your willpower, your brain will shape connections that will make it easier for you to use your willpower in the future; on the other hand, if you are procrastinating, the willpower is going to grow weak.
What it concretely means: we are not something definitive, our brain/personality is evolving each time we take a decision, each time we make an action. A junky living on the street who will move to be a monk in Tibet, will literally not be the same person anymore. And that is the book’s best idea: we have no self, we are just the result of very complex brain mechanisms.
And, wait for it, it also means we have no ego! Everybody is saying that ego is the enemy, that it is because of too much ego that the planet is going bad, etc… But according to researchers in neurosciences and to Buddhism, ego does not even exist. We just made it up! Why? Because it is an easy explanation for all the things we cannot understand about ourselves.
Basically, our personality is not a constant thing, it is the result of numerous complex processes that happen in our brains, and each time you take a decision your brain changes its shape. So you think you are someone, you think you are your ego… but you don’t even have an ego!
And this understanding can change your life and even the whole world!
Think about it. If you have no ego, no fixed personality, then guilt, fear and other “bad” feelings instantly become useless. Because it makes no sense to say “I am a bad person”, “I am born under an unlucky star” or “It is too late now, I cannot change after all this time. I am who I am”.
If there is no ego, there is no reason to be offended. You are the one deciding to be upset because you think this is the thing to do. Because you think people are attacking you. But there is nothing to be offended about since you have no self. They cannot offend you. Eventually, you can feel anger, but even then you can decide to let it go and not let it control your mind.
On a bigger scale, it means that a lot of wars can be avoided. Think about it, if there is no fear and no jealousy, it means there is no racism and no ressources conflicts. If there is no ego, we instantly tend to share what we have and we feel more compassionate for other people.
The best part about it is that it means you can be whoever you want to be. If you want to learn something, you can. No matter what it is, you simply have to do things that bring you closer to your goal and stop doing those that take you away from it. This way you will enforce your brain. And remember, by enforcing your brain you are shaping yourself. And if there is something you no longer want to experience, stop doing it. Eventually, this part of the brain will get weak and you will use it less and less.
So do not ever say again “I’m not good at something”. You can learn anything you want to.