Our brains are programmable, and we are the programmers

Thanks to science and the discovery of neuroplasticity, we know that we can train our brains. Thanks to the contemplative traditions, we know how to train our minds. The knowledge that we are doing so all the time whether we like it or not – in other words, that we are always active agents in our own self-creation – can be felt to confer a deeper sense of moral responsibility (as well as power). It is a new freedom and a new burden, depending on how we relate to it.

Read more: Self-creation as a cultural fulcrum

One of the major perks of this job is seeing the beneficial impact of mindfulness training on people's lives.

First, you make a connection with reality, with what is. You simply meet it. That requires letting go of two old companions who have been impersonating reality, holding you by the hand and guiding you: what you fear, and what you hope for.

Their palms are clammy and familiar, and letting them go to meet with reality is not a particularly glorious feat. It is totally ordinary, even mundane, because what is will not entertain you or accommodate your hangups. It has no bias towards you or against you. That is why it is reliable.

Making that connection is the first step towards making friends with reality. Over time, that friendship can become a deep love affair, and a love affair with what is has no end.


Jacques looks something like this In what will hopefully be the first of many interesting interviews I'll publish on this site, I talked to Jacques Rousseau about the aims and philosophy of the Free Society Institute, a South African non-profit organisation dedicated to promoting free speech, free thought and scientific reasoning.

Jacques describes himself "as a voluntary exile from professional philosophy, where having to talk metaphysics eventually became unbearably irritating. He now spends his time trying to arrest the rapid decline in common sense exhibited by his species, both through teaching critical thinking and business ethics at the University of Cape Town."

Read more: Interview with Jacques Rousseau

We like precision. We like to know starkly and precisely where things end and begin, so we can draw the boundaries of this and tell it apart from that. Language depends on it, so does science. We distinguish key from keyboard, petal from flower, word from sentence. Working at the human scales of granularity is natural to us; we do it all the time without thinking too much.

Read more: Change and Systems Thinking: Down the Rabbit Hole

...at all costs! A lot has been said (sometimes in only 140 characters) about how Facebook’s news feed becomes a highlights reel of our friends’ lives, and about the chronic insecurity generated by comparing our own lives with that unattainably consistent positivity. I understand it might be hard to believe that someone as great as me could suffer from what’s coming to be called Facebook envy, but I must confess that from time to time I do.

Read more: Sanity and the Social Highlights Reel