“It’s about concentrating so you can focus fully on what you’re focusing on without any distractions. And that’s what’s missing in this culture. ” – Dr. Dan Brown
Mark’s new book about the seven commitments of leadership has just come out. It is called “Staring Down the Wolf: 7 Leadership Commitments That Forge Elite Teams,” and is available now from Amazon and from staringdownthewolf.com. Commander Divine writes about many of the great leaders he met in SpecOps to give examples of the commitments that one has to make to the 7 key principles of Courage, Trust, Respect, Growth, Excellence, Resiliency and Alignment.
Dr. Brown is world-famous as an expert in melding Tibetan Buddhist philosophy with Western Psychology. He is an Associate Clinical Professor of Psychology at the Harvard Medical School, and he has also translated a number of Tibetan texts on meditation. He is also one of Mark’s teachers of meditation and he talks today to the Commander about the impact meditation practices have on the physiology of the brain. Listen in for a very detailed discussion of Eastern spirituality and Western psychology.
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Hi folks. This is Mark Divine coming at you with the Unbeatable Mind podcast. Thanks so much for joining me today. I won’t waste your time. This will be an epic journey and we’re gonna learn tons together, with my guest today Dr. Daniel P. Brown.
I’ll introduce Dr. Brown a little bit more in a moment. Before I do so, if you haven’t heard my latest book “staring down the wolf” is finally out, after a three-year Odyssey. You can learn more at our launch website staringdownthewolf.com. And also access some free video training there. Just gonna ask you for your email in order to access that.
This is the first week that it’s out and it’s had a tremendous already – I mean we’ve got some terrific reviews. It was on like 25 radio shows last week.
Some great, great feedback so far. So I’m really excited about it. Some people have said that this is a ground breaker, for me anyways – in terms of what we’re teaching. And the book is about how you can develop yourself emotionally – staring down the wolf is a reference to staring down your fears, your biases, your shadows – so that you can unlock your full authenticity or full power and potential as a leader. So that you can connect to your team more effectively. And that your team can get the important work done.
So I think this is kind of like – in my opinion anyways – l the next frontier for leadership development. Leaders and teams developing together vertically to tap their full potential as human beings.
Staringdownthewolf.com. Check it out, and I super-appreciate your support.
Now my next guest Daniel Brown… I’m very excited to have him on. I will say this right up front, but actually Dan over the past years has become my meditation teacher.
But he’s so much more than that. Dan is a clinical professor of psychology at Harvard. He also works in the medical department at Harvard.
He has trained with the Dalai Lama for years. He literally is the scholar on translating esoteric Tibetan texts into English – I mean, who does that? That’s incredible.
He’s also an expert forensic witness. Has testified in over 200 child abuse cases. Thank you very much Dan for doing that. What an incredibly powerful use of your talent.
He has been an expert witness at the war crimes tribunal.
And he’s written 24 books and has won multiple awards. He won the 1999 Guttmacher Award for outstanding contribution to forensic psychiatry. Another mentor of mine Ken Wilber has co-authored a book with Dr. Brown called “Transformations of Consciousness” which is an outstanding work.
So at any rate… I could go on and on… Dr. Brown, thanks so much for being here. I really, really appreciate you and your time and your contribution. I think we’re gonna have a lively and vivid conversation.
Dr. Brown. It’s my pleasure, Mark.
Mark. I’d love to start – just so the guests can kind of get a sense for your background, your journey – like, how did you get into all this stuff? Like where are you from? Your early influences, and how did you get into this diverse life style of yours?
Dr. Brown. Well I grew up with the ’50s, and science was religion in the ’50s…
Mark. Still is for a lot of people…
Dr. Brown. So I was a hardcore scientist. I was molecular biologist… I was a young prodigy in molecular biology. I worked at MIT when I was 16. Invitation to the Cold Springs Harbor when I was a 16 year-old, just a kid – when Watson discovered DNA…
So I was a rising star in molecular biology, and when I went to college I took all the science courses and I didn’t take the required humanities and social science courses that I needed to do to graduate. So I waited until the last year to do that, because that was soft stuff.
And I saw this course in Eastern religions, and I said “that’s about as fluffy as I can possibly imagine.” so I took it as a joke.
And they had a translation of a book called “Tibetan yoga and Secret Doctrines” by Evans-Wentz – not a very good translation of a Mahamudra book.
And I read that text and it was all very familiar to me. I said “this is what I’m gonna do with my life.”
Mark. Interesting. So one book changed your whole direction.
Dr. Brown. Changed my whole direction. And I didn’t think I could make it a living as a translator, so I retooled as a psychologist.
Mark. You were a biologist and you read this book in English… Or did you read it…?
Dr. Brown. In English. I eventually translated it.
Mark. Right. So how did you get into becoming a translator? To master a language as esoteric as Sanskrit and Tibetan to be able to translate that back into English?
Dr. Brown. Well, I went to the University of Chicago and I learned Sanskrit there. But then I realized that most of the Buddhist Mahayana material didn’t survive, because all the invasions of India. So it really had been preserved better in Tibet. Because it’s hard to invade Tibet.
So in the early 1970s, it wasn’t very easy to find a place that you could learn Tibetan language. The only place that I could learn it, was the University of Wisconsin. They had a Buddhist studies program. So I commuted between Chicago and Wisconsin.
But they the next year up, was second year Tibetan.
So I had to find a crash course in the summer where I could learn first year of Tibetan, so I wouldn’t lose the year. And everybody said talk with Bob Thermon, so I talked with Bob Thermon – who was one of the Dalai Lama’s translators. And I went there for the summer.
And that changed my life. I went there to learn Tibetan language, but I found a real teacher. It was profound to live with a full Buddha.
Mark. Right. So I was gonna ask that. So up until that point, you were kind of flying blind… You were on your own… You were just following your intuition, your passion to learn Tibetan… And you’re inspired by these Eastern methods…
Dr. Brown. No, I’d actually learned the Yoga Sutras. I read them with my dissertation advisor – the famous history of religion professor – Merci Illiato, who had translated them in 1927 for his doctoral dissertation.
So I read them in Sanskrit with him, and then I found an Indian psychologist – Dr. Lasalvador in Chicago – who taught me all the four stages of the practices of the yoga sutras. That was my first practice.
Mark. Yeah. And I have some familiarity with those. But not nearly as much as you.
So what was it, I guess, about the Tibetan path that was so intriguing to you? That took you away from the sutras – the yoga sutras – and kind of committed you to that?
Dr. Brown. Well I think it’s the depth of the knowledge. It’s a hundred thousand volumes in Tibetan library about states of mind. That Dwarfs our Western psychology – which is only 200 years old. This goes back 18,000 years.
Because the goal of mine is a treasury of research on the mind.
Mark. And how much of that was lost when the Chinese invaded Tibet, in your estimation?
Dr. Brown. Not a lot of it. It was one man and a friend of mine – Gene Smith – who worked for Library of Congress. And he spent his life reconstructing that library. He reconstructed 80,000 volumes. Single-handedly, in the course of his lifetime, before he died.
Mark. Let me get a grip on that. 80,000 independent works he was able to preserve or reconstruct?
Dr. Brown. Yes. There’s a documentary film about his life called “Digital Dharma.” It’s worth seeing.
Mark. How did he do that? Like, I’m trying to wrap my head around that. How could he possibly…
Dr. Brown. He worked for Library of Congress in Delhi. And in those years – in the 1960s -the Indian government owed the US a lot of money on interests for loans. And rather than default on paying the loans back, they decided they could pay back the interest in cultural exchange products. Books.
And Gene worked for the Library of Congress and the Tibetans were refugees in India. So he looped them into the budget. And built a number of publishing houses in Old Delhi. And had them print all the books.
And he hired Sherpas to go back into old Tibet and sneak out what they could find. And he spent his entire life doing this.
Mark. That’s incredible. What’s the name of the documentary again? Just so we get that…
Dr. Brown. Digital Dharma. So he wasn’t sitting there with pen and paper translating 80,000… He had a whole team, and they were preserving these texts.
Dr. Brown. No, but he loved these texts. And he knows them better than Tibetans do. In fact, I called him up when he was in Delhi in 1972 and he said “where are you?”
I said “I’m at the University of Chicago.”
He says “well, that’s one of the 26 libraries we sent these materials to.” so he said “coming to the US in two weeks. I’ll meet you in Chicago.”
So we met at Regenstein library at the University of Chicago. And we found a back room where they had crates upon crates… Wooden crates the size of dump trucks. Filled with Tibetan texts.
And we had hammers and crowbars. And opened them all up, and he said “read this, read this.” and he gave me 10 years’ worth of translations to do. And everything he recommended was great.
Mark. That’s cool I have an image of like Indiana Jones opening a crate and finding a treasure trove inside of it.
Dr. Brown. He was like that.
Mark. That’s amazing. So you had kind of a parallel… A dual life here. You’re a scientist on one hand and specializing in neuroscience and kind of medical aspects. And interested in how the brain works from that Western perspective.
While simultaneously you’re diving into eastern practices. And you mentioned a little while ago, the eastern practices have far, far, far more dirt time under their belt than the Western psychology.
How did you kind of rectify the two? Or make sense of the two different approaches?
Dr. Brown. Well we did 10 years of outcomes research on mindfulness meditation in the ’70s and ’80s.
And recently we’ve been looking at neuroscience. We have the only study on what the brain does when it shifts an ordinary mind to awakened mind. We actually pin down exactly what the brain is doing when it shifts to awakened mind.
Mark. Mm-hmm. Well this is probably a good place to ask that kind of question. What is awakening? You know, for the average listener who may have heard that term – and there’s a lot of popular books that use that term, and I’m not 100 percent sure they’re using in the same context as you.
So what is awakening to you?
Dr. Brown. It is always right here. There’s an infinitely limitless field of brilliantly lucid, knowing, awareness, love… And we don’t directly perceive it or operate out of it. Because it’s clouded over by all the structures of mind that we get caught up in.
So in the essence traditions, the metaphor is the Sun that’s clouded over. When the Sun is clouded over and then eventually there are cracks in the clouds and the Sun shines through, we say the Sun just came out.
Is that correct? No it’s not correct. The sun’s always shining, but we don’t see it if it’s clouded over. So it’s clouded over by thought. It’s clouded over by the sense of self. It’s clouded over by constructions about time. It’s clouded over by how we localize consciousness.
And the whole path is illustrated in the Heart Sutra mantra which goes “Gote, Gote, para gote, parasumgote, Bodhisvaha.” which literally means “gone, gone, gone way beyond, gone way way beyond, whoo, what a realization.”
And here’s what it means. First we get caught up in thought all the time… We spend over half of our waking life caught up in thought and lost in thought.
So when you concentrate the mind, thought elaboration winds down and eventually stops. So there are long periods of time absent of thought activity. Where are you operating out of, if you’re not operating out of thought?
You back end you’re way into realizing you’re operating out of the field of awareness. And that intention of awareness is much cleaner than operating out of conceptual thought. That’s the first “gote.” awareness gone beyond thought.
But then we spend a good deal of our daily lives operating out of our sense of self. “Dan-ness” in my case. “Mark-ness” in your case.
And if I do emptiness of self meditation, I go beyond that. I don’t operate out of the sense of self. I operate out of that larger field of awareness. Cleaned-up of that sense of self, it’s still there, it just is not where I’m coming from, it’s not where I’m operating out of.
Then I get lost in time, but if I do the practice of emptiness of time, I go beyond the convention of time. And I operate out of that larger field of awareness, which is timeless and also boundless. That’s a huge shift – operating out of this timeless, limitless field of knowing – brilliantly knowing awareness. And everything is contained within that limitless, boundless, timeless awareness. There’s what we call simultaneous mind and Buddhism.
And once I’m operating out of that, I come to see that I’m operating out of a field of awareness. It’s not dual, it’s beyond duality. I’m not looking at something from somewhere else – I am that entire field. But I tend to localize my consciousness in that field somewhere. But if I drop away that localization, I become the entire limitless, timeless, brilliantly knowing, loving awareness. Become the entire field itself.
That’s awakening. Awareness gone beyond thought. Awareness itself gone beyond self-representation. Timeless, boundless, non-dual awareness gone way beyond the conception of time. Limitless, boundless, non-localized awareness – awakened awareness.
Ooh what a realization. That’s what the Heart Sutra mantra means.
Mark. That’s beautiful.
Mark. So Awakening is experiencing that and then stabilizing that. Like, you know there’s a lot of people who are looking or chasing peak experiences these days. And they say peak experiences have some of those qualities, right? It’s beyond time or at least time begins to not operate in the same ways as in our normal reality.
And also there’s a selflessness. An expansion of connection or a feeling of connection to other sentient beings and whatnot. And thought kind of comes to a standstill. So it sounds to me like a peak experience could be a peak at awakening would you say? Or how do they relate?
Dr. Brown. You could get elements of it. But the trouble is that we tend to look for them as States. As soon as you make it into a thing, we’ve missed the point.
Dr. Brown. So if you start looking for a certain state and there’s the self looking for that – having that state and making that state again – then you’ve missed the point, at that point. You’ve gone off track.
Mark. Right, because who’s doing the looking? You collapse back into that local self.
Dr. Brown. Yeah, you’re operating out of self again.
Mark. And to be clear when we talk about the word “self,” we’re talking about the egoic structures that identify Mark as Mark, right? The concept…
Dr. Brown. Right. The general sense of “Dan-ness” and “Mark-ness.”
Mark. Right. You know, when we did the meditation retreat at Mount Madonna, a part of setting up the “view,” you called it, was to search for that self using high-speed awareness. Like so you said “Mark, look around your body and look for Mark.”
(laughing) and that’s an interesting thing, because at first you’re like “well, Mark’s right here. I’m sitting on this bench.”
But then you’re like ”really? So who is that that’s sitting? Who’s doing the searching and what is that sitting on the bench?”
And when you begin to really drop into that, you recognize that really it’s just a bunch of atoms sitting on the bench.
Dr. Brown. What you’re looking for is whether you can find that “Mark-ness” or “Dan-ness” as an independently existing thing. Or as something that’s substantial.
And the more you look into it and roam around with your awareness, it keeps slipping away as unfindable. The Dalai Lama says if you want to really understand emptiness there’s a meditation practice in Tibetan it’s called Nyaymay the experience of unfindability. The more you look into it, the more it keeps slipping away. And you can’t find it. So then, once you get that experience of shift or unfindability, you look into the field of awareness, and you see that you’re operating out of that larger field of awareness.
And if you do this emptiness practice right, we always say you shift your basis of operation. You shift out of self mode into that field of awareness as your basis. Or you shift out of thought mode, or you shift out of time – into that larger field of timeless awareness.
So you learn to operate out of that field of awareness. And keep opening up the levels of that field of awareness, until you open up awakened awareness.
What we found with the neurocircuitry study that we did on awakening, was that when people held the view of that larger, timeless, boundless awareness, they were activating the anterior cingulate cortex – which is usually associated with deep concentration.
And when they were refining that to the natural state, and then setting up the view that shifts to awakening – called a lion’s gaze – in all three of those meditation conditions they were activating the anterior cingulate cortex. But the unusual finding was that the bandwidth of activation was 60 to 65 Hertz. That’s maximum output.
So all the cells in that region of interest are activated. But then when they switched to awakening, they activated an area of the parietal system that we typically associate with shifting from a more local to a more global awareness. And again, it was Gamma activity at 60-65 Hertz, and in that varietal area.
So awake means awake. Not the whole brain wakes up, but certain areas of the brain get put online fully and maximize their output. Like this area that shifts from a local to a huge global awareness. Brilliantly knowing, loving awareness.
Mark. This idea of kind of pairing meditation with neuroscience and biofeedback and what not is interesting. And I can see how it like just from layman’s perspective it’s kind of interesting to know that a meditator – advanced meditator – will light up certain areas of the brain, but is it true that you can kind of reverse it? Can you go from the physical or physiological to the content by trying to stimulate those areas of brain? Will that actually awaken?
Can you get awakened – in other words – through biofeedback? Or do you actually have to do the work of meditation?
Dr. Brown. No, because one of the things about the Lion’s gaze – which is secret instructions for how you cross over from the ordinary mind to awakened mind – is that you have to set up a view that you don’t get caught up in what is called particularizing. The tendency of the mind towards something that makes a particular object come into being.
As soon as the mind reaches towards something, in those milliseconds you’ve obscured the unbound and wholeness. It’s always right here.
So there’s a certain way you can take the unbounded wholeness itself as the object of meditation. Hold that every moment.
And if you do that, then you see that all that activity of particularizing is just the activity on the unbounded wholeness in such a way that no longer precludes the direct realization of that unbounded wholeness.
But if you try and do biofeedback – you have to look at a monitor. As soon as you’re looking at a monitor, you’re caught up in particularizing again. So you can’t use the biofeedback in a way that’s going to help you to shift from ordinary mind to awakened mind. It just doesn’t work that way.
Mark. Interesting. So what was coming up to me is kind of our discussion about how ordinary mindfulness practice – where you’re looking at the mind from the perspective of the mind – can trap you in that localization.
And you can actually train yourself to be pretty effective metacognitively, but you’re still stuck in local sense of self/mind. Is that an accurate portrayal?
Dr. Brown. That’s correct. In fact, some years ago, we used a t-scope which is a high-speed electronic order – and we were studying the speed of the mind in advanced meditators. We did it in mindfulness meditators here in America. And then we brought the t-scope over to the Domcellar and the Dalai Lama gave us his top meditators.
And we could show objectively that they could pick up events very quickly in the mind that normally most ordinary people wouldn’t pick up.
But one of the Western teachers that… We were holding them at threshold and seeing what they could actually see. And she said to me “every time you ask me for a response, I have to come back into the ordinary mind, and it’s particularization. And it pulls me out of awakening. Tell me can your machine measure awakening?”
And then I realized the impossibility of what we were trying to do. And I decided it was probably better to just teach how to awaken people.
Mark. So you’re suggesting that the speed of awareness, or I’ve used this term speed of intention, like, if you intend something it’s just there, right? You just do it.
Dr. Brown. Yeah, speed of intention is less than ten milliseconds which is as fast as a t-scope can show.
Mark. Whereas thinking – as you construct a thought – you use the term elaborate, you have to elaborate on that thought. Basically like a decision matrix unfolds in your brain and then…
Dr. Brown. Well, let me give you an example – Major League Baseball. If somebody sits up at the plate, ready to hit the ball – if the fastball comes over the plate at 400 milliseconds – 95 miles an hour fastball, 400 milliseconds to get to the plate – thinking is about 500 milliseconds to 3,000 milliseconds. So if you’re thinking, you can’t see the ball.
But if you’re paying directed attention, which is about 250 milliseconds, you can see the ball’s in position, and you can probably hit it.
But if you really wanted to hit the ball in a superior way, you’d operate out of the lightning speed of awareness. Which is less than 10 milliseconds. Then you could hit everything out of the ballpark.
Mark. And people who master a sport like Tiger Woods masters golf, is it safe to say that in that very specific domain, that that mastery or tens of thousands of hours of practicing that one particular movement allows them to operate at the speed of awareness in that particular sport?
Dr. Brown. Yeah.
Mark. And is that transferable to like general awakening?
Dr. Brown. I got to go to batting practice when Tony Gwynn was in his prime. And he was hitting every ball out of the park. And he was clearly operating out of the field of awareness. He would explain how he did it to me.
Mark. Mm-hmm. And I guess back to my second part of that question, does that mean that Tony Gwynn was awakened? Or was that just in the domain of that very specific action.
Dr. Brown. He just discovered it on his own. Many athletes learn these states of controlling the mind. They rediscover things that have been discovered hundreds of years ago.
Mark. So let’s get to like how this translates to being a good person or a growing, more effective leader. Just because let’s say Tony Gwynn or Tiger Woods have mastered and maybe experienced this awakening, doesn’t necessarily mean that translates into more heart-centered or a more compassionate human being.
So tell us, how do we go from mind to emotions and open up to be like our fullest capacity as a human being? Enlightenment, in other words.
Dr. Brown. Well, let me give a little background here. There’s a difference between the older Theravada Buddhism, which is the teachings of Shakyamuni Buddha. And Mahayana Buddhism, which developed some years later.
And one of the debates was about the nature of time. And in the older stage model for meditation called the Vasidimagya or the path of purification in Theravadan Buddhism, there’s a stage where you everything flashes in an instant like a strobe light.
And you watch the things arise like a flash of light – they’re called mind moments and arise and disappeared. And if you keep watching it, the whole thing breaks up and it’s called dissolution experience. And it’s not a very pleasant experience, but once the basic building blocks of what you can observe in the mind break up, what you’re left with is this infinitely vast field of awareness. And that becomes the platform for looking into the nature of that awareness and awakened awareness. And the realization of awakened awareness.
But then the Nargajuna came along and said “look, this idea that things are coming and going in time presumes the construction of time. What if that’s just an empty structure of mind too?”
He developed a funny way of looking at things. So when things arise in time you look at them as if they don’t really arise in time, but they’re already here. When things go away in time you look at them as if they don’t go away, but stay here.
And if you do that with every moment of experience, it busts over into the whole notion of time. And you go beyond it to what’s called simultaneous mind. You have a vast, infinite field of awareness. It’s timeless.
And it’s convenient, cause once you open that up, it doesn’t go away. Because going away presumes it goes away in time. So once you open up that simultaneous mind, everything is contained within that infinitely vast, limitless field of awareness. Which you’re now operating out of.
Mark. Including the localized mind, which experiences time locally…
Dr. Brown. Including the localized mind. And in that field all the content of the universe and all beings are contained within that same limitless field.
Well. That changes your ethics, because everything that you think, everything you do affects everybody else in the field. It’s like a field effect. We all influence each other.
Once you realize that, it changes your ethics, because that’s where the whole idea of helping people in Bodhisattva activity comes from.
It was a new discovery in Buddhism. And it’s not present in the old Theravadan Buddhism, including the popular mindfulness that’s around now. It’s unique to the Mahayana Buddhism.
I like to think it was a new discovery, sort of like the structure of scientific revolutions that new discoveries come on that handle the world much better than the older discoveries. But we don’t look at Buddhism from a logical perspective like that. We go back to the original Buddhism, because it’s the most authoritative.
It’s like saying let’s go back to Ptolemaic view of the world that everything revolves around the planet Earth, including the Sun. Rather than the Copernican revolution. But once the Copernican revolution came we say “this is a better model for the world.”
The idea that we can open up simultaneous mind all at once and go beyond temporal information processing – to what in the West, we call parallel processing or simultaneous processing – is a new model for the mind. It’s perfectly something that we can directly observe. Once we live in that world as a direct experience of simultaneous mind, we get sensitized to how we have impact on everybody else.
Then if you open up the next level up, which is awakened mind, it’ll move your heart. It’s usually accompanied by spontaneous devotion, spontaneous compassion or gratitude. And most people who have a taste of awakening, it moves their heart and makes them want to do something with their life. We say the only true test of whether the realization is authentic, is how you lead your life. It’s about conduct.
So people who get some degree of realization, leave a wake of positive influence around them.
Mark. So you’re suggesting that the practice itself will eradicate the negative qualities by removing the veils, or the clouds, that are blocking you from your positive qualities. Which will then naturally flourish.
And those positive qualities are things like compassion – deep compassion – and feeling of connection…
Dr. Brown. Yes the point of the meditation where you set up a view of the vast expanse – infinite vast expanse of knowing awareness – and you allow to whatever arise within that expanse. And you see everything as the liveliness of awakened awareness. So all thoughts, all emotions, all sights, all sounds the body sensations all lively awareness – awakened awareness – arising within that expanse. It’s calling a view of the inseparable pair.
And if you set that up as your practice and let everything just rise within that expanse – running its own course without engaging it – it’s that mental engagement that causes karmic memory traces to form. So if you let everything arise in the experience without engaging it, it runs its own course. It quickly disappears like writing on water. It immediately disappears.
Or like snowflakes falling in the great ocean. And what it does is it forces the mind to rapidly release all karmic memory traces at a rapidly accelerated rate. The actually time is about seven years.
And then there’s an end point. The end point is that you eradicate all negative states that could possibly come into existence. And because those negative states mask the positive states, you get a flourishing of 85 positive qualities of the Budhiman. So you live in a state of total positivity.
We now have enough subjects to do that. We have a grant from the Fetzer Foundation to study this flourishing of positive states. Because I think it has profound implications for mental health. We’re set to run subjects next week.
Mark. Yeah. Sounds like it does.
Mark. How many people in the world do you think are operating out of what you would call Buddha nature or enlightened nature? Where those positive qualities are flourishing, and they’re acting toward the benefit of all mankind?
Dr. Brown. Well this is pre-Buddhahood. So the first step is awakening, the second step is stabilizing awakening. So you have it all the time – operate out of it all the time.
The next step is the path of liberation, which is the eradication of all negative states and the flourishing of all positive states. And then the last step beyond that is full enlightenment.
We have about 300 people who can do the flourishing of positive states and the eradication of negative states now – amongst our student network. And we have one full Buddha, who’s going to come into the lab and see – we’re gonna look at the brain what the fully enlightened brain.
Mark. And for the listener, Buddhahood is the quality of full enlightenment, right? It’s not like the actual Buddha has come back, you know? Like people mix up Christ consciousness with Jesus Christ so it’s very similar in that regard, right?
Dr. Brown. So I think if we leave behind three studies of the neurocircuitry of awakening, the neurocircuitry of the eradication of negative states, and the flourishing of positive states, and the neurocircuitry of enlightenment then we’ve done a good job here, for science.
Mark. Right. That’s really a powerful contribution for sure.
But like you said, it’s really about getting more and more people on this path. And what was inspiring to me – was inspiring first through my yoga practice, and then hearing it from you – is that this is attainable by everybody listening, right? It’s not like when I first started yoga – I read in these texts ”it takes a thousand lifetimes to find yoga.” and I don’t mean like stretchy bendy yoga, but like these practices – the practices of Awakening and enlightenment.
But then I was led to believe just kind of through my research that “geez, it’s probably not likely that Mark is gonna become an awakened or enlightened human being in this lifetime. Because, geez you know this is just so much work.”
Dr. Brown. That becomes a limiting belief then.
Mark. I know. Exactly.
So you made a claim that if you were diligent in your practice, that this is attainable. You know? In seven years or a little bit more. It’s not something that is – “I’ll do as best I can this time, and then hopefully I get another shot next lifetime,” kind of thing.
Dr. Brown. It’s attainable with the right teachings. You need a teacher who’s gonna keep you on the path, so you don’t get into bad habits of mind.
Mark. Right. What are some of those bad habits? And we’ve already talked about getting trapped in thought only mode, right?
Dr. Brown. Well, you just mentioned a lot of limiting beliefs about what the practice is going to entail and they don’t get any further than that. They don’t get beyond the limiting beliefs. Mark. Right, but what are some of the most common limiting beliefs that get people stuck? From your experience?
Dr. Brown. Something will come up as a problem that won’t necessarily get in the way. That’s a very common one.
Or the Tibetan limiting belief is it takes lifetimes, so why bother? It takes an instant, with the right realization and right teaching.
But when we teach concentration at the beginning of this path, a lot of people they divide their attention. So half of them – maybe 20% of their mind is on the concentration object, and 80% of it is engaged in the background noise of thought. So they never really disengaged from thought.
Or they get into states of sleepiness and dullness, and sort of a meditative stupor. And then what’s happening in the West is that meditation is now so popular and it’s got so institutionalized, there’s a lot of sloppy meditation out there. And there aren’t a lot of teachers who are saying “no don’t do it like that, do it like this.” and always correcting the bad habits of the meditators.
Mark. Right. Yeah. I think “meditation” – the word itself is a catch-all for a bevy of practices. And the way that you skillfully taught it, was that it’s a progression. You know, “start here, and then when you get that dialed in you move on to this.”
And that whole path was beautifully articulated progression. And then also, even before you start doing that, there were the preparations, you know? The hundred thousand preparations, which can be bypassed if you practice diligently and properly, but there was a reason for those preparations, right?
And so everyone dives into meditation thinking they’re gonna go from zero to hero and they get really frustrated and then oftentimes they’ll quit. Or they’ll confuse meditation with just like listening to a guided visualization.
Dr. Brown. And they’re mostly thinking.
Mark. Right. That’s interesting. So it’s helpful to unpack it for people. Let’s talk it about that progression, in simple terms.
If one of the listeners here is saying “okay, you got me Mark. I get it. I’ve been listening to that app, now I want to know how should I really start to meditate. How am I gonna make real progress?”
How would you get them kind of started on this path?
Dr. Brown. Well, we start with concentration meditation. There are two major styles of meditation – one is awareness-based meditation and the other is concentration meditation. They do something rather different.
So mostly what’s popular is mindfulness. So that’s an awareness-based meditation. But in the foundation of this practice is concentration, because if you concentrate on one object and keep putting the mind back to that object over and over again, so it stays for longer duration and completely on that object. Continuously, completely on that object.
One of the consequences of that concentration, is that thought elaboration will wind down and stop. So you have long periods of time absent of all thought activity. So you learn to shift your base of operation out of thought mode, into awareness mode.
And that’s the first realization that you move beyond thought. Otherwise you do conceptualizations forever, while you meditate.
Mark. So the Tibetans didn’t teach those… They taught that more as a progression right? So concentration precedes the awareness.
Dr. Brown. Concentration starts first.
Mark. Starts first. Because if you jump right to the mindfulness or the awareness training, your mind is going to be tuned more to want to elaborate and be caught in thought. You haven’t tamed it.
Dr. Brown just what gets popular in the West isn’t necessarily the best thing. For example, if you look at the Western research on peak performance – ideal performance states – it presumes if you look at Mike Shiksenehi’s work for example – his model of being in a peak performance or flow state involves two factors – one is a heightened state of attentiveness which means concentration training. And the second is challenging yourself, so you’re always on the edge of your skill ratio.
So those are the two necessary ingredients and if you look at other models like the wheel of excellence model, it’s a seven factor model for peak performance. And two of them have to do with paying attention.
So it’s not about mindfulness or about awareness. It’s about concentrating so you can focus fully on whatever you’re focusing on. Without any distraction. And that’s what’s missing in this culture.
Mark. Right, interestingly enough in the SEAL Teams – you can imagine this, maybe it’s a little bit of a caveman or brute force approach – but we taught first to balance the body through breath control training, then to concentrate. We called it attention control. Get very clear about what you need to put your attention on, and then keep your attention on that thing…
Dr. Brown. It’s the same thing. A different name for the same thing. You have to train concentration and resist distraction. It’s the foundation to any good performance.
Mark. Right. And then the third step was visualization.
But then the fourth step was actually more of like an awareness, mindfulness practice. It’s like, scan your environment and choose your next target. Be aware of what’s going on. Don’t get distracted by the next shiny thing.
And so they in their wisdom were teaching a progression for mental development.
Dr. Brown. Yeah, it’s the same progression.
Mark. That’s fascinating. What is the role of visualization in these practices? I know that we didn’t do a lot of it, but I know there’s a rich visualization practice tradition.
Dr. Brown. Well, as you just mentioned in your SEAL training – it’s the same thing in the Western research on performance excellence – visualization enhances motor performance. There’s 63 laboratory studies on motor performance and visualization. Like throwing darts or shooting follow shots or putting a ball on a golf green. And what those studies show is that if you don’t have any experience with the sport, the visualization doesn’t help at all.
But if you have experience with the sport, you can get a modest degree of change improvement. Only a modest improvement for most individuals with visualization.
But if you’re a top athlete, you get a great deal of significant change. So that’s why most top athletes eventually use visualizations to do their performance.
Jack Nicklaus once said that he never took a shot in golf without first visualizing where the ball lands on the green. So great players always use visualization practice.
Dan, so thanks so much for your time, man. This has been really interesting and extremely valuable. I’d love to follow up sometime I think it’s gonna take a while to unpack everything. And there’s tons and tons of things that I didn’t get to talk to you about.
But I do want to let people know that I mentioned when I started this that Dan has become my meditation teacher. I’m very serious about that.
For years I’ve been in the yoga sutra tradition, and I’ve got some great teachers there. And I continue to rely on them.
But when it comes to actually teaching the nuances of meditation, concentration, mindfulness that type of stuff – everything we’ve talked about – Dan is a master and he has courses.
The level 1 course is enough. I mean, I could take that every year probably for 10 years and still just be chipping away at the tip of the iceberg. So if you go to pointingoutway.org you’ll see… Just click on – I’m not sure what you call it – but courses or workshops or training. You’ll find the different courses that Dan offers. I highly recommend everyone check those out.
And you mentioned to me that you’re going to be expanding the level one course. And more people like our listeners can participate.
Thank you for what you do. And for being on this podcast.
All right folks that’s Dr. Daniel P Brown. And you can learn more. I highly recommend you check out mindonly.com. That’s really suited for everyone listening who really, really wants to go deep to improve their leadership capacity by becoming a better human being. And learning the nuances of concentration and mindfulness.
And let’s get awakened. Become fully awakened leaders and lead by example in the world.
Thanks so much for your time today, everybody. I really appreciate it. My name is Mark Divine. This is the Unbeatable Mind podcast, and I’ll see you next time.