These books are in the order I would read them if I was teaching this as a college course, you can decide how to proceed:
Brain Rules, by John Medina :: This is the first book I would read. It is twelve chapters outlining key components of the mind and how different parts of the brain interact. John Medina also has a lecture series with The Great Courses, that is very informative and thorough.
Buddha’s Brain, by Rick Hanson :: This is the book that really began to expand my mind into the science of meditation. It would the second book I would recommend because it is a deeper dive into the specific brain regions that we focus on with meditation. This is the book that first taught me about the parasympathetic nervous system. If you are totally unfamiliar, start with this article by Dr. Hanson.
Why Buddhism is True, by Robert Wright :: The heaviest book. One of the top three for me. This book described the theory of the modular mind and how neurological principles associated with evolution map our minds very similarly to the Buddha and ancient mystics. It provides a technical vocabulary for many areas we focus on in reflection and living in the present. Another great scientist’s viewpoint entering into the spiritual realm.
The Craving Mind, by Judson Brewer :: This book is a must – not only about addiction, but the neurological way we form habits. This video might as well be trailer for the book, and the general idea structure of addition – trigger, behavior, reward. Stellar read, very easy to understand, and an interesting perspective as a scientist who came to meditation and not a spiritualist seeking scientific confirmation – there is a lot of great secular language in the later chapters of the book to describe these Buddhist principles that anyone can incorporate.
Work, Sex, Money, by Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche :: Arguably the most influential read of my life. I come back to this book time and time again when I struggle with the material world. His perspective and direct tone are my personal goals as a teacher – to use this kind of open, direct, non-denominational language to talk about everyday life on the path.
The Science of Positivity, By Loretta Graziano Breuning :: The is one of two books is I am recommending by LG and they both revolve around the mammalian brain. This work focus on the four main happiness chemicals, and illustrates very clearly why chasing happiness is a fool’s errand.
Habits of a Happy Brain, By Loretta Graziano Breuning :: The deeper dive from The Science of Positivity, less “how-to” and more “what is happening” with more science.
Hardwiring Happiness, By Rick Hanson :: This book has some overlaps with Buddha’s Brain, but it is a great connection between Hanson’s work and Breuning’s books. It also focuses more on meditation and the emotional aspects of these topics.
The Mind of God, by Dr. Jay Lombard :: This book is not a highly educational read on the brain per se, but it is a total mindf*ck. Dr. Lombard is the neuro-behaviorist that is called in for the most curious cases. Some of these stories haunt me.
Some Personal Thoughts
I consider myself a very spiritual person. I am a frequent user of Sanskrit and traditional language because I often feel that English fails to portray a lot of the teachings properly. However, Mindfulness is penetrating many public places because of its secular packaging. I am heavily influenced by the writings and teaching of Chogyam Trungpa because of his use of language to frame life without a dogmatic center. I feel that religion is a combination of dogma and ethics. For those of us who have studied the spiritual traditions, we know there is great overlap in the ethics and philosophies of almost all cultures, but the dogma is where things get tricky. I have found a great home in the place where science confirms known spiritual ethics with the rigors of neuroscience studies. We are made up of mystery, emotion, logic, and so much more – we crave answers for all aspects of our mind before calling something truth.
The traditions I am sharing with you are Buddhist philosophies, stripped of the myth and mysticism, and observant of human nature as it is (sometimes called Western Buddhism), using science to shed light on the how’s and why’s of our curious existence. We certainly do not have all the answers. But we have some, and we need to share them with each other. If the model of the modular mind is true, and we can truly can control of our mental evolution as a species through neuroplasticity, we have a tremendous tool box to begin this process. The map has been drawn. Now we walk these trails with GPS systems to create a much more detailed path for our future generations.
In his final book, The River of Consciousness, Dr. Oliver Sacks leaves us with his sources of inspiration and arrows pointing towards his most intriguing curiosities. Let this be an invitation to continue this work as a group.