As I was walking to work today, listening to Audio Dharma, I was reminded of what I really like about the practice of mindfulness and meditation. The practice of Zen is basically a process of hacking your own mind. Now, it’s important to know the correct definition of hacking to understand this particular statement. It’s not hacking as in with a sword. It’s not hacking as in breaking encryption and destroying data. It’s the definition of hacking from the Jargon File:
One who enjoys the intellectual challenge of creatively overcoming or circumventing limitations.
Actually, that’s the seventh definition of “hacker” in the Jargon file. The definitions for hacker and the verb, to hack, don’t line up very well in the jargon file. However, that’s the sense of hacking that I’m referring to. Creatively overcoming and circumventing the limitations of one’s own wetware (read: brain).
I’m not a cognitive science expert, though it’s one of my lesser hobbies. If I recall correctly, one theory on the development and structure of the brain breaks it down into two major functional components — the reptilian brain, and the neocortex. The neocortex is what makes higher animals, including humans, ‘special’. We are able to reason, to predict the consequences of our actions and the like. However, in many situations, in those involving real or percieved danger, hunger, lust, joy, the reptilian brain’s influence is quite strong. If the neocortex does not take notice of this influence the results for a person in modern society can be disastrous.
The practice of Zen, as I see it, is essentially training the neocortex to be more aware of the reptilian brain. It seems to work pretty well, but of course I have a long way to go with it. Bearing these things in mind, perhaps the much sought-after goal of enlightenment is realized when the neocortex always has full awareness of, full attention to the actions of the reptilian brain.
By the way, I don’t claim to be the originator of these ideas. I don’t recall hearing them anywhere else, but I very well may have. If you know of any existing books/articles/blogs regarding this subject, I’d be very interested to hear about them.