This is Your Brain on Peace

Back in the 70s my father’s contemplative practice and prophetic thoughts on brain research deeply influenced my quest for peace and meaning. But it was my mother’s love and, in her words, my “unhappy camper attitude,” that dragged me, kicking at warp speed, into a deep space odyssey.

Proudly wearing my new high-top Vasque hiking boots, carrying, at the hip, a one-quart Nalgene water bottle of electrolytes, and beating a Taos drum, I waged my own theatre-making career/weight reduction campaign. No matter how hard or how far I traveled, trained, performed and reduced, the world’s winds blew until, like Alice, I fell into the Looking Glass.

Agggghhhhhhhhh!  I admit it…I just want peace and happiness, unhappy camper!

What I discovered about this inward journey is that it’s universal; every one of us has the possibility of cultivating peace and happiness; it’s better than becoming hypnotized by fear, anger, worry and hatred. Because of the plasticity of the brain’s neurons, it has the ability to learn and evolve incrementally, even though the brain is hard-wired for self-preservation at all costs.

In their book Buddha’s Brain, Rick Hanson, PH.D. neuropsychologist  and meditation teacher and his partner Richard Mendius, MD, reveal that our three-pound, gray, tofu-textured brain has hard-wired neural networks that produce three survival strategies.

1) “Fight or flight” as a reaction to threats,“approach and attach” as a reaction to opportunities.

2) Maintain control and stability of self and environment.

3) Set and maintain separation between me and you, us and them.

Connected to these strategies is a default network, which automatically switches on and tracks for any threats in the environment. This tracking activates the hum of anxiety, which keeps us vigilant and stressed, even when we are sleeping or in a recreational mode.

It’s an inside, disciplined job overriding this survival wiring. We can return ourselves to wholeness through the workings of the brain, guided by right intention, mindfulness and an open heart. We can choose to be present in each moment, value our present opportunity, and investigate self-defeating attitudes, emotions and concepts which can lead to harmful actions. We can observe our thoughts and emotions without judgment, stay present with difficult emotions until they fade away, and abide in friendliness toward self and others. We can practice BEING rather than doing. When we place intention and attention on the silence within, we can accept what is, just as it is.

Only when our inner struggles loosen their grip, can peace abide. We can rest with this moment without having to add or subtract anything. We can be with “what is” without striving, judging or wanting life to be different. Instead of charging at life, we can just show up and let life touch us. This is your brain on peace.

It’s in the stars.  Our resistance is futile. Peace is our destiny. Make it so.

Navvab Munirih is an Expressive Healing Arts Educator and the Director of EMERGINGVOICES in Boone, Iowa. email: