Located on the outer layer of the neocortex, the PFC represents the brain’s most recent evolutionary development, serving as the command center that lends the necessary concentration needed to execute a newfound skill.
As you wobbled on the bicycle, likely a mix of fear and exhilaration coursed through you. These emotions would then have activated your brain’s reward circuits, reinforcing this learning process. With time and practice, riding a bike demanded less of your conscious effort. Eventually, you could effortlessly straddle the bike and head out on the road, engaging with your surroundings and the feel of wind upon your face, all the while maintaining your balance without a single conscious thought. And even years later, that skill remains ingrained within you.
This phenomenon occurs because, with repeated practice, we witness the growth of neural networks in the lower regions of the brain. Structures such as the basal ganglia take over the execution of familiar tasks. These newly formed neural connections transform the task into a reflexive action, operating below the level of conscious awareness. Through this bottom-up automation, intensive top-down control gives way to effortless execution.
The same process of learning and automation unfolds in any behavior we consistently practice, including meditation. Initially, meditation necessitates top-down PFC control over self-absorption and emotional distractions. Positive states of mind then activate the brain’s reward circuits. The dopamine reward system comes into play, reinforcing the pleasant mental states being cultivated. These states gradually transition from the top levels of the PFC, where they require conscious effort, to the basal ganglia, where they become automatic reflexes.
My book Bliss Brain details the insights of a team of neuroscientists who revealed that “with appropriate training and effort, people can systematically alter neural circuitry associated with a variety of mental and physical states that are frankly pathological” (Schwartz et al., 2005). We all possess the capacity to rewire our brain anatomy, transforming it from dysfunctional to one that radiates happiness and creativity. Bliss Brain becomes our new norm.
Giovanni, a life coach in his thirties, experienced immediate benefits from his meditation practice. As he continued to dedicate himself to the practice, he reported the typical experiences associated with a transforming brain:
“Now when someone cuts me off in traffic, my instinctual reaction is to breathe and relax, rather than tensing up and cursing. The same applies to most instances when my computer freezes. Regardless of external circumstances, if an automatic reaction arises within my body or mind, a moment of pause or space immediately presents itself. And in that moment, I am granted a clear choice—whether to surrender to the reaction or remain serene.”
Giovanni also noticed increased confidence during challenging interactions with others, reduced worries, and heightened willpower and focus. Initially, he discovered happiness, and eventually, a consistent state of bliss enveloped him: “Before incorporating meditation, restlessness and anxiety dominated my mood. Now, negative self-talk is absent, and I struggle to recall the last time I experienced sadness, depression, anxiety, fear, or boredom.”
This radical transformation serves as a resounding call to action. When we can expedite the growth of neural pathways that pave the way to our serenity and joy, hesitation becomes obsolete.
Embracing the practice of Bliss Brain with the same unwavering focus you brought to riding a bicycle can reposition this skill from the top to the bottom of your brain’s architecture. When it becomes an integral part of your neural wiring, the rewards will manifest as a profoundly happier existence.
From the remodeled landscape of your mind, positive changes will ripple through every aspect of your life, touching those around you and radiating outward in creating a more harmonious and joyful world.
Schwartz, J. M., Stapp, H. P., & Beauregard, M. (2005). Quantum physics in neuroscience and psychology: A neurophysical model of mind-brain interaction. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London B: Biological Sciences, 360(1458), 1309-1327.