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Knowing that we pay more attention to anecdotes, I thought they would be the best way to get the main points across. Of course, the conclusions reached here are backed by rigorous scientific investigation. The problem is, when we rely purely on anecdotal information in our everyday decision making, we typically disregard the statistics that may conflict with the anecdotes. Our failure to rely on the statistics of science leads us to believe in homeopathic remedies, dowsing, facilitated communication, and a host of other weird and/or erroneous claims. We seek to confirm. In order to make balanced and informed decisions, we should pay attention to both supporting and contradictory information. But we don't. Instead, we emphasize information that confirms our existing beliefs and expectations, and disregard or reinterpret information that contradicts them. In essence, once we develop a preference or expectation, we have an ingrained tendency to interpret new information in a way that supports what we expect or want to believe. As we've seen, this biased evaluation of evidence is a main contributor to holding countless faulty beliefs. We rarely appreciate the role of chance and coincidence in life. We are causal-seeking animals. From an evolutionary standpoint, this tendency has served us well, because when we discover the cause for something, our knowledge increases, as does our chance of survival. However, our penchant to look for causes is so overpowering that we see associations when none exists--we begin to see causes for things that are random or simply the result of coincidence. We consequently believe that a hot hand can affect the outcome of a basketball game, that an evaluation of past stock prices allows us to predict future prices, and that superstitious behavior can affect our performance. We can misperceive our world. We like to think that we perceive the world as it actually is, but our senses can be deceived. We can see and hear things that don't really exist. A considerable amount of research indicates that our perceptions are greatly influenced by what we expect to see and what we want to see. And so, our biases can result in hallucinations--if we believe in ghosts or aliens, we're more likely to see them.

Misperceiving the world is one of the main reasons why anecdotal data can lead us astray. Meditating your way through the ups and downs of daily life is the whole point of vipassana. This kind of practice is extremely rigorous and demanding, but it engenders a state of mental flexibility that is beyond comparison. A meditator keeps his mind open every second. He is constantly investigating life, inspecting his own experience, viewing existence in a detached and inquisitive way. Thus, he is constantly open to truth in any form, from any source, and at any time. This is the state of mind you need for liberation. It is said that one may attain enlightenment at any moment if the mind is kept in a state of meditative readiness. The tiniest, most ordinary perception can be the stimulus: a view of the moon, the cry of a bird, the sound of the wind in the trees. It's not so important what is perceived as the way in which you attend to that perception. That state of open readiness is essential. It could happen to you right now if you are ready. The tactile sensation of this book in your fingers could be the cue. The sound of these words in your head might be enough. You could attain enlightenment right now, if you are ready. You can expect certain benefits from your meditation. The initial ones are practical things; the later stages are profoundly transcendental. They run together from the simple to the sublime. We will set forth some of them here. Your own practice can show you the truth.

Your own experience is all that counts. Those things that we called hindrances or defilements are more than just unpleasant mental habits. They are the primary manifestations of the ego process itself. The ego sense itself is essentially a feeling of separation--a perception of distance between that which we call me and that which we call other. This perception is held in place only if it is constantly exercised, and the hindrances constitute that exercise. Greed and lust are attempts to "get some of that" for me; hatred and aversion are attempts to place greater distance between "me and that." All the defilements depend upon the perception of a barrier between self and other, and all of them foster this perception every time they are exercised. Mindfulness perceives things deeply and with great clarity. It brings our attention to the root of the defilements and lays bare their mechanism. It sees their fruits and their effects upon us. It cannot be fooled. Once you have clearly seen what greed really is and what it really does to you and to others, you just naturally cease to engage in it. When a child burns her hand on a hot oven, you don't have to tell her to pull it back; she does it naturally, without conscious thought and without decision. There is a reflex action built into the nervous system for just that purpose, and it works faster than thought. By the time the child perceives the sensation of heat and begins to cry, the hand has already been jerked back from the source of pain. Mindfulness works in very much the same way: it is wordless, spontaneous, and utterly efficient. Clear mindfulness inhibits the growth of hindrances; continuous mindfulness extinguishes them. Thus, as genuine mindfulness is built up, the walls of the ego itself are broken down, craving diminishes, defensiveness and rigidity lessen, you become more open, accepting, and flexible. You learn to share your loving friendliness. Traditionally, Buddhists are reluctant to talk about the ultimate nature of human beings. But those who are willing to make descriptive statements at all usually say that our ultimate essence or buddha nature is pure, holy, and inherently good.

The only reason that human beings appear otherwise is that their experience of that ultimate essence has been hindered; it has been blocked like water behind a dam. The hindrances are the bricks of which that dam is built. As mindfulness dissolves the bricks, holes are punched in the dam, and compassion and sympathetic joy come flooding forward. As meditative mindfulness develops, your whole experience of life changes. Your experience of being alive, the very sensation of being conscious becomes lucid and precise, no longer just an unnoticed background for your preoccupations. It becomes a thing consistently perceived. According to the most recent studies in this exploding area of medicine, it turns out it's the bacteria of your gut microbiome, which significantly outnumber the densely packed ENS cells. For perspective, consider that the ENS has more nerves than the rest of your body combined, including the spinal cord. Wow. You've undoubtedly heard the terms antibiotic and probiotic before, and we're going to talk about those a bit in this chapter. But first I want to introduce you to the most cutting-edge aspect of this research as it relates to depression. Coined by researcher and psychiatrist Ted Dinan at the University College Cork's Alimentary Pharmabiotic Centre in Ireland, the term psychobiotics specifically refers to strains of bacteria living inside your gut that can affect your mood. That's right. Some of those tiny organisms send messages to your brain that directly influence your level of anxiety, happiness, satisfaction, and of course, depression. Some of these psychobiotics alter your mood less directly. For example, certain strains are responsible for producing B vitamins, and as you've read a couple of times, B vitamins are critical for a healthy nervous system and for emotional well-being. For the first time in modern history, a wealth of medical research is supporting a view that the brain is not, in fact, the root of all mood disorders, and that opens up whole new avenues for treating depression and related disorders. I attended a presentation recently where doctors learned about some of the latest discoveries on these fronts. There's so much data coming out, and it'll take time to process it all and then translate it into FDA-approved treatments, but the wheel is already turning. For example, for people who have a poor ecosystem of gut bacteria, researchers are doing stool transplants.

Not the kind of topic you would want to discuss over dinner or on a first date, I realize, but it's an important area of exploration for depression relief. It's safer than medication with fewer side effects, it's very effective, and it's curing people of a multitude of illnesses and conditions all over the world. Already, US companies are paying for stool samples from healthy donors to be used in treatments. While that route may be an option, what I'm hoping to do in this chapter is to help you change the course of your gut health long before that approach becomes necessary. There are other, simpler ways to support the presence of good bacteria and keep down the population of destructive strains, most importantly through adjusting your diet. When I flash back to third grade, the only things I can immediately remember are the embarrassing moments I had - the time I got sick in the middle of the playground, the time I wasn't allowed on a field trip because my dog peed on the permission slip, and the time I lost my shorts in the pool during swim lessons. I have to dig around a little bit to find the good memories. They are there, but they tend to get buried down by the stuff that is embarrassing - you know, the memories you'd rather didn't exist. After so many years, those memories are less embarrassing and more hilarious than anything, but for a long time, they were the lowlights of the year. Our brains have a nasty habit of looking for whatever was least likable about a situation and then smothering us with it in a new situation. So, when we meet a new person, we don't think "wow, someone I can get to know"; we think of how we accidentally had toilet paper on our shoe or had a goofy looking hairstyle the last time we were on a date. Step one to improving your communication skills is cutting these unwanted memories out and focusing on the `here and now'. Your brain may want to focus on everything bad that ever happened to you on a date, but when you're on a date, every ounce of your attention needs to be in the here and now. Not the past. Not the future. The immediate moment. Anytime you're feeling concerned, worried or insecure, remember this one little thing. The one little thing I'm referring to is how much the other person is worried, or insecure too. Be on the same team! You can actually eradicate feelings of fear by connecting with the other person on an emotionally level.