“As a species we fundamentally evolved to care and nurture, initially our nuclear family, but ultimately our hunger-gatherer tribe, and that has imbued us with certain neural connections. And what I mean by that is that to have what we call a theory of mind, to have abstract thinking and complex language which are really what in many ways define us as a species, it ultimately required that our offspring be cared for for a decade and a half maybe even two after gestation unlike other species where the offspring just run off into the forest.
“And as a result there had to be these very very powerful pathways that bonded us with our offspring so these neural pathways result in us feeling good when we connect and in making our physiology work better.
“And in fact a number of studies have been done where people have been put in isolation or have been alone for periods of time and their world completely falls apart. I give a talk about the difference between what we call transformation, which often times we get with just a mindfulness practise of attention and focus, but you cannot have transcendence, which is this sense of meaning in your life, unless you take this journey outward and this is a journey of connection to others because when you connect with others and you have an open heart and you embrace the Other as you, your physiology works at its best.”
James Doty, M.D., my new hero, is a clinical professor of neurosurgery at Stanford University and the founder and director of the Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education at Stanford University of which His Holiness the Dalai Lama is the founding benefactor.
This quote comes from an amazing interview on On Being, where James Doty talks about compassion, the heart-brain connection, and how to truly open our hearts. I’ve been so moved by him that I’ve just ordered his memoir Into the Magic Shop: A Neurosurgeon’s Quest to Discover the Mysteries of the Brain and the Secrets of the Heart.