Several threads lately have dealt with the inability to feel metta towards your enemy, with some people feeling that Buddhism sets too high a bar for the average person to follow, or with mindfulness being a luxury.
I have often quoted books from the Mind & Life Institute, which works closely with HH the Dalai Lama.
Because if Buddhist cosmology's asseverations cannot always be backed up by science, in the realm of psychology and sciences of the mind, the rapprochement between Buddhism and Science has been astonishingly close, to say the least.
A while ago, Wendy Hasenkamp, PhD, from the Mind & Life Institute, wrote a very interesting article published by Tricycle magazine entitled "Brain Karma: Is Delusion hardwired?"
The article can only be read in its entirety by supporting members, so the link will be incomplete for those who aren't, but I am quoting some of its most salient points here:
"We often assume that happiness can be achieved by changing something in our external environment. But this assumption overlooks the fact that much of our suffering is perpetuated by our minds. Our mental patterns can shape the way we respond emotionally to others, the way we perceive events, and whether we view the world and others as basically good or inherently flawed. [...] Mental behavioral habits underlie the vast majority of our experience, and most operate without our awareness. Under the influence of such patterns, we can end up living on autopilot."
She adds something we long penitents in the path already knew: that "our actions leave a trace in our minds, making it more likely that similar actions will occur in the future."
Her article deals with Neural Plasticity: the ability of the brain to change through experience.
"To the extent that these specific patterns of activity are repeated, the neural connections are facilitated -the mental grooves deepen. As a result, engaging in any particular thought or behavior will make us more likely to engage in the same action in the future, as every act reinforces the neural connections that are associated with it."
Hasenkamp's conclusion is What we think, our brains become
So, the glad tidings are:
"With repeated practice the brain can be changed, and to a surprising degree. Because neural plasticity is always operative, the brain is continuously being 'rewired' based on our experiences. The key is to put some conscious intention into what those experiences are.
Through repeated meditation practice, we can build awareness of our existing mental habits. With awareness, there is space -allowing us to interrupt habitual response patterns and bring intention to our responses, choosing to form a different association."
I was reading about the "Brahma Viharanas" on this quaint 1928 book I have from the Buddhist Lodge (now Society).
As we know, the Brahma Viharanas are Loving-kindness, Compassion, Joy and Equanimity.
Without much fanfare and rigmarole, their description echoes Modern Science's findings:
"These four Brahma Viharanas are more accurately translated as the Divine States (of mind) or Sublime Moods. They represent a constant attitude of mind rather than a subject of thought, and are outward rather than inward-turning exercises."
So: our brains can change. Our attitudes and outlook on life can change.
We can programme ourselves to cause that change to happen.
It takes effort and hours of sweating on our cushion.
But we knew that already, didn't we?