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Presence of Mind

“The journey is the destination.”
-Dan Eldon
 
There have been countless times throughout my life where I ask myself “where is my mind, really?”. I have done a slew of weird, wacky and sometimes dangerous things without my mind. I am known for those silly things amongst my family and have provided them with years of laughter. As a matter of fact those silly things I’ve said or done are still brought up to this day; mostly to new acquaintances, as a conversation piece, or a way to break the ice. Thank you Dad, because of this, I have learned one of the most valuable lessons in life: being able to laugh at myself !
 
Often times I’d be in a daze, as if I was in the twilight zone, or in another dimension when things would happen. I would be so completely engulfed in another time in my mind that I wondered if I had really done those silly things, like the milk in the cabinet, or the remote in the freezer. I remember this one time in particular that I had set a full cup of ice cream on the top of my car and drove off with it. I was cruising down the freeway. I had the music pumping and the windows rolled down, a cool breeze flowing through my hair just as a huge glob of ice cream smacked me right in my eyeball of all places! I was still unaware where it came from until I got home. I guess now that I think of it, it would have been far too dangerous for me to try and drive and eat my ice cream at the same time, especially with my absent state of mind. Whenever I’d do these things, I’d be left feeling so embarrassed and foolish. Now I realize it has nothing to do with how smart we are, but how mindful we are.
 
So in search for a way to calm this ever absent, histrionic and anxious mind, I came across the practice of Mindfulness. Mindfulness as defined as a Buddhist practice is “The mental quality of non-judgmental attention that can see things directly as they appear in the present moment.”*
 
The practice of mindfulness is also incorporated into psychology. According to a groundbreaking study on Mindfulness by Dr. Norman Farb, he discovered that people have two distinct ways of interacting with the world; the first is through the “default network“. This network is called default because it becomes active when not much else is happening, like when you are sitting on the beach on a gorgeous day. Instead of enjoying the day, you are thinking about yourself and what to make for dinner, whether your family will enjoy it, etc. This network is involved in planning, daydreaming and ruminating. The second part of the default network is referred to as the “narrative circuitry”. This is when you begin to think about yourself or others by compiling a storyline about the past or future using bits of information you have stored in your memory, which takes place over a period of time.
 
Farb refers to the second way of interacting with the world as, “direct experience” a whole other way of experiencing experience. When the direct experience network is active, several different brain regions become more active. This includes the insula, a region that relates to perceiving bodily sensations. The anterior cingulate cortex is also activated, which is a region central to switching your attention. When the direct experience network is activated you are not thinking intently about the past or future, other people or yourself, or considering much at all; rather, you are experiencing information coming into your senses in real time.
"Mindfulness is a habit, it's something the more one does, the more likely one is to be in that mode with less and less effort... it's a skill that can be learned”.**
 
True liberation lies in the practice of mindfulness, as it provides you with freedom from any negative thoughts or attachments you may have to people, the past or the future. Through the practice of mindfulness you can experience the world in a brand new way as your senses awaken to the full presence of this moment, moment to moment.
 
 
**Attending to the present: mindfulness meditation reveals distinct neural modes of self-reference, by Norman Farb and six other scientists. This is in reference to an article in Psychology Today (October 11, 2009) called “The neuroscience of mindfulness: Simply put, with no religious overtones”
 
Photographic artwork by Jalai Lama www.jalailama.com
    

2 Comments to Presence of Mind:

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Jenn Barry on Monday, January 24, 2011 5:48 PM
This reminds me a lot of the discussions of Amit Goswami, a theoretical quantum physicist who insists that he has found scientific proof of the existence of God. He talks a lot about the difference between what lay people refer to "doing" vs. "being" and claims they are mutually necessary for spiritual growth.
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Natalie on Monday, January 24, 2011 9:06 PM
Thanks Jenn, sounds interesting, I will have to check him out!

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