Wandering Mind

by johnandterri

The Camino is a very long walk indeed and there a great variety of landscapes you encounter during the walk. I grew up in the Seattle area and have experienced the amazing beauty of the west side of the state of Washington. I find my visual senses filled up to the brim looking when I am walking and hiking through the area. Yet if I was to walk across the state of Washington I would also end up walking through some very flat lands with little to stimulate my brain visually. There is a lot of very flat terrain when you walk the Camino. In fact, I was a bit concerned about this before we left to go on the Camino as thought it sounded pretty boring.

Looking back now I would not say I was bored by walking these long flat terrains. I found the “hidden beauty within” these landscapes which can just be different and harder to see. I also experienced a bit more of a wandering mind during these sections of the walk. You know I mean by a “wandering mind”? It is those times we are “doing nothing” or just “chilling”. I learned recently that this “wandering mind” thing is not always a good thing for us.

In a science podcast (Huberman Lab) on the brain and I learned there was a landmark research paper published in Science magazine back in 2010, that has the title “A Wandering Mind Is An Unhappy Mind”. This research was significant because it was found that when we’re doing nothing there are brain regions that are highly activated, even more active than those engaged during a difficult cognitive task. The brain, it seems, stays just as busy when we are relaxed as when we are under some mental strain.They located these regions of the brain and dubbed them the “Default Mode Network”.

So, why is our brain so active during our wandering mind times? I will directly quote from a book called “Altered Traits: Science Reveals How Meditation Changes Your Mind, Brain and Body”.

When scientists asked people during these periods of “doing nothing” what was going on in their minds, not surprisingly, it was not nothing! They typically reported that their minds were wandering; most often, this mind-wandering was focused on the self—How am I doing in this experiment? I wonder what they are learning about me; I need to reply to Joe’s phone message—all reflecting mental activity focused on “I” and “me.”

In short, our mind wanders mostly to something about ourselves—my thoughts, my emotions, my relationships, who liked my new post on my Facebook page—all the minutiae of our life story. By framing every event in how it impacts ourselves, the default mode makes each of us the center of the universe as we know it. Those reveries knit together our sense of “self” from the fragmentary memories, hopes, dreams, plans, and so on that center on I, me, and mine. Our default mode continually rescripts a movie where each of us stars, replaying particularly favorite or upsetting scenes over and over.

Daniel Goleman and Richard Davidson

All this self rumination we do, especially on the problems we face, the difficulties in our relationships, our worries and anxieties is making us an unhappy lot. Surprising? Maybe there is something here for us all to learn about ourselves.

I became aware of and introduced to contemplative meditation techniques about 10 years ago and have dabbled with it on and off for many years. In the last two years, I have been much more consistent and it is now a daily practice for me. I am not talking about a lot of time out of my day either here (5 to 10 mins/day). I have noticed real change in my life from this simple investment of time. I am much more present to everything in life. It has changed me in ways that I can not even really describe but all I can say is I live with a lot more openness, acceptance and peace.

It is clear now that science is catching up with this ancient practice and it can truly change our brains if we practice meditation regularly. I would dare say it is a great “life hack” for our wandering mind!

Grace and Peace,

John

Photograph of the Month

Oyster Shell Mosaic

I created this image this week during a relaxing session in my “digital darkroom” where I love to mix and create my photographic art. This image is two photos layered and merged together. One of oyster shells on a beach on the Hood Canal and the other is from a beautiful pattern on a rock.

Nature Sound Meditations

I have recently been putting together 5 minute Nature Sound Meditations taken from videos during various hikes I have taken over the years. Here is one I am loving these days from a hike to Ebey’s Landing on Whidbey island. I will try and share new ones as I create them with my posts.

Ebey’s Landing 5 Minute Nature Sound Meditation

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