A large part of what makes us human has to do with a particular state of mind that we are able to harness, a type consciousness if you like. This type of consciousness is often referred to as autonoetic consciousness. The ability to not only carry out biological processes in the felt moment but to mentally place ourselves in the past, in the future, or even counterfactual situations. This gives rise to ambitions and goals, as one can now plan for a better future. However, with almost anything in nature, there is a kind of duality that exists. For all the positives that our consciousness allows there are also some downsides. Everything comes at a cost. For all the thoughts that lead to insights and innovations to better our co-existence on this planet, there are just as many that make us self-conscious, doubtful and vulnerable. A mind is a powerful tool, and with all powerful tools, it takes skill to harness that energy and guide it in a positive direction.
Why do brain training?
Humans can form addictive habits in all sorts of things. Arguably the most addictive habit is one’s own thoughts, it’s universal. Let’s take this thought experiment; you are lying in bed and its 6 hours till your alarm clock goes off and you are desperately trying to fall asleep to avoid being a zombie the next day. We have all been here and there’s nothing more annoying than the bombardment of thoughts cluttering your brain at this moment stopping you from nodding off. Surely, the thoughts of “what should I make for dinner tomorrow” or “when does my WOF run out” can wait till the morning.
What if there was an off switch?
Well, in a way there is, but you probably didn’t learn this at school. The name of the game is meditation and learning that you can control which thoughts you want to attach yourself to and which ones you don’t. It just takes a bit of practice but once you have the skills you have them for life.
Lots of people say they have tried meditating and that it’s just not for them, that they can’t stop the constant bombardment of their thoughts. What they don’t realise is, that they have already won half the battle.
No one can switch off from their thoughts entirely and nor would you want to.
But the acknowledgment that you are experiencing the thought is what counts. It’s important to establish that you are not the thought itself. You’re a witness. Most people are unaware of this and feel like they are the thought themselves, you see this in the language rhetoric that people use, “I am sad” or “I am depressed”. No, you are a human being that will experience a whole spectrum of emotions over the course of your life and likely visit both ends of the continuum on more than one occasion. Its key to remember, nothing lasts. It’s far more useful and a lot less restraining asking yourself, “Why am I feeling sad at this moment?”. Maybe you can answer this question or maybe you cannot. But what you can do is choose to attach yourself to that emotion or let it pass, much like watching a wave at the beach get absorbed by the ocean. Of course, there will be more waves but you don’t have to let them topple you.
Where to start?
For me one of the biggest changes I have noticed since embarking on this adventure of self-improvement through mindfulness meditation is that I am able to navigate stressful situations better, I’m less reactive to people and respond more mindfully. However, there is a vast list of benefits that meditation can bring which would be too long to fit in one blog but I hope that I have intrigued you enough to give this practice some thought.
There are numerous resources to get you started, either as books, videos or apps. It really comes down to your preferred learning style and preference. One app that I highly recommend anyone interested to try out is one called ‘Waking Up’. This app was created by one of my Heroes, Sam Harris. He is a neuroscientist and intellectual wizard with a big archive of material to get through on youtube.
I’d love to hear how all you lovely people get on!