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Mindfulness is one of those words we hear, and even use, a lot, without pinning an exact meaning to it. Yoga is meditation, meditation is a tool for becoming aware of the mind, so yoga is mindfulness…. But what exactly does that mean?

neuroscience-of-mindfulness

I came across a wise, funny article called “Neuroscience of Mindfulness: How to Make Your Mind Happy” — it is well worth reading in whole. The paragraphs below describe what happens when we’re not mindful

The right side of your brain sees things pretty concretely. But that guy to his left is always weaving tales to try and make sense of the information coming in. That’s his job.

We need Lefty to give meaning to life. He interprets your experiences. If Lefty sees real patterns that others don’t, people call you creative. But there’s also a problem…

Lefty often screws up.

Michael Gazzaniga, one of the top cognitive neuroscientists, did some brain studies in the 1970’s with Roger Sperry (who would later win the Nobel Prize.) Gazzaniga discovered what Lefty’s job is — and just how bad Lefty is at it sometimes.

From The Neurotic’s Guide to Avoiding Enlightenment:

Gazzaniga discovered that the left side of the brain created explanations and reasons to help make sense about what was going on. It acted as an interpreter to reality… Over the last 30 years, several studies have shown that the left side of the brain, even in normal people, excels at creating an explanation for what’s going on, even if it isn’t correct.

As the old saying goes, “The map is not the territory.” Lefty doesn’t have perfect information. And sometimes he’s too clever for his own good. He’s part of you — and you are fallible. So sometimes this happens:

Right Brain: Everyone at the table is frowning. They’re not laughing at our brilliant jokes.

Left Brain: Obviously, they hate us and are plotting our death.

Lefty can be way off base sometimes. If he sees patterns where there aren’t any, you’re anxious, paranoid or schizophrenic. And if Lefty doesn’t see any patterns in life — no “meaning” — you’re clinically depressed.

Ever screw up bad and apologize by saying, “I wasn’t myself last night”? Think about it: that apology makes no sense whatsoever. What you’re trying to say is, “My actions did not line up with the story Lefty gave me about who I am.” Again, “the map is not the territory.”

The problem is you don’t even realize Lefty is there. You assume his voice in your head is you and that his stories are rock-solid reality.

But when Lefty isn’t detecting useful patterns, making accurate sense of things and giving meaning to the world, he can be a monster. He’s that jerk who has an opinion about everything, refuses to shut up and never admits when he’s wrong.

When you think about it, this is powerful. Our brain is constantly telling us stories. If we accept them at face value, without critical thought, we are lose the ability to manage our emotions and responses. If we are aware, mindful, of how our brain tells stories, we can separate ourselves from the narrative and choose to respond differently.

Try this: Note three thoughts you regularly have about yourself, e.g. “I’m stressed,” “I’m always the first one at meetings,” “My project is over deadline, again”.

Ask yourself: Is this true? Why do I think this? Try and pinpoint the situations that trigger these feelings. Ask yourself: What am I really responding to?

You may discover that these “facts” about yourself are stories; you may discover your habitual response to situations is based on bad information from your brain.

Try it, then share your experience in the comments.

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