Image Credit: Dr. G., BlueMind2 early am, Jennette Pier, Outer Banks 2012
Spacious Mind / Better Brains Dispatch by Dr. G….
Disembodied thinking? Obsessive rumination? Lost in otherworldly “drift”?
In the past few weeks, ideas of attention and immersed engagement have marked so many conversations I’ve had with colleagues and new friends made at conferences and events in California, Colorado, North Carolina and Singapore. For instance, at the First International Symposia on Contemplative Studies held this past April in Colorado, early and more recent adopters of the contemplative practice continuum shared scientific research, personal perspectives and the reassuring sense that a new, maturing era of “emotional” and “contemplative” intelligence values had arrived! As an early researcher and teacher of somatic “attention and awareness trainings” I was thrilled to sit and listen to both veteran and younger neuroscientists grapple with issues of fluid attention (Sara Lazar - Harvard), self - report (Judd Brewer - Yale) and empathic vs compassionate engagement (Tania Singer - Max Planck) along with the impact of contemplative practice on active duty Military service members (Amishi Jha - U of Miami).
Galvanized by the Mind and Life Institute, the ISCS points the way for leaders in education, business, medicine and the military to be aware of mounting evidence necessary for making a solid case: Some kind of contemplative or attention and awareness training practice is good for learning, key to improving health and quality of life and ideal for increasing wisdom bandwidth within leadership circles. The ISCS’s logic? By inspecting practices said to quell stress, increase alertness, train nimble attention and improve vitality, a new legion of scientists, working hand in hand with practitioners will insure the voice of the “mindfulness” movement already a foot in progressive communities — especially new tech and businesses in sustainable economies and design. Fingers and tootsies crossed :-)
Speaking of sustainable economies, for those looking to make an inspired connection between mind, brain and ocean conservation, consider the Blue Marbles project which just produced BlueMind2 at the lovely Jennette Pier sitting high above the Atlantic on the skinny strip known as “Outer Banks” North Carolina. Innovated by my colleague, the daring and brilliant Dr Wallace J Nichols, BlueMind2 asks neuroscientists to join with ocean advocates and ask, “Why do we love the ocean? What is it about the ocean that compels a special kind of memory, namely, nostalgia for time spent in and near the water?” Joined by NOAA media coordinator Sarah Marquis, I had a chance to introduce a simple guided breathing and visualization practice that enabled me to speak about three kinds of attention we use at play or at rest, whether we are recollecting childhood or actually experiencing precious time in, or near our magnificent waters blue and green.
In fact, why not stop for a moment and ask yourself: When was the last time I visited the ocean? What type of attention do I privilege for ocean play: Probing Curiosity? Focused, Steady Attention that leads to Flow states of mind or the lovely space-out dimension of Mental Drift?
Image Credit: Dr. G., GGI & Sarah Marquis, NOAA, BlueMind2, June 5, 2012
As one of the longest recorded areas of cognitive neuroscience research, attention and its relation to working and long term memory is now enriched by questions concerning meditative attention vs relaxation (Michael Posner - U of Oregon). Nostalgia, on the other hand, is a newer arena of neuroscience inspection, as we learned from UC Davis neuroscientist Petr Janata. Once valued by Romantic Victorians, later ridiculed by critical thinkers of “post-modern” culture, the value for nostalgic memory is now rebooted to better understand “blue mind” attention. With ocean activists like Butch Newell from HerosontheWater.org reporting on states of relaxation and peace of mind experienced by injured and disabled Military Vets, BlueMind2 opens the door to yet explored studies correlating nostalgia, attention, brain activity and ocean visits. (Innovators in Cognitive Reserve and Anti-Aging take note!)
Image Credit: Dr. G. view of BlueMind2 w/ Sands Research Headcap June 2012
What I’m after here is to encourage you, the reader, to make a connection between applied research and the vast array of attention tuning, “time-out” experiences we can begin to cultivate to relax and expand our spacious minds, enrich our lives and inspire our circles of influence — be it our families, our schools, our communities offline and on. To those who find themselves saying, “I can’t meditate” or for those who live in cities or regions where the terms “contemplative” or “meditation” remains associated with monks and religious orders, I say with a ;-): “Don’t let words lead you astray.” The beauty of new research reveals the psycho-logical mistake we make when we think that we can just sit down and quiet our mind. That may have worked for 15th century, military trained Zen monks but in our 24/7 urban tech age, we know better. Preparing our beautiful brain for quiet and awake mind states calls up “cross training,” e.g. pair a practice of walking, dancing, swimming, running or yoga with some kind of “attention and awareness” training. Yogis will smile and recognize the protocol. High performance artists, athletes and execs will no doubt agree: Ya gotta shake out the shpilkes if you want to align your body-mind. (That’s “nervous energy” a.k.a. “ants in your pants” for you non-Yiddish speakers!)
For those remaining skeptical about neural potential of contemplative practice, consider reading Richard Davidson’s new book: The Emotional Life of the Brain — a GGI “good read” text that introduces the general reader to insights coming from the new fields of affective and contemplative neuroscience.
For a GGI “good app” to experiment with contemplative “attention and awareness”: I’ve tried several and will post my fav next month. In the meantime, check your Iphone/Ipad Best Meditation apps to find one that suits your fancy!