Thursday, October 27, 2011

Too Much Thinking

This morning was one of those mornings where I just craved the practice.

I've been thinking far too much lately...plotting, analyzing, figuring, psychoanalyzing, and projecting.

The feeling of walking into the pre-dawn calmness in the studio was a very soothing one. There was nowhere else I wanted to be. I wanted nothing from the practice other than the space and time to step out of the mind and just be in the body for a little while. Tensions from the week rolled off as the familiarity of moving and breathing took over. I was startled out of my reverie of contentment as I watched things happen in my practice that I have been working towards for a long time, in some cases for years. One breath after another, inhale, exhale, watching impossibilities become possibilities, finally surprised into laughter.

The mind is a funny animal.

Much thanks to Karen who ages ago posted a link to Frontal Cortex...a blog on neuroscience. I've been an avid reader ever since. It's interesting to see that neuroscientists and Ashtangis often ask the same questions...we just apply different experimental procedures as we explore the ways in which those questions might be answered.

Thoughts from the neuroscientist folks on the mind:

A clip: "In recent years, however, neuroscience has dramatically revised our views of mind-wandering. For one thing, it turns out that the mind wanders a ridiculous amount. Last year, the Harvard psychologists Daniel Gilbert and Matthew A. Killingsworth published a fascinating paper in Science documenting our penchant for disappearing down the rabbit hole of our own mind. The scientists developed an iPhone app that contacted 2,250 volunteers at random intervals, asking them about their current activity and levels of happiness. It turns out that people were engaged in mind-wandering 46.9 percent of the time. In fact, the only activity in which their minds were not constantly wandering was love making. They were able to focus for that."


A clip: "Since the Israeli psychologists began studying loss aversion in the early nineteen-seventies, it has been used to explain a stunning variety of irrational behaviors, from the misguided decisions of investors—they refuse to sell losing stocks—to the stickiness of condo prices in the aftermath of a housing bubble. It’s been used to justify our fondness for the status quo—the present may stink, but we still don’t want to lose it—and the cowardice of N.F.L. coaches, who are far too afraid to go for it on fourth down. Loss aversion even excuses our social habits: studies have shown that it generally takes at least five kind comments to compensate for a single criticism. (The ratios are even worse for criminals: a person convicted of murder must perform at least twenty-five acts of “life-saving heroism” before he is forgiven.) This is an impressive amount of explanatory firepower for a theory rooted in hypotheticals.
It’s impossible to overstate the influence of Kahneman and Tversky. Like Darwin, they helped to dismantle a longstanding myth of human exceptionalism. Although we’d always seen ourselves as rational creatures—this was our Promethean gift—it turns out that human reason is rather feeble, easily overwhelmed by ancient instincts and lazy biases. The mind is a deeply flawed machine."


  1. Often it's the mind that troubles us rather than the situation. However the thoughts dwell on the current situation and biased memories of past situations so for the longest time I couldn't recognize the real culprit for causing me suffering.

  2. Hi Yyogini,

    That's so true. Practice has been great for giving me some space to step away from the mental chatter and separate the strands of now from the past.

  3. regarding article 1: it seems that people commonly have great insights spontaneously during meditation which could be viewed as a mind wandering. Perhaps the combination of meta-awareness cultivated through meditation and inevitable mind-wandering is fertile ground for creative insight.

    regarding article 2: does experiencing loss (or facing your greatest fear) change your level of aversion to future losses?

    For example, are people that have gone through divorce less or more afraid of losing their current partners?

    Are people that have been hurt by violence more or less afraid of potentially violent situations?

    I hypothesize that there is a non-linear relationship to between level of harm and aversion to future harm. under low to moderate harm, aversion to future loss decreases. When the level of harm is great, aversion to future harm increases relative to the time before the harm.
    it seems that aversion to one type of loss (e.g., loss of money) may not translate to aversion to other types of loss (e.g. life, limb, and love).

  4. Hi Jared,

    article 1: I would agree that the combination of awareness and mind-wandering is different that the sort of mind-wandering that happens when the mind is clinging to a train of thoughts and you don't even realize you've left the present. I notice that the physical sensations in the body are different between the two as well. If I'm doing some "purposefull, aware mind-wandering, my physical sesations are relaxed and calm. When my mind has sort of wandered of it's own volition and I'm startled into realization of that, I notice I feel anxious.
    It's interesting that the science supports what you said...from artice 1:
    "Schooler distinguishes between two types of daydreaming. The first type occurs when people notice they are daydreaming only when prodded by the researcher. Although they’ve been told to press a button as soon as they realize their mind has started to wander, these people fail to press the button. The second type of daydreaming occurs when people catch themselves during the experiment – they notice they’re mind-wandering on their own. According to Schooler’s data, individuals who are unaware of their mind-wandering don’t exhibit increased creativity."

    article 2: good question. This maybe comes back to Yyogini's comment above about separating the past from the present. I think I would agree with your hypothesis, but also add that I think it is possible to change our loss-aversion. I really think daily practice makes us continually more able to separate the strands of past, present and future. When it comes to life, limb and even money, maybe having experienced "the worst" will combine with increased awareness to guide clearer decisions in the future...but when it comes to love, I think the worst that could happen is not taking the risk that it's real and that it could work.