Elisha Goldstein’s book, The Now Effect, has sent my brain spinning in yet another direction.
A professor stood before a philosophy class holding an empty jar. As the students took their seats, she began filling the jar with golf balls. When they reached the top, she asked the students if the jar was full. They agreed that it was. The professor then took a bag of pebbles and poured them into the jar, and they made their way between the spaces of the golf balls. Again she asked the students if the jar was full, and they agreed that it was.
But the professor had another trick up her sleeve. She brought out a bag of sand and proceeded to pour the grains into the jar, filling up more of the remaining space. Again the question came: “It’s full now, correct?” The answer was a resounding “Yes.”
The professor then took a sip of her coffee and dumped the rest into the jar, filling up spaces that no one thought was there.
The thought: how does our brain process negative space?
I’ve only just started reading the new book by fellow PyschCentral blogger Elisha Goldstein, and I’ve already found something useful.
Goldstein is a psychologist in private practice, and his excellent blog is about mindfulness. His book, The Now Effect: How This Moment Can Change the Rest of Your Life, is a manual for learning mindfulness. The book is short, quick-read chapters that leave you with lots to think about and try.
“See, Touch, Go” is the chapter that twanged a note in my brain–one image, in particular. Goldstein describes the See, Touch, Go method in an anecdote, through the words of a dog trainer trying to help a family frustrated by their rambunctious rescue dog.
“‘See, touch, go.’ When your mind begins to wander off onto all your worries and frustrations with this dog, see that your mind has wandered, touch the thought like you might softly touch your reflection in a pond, and then gently go back to focusing on the training we’ve discussed.”
OK, so the dog trainer is beside the point. What got me is this:
Touch the thought like you might softly touch your reflection in a pond.
She no longer has to work nearly as hard as she once did, she said, to reach a meditative state. And, she said, it’s much easier than it once was to keep intrusive thoughts and daydreams at bay while she meditated. “I don’t know why,” she concluded, with some wonder in her voice.
Coincidentally, I’d just spent much of the day reading about this very thing, in order to write this post.
People who study the brain talk about something called the default-mode network (DMN), which is where our brain tends to go when we’re not making it do something else. The DMN correlates with the parts of the brain that activate when we’re thinking about ourselves—the medial prefrontal and posterior cingulate cortices, if you want to get technical about it.
And our DMN does not always have our best interests at heart.
I’m sorry for anyone who isn’t following the World Series this year (and it’s the lowest rated ever) because boyhowdy it’s been exciting. Some people say it ranks as one of the greatest ever. And so tense! By the end of a game, Texas Rangers fans are nearly as exhausted as the players themselves. (I can’t speak for Cardinals fans but I can guess.)
Baseball can be incredibly slow, but it also can be extremely intense, especially in those moments of suspended animation, when batter and pitcher are face-to-face, poised before the wind-up.
These days, cameras put us right up in the players’ faces. In those moments between pitches, we see what focus looks like. Very few of us will ever experience that kind of pressure. Imagine trying to remain both relaxed and focused when you’re about to have a rock hurled at you at 95 mph. Imagine hurling that rock from 60 feet away into an area roughly the size of a microwave. Imagine keeping performance pressure at bay with 50,000 people chanting your name. (Na-po-li, Na-po-li.)
No, I didn’t cave and mainline Facebook during my Mexico-beach vacation. I didn’t crumble and tweet my every mojito, check my email, text, or even google anything. My computer stayed home and I kept my phone turned off and locked in the room safe.
Despite all my prior misgivings, no trauma was involved. Not the slightest twinge. My husband had his computer with him and I wasn’t even tempted to peek. I never felt cut off, suffered no DTs, needed no substitutes. As anxious as I felt about not having a computer to write on for a week, I wasn’t even tempted to scribble a few lines with pen and paper.
I read, sketched, ate, drank, swam, snorkeled and lounged. It was easy
Some experiments don’t go as anticipated.