I once read that 2014 was called the Year of Mindfulness. The idea that we are able to find greater levels of health, vitality, peace, and joy by staying mindful of each moment is a popular one. But it is possible? No, really. On a brain level is present time consciousness possible?
At the outset, it's easy to say no. Consider any number of scenarios where are minds are almost anywhere else but "here." Sit with your family at the dinner table and see where you thoughts go. Drive to work and where does your mind wander? Heck, try meditating (an actual practice in presence and mindfulness) and you'll find that you're even more prone to scattered thoughts about to-do lists and such than you ever imagined. At least that was my experience.
But our great spiritual teachers all preach present time consciousness(PTC). Honestly, it can seem beyond elusive and feel more like an impossibility. My experience has been that the more I try to reach true PTC the further away I seem to get. And that's kind of the trick!
See, the act of trying means you've already put the present into the future. If you're trying to reach something, you're putting it outside of your current position. If it's outside of your "current" position than it can NOT be present! Which is why the harder I tried the more I failed....and became angry, frustrated, confused, upset, sad, and so on.
In the brain, PTC is measured in the form of focus. What aspects of the here and now are you giving your attention to and to what degree are you able to maintain that attention? Looking within your neurology this is found in a region called your anterior cingulate gyrus. When the anterior cingulate is active, it helps to maintain high levels of focus and attention. Pair that with a region called the Reticular Activating System and the combined effect boosts not only your attention, but motivation as well.
Speaking brain-wise, PTC can be achieved when the anterior cingulate and the RAS system are clicking and firing at their best. But how do we help them along? How can we get these 2 regions active within our own brains on a regular basis? And will that lead to more energy, peace, joy and love?
In my experience, the #1 thing any of us can do for our own PTC is a deep, slow, belly breath. One breath where you focus on the inhale and exhale for even moments, microseconds, builds the strength and plasticity of those brain regions. Repeat it 10 times, and they get stronger. This is why something like meditation can be so hard at first. You sit thinking you're about to enter into some super awesome spiritual realm and instead 20 minutes of total distraction trudges by. This process is what Rev. Dr. Michael Beckwith calls "putting in your miles on the mat." Essentially, practice makes perfect...or at least improvement.
My own time putting in miles of meditation sitting in my home or elsewhere has led me to understand more how PTC works. With regular practice, continued openness, and significant patience, more moments of PTC start flooding in. And you'll know when they do.
Is Present Time Consciousness Possible? In every moment. But capturing it requires great attention. And in my experience great practice and patience. But I can also assure you that finding it in the smallest moments (my daughter's laugh, kissing my wife, a sip of wine, the feel of sunshine) leads to profound levels of what we all search for: happiness and love.
The brain is awesome. Filled with a dizzying labyrinth of cells and connections, it takes in huge our world and turns into something we can understand. But as amazing as it is, the brain likes to play little tricks on you too. Here are 6 tricks you might not have known your brain was pulling right between your very own ears.
1. You See Everything - 11 Trillion bits bombard your system every second. How many do you consciously recognize? 50. That's it. Which means all that you see, hear, taste, smell, and feel is just the beginning of what's out there. You are consciously aware of a staggeringly little amount.
2. You do See Everything....sort of - The remainder of those 11 Trillion bits outside of your conscious awareness don't go to waste. You respond to them through other ways. Ever notice your jaw clenched without realizing you were upset?
3. It Fills in the Gaps - How many of each animal did Moses put on the Ark? 2 right? Nope. Read the question again. Look at the name. If you missed it don't worry. So did I. The brain takes familiar information and fills in gaps. For example, it sees "animal" with "ark" and assumes you're talking about Noah.
4. Just Read This - I cnduo't bvleiee taht I culod aulaclty uesdtannrd waht I was rdnaieg. Unisg the icndeblire pweor of the hmuan mnid, aocdcrnig to rseecrah at Cmabrigde Uinervtisy, it dseno't mttaer in waht oderr the lterets in a wrod are, the olny irpoamtnt tihng is taht the frsit and lsat ltteer be in the rhgit pclae. The rset can be a taotl mses and you can sitll raed it whoutit a pboerlm. Tihs is bucseae the huamn mnid deos not raed ervey ltteer by istlef, but the wrod as a wlohe. Aaznmig, huh? Yaeh and I awlyas tghhuot slelinpg was ipmorantt! See if yuor fdreins can raed tihs too.
5. You Think You Know - Ever knew something that you KNEW you KNEW only to realize you were wrong later on? Like mixing information together in #3, we group data in our brains in certain ways. Sometimes the "wires get crossed" and what we thought was right was a incorrect grouping of similar information.
6. Finds Middle Ground - Go the store and look at coffee. Of all the brands, you're most likely to choose the one priced in the middle. Not the highest (you're not a Rockafeller). Not the lowest (you do want some quality). You almost always pick right in the middle. Study after Study prove it.
Can you trust your brain? Yes, to a degree. Just remember that for everything you see - there's more to discover.