There are more connections in a single centimeter of brain tissue than there are stars in our galaxy. Hard to fathom, isn’t it?
In fact, how many of those connections are firing right now as you read these words?
But alas, all these connections are not equal. Some of them relate to your sensory experience of this present moment. But some of them actually take you out of the present moment.
You see, the truth is we spend almost all of our time somewhere other than right where we are.
Most of us spend our lives unintentionally fleeing the present moment. And what’s terrifying is that most of the time, we succeed… We get lost in the past or the future. Our minds are always solving some problem. We fail to connect with the present – to find fulfillment here and now.
Ironically, right here, right now is all we have for certain. This moment… and now this one.
If you are constantly ruminating about what you did, what you should have done or what you need to do, you will miss your life.
Recent research has given us helpful insights into what causes this dynamic. But the solution to engage with the present and not miss your life isn’t complicated. It’s always available to you – all it takes is a little understanding of how it works.
Neuroscience has determined that about half of the time, we’re engaged in “mind wandering,” meaning we’re not focused on the task at hand or the outside world. Rather, we’re looking into our own thoughts – our memories, the meanings we’ve established and the stories we’ve created.
But there’s even more at play here…
In 2007, at the University of Toronto, associate professor Norman Farb and six other scientists completed a study that looked at our moment-to-moment experiences. They uncovered some fascinating insights.
They found that we all have two distinct ways of interacting with the world – two “networks.”
The “default network,” also called the “narrative network,” is involved in planning, daydreaming and ruminating. This is our default, as it’s so aptly named, and it’s where our minds naturally tend to go.
When you experience the world using this default narrative network, you are taking in information and interpreting it using a patchwork of memories and the meanings you have built up in your life.
For example, let’s say you’re out walking on a perfect spring day. There’s a cool breeze, the sun is shining on your skin and the birds are chirping.
You may notice the brightness in your eyes and begin to wish you’d brought your sunglasses. You may then start thinking about where you left them and how you always misplace things. Then you may wonder what time it is and how much longer your walk will be… and start thinking about preparing dinner and wondering whether you have what you need to make it. Then your attention may come back to your walk for a second… but after a moment, you start thinking about how much longer it will be this nice out and that the hottest part of summer will soon be here, and you might need new sandals… and so on and so on and so on.
As you can see, we use the phrase “lost in thought” for a reason.
Every one of us can relate to this sort of experience. We use this narrative network during most of our waking moments. It can be useful in doses, particularly for planning and strategizing. But generally, people report being unhappy when lost in thought. And it’s what we do most of the time!
But there is a totally different way to experience the world, one you may be less familiar with.
Farb and his team uncovered something they call the “direct network.” When you perceive the world in this way, totally different areas of your brain activate, specifically the areas responsible for your five senses.
If you were having a direct experience during that spring walk, your brainpower would be focused on how the breeze feels, the warmth of the sunlight and the pleasant sounds of the birds.
You would be immersed in your senses – living in the moment!
And that’s the utterly simple but totally profound lesson in all of this…
Living Here and Now
Your experience of life really is here and now. Not in the past. Not in the future. The sensations of these moments – not your mind’s narrative – are your actual life. But we spend most of our lives lost in thought, creating narratives about the past and the future. That is our default narrative network at play.
But we all have access to a second kind of experience – a direct one – that’s found through our senses.
All you have to do to engage your direct experience of the moment – and connect more with each precious moment of your life – is ask yourself anything about your five senses. Do it with me right now.
What do I feel in my body right now?
What does my breath feel like?
What can I see in this moment?
What sounds am I hearing right now?
What can I smell?
As soon as you start asking those questions, your mind will begin focusing on the moment that you’re in. And you’ll be living in your life, not in your thoughts.
Try connecting with your senses a few times each day. The more you practice it, the more natural it becomes.
As you enrich yourself with the sensory experience of each moment, you will likely have an unexpected realization.
You may be amazed at just how remarkable it is to be alive!
To Your Richest Possible Life,