MINDRAMP PODCAST - FLOURISH AS YOU AGE

FLOURISH - Lose Your Mind to Come Back to Your Senses

June 12, 2024 Michael C Patterson Season 4 Episode 40
FLOURISH - Lose Your Mind to Come Back to Your Senses
MINDRAMP PODCAST - FLOURISH AS YOU AGE
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MINDRAMP PODCAST - FLOURISH AS YOU AGE
FLOURISH - Lose Your Mind to Come Back to Your Senses
Jun 12, 2024 Season 4 Episode 40
Michael C Patterson

As I continue to investigate how to flourish as I age, I find that the "Hemisphere Hypothesis," does a good job of defining mental changes I need and want to make. In broad terms, it will be easier to flourish  when I learn to quiet my thinking mind and instead operate more consistently out of my experiential mind. And, I find the practice of meditation to be particularly helpful in training my mind to achieve this beneficial rebalancing act  

Daily meditation practice gives me the opportunity to train my mind to create better hemispheric balance and flow, to, as Alan Watts puts it, "Lose my mind, to come back to my senses." Since my brain continues to be "plastic" and malleable, the daily practice of evoking certain states of mind while inhibiting others will - I hope - rewire my brain to flourish more naturally.

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As I continue to investigate how to flourish as I age, I find that the "Hemisphere Hypothesis," does a good job of defining mental changes I need and want to make. In broad terms, it will be easier to flourish  when I learn to quiet my thinking mind and instead operate more consistently out of my experiential mind. And, I find the practice of meditation to be particularly helpful in training my mind to achieve this beneficial rebalancing act  

Daily meditation practice gives me the opportunity to train my mind to create better hemispheric balance and flow, to, as Alan Watts puts it, "Lose my mind, to come back to my senses." Since my brain continues to be "plastic" and malleable, the daily practice of evoking certain states of mind while inhibiting others will - I hope - rewire my brain to flourish more naturally.

Support the Show.

Support our work to promote creative aging. Subscribe to the MINDRAMP Podcast.

Losing My Mind to Come Back to My Senses


Hi. Welcome to the Flourish As You Age podcast. We are exploring how to manage our mature minds so that we can flourish as we age. I want to talk about two aspects of mind management that I continue to find very useful. 

The first is meditation. It is becoming clear to me that meditation is my primary strategy for managing my mind. Meditation, mindfulness, and the Buddhist philosophy that accompanies the practices helps me to clarify  how I want my mind to work and, therefore, how I need to change it. And, importantly, meditation provides the tools for making those change happen. It makes good scientific sense that the practice of meditation - the daily repetition of specific kinds of mental exercises - will gradually rewire my mind. I can leverage the plasticity of my brain to behave the way I want it to behave. 

The second key aspect of mind management that keeps resonating for me is the insight that our mind isn’t a single, unified, organ. The Hemisphere Hypothesis as presented by Iain McGilchrist is a powerful idea because it helps explain so many things. We get confused and conflicted because our mind argues with itself. The core idea is that the two hemispheres of our brain house two distinct minds that sometimes work with each other, but often don’t. They represent two very different ways of processing information. 

And what seems to be a really effective way to stop the mind from arguing with itself is the practice of meditation.  So, that’s what I want to talk about in this episode. 


In the simplest of terms, the goal of meditation for me is to free myself from my thoughts, ideas and concepts about life so that I can have a more direct and intimate experience of life.  To paraphrase Alan Watts, I need to lose my minds to come back to my senses. So, much of the practice of meditation is training my mind to stop thinking and to begin experiencing. 

 See how nicely this goal fits with McGilchrist’s hemisphere hypothesis. He says that our conceptual mind, the thinking mind, the LH, has come to dominate modern cognition and has usurped the leadership role of the RH, which is our experiential mind. The hemispheres need to collaborate with each other, but under the guidance of the experiential mind. Experience should lead concepts, not the other way around. We should not let our concepts shape what we experience. Again, I need to lose my mind to come back to my senses.

So, the first task of mind management is to get rid of the dictatorship of the LH. We have to train ourselves to recognize when our conceptual mind is dominating, when it is causing conflict and confusion, and rein it in. We need to get the LH under control and give the leadership role back to the experiential mind, our sensory mind. 

We don’t want to get rid of the conceptual mind altogether. It is a powerful cognitive tool, when it is controlled and when it is led by experience. McGilchrist suggests a kind of collaborative flow of interaction between the two hemispheres that leads to the best use of our diversified cognitive powers. 

 McGilchrist suggests a flow of mental processing that starts with a perception that arises from the sensory/experiential mind, then moves it to the conceptual mind where the perceptions can be analyzed and manipulated. Much of this conceptual work is involved in making predictions about what is likely to happen in the next moment so that our minds can activate an appropriate action plan. So, we gone from RH to LH so far.

Finally - in this mini-cycle of mental processing -  we perform the action and see what happens. We bring it back to direct experience. If the prediction was accurate, no problem, we boogie on with the next mini-cycle. If the prediction was wrong, however, alarm bells go off and our mind needs to make adjustments. In addition to coming up with a better prediction in the moment, the mind also remembers this experience so that it can contribute to making a more accurate prediction in the future. The LH concept, the prediction, is tested against direct experience and the cycle is completed by the RH. 

We get ourselves into trouble, when the cycle gets stalled in the LH, when the prediction, the concepts, the beliefs, are maintained even when they prove to be wrong when tested against experience. A dramatic example is people who suffer from anorexia. Their conceptual mind tells them that they are obese, even when their experiential mind sees a skinny, emaciated person in the mirror. They believe their concept of Self, reject their experienced Self, and risk starving themselves to death.  

We confound our ability to make useful predictions when we refuse to evaluate our beliefs, when we refuse to test them against real experience. Rather than risk having our beliefs proven wrong, we justify them with additional unproven beliefs and concepts and construct a complex, virtual reality world that agrees with itself but is untethered from reality.  

The trick is to make use of the the concepts without falling in love with them. We need to develop the mental discipline to use concepts and ideas as tools without mistaking them for the real thing. Concepts are representations of reality. They are the maps, not the geography; the menu, not the meal; The guide book, not the travel; the avatar not the real person; the emoji not the feeling.

 So, my goal is to find hemispheric balance and flow; meditation is my primary means for achieving that end. I’m using meditation to train my mind to loosen the ties of seductive  beliefs and concepts and to become more relaxed with direct experience and perception. 


I’m using the disciplines of meditation to recognize what my mind is doing. I’m trying to be more alert to the times when my mind gets caught up in fanciful ideas. I’m learning to let go of those idea and to rest in pure awareness. I am leaning to be able to keep my mind focused on the present moment and to fully appreciate what is, without getting caught up in memories of the past or projections into the future. There is plenty of opportunity during the day to deal with concerns of the future. But, while I’m meditating I’m focusing on the here and now. 

Meditation is a practice. It is a training session for the mind. Just like you might take time out to practice scales on the piano, or to do your pilates exercises or yoga, you can, and should - I believe - set daily time aside to strengthen your mind. With daily meditation we practice specific mental skills that have be shown, for centuries, to promote greater peace, tranquility, equanimity, gratitude, compassion and contentment. The practice, in other words, promote flourishing. 

Unless you want to become a monk or are on some kind of retreat, you don’t practice meditation all day long. Unless you want to become a professional meditator, you put in your period of practice each day - ten minutes, an hour - and then you go about the rest of your life. The more you practice, the more the mental skills become second nature and naturally carry over into your daily routines. 

The point of meditating is not to become a really good meditator. The point is to develop a better mind - a mind that is calmer, less swept up in thoughts, less ruminative, more mindful and present, more compassionate and loving. The quality of our life - the quality our old age - is determined by the quality of our mind. We can use meditation to develop those mental qualities that make us feel better about life and death, that help us to find the glass half full, to see the silver linings and to walk on the sunny side of the street. 

The point is to live our lives with greater skill and grace. To be nice more of the time. To be consistently polite, thoughtful and attentive. The point is to recognize our connection and unity with everything - certainly with all living things on earth. If we construct images of the meaning of life, let them be images that unite rather than alienate us. We are all very fortunate passengers on planet earth and we depend on all creatures great and small to maintain the delicate balance of life. We need to remember how to play nice.  

We can learn to play nice with each other, I believe, by practicing meditation to become more skilled at managing the way our mind works. We can recognize when our mind is kidnapped by unhelpful thoughts and concepts and learn to escape their clutches. We can learn to recognize that real insight is to be found, not in ideas and doctrines, but in direct perception of the wonder and divinity of experience. 

So, we can find greater peace-of-mind and sanity by learning to modulate the influence of our two hemispheres. Pull back on thinking and conceptualization, dive more deeply into sensory awareness and direct experience. 

As odd as it may seem, we can flourish as we age by losing our minds and coming back to our senses. 


All right. Until next time. Live long. Live well.  













 

Introduction: Meditation and the Hemisphere Hypothesis
My Meditation Goal : Lose My Mind to Come Back to My Senses
Balancing Hemispheric Collaboration
The Trouble with Left Hemisphere Dominance
Finding Hemispheric Balance and Flow
The "Practice" of Meditation
The Quality of Our Life is Determined By the Quality of Our Mind
Summary and Conclusion