My wife Jane recently introduced me to mindfulness meditation. I have come to realize the importance of being mindful, living in the moment and enjoying the here-and-now. I listen to mindfulness meditation tapes and constantly fail to become mindful. My mind wanders to distracting thoughts from the day or to potential conversations I want to have tomorrow. Why can’t my brain just lie still? Simply stated, our brains did not evolve in a world that rewarded us for being still while ignoring our external environment. Any organism with a brain that disengaged itself regularly would soon find itself being digested by a bigger organism totally lacking in any resemblance of mindfulness. I could be wrong but I doubt that T. rex was a very pensive creature.
So why does our mind constantly wander? Surprisingly, the answer has everything to do with why we enjoy ingesting coffee and cocaine – our brains really like the stimulation. When we do not provide our brains with input from the external world, such as TV or music or exploring social media sites, our brain actively disengages and goes into what neuroscientists call “default mode.” The rest of us call this state “daydreaming.” So when you’re sitting through a boring lecture or listening for the hundredth time to your uncle tell that story about the big fish that got away your mind has a tendency to go offline and entertain itself with other thoughts that it finds more interesting. Such as, what will we have for dinner tonight or when did my uncle grow a mustache. Neuroscientists have now identified the brain regions that selectively turn on and those that turn off when people are daydreaming in the default mode. Please keep in mind that daydreaming is an important defense mechanism and there is nothing wrong with daydreaming because it helps you to sort out important thoughts and discard nonsense and worries. Recently, scientists have estimated that while we are awake we spend approximate 60 to 70 percent of the time we are awake daydreaming! Why do we devote so much time to daydreaming?