Monday, May 27, 2013

Mind Reading and Mindfulness

The TED Talk above is fascinating on so many levels.  But it is included here for two simple reasons:

1. It pinpoints for the psych geeks among us the RTPJ (Right Temporal-Parietal Junction) in the brain, which is charged with the job of thinking about other people's thoughts.  It's totally awesome to realize that we don't purposely devote our waking hours to wondering who's unfriended us on Facebook today, but instead are hardwired to do just that.

2.  It's very cool to watch the little kids change their judgments as they mature and to wonder how many of us have failed to develop entirely.  I have a list of names, but I'll just keep that to myself.

We humans spend a great deal of time assessing, analyzing, and trying to change other people's thought processes.  It's stock-in-trade for teachers and other leaders, of course, but we all do it no matter our station in life.  Because we are herd animals (yes, just like horses, only meaner), we like for our social circle to consist of people who think the way we do.  It's just easier that way.  No wondering who's likely to attack us in the night or talk smack about us around the cave.  No worrying that our food stash is being raided while we're away at a TED Talk.  We like to be secure in our sense of belonging, and that means making everyone as much the same as possible.

If the last Presidential election proved anything, it's that this is fruitless labor.

Where do mind-reading and mindfulness intersect?  They are two sides of the coin.  While we are firmly embroiled in our efforts to make everyone think the way we do (and therefore be as "right" as we are), we are anything but mindful.  Here's where I will try to change the way you think.

When I say to fellow horsemen that they need to approach their horses and their interactions with them in a mindful way, I note a distinct shift as far from mindfulness as it's possible to get instantaneously.  What I get is a rider who is completely distracted by her efforts to note in painful detail everything she and her mount are doing, thinking, feeling, and imagining.  Those brain cells are working so hard, the odor of frying grey matter is nearly overwhelming.  Yelling, "Stop thinking so hard!" results in stunned glances and sputtering...and that's just the horse.

Mindfulness is, in reality, an empty mind.  Not an empty brain, mind you (yes, that's a pun), but an empty, quiet "mind", that actively engaged piece of our being that no one quite understands but we all kind of "get" when someone tells us to clear our minds.  To paraphrase Deepak Chopra, we empower our brains when we turn off our minds.  It's only when we're not thinking about what we're doing and not even thinking about what we're thinking that we unencumber ourselves enough to allow us to sense with that niggling little something, the name of which cannot be fathomed, what is really going on.  That's when we read minds the best.

How do we begin to become mindful? Well, I can assure you that learning how to meditate while on horseback is not a good plan.  Turning off the conscious to access the subconscious needs to be practiced in advance, and self-hypnosis (otherwise known as meditation) is a fine place to start.  Next post I'll give specific instructions for a basic, beginner's approach to emptying the mind and filling the space left with incoming data that we mostly miss because of all the static we're experiencing.  For those who have already tried meditation, you can skip the next post and go to your Special Place before your next ride.  Quiet your mind so that your brain can function and the small places that feel without thinking can really touch what is so special about the connection between horse and human.

It's at that moment, when you are truly devoid of self-talk and efforts to assess and control that you can meet your horse on his turf.  When you do, you will feel a shock of recognition and wonder why it took you so long to get to that place.  You're gonna love it, I promise.  You will never think like a horse or be able to stream Fuzzbutt's consciousness, but you can attain a certain level of relationship to the space around you that is as close to being in your horse's head as you'd like without starting to flinch every time a squirrel rattles a leaf nearby.  That would be off-putting for your co-workers, so we'll just stick to almost and be happy.


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