The Healing Power of Mindfulness P2

Daniel Vinograd

 

Or another way to put it, sometimes, maybe – no offense meant, but “How did I get born into this family?” or “Who are all these crazy people? Why am I the only sane person?” You know, when you’re in a family, no one else can know the kind of genetic disease of that particular family, that everybody suffers from except you. (laughter)

 

So if we hope for the future to be different, the only place we have to stand is now. Because first of all, it’s the future of all the moments that have come before. If you want to be in the future, here you are. This is actually non-trivial. It’s not just “Oh, yeah, tell us something interesting.” Because what it invites is a kind of shift in perception and a shift in awareness, a shift in consciousness, that allows us to actually live our lives as if they really mattered and the only moment we ever have. Part of that means being embodied, because a lot of the time, we are lost in thought.

 

That’s another thing you’ll notice, if you start to pay attention to your mind, is that it’s all over the place. It’s all over the place. You don’t even have to meditate for that to happen. It’s default mode. (laughter) It’s default mode. You don’t even have to have a smart phone. You don’t even have to have email. You don’t even have to have a computer. It’s the default mode of the mind to be all over the place. It thinks this, then it thinks that. It likes this and it hates that. Wants to approach this, but really wants to stay away from that. It’s wired into our biology.

 

That’s called approach-avoidance, and it’s kind of – the hemispheres are actually somewhat divided in terms of left hemisphere and the frontal cortical region is more approach-related, and right activation, more… and that’s one of the fundamental biological features of living systems. Move towards food, move away from danger. Perfectly natural. But how we actually modulate those impulses and those reflexes and those kinds of unconscious urges that drive us and that cause us to be reactive a lot of the time is really an art form. It’s the art, if you will, of living our lives as if they really mattered.

 

When we begin to actually drop in on ourselves – and I brought a few props. Sometimes when we begin to drop in on ourselves, we can actually reclaim this moment, in this body, with this heart, with this mind, and begin to shift the default setting on how we live our lives. Begin to actually move in a direction of greater balance of mind, greater groundedness in the body, greater clarity of sight, greater, if you will, recognition of what’s actually unfolding moment by moment, that’s not so conditioned by whether we like it or not.

 

Because the world – maybe you haven’t noticed this yet – but it’s not actually organized around you being the center of the universe. (laughter) I know, that’s really disappointing. Because – I’m guessing now; don’t take offense, again – but I’m guessing that you are entirely organized around you being the center of the universe. Every single one of us is. It’s almost unavoidable. It’s almost unavoidable. And that actually has representations in the brain, it’s turning out. That there are medial networks in the frontal cortex that is actually called the default mode, and it’s what neuroscientists think is what’s happening when you’re not doing anything.

 

Well, it turns out, when you’re not doing anything, you’re very busy. You’re very, very, very busy, and one of the ways that’s described is that your mind is wandering. Now there’s an entire field in neuroscience focused on mind wandering. How many of you have noticed that your mind sometimes just has a life of its own? It goes here, it goes there. It loves to be entertained; it’s very entertaining. So yeah, that’s what’s called the default mode now, and another name for it is the narrative network. It’s like we’re continually constructing narratives about ourselves. I mean, after all, it’s the favorite topic, right? Me. What could be more interesting than me? The story of me, starring me. (laughter)

 

If you start to pay attention – because what we’re talking about, what mindfulness is, it’s actually awareness. And it’s cultivated by paying attention. So just to get clear about this, that doesn’t sound very Buddhist, does it, so far? Or very Asian, or very mystical, or very anything? It’s just paying attention. How many teachers are there in the audience, whatever level you’re teaching at? Raise your hands, so I can feel – okay. Don’t you want your students to pay attention? It’s non-trivial to get them to pay attention.

 

First, you might have to be interesting. That itself is a challenge. (laughter) Second, you  might have to make the subject matter interesting. That’s also a challenge. But third, I remember, as a product of the New York public schools, having teachers actually yell at us to pay attention. But that’s not a very effective way to get people to pay attention, because it turns out that attending is something that you need to learn. It’s a learnable skill.

 

But instead of being taught to pay attention, you’re just told to pay attention. “Get with the program; pay attention.” A lot of people pay attention very differently. Some pay attention auditorily; they’re really predominantly auditory. Other people can’t do auditory so well; they’ve got to see it visually. Other people, it’s more intuitive; they feel it with their bodies in a certain way.

 

So this is incredibly important in education at all levels, because as they say about orchestras, even the greatest of orchestras, with the greatest musicians, with the greatest instruments, playing the greatest music, before they perform, they get together and they tune their instruments. First to themselves, then with each other, until there’s a kind of dropping, if you don’t mind my putting it that way, into resonance. Call it an “A,” call it what you like, but a kind of interconnected feeling that we are in some space together.

 

You could call it relationality. So mindfulness is the awareness that arises by paying attention on purpose in the present moment. Paying attention on purpose in the present moment, and non-judgmentally. Non-judgmentally, that’s the kicker, because as I said, the default network is operating constantly, and the default network’s got ideas and opinions about everything. It’s judging constantly. Non-judgmentally doesn’t mean that you won’t be judging when you actually start to pay attention to what’s on your mind or what’s going on in your life, but that you’ll notice how much you are judging, how much you want to approach this and push away that, and you’ll just allow that whole thing to be there, as if you just put out the welcome mat for it. I’m not going to have an opinion about my opinions. I’m going to just let it all rain down for a moment.

 

Can you feel how radical a shift that would be in your life, to just take one moment and allow everything to be as it is, instead of wishing it was one way or another? The Buddhists would call that liberation. It’s a kind of freedom that no one else can give you, but that allows us to in some sense rotate in consciousness so that for one moment, we’re stepping outside of time. Because if you live in the now – well, maybe you’ve had this experience. Just check your watch and take a look, right now. What time is it? I’ll tell you what time it is: it’s now. (laughter) Every time you check your watch or your phone, it’s now again. Why am I even talking about this? Why did I even come here? It’s always good to ask those questions. (laughter) I don’t know, actually. Because it’s usually bigger than whatever you think your reasons for it are.

 

But it has a lot to do with the medical school and with what Ira is doing there, and with what Helen is doing in the undergraduate school. It has to do with the fact that the society has reached a point where we’re beginning to understand that the exponentially increasing levels of stress in medicine, in our professional lives, in our personal lives, at every age, really require some kind of shift that is not in the form of taking some pill to numb yourself out to it or “get it together,” but that actually we need to cultivate what’s often spoken of as the domain of being in order to not be so overwhelmed by all the doing and the performing.

 

While it’s true that with the Olympic team, we were using mindfulness to actually improve their performance, it was a kind of Zen operation in the sense that you can’t improve performance by trying to improve performance, especially with the mind. Because the kind of mind that’s grasping for an outcome is exactly the kind of mind that gets in the way of any desirable outcome. Have you got that? Did you catch that as it flew by? This means we’re in new territory.

 

One example, common example: you can’t get to sleep by forcing yourself to get to sleep. By telling yourself how important the meeting is you have tomorrow – in fact, that’s probably a very bad idea, because that thought will actually secrete one more thought about the meeting or the stakes of it, and then that will lead to something else in this default network of mind wandering, and pretty soon you are wide awake, desperately wanting to be asleep, and not knowing how to get there.

 

It’s non-trivial to actually befriend our own minds and our own lives in such a way that we can actually work in these paradoxical ways where striving won’t do it. That doesn’t mean that I’m advocating that all of us abandon ambition, or don’t care about anything; meditation is not about becoming stupid. Even being non-judgmental is not about becoming stupid. It sounds like, “Well, don’t judge anything. Then maybe I’ll just walk off the stage and break my leg.” No. I’m aware that the edge of the stage is here, and if I do fall off the stage and break my leg, it will have been a moment of mindlessness, or out-of-touchness, if you will. Or walk across the street without looking because we have this sense that we’re not going to judge that truck coming at me. (laughter)

 

There’s a big difference between judgment and discernment. Mindfulness is all about discerning, with clarity, what’s actually going on. Most of the time now – how many of you would say that you are engaged in some kind of way that doesn’t feel all that good? A lot of the time in multi-tasking – anybody find yourself multi-tasking? Confess that when you’re on the phone, you’re actually sending an email to somebody else. Anybody ever do that? Raise your hands, I want to see. Confession time. Okay. We actually do it a lot. Why? Part of it is really because we’re so stressed. We don’t have enough moments in our day to get it all done, so we start to discombobulate a little bit and juggle and cut corners.
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Dr. Daniel Vinograd, DDS |
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Phone: 619-630-7174    •    Dr. Vinograd, DDS, is a Dentist in San Diego, CA, offering services as a periodontist, and providing teeth whitening, dental crowns, invisalign, implants, lumineers, dentures, root canals, holistic, family and cosmetic dentistry.


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