Thinking ability is an amazing gift and it allows us to accomplish wonderful things. The human mind is the greatest problem solver on the planet, and it is eager to provide you with the answer to any question, and the solution to any challenge.
The mind and the thinking side of life
As soon as you present your mind with a question it goes to work analyzing and calculating. It combs your mental file cabinets in search of relevant information. It quickly picks out similarities and patterns as it builds an almost instant resource of connected data. What a marvel the human mind is.
We can use this amazing ability of our mind for just about anything you can think of. Whenever we make plans for the day, the week, or the year, our mind goes into analytical mode. As we review past performance, our mind becomes an efficiency expert seeking ways to make improvements. Our mind is a tireless servant, chomping at the bit and ready to take on any and all challenges that we may give it.
The experiencing side of life
There is another wonderful ability we need to consider that also makes a giant contribution to an amazing life . It’s the ability to actually experience life through our five senses. Like the mind, our senses also gather information and feed it to our nervous system, but this happens on a completely different level then pure mental analysis. This is a different kind of intelligence altogether.
In fact, when our senses are fully engaged, the thinking side of our mind often comes to a screeching halt. This is what allows us to fully savor an experience in the moment. When you stop to smell that perfect rose, or you come out from a cold shadow into the warm embrace of the sunshine, what happens? Do you stop to analyze it with your mind, or do you just experience it?
When the mind and sensory organs fully merge
There are rare occasions when the full power of our analytical mind and our sensory experience come together in the moment. This usually happens in conjunction with a huge dose of adrenaline. Have you ever been in an emergency situation where everything turned into slow motion, and all of your senses were on hyper alert, while your mind was calculating every detail?
One such occasion that stands out for me happened in a cross country hang gliding race over a rugged range of mountains. I had to make an emergency landing in a completely unacceptable speck of clear ground deep in the forest. The whole event probably lasted about 30 seconds, but for me it seemed like I had all the time in the world. My heightened state of alertness turned those seconds into slow motion, and I was fully aware of every moment. Like I said, these occasions are rare and adrenaline usually plays a major role.
The analytical mind versus the physical senses
More often than not, our mind tends to pull us away from, or minimize sensory input. This is because our senses give us information in the moment while our mind likes to operate outside of the moment in some abstract time warp. We can get so busy problem solving that thinking takes over our awareness, and we lose our sense of the here and now. Sometimes this kind of concentration serves us, but sometimes it robs us of the experience of life.
The mind is a bully and it likes to be in charge. Making room in our life to enjoy the experience of living in the moment, means learning to control the runaway thought process and allowing sensory feedback to have shared custody of our life. We need to learn to stop and smell the roses whether our busy mind likes it or not.
Paths that lead to balance
There are two main approaches to subduing the mental monster and temporarily giving our consciousness over to our other senses. These two approaches are at the opposite ends of the spectrum. In between these two extremes, there exists a wide variety of useful activities that allow for an increased sense of balance.
As we look at the spectrum of possibilities, keep in mind that what we are looking for here is greater balance. We create this balance by allowing some time, on a regular basis, for the mind to take a back seat while we allow sensory input to help us feel more fully engaged in the moment. Let’s consider the two primary but opposite approaches.
1) Ramp up sensory stimulation
With this approach we engage in any activity that creates massive sensory stimuli. Doing so will literally force the analytical mind out of the picture by overriding it with stronger neurological signals. Some examples would include any form of physical activity or intense exercise that you cannot do on autopilot.
Some that come to mind are body surfing, weight lifting, circuit training, aerobics, getting a massage, and sex. These kinds of activities demand that we be “in the moment” and they are linked primarily to a state of physical readiness. They are defined by sensory involvement and as a result, we are literally forced to participate in real time.
2) Quiet the mind
This approach is the exact opposite of the last one. Instead of using sensory stimulation to beat back the brain bully, we coax it into a state of peaceful hibernation. Of course, this one requires that we learn to consciously gain control of the thinking process, and then purposely dial it way down. This can be more difficult then it sounds because the analytical mind will try to take advantage of the lack of sensory input to do what it loves to do – THINK!
People use a variety of techniques to accomplish the goal of a quiet mind. All of the popular forms of meditation and controlled breathing share this objective. Anything that can mesmerize us, such as soothing music or nature sounds, a campfire or fireplace, also helps to quiet the mind. Additionally, there are some specially designed skills like the Sedona Method or the Release Technique with mental quieting as their main objective.
We should also recognize that millions of people also use drugs and/or alcohol in an attempt to dial down the thinking process without any real effort on their part. There are also new technologies that do most of the work for you by using highly specialized rhythmic patterns to control brain wave frequency such as binaural beats.
Develop your five senses + 1
The middle ground between intense sensory stimulation and a quiet mind is where we spend the majority of our time. The area is filled with a wide array of practical steps that we can use on a daily basis to maintain our mental balance. A great place to start is by purposely exercising your five senses throughout the day. For example:
Taste. When you eat a meal or a treat, take smaller bites and fully experience the flavors. If you love chocolate, savor a small piece as it melts in your mouth instead of chomping it down in unhealthy amounts. Turn eating into an exercise of culinary pleasure by slowing down and experiencing it via your taste buds.
Smell. This is often a major contributor to the joy of food but it also stands alone as a sensory pleasure. As the saying goes, take time to smell the roses. Don’t just take a quick sniff, but drink down all of the incredible aromas that can add such a wonderful dimension to your life.
Touch. If you close your eyes and see with your hands and fingers, what will you discover? Probably that you have not been fully aware of this amazing gift. How wonderful the world of touch is. Much of our emotional balance is linked to the human touch. Next time you touch someone or something, let yourself feel the experience without thinking about it.
Sound. Many people like to close their eyes and really listen to beautiful music or the sound of waves crashing on the beach. If we really listen, sound has the ability to quiet our whole being. When appropriate, take the opportunity to surround yourself with calming sounds, and then let it engulf you and carry you far away from the analytical noise.
Sight. Our eyes are the most direct sensory path to our mind. Therefore, we should make it a point to fill them with beautiful sights whenever possible. Do you stop to experience a beautiful sunset in all it’s glory? Do you marvel at the splendor of the natural world? If you put before your eyes that which is visually soothing your mind will make the connection. As a result, your life will feel much more balanced and peaceful.
Laughter. This is a wonderful, happy, sensory experience that has scores of benefits. Laughter involves our whole being and it takes place in the moment. There is no reason to analyze this one (ha ha!), just do it as often as you can.
Balance is the goal
A life rich in experience and wisdom is one that has found a balance between thinking and experiencing. Both are valuable and both make a solid contribution to the quality and joy of living. In this age of information overload and mental bombardment, it’s important that we remember to take time away from our analytical mind to experience life first hand and in the moment.
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