Mindfulness: What’s it all about!?Lindsay Dickinson
Pay Attention or Paying Attention?
The ability to pay attention is a whole brain function. Scientists tell us our “prefrontal cortex” and “parietal cortex” (toward the back of the brain) are areas that develop our ability to concentrate, focus and pay attention. Humans (Americans in particular) generally access more from the left brain, limiting moments of right brain activity. So, how can we learn to be paying attention better to maximize our brain capacity?
Our right brain develops more interconnections in the first 18-24 months than does the left brain. Why?
- An integrated map of the body: Gaining subjective awareness of our bodies in time & space
- Visuospatial orientation: Where we and objects are in space, in relation to each other, expanding into developing coordination, focus attention on spatial objects
- Ability to read nonverbal cues: eye contact, facial expressions, gestures, body language, tone of voice and timing and intensity of physical responses
- Holistic sense of experience: “The holistic, take-everything-in-at-once moment is correlated with the neural activity of the right side of the brain”
Learning how we interact with the world in time and space builds the foundation for using the right brain later for other important milestones. Social emotional growth and development stems from the right brain. Emotional intelligence as a milestone is achieved at its own rate and time.
Emotional intelligence is based on right brain activity to process and gain emotional understanding from any and all experiences. When we seek to become self-aware, appreciate diversity, enable a working memory, learn the interactions between sensations and emotions we are tapping into our right brain.
Past, Future & Present
Let’s all be present. What do you mean? I am here, reading/typing, doesn’t that make me present? I know what I am doing, right now.
The right side’s contribution is to imagine it as the part of the brain that enables us to be enraptured in the present moment.
The left side is all about the past and the future. It tends to systematically take in all the data that the right side is transponding through some stuff (corpus callosum), and then storing in its neurobiological history.
The left side takes up more bandwidth in the processing and filing parts than our right side. Because of this, our right brain seeks from the human, more focused attention, when tapping into our right side of the brain.
Lateralization… Best to use a metaphor that Curt Thompson uses in his book Anatomy of the Soul.
The brain operates much like a company made up of many departments, each of which works hard to do what it does best. The company can work more efficiently when its sales, marketing, research and development, and accounting divisions are well trained in their respective areas of expertise and communicate efficiently with each other. If, however, the marketing department fails to communicate with the other departments, the entire company will suffer.
We want to have an efficient, even effective company in our minds. Think of children who may struggle with organizing their own departments, and how mindfulness can increase their own efficiency. So, how do we get there? Keep reading or check out some easy Right side Brain Exercises that increase our activity and engagement on that side.
Piecing IT Together
For me, I like understanding the whole picture and funneling the details in from the larger area. Understanding the mind and its functions helps me know where the mindfulness can fire from, helping me learn more on how to grow or even use it.
If we continue to focus on mindfulness we are building an effective company in our brains. Anyone at any age can participate in this quest. With a variety of indicators and interactions between hormones, stimulus, body sensations, chemical balancing, diet, exercise, pruning, why not use all of our brain to maximize the interactions and interconnections made from those interactions?
By using all of our brain, we are developing logical and emotional functions that we can then display (appropriately) to our children.
When we get mad and bark, yell, criticize, etc toward our child, we have a choice. We can take responsibility and tell our child we have responded in haste. We can ask if an emotion was felt, which may have caused sadness, grief, stress, emotional pain of some sort to our child. This is an opportunity to process emotions before the logic of the incident.
Whereas, we do not follow up with our child, they will be left filling in the gaps to understand “why” they were yelled at. We know the left side processes the past events. If these interactions happen frequently without follow up, the child can ‘over-depend on the left-mode processing in order to cope with emotional distress.’ The child is using logical and linear ways to “make sense” of the parent being angry at them. When I think of emotional things in logical ways, I tend to end up with some of these thoughts or phrases:
I am not good enough
(They) don’t like me
I am not valued
What’s wrong with me?
You don’t know, what you don’t know
I love that heading! We do not know everything. Curiosity can enhance our ability to have the want-power to know. To be curious is also to notice, observe and wonder about… All these functions come from the right side of our brain. When we use mindful thinking, we are able to process life around us with less criticism and more curiosity to understand. Helping our children understand how they feel is a right brain action. Where as, filing away a smile means your happy is a left brain processing facial cues. I smile when I cry. I smile when I am super pissed off. Logically, I can not define a smile means, I am happy. Yet, when we leave our children with little clarity on our own actions, we open up Mad Libs. Why do that to our children?
Where do we go from here?
I am going to put a host of resources to help guide you in the direction you want to take…assuming you want to gain more knowledge, due to curiosity. Learning mindfulness is actually asking our human race to consider the bigger picture. It is asking our little to large humans to be curious when someone seems sad, in need, or asks for your help, etc. Mindfulness is an action-orientated activity that asks us to be still. To be actively still and notice around you. Smell, taste, feel, sense, absorb the environment and surroundings. By this simple action alone, we tap into our right brain, become less discriminate and more open to building connections that grow our memory, comprehension, holistic thinking. Be curious and be still to notice are two fundamental keys to mindful behaviors. While, growing our neural connectors with all departments firing up, sustaining brain focus for longer periods of time…paying attention.