Mindfulness and the brain

A 2007 study by Norman Farb at the University of Toronto, along with six other scientists, called “Mindfulness meditation reveals distinct neural modes of self-reference” is extremely interesting in our understanding of mindfulness from a neuroscience perspective.

Farb writes that people have two distinct ways of interacting with the world, using two different sets of networks. One network for experiencing reality involves what is called the “default network”, the parts of the brain that we see involved normally in planning, daydreaming and ruminating.

However he writes that there is a whole other way of experiencing reality, which scientists call one of direct experience. When the direct experience network is active, several different other brain regions become more active.

In other words, you can experience the world through your narrative circuitry, which will be useful for planning, goal setting, and strategizing, and you can also experience the world more directly, which enables more sensory information to be perceived.

Farb’s study found that mindfulness meditation strengthens the capacity to experience the world through the second, direct experience network.

This is interesting bcause this second way – experiencing the world through the direct experience network – allows you to get closer to the reality of any event. You perceive more information about events occurring around you, as well as more accurate information about these events. Noticing more real-time information makes you more flexible in how you respond to the world. You also become less imprisoned by the past, your habits, expectations or assumptions, and more able to respond to events as they are actually unfolding.

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