When you don’t have a task to focus on, brain areas activaterelated to processing emotions, recalling memory, monitoring the environment, thinking about the intentions of others, thinking about the future, and so on--all things that we often do when we find ourselves just "thinking" without any explicit goal in mind. Marcus Raichle University of Washing neurologist discovered that “the brain is actually just as busy when we relax as when we focus on difficult tasks.” He discovered it involves a particular network in the brain and named it the default mode network.
According to research by Matt Killingsworth, human beings spend almost half their wakeful hours thinking about something other than what they’re doing! His Harvard study confirmed that there's a clear connection between mind wandering and unhappiness.By studying thousands of people he found mind-wandering precedes unhappiness but unhappiness does not precede mind-wandering. In other words, mind-wandering is likely to be a cause, and not merely a consequence, of unhappiness.
Those experiencing depression have shown increased activity in the default mode network and a direct correlation to the severity of their negative thinking impacting the severity of depression as well as in increased risk of suicide.
Default-mode content involves an image of self, one that’s easy to become attached to. “We constantly think that it’s not just another thought, that [the image of self] is something real, not just a mental image.” Says Scott Barry Kaufman a psychologist at Barnard College, Columbia University who writes for Psychology Today and Harvard Review.
When the DMN (default mode network) “predominates, especially out of unawareness, it can very much limit our understanding of ourselves and of what might be possible,” Jon Kabat-Zinn argues.
“Prospection can lead to suffering if it hinders executive attention, the ability to have awe, attention to the present moment,” Kaufman says, emphasizing that, as with so many others ways that our minds get into trouble, the problem is rigidity; research indicates that a disturbed DMN is a mechanism in depression. “Our greatest source of suffering isn’t the default mode,” Kaufman says, “but when we get stuck in the default mode.”
Many studies indicate that meditation reduces activity in the DMN. Judson Brewer, psychiatrist and director of research at the UMass Medical School Center for Mindfulness founded by Kabat-Zinn, has found that extended meditation practice reforms the DMN, so that the default mode itself shifts: The resting state of the brain becomes more like the meditative state, producing “a more present-centered default mode.”
Life in the present moment means we are no longer chained to past experiences or future worries; life can be lived continually in the present moment.
If you are looking for an effortless practice that can change your default mode, or just want to live more of your life in the present moment, the Ishaya Foundation offers beginner to advanced courses in a practice called The Art of Ascension. Ascension simply means to rise beyond our limited thinking. It requires no belief to work. You can sign up for a free webinar to learn more about how the Art of Ascension and how to learn this practice.