How many of you can remember the last time you were “lost in thought”?
Researchers at the University of Toronto (article reference below) have discovered that when we are “lost in thought” a network of neurones is being activated in the brain that is described as the “narrative network”. The “narrative network” is a self-referencing mechanism that provides a sense of permanent self (the story of me) based on our weaving together of a variety of subjective experiences into a cohesive whole, which may be then used as a source of our sense of identity.
According to the research, the neural network activated when “lost in thought” can be distinguished from another self referencing mechanism which is the neural network activated when individuals are asked to embody present moment awareness, which is what is facilitated in the practice of mindfulness. In the past, these two forms of self referencing were thought to operate together, however, the research conducted shows distinct differences in the neuronal pathways activated by these two self-referencing mechanisms.
The suggestion is that if individuals can learn to embody the present moment, there is less likelihood of getting caught up in the drama revealed in the “narrative network”. There is also a better chance that an individual would recognize “being caught” by the “narrative network” and consciously return attention to the present moment.
Consider the last time you were “lost in thought”. What narratives are being revealed and how does this impact your wellbeing and health? How accurate are these narratives? How does this influence your sense of “self”?
Mindfulness helps directly to activate a more present moment self reference as well as providing a mechanism whereby one can actively change our focus when the narrative network appears in our mind.
Farb, NAS, Segal Z, Mayberg H, Bean J, Mekeon D, Fatima, Z, Anderson, AK. Attending to the present: mindfulness meditation reveals distinct neural modes of self-reference. Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience. 2007; 2;313-322.