The filter functions in your brain protect you from information overload, but they may also put barriers between you and your surroundings with all its diversity, complexity and beauty. Conscious awareness and mindfulness will help you toning down these filters, and thus helping you becoming more aware and creative.
In the previous blog post I wrote about the self-organising patterns in our brains that are the basis of all our habits. But there is a different dimension of our autopilot than our habitual patterns and that’s the effective filters in you brain that prevent more than 99% of all incoming sensory information from reaching your consciousness. This filter function, which is called cognitive inhibition, is managed by the so-called Reticular Activation System (RAS) far down in the brain stem in the medulla oblongata.
Without these filters, we would be totally paralysed by all the impulses and signals that every second would drown us. Imagine if we had consciously registered all our body positions, every muscular movement, the smallest visual impression, all the little sounds around us, all colours, shapes, smells tastes at every single moment. We can imagine how overwhelming and chaotic the world would have been and we would be completely exhausted after a very short while.
The filters are also so cleverly designed that they let through such information that requires our attention, either because we need the information for something we are doing, something new is happening or because the information is important to us in some other way.
If we are sitting reading a book in a park, we can become completely focused on what we are reading. We are absorbed by the text in front of us and then everything else is filtered out. We do not hear the children screaming and we are not aware of the birds flying around us. But should we be sitting indoors reading and a bird suddenly flew into the room, it would immediately catch our attention. Something new has happened. The impression must be interpreted and our conscious mind would need to decide whether some action is needed. The book and its contents would at that moment be completely filtered out.
The filters are thus vital to us, but at the same time they can put barriers between us and the reality around us, and if we are constantly absorbed in our own thoughts without noticing all the diversity, complexity and beauty we have around us, we would limit ourselves, and reducing our creative abilities.
To put yourself in a state of conscious, accepting and non-judgmental presence is often called mindfulness. Mindfulness, which is one of the ten creative abilities, can be inward-looking through different meditation exercises, focusing on inner feelings, thoughts and sensations of the present. Such meditation exercises, developed over the centuries mainly in Buddhist tradition, have reached a wider western audience over the past 50 years. But mindfulness can also look outward where the focus is on fully experiencing and without judgement accepting the impressions from the external surroundings as they exist right now.
Mindfulness means that we open our minds and stay in the present, but it also means a state of non-judgement and non-analysis of what we know, see and experience – a full acceptance of the impressions we take. in A conscious presence is an ability we need to train through meditation and other exercises. Some people are borne with an ability to easily reach such conditions by conscious awareness, while others need more training. But everyone can get there and the increased attention improves both the contact with our inner selves and with others, increases our creative ability and gives us a richer and happier life.
Tip: Mindfulness meditation is often practiced in a calm environment with crossed legs and eyes closed. Sitting in a comfortable but dignified position with straight back, you put your entire focus on your breathing. Feel and experience every breath, how the air passes the nostrils, fills the lungs and presses down the abdomen in the inhalation and then the same way in reverse order during exhalation. When a thought flies through your head, you’ll note that it’s there but without judging or analysing it, then releasing it and leaving it unresolved. The same way you will do with the different sensations from your body. They are there but lack meaning in the present. Start with 10 minutes each day, then expand the time to what feels good for you. Initially, you will find it difficult or impossible to keep the wandering thoughts away, but the more regularly you practice this meditation, the easier it will go and you will become one with your breathing. Observe the gap between thoughts when you do not think of anything. Try to rest in this void, no matter how short it is. The more you practice your meditation, the longer these moments of total emptiness of your mind will be, and in these voids, some may experience a sense of affection, love, and being one with the universe. But even without these spiritual experiences, by regularly practicing this meditation you can eventually learn to turn off the noise of unwanted thoughts also outside the meditations, allowing you to be more present in the now.
There are many other types of meditation that you can use with equally beneficial effect and you can also move on and systematically explore or practice the spiritual dimensions of meditation linked to specific beliefs such as Zen Buddhism.