Generations of school children, bored by class and scolded for daydreaming out of the window, have been told to concentrate more. Yet it is clear that attempting to concentrate on something that is uninteresting is an exercise in futility; we go through the motions, we stare at the page, we re-read the paragraph, but we continue to think about something else altogether. We can become better at fooling people that we are working hard, but our glazed eyes usually betray us long before our failed examinations do so.
When we truly learn how to do something, we cease to have to work so hard on it at all. There is no chore involved, and it seem to take only a fraction of the time. In fact, when we are excited about a subject we only need to glance at a page for its meaning to leap to our eyes and affect us deeply. It seems as though our body is doing it all by itself.
Of course, this is not the case; it is that our brain has become so enthusiastic, so practiced at the action, and so comfortable with the new environment it has created, that it can dedicate a part of itself to take care of details automatically, whenever needed. In computer terms, it has `hard wired’ a special program or sequence just for that purpose. This leaves us free again to do other tasks.
This can apply to anything, for example learning a musical instrument or riding a bicycle. In either case, once a certain moment is reached, we feel an `aha’ taking place; we feel a breakthrough has happened. For the first time, the violinist feels as if the fingers are moving faster than the mind. Once that point is reached, not only do we need never learn that sequence again, we would actually find it hard to unlearn it. It takes hundreds of hours to learn how to walk, and perhaps dozens of hours how to ride a bicycle or drive a car. But once learned, they are imprinted forever.
This explains why it is so hard for many people to unlearn a habit, for example learning to drive on the other side of the road when visiting another country; in this case, the conscious mind’s attempts to conform are in conflict with strong, hard-wired messages from the unconscious. After some struggle, we adapt to driving on the `wrong’ side of the road, often only to revert to the old program in a moment of tiredness or stress. It is very hard to forget that which has become automatic; an adult does not forget how to ride a bicycle even if no practice or even thought has been given to the subject since early childhood.
This does serve to give us a clue about the implications involved. What else might we have take for granted; what else has become so automatic that we assume it is the only way of doing things? The challenge we might face in rethinking something long adopted as automatic can indeed be formidable, but it could be an invaluable mental exercise to try. Because our established ways of thinking have long since become standard, we have to work hard even to become aware of them, let alone reverse them. Once attempted, the mere recognition that there is more than one way to do something we previously took for granted can be enlightening, even transformational.
Habits are powerful tools, but we surely should not be ruled by them. Even some of our most trivial actions are governed by them. For example, if someone is asked to fold their arms over their chest, they invariable adopt the same method every time, for example right over left. The other way feels wrong and uncomfortable, even unthinkable.
Our very perceptions are also governed by habit. In an early study, a volunteer was given a pair of special glasses to wear during all waking hours. The glasses reversed Up and Down, so that everything seemed to be upside down. Naturally this was highly disorienting at first, but gradually the volunteer started to make progress. Eventually, he could function quite normally. Then, when the glasses were removed, he was disoriented again; he thought that everything looked upside down again.
In another experiment, researchers showed a movie on a big screen to an audience of people who had never seen a movie before. Whenever an actor moved off-screen, the audience stood up and moved to the next room, expecting to see the actor there.
Both the above examples are interesting and perhaps amusing, but they raise a disturbing thought: how would we know if our own perceptions were based on an element of illusion? The very structure of our eyes helps us to form an impression of reality. No two people have an identical perception of the same shade of, say, green, and some people cannot differentiate it at all from, say, a particular shade of blue.The structure of a bat’s sensory organs cause it to see reality in a different way altogether. Is there a `true’ reality after all? Who are we to assume that we are always right? Yet how many of us question anything about our accepted ways of seeing the world.
Given this enormous reliance on our cherished thought patterns and habits, imagine therefore how unthinkable it might be to change one’s attitudes and beliefs on such issues as politics, parents, religion or nationhood. Or, for that matter, one’s career.
Our environment naturally influences us, and some of what we experience interests us. This is what we find the easiest to learn. In turn, we put back into the environment more of our specialized subject, thus perpetuating the cycle for ourselves. But we need to ask ourselves: Exactly how arbitrary was the original environmental impact in the first place? Who would we be today if we had not had that experience?
In an age where job retraining has such fundamental implications in national economic as well as in individual levels, there is simply no point in attempting a major effort to retrain anyone unless the idea is embraced by the trainee, the subject as agreeable and seen as worthwhile, and the expectations of success are high. How else could we expect someone to throw away the self-perceptions and habits that have taken half a lifetime to perfect? We fear that after such a dearth of retraining commitments at corporate and government levels for so long, a rush of desperately-needed and well-intentioned training projects could fail because of a lack of awareness that their success is dependent on factors other than subject matter and delivery methods.
As any action or posture, long continued, will distort and disfigure the limbs, so the mind likewise is crippled and contracted by perpetual application to the same set of ideas. —Samuel Johnson
A British band and a group of scientists have made the most relaxing tune in the history of man.
Sound therapists and Manchester band Marconi Union compiled the song. Scientists played it to 40 women and found it to be more effective at helping them relax than songs by Enya, Mozart and Coldplay.
Weightless works by using specific rhythms, tones, frequencies and intervals to relax the listener. A continuous rhythm of 60 BPM causes the brainwaves and heart rate to synchronise with the rhythm: a process known as ‘entrainment’. Low underlying bass tones relax the listener and a low whooshing sound with a trance-like quality takes the listener into an even deeper state of calm.
Dr. David Lewis, one of the UK’s leading stress specialists said: “‘Weightless’ induced the greatest relaxation – higher than any of the other music tested. Brain imaging studies have shown that music works at a very deep level within the brain, stimulating not only those regions responsible for processing sound but also ones associated with emotions.”
The study - commissioned by bubble bath and shower gel firm Radox Spa - found the song was even more relaxing than a massage, walk or cup of tea. So relaxing is the tune, apparently, that people are being advised against listening to it while driving.
The top 10 most relaxing tunes were: 1. Marconi Union - Weightless 2. Airstream - Electra 3. DJ Shah - Mellomaniac (Chill Out Mix) 4. Enya - Watermark 5. Coldplay - Strawberry Swing 6. Barcelona - Please Don’t Go 7. All Saints - Pure Shores 8. AdelevSomeone Like You 9. Mozart - Canzonetta Sull’aria 10. Cafe Del Mar - We Can Fly
We have this hostility to the external world because of the superstition, the myth, the absolutely unfounded theory that you, yourself, exist only inside your skin. Now I want to propose another idea altogether. There are two great theories in astronomy going on right now about the origination of the universe. One is called the explosion theory, and the other is called the steady state theory. The steady state people say there never was a time when the world began, it’s always expanding, yes, but as a result of free hydrogen in space, the free hydrogen coagulates and makes new galaxies. But the other people say there was a primoridial explosion, an enormous bang billions of years ago which flung all the galazies into space. Well let’s take that just for the sake of argument and say that was the way it happened.
It’s like you took a bottle of ink and you threw it at a wall. Smash! And all that ink spread. And in the middle, it’s dense, isn’t it? And as it gets out on the edge, the little droplets get finer and finer and make more complicated patterns, see? So in the same way, there was a big bang at the beginning of things and it spread. And you and I, sitting here in this room, as complicated human beings, are way, way out on the fringe of that bang. We are the complicated little patterns on the end of it. Very interesting. But so we define ourselves as being only that. If you think that you are only inside your skin, you define yourself as one very complicated little curlique, way out on the edge of that explosion. Way out in space, and way out in time. Billions of years ago, you were a big bang, but now you’re a complicated human being. And then we cut ourselves off, and don’t feel that we’re still the big bang. But you are. Depends how you define yourself. You are actually - if this is the way things started, if there was a big bang in the beginning - you’re not something that’s a result of the big bang. You’re not something that is a sort of puppet on the end of the process. You are still the process. You are the big bang, the original force of the universe, coming on as whoever you are. When I meet you, I see not just what you define yourself as - Mr so-and-so, Ms so-and-so, Mrs so-and-so - I see every one of you as the primordial energy of the universe coming on at me in this particular way. I know I’m that, too. But we’ve learned to define ourselves as separate from it.
Nothing ever remains the same. What you sense as static, is always ever erratic. If you were to zoom into any desired area within your visual peripheral and direct your focus, and imagine your size being at the atomic level, you will surprisingly be in a violent storm. Vast chaos is all around you. What looks to be disorder is beautifully order. Although, order is perceived from our basic state of observation. Do you lack that sensitivity when it comes to the grandeur of the universe? Do you merely gaze and graze the surface of what seems dull and uninteresting? When in actuality, infinite patterns merge harmoniously to create your very experience. Never would science explain everything at once. Science is linear; processes on top of processes, twisted and merged along other simultaneous process. But for what? It points to it, but it isn’t it. Science’s goal is to predict the future - to ensure our security based on our observations. When in the end, we forget that these exact abstractions of what it really is, takes us away from the absorption of the present moment. Don’t explain it and dice it up with your words, your language of separation. They are reductions of your experience into little bits of information which take away from the whole.
Be fully there - and wide open.