Freud called dreams the royal road to the unconscious, suggesting they offer uncanny insight into your life, including inner conflicts, motivation and the deeper sense of what life is all about. Perhaps its time we recognize another royal road, one that brings us fully into the present moment, no matter where we are.
Mundane sounds – expressway to the present moment.
They are all around us – mundane sounds. The computer hums. The refrigerator runs. Oscillating fans, distant traffic, airplanes cruising by and numerous other sounds create a symphony of white noise that fills the background of our lives. Who would have thought medical research would prove tuning into these sounds is a giant leap toward mental and physical health?
In fact, intentionally directing your awareness outward disengages a major brain region called the Default Mode Network (DMN). The DMN is responsible for autopilot thinking, the slew of mental activity that occurs when we are not consciously engaged. Daydreaming falls into this category. When the DMN is hyperactive, common in today's world, the mind is continually cluttered with thoughts and the body is tense.
InSciences has reported that the brains of depressed people show increased activity in the DMN. The overactive DMN raises self-consciousness and prevents you from "losing yourself" in the activities of life. Rather than remain free to enjoy the present moment, you are besieged by a continual stream of inner thoughts.
ScienceMag suggests that activity in the DMN may reflect the occurrence of mind wandering, i.e., random thoughts that are unrelated to the present moment that cut you off from the environment or outside or world. With an overactive DMN, you can't turn your mind off. You can't control your stress. You can't fall asleep. Your mind and body are out of control.
Turn off your DMN and chill
Effective stress relief happens automatically when you learn to deactivate your DMN. In the March 2010 edition of Scientific American, Marcus Raichle, M.D., first to discover the DMN, reported that researchers didn't believe the evidence that the DMN could be switched off:
In 1998 we even had a paper rejected because one editor suggested that the reported decrease in DMN activity was an error in our data. The circuits were actually being switched on at rest and switched off during the [cognitive] task. Other researchers, however, reproduced our results for both the medial parietal cortex and the medial prefrontal cortex. Both areas are now considered major hubs of the DMN.
There you have it, a major brain network being switched on and off at will by participation in specially designed cognitive task. Further research, both scientific and casual, has proven that deactivating the DMN leads to increased pleasure, inner peace, emotional well-being, improved sleep, decreased anxiety and a stress-free way of being.
Three Steps to Inner Peace
Turning into external white noise is a great cognitive task to deactivate the DMN and settle into the present moment. Follow these simple steps and notice the difference.
1. To stack the deck in you favor, take out a paper and pencil and write down any problem that is on your mind. Then, let your pencil fly! Write down every thought and bodily tension that you think and feel related to the problem. Don't censor yourself. Just get it out.
2. Choose some mundane sound in your immediate environment, such as the hum of your computer. Tune into to it, putting all of your attention on this one sound. Don't try to do anything else. Just listen in real time. When you feel yourself settle a bit, your DMN is disengaged and you are grounded in the present moment. Enjoy it.
3. Reconsider the problem that was on your mind while maintaining your attention in the here and now. Do you feel more equipped to handle it? To the degree that you are here and now, your problem is more manageable.
This is a handy little tool that you can use anytime your mind is cluttered, your body tense and you just need to settle into the moment.