Down Time for Your Brain

Tomales Bay, Inverness, CA. By Della Chen

Tomales Bay, Inverness, CA. By Della Chen

Meditation was invented around 500 BC. Before that, people had little need for it. Life had been simple enough to allow the brain the down time it needed. But with the construction of modern societies, people's ability to cope with the novelty overload they were experiencing began to break down. The Buddha said that suffering was caused by "desire" and "seeking." Seeking causes suffering. Because it never ends! As soon as you get one thing, you crave more or you want to make sure that thing won't go away. To combat this affliction of modernity, the Buddha prescribed meditation. 

There are many misunderstandings about it. Some people think it means sitting with your legs crossed and trying not to think. But that's impossible! Your brain's job is to think -- it's not going to stop. Meditation is more about just sitting there without doing anything on purpose. It is essentially getting out of the way, and allowing the brain eventually to revert to its natural state - the state your brain evolved to be in most of the time. A kind of alert, relaxed openness. Not thinking about anything in particular, but not striving to remove thinking either. Not seeking, in other words. 

Meditation is, in a sense, unnatural. Cavemen didn't sit around meditating. They didn't need to, because everything was much slower, spacious, and gentle. It was low impact on the brain. But with the rise of modern society (India at 500 BC), people couldn't find enough down time to return their minds to a natural state. There was too much novelty, too many new ideas, too much cool stuff to do, talk about, and see. So we can think of meditation as an unnatural way to return to a natural state. 

Our brains need down time. Your quality of life will skyrocket. The majority of interesting, exciting, novel stimuli you're getting are probably composed of empty calories anyway. So go walk in the park, sit in the tub, watch the trees sway outside your window. And try meditating. There are many apps to help with this and meditation centers popping up. Or ask me for some more ideas! 

PS Watching TV is not down time for your brain. It's actually a stimulant. Sorry, guys. 

- Michael Taft, "Downtime for the Stone Age Brain"