Giving your mind some healthy “downtime”

by Gary Kaplan on September 29, 2010

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Recently, much has been written about our new “plugged-in” society. A recent feature story in the New York Times highlighted the potential dangers to healthy brain functioning that can result from the incessant use of our modern digital communication devices.

 
technology-overload-gadgetsSo many of us are attached to our personal computers, iPads, and smart phones. Information is there with a few taps on a keyboard, and we avail ourselves of pounding news and flashing graphics and audiovisual entertainment for an ever-increasing portion of our waking hours. We gobble up this onslaught of sensory information, crave more, and end up processing more by multitasking. We are in fact encouraged to scatter our attention in a multitude of directions at one time by marketers who understand our insatiable craving for MORE! It is unusual to look at a television program or a page on the Internet without encountering several independent messages vying for our attention. On television, there is the station logo in the corner of the screen, pop-up ads on the bottom of the screen featuring upcoming shows on the same network, and of course, the ubiquitous “crawlers.” Even when we’re being told about one BIG NEWS STORY, there is a constant stream of information tucked at the bottom of the screen with literally scores of other news stories.

We feel compelled to take it all in, because somehow we equate more sensory experience with the chance for a more fulfilling experience, as if armed with the knowledge of so many details of the world, we could somehow gain mastery over it.

Of course, when you stop and think about it, you just know that will never happen. The details are never-ending. The ability to process them in time is limited. Moreover, when you think of which experiences have been most fulfilling, you think of those singular experiences that captured your mind and emotions without distraction. At those rare moments, your mind is not being pulled in a million directions. Rather, you are absorbed on a deeper, more powerful level of thought and emotion.

This is what psychologists refer to as a peak experience, when the chatter of the surface level of thought melts away, and the experience is deep and rich, even blissful. Such an experience has more of the quality of the transcendent field underlying all thoughts. There is a profound simplicity to it. It is the experience of unity amidst diversity.

The fact is, if you want to culture peak experiences so that they become everyday experiences, you need to do more than unplug and take a break from multitasking. You need to infuse that transcendent field into your daily activity. If you use your downtime to regularly transcend, plugging in again will be that much more blissful. You need to meditate.

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Dr. Gary Kaplan is a neurologist and Associate Professor of Clinical Neurology at Hofstra University School of Medicine. Dr. Kaplan was formerly Director of Neurophysiology at North Shore University Hospital and is now in private practice in clinical neurology in New Hyde Park.

Web references:

Transcendental Meditation Helps Young Adults Cope With Stress

A study on the effects of the Transcendental Meditation program on blood pressure, psychological distress, and coping in young adults.

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  • Linda Mainquist

    As you say, it’s unlikely that we’ll want to or be able to “unplug” from all this compelling stimuli and outward focus. But having such an efficient tool as TM to reset the brain, to bring some real balance into the formula, has got to be a good thing.

  • Mimi

    My recipe to this is that I don’t spend too much time in the Internet, not everyday, and I don’t watch TV everyday. One doesn’t have to check the news every morning or so – you will hear about them – And what happened to books to books ? People, read good books in silence, good stories, days in a row. Write poetry and stories about things you’ve experienced in the real life and of your imagination- There’s no need for any TM actually, just plug off – for at least short periods of time. – Silence is important; say to yourself: I have my silence. – Everybody’s got the silence and one should keep it as one of the most important things in one’s life; silence means also peace from too colorful constantly changing images. – Shopping centers are things to be avoided; if possible do your shopping in areas where there are small shops, not centers with loudspeakers. – Don’t listen music all the time – Don’t feel obliged to answer to you mobile phone every time somebody calls, even if it might be important. – Take your rest during the day, go to bed, preferably naked, just close your eyes ever if you don’t sleep, try to visualize pleasant things and thoughts – Don’t drink coffee –
    Don’t be part of the razzle-dazzle society if you don’t want to, even if you live in a city, who really forces you ? What will happen if you withdraw ? I know many would answer: I lose money – but think again, it might be vice versa.

    • Dr. Gary Kaplan

      Yes, Linda and Mimi. I agree with you both. The choice is ours, and taking time out to transcend with the TM technique twice a day is such a great way to rejuvenate!

  • http://www.bobreidy.myprofitbuilder.com Robert M. Reidy

    I think that tools really become tools as you become. When the deep silence of the absolute walks with you side by side so to speak in waking state, the discernment of harmful distractions become laughable and therefore rendered impotent, while at the same time the efficient use of said toys and gadgets becomes truly possible.
    When this quote is true for you nothing really distracts – “I am silent yet I speak”

  • Shaji

    Doesn’t sleep give the downtime what we require after being plugged electronically? I feel it when one start cheating on sleep the trouble starts.
    I agree though, 20 min TM down time = 8+ hour sleep downtime. So I guess if one is cheating on sleep TM would beneficial. Like instead of churning the lake to get the speck of gold go straight for the gold mine!!

  • Dr. Gary Kaplan

    Sleep is absolutely necessary for good health. The rest we get during TM is fundamentally different and shouldn’t be used to substitute for sleep.. The restful alertness that characterizes this fourth state of consciousness provides a different and complementary type of rejuvenation for the physiology. It is like taking advantage of a gold mine!

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