Jul 13 2011

The Mind Body Connection

Since the time of the philosopher Descartes, Western culture has suffered an unfortunate separation in its understanding of how the body relates to the mind. The two are seen as being at odds with each other. In some of the worse scenarios, mind itself is what is of value, or is representative of the true self, and the body is denigrated into the vessel through which your mind operates. Mind and body thus divided results in the idea that what one does with one’s body is of no significant consequence or value. The body, and therefore nature itself, is therefore open to exploitation and possible misuse.

An assumption that is made often in the West is that the mind somehow subsides in or animates the body. Mind is viewed as the core force, that aspect of the human person that really matters. Your number one enemy according to this idea is your body, which seems to contain its own set of desires that work contrary to the purer intents and purposes of your mind. Severe asceticism and the denial of help to those who suffer bodily is one of the end results at the rational far end of this philosophical dichotomy. If someone’s body doesn’t really matter, is it really evil if he starves?

In order to stave off bad attitudes and practices, there are those through history who have proposed that the mind is not all that matters, being carried about by an otherwise corrupt and worthless body, but mind and body both matter and are of value. How? At this point, all logic becomes as choppy as the rapids on a dangerous river. A few have offered that the two aspects are indeed separate, but that body and mind somehow interpenetrate each other. How this is so is a bit harder to explain, however. Your mind may be literally in your heart, but if your heart fails and is replaced with a new heart, has thing somehow changed the reality of your mind and who you are? Some would say yes, but most scientists would say hogwash.

The rationalistic approach assumes that the mind and the experience of consciousness is just a fluke of evolution, a subjective interpretation of natural chemical processes in the body. Mind in this view isn’t elevated above the body, but both mind and body are brought down to the same level – the former viewed as the biological manifestation of experiences that are conducted in the processes of the latter. If both mind and body are viewed as being basically the same thing – physical organs working together in the comprised living organism of the human animal – then both lose value beyond immediate experience and usefulness.

Another ancient view from the east proposes that both mind and body compose the reality that is the human soul. The notion that mind and body both exist in a paradoxical and mysterious unity was once the accepted assumption in many parts of the world. Both your mind and your body have significant value because both comprise the unity of the self.

Dec 8 2009

How Can I Improve My Concentration?

Whenever I’m driving and I’m not quite sure where I am, I always, mindlessly, turn down the radio and try to rid myself of any outside distractions.  I never realized that I did this until my teenage son pointed it out to me. He’s an adept multitasker, just like everyone born after 1990 or so. So – why do people tend to do that? It’s not like having a radio blaring in the background stops you from reading street signs. Talking to your copilot in the passenger seat doesn’t stop you from taking a turn, or stopping at a light.

For me, as well as many adults, it is much easier to focus your attention on one problem than to attempt to multitask and pay attention to several areas at once. As it turns out, it takes up a lot of brainpower to tune out a radio, or carry on a conversation while you’re driving, or even if you’re just eating dinner. To make things even worse, there’s a whole symphony of chemical reactions happening in your brain that may cut down on your ability to divide your attention.

One factor is aging.  As we get older, our attention capacity declines, and it takes a greater effort to initiate your processing requirements, and ignore any outside distractions. In other words, old people don’t forget things because they’re old, they forget because it becomes difficult to carry on daily activities, and try to remember past activities at the same time.

It’s not just about being old, though. Fatigue and depression are two major factors that contribute to an inability to concentrate on more than one task at a time.  If you are tired or stressed, it’s just not as easy for your brain to concentrate on a whole list of things at once.  The harder your brain has to work just to keep you awake, the less energy it can devote to other things, like watching TV.

There are a few corrective measures you can do to improvements your multitasking skills:

For starters, get really good at one thing at a time. The less you have to think about something as you do it, the more brainpower you can put toward something else.

Don’t just work with one part of your brain. You need to stimulate all areas. That means speech, thought, logic, emotion – all of it. There are a lot of things you can do to wake up your whole brain, but basic social interaction is one of the best.

Keep it simple. If you’re having trouble concentrating, then remove all unnecessary stimuli. By focusing intently on one thing at a time, you’re much more likely to do well at it. Wear earplugs if it’s noisy where you are. Close your eyes if you need to think clearly. Be alone. These things will help you focus on the task at hand.

Work on your memory. There are a lot of memory training exercises that you can do to keep your memory strong. Memory takes up a lot of concentration, so the better you are at observing and recalling things, the less your brain works to do the rest.

So make it easy, turn off any outside distractions, and you will be amazed at your ability to focus on one, or on several tasks. It just takes a little practice.