Wednesday, January 14, 2015


Mental Balance


I left many loose ends in the last post but at this point I want to move on to the idea of mental balance. I'm thinking of "mental" as the mechanical part of conscious operations in the brain. BIG topic I know. Basically I think of it as managing time, organizing thoughts, thinking critically, feeding your mind, and mental focus. There are many more. Mental balance is basically all the things that don't fall neatly into physical or spiritual balance. Here goes.

Physical balance is easy to define. It is a tangible feeling. It is even measurable. Mental or spiritual balance are quite different. They are not measurable though they do sometimes effect physical systems. Moreover they are not clearly defined. Rather than trying to offer a definition I am just going to relate some times that I have dealt with these concepts as they pertain to my life. Like I've said, the mind is fluid. There is a chance my feelings on this will have changed in some way by the time you read this.    

One of the key elements of mental balance for me is focus. I bring this one up first because I see it as a litmus test. I see it as a byproduct of systems working together. For me it is hard to be focused if there is too much imbalance in my mind. The aggravating thing about focus is true focus isn't something you can try harder to improve. It almost requires not trying which creates a paradox because you can't try not to try. My definition of focus is similar to what Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi calls the "flow experience". Being completely in the eternal present and focusing such that the rest of the world including time and space disappears.  

Csikszentmihalyi's found in his research that the human brain has a finite amount of processing power. Things like breathing, heartbeat, swallowing, etc are called autonomic functions.  They are on all the time and exist on the subconscious level. Things like hunger, thirst, temperature awareness, location awareness, etc are not automatic and require conscious thought to perceive. Csikszentmihalyi found that in what he defines as the 'flow experience' the task at hand can borrow processing power from these things. We have all had that experience where we have been so engrossed in something that we lose track of time. That's flow.

What he also found was that flow or focus is an autotelic experience. Autotelic means having purpose in and not apart from itself. So autotelic just is doing an activity for the sake of itself. No outside motivator like money, fame, power, etc. To me this is also the definition of being present. If we have the rewards of an activity in mind we are necessarily thinking about the future. I don't think this means not having goals. A couple of years ago I issued myself a challenge to write and record an album of string quartets. I was thinking ahead and planning for the future in laying out a game plan. When it came to the actual implementation of the steps like composing the pieces I found I was most successful when I was doing the composing for the sake of it.
We live in a world where there are so many distractions. There are all kind of ways that people can bring some focus to their minds. Some people exercise, some read a book, some meditate, some even go for a drive or take a shower. The common thread here is being in a place where you can be alone with your thoughts. Step back. Notice. Observe. Nonjudgmentally.  

No comments:

Post a Comment