Saturday, October 6, 2012

Close Encounters of the Brain Kind


I was up at my cabin this weekend enjoying some beautiful fall weather.  I took a walk along a rocky path that I don’t travel often.  Along the way, I decided to try some awareness exercises.  The path ahead was bumpy but without any significant hazards.  I closed my eyes and stepped very carefully, keeping my weight on one foot until the other foot was safely positioned before shifting my weight forward.

I hadn’t gone very far before I stepped forward into mossy undergrowth.  Realizing that I had veered to the edge of the path, I opened my eyes and found myself facing directly towards the side of the path.  Wow, I thought, I didn’t even sense that I was not moving in a straight line.  Believing that I had turned towards the right side of the path, I turned back to the left and continued on, keeping my eyes open.

After a while, wondering why I had not come to the road I was expecting, I started looking around.  Something didn’t seem right.  The path was going gradually uphill instead of down.  The sun was on my right instead of left.  I stopped, completely disoriented.  The faint traffic noise from the distant highway was on the “wrong” side, too.

My brain, which had immediately made an assumption when I opened my eyes that I was facing the right side of the path, insisted that I was going in the right direction.  All my senses, however, said I wasn’t.  Indeed, my senses were correct.  With my eyes closed, I had veered to the left side of the path instead of the right.  If I had paused to get my bearings when I opened my eyes, I would have seen that and continued down the path to my right, instead of turning to my left and going back up the path where I had come from.

What was so interesting to me was how sure my brain was that it was correct, even when all my senses were telling me that it was wrong.  Even when I turned and headed in the right direction, my brain continued to be confused.  Everything seemed “backwards” until I found familiar landmarks and convinced my brain that indeed we were going the right way.  

I wonder how many other assumptions my brain has latched onto without a careful consideration of the available information.  Seeing how much effort it took to change my brain’s orientation made me think that my brain, once having reached a conclusion, is loathe to consider other possibilities, even when conflicting evidence is presented.

I learned two things.  First, my brain likes to have an answer and will jump to one quickly rather than pause in uncertainty.  Second, once my brain has an answer, it will lock it in and defend it against anything that contradicts it.

My brain has given me a lot to think about.  My awareness exercise was a huge success, just not in the way I intended!

related post: The Curiosity of Not Knowing  

43 comments:

  1. What an interesting and informative experience you had! I can relate to this. Our brains will jump quickly to an answer rather than wallow in uncertainty. It's difficult to remain in uncertainty for very long, so an answer--any answer--somehow seems better, I think.

    I wonder if your senses were in a way acting as your intuition, knowing which direction you should take.

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    1. Tina, I had not thought about the connection between senses and intuition, but once you pointed it out, it made a lot of sense (no pun intended). Thanks for commenting.

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  2. That is such an interesting exercise. Your conclusion is something to think about. I would like to try that and see if I could walk a straight path. I am inclined to believe I would stray far from the path.

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    1. Bonnie, I was so sure I was walking along the path. I was surprised to find myself on the side, and, as you saw in the story, even more surprised that it was the opposite side than what I thought. I'm going to try this again. Thanks for commenting.

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  3. Interesting exercise Galen!

    Oh yes! I think the brain always tells us the opposite of what our heart tells us - I would put it that ways. :)

    I think our senses, which I say are more related to our heart or intuition as some people call it, never mislead us. It's that gut feeling you get when you know you are doing something right. However, the brain churns out it's own way of deciphering things as in your case, till it is made to realize and see reason. I would always go with my heart, though yes, have to listen to our brain sometimes too.:)

    Thanks for sharing :)

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    1. Harleena, I had not made the connection between senses and heart/intuition like you and Tina did, but now I can see that clearly. How odd that it is so out of sync with our brains sometimes! Thanks for your comment.

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  4. Fascinating - to be able to realize it too. I find my mind may jump to answers and then jump all over the place too.

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    1. Lisa, That little experience gave me a lot to think about! Thanks for your comment.

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  5. What a cool brain encounter! My brain tends to overthink as well as overtake my senses. And when my brain links up with my ego . . . not a good combo! The solution for me is to pause, center myself, and sink into my deep knowing self. Rational thinking is highly over-rated!

    Great post, Galen!

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    1. Beth, So true. Brain plus ego is a dangerous combination. As a lawyer, I can attest to the usefulness and also the limits of rational thinking! Thanks for your comment.

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  6. Very interesting, Galen. I find that I can "see" much better in certain situations when my eyes are closed - probably my sixth sense kicking in automatically as I am somewhat visually challenged. After reading you post, I realized I always brush my teeth with my eyes closed. And when I need to find something on a shelf, I just close my eyes and feel with my hands. What a funny realization! Self-awareness is an amazing thing.

    Thanks for sharing this. I know I am going to be thinking about it! Hugs!

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    1. Vidya, That is interesting! I'm going to brush my teeth with my eyes closed tonight and see what happens. When I was learning nunchucks, I found that closing my eyes helped a lot. It is a feeling/sensing thing rather than a visual thing and my attempt to see what I was doing was just getting in the way. Thanks for commenting.

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  7. SO many life lessons are simple things and lessons learned in unexpected places.

    When your brain has an answer, it sounds like it likes to be right:) which is a topic that I've been thinking a lot about lately and hope to hit the publish button later this evening. A recent book helped me delve into these concepts of being right and happiness, Galen :)

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    1. Vishnu, My brain definitely likes to be right, and apparently doesn't care very much if it is really right or not! I'm looking forward to your review! Thanks for commenting.

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  8. Oh, wow, Galen, what an enlightening experience. I never thought it would be the brain which would become disoriented like that. Glad your senses more than made up for this!
    Also, makes me wonder how many "wrong turns" our brains make us take when we are not in tune with our senses and internal rhythms.
    Thanks for a terrific post!
    Blessings!

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    1. Martha, After this experience, I'm definitely going to be scrutinizing my brain's certainty a lot more closely. Thanks for your comment.

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  9. Hi Galen,

    Thanks for sharing your experiences with this awareness exercise. Isn't it great when we come to such realisations like this?

    I wonder when you talk about the brain, do you include the mind in this? Or do you differentiate between the two?

    I look at the mind in a similar was as you described the brain. It needs answers rather than uncertainty and once it has made up its mind (pun intended) it becomes resistant to changing. This in itself I believe to be conditioned habits, which happen again and again, until one begins to doubt the mind and consider alternative answers as maybe being correct.

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    1. Hiten, Good question. "Mind" can be used so many ways, I guess I was thinking about brain in a more limited way. Mind can include brain, but can also be broader than the brain. Hmm, am I making any sense? Not sure I am. Good to define our terms. I'll give this some more thought. Thanks for your comment.

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  10. Thanks so much for your thoughtful insight. My brain manages to trick me all of the time and then... something good happens. What a surprise!

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    1. Cathie, Sounds like your brain likes to surprise you with good things! Thanks for commenting.

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  11. I had a similar experience hiking one day. how fascinating that you allowed yourself the distance to observe in this way. What learning we can have when we do this process--observe ourselves. Blessings abound!

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    1. Jodi, I seem to offer myself plenty of opportunities to observe and learn! Thanks for commenting.

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  12. I totally enjoyed this awareness exercise. I struggle with going in the right direction even with my eyes opened. I can be inside a building going and then inside an office and when I come out of the office I seem to always go the wrong direction. Once I coverd my eyes and walked around in my house for a while. I wanted to know what it would feel like to be blind. I have a sweet little 10 year old blind granddaughter. I found a glimpse into how a blind person feels.
    Thanks for a lovely post and I am excited to purchase your book.
    Blessings!

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    1. LeAnn, Not using our sight for even a short time really makes us aware of how much we rely on it in comparison to our other senses. Blessings to you and your sweet granddaughter. Thanks for commenting.

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  13. To martial artists, (and I know you are one), the brain and the mind are distinct. It is incumbent upon all of us who wish to walk an easier path to train our minds, so our brains and bodies stay under control. Nice post.

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    1. JJ, Well explained. Sometimes I blur the distinction. Your explanation is very clear. And yes, mind training is key. Thanks for commenting.

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  14. Galen,
    what a great exercise, though I would be terrified to try it in the woods - I am wondering if you were alone? alone in familiar territory?

    Having Dyscalcula involves numbers and space. Many people who have it can not swim or drive because of the orientation. I had a very good driving instructor who recognized my problem and taught me how to compensate. Thus I can drive, but find it harder at night and extremely disorienting when attempting to find a new location - especially in a new city. I have to use the sun to navigate Portland and I still get lost nearly every time. I can not ski....and I could not go downstairs in the theaters in London 3 years ago - terrifying...I finally sat on my behind and scooted down.

    I reviewed a book last year called YOU ARE NOT YOUR BRAIN...fascinating look at all we know about brain research and how to change our minds or rethink...eliminate addictions. The brain is more like GOOGLE or BING search engines than what you are actually thinking. The heart is the more powerful responder.
    Great post....thank you for sharing. I have one more course to finish and then I will begin your book...the treat after the hard work....
    though I have learned once again my heart is not into marketing at all....

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    1. Patricia, I read that book last year (You Are Not Your Brain) on your recommendation and liked it very much. Thanks for sharing how you have learned to adjust to your situation.

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    2. Patricia, I forgot to answer your first questions. Yes, I was alone and in somewhat familiar territory.

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  15. I agree completely and have experienced the same effect as I practice my guitar. My brain gets used to a particular way of fingering a chord by placing the fingers down in a certain order.

    As an experiment my teacher told me to try placing the fingers down in reverse order: The last finger should be put down first, and so on. It is very, very hard to do. My brain fights any change in what it knows.

    Obviously, this tendency is why breaking out of our routine or patterns can be so difficult.

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    1. Bob, Yes, I know what you mean. I learn certain series of movements in tai chi and kung fu, and then I have to learn them leading with the opposite side. Brain confusion! I think these reversals are very good for keeping our brains agile along with our fingers and bodies. Thanks for commenting.

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  16. This is interesting, in the past months I have come to purposefully tell myself to 'listen to my instincts'. In a number of instances when I was aware of them and yet went ahead with what my brain said, I realized after I should have gone with my instincts. And so more and more, I try to 'let go' and listen to my other senses.

    It's hard, when the brain is mostly in the driver's seat for most of the issues we deal with. Be more observant and just experience and you can't do that when the brain is trying to direct. And I find that when I do it feels less complicated and the situation feels less 'noisy', if you get what I mean.

    God gave us other senses for a reason.. This is how I also think will work best when listening for God, using our senses more helps us hear him.

    BM

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    1. BM, I like your description of the situation feeling less noisy. I know exactly what you mean. We have all these senses--I'm going to use them more! Thanks for commenting.

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  17. I agree. I find my brain sending me to the wrong direction from time to time without realizing that it is the wrong conclusion. I try to be aware of it all the time and treat its advises with suspicion.
    Great post. So true ..

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    1. Miri, After this experience, my brain is a lot more suspect! Thanks for your comment.

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  18. Our brains do cause us to make mistakes! Your post reinforces why we need to supplement our mental processes with other sensory inputs -- sight, sounds, smell, etc.

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    1. Jeanette, Supplement--right. I didn't question what my brain thought when I headed off in the wrong direction. Thanks for commenting.

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  19. I always enjoy your insights. Every time it makes me think along the same wave path as you...and my brain immediately jumped out at me...(like it often does) and I realized that I wish I could keep up with my brain! Enjoy autumn has it arrives so sweetly, usually!

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    1. Karen, Brains can get a little defensive about this--they like to be right! We are having a gorgeous fall here in Oregon. Sunny days, nippy in the morning, warm in the afternoon, cool in the evening. Perfect. Thanks for commenting.

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  20. That's pretty interesting how you got turned around and your brain was in denial. LOL!! I agree...we are probably holding onto some erroneous ideas and beliefs simply because our brains have convinced us that it is so. It's a bit scary. LOL!

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    1. Leah, LOL is right! Thanks for your comment.

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  21. Do you think this happens a lot? I remember being at my sister-in-law's house up on Widbey Island. Her house faced south and my house in Oregon faced north. I never did get my bearing. I guess my brained at made the executive decision that ALL house must face north. Very strange indeed.

    b

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    1. b, I think it happens more than we know. We just don't catch our brains' assumptions all the time. Thanks for commenting.

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