There are different modes of thinking about ourselves. One is narrative.
My name is Rebecca. I grew up in the Midwest…
Another is experiential.
Knees throb and heart rate increases while climbing these stairs.
When we relate to ourselves through our stories, through narrative, this way of thinking activates the medial prefrontal cortex region of the brain.
When we relate to ourselves through our moment-to-moment experience, this way of thinking activates the somatosensory cortex and right insula regions of the brain.
Scientific studies reveal a difference in the wiring of these regions of the brains of people who meditate versus those who do not meditate. Those who do not meditate have strong neural pathways that connect the medial prefrontal cortex to the somatosensory cortex and right insula. This means that if a person does not meditate, they are prone to narrating an experience. They are prone to telling a story about an experience. On the other hand, people who meditate have medial prefrontal cortex that is not so strongly wired to the somatosensory cortex and right insula. And the somatosensory cotex and right insula have more rigorous activity. This means people who meditate are more likely to experience an experience free of the habit of delving into a story about that experience.
Medial prefrontal cortex activity is linked to self-evaluation and analysis. The somatosensory cotex and right insula convey information about present moment awareness. One benefit of practicing mindfulness and meditation is that it preserves space between these two regions of the brain so that a person who is having an experience can have an authentic experience rather than filtering, embellishing, or getting caught up in that experience through a story. Meditation changes brain patterns so that moment-to-moment sensory awareness and activation of the right insula increases.
Think of all the stories in the universe!
Spiritual awakening gives us stories.
Religion gives us stories.
The development of saints, sages, and elevated beings are stories.
All our psychoses and neuroses are stories, stories, stories.
Stories have been both nourishing and misguiding us for ages!
The medial prefrontal cortex of the human brain is highly developed and sophisticated. That’s something to celebrate, for sure. But what are the drawbacks? One that I can think of is that when we experience other people, we are prone to telling ourselves stories about them when the interaction would probably benefit more from fully experiencing another being in the moment.
Sure we can listen to and embrace stories. I love stories. But then perhaps let’s not be so consumed by stories but pay closer attention to experience to allow that part of our brain to thrive, too. Allow experience to be experiences. Allow a story to be only that–a story. Let’s develop a right insula that is as sophisticated and utilized as our medial prefrontal cortex. Then let’s see where we will be as a human species.
Every living human being embodies moment-to-moment experience that is one expression of the universe that is a universe unto itself. Considering things in this way fills me with awe. Just think, one simple interaction with another being can be like making a profound discovery, visiting a distant planet, or locating a hidden treasure. Interacting with another is that profound. Interacting with another is that precious.
What unknown regions of the brain might we be able to access if we are to interact with one another free of stories about one another and instead experience one another in each moment full of innocent curiosity and naked wonder?