High on the Present: Mindfulness Meets Mind-Altering
Can psychedelics help us live more presently?
In today’s fast-paced world, many struggle to let go of distractions and fully engage with the world. According to a Harvard statistic, nearly 47% of our waking hours are spent distracted.
“Unlike other animals, human beings spend a lot of time thinking about what is not going on around them, contemplating events that happened in the past, might happen in the future, or will never happen at all.”
Participants in the study reported feeling less happy when their minds wandered — even though the thoughts weren’t necessarily negative. This suggests that the wandering mind is an unhappy mind.
The remedy? Learn to live in the moment.
Obviously, this is much easier said than done, and the real benefits come from daily mindfulness practice — but some experts suggest psychedelics can serve as an invaluable tool for getting to a deeper state of awareness in less time.
Once there, simple meditations and other mindfulness practices may help us maintain this state of consciousness long-term.
In this article, we’ll explore the art of mindfulness for living in the moment and delve into how psychedelics can help us fully engage with the here and now for a more meaningful life.
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Why Does The Mind Wander?
It turns out our brains are wired to spend a lot of time thinking about things outside of the present moment.
Scientists call the part of the brain responsible for these ruminating thought patterns the “default mode network” — or the “DMN” for short.
The DMN is one of several large-scale, distributed brain networks that work together to perform a specific type of cognitive task.
The DMN serves as a sort of “mental playground,” allowing us to have internal dialog, reflect on memories, plan for the future, and even engage in creative thinking.
It’s what we use to define our sense of self and contemplate our place in the world. Psychologists call this internal dialog the “ego.”
However, while the DMN is helpful for all these functions, it’s also a bit of a double-edged sword.
If we’re not conscious, we can get stuck in a cycle of negative thoughts, like ruminating on the past or worrying about the future. These fixations of our inner world can make it difficult to live in the present and enjoy the world and the people around us.
What Does It Mean To Be Present?
For many, it’s a struggle to have the mind and body occupy the same space simultaneously.
To be present means to be fully engaged and aware of your current environment and experiences, which requires letting go of tangential thoughts about the past or future and redirecting your attention solely to the present moment.
It sounds so simple, yet it’s a difficult state to achieve — and even harder to maintain.
However, with practice, living in the moment can become a habit that leads to a more fulfilling life.
“Mindfulness is awareness that arises through paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgementally.” — Jon Kabat-Zinn
How Psychedelics May Help
Psychedelic drugs like LSD (lysergic acid diethylamide), psilocybin, DMT (dimethyltryptamine), and mescaline profoundly affect the brain, altering one’s perception of time, space, and thought. The effects of this can result in a wide range of experiences that can be pleasurable, insightful, and even frightening.
These psychedelic drugs are currently being researched for their use in psychedelic-assisted therapy to address difficult-to-treat mental health conditions such as anxiety, depression, addiction, and PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder).
Most notably, these substances have been shown through fMRI studies to reduce activity in the default mode network. But at the same time, other brain regions involved in sensory processing and emotional regulation increase, which allows the mind to become more fluid and receptive to the present moment — freeing itself from habitual thought patterns.
This may explain why it’s so common for people taking psychedelics to experience a surge of creativity, a profound sense of unity with something greater than oneself, as well as a deep appreciation for life and a renewed sense of purpose — at least temporarily.