This Is Your Brain On Mindfulness

During recent travels, a walk on the beach had me looking at seaweed as a visual metaphor for the brain…


Much like a pinball machine, the mind bounces from one thought to the next: positive, negative, past, present, future.
Much like a pinball machine, the mind bounces from one thought to the next: positive, negative, past, present, future.

Psychiatrist Edward Hallowell, MD, director of the Hallowell Center for Cognitive and Emotional Health tells us that:

“People shift their attention from one task to the next in rapid succession [commonly referred to as multi-tasking]. This reduces the quality of the work on any one task because you’re ignoring it for milliseconds at a time.”


Separating out a single thought strand, mindfulness is present moment awareness.
Separating out a single thought strand, mindfulness is present moment awareness.

An article in Psychology Today defines mindfulness as:

“A state of active, open attention on the present. When you’re mindful, you observe your thoughts and feelings from a distance, without judging them good or bad. Instead of letting your life pass you by, mindfulness means living in the moment and awakening to experience.”

Do you live in the moment?


66 thoughts on “This Is Your Brain On Mindfulness

  1. Hello Laurie,

    Love your seaweed photography and the analogies today.

    Think of you often.

    Warmest wishes,


  2. Hi Laurie

    I have many different modes of being.

    Some of them approximate the “mindfulness” mode.

    When I am programming, I can be so fixated on the problem at hand that I completely lose awareness of everything else, including time.

    About 35 years ago I spent several years practising following many conversations at once (without engaging in any of them, just simple awareness). With practice I found I could follow up to around 24 simultaneous conversations in a restaurant (provided I was by myself and not trying to talk to or engage with anyone in particular).

    Then there is the state you describe, of simple awareness of the flow of words, ideas, impressions, impulses. Observing to context of the field within which the river of the mind flows. This too brings some interesting experiences.

    When I was training for deep diving (about 40 years ago), I would practice holding my breath and reducing my heart rate. After about 3 years of several hours a day I was able to hold my breath for over 7 minutes (in a completely relaxed state), or 3 1/2 minutes while swimming under water. Part of that training was getting used to the sorts of awareness one can maintain in very low oxygen environments. I would practice square breathing at 55 secs a side, in slowly for 55, hold 55, out slowly 55, hold 55. An hour of that each night produced some very unusual states of awareness, very little happening in mind, very little oxygen present. Could get heart rate down to 22 beats per minute after about 15 minutes of that. Couldn’t do much other than breath and count.

    Some of the other meditative techniques I have tried have given some interesting experiences.

    I am now very confident that awareness is a product of a software entity existing in a software model of reality (software upon software within the amazing squishy machine that is the human brain).

    Fascinating thing, this experience of being, modelling ourselves within our own model of reality (which seems to be the only experiential reality we can ever know).

  3. Interesting visuals here, Laurie! I think few people who live in our modern connected world live in a state of mindfulness. I think they (and I) might be “in the moment” at any particular moment, but it is fleeting. I do try to take time to stop and experience things–that beautiful sky or tree–or simply to take some time to stop and think. When I do to my spin class in a little while, I will try to just be experiencing that.

  4. My most mindful moments come after 4pm and on the weekends. I don’t have time to be mindful at work! Sorry state, isn’t it? If I slowed down, I feel like I would get passed by. We are such a fast-moving train at work. I am tired…..

  5. Love the seaweed analogy Laurie! I am so grateful to be able to teach yoga every day. Its brings me home again and again.
    Yoga is like a rake for that big bunch of seaweed!

  6. I’m glad our brains are set up with long and short-term memory connections, so they may look like the scrambled jumble in the tangled seaweed, not altogether a bad thing.

    However, when I go to my Pilates class this morning, my brain will go into mindfulness mode, thinking about breathing, body postures. Interestingly, sometimes my brain floats into problem-solving mode then and, voila, a new idea pops up unbidden or a solution to something I’ve been grappling with.

    Your are blessed with a metaphorical mind, Laurie, and you challenge your readers to stop, think, and appreciate. What a gift!

    • Marian — Previous responders were going to spin class and yoga. Now you’re going to Pilates. I love this action-oriented group!!

      Isn’t it interesting how our brain sometimes shifts into problem-solving mode and then—bam!—we’ve got a solution.

  7. Laurie, Your photos work beautifully to illustrate the message. Oh to be mindful every moment of our lives. That ball of multitasking makes my head hurt!

  8. Sometimes I am mindful. Too often the brain is easily distracted, going hither, thither and yon. The problem with that is that when it goes thither, it forgets hither, and when it goes yon. . . You get the picture. My world is populated by half completed thoughts and things.

  9. I love the way you discover the profound in the ordinary. Seaweed as a metaphor for the brain. Mind blowing and fun.
    I’m a 7 on the Enneagram personality styles referred to by Hudson and Risso as “The Enthusiast.” And I’m a Gemini. I pursue the new, the intriguing and the creative.over the years I’ve modified stimulus seeking. Being mindful, meditating, focusing on the present offer the antidote to frenzy. And I understand mindfulness is healthy for the brain organ.
    Thanks Laurie

  10. I am mindful when writing my mystery novels and personal essays. I need to be more mindful when doing other things as my mind looks like the scrambled picture. Sad commentary on today. Often I wish to go back to what I call the grey ages. And, no, I’m not calling them the good old days – they had problems. But not this technological rush-rush world we now live in, if you could call it living.

  11. Thoughtful
    I am cleaning out files before our move. Very repetitive and yet an easy task to hold onto thinking and be still. (Third day with no leg brace – to move foot correctly takes total mindfulness as I walk my mile)

    • Patricia — Cleaning out files makes me think of the “wax on, wax on” exercise in the movie “Karate Kid” movie.

      I’m so glad you’re on day three of no leg brace. Progress! 🙂

  12. I have many mindful moments each day Laurie. Then there are those times when the first tangle of seaweed is a much more accurate view of what is going on inside that brain of mine. The shifting between these two states takes conscious effort and I have tricks – focusing on my breath, having a cup of herbal tea, taking a stroll or taking my camera for a walk, having a nap, meditating, sitting beside a fire, going down to the edge of the sea or even just imagining these moments for a bit. There are more of course but these are some of my favourite transition activities.

  13. I’m with Terrill! Going back and forth between the two is a challenge. My natural inclination is toward ever greater confusion and a knot of seaweed! Creative excitement and anticipation wads me up, once I move into expression mode it smooths me out and calms me down. Kind of like winding up a pitching arm and then letting it fly. And in the same regard, multitasking in mindless areas such as the internet knots me up without an outlet for untangling! (I love your seaweed!)

    • Dorothy — Your pitching metaphor is a perfect description for the difference between “creative excitement and anticipation” (winding up) and “expression mode” (letting it fly). Thank you for sharing your wisdom here today 🙂

  14. I would like to say yes , always but I know it would be a total lie . I do practice mindfulness and it works for me when I’m in a good place . Unfortunately when I’m in a bad place it don’t work …and that’s when I need it most. I do keep trying I have faith in it .
    Cherry X

  15. Laurie, the Seaweed photo of the Brain gave me pause and then I was pretty much convinced that it was the simplest and best visualization of a brain outside the inside of a computer. There are times when multi-tasking is called for but I would much rather be able to laser-focus my attention on the task at hand. As you have experienced yourself, once you have entered the “Zone”, a different sort of awareness takes over and time as we know it, say as a daily, hourly schedule, ceases to exist. That for me is clear mindfulness, pure concentration being utilized towards a goal. Great photos!

  16. Nice post with an Interesting analogy ! As for me, I daily experience very absorbing Mindful Moments – for Fours non-stop while doing my morning SWIMMING laps after laps and for Eight hours reading some interesting Books !

  17. I don’t know. If you know that you live in the moment, your mind is fooling you. If you know that you don’t live in the moment, at that moment you might indeed live in that moment 🙂

  18. love the post….am I living in the here and now, trying to make every moment count, enjoying the sunsets and enjoying life to the limit I wish to take it too….I love the seaweed thoughts….the one strand is actually a beautiful analogy…..thanks kat

  19. Laurie, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t but I’d like to think that at least some of the times I am thinking ahead of ramifications and of trying to reach a goal. Certainly is life we must do what Robin Williams’ Professor John Keating proposes in DEAD POETS SOCIETY: “Seize the day!”

    Terrific post!

  20. This really is a mindful entry. Yes Laurie B., I try to live life with mindfulness. there is so much to be absorbed.

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