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C O U R S E 
Buddhism and Modern Psychology
Robert Wright, Princeton University
C O U R S E   L E C T U R E 
The Default Mode Network
Notes taken on October 19, 2014 by Edward Tanguay
much recent research has been about the brain and meditation
increases gamma wave activity
increases white matter in the brain
it's difficult to know what findings are significant for you or to even understand what these mean
one finding is more meaning:
when people meditate, the default mode network gets less and less active
default mode network
active when we are not doing anything in particular
usually when we are not going anything in particular, we are actually doing quite a bit
thinking about ourselves
regretting something in the past
worrying about something in the future
this network of brain regions seems to get activated when we are doing these self-referential processing tasks
basically your mind wandering
it takes your mind somewhere other than where you are
in a spacial sense
you won't be focused on your immediate environment
in a temporal sense
studies where people whose minds are wandering, when they are interrupted, are usually thinking of something in the past or the future
when you mindfully mediate, e.g. follow the phrase "be here now", the areas of the brain that make up the default mode network becomes quieter
when you meditate, the default mode network does not always surrender quietly, thoughts keep coming up
the thought of an e-mail
something that needs to be done
any tangential idea
these thoughts are the develop mode network asserting itself
it's job is to take advantage of free time
if you are not engaged in some task that requires focus
playing a sport
writing a report
looking at someone and wandering if they are someone you know
calming down the default mode network is a necessary step to reach a state of mindfulness meditation
there is a second sense in which you have to escape self-involvement
a true test of mindfulness would be to think of someone you don't like and see if you can look at the feeling of dislike and not get caught up in it, not let it carry your train of thought away
it's a common aspiration to carry mindfulness out of the meditation hall into the real world
the attitude of non-reactivity
one reason this is hard is that life is full of things you do react to
studies indicate that people have no problem assigning affective characteristics to objects, even seemingly neutral objects such as:
refrigerator, sock, cloud
our minds will actually begin wandering on these concepts connecting them to other thoughts, this is the job of the default network mode
however, the things that occupy our awareness are generally those things that we feel ethically strong about
the brain is designed to get us to focus on things that matter to us
try to pay attention to things you don't ordinarily pay attention to
you'll find that it is easier to appraise these things more calmly
our brain colors the world based on what's good for us and what's bad for us
to try to live without this coloring is a practice in living mindfully, to get a critical distance from things that mean much to you
but the paradox in seeing highly-emotional issues in your life mindfully is that the point is not to look at them at a distance but to look at them up close, but not be affected by them
with the approach that you are just observing them
but not being affected by them
there isn't pleasure be found in non-attachment to things, but an intensity of experience
the moment of enjoying a piece of food without looking forward to the next bite
the heightened experience of beauty in the grain of a piece of wood
the mind is like water: only when perfectly still will it reflect its surroundings, sharply and accurately
during mindful meditation, you get a sense that your feelings are not real