The Mind’s ‘I’
In Mindful Work, financial journalist and longtime
meditator David Gelles recounts how the tables
were turned when he traveled to New Haven, Connecticut, to interview neuroscientist and addiction
psychiatrist Judson Brewer, M.D., Ph.D. Brewer
and his associates wanted to study the brain of
someone who had thousands of hours of meditation
under his belt, and since Gelles fit the bill, the interview was put on hold while he was hooked up to an
On this day, Brewer and his team were looking at activity
in the posterior cingulate cortex, an area in the middle
of the brain that forms a central node in the “default
network,” a circuit that activates when we’re daydreaming,
dwelling on the past, and generally lost in self-referential
thinking. In those moments when we’re so absorbed in
thinking about our own lives that we don’t notice what’s
going on around us, the default network has taken over.
When my posterior cingulate cortex was very active, I
was likely to be mind wandering and telling myself stories
about my own life. When it was dormant, I was more
likely to be mindful. The hypothesis, Brewer told me later,
was that when the posterior cingulate cortex goes quiet,
people experience what he called “effortless awareness.”
“It’s not just concentration,” he said, “but a quality of nonclinging experience.”
To begin the experiment, I was asked to practice mindfulness for 10 minutes. I just sat still, noticing my breath.
While I was meditating, Brewer and his team fiddled with
the equipment to make sure they were getting a stable
signal. Then the real tests began. On the computer screen
in front of me, a series of words flashed, one every few
seconds. It was my job to determine whether they could
appropriately describe me: WELL-MEANING. ABSENT-MINDED. COURTEOUS. ANGRY. As each word appeared on
the screen, I had a few seconds to make a snap judgment.
Was I courteous? Was I absent-minded? Was I an angry
person? As I later learned, it didn’t matter whether the
word described me or not. What mattered was that I was
judging, telling a story about myself, inhabiting my mind
and not my body. As I asked myself each question, deciding what kind of a person I was or wasn’t, I reinforced the
story of my self. And with each little burst of self-referential thinking, my posterior cingulate cortex lit up.
Excerpted from Mindful Work: How Meditation Is Changing Business From the
Inside Out, by David Gelles. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. © 2015.
effective decision-makers, underscor-
ing the strong connection between
mindfulness and leadership.
Mindfulness and wellness initiatives
are also debuting at large-scale industry
meetings. PCMA Convening Leaders
2016, held in Vancouver last month,
featured a “Being Your Best” track that
included sessions on mindful eating,
stress management, and productivity.
Drop-in demonstrations of simple exercise, meditation, and relaxation techniques in the PCMA Learning Lounge
provided a low-key counterpoint to the
formal mindfulness sessions. Attendees
could also sign up for early-morning
yoga classes and private wellness-coaching appointments.
IMEX America, held last October
in Las Vegas, offered yoga and meditation classes. Attendees could also take
a break from the trade-show floor in
a self-contained meditation room.