Concentration and Flow

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by Michael W. Taft Have you ever been so involved in doing something that the rest of the world just kind of disappeared? Or time slowed down and even your sense of self disappeared? The great Brazilian soccer star Pele talked about an experience he had in which he felt: “…a strange calmness I hadn’t experienced in any of the other games. It was a type of euphoria; I felt I could run all day without tiring, that I could dribble through any of their teams or all of them, that I could almost pass through them physically. I felt I could not be hurt.”1 In our culture we think that concentration is difficult, effortful, tense, and no fun at all. Something that you have to work very hard to do against your will. Psychological research into what concentration is really like, however, paints a very different picture. Hungarian scientist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi looked at people in a state of high concentration, and he found that they were calm, relaxed, open, and felt very good. They wanted to continue concentrating as long as they could, and they wanted to return to it as often as possible. Even if the activity had … Read More

Downtime for the Stone Age Brain

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by Michael W. Taft Recently, I found a meditation retreat center in rural Massachusetts. Its super-affordable price included a room of my own, and delicious, organic hippy food. As I was moving to a new city anyway, I let go of my apartment, put my stuff in storage, and went off to the center for three months. Ninety two days of silent (absolutely no talking) meditation in a cabin in the woods. There were about thirty other people there, the size of your basic hunter-gatherer tribe in the Paleolithic. Because I have been meditating for decades, I had no trouble sinking into the groove of long sits for many hours a day, every day. But that was not all I did. The retreat center was in the woods, surrounded by trees, brush, and wildflowers. There were wild animals everywhere, as well as insects. Each day between hours of meditation, I would go for a walk and encounter birds, rabbits, raccoons, squirrels, turtles, as well as horses, dogs, and cows. Each evening I would hang out with a rafter of turkeys as they settled into the branches at sunset. I ran into an otter playing in a swamp, and once even … Read More

Flow Machine: Hacking the Human Brain for Healing and Wellbeing

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How one scientist is blending ancient philosophy with modern neuroscience to fight addiction by Michael W.  Taft Heart racing and fists shaking, I stood ready to fight. I was moments away from sparring with the top student in my karate class in Japan: a fast, coordinated monster who had defeated all challengers. But nanoseconds before the fight began, something shifted. Nervous anticipation disappeared and I snapped into total focus. The room, the other students, and everything else faded into irrelevance, leaving my awareness filled only with my opponent in his white gi. When the coach shouted, “Go!,” my body shot through the air like a lightning bolt, my fist connecting to my opponent’s ribs. Somehow I had scored a point against the best in the class, but paradoxically I didn’t care. All that mattered in that moment was that timeless flash when there was no sense of self, no me, just a body effortlessly flying through space toward the inevitable goal. That moment of flow remains one of the most powerful and beautiful things I have ever experienced. Which is why, 25 years later, I find myself sitting in a tight blue cap with a 120 electrical leads wired to … Read More