Mindfulness and Beliefs: Irrationally Yours

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I can't help it--I am a confirmed neuroscience geek.

So I was very excited to attend the fifth brain lecture in a series (yes, I bought season tickets!) sponsored by Oregon Health Sciences University. You see, the guest speaker was Dr. Michael Gazzaniga, the father of cognitive neuroscience, and his topic was The Ethical Brain--which happens to be the title of a book he will publish this June.

He has written over 20 books, and in his work as the director of the Center for Cognitive Neuroscience at Dartmouth College, he continues to conduct research on how the brain enables the mind.

Dr. Gazzaniga believes there is nothing more fascinating than the mind, and he is exploring how we develop, hang on to, and change our beliefs. (Do you see why I love him?)

Mindfulness allows us to step back and watch our thoughts. By doing so, we can develop a clearer perspective regarding our beliefs and our attachment to them.

In his lecture, Dr. Gazzaniga discussed the power of the left brain. Remember, that is the side that handles logic and language, but the interesting part is how those two functions work together, continually creating words to justify our behavior.

Left => logic + language => lists

My favorite research illustrating this concept is the "scar face" experiment, in which a participant is fitted with a fake facial scar. The participant is told that they will be interviewed in order to see how the visible facial deformity might influence the way they are treated.

Then something sneaky happens: the scar is surreptitiously removed, and the participant enters the interview thinking the scar is still visible.

Right after the interview, in virtually every case, the participant is full of all kinds of examples of how the interviewer behaved negatively due to the scar. When viewing a video showing the interviewer only, the participant can point to several incidents which seemed to him to indicate distaste or prejudice-- "See? He's staring at the scar!" etc.

Even after being shown images that clearly indicate that the scar was not visible, the participant is likely to persist in his belief that the interviewer was focusing on it.

We all have invisible scars (irrational beliefs) about the way we are treated by others--and why. Our left brains are working overtime to reinforce our beliefs. We get so entangled in these thoughts that our entire view of ourselves and the world is strangled by them.

By paying attention to the language in our heads, we can learn to recognize the beliefs that might be sabotaging us. Observing our thoughts gives us a chance to step back and see the left brain in action.

Use mindfulness to see your invisible scars. Watch your knee-jerk responses whenever you feel slighted by someone, and look for the list of rationales that your left brain has been crafting. Somewhere in there is the kernel of your persistent belief.

Watch and listen. You don't have to be a neuroscience geek to find that fascinating.

Maya Talisman Frost is a mind masseuse in Portland, Oregon. Through her company, Real-World Mindfulness Training, she teaches eyes-wide-open ways to get calm, clear and creative. To subscribe to her free weekly ezine, the Friday Mind Massage, please visit

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