The needs of our mental body vary enormously between individuals. We typically spend 5% – 15% of our time in predominantly mental activities (and this is usually the DMN rather than the CEN). People with office desk jobs require active conscious thought processes, but these can often be mundane and repetitive, tasks which the DMN easily learn (we “switch off“) rather than exercising our higher mental abilities. This results in you feeling mentally tired and dissatisfied with your efforts.
The lower mental functions can be stimulated in the following ways. The higher mental functions will be considered in the healthy spiritual body.
Concrete thought – some suggestions:
- Reading, writing, writing letters or typing emails to friends.
- Crossword puzzles, Soduku, word games, scrabble, etc.
- Study and research. Surfing the web trying to get answers to the question “I want to know …“.
- Computer programming.
- Many hobbies will satisfy the need of curiosity and creativity.
Watching TV generally doesn’t work. Some good thought provoking documentaries might, but for many people watching TV is a time to switch off, which is back to DMN territory. We don’t need to exercise our DMN as we are already very good at that!
If you want to read some good books (not trashy fiction) to exercise your concrete thought, try some of these:
- The Dialogues of Plato
- The Sonnets and the Complete Works of William Shakespeare
- Dante’s Diving Comedy
- The Romance of the Rose
- Pensees by Blaise Pascal
- Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey
- Plutarch’s Lives (Parallel Lives)
- Ramayana and Mahabharata (Indian epics)
- Milton’s Paradise Lost
- Maruc Aurelius, Meditations
- Bertrand Russell, A History of Western Philosophy
- Sogyal Rinpoche, The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying
- Legends of King Arthur
- Tolstoy, War and Peace
- St John of the Cross, The Dark Night of the Soul
- Autobiography of a Yogi by Paramahansa Yogananda
- If you get the 54 volume set “Great Books of the Western World” you will have access to a number of titles above plus Thomas Aquinas, Chaucer, Descartes, Spinoza, Adam Smith (economics), Kant, Dostoevsky, William James, Freud, etc.
Abstract thought – exercising your imagination and creative thinking abilities in a positive way (rather than simply day-dreaming). Some suggestions:
- Appreciation of art and beauty and music. Going to the theatre.
- Creating art – painting, sculpture, etc where you are creating something new.
- Technology expo’s displaying new designs and inventions can help to stimulate these thought processes.
Commit poetry to memory – this is extremely beneficial. It used to be a standard part of high school curriculum but seems to have dropped out of favour. Not only is it good for exercising the memory, but the judicious choice of subject matter can be useful to cheer you up when you are down. I believe this was an instruction or recommendation made by Lewis Carroll, that everyone should commit to memory 10 to 20 examples of prose to get you through the tough times. Song lyrics or singing works as well. Playing musical instruments can exercise the physical, emotional and mental bodies all at the same time.
Keep a notebook – many people find it helpful to keep a personal notebook in which to write down significant discoveries made during the day or jot down good ideas that you have had. There was a time when many people kept a daily diary. This is a similar idea, but with notes specific to what you are thinking and feeling, particularly with respect to spiritual matters. It is good practice to review your notebook or diary in the evening before retiring to bed.