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Want to ‘live in the moment’? Impossible, researcher says

Ommmmmmm …

No matter how hard you try to stay focused on the present, your mind keeps racing. One moment, you're thinking about what you're going to make for dinner. The next, you're fretting about the meeting you had this morning with your boss.

Yoga and meditation instructors often call this jumble of ceaseless thoughts the "monkey mind," a phenomenon they believe may be remedied by staying in the moment. But now, scientists say they've identified the area of the brain responsible for such mental distractions. And they suggest the monkey mind can't be helped.

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"For a healthy person, it's impossible to live in the moment. It's a nice thing to say in terms of seizing the day and enjoying life, but our inner lives and experiences are much richer than that," neuroscientist Marc Sommer of Duke University, who conducted the research while at the University of Pittsburgh, said in a press release.

Dr. Sommer's research, conducted with neuroscientist Paul Middlebrooks and published in the journal Neuron, zeroed in on neurons in the frontal cortical areas of the brain, particularly the supplementary eye field (SEF).

"If we think we're going to receive something good, neuronal activity tends to be high in SEF. People want good things in life, and to keep getting those good things, they have to compare what's going on now versus the decisions made in the past," Dr. Sommer said.

All that brain activity, mulling past and future events, may not be a bad thing, he suggests. "You need that continuity of thought. We are constantly keeping decisions in mind as we move through life, thinking about other things."

But just because it's difficult to live in the moment doesn't mean we shouldn't try. There's plenty of research that suggests mindfulness meditation, which focuses on the here and now, offers a multitude of health benefits.

What do you think? Is it impossible to truly seize the day?

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About the Author

Wency Leung is a general assignment reporter for the Life section. Before joining The Globe in early 2010, she has worked as a reporter in Vancouver, Prague, and Phnom Penh. More


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