Almost 400 years ago René Descartes coined the famous phrase “I think, therefore I am”. His ideas have played an important role in the Scientific Revolution, and largely affected the way we think today.
A couple of thousands of years earlier in India, the ancient sages came to a quite different understanding. They surely did not phrase it exactly like this, but their message can be read as: When I don’t think, I really am. Their idea very much goes hand in hand with what modern neuroscience says about optimal experience and performance.
Today this state of really being is commonly referred to as Flow. But a dear child has many names, being ‘in the zone’, ‘runner's high’, and ‘peak experiences’ among others. In eastern traditions where the nature of experience has been explored to a much deeper level for a longer time, there are more precise definitions for it. For example, the Sanskrit word Samadhi (समाधी) is known to have several levels to it. Another eastern name for it often used in the world of martial arts, is the expression Mushin in Japanese or Wuxin in Chinese (無心), literally meaning “no mind”.
These states, despite having some differences in definition and level, have one thing in common. Certain parts of the brain are not active when you are in them. Overactivity in the same parts of the brain is linked to depression and anxiety. Information overflow is a potent contributor to high activity in these parts of the brain. Thus, it tends to be hard for people to enter even low levels of states like these nowadays.
The intellectual thinking Descartes praised has helped us achieve enormous progress in science, technology, and the development of society. Fantastic achievements for the survival of mankind. However, not especially useful to create happy and fulfilled people. To enhance our experience, it is crucial to start looking beyond the reasoning mind.