Mindfulness and the Leading Edge

Mindfulness recognizes most of the past is forgotten and the future is unknowable. The mean is found in the leading edge of the present.

The Forgotten Past

Our minds are made to forget. A perfect memory would overwhelm our cognitive circuits with minutiae.

"More memory is not generally better... Forgetting prevents the sheer mass of life's detail from critically slowing down the retrieval of relevant experience and so impairing the mind's ability to abstract, infer and learn."

Gert Gigerenzer, Gut Feelings

A perfect memory would make us too literal, too rational, too predictable. Enslaved to our past. Unable to navigate the future as it unfolds.

Yet, when we look back there are exquisite memories in rich detail. How can that be if so much is forgotten?

Our brains play tricks on us with those compressed memory threads.

"When we want to remember our experience, our brains quickly reweave the tapestry by fabricating‒not by actually retrieving‒the bulk of the information we experience as a memory. This fabrication happens so quickly and effortlessly that we have the illusion that the entire thing was in our heads the entire time."

Dan Gilbert, Stumbling On Happiness

And what does the brain use to fabricate our long-term memories?

What we are experiencing in the present.

The Unpredictable Future

Likewise, predictions of the future tend to be extrapolations of what is occurring in the present.

What gets left out of all predictions is the unpredictable‒the unexpected events, the surprises. It is these surprises that often have the greatest impact on the future. They are the game changers that can swamp the incremental improvements and current trends.

The Leading Edge of the Present

Our past memories and future dreams are heavily skewed by our present experience.

How important it is, then, to fill our present lives with wonder and variety. To live The Good Life.

Our brains are best suited for navigating the adjacent possible. Our ability to connect apparently unrelated items to come up with novel solutions is remarkable. Such skill is what allows us to adapt and thrive in the future as it unfolds without having to predict it.

There is a line that lies between the present and the future that continuously moves. It is the leading edge of the present. It is fusoku furi, the Buddhist mean.

The leading edge is in the present, yet it is not. It is in the future, yet it is not. It is constantly flowing. Mindfulness is learning to ride that flow.

-J.D. Stein | February 2014

Camus National Wildlife Refuge

Camus National Wildlife Refuge ‒ Hamer, Idaho ‒ February 2014

"In order to not leave any traces, when you do something you should do it with your whole body and mind...You should do it completely like a good bonfire. You should not be a smokey bonfire.

You should burn yourself completely. If you do not burn yourself completely, a trace of yourself will be left in what you do. You will have something remaining that is not completely burned out. Zen activity is activity which is completely burned out."

‒ Shunryu Suzuki, Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind