Charles Bukowski wrote these words at the opening to his poem, Air and Light and Space and Time nearly 30 years ago. And it’s a fun poem; dry, caustic, chatty, typical Bukowski really, taking irreverent aim at the ways we kid ourselves into not doing the stuff we need to get done. For most of us, “something has always been in the way” remains a variation on a familiar theme.
We’re prone to distraction. Focus doesn’t come easy. The interesting thing is that part of the reason may be down to our failure to properly rest and refresh our brain.
In the West, ever since New York cardiologist Dr Herbert Benson began studying the effects of mindful meditation back in the 1960s, the practice has grown increasingly popular. With benefits ranging from reduced stress to improved problem solving, it’s not hard to see why.
However, a growing body of evidence is beginning to point to meditation not being for everyone. For some, the practice is simply too still and internalised.
But what if we could leverage all of the benefits of meditation (and a few others to boot) without having to develop the mental discipline of a Tibetan monk?
Cricket has one day internationals.
Poetry has haikus.
Cuisine has deli bars.
And now, meditation has Quests – short, playful meditative exercises designed to draw you out of your mind and into your body, your senses.
But, how and why do they work, exactly? And how do we go about designing them?
What the science says…
The brain’s alpha waves (so named because they were the first type of brain activity to be observed) were first discovered by German neurologist Hans Berger back in the 1920s. Over the decades following his discovery, these calm brain rhythms have come to be associated with improved wellbeing and creativity; and just so happen to be the brainwaves that dominate during periods of relaxed wakefulness, especially when our eyes are closed i.e. when our imagination is aroused.
These alpha waves inhibit habitual associations in our brain, allowing us to become open to more inventive ways of thinking. In the words of cognitive neuroscientist and lectuer, Dr Caroline Di Bernardi-Luft:
“If we need to generate alternative uses of a glass, first we must inhibit our past experience which leads us to think of a glass as a container.”
In short, we need to switch off parts of our mind and let go of convention in order to develop more ingenious insights.
What’s intriguing is the capacity to do so can actually be stimulated, primarily through daydreaming and mindful meditation.
Quests are a combination of both.
How to create a Quest
Tapping into the considerable body of research on daydreaming, mindfulness and creativity, we create guided reveries; pathways of thought designed to disrupt the mind’s routines and lead it away from the familiar.
Of course, with the intention being to both relax and disrupt, a delicate balance needs to be struck in how Quests are put together. Stepping from meetings and strategy reviews into deep meditative exercises could easily be too jarring a shift for many.
With our Quests, we craft restful but perspective-shifting soundscapes. The music, the rhythm of the words, the cadence of the speech – all of it is shaped toward a kind of sonic euphony. Quests aren’t just meditative exercises, they’re poetry to walk to; and in some instances, simply sit to.
The reason? Research shows that listening to poetic language, or a vocal delivery that incorporates lyrical or rhythmic speech, can trigger the brain’s reward circuitry. It initiates the kind of neurophysiological response that allows us to feel empowered or comforted i.e., the ideal headspace for entering novel experiences and trying new things.
Beginning with a routinized opening, Quests aim to help the listener move away from their familiar mental climate into a kind of active mindfulness, calming the gamma-waves associated with work tasks and alerting the brain’s dorsal attentional network.
They provide a kind of amuse-bouche for the mind, helping the listener to relax before leading them to Frost’s proverbial fork in the road. From here, you can more easily diverge from the mind’s well travelled paths into alpha wave territory, allowing the brain to be replenished and primed for creativity.
“Taking a less travelled route is needed for thinking creatively,” says Professor Joydeep Bhattacharya of Goldsmiths, University of London. Being guided to discard the familiar, and then engage our imagination (i.e. the brain’s default mode network), prepares the brain to do exactly that.
How and why to try a Quest
Aside from the fact Quests are just fun, incorporating them into your day allows you to experience the proven benefits of mindfulness and daydreaming. So, here’s when, why and how best to Quest…
When you need to solve a problem
That’s right. By now there’s plenty of evidence to demonstrate how our capacity to solve problems and come up with fresh ideas is enhanced by the very neural processes Quests are designed to activate. So… got a logistical knot to resolve? A creative block to push through? Take 10-15 minutes away from what you’re doing to try a Quest. You’ll return to your desk having jumpstarted your brain’s creative capacities. So, if you want to get creative, get Questing.
Rest your brain
Yep. The cognitive load of working on screens isn’t to be sniffed at. ‘Zoom fatigue’ is a real thing. But so is the general uptick in ‘digital intensity’ we experience when doing knowledge work as a whole. Which means finding constructive ways to refresh the mind and rest the brain is increasingly important (and can even improve decision making). Quests just so happen to leverage some powerful practices proven to aid the brain in doing exactly that.
Increased resilience, empathy and reduced stress – along with a boost to overall mental wellbeing – are all benefits associated with the exercises Quests are designed to invite you into. Which means alongside powering up your cognitive resources, you’ll also improve your mood.
So, with Quests crafted to suit a variety of spaces (in nature, indoors, or in the city) all you need is 10 minutes away from your desk and a pair of earphones.
So, what’s stopping you?
Block some time, and take your first Quest by clicking right… here.