Here is why some theoreticians call us storytelling animals…
You’ve probably encountered everybody, from life coaches, youtube vloggers to your next-door neighbor telling you you should be more mindful, more present, in the moment. They have practiced mindfulness and now they are happier and less anxious than before.
But what if what made us human and developed our human conscious in the first place was the ability to be absent? Or to not be real? To travel through memory and create simulations, and, ultimately, imagine?
Your Mind is a Time Traveler and He Isn’t Here
Cognitive neuroscientists have found evidence that our brains are little time machines. We constantly revisit our past, and like time travelers, mess with this past, revise it and remember it differently. We also have the ability to visit the future, imagine and play out different scenarios.
So most of the time your brain is taking a walk down the memory lane, daydreaming and wandering off. This ability is called chromesthesia and is considered a form of consciousness that may be the reason homo sapiens even became a sapiens. Here’s how.
The Evolution of Anxious Mind
Scientists are arguing whether our consciousness developed thanks to our ability to recollect memory and simulate future situations before we experience them in person. This is a genius way of survival. We remember what works and doesn’t work and try to imagine the best possible path in the face of the unknown based on what we know.
We “had no time” to enjoy the present moment in order to survive. This is where anxiety comes in. Basically, the part of our brain in charge of decision-making is the one producing anxiety. So when we can’t decide on something or avoid taking action – we become anxious.
This is why so many people today have anxiety problems. Time has drastically changed and they are faced with unencountered problems. So the Eastern mindfulness practice comes along to soothe the stressed mind into a state of naivety, like saying “you don’t have to be anywhere or become anything, just be here”.
Can We Be Mindful and Conscious?
But can we be here and be ourselves? Our notion of subjectivity is largely, if not entirely, due to our timely consciousness, the feeling of subjective time or subjective memory. We create our identity and sense of self in the way we retell our past experiences and create our future self.
This is why telling us to “be in the moment and be who we are” is impossible, because we need to become who we are, and we are always in this phase of imagining and becoming when it comes to identity.
However, this doesn’t mean that mindfulness practice can’t be helpful when we get tied up in rumination and can’t escape the stress that awaits us tomorrow. Even though anxiety isn’t bad per se, as it shows us we have a problem to solve, sometimes we are too resistant to this imperative or can’t do anything about it that mindfulness really helps us cool off and ease into change.
Why We Love Fiction
Some theoreticians even call us storytelling animals. Human fascination with stories has been around ever since the beginning probably, however rudimentary. This is closely connected to our ability to recollect and retell from memory, imagine, and pass on that knowledge.
So fiction is a kind of external memory, stored and neatly wrapped up in various narratives. Processes followed in fMRI scans exemplify the similarity between contents of watching a movie and mental time travel. Psychotherapy is also fundamentally a storytelling therapy, where traumas and problems are solved by making narrative sense of our chaotic memory.
Books are thus like little simulations that expand our consciousness and experience. This may be the time to reconsider the meaning of books about time travel. Why would we invent the idea of time machines if we only needed to be present?
We may have overlooked the importance of being absent-minded
This isn’t to say that mindfulness is a bad practice, but rather that we may have overlooked the importance of being absent-minded. We search for what is real in this virtual age and simulation. But fiction and simulation have brought us here in the first place, and we shouldn’t forget that.