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  • Donna Sherman

Mars, Morning Coffee and Our Nimble Brains: Try this at home!

Updated: Mar 8

Dear Reader,

Here is the what/why/ how of two perspective practices that I invite you to try:


Sincere Curiosity:

A mind consumed with itself is prone to increased anxiety, depression, self-centeredness and restricted cognitive capacity. A mind that is hungry to learn about this wondrous world we inhabit is engaged in things outside of the self. When we are looping in what neuroscientists call our “default mode network” we tend to fall into a kind of dreamy rumination that is driven by the power of our “I/Me/Mine” self-referential perspective. Take the focus off ourselves for a moment and bring it out into the world and we begin to shift our locus of attention and wham,there is so much to explore.

Here is a link to an article about our default mode networks but please don’t go down the rabbit hole just yet, read this post to the very end.

https://www.annualreviews.org/doi/abs/10.1146/annurev-neuro-071013-014030

You can start with a mundane household item. Hold it, explore how it works….

Example: A coffee maker is a pretty genius thing when you start to really look at it and think about it. Coffee beans grow on a plant, get collected, processed and shipped to another continent in a plane or cargo ship (both feats of amazing ingenuity) and then, there you are making morning coffee and experiencing the pleasure of that first sip. What do coffee beans look like when they are first picked? How is it processed? How exactly does caffeine interact with our brains?Who were the first humans to cultivate this delicious, energy lifting drink?

Or, can go really macro and look at the night sky, the ocean, river system, how trees communicate, the role of fungi beneath the forest floor. Or, you can do this in the relational realm and ask another, whose beliefs and perspectives might differ greatly from yours, about their thinking and beliefs. Curiosity and deep listening can be powerful social/relational/political medicine.

Our world offers up an endless supply of wonder and the more we learn about it the more we want to learn more. And, then we have shifted ourselves from a contracted self-referential perspective to an expansive and enlarged sense of belonging to the world.


Belonging to the world is how I am experiencing it all these days. We own nothing and we connect to everything. Science, religions and wisdom traditions all point to this truth that we belong to this natural world and each other. Belonging and owning are vastly different perspectives.


Gratitude Practice:

Pause right where you are and ask yourself this:

“ What am I grateful for in this exact moment?”

Ask the question, don’t push for a response and see what bubbles up from your heart. If nothing does just let that be and ask again later. If what comes up feels like a rote response then sit with a question a while longer and see if anything else arises. Whatever arises, say it out loud. Yes, out loud and it is best to state it in a complete sentence.

I am pausing writing this to do this with you right now…

I just did it and the first thing that arose- and felt 100% real-was my laptop.


So, I just said, out loud with nobody around, “I am deeply grateful for this laptop that gives me an amazing amount of connectivity." 100% real, in this moment of alive gratitude. Sometimes my gratitude pauses are initiated by the wondrous mundane such as turning in the faucet and having water flow out. Some amazing human genius went into creating things like plumbing and water distribution and for that matter humans’ internal plumbing— have you looked at the intricacy of a human digestive system? Pure evolutionary genius!

The thing is, these wondrous creations are everywhere and all come from the elements, the “star stuff/stardust" that all matter on this planet is made from. It is mind- bending when you try to take it all in.

If you want to weave this kind of perspective and heart expanding practice into your daily life then you might want to do this several times per day in three simple steps that take about 1-2 minutes of your time:

1.Simply pause

2.Ask yourself what you are grateful for in this exact moment

3.State your response out loud

If your are experiencing a rough moment and a glimmer of gratitude doesn’t reveal itself to you, don’t be too concerned and try again later.

If you feel the riches that grace your life and know of someone(s) who might be in a place of pain, loss or suffering, try reaching out to them or simply showing up with something that they might be needing whether that be an item, a donation, an offer of help, a listening ear, food or something else.


This all might sound ridiculously obvious but it is often the obvious that gets lost when we are mired in our ruminative mind. And, you probably already know this, but a ruminative mind is very different from a self-reflective mind. A self- reflective mind is on its way to cultivating insight, honesty and more clarity. A ruminative mind is more akin to a daydreamy self-referential looping of thoughts and emotional reactivities that keep up stuck.

My gratitude practice has produced a kind of exponential growth phenomenon because heartfelt gratitude begets more heartfelt gratitude. No rocket science here [rocket science blows me away as we just landed the Perseverance Rover vehicle on Mars two days before I am writing this but I digress ,as I am prone to do] just a lot of common sense and some understanding of our human minds and their tendency to scan for problems. While scanning for problems, both internal and external, has a strong and essential evolutionary function, our habitual scanning for the negative threat biases winds up appropriating a lot of our attention which then serves to strengthen the loop of negative threat bias.

The two branches that are gratitude and curiosity grow on the same tree of life and I have found that the more I lean back onto this tree or climb it for new perspectives, the happier -often a kind of quiet happy- I am. Any kind of clear attention practice offers us a doorway into more mindful living. Like everyone else, I have setbacks and can easily get tangled tangled in my old ways but soon enough I will catch myself and pull out my trusted tools.


Can years of meditation practice bring you here? Yes.

Can a religion or directed spiritual practice bring you here? Yes.

Can making coffee, flushing your toilet, taking an antibiotic for a bacterial infection and exploring the forest floor bring you here? Yes.


How you come to live with the fire of sincere gratitude and curiosity is your beautiful process and as you venture deeper and deeper into this ever expanding realm you will know, in every cell of your stardusty body, that you and this world belong to each other and there is an infinite number of things to gratefully explore.

For info about the upcoming ‘Want It & Do It” series visit the “classes and services” page on this site or scroll down to ‘Want It & Do It” blow post below.

Perseverance Mars Mission info:

https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/msl/news/msl20120805c.html

Human Brain Default Mode Network:

https://www.annualreviews.org/doi/abs/10.1146/annurev-neuro-071013-014030



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