Need a quick break? Imagine space.

Some friends and I were watching the wildcam at Pete’s Pond in the Mashatu Game Reserve the other evening, not really expecting to see any wildlife as it was high noon in Botswana, which is not a time the animals come to the pond to drink. So, we were especially delighted when camera zoomed in on a lone jackal. This jackal was standing at the water’s edge trembling from head to tail and looking everywhere at once. Occasionally he’d thrust his muzzle into the water then jerk it back and begin looking around again, still trembling like a junkie in detox. Or like Wiley E. Coyote after being electrocuted by Bugs Bunny, if you prefer.

It looked painful.

We started looking for the predator that had the jackal so terrified, but could see nothing. Appearing to read our minds, the camera operator zoomed out, then panned left and right. Nothing.

Our thirsty, trembling jackal was all alone. We sat, staring, for the next 5 minutes, waiting for a denouement. It never came.

I‘ve been that jackal, lost in some repetitive, negative thought, all the while standing in a reality that argues against it. Those thoughts are like having a sore tooth – even though it hurts to keep running my tongue over it, I can’t leave it alone. I’ve gotten much better about it over the years, but I’m always looking to improve my relationship with my brain.

This is why I was so excited to receive and devour The Open-Focus Brain, by Les Fehmi, PhD and Jim Robbins. Without spoiling your reading pleasure, this book summarizes Dr. Fehmi’s decades of research about shifting brain waves from narrow-objective, high-alert beta to relaxed yet alert synchronous alpha. High beta gives us narrow focus and the ability to get things done but comes with a cost: stress, anger, anxiety and muscle tension. Alpha brain waves, especially synchronous alpha (where two or more areas of the brain are vibrating at the same frequency) creates a relaxed, wakeful state that gives rise to effortless, fluid movement, calm spontaneity and an open, light presence. It’s the hallmark of veteran meditators, according to the authors, and leaves the mind functioning better on every level – reasoning, memory, ability to focus.

I tried the first open focus exercise. It directs you to focus your attention both on the object in front of you and on the space between your eyes and around the object. The results were instantaneous. Physically, I felt a sense of ease and softening in my muscles, and I could feel my mind loosening its grip. I hadn’t realized I’d been gripping until I began to let go. It was pure pleasure.

According the authors, our over-reliance on narrow focus attention to perform tasks – the rut we live in – is wearing on the body and brain, but:

“When the mind is asked to imagine or attend to space, there is nothing – no-thing – to grip on to, to objectify and make sense of, no memories of past events or anticipation of future scenarios. The brain is allowed to take a vacation...The imagination and realization of space seems to reset stress-encumbered neural networks and return them to their original effortlessly flexible processing.”

I’ll be practicing this more and getting back to you about the results. I’d love to hear about your experience with it in the comments below.

I wish someone could let that terrified little jackal in Africa know.

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