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Why is everyone talking about the DMN (Default Mode Network)?
Scientists believe that they have identified the DMN as the “seat” of the Ego in the brain.
The DMN has become a popular topic in the world of psychedelics and healing in relation to substances such as Psilocybin and Ayahuasca. But what is the DMN and why is deregulating it important for our mental well-being?
What is the DMN?
DMN stands for Default Mode Network, and is the name given to a network in the brain that connects the Cerebral Cortex to the parts of the brain involved in memory and emotion. It becomes activated in normal waking consciousness. It is not active when we are focused on a particular task, or when we are in a “flow state,” present in the moment.
The DMN is active when we are experiencing ourselves and the world around us, and is linked to mental processes such as:
-Thinking about the past or the future
-Awareness of ourselves
-Understanding and social thinking about others
- “Mind-wandering” or “Mental time travel”
These processes produce thoughts that can be associated with what we define as the “egoic mind” and can be considered a core component of our “self”.
What might the DMN sound like in your thoughts?
“I wonder what will happen with this event tomorrow.”
“I hate my body, I wish I could lose weight.”
“I resent her for saying that to me.”
“I can’t believe that he said that to me, he shouldn’t be so arrogant.”
“I look so tired. I wonder if I will be able to sleep tonight.”
“I should be better at my job.”
But it’s not all bad!
The DMN is also responsible for thoughts like “I had such a great time last night with her.” and “I love the way these jeans look on me.”
That being said, our brains are hardwired for Negativity. According to the National Science Foundation, an average person has about 12,000 to 60,000 thoughts per day. Of those, 80% are negative and 95% are repetitive thoughts. (Read more here).
It may have been useful for us to pay attention to the negative during our evolution, as our ancestors who were attuned to danger were more likely to survive and pass on their genetics, but today, this type of thinking is only holding us back and limiting our potential.
"The mind is a wonderful servant, but a terrible master." -Robin Sharma
More about our brains’ hard-wiring for negativity here.
DMN and Mental Health and Well-Being
With all of this in mind, there is an obvious link here between the DMN and our mental health and well-being. Researchers believe that hyperactivity and disrupted activity in the DMN may be relevant to depression, PTSD, anxiety, chronic pain, and autism. (Research here, here, and here).
For example, If the DMN is overactive, it can contribute to excessive and repetitive forms of self-reflection that are negative and inaccurate, contributing not only to depression and anxiety, but also the ability to overcome limiting beliefs and negative self-talk in a person without either of these conditions. The overwhelming majority of us have the same compulsive egotic thoughts on loop, over and over; “Me, Myself, and I.”
There is evidence that the DMN reduces activity when it’s brain regions become disorganized. It is believed that when the DMN becomes disorganized, the sense of self disappears, and another way of thinking can easily emerge in the mind. (Research here).
Wouldn’t it be nice to let go of those looping thoughts, and have room for more creativity, insights, and positive thinking?
How can we quiet the DMN?
Studies show that it's activity is reduced during a psychedelic experience, during meditation by experienced meditators, and in young children who have not yet formed strong egos, allowing the expression of a more open consciousness.
As meditation involves maintaining attention on the present and immediate experience, away from self-referential thinking and mind-wandering, it is no surprise that it has been associated with reduced activity in the DMN. (Research here and here).
But notably, Psychedelics have been shown as a highly effective way to reduce the control of the DMN over the mind. (Research here and here). Neuroimaging studies have consistently shown that psychedelics like Psilocybin and LSD significantly reduce DMN connectivity, correlating with the experiencing of “ego-dissolution,” where the sense of self is dissolved (read this research here). This temporary loss of ego is often considered to be one of the most profound effects of psychedelics which can serve as the catalyst for the powerful healing transformations.
In addition, when you ingest a substance such as Magic Mushrooms or Ayahuasca, and the brain becomes free of the control of the DMN, it may create an environment that can open up the mind to different perspectives. This “resetting” of the DMN can be linked to the antidepressant and healing effects of Psilocybin and Ayahuasca. This research can be found here and here.
This might be the reason you often hear people speak about psychedelic experiences as “pushing the reset button” or “taking a shower for your brain.”
With new perspectives and less compulsive negative thinking, it is common for people to want to continue their growth by taking practices such as meditation more seriously after a psychedelic experience, as the two work dynamically to rewire the brain in a way that is enhancing mental performance, happiness, and well-being.
If the “seat of the ego” hypothesis is true, quieting the DMN would be the equivalent of quieting the ego. If we can modulate and deregulate the DMN, we might be able to become more aware of negative thoughts, reduce, and maybe even eliminate these thinking patterns all together.
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