Culture Magazine

I Took a Day off from Blogging: More on Regulating the Mind [in the Zone]

By Bbenzon @bbenzon
Actually it’s two: no blog posts on Tuesday the 24th and Sunday the 22th. If I were in a down phase, as I usually am in the Spring, that would be normal. But at the moment I’m in an up phase, 98 posts so far this month, 96 for August, 98 for July, 77 for June, and only 25 for May (down phase). What’s up?
Well, Sunday afternoon I went to Liberty State Park and took a bunch of photos. What did I do in the morning? Can’t recall. Nor do I remember what I did when I came back from the photo shoot, though no doubt I did spend some time examining and rendering the photos. But the rest of the day? Probably read a bit, watched some online video. No matter.
But it’s Tuesday that interests me.
A photo safari
Whatever else I do on Tuesdays, the morning is always punctuated by the need to move my car to accommodate street cleaning. At about 9:45 AM or so I walk to my car and then drive it around the block so I’m in position to park once the street cleaner has gone through. This is VERY important. I live in Hoboken, NJ, a small city across the Hudson River from New York. On street parking is very difficult. It’s not unusual to drive around for 15 or 20 minutes to find a parking space a quarter of a mile or more from my building.
But Tuesday the 24th was different. I decided to return to Liberty State Park for more photos. Fact is, I’d somehow neglected to take my DSLR with me on Sunday, though I’d gotten it out, and only had my point-and-shoot. I wanted photos with the good camera. I decided to deal with the parking problem by going out early enough so that I could take my photos and be back in time to slip into a parking spot after the street cleaner passed by. Plus, this would get me in the park early enough to get some sunrise shots.
Since I routinely get up early that was no problem. I was in my car by 6:10 AM or so and arrived at the park at about 6:30, just a few minutes after the sun made it over the buildings in Brooklyn on the east side of the Hudson River. I got my sunrise shots, and then some.
I spent the next two hours walking through the park and taking photos. Lots of photos, leisurely walk. After about a hour my right hand began to hurt a bit, especially my index finger, which I use to trip the shutter. That never happened to me before, though I’d been on many two-hour photo walks. Had I taken THAT many photos? When I got back and downloaded the photos to my computer I found that I’d taken 471 photos. I’d done 200, 250 shots, maybe more, in other safari’s but that seemed like the most I’d taken in one shoot. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
I finished shooting at about 8:30, too early to head back to Hoboken. So I drove to my old neighborhood, Bergen-Lafayette, in Jersey City–the oldest in the city. I walked around a bit and then dropped in on June Jones at the Morris Canal CDC (Community Development Corporation). I’d worked with her quite a bit when I was living in there and we had a few things to catch up on.
I left June at about 9:45, which meant I’d be cutting it close on the parking spot. It was no more than five miles away, but this is city driving. But I made it.
I went back to the apartment, called up my buddy Greg, and then downloaded my photos to the computer. I started going through them and rendered a generous handful, say a dozen to 20, before I knocked off to... To do what? I don’t recall exactly. I took a nap at some point, and another one a bit later. Took a run to the grocery store to get some stuff. Rendered some more photos. Posted some photos online to Facebook. Had dinner at some point. Did a bit of reading. Videos.
But no blogging, none. It was a lazy kind of day. I was wiped out.
In the mood
I don’t really know.
Let me speculate. It WAS the photo shoot. Though I’ve done many early morning shoots before, not so many this year. But I think it was mostly the intensity.
It didn’t feel all that intense at the time, but still, hear me out.
Some years ago when I was living in Troy, NY, I went on a video shoot with a local news team. I noticed that a half-hour or an hour into the shoot the videographer was sweating. The shoulder mounted camera must have weight 30 or 40 pounds, but it wasn’t that weight that was forcing the sweat. I ask his producer, Steve Rosenbaum, about it and he agreed that, no, it wasn’t the weight. It was the perceptual and emotional intensity involved.
I think it was something like that for me. When I’m on one of these shoots I’m absorbed into the process of taking photos. This morning I was particularly absorbed. I took a lot of shots into the sun, which means I spent time looking into intense light. But more than that, it was the particular kind of photos I was taking.
I like to play around with the sun by using intervening objects to block and deflect the light. That requires taking a bunch of shots in close succession while moving the camera ever so slightly to control just how much the sun is occluded. This is the sort of thing I’m talking about:
I took a day off from blogging: More on regulating the mind [in the zone]
In that shot I was aiming directly into the sun. In this next one I kept the sun just off the frame above my focal point:
I took a day off from blogging: More on regulating the mind [in the zone]
In this one I’m shooting at those leaves of grass in the center while keeping the sun to the upper right:
I took a day off from blogging: More on regulating the mind [in the zone]
Nor do you have to use nearby objects in this way. I went out this morning, walked two blocks to the river, and took a lot of shots of the sun rising over Midtown Manhattan. Here I’ve put the sun behind the spire atop the Empire State Building:
I took a day off from blogging: More on regulating the mind [in the zone]
And, yes, I didn’t do anything to the sun. Rather I moved to a position where the relationship between the sun and the building pleased me. But that's how I (almost have to) think about it, moving myself as a way of positioning objects I'm photographing.
That takes a lot of concentration and more than a little motor control. And we know that the brain is an energy hog.
That’s part of the story of why I was wiped out after Tuesday’s photo shoot. But only part of the story. The energy part.
But I suspect there’s an organization part as well. I’d spent two hours extending my mind out into the physical world, wrapping itself around the plants and the sun. That’s just not the kind of mindset you need to write a blog post, even a casual one, never mind one that requires precise thinking. It’s just not possible to switch quickly from a mental state fixed on perceiving the external world to one fixed on organizing thoughts into coherent phrases, sentences, and written paragraphs.
Moreover I generally use my mornings for serious writing, which is why the Tuesday AM parking intrusion is so annoying. Tuesday's photo safari was quite a switch, the length and intensity different in quality and effect from the 35 minute shoot I had this morning. It's seems to have reset my mind for the rest of the day.
Note: I've written this post in two sessions in the late morning and early afternoon, with lunch in between. But this is mostly narrative–with some declarative assertions tossed in, not a (more or less) well organized argument. Writing narrative is different from making an argument.
Managing the mind is tricky. And we do it ALL the time. We've learned. We've had to.
Regulating the mind
And that’s one of the things I have in mind when I think about, well, regulating the mind, something I touched on earlier this year, Ramble on: Managing the Mind, July 7, 2019. As I said back then, I believe that’s one of our central activities and pre-occupations as human beings. And so, once again, I’m reminded of Weston La Barre’s remark, in The Ghost Dance, that it is the experience of dreaming that first prompted humans to metaphysical speculation. Just what is it that you are recalling when you remember a dream? Where did those experiences take place? And what is the first occupational specialization that appears in human society? The religious specialist, the shaman. And what does the shaman do? Among other things, he sings, dances, does drugs, and travels to other realms of being. He messes with his mind.
When we train infants to sleep through the night, we’re training them to regulate their minds. When older children are taught to keep still in school what’s happening? They’re learning to regulate their minds. Learning to read requires that we regulate our mind in a certain way. What’s involved in taking a vacation–a relatively recent practice in Western cultures? A whole different regime of mental regulation. We can out of work mode and enter into play mode.
I wonder what cross-cultural research has to say about different regimes of mental regulation in different cultures? A culture in which meditation is a central practice is very different from one that knows little of such things. What does it mean when a non-meditation culture begins adopting meditation practice, as has been happening in the West in the past few decades? And so forth.
No, how we deal, OUR minds, with the mind is central to human activity.
An exercise for the reader: The mind of Tyler Cowen
In July of this year Tyler Cowen had a post, How I practice what I do. He listed 11 items. How many of them are about mind regulation and in what ways? For example, here are his first two points:
1. I write every day. I also write to relax.
2. Much of my writing time is devoted to laying out points of view which are not my own. I recommend this for most of you.
The first is clearly about mental regulation in the sense I’m using the term. Writing requires a certain disposition of mental forces and one must practice it over and over. But notice that he ALSO writes for relaxation. A different kind of writing? On the other hand, the second item doesn’t seem to be about mental regulation “in the sense I’m using the term.” It may well be–it certainly is–a valuable activity, but it’s about just what he writes, not the activity of writing itself. I wonder, though, is that the relaxing or the non-relaxing kind of writing.
And then there’s his fifth point: “I spent an enormous amount of time and energy trying to crack cultural codes.” Foreign travel is a large part of that activity. What kinds of mental regulation are required by foreign travel? Think of time spent in airports and on airplanes, but also being out on the street in a strange culture for the first time. Very different mindset, no?
And so forth.
* * * * *
Note that I’ve created the regulate-mind label for this topic, which is closely related to the topic of behavioral mode.

Back to Featured Articles on Logo Paperblog