Welcome to my blog---an eyes-open, no-holds-barred exploration of Western and Eastern spirituality, mindfulness, philosophy and literature. A member of the Australian and New Zealand Mental Health Association, I lectured at the NSW Institute of Psychiatry to mental health workers for 14 years and also lectured for 16 years at the University of Technology, Sydney. My interests include the psychology of religion, transformative ritual, mythology and addiction recovery.
Monday, April 18, 2011
OUR PLASTIC BRAINS
The most exciting discovery of our generation is the finding that our brains are plastic ... indeed, very plastic. That is, our brains are not fixed and immutable but highly malleable and in a more-or-less constant state of flux.
Philosophers and theologians have told us for centuries that our thoughts and actions determine what we are and who we become. I love these words from New Thought pioneer James Allen:
“Mind is the arbiter of life; it is the creator and shaper of conditions, and the recipient of its own results.”
Now we have proof that is the case, and that our thoughts and behaviour – towards the world and towards ourselves – actually shape us, from moment to moment, right down to a synaptic level.
“If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got.”
Or, as they say in AA, “If nothing changes, nothing changes.”
The reality is, however, that things, and ourselves, are always changing ... but when we see we have changed, we often quickly change back to the way we were ... because we are more comfortable with that.
This phenomenon is called “experience-dependent neuroplasticity” – it’s about how our experiences, and what we make of them (for, as Dr Karl Menninger pointed out, "Attitudes are more important than facts"), literally shape our brains at a physical level, and, in turn, how our experiences shape the kinds of thoughts we might be more likely to have next time.
So, just as physical exercise is good for the body, and can make positive changes to the body, so mindfulness can make positive neuro-physio-psychological changes to the mind. That we know as a medical fact. Yes, we are made or unmade by ourselves. We are the reaper of our own harvest.