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.

Some say it was Albert Einstein, others Henry Ford, and still others Anthony Robbins, who purportedly said words in or to the effect of the following:

“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.

Neuropsychologist Dr Rick Hanson (pictured opposite), who with neurologist Richard Mendius MD is the author of Buddha’s Brain: The Practical Neuroscience of Happiness, Love & Wisdom – a wonderful book which joins modern science with ancient teachings recently spoke in this online seminar series, stating that, The mind takes the shape of whatever it rests upon… for better or for worse.”

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.


RESOURCE: Hanson, R (2011) ‘Guiding Self-Directed Neuroplasticity: A Mindfulness Investigation’, The New Brain Science Series Teleseminar by NICABM (The National Institute for the Clinical Application of Behavioural Medicine), 14/4/2011.



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