You Are the Sculptor of your Brain
The endless possibilities of Neuroplasticity
The endless constriction of Neurorigidity
Lately, the term neuroplasticity is on the lips of many. For those who have heard it before but are not clear about what it means exactly, it is the brain’s ability to reorganize itself by forming new neural connections to adjust its activities in response to new situations, new information, new decisions, new skills, new actions and, as surprisingly as it sounds, new thoughts. Self-directed neuroplasticity is a process that has no age limitations: we are the sculptors, the creators of our psychophysiological processes.
New thoughts and new actions create new connections that lead to new neural networks. What happens when we are always thinking the same thing, always doing the same, always repeating the same? Well, there is also a concept used to explain this dynamic: it is the neurorigidity. If you always use the same connections and do not create new ones, the brain always keeps the same patterns and triggers the same connections to help us continue to process those same thoughts or actions over and over again.
The only way to create new neural activity is giving new information to our brain, new thoughts, new actions, new decisions, new environments, new emotional contexts, new relationships.
But, how do we change an unwanted tire on a car while the car is moving? You don’t, you must slow down, stop the car, take off the unwanted tire and only then can you replace a new tire on the car. You must manage the process with focused attention and execute this work with precision. And we know that this can be extremely complicated, is not as simple as just saying it. Yes, you know all these principles based on neuroscience very well, and you really believe them without hesitation, but to slow down, pay attention, be mindful and walk the walk, step by step, is another story. All kinds of difficulties, excuses and impediments seem to emerge from nowhere to preclude us to step out of the momentum where we are, right?
This is normal. Mental fixations (or traumas, if you prefer) put us again and again under the same. The brain strives to turn the same wiring regardless of the type of stimulus it receives. Any thought, any external situation, any element of the environment is automatically linked to that mental fixation or trauma that is repeated endlessly in our mind. We see something on TV, and not even knowing how, we are again mulling over that mental fixation. We spoke to someone and, not even knowing how, the conversation ends up taking us to recall this traumatic event. Everything we do, say and think seem to be related to our pain in some mysterious way. How do we get out of there, what’s the first step?
Mindfulness is a proven strategy to step out of that neurorigidity and start creating new possibilities in our extraordinarily plastic brain.
The practice of observation and acceptance of our internal states allows us to become aware witnesses of what arises in the field of our consciousness. When we look but we do not give subjective meaning, without judging or labeling, and we accept what comes as it is, the fixations dissipate and our brain circuits begin to immediately restructure. When I say immediately, I mean in a matter of seconds.
Observing with equanimity (a neutral emotional state), all the emotional charged burden associated to our mental contents dissolves, allowing the limbic system (the emotional brain) to becomes less reactive, and thus the mental contents we observe stop having a stressful component (danger, fear, anxiety, worry). They begin to create new connections, new brain wiring built based on expansive states of being where trust, openness, curiosity and acceptance are the main axes. Mindfulness deconstructs this neurorigidity linked to our past repetitive ruminations or compulsive concerns for the future.
In short, observing our mental contents with equanimity creates new neural connections with a neutral acceptance of what emerges as the main component, turning our backs to the neurorigidity based on fear, stress, anxiety and trauma.
Do you want this rigidity to go away? To take the first step, start practicing as soon as possible. Experience the transformation for yourself. Practice daily and be actively involved in your own self-directed neuroplasticity. When you feel cornered by doubts and fears, remind yourself that your practice is making a difference in your body-mind, and keep in mind that despite your uncertainty, it works. How do you know? Because you have a choice as to how you occur in each arising moment. And, of course, because you have a brain!
About the Author
Jorge Benito is co-author of the book “Healing Education: Science and Consciousness of the New Educational Paradigm”. His wide experience in the field of artistic creation, including theatre, writing, illustration and design, led him to become Development Director of Escuela Caracol, an intercultural Waldorf school located in San Marcos La Laguna, Lake Atitlan, Guatemala.
An experienced meditator, neuroscience student (HarvardX – Harvard online training), facilitator of diverse mindfulness programs, writer and independent scientific researcher, Jorge is a team member of Mindfulness Exercises and the creator and director of the Mindful Education Program (MEP).
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