Default Mode Network

NeuroScience

If you haven’t heard the term default mode network (DMN) before, you’re not alone. Yesterday was the first time I did. Although I still am new to this concept, I wanted to talk about it today. I just wanted to get that disclaimer out first thing. I’m certainly not an expert on this. I hardly know anything about it. What I do know, however, is already enough to enthrall me and make me eager to learn more. So don’t take my words here as gospel. Go read about it for yourself.

I first heard about this term while continuing to read How to Change Your Mind by Michael Pollan. If you’ve read my other posts referencing this book, you already know where this is going. That’s right, psychedelics. Scientists have discovered a very fascinating phenomenon in the brains of people tripping on LSD or psilocybin. These psychedelic substances inhibit or turn off the default mode network in our brain.

So what is the default mode network? From what I’ve gathered, the default mode network includes many different parts of the brain that are active when we are “in our own heads” so to speak. These are the pathways we are using when we are ruminating, daydreaming, planning, remembering the past, contemplating the future, etc. Basically this is the network that is active when we are lost in thought, rather than focusing our attention on something in the outside world. In the book, it also specifies that this DMN kicks on when we are thinking about ourselves.

This aspect of self-awareness encompassed in the DMN is one of the reasons why we are able to experience “ego death” while using psychedelics, which switch off this network. It doesn’t appear to be a coincidence that ego death and transcendent experiences are both known to occur while tripping. The DMN, while useful, is also being linked to depression and other mental illnesses. People that spend a lot of time in the DMN are often less happy overall than people that spend less time in this brain state.

I find this very fascinating because it seems to reflect a lot of the advice you hear given to people that are unhappy. “Try to focus on someone else for awhile.” “Rather than ruminating, use that energy to help someone you love.” “Become a more active part of the community.” All of these shifts in focus are actually helpful, but now it seems science is getting a better idea exactly why that’s the case. And I don’t know about you, but I find it more easy to follow through on advice if I know the facts back it up.

Another thing I found interesting is the idea that social media tends to strengthen the DMN. When we are scrolling through Instagram or checking how many likes we got on our last Facebook post, our brains are in the default mode network. Apart from all the other reasons there are to disengage from social media, this one is quite compelling. No wonder I feel happier and less anxious now that I don’t use those apps!

If you’re looking for a way to experience the bliss of brain states outside of the DMN, but don’t want to take a drug to do so, you can try meditation instead. Surprisingly fMRI scans of experienced meditators and those of brains on psychedelics are remarkably similar. Training our minds through meditation can give us the power to focus. That focused attention in itself is another way to get ourselves out of the DMN. I believe that is why the “flow” state we experience when we loose track of time while working on a task that completely absorbs our attention is so pleasant. It’s a great feeling to “lose ourselves” in our work.

I have yet to see any research related to this, but I’m interested to know how the DMN functions in adolescence. I hypothesize that it may play a role in the unhappiness a lot of us experienced during this time in our lives. It also appears to be a time in life when we tend to be the most selfish. We’re learning who we are and what we want, finding our own identities. While this is an important and necessary part of growing up, it also requires a lot of self-centered thinking, which as we now know, can lead to a greater sense of dissatisfaction and unhappiness. As we get older and start to think more about others, the emotional turmoil of youth also seems to subside somewhat.

As this term was only coined in 2001, there is still a lot that science doesn’t understand about this brain state. A lot more research needs to be done. I’m excited to see what else neuroscience will discover about our brains and how exactly they work in the future. But as I said earlier, I am not at all a voice of authority on this subject. I just couldn’t resist sharing the concept and the things I’ve learned that have got me so excited about it. I highly recommend doing your own research and reading more about the default mode network for yourself. Feel free to correct me if I have misinterpreted, misunderstood, or misrepresented any of the things I’ve shared about this network. Also Let me know in the comments if you find out anything interesting that I didn’t mention.

Exploring the Mind

Still immersed in How to Change Your Mind by Michael Pollan, I have been unable to prevent the psychedelic perspective from penetrating my every thought. I am desperate to find some free time in which I can start experimenting with my own spiritually centered trips. One of the things I find most interesting about psychedelics is the revelations people often experience while taking them. It’s not as if these insights are new. They are usually a reflection of things that have become platitudes: We are all one, love conquers all, we have the ability to choose our own reality, make our own happiness, etc. This is one of the reasons I find it so difficult to express the psychedelic experience to those who haven’t taken these drugs for themselves. It’s almost too hard to put into words and make sense of in my own head, let alone translate it to others. It’s similar to the way we can pass along knowledge, but not wisdom. There is something ineffable about the experience that solidifies the truth of the realizations that come with it.

Pollan’s book talks a lot about the seemingly limitless potential of these drugs to treat mental illness, comfort the dying, and even improve the quality of life for average, healthy people. What it hasn’t seemed to touch on yet though is the implications these psychedelic experiences have in regard to our minds in general. Sure we are introducing a foreign substance to our brains, but the pathways it activates are already inside of us, just waiting to be utilized. People have already found ways to access these mental pathways through breathwork alone, without the use of any substances. What does all this mean when it comes to our limited perspectives and perception of ourselves, others, and the world around us?

As a child, unburdened by biases or expectations, the world seems like quite a fantastical place. We’re present, we’re in the moment, we’re open to new experiences and ways of thinking. Understandably, that changes as we age. The more time we spend looking at the world through a certain lens, the more it begins to feel like that’s the only lens there is. We forget that we haven’t always thought or felt the way we currently do, and that others don’t think, feel, or react in the same ways that we do. Wouldn’t it be amazing to take a peak into the mind of someone else for just a few moments? Or better yet, to truly know the full capabilities of our own brains?

It’s frustrating and fascinating to realize that no one will ever truly know what it feels like to be anyone else. We take for granted that as human beings we are pretty much the same, but how alike are we really? So much of our experience of life is private and uniquely personal. The way our minds work are too complex for us to fully grasp, despite how far science has come. One of the issues psychedelic researchers have is how to quantify and categorize such personal, subjective experiences into usable data. Science has been relegated to the very limited realm of objective facts and observable behaviors/phenomenon. It seems we haven’t quite figured out a way to explore and understand subjective experiences, despite what a huge impact these things have in the world.

I suppose subjective subjects are better left to philosophers than scientists. However, one thing that is mentioned in Pollan’s book is the suggestible nature of a psychedelic experience. Whatever you are primed to experience is most likely what you will experience during your trip. Just like in a lot of other ways, in this way psychedelics seem like a hyper-intense reflection of reality in general. Our perceptions of everyday life are also highly suggestible, especially in childhood when the rigid patterns in our minds that psychedelics break down, haven’t yet been formed. If you wake up each morning and tell yourself you’re going to have a bad day full of tedious, tiresome activities, you probably will. On the other hand, if you can make yourself believe you’re going to have an amazing day filled with smiles and laughter and new adventures, you probably will! The external circumstances can be exactly the same.

It is impossible to imagine just how many different ways of thinking exist in the world. I believe we are each capable of experiencing all of these perspectives. More than any physical barrier, what holds us back most in life are our own limiting beliefs. Changing them can seem impossible at times. We don’t usually choose to believe what we believe. It’s an amalgamation of so many different factors that manifest as a belief system. Challenging those deep-seated ideas is no small task, nor is there a clear place to start. Part of the issue comes from realizing how much these beliefs limit our ability to even imagine alternative ways of thinking.

Looking at it that way really underscores the importance of finding time for focused creativity as an adult. Creativity isn’t about what you produce. It’s about expanding the limits of our own minds so that we are better able to come up with creative solutions to our problems and allow ourselves access to more options in our inner lives. Creativity is a muscle that is not exercised nearly enough. It is completely undervalued in our schools, offices, and communities. Studies have shown that adults are drastically less creative than children. Longitudinal studies that follow the same participants over decades reveal that despite being very creative at one point, they lose the vast majority of that creativity as they grow older.

If you find yourself feeling stuck, like the world has lost it’s luster, you’re not alone. The panoramic view of existence we all enjoy in childhood becomes narrower each year. For me, it’s extremely comforting and reassuring to remind myself that there is so much I don’t know. There is so much I am incapable of even imagining. So when I begin to apathetically ask myself, “Is this all there is?” I know the answer is a resounding, “No.” There is so much more waiting to be discovered.

Some St. Louisans Find Therapy, Meaning In Psychedelics As Researchers  Study Benefits | St. Louis Public Radio

Mushroom Magic

For the last few days I have been reading a book called How to Change Your Mind by Michael Pollan. It is a fascinating look at all the different ways that fungi have influenced and continue to influence humanity and the world around us throughout history. This book not only addresses the incredible research being done around psychedelic mushrooms, but also the incredible nature of our fungal friends in general. For instance, did you know that human beings are more closely related to fungi than we are to the plant kingdom? There are tons of intriguing tidbits of information like this sprinkled throughout this book between awe inspiring accounts of spiritual psychedelic experiences. Even if you have no interest in psychedelics, this book is still well worth a read for all of the other information and research it contains.

I haven’t even gotten halfway through this book yet myself, but already there are a few points that I’d like to discuss today. The first of which is the great comfort that simply reading this book has brought me. As you may know from reading my other posts, I am quite disturbed and troubled by the thought that soon the world as we know it will be coming to a rather abrupt and violent end due to the unsustainable nature of modern human civilization. For many years now I have despaired over the fact that we have already gone past the point of no return when it comes to the destruction of our environment. I’m not exactly sad due to the inevitable loss of human kind, rather by the greater loss of all the beautiful and complex lifeforms that share this wondrous planet with us. Michael Pollan’s book has given me hope that despite all humans have destroyed that life will continue on after our end.

Are you aware that humble oyster mushrooms have the ability to clean up oil spills? Apparently fungi, unlike most organisms, are able to consume and purify a lot of humans’ more toxic and problematic waste materials quite efficiently. A study was conducted where oyster mushroom spores were sprinkled on an oil spill. After some time had passed, the spores were able to consume the oil and cover the area in a blanket of squishy mushrooms. Most of us are aware that fungi are the organisms that break down dead or decaying matter, purifying waste and recycling it back into life once more. I was not aware that these miraculous beings were able to do the same with toxic man-made substances. However, according the Pollan’s book, fungi actually thrive even in the wake of human destruction and debris. Mushrooms are even able to break down plastics!

While I don’t expect humans will take advantage of the amazing potential of fungi before we all perish at our own hands, this new information still leaves me hopeful. I am filled with peace. Despite centuries of irrevocable human error, the fungi will protect this earth. They have preserved the endless cycle of life and death on our planet long before the arrival of humanity and will continue to do so long after we are gone. And for that I am so grateful.

7 Impressive Benefits of Oyster Mushrooms

The Brain-Gut Connection

By now, most people know about the gut microbiome. Maybe not the term, but we have a vague understanding of things such as probiotics and antibiotics. It’s very trendy to drink kombucha and eat fermented foods like kimchi in an effort to nurture our gut bacteria. I mentioned in another post how wild it is to find out we are nearly equal parts human tissue cells and germ/bacteria cells. On my way to work this morning as I listened to a podcast episode all about the brain-gut connection, I found out some even more startling and fascinating information.

Every day science is learning more about the helpful bacteria in our digestive systems. It’s quite the complex subject, far more complicated than simply pro and anti biotics. I learned today that there are also things called prebiotics and postbiotics. Prebiotics are the fibrous material that the gut bacteria eats, and postbiotics are the waste materials that the bacteria excrete, which actually ends up being beneficial to our physical as well as our mental health.

I was shocked to discover what a huge role our gut microbiome plays in our mental health. Further research may even uncover that this is the root of all our mental illnesses. Of course, as a vegan, I was intrigued to learn what kind of a difference a plant based diet would have on all of this. I know that farmed animals are routinely given antibiotics to keep them “healthy” even in atrocious conditions. My initial instinct was to feel even more sorry for the animals themselves. Not only are they physically suffering, but god only know what those conditions, PLUS an obliterated gut biome is doing to them mentally. I hadn’t even considered the implications of this on human health. Not only does consuming meat fill us with carcinogens, growth and stress hormones, and cholesterol, it is also destroying our gut biome with the antibiotics absorbed in the flesh of the animals we consume.

Initially, I felt pretty smug about this. Just another reason veganism is the only healthy diet. However, I knew that my mental health, while much improved by a vegan diet, wasn’t completely cured by it. As the podcast continued on, it explained that while meat contains antibiotics, so do the fruit, vegetables, and grains that we eat. Apparently Raid was originally patented as an antibiotic! Raid is also something that, despite all the awful things we know about this poison, is still used on virtually all the crops commercially grown. I suppose organic crops may avoid this, but honestly I don’t know. Call me a skeptic, but I never believe things labeled as “organic” are actually grown organically.

Many of you may take away from this information that we need to balance out our antibiotic ridden diet with lots of healthy probiotics. However, it’s not so simple. Apparently probiotics, though still good for us, are not actually helpful in the ways we intend them to be. Instead, it’s more important for us to focus on consuming foods that are rich in prebiotics. This provides our gut bacteria with the fibers they need to flourish. These foods include things like chicory root, dandelion greens, garlic, onions, and bananas.

Perhaps even more interesting than all of that information is the link between the gut microbiome and hunger/cravings. Hunger seems pretty simple. When our stomachs are empty, this space sends a signal to the brain that we need to eat, right? Wrong. It’s actually the small friends (and foes) in our guts that are giving us these signals. In a study, subjects were told to fast for 14 days, only consuming water and a prebiotic solution. Despite consuming no actual food, the subjects reported having no hunger pains or cravings throughout the 14 day period. The gut bacteria was well-fed by the prebiotic solution, therefore no hunger signals were being sent to the brain.

In addition to this, what kinds of foods we crave can also be linked to our gut bacteria. Some bacteria like to eat very sugary, fatty foods. Rather than having anything to do with “willpower,” our ability to choose healthy foods has a lot to do with what types of bacteria we have in our gut. The good news is, that if we can manage to resist these impulses to eat sugary, processed foods for a few days, those pesky bacteria will die out, taking the cravings along with them.

I was so blown away by all of this information, that I’ve been sharing it with anyone who will listen. Of course that means I had to make a post about it. Considering I only heard about this stuff a few hours ago, I wouldn’t recommend you simply take my word for it. But I do encourage all of you to look into it for yourselves. I certainly plan to do lots more research on this topic myself. I may even order the book The Energy Paradox by Dr. Steven Grundy, who was the guest on the podcast I listened to today. I absolutely adore learning new, helpful information like this. The implications of this knowledge are potentially life-changing.

A scientist explores the mysteries of the gut-brain connection |

More Than This

Like most people in my area, I was raised Christian, Methodist to be more specific. My family was never super religious or anything, but we did go to church every Sunday when I was little. As soon as I was old enough to question things, I did. When I found that none of the important questions I raised could be answered, I decided to cast aside these religious teachings and become an atheist.

Without really realizing it, I harbored a lot of pain and resentment toward religion after that. I spent a lot of time feeling superior to people that were still religious. I thought they were idiots, brainwashed, or at the very least painfully ignorant. Slowly I began to give up that anger though. While there are plenty of things I disagree with about a lot of religious teachings and organized religions, I don’t feel the need to fight against them or throw them out entirely anymore. I’m content to let others find comfort and meaning in life in whatever way they see fit.

My yoga journey has reawakened my interest in spirituality and the things we still don’t understand about this existence. Recently I’ve been listening to a lot of podcasts addressing these fascinating subjects. I’ve always had a thirst for knowledge and there is simply nothing better than learning something new that completely changes your perspective. I’ve been lucky enough to learn a lot of those kinds of things in the last few days and I’d love to share a few of them with you.

I’ve been thinking a lot about exactly what we are. For most of my life, it seemed obvious. We are these physical bodies. We are matter moving through the world and when we die we’re dead. Our consciousness disappears. These bodies turn back to dust. A few things I’ve heard have led me to challenge that belief though. Did you know that what we consider to be our body is actually made up more of the empty space between/within atoms than the actual atoms? Not only that, when you only consider the cells our bodies are composed of, we are made up practically equally of germ/bacterial cells as we are human cells. How can that be?! It completely changes my conception of what it means to be me.

With those two things in mind, it seems like we should identify more with our consciousness and the energy inside of us than our physical bodies. But what exactly is that energy and where does it come from? I don’t pretend to know. But I have learned that our thoughts, feelings, words, and emotions are not as immaterial as I once thought. I may not have all the answers that I would like to have, and I may not ever have them, but I believe there is much more to existence than can currently be understood or explained by science. I no longer have the arrogance I once did. There is so much I don’t know. There is so much for me to learn and discover. And that’s okay. I am so excited to keep searching.

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Empathy for All

I consider myself incredibly lucky to work in such an interesting field. Psychology has always fascinated me, but actually working with kids and families in my community has broadened my horizons even more than I could have imagined back when I was still in school. Given that I’ve struggled with social anxiety for the majority of my life, it seems strange to me that I would have such a good time working is social services. However, I’ve learned to be more fascinated than fearful of people. Even so, I also believe that I am on the autistic spectrum which I feel gives me an interesting perspective on interpersonal matters. I have always been able to set aside my emotions around a subject or situation fairly easily and act based on logic and facts rather than my feelings.

I’ve learned throughout my life though, that this analytical character of mine can often be seen as cold and calculating by those around me. Many times I have offered up an opinion about something that seems perfectly logical to me, but has been terribly shocking and offensive to others. For instance, a recent conversation I’ve had with a friend at work sticks out to me. We were discussing the idea of legalizing all drugs and illicit substances. We both agreed that at face value, this seems like a shocking and unethical idea. I think most people have a gut reaction to this proposal that causes them to condemn it right away. However, I have read the research on this idea from countries where similar policies have been implemented. It came as a surprise to me, but legalizing these substances actually has the opposite effect than you would expect. Rather than more people abusing drugs and overdosing, there are less instances of this behavior. This is because people are more easily able to reach out for help. There is less of a stigma surrounding drug abuse. People that use are also able to do so more safely than they are when it’s illegal, which results in less instances of overdose and infection.

After discovering this data, I was fully on board with legalizing all drugs. Even though my emotional reaction to the idea remained unchanged. It still felt like a bad idea, but I was confident in the science enough to overlook my personal biases. However, when I shared this information with my coworker, he refused to change his position on the matter. I asked him, “So you’re still against it even if it results in less drug abuse?” This seemed so interesting to me. That even highly intelligent people will often side with their emotions rather than the facts.

A similar discussion came up the other day at a meeting with people we work with on cases of child abuse. We began discussing the idea of virtual child pornography or child sex dolls. Of course the idea is repulsive. Everyone’s initial reaction is of disgust and condemnation. Yet, I remain convinced that if there is data that shows these things lessen the likelihood that actual children will be abused, then I think they should be allowed. I’m not aware that there is any such data. It could very well be the exact opposite. But even in this hypothetical situation, no one else would agree that this should ever be legal. Even if it stops children from being abused. Once again, I was left feeling amazed at the irrationality of these smart individuals.

I am careful to watch what I say, lest I upset anyone, but a lot of the time, I don’t find it as easy to condemn the alleged perpetrators as I feel I should. Obviously child abuse of any kind is inexcusable and all measures must be taken to protect children from these offenders. However, this doesn’t make me incapable of still feeling sorry for everyone involved. After all, a lot of pedophiles were once the innocent victims. This obviously doesn’t justify their crimes, but it does somewhat explain them. We are unable to just cast these people out of society. The fact remains that putting them in prison for ten years doesn’t solve the problem. They are very likely to go on offending as soon as they are released. The science has shown that as upsetting as it is, pedophilia is a sexual orientation. It is something that cannot be changed. These people must learn how to control these urges and understand that although they cannot control their thoughts, they are able to control their actions. If they are considered monsters by society for their thoughts alone, why wouldn’t they give in to their urges? There needs to be an effort to rehabilitate these people, not just punish them.

Often we will interview a child because they have been abusing other children. We won’t ask them about what they’ve done, rather we try to ascertain whether or not something has happened to them that is causing them to act out this abuse on others. I think it’s very interesting that when a child hurts another child, we still feel empathy and compassion for both of them. It makes me wonder at what point we draw the line. When does a troubled child become an unforgivable adult? Does the limit of our compassion end at eighteen? Why do we make that distinction?

I find it hard to make sense of this divide, even though I do feel it viscerally within myself. It is much easier to vilify an adult than a child for the same crime. At the same time it seems illogical to arbitrarily make a decision that someone isn’t culpable at 16 but they are at 18. How exactly were they expected to “fix themselves” now that they are legally an adult? This atmosphere of shame and condemnation only makes it harder for the “undesirables” in society to seek help. Apparently in the U.S. you may be reported to the authorities for even mentioning you feel sexually attracted to minors to your therapist, even if you’ve never acted on those urges.

At the end of the day, despite our feelings on these difficult matters, we need to act and make decisions in a way that results in the best outcomes for society as a whole. Sometimes it may end up to be something that at face value seems counterintuitive. But we’ve got to learn to look past our emotional impulses and trust the data. I certainly don’t know all the answers to these very challenging questions. I just hope that we can be objective and open as we continue to search for those answers.

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The Beginning of the End

It has been a truly bizarre year. I’m sure we could all agree to that. It seems like everyone is anxious for things to “get back to normal.” To be honest, I don’t have much hope that that will ever happen. When this pandemic first started, I didn’t really think much of it. I was just pleased to have an excuse to stay home. Now I’ve begun to think this is just the first phase in a long downward spiral for our species and our planet. This has been a long time coming.

I used to get flustered and frantic about my opinions on the state of the world. I felt I desperately needed to spread a message, to inspire change, to educate people so that we could all start to work towards a healthier, sustainable society. After years of exasperation and futile efforts, I have finally lost hope. Humanity will not change, therefore we will not survive much longer. Humanity has no interest in changing, we have no time left for the change that is needed, and to be honest, at this point, I don’t think we are capable of changing. It is a shame, but I have resigned myself to our fate. I have accepted the demise that is to come. Not 200 years in the future, not to the generation after me, but to me, to my generation, to everyone I know.

Cowspiracy was the tipping point for me. After watching that documentary and absorbing all of the scientific facts about our crumbling environment and the projections of how much time we have left before utter catastrophe if we continue at this rate (which we will), I realized that I will not be living out the extent of my natural lifespan. I have no idea how I will eventually die, but I feel pretty confident in ruling out old age. Perhaps it will be starvation, civil unrest, natural disasters, having no clean water, or even from a pandemic. It could be this very one, or the inevitably worse ones to come. To be honest, I’m surprised this is all due to a Corona virus and not one of the many strains of anti-biotic resistant bacteria we are breeding in our animal agriculture industry every day.

If I had even a shred of hope left that we would somehow overcome the self-imposed threats facing us, the public response to this pandemic has obliterated it. My fellow humans are incapable of even making the most miniscule, temporary changes to their daily lives, let alone the massive, permanent changes we need to make to survive as a species. Even though the pandemic rages on and is even getting worse in some areas, people have seemingly decided to just go back to normal. As if it’s been a year, so fuck it, it must be over.

If humans are incapable of simply wearing a mask when they are in the grocery store for 30 minutes, there is no way they’ll be capable of eliminating meat and dairy from their diets entirely. Perhaps if we had already implemented a strategy to move society that way and we also had a couple hundred years to get there, but we aren’t doing anything and we don’t have anywhere close to that amount of time. Scientists predict we only have a few decades and the US government is still subsidizing the industries that are killing us.

Not only has the majority of the population not accepted one of if not THE root cause of our impending demise (animal agriculture), but we can’t even all agree that we are even facing a real problem! Climate change is still up for fucking debate in America. And I don’t even expect those of you reading this to understand or agree with me on any of this. I’m mostly just having a good ol’ scream into the void. It’s the only thing I can really do at this point, sadly.

I won’t waste my time listing all of the statistics, facts, and figures about how animal agriculture is the leading cause of climate change, greenhouse gas emissions, deforestation, desertification, and species extinction. How it wastes massive amounts of food, water, and land. How everyone shouts “save the rainforest!” while ignoring the fact that the reason it’s being cut down is to make room for livestock. All of this information is readily available for anyone willing to look into it. Cowspiracy’s website has most of it laid out with citations. Although, in my experience, facts have never been enough to make anyone change. What I will point out, is that this pandemic is also just a symptom of the ways eating animals will eventually be our undoing.

Whenever a pandemic emerges, it is almost always related to some animal. And not just any animal. An animal that humans have been using as food. We end up keeping this “food” in filthy cramped spaces, crowded in with other animals and covered in piss and shit. Then we eat those same animals. It’s no wonder we are constantly facing disease. Bird flu, swine flu, mad cow disease. Starting to see a pattern yet? If we didn’t eat animals, none of these things would be a problem. To be honest, it’s almost karmic justice for these innocent beings. I wouldn’t even mind if humans were wiping themselves out due to our own greed and stupidity. But unfortunately we are taking down the whole planet with us and that breaks my heart.

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How Understanding Neuroplasticity Changes Everything

There are few things that I’ve learned about that have completely changed my life, but neuroplasticity is one of them. I’m just as excited about it now as I was when I first heard the term in my psychology classes at university. Up until that point, I was mostly resigned to the fact that, being in my twenties, my brain had already passed through the formative years in which it had any real potential to change. I felt that even though I was young, my brain was already set to mostly continue on the path it was placed on by my genetics and my experiences in my childhood/teen years.

I can still feel how thrilled I was to learn that wasn’t the case. As someone who is very data driven and fact focused, I would have never implemented yoga or meditation into my life if I hadn’t learned about neuroplasticity. Before that I wanted to believe in the healing potential of these practices, but as far as I could see, there was no hard evidence to show it did anything at all. (Granted I must not have been looking very hard.) But I learned that by mindfully practicing stillness, compassion, love, peace, focus, anything really, you are strengthening those neural pathways in the brain just like a muscle. What could be more incredible?

For the first time in my life, I saw, and truly believed, that I could be anything I wanted to be. It wouldn’t necessarily be easy or fast, but I was guaranteed to change if I put effort into it. I didn’t have to be that sad, angry, troubled, teenager anymore. I could be anyone. I could be cheerful, optimistic, friendly, loving, calm, kind. I didn’t have to feel like I was “lying to myself” by trying to change, like I used to. I knew it would work. I had the science to support me.

Even though it’s been years since I started intentionally redirecting my brain, I’m not quite where I want to be yet. As we all know, progress is not linear. I’ve encountered many setbacks along the way, especially this past year. But still, I have made some incredible progress. I never would have imagined at 18 that I would be the person I am today at 27. I still have a long way to go, but I am so much closer. A lot of the negative neural pathways that I maintained as a teenager, have all but withered away. And realizing all of this, remembering all of this, has reminded me that I can change. I’ve done it before. And it’s that belief in myself that ultimately makes it possible. I have neuroscience to thank for that belief.

I have been strengthening some pretty unhealthy pathways in my brain in 2020. It won’t be easy to redirect myself from those powerful urges and habits. But I’ll do it. I’ve already had a huge success yesterday. It may not have been perfect, but every little bit of progress counts. I feel so much better this morning. More awake, more energetic, more positive, more loved. That’s how I think of this effort, as an act of self-love. It keeps me motivated, happy, excited about the process. It feels so good to step away from this strange auto-pilot I’ve defaulted to and really be present with myself again. I have a long road ahead of me. But for the first time in a long time, I am eager to continue on this journey.

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