The Real Power Of The Mind

 

The following commentary is part of my series of reflections after reading the incredible book The Emotional Life of The Brain by neuroscientist Richard J. Davidson and contributor, science journalist Sharon Begley. I am mesmerized by the profound truths discovered through Davidson’s thirty-year commitment to understanding emotions and personality through his work on the brain. What’s even more exciting (at least for myself) are the revelations which support the importance of the mind in relation to the brain.

Davidson's research agrees with a hypothesis I have always believed and try to advocate that my attention is due to how my mind operates because thought alone is enough to change how I experience the world; and even more compelling, how the brain functions. What I found so fascinating about this read is the deeper education I received in expanding my understanding of the brain.

_____________________________________________________________

The newer findings in neuroscience prove just how powerful the mind is in relation to the functions of the brain. The research revealed in The Emotional Life of the Brain confirms the heightened connection between the mind and the brain. Therefore, the attention given towards the well-being of the mind is even more important as research points to the significant implications of the mind over brain function, as “thought alone can increase or decrease activity in specific brain circuits that underlie psychological illness.”

Dated neuroscience dogma falsify the widespread understanding about the connection between the mind and the brain. The problem which has permeated through the decades is that most are uninformed of the specific advancements in this field, “the decades-old neuroscience dogma” promoted “that the adult brain is essentially fixed in form and function,” but the latest research confirms that this “is wrong.”  (The last time I learned anything about emotions – in a textbook and classroom setting, was back in high school and there was no mention on how the brain is involved because the research was dated).

What’s accurate to say is, that “the brain has a property called neuroplasticity, the ability to change its structure and patterns of activity in significant ways not only in childhood, which is not very surprising, but also in adulthood and throughout life. That change can come about as a result of experiences we have as well as of purely internal mental activity—our thoughts.” This is an incredible departure from the past understanding of the brain and of mental activity. The profound discovery is in how the brain is constantly able to change and adapt “throughout life.” That in itself is a riveting truth!

The adaptive capacity of the brain is illustrated by how the brains of people who were blind from birth was able to adapt, despite a lack of sight. For the blind, reading braille, “the writing system based on tiny raised dots that the fingers slide across,” is an experience which witnesses “a measurable increase in the size and activity of areas in the motor cortex and somatosensory cortex that control movement and receive tactile sensation from the reading fingers.” From the deprivation of sight, the brain adapts its functions and the blind’s “visual cortex—which is supposedly hardwired to process signals from the eye and turn them into visual images—undertakes a radical career change and take on the job of processing sensations from the fingers rather than input from the eyes.” Who would’ve thought that no part of a functioning brain will go to waste despite other functional misfortunes. If it’s a working brain, it’s smart enough to adapt use its capacity for worthwhile and significant endeavors.  Even more so, the adaptive capacity of the brain is influenced by more than just sensory stimulations.

What the book goes on to clarify is how “the brain can also change in response to messages generated internally—in other words, our thoughts and intentions.” The example used in the book is how athletes are able to “engage in mental imagery, focusing on the precise sequence of movements required to execute, say, a forward two-and-a-half pike,” can cause “the regions of the motor cortex that control the required muscle [to] expand.” This is a tremendous shift in my understanding of how the brain works, because this validates the strength of the mind’s influence. Further, how much value and importance is necessary when considering my mind and how it impacts the quality of my life because, “thought alone can increase or decrease activity in specific brain circuits that underlie psychological illness.”

If thought alone can create such an impact, then doesn’t the quality of thoughts matter more than ever. If thought alone can influence change my brain’s networking, then isn’t investing more time and energy to devote to my mind’s well-being become even more significant. Paying attention to mental health—or the health of our mind (which I feel is an underrated topic)— is paramount. Investing in our mental state is a worthwhile endeavor.

_______________________________________________________________

Resource: Begley, Sharon, and Richard J. Davidson. The Emotional Life of Your Brain: How Its Unique Patterns Affect the Way You Think, Feel, and Live - and How You Can Change Them. London: Hodder & Stoughton, 2012.

 

The Danger on Focusing on Yourself (I Rarely Hear About)

 
Half-Moon Bay, California, U.S.A

Half-Moon Bay, California, U.S.A

Working on yourself is a great thing, but when focusing on the ‘I,’ ‘Me,’ and ‘Mine,’ don’t forget about the people around. Remember to continue to love, care, and set time for others too, especially with friends and loved ones.

It is a hard pill to swallow when my imperfections are highlighted. It’s normal to go into self-denial and maybe even anger or feel insulted when someone feeds me a dose of truth about myself that I don’t like to hear. It’s hard to sit still and take it in, especially if I am in the mindset of the victim and in the mindset of being attacked. Naturally, if any living thing feels like they’re being attacked or threatened, our innate instinct is to protect ourselves; even plants have immune systems to protect against pathogens and bacteria. It is in our instinct to protect ourselves in the way we see fit.

Here’s where my hard truth hit me. If I take the time to consider the perspective of the other person, if I take the time to see things through another’s circumstance and place myself in their shoes, then I will realize and empathize with the truth of their circumstance and how they are experiencing things. Coming out of denial is an incredibly hard but humbling task, especially when leaving denial meant facing my ugly truth and admitting I was wrong.

In my experience, it is important to realize where these truths are coming from. If it’s said by a negative person or an enemy of some sort, there’s probably little truth to what they are saying. But, in my case, when I paid attention to the source of my truths, these truths were said by those who love me most. Accepting these truths was my wake up call.

In my precision and focus to find happiness in myself, to improve myself and my life, I had completely lost myself in the ‘I,’ the ‘My’ and my world of ‘Me.’ I neglected to take notice of everyone else around me. I didn’t even considered what their experience was like on the other side. It was about what I want, how I’m feeling, how I’m doing, and nothing about what they want, how they're feeling, and how they're doing. There is a level of danger in magnifying the self and here is my reminder to myself.

Everyone has problems of some kind or another, everyone has a world of considerations, thoughts, emotions, plenty of experience, suffering, and unexpected turns thrown at them, so don’t think for once that I am the only one going through something because I am not. Especially when going through something with others, remember to look up, look around, and consider what other people are going through or what they are experiencing because maybe listening to what others are going through and finding the shared experience in whatever it is I am dealing with is where happiness in myself, happiness in relationships, and happiness in this world is found.

 

 

Life Is Full of Imperfections

 
Tegalalang Rice Terrace, Ubud, Bali, Indonesia

Tegalalang Rice Terrace, Ubud, Bali, Indonesia

Living in a world where we are bombarded with messages, visuals, and the demands for perfection, it is easy to forget that nothing in this world is actually perfect and that all things are imperfect in one way or another. If we observe the world truthfully, we will see that reality is far from perfection and that the world is inhabited by imperfection.

If life was perfect, change becomes unnecessary. If life was perfect, there will be no reason to grow, learn, or improve. What is even perfection if in absence of that which is imperfect?

Life is imperfect for a reason. Imperfection rewards me with the space to continue to strive for better. Imperfection leaves me room for change, to better myself and my situation. Life is not static.  

In the acknowledgement and acceptance of imperfection, what I am left with is a decision about how to interact with the imperfection. If my imperfections take form in a mistake, then what are the steps I take now in realizing my imperfections.

What's important in life; which I seem to lose sight of, especially in troubling times, in the face of challenges, or when encountering pain, is accepting the reality of the imperfect world we live in. Imperfection is what makes me human and it is what makes the world unique. Mistakes are part of the standards of imperfection. Mistakes is what can catalyze positive change. Mistakes is what can help me accomplish my mission towards the best version of myself. 

Whether mistakes were made, whether wrongs happened, whatever my past holds, there’s no way to change what has happened. Imperfection is a reality to embrace, as perfection in this world is impossible. Even with the conflicting messaging culture and society glorifies, being a perfect human all the time in all situations is an impossible task. The good news is there’s a lifetime of opportunities to improve from the wrongs of the past.

 

What Self Work Is Like

 
Aboard Le Pirate Explorer somewhere in Komodo Islands, Indonesia

Aboard Le Pirate Explorer somewhere in Komodo Islands, Indonesia

Self work (or working on yourself) is easier said than done but to me it is about making a conscious commitment to myself, to devote my energies to my well-being, and to strive towards a goal to develop myself in the best way possible. I believe self-work takes a level of isolation as I am the only person in this world who is truly in touch with my own self and if my goal is to arrive at the best version of myself, most of the work I do for this journey should be done alone.

I aim to get to know myself as much as I can so that how I value myself, how I see myself, and how I think about myself is not dependent on other people. The extreme is where I am completely confident in myself and are so sure of who I am, that no one and nothing can change how I see myself; but of course this is an unhealthy extreme if attained. The people around me, my ever changing circumstances, and my ever evolving life should make different impacts along the way, whether positive or negative. My main objective here is to remember to look inwards amongst the commotion in order to have the space to develop myself authentically as an individual.

My aim is to get to a level of certainty and confidence in my own self, to a point where I know what is right and what is wrong devoid of the people and circumstances around me. What I want is to be able to stay true to who I am as an individual despite what the world throws at me. I liken this goal to an immovable water buoy, I may sway with the currents and be changed by the winds but no matter how turbulent or strong they pass through, my core values, vision, and self remains.

I don’t believe there’s a way to short change this, if I want to know myself, I must know who I am when I am alone. I must understand what drives me, what discourages me, what distracts me, what brings me a sense of adventure, or as simple as what do I want to do in my spare time. Sure, I can learn a whole lot from friendships and relationships by understanding how I am in the context of others, but I see these learnings from others as indicators not as what defines who I am.

What I think is paramount is to first understand myself without the disruption of the needs, wants, and desires of others. Only then can I give back in a healthy way into my friendships and relationships, which are crucial to our very human need for social connections.

 

 

Remembering The Authentic Self

 
East Nusa Tenggara, Indonesia

East Nusa Tenggara, Indonesia

An important realization came about when I was reading a chapter from the The Artisanal Soul by Erwin Mcmanus. The message I took away from the book is tremendously logical, completely obvious (if paid attention to), but mysteriously out of mind. The book goes in depth about why finding your authentic self before being able to explore the creative genius waiting to be unleashed inside of you is crucial to our purpose as humans in this world. The key assumptions delivered in the book (and which I want to focus on) is to never doubt that there is creativity in all of us; a creative expression waiting to be materialized into existence.

It is not just about finding inspiration from the world, rather it is about finding yourself in the world and drawing from who you are and your unique intuition to create for the world. This is a simple, but significant shift in the habits my mind defaults to.

With the access and abundance to information I have access to now, the ways of the world tends to overcrowd my own voice. The reality of being swayed by everyone else and how society moves is much more apparent in today’s world than in previous generations. If I live in the modern world, it is hard to silence the over-stimulation and escape the bombardment of information on how to just be - what’s cool, what’s in, what’s not, and the list continues to what seems like infinity. Where it’s easy to fault is to think I am already living a life of my authentic self.

What I need to remind myself is not to fall into the trap of thinking I am already and always living as my authentic self. Rather it is more important to be realistic about the weight of influence society, culture, circumstances and others have and to remind myself to take time to take a step back to reflect who I really am. What are my qualities and characteristics which are truest to who I actually am versus those which are only a reaction or a reflection to the world around me.

To lose myself amongst the rambles of this world is easy. To maintain my most authentic self is the challenge at hand. What is important is to know who I am if everything else around me doesn't matter or does not exist. It is important to consider how I will be if I am free from society's verdicts, free from the demands of others, free from conformity, and to ask myself who is my authentic self?