Pathways to peace

I’ve been reading a lot about brain development and plasticy – it’s such a COOL topic!

One of the topics that really picqued my interest is brain mapping. Apparently, the brain is divided into tons of brian maps, with geographic divisions for different parts of the body. Image the brain as a map of the world, but instead of countries you have parts of the body, and instead of states and cities you have more and more detailed parts of each city/state. So, if you touch something with your index finger, there is a specific part of the brain that processes data from that finger, that lights up, meaning it becomes “activated” in order to process that data and send the electrical signals needed for the body to respond.

What’s really cool which I’ve been reading about in “The Brain that Changes Itself” is that the map of the brain isnt’ static. It changes all the time, based on stimuli. Also, there are different parts of the brain that processes the same thing, for example, the “face map” is spread accross most of the brain, and various areas are called upon to process sensory input from the face.

Now, the really really cool thing. There is a theory that “Neurons that fire together wire together.” This has many implications in terms of bevahior. Our actions and thoughts create pathways in our brain. So if every time someone insults us, we get angry, we are creating related pathways, so eventually, us getting hurt by something/someone makes our anger neurons fire. Eventually, they almost become one process, instead of two distinct processes. The more we use these pathways, the more fine tuned and established they become, giving rise to “cortical dominance”. Which is why sometimes habits are so very hard to break – because the brain is a super expert in reacting in this way. Other ways of reacting are weak or inexistent so the brain isn’t able to react in those ways.

Makes perfect sense, doesn’t it. I’ve been learning about this for years and years in meditation classes, but now I have a scientific, actual explanation for the importance of meditation.

What do we do when we meditate? We establish new pathways. And over days, weeks, years, those pathways become stronger and stronger. And since we meditate on virtuous things, we are changing our reactions and our brains, training ourselves to become more and more peaceful.

One thing that supports this is one of the treatments mentioned in the book for Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. Appparently, one of the most successful treatments uses “redirection”. When the person with OCD starts obsessing, the treatment requires for them to stop and redirect their mind so they think about something else, specifically something that makes them feel happy and peaceful. They have to stop what they’re doing and focus on this new, positive thought. The person that proposed this treatment then took images of the brains of his participants, and they found that this treatment changed the structure in the brain. Whereas previously they were trapped in a thought loop, where certain neuorns wouldn’t stop firing and they kept going in circles, this treatment broke that loop and gave them control over their compulsions. I’m probably butchering the science of it and the details found in the book, but I think the general idea is valid. Amazing, huh!

Another really cool study focused on changes over time. They gave a group of people an intensive therapy. What they found was that on Fridays, certain parts of the brain that were processing that information had expanded. But mondays, that part had returned to its original size. However, over months, the monday parts of the brain did grow, and function reflected the size and agility of the monday scans, not the fridays. So I was thinking about how hard it is to effectuate change. It seems that you do something, and you get better, but very soon, you lose that and have to start all over again, especially if you are not consistent with your efforts. However, if you remain steady and keep on going, over weeks and months, the brain will definitely change. To me, this proves that change is possible, even in stubborn adults!

So why am I going on about this on Nate’s blog?

Well, it’s just such cool, revolutionary information for me, I wanted to organize my thougths a little bit and share my excitement. For me personally, I think this will encourage me in my personal journey, especially to eliminate the ups and downs in my journey with my boy. I know recognize it’s a journey and I am trying to be honest here about what it’s like. But I think that if I remember this, over time I will be able to make myself a better, more peaceful brain.

Also, all this stuff gives me so much hope for Nate. His brain has already shown it is able to adapt and respond to stimuli. So if we keep working hard and consistently, I have no doubt he will develop more and more pathways.

Okay back to work now 🙂

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