Do-It-Yourself Brain Tune-Up - The New Frontier Series
From The Caring Heart with Dr. Joyce from Spokane Washington

“A double-minded man is unstable in all his ways.” (James 1:8).

“If any of you lack wisdom let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him.” (James 1:5).

God engineered our brains so they could be whole, well-balanced, integrated, and capable of truly incredible feats.  But, to be truly whole and integrated, brains have to be developed under optimal conditions.  Healthy, well-attuned infant-mother nurturance is mandatory.  Growing up free of abuse and other real trauma is mandatory also. 

Probably most of the human population has not experienced the conditions for optimal brain development.  In avoiding the oh-so-lengthy expounding on brain physiology, suffice it to say that even quite seemingly normally functioning brains can lack important circuit connections from bottom to top, from side to side, and between all sorts of different areas.  Deficiencies in connectedness means that messages can’t get through very well, or at all.  For example, someone who is out-of-control impulsive may be lacking connections to impulse control areas.  Someone who is hard-hearted may be lacking development of areas for empathy and compassion.  Lop-sided brain development causes a raft of life problems, emotionally, socially, and economically.  Important relationships can be very strained or totally destroyed.  Countless animals can be needlessly abused and/or killed through out-of-control anger, due to lack of inhibiting channels, which should be in operation, but aren’t. Then, too, dysfunctional factors in the culture that are all around everybody, all the time, foster mental and emotional pathology.  Two glaring examples are the extreme emphasis on materialism, and the prevalence of violence on TV.  I swear, one can watch programs about Hitler and the Nazis every day!  World War II shows are continuous also.  So many people love watching violence.  Tragically, it’s very popular.

Mental illness is not an “all-or-none” type thing.  There are seemingly infinite types and gradations.  Someone who is diagnosed mentally ill is a very disabled individual.  But, there are so many people walking around, living the average American lifestyle, who have a degree of ongoing brain/mind imbalances, such as a bit of paranoia, too much excitability, tendency to be depressed, fighting too much anxiety, and, most tragically, underlying anger, aggression, and hostility, which results in terrible pain to animals and family members.  Mental health versus mental illness is actually on a continuum, from good to bad, with all shades in between. Important?  Depression is the number one illness worldwide, even exceeding the rates of all physical illnesses put together, for instance. 

So, my purpose in this writing is to offer you some resources that you can explore, on your own, to give your brain a good tune-up, whatever its current state is.  Even if you are one of the fortunate ones and have a very well-functioning brain now, you can sharpen it up some more, and avoid deterioration in years to come.

According to the meditation, mindfulness, mindsight people, purposefully causing the brain to focus, focus, focus can promote new neuronal growth and dendritic connections.  Focusing can actually build better brains!!  One extremely important aspect of brain/mind functioning is called “mindsight,” which is the conscious capacity of a mind to think about its own thinking.  (Not everyone can do that!)  My ability to be able to be aware of and think about my own mental processes is incredibly important, because only then can I be able to think about someone else’s mental processes and state of being, in other words, to identify with someone else. Only then can I have empathy and compassion towards the other being.  THE STATE OF MY BRAIN/MIND DETERMINES AND LIMITS WHAT FEELINGS AND THOUGHTS I CAN HAVE.  To lessen abuse to animals, and to people too, we have got to BUILD BETTER BRAINS!

There are many activities and techniques available nowadays which involve brain-building focusing.  Meditation, tai chi, yoga, and mindfulness, are all good.  A person can read so many books about it all, take courses, join groups, and what all!  Very popular in our culture right now!  Many resources out there! I recently finished going through one of “The Great Courses” entitled Optimizing Brain Fitness, which is chock full of advice and oodles of exercises to build better brains.  Senile dementias can be quite well avoided also. 

Dr. Daniel Siegel includes a variety of techniques in his book Mindsight: The New Science of Personal Transformation.  One of these techniques is to sit or lay quietly and focus on breathing in and out, in and out.  At the same time, a word or phrase can be repeated on and on.  I count in rhythm with my breathing. If one’s mind wanders (which it will), the mind should be brought quickly back to focusing.  (This is NOT easy!  My mind wanders terribly!  I have to really work hard at it!) Another technique is the body scan.  A person lays down and, starting with the toes, tenses and relaxes each body part all the way to the top of the head, focusing on how each body part feels. Increasing body awareness helps. “The Greater Good Science Center” (greater@berkeley.edu) is currently offering courses which sound fantastic.  One is on loving kindness meditation.  Others include the science of love, and a 5-month course in loving kindness and compassion.  Efforts are being made to teach children kindness. I surely do applaud such efforts.

Along with the findings that our brains can lack the neuronal connections we should have for good all-around functioning, and that good nutrition, exercise, enough sleep, and focusing work, on a long-term basis to “fill in the gaps” with new neuron growth and connections, there is another aspect of brain growth that can be considered and utilized for the good of all.  That aspect is simply new learning and skill building.  When we learn anything, we build new neuronal connections. The more we practice a certain skill, the bigger that brain part grows!  Violinists have been found to have larger brain parts having to do with left hand fingering.  I’ve been practicing kindness as much as I can, hopefully increasing my actual brain power in that area, and my warmth, positiveness, empathy, and compassion. 

A friend told me a story.  A young Indian boy went up to an old, wise chief, who was also his grandfather.  The boy said, “Grandfather, it is as though I have two of me in there.  One wants to be evil, the other wants to be good.  I can’t seem to choose between them, and I wonder.  Which of the two is going to win, in the end?”  The wise chief thought for a minute and then said, “The one that you feed.” 

Bettering our brains through careful, special stimulation techniques does take time, effort, and long-term commitment.  Such improvements do not happen overnight.  But, the effort is so well worth it!  We will feel better.  We will be able to bless those around us greatly better.  We will have a part in spreading love and kindness on this globe, and cancelling some part of the pain, misery, and death of our so very dear and precious animals.  We can make a difference. 

“Until one has loved an animal, a part of one’s soul remains unawakened.”  - Anatole France

REFERENCES

Hinshaw, Dr, Stephen P.  Origins of the Human Mind. The Great Courses (Chantilly, Va. 2010).

Restak, Dr. Richard.  Optimizing Brain Fitness,  The Great Courses Chantilly, VA 2011, 

Siegel, Dr. Daniel J. Mindsight: The New Science of Personal Transwformation. Bantam Books (New York 2011). 

COPYRIGHT 2016 Dr. Joyce The Caring Heart

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