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Do our brains grow toward what we choose?

Our brains our changing. At least mine is. It has to, in order to keep up with the constant influx of information, sensory input, and data. To analyze it properly and make the right decision. I read and process information differently. My brain is adapting, as a  survival strategy.

I’m not sure what that means, exactly. But, it seems, based on information provided by the new technology of brain study that we may actually be laying down new neural pathways, repairing some and pruning away others, all the time. In the “old days” – which by scientific standards was only 15 years ago – we didn’t think so. We thought that the brain’s circuitry, at least after a period of pruning from “excess” neurons that happened early in our lives, was fixed and unchangeable. After this, we had to live with whatever we had left. (Thus, the significant concern for some of us who were “killing off brain cells” with our brain-altering recreation.)

But what if our brain’s structure continues to adapt and grow in response to our thinking? What if we actually grow brain pathways toward what we are thinking about. More pathways to the frequent thoughts. More scattered pathways if we head in lots of directions.

This isn’t so far-fetched.  Exercise and its increases to brain blood flow apparently result in enhancement of executive processing function and stimulate the production of brain growth factors. Do these repair nerves? grow them? re-route them?

This is exciting…and dangerous. It means that our brains are more like the rest of our bodies than we thought. The “use it or lose it” threat we address to our bodies may apply to our minds as well. Which means the things we focus on, that we learn and pattern and practice, are enhanced. The neural highways to (and from) those places are firmed up, bolstered, paved in concrete and there to stay. Pathways to those things we dismiss or fail to attend to would shrivel, get grown over, fall to disrepair and die.

What if our thoughts and actions actually act as our own pruning mechanism? A self-fulfilling brain circuitry. This sounds pretty good if we’re rightly directed. But, if we give into temptation or satisfy our pleasure center at the expense of other things, those pathways will be the ones enhanced. And, the highways to them will become easier to travel. The more connections we make, the more likely we re-visit.

Could addiction happen just this way? Can temptation that leads to sin be this simple? At some point is an “urge” truly irresistible?

No wonder God wants us focusing on Him. Because the world is full of distraction that tempts us away. Marketing and media and online ads flash to get our attention. Do we click – harmlessly, just to see?

During Advent I have downloaded a Christmas devotional playlist on Spotify, the free version because I have not paid extra for the “ads free” version. Today I play “Make Me A Servant”… and in the margin of my computer screen scroll a line of attractive men, the faces are photos like we used to take in the photo booths, one on top of the other, with a different expression on each. Though my ears hear…make me a servant today…my eyes see the message that pops up, “Do you want a boyfriend in Herndon?” All I have to do is click on the age group I prefer. Even in our devotion, Satan lurks.

To protect my brain from engaging the images I close my computer screen and focus on the listening. The Maranatha Singers sing…

Make me a servant, humble and meek

Lord, let me lift up, those who are weak.

And may the pray’r of my heart always be;

Make me a servant, make me a servant,

Make me a servant, today.

This is what I seek, but the world would draw me away.

Is the attraction and the paving and the same with you, Lord? Does the pathway to you grow stronger when I pray? Is making a way in the wilderness of our minds something we are meant to live? The more we seek and the more we search and the more we attend to things as you intend them, can we discover, uncover and lay down our way to You?

Are we otherwise, in fact, shaping our own brains according to our own will, own ways in our own circumstances, based on our own choices?

Let me choose You! And keep choosing you. Until the way to you is the only way I see.

Are there layers to listening?

Folks today listen fast. We have to. We have information coming at us from all directions at rapid fire pace. Young people are unfazed by this. They’ve grown up with it and seem to have perfected the technique.

The young woman at the register was completely amazing. I approached her to exchange a pair of shoes. In the next 90 seconds she:

  • scanned in my receipt
  • checked her computer for stock availability
  • found it in the size in another color
  • pulled up that color and described it to me

Then:

  • responded to the caller on her headset
  • asked if she’d like them to hold those for her
  • wrote up a slip

Then:

  • responded to the woman bringing 2 large boxes about where to put them
  • put the slip with these boxes

Then, she looked back at me.

Nearly, speechless, I asked if she’d hold my shoes while I went to look at what they had available. I had no doubt that my shoes would be waiting when I returned. This woman was astounding.

And I tell her story this way, in bullet points, because I must. It’s how we read and how we hear — these days. Our lives are filled with distraction and diversion, but we manage to take it all in. Just enough of it to get the idea, because that’s all we have time for. Funny, diversion used to be such a good thing. It was something that rescued us from our monotony and lifted us to the sublime, the humorous or at least the entertaining. Now, it’s standard. Comes on the basic model.

What, then, of us “contemplatives?” And I don’t mean monks or hermits or cloistered religious folk, but people who tend to cogitate and reflect by nature. Are we being shallowed, too? Perhaps, we, like the Universe, are slowly moving away from our center. Not exploded by the force of the Big Bang but drawn outward by a magnetic force.

I was struck by this definition of contemplative prayer offered by the Shalem Institute:

“Deep listening in the silence.”

If I am always operating at the surface, what is in the deep?

I drew 3 concentric circles in my journal and stood by to see what emerged. The surface was very easy to populate with words: shallow, listen up, easy to wake, distraction, diverge, snapshot, wander. Surprised myself with: productive and superconcious.

But these words did not emerge alone. They came in 3’s, partnered with under words and yet deeper words. Underneath were: dig, delve, order, explain, reason, data, apply, converge. Surprises: wonder and hypothesis. Perhaps those are borderline to the deeper words like: discover, uncover, naked, appreciate, adept, perspective, see, tiptoe. That was the place of deep listening.

How’d a kinesthetic get there? By one smooth, clear, baptismal stone. It was a gift from the folks at SOULfeast during one of their worship services. I like it because it’s surface feels right to my fingers. Somehow it clarifies my thoughts.

When I was finished writing words, I set it down on a word. I was surprised to see that it acted as a magnifier. The word it magnified was “subconcious.” Near it I had written, “How do you know that?”

photo 2 (2)-005

Amazing the power of one smooth, clear stone.

Up close. That’s what it said. From a distance, this small stone looked like a drop of water, beaded up from the page.

How can I magnify my listening from a distance? I can’t, but God can. No matter how far I pull away, I am still in connection with the center that holds me.

How do I know that? I have seen it.

Even when I can’t see it, I can feel it.

It spells itself out for me. Imagine that… just for me. Magnificent!

 

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