1. NEUROPLASTICITY: Change your brain, change your life!
On a plane to Russia for a writing seminar, I was petrified. I’d moved to San Francisco to write, but couldn’t manage a sentence. I’d just ended a relationship, but the guy was still living with me. Several career paths presented themselves, but I couldn’t make a decision. About anything.
I’d brought along one book. Three pages in it became clear that I’d fundamentally misinterpreted how reality works. The book was not The Power of Now. It was not Man’s Search for Meaning or The Bhagavad Gita. It wasn’t Tolstoy or James Joyce. It was a book on brains, with a title so bad I almost didn’t buy it: The Brain that Changes Itself.
Before the hope, though, some history.
It used to be that neuroscientists didn’t believe adult brains could evolve much. Property lines, once fixed into topographical brain regions, were thought to be non-negotiable. If serious damage occurred — say, a stroke or sustained cocaine use — that was it. Scorched earth. For life.
But this guy — Dr. Norman Doidge — was saying the “locationists” were wrong. Studies show that if one area is injured, the adjacent properties take over. If a particular region is under-utilized, the neighbors set up shop. A far cry from static, the brain seems to be an ever-changing, inter-connected globe of synergistic activity and fluctuating communities, with neurons swapping roles and taking on new tasks depending on what the structure as a whole required. Neurogenisis, it’s called. Creative destruction in the brain.
The key to change is the quality of your attention: “Divided attention does not lead to lasting change.” For plastic changes to occur, you have to really care.
Care. I’d spent the last ten years of my life training myself not to care.
On a plane to Russia hurtling through space with the eerie feeling I had not gone anywhere.
2. “We live in a molten reality of change.” — Sharon Salzburg
After a lot of thinking, drinking, and little writing, I returned from Russia and decided it was time to make myself vulnerable. If I was going to figure out what really mattered, I’d have to put myself out there.
I ended up at a nudist colony.
There I met a man who could look into direct sunlight without burning his retina; another whose diet was so pure he could drink his own urine. I started reading a book called The Dancing Wu Li Masters. “An elementary particle is not an independently existing thing. It’s a relationship.” That seemed significant. I asked the sungazer to explain karma to me.
“Every action causes a reaction,” he said.
“I thought that was thermodynamics,” I said.
“It is,” he said. “Nothing is only one thing or the other. As the great Yasutani Roshi said, ‘The fundamental delusion of humanity is to suppose that I am here and you are out there.’” He tried to kiss me. I left, and accidentally took the book with me.
These lines — “all matter is active and interconnected. The discrete and separate body is an illusion” — began to haunt me.
3. “The system has a fault in it […] It is not a fault here, there or here, but it is a fault all throughout the system. C...read more