Talking About Our Brains
by Rowena J Ronson and Nigel Summerley
Photograph, Open Book by Rowena J Ronson
RJR: What does it mean to be strong emotionally? What does that actually feel like? I have been wondering about this more and more recently and I am exploring the idea that it comes about as a result of how we choose to actively wire our brain. On a spiritual level, if we consider that all our experiences are a gift in learning, then if we process them through that lens, our brain can hardwire those thoughts into our foundations. So when the going gets tough, as it often does in life, if our brain has stable, strong wiring, we can feel that in place to support us, like a chemical safety net. We actually are what we create in our brains from our choices of how we view our lives. And so I choose to learn and to take care of my brain so it takes care of me. And as a result I do feel the benefits of those strong foundations. I wonder what you think about all of this Nigel.
NS: If I cut a slice out of my finger, the body will repair even quite a deep wound. I don’t have to do anything for this to happen, except to let it happen, it seems. If the brain is also simply part of our physical body, is it not likely that its inherent tendency is to be strong in adversity and heal itself of any mental wounds? I wonder if it is not a case of us actively choosing to wire our brains in a certain way – is such a thing possible? – but rather, NOT choosing to interfere with the brain’s instinctive intelligence. The problem, of course, is that we use the brain to think – and our negative, confused and neurotic thoughts must make it very difficult for the brain to operate in the same way as a ‘simpler’ part of the body healing and regenerating itself.
RJR: You actually do plenty for the healing of your finger to occur and a great deal of that healing is directed by the brain and the nervous system. I think what you are saying is that it is an unconscious process. The brain is not simply part of the physical body at all. Just as much as the physical body is not purely physical. But I digress. I don’t think we have an inherent tendency to be strong. We are how we are as a result of every single interaction we have while being nurtured by our parents throughout our young years. And of course what occurs in utero, in our genes and our karma play their part too. We are programmed to remember experiences when we are more fearful as a protection mechanism, so children who experience a great deal of trauma, for example, will create brains that a wired differently than those who feel safe and calm. So we can actually possess a traumatised brain from very young, and may not even know it. As for healing from mental wounds, our brain is being bombarded by neurotoxins all of the time. But we might have more control than we think….
NS: Phew… there’s a lot there… Yes that healing of the finger is definitely an unconscious process – “I” just let it happen. This automatic operation of the brain and the body is nothing short of miraculous. But how can you say that the brain is not simply part of the physical body – surely it is, isn’t it? But is the mind something different? And what do you mean by saying the physical body is not purely physical? If you could expand on this? Before I respond on the other things you have just said…
RJR: The brain is not simply part of the body, for many reasons including that the fact that it is evolving all of the time. It is very unique in that way. And we can influence its health uniquely too. Of course there are ways we can look after each of our bodily organs, and by doing so we can certainly change them. But how we look after and influence our brain is completely different. If we think different thoughts, our receptors alter and new pathways are created for use at other times. If we study, our brain responds by learning. Parts of our brain change in size depending on how we use them. And our physical body is also our energetic body but you know all of this Nigel, being a homeopath…..
NS: Well, a former homeopath! I take all those points about why the brain is different. But I would still wonder if the conditioning of the brain from outside sources – and also from within, ie through our use of it for thought – gets in the way of the brain’s natural inclinations and tendencies? I don’t know the answer to this. But there seems something logical in the question. We may think we have some control over the brain – but are we actually messing around with it? You also threw in ‘karma’ as if it were just as plainly evident as genetics and what happens in the womb…. Is there any evidence for inherited ‘karma’ being any different to genetic inheritance? And the question of physical body and energetic body… I don’t know for sure about this. All that seems to be clear is that everything physical is energy or the product of energy. Why differentiate between physical body and energetic body? I don’t want to get away from the discussion about the brain. Are you saying that if we can ‘toughen up’ the brain, then we can be emotionally stronger?
RJR: Once a homeopath, always a homeopath Nigel 🙂 From what I understand, the brain does not have natural inclinations and tendencies. Look to the field of epigenetics and you will see that our DNA is malleable and therefore affected by our environment, which is actually a really good thing and integral to our evolution. So if we take care of ourselves as much as we can in this lifetime, this can and will affect our DNA and consequently how we think and feel and how healthy we are. If we programme our brains to think in a more positive way, we create those connections through our receptors on our nerve cells, which in turn influence our brain chemistry, which makes us feel good. The more we programme our brain to positive thoughts, the easier it becomes because our brain remembers and makes those connections unconsciously. There is a great deal written on this subject now.
NS: From what I understand, the brain DOES have natural inclinations and tendencies. Take a look at sex and violence for starters. Of course, the brain is affected by its environment – which can be for good or ill. The problem that we come back to is: who is this ‘we’ that is taking care of the brain and who is this ‘we’ that is ‘programming’ the brain? Is the ‘we’ separate from the brain? There is a great deal written on this subject, perhaps, but that is also written by the ‘we’, isn’t it? Is it possible to disentangle the ‘we’ and the brain? Talk of programming the brain makes me feel slightly queazy and uneasy. Could it not be that the less we think – and the less we think that we can programme the brain – that the more likely the brain is to operate in its natural state and to find some natural equilibrium – and ultimately to evolve from its primitive state (eg the sex and violence stuff that I mentioned earlier). The brain has not evolved in any way for millennia – and I wonder if it may never do, if humans insist on thinking – and thinking that they can control the brain.
RJR: Not only has our brain continued to develop through the millennia, it develops throughout our lifetime. I am wondering what has made you think that it has stopped developing? And reproduction and survival are not the same as sex and violence Nigel, as you well know. Thinking in terms of ‘we’ and ‘I’ could be considered to be empowering. It is not like we are saying ‘they’. Surely it is a good thing to think that we can influence the health of our brain and therefore our mental and emotional wellbeing? Would you rather feel someone else has the answers, ‘they’ for example, have the answers for you?
NS: I think it has not developed for 5,000 years and maybe longer. (We have kicked this beer can around the yard before.) The evidence? How about the Islamic State beheading videos? How about Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Syria? How about the everyday gang rapes in India? How about the school massacre in Pakistan? How about the arms trade? Humans have made huge technological advances in the past few millennia, but we are as self-centred, short-sighted and appallingly violent as we always were. We have influenced our brains, but through our misuse of them. I feel that if we could ‘step aside’, maybe our brains would function more healthily. I know you mean something positive about ‘we’ and about ’empowering ourselves’ – but I’m not convinced about the pursuit of ‘power’, even over ourselves. Back to the original question of what it means to be strong emotionally… can we only be strong emotionally if we truly embrace the hopelessness of the state of humanity. Like someone facing death with acceptance and courage, can we face life knowing that the odds are almost completely against humans ever really changing?
RJR: Our collective knowledge is increasing and our brains are indeed changing and developing. This does not mean that our brains do not contain the original reptilian part that is responsible for survival and our impulse to fight or take flight. And yes of course we can be self-centered, short-sighted and violent, but that does not mean our brains have not evolved. Can we only be strong emotionally if we truly embrace the hopelessness of the state of humanity? No. I don’t think so. I feel that humans are changing but that we will always have a shadow. We will always be capable of 360 degrees’ worth of emotions and behaviours. But can we influence how we feel and personally evolve? I believe we can. And I would be interested to hear our readers opinions on this subject…..