86,400 seconds in a day, with upwards of 70,000 thoughts filling those seconds! I can hardly wrap my head around this concept. 70,000 micro-choices, embedded within 86,400 seconds, physically neuro-sculpting my mind, body and spirit every day. How we pay attention and where we put our focus really matters! Advances in neuroscience can now document that what we focus our attention on builds into the very fabric of our brain.
So, I was out walking on my favorite trail yesterday, and noticed a deep disturbance in my mind and heart. I noticed the brain ruminating over a perceived offense. I noticed other inner programs (neural networks) engaged in defending the offense. Step by step, on and on it went. I slowed my pace to really watch this happen in real time; my stomach was contracting, my jaw was clenching, my back felt more tight, the joy of walking my sacred trails was obliterated by the neuro-sculpting of misery I was engaged in. I took a breath, laughed at myself and started again. Breathing. Noticing the deep green of a rain-drenched August in Tallahassee, the explosion of dappled light deep within the forest trail. Ahhhhhhh, noticing peace. Slower breathing. Quieting. What emerges on its own? Gratitude. The soul’s place of peace. Gratitude for skills, knowledge, tools, and the practice of how to work with my mind, my focus, my emotions and feelings. Pure and simple. Gratitude always, always brings me back to my true self, where all shall be well, all shall be well and all manner of things shall be well.
Scientists now affirm that how and where we focus our attention dictates the content of the brain structure we create. By choosing to focus our attention (mindfulness and prayer) on uplifting emotional content (positivity and hope), and sustaining that moment for twenty-five seconds (installation), we little by little change our brain structure, which changes mental activity, which changes biochemical communication in the body, which epigenetically changes gene expression and thus our physical, mental, and emotional well-being.
Think of it this way: the act of replacing negative thoughts with good thoughts physically impacts the synapses in our brain, causing them to disconnect and make brand new connections, creating new pathways and cells devoted to right thinking. We turbocharge the process by engaging in positive lifestyle choices such as exercising, adding nutrient-rich foods into our diet, sleeping and resting well, and cultivating positive relationships. These combine synergistically to provide critical nutrients to grow healthy brain structure. Literally, in a process scientifically described as neuroplasticity, a new brain can be created to replace the old brain!
The effects of this self-directed neuroplasticity are cumulative, so every time we make a choice for hope, we are turning the part of us that chooses into something different than it was before. Just as it takes more than one footstep, though, to create a new path in the ground, it takes more than one thought to make a new pathway in our mind. We have to choose to cultivate the good we want in our mind over and over again. Somehow, the Apostle Paul understood this when he said to be ‘transformed by the renewing of your mind.” The Hidden Life Awakened