“Be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind.”
The Apostle Paul Romans 12:2
You have the power to literally create a new brain to replace your old one. St. Paul knew this, and now neuroscience does.
Through stunning new technology, neuroscientists can actually watch as our thoughts, emotions, and choices register in the brain by a cascade of physical and energetic changes in the structure of its cells. They 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 building more cells devoted to right thinking. We can turbocharge that 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.
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.
It is very important to be gentle with yourself as you commit to the practice of physical, mental, and spiritual change. The road is never a straight one and you will, of course, have setbacks, especially if you are depressed or in a place of deep pain. It is hard to stay focused on anything when your heart is breaking, and very often, it feels impossible to pray. But take heart. God knows every detail of your need; your friends will pray on your behalf. You can trust, from very real and scientifically demonstrable truth, that the practices will get easier as your neural pathways begin to re-create themselves and build more and more structure to hold the good. So, do as much as you can and stay with it long enough to begin to feel a difference. As you do this, you are participating in the renewal of your mind and affirming that God can and will literally create in you a new heart.
And this note of encouragement from Betty Walthour Skinner, who courageously journeyed through this great change to freedom and wrote about it in The Hidden Life Awakened:
“As I made all these changes in my behavior and thinking, I had this picture in my mind that helped me understand better what I was doing. It was as if my life were a kite string that had gotten all tangled up in a ball of knots. The knots were the illusions I was living, the labels I had put on others and myself, the need I had to control others and protect myself, the voices of my cultural conditioning, and everything else I was clinging to. If I was ever going to get well, I needed to let all of that tangled string out a little at a time and then, very slowly and carefully, bring it back in straight each time a new truth was revealed to me.
“As my perceptions changed, everything around me began to change. It happened very, very slowly, though, because to change my way of thinking and living, I had to return and return and return to the Source to help me find my way. I had to ask over and over for a new way of seeing and reflect on it again and again. God was so gracious and so merciful. I looked back one day and realized that change had begun to happen.
“I pray always that these words may awaken in you more of His Spirit and help you to unravel more of His secrets.”