Recent discoveries in the field of Neuroscience have revealed that the brain can be rewired to change how we respond to life circumstances through a property called neuroplasticity.
External events are not what generate an emotional response; it’s the brain interpretation of those circumstances that does it. Furthermore the brain cannot distinguish between an imaginary experience and one that actually happened; when having to choose it will always go for what is more familiar. This means that we are not really at the mercy of life circumstances, that by adopting new ways of self-control, intention and compassion and practicing them until they become familiar we can change our lives by creating an environment where we can flourish.
Compassion in particular modifies the structure of the brain shrinking the amygdala, responsible for the fight or flight response, and increasing grey matter. Just like our muscles respond to exercise so does our brain respond to practices like mindfulness and loving kindness, and to having an open heart.
Physiologically when we help others and face the world with heroism, compassion and altruism there’s a release of feel good hormones that promotes wellbeing.
Fear on the other hand makes us shut down and avoid new experiences, only wanting to stay with was is familiar. Not venturing outside our comfort zone may give us sense of safety but also keeps us on alert, fearful of suffering or being attacked. Many of the problems the world faces today are due to a sense of tribalism that keeps us in fear of others. If we took the opportunity to be with people that are very different soon we would realize that we are the same.
As human beings we are designed to bond with each other, the survival of the species depends on the neuropathways that drive us to take care of our offspring way longer than any other species. This feeling of connectedness gives meaning to our life and makes our physiology function better.
The brain and the heart work together, when the heart is open we feel like being kind to others. Through our actions we have the capacity to make another person feel better, just a smile can make a difference to the person that receives it.
We are at the beginning of an era of compassion; even if we currently only see it in pockets in society we know it’s the path that can lead us from darkness into light.
The mind can bring health and healing to our individual and collective lives. In all there is a place of love and beauty that we can go to whenever we need it.
Jo Marchant, “ Cure: A Journey into the Science of Mind over Body”
James Doty MD. The Magic Shop of the Brain. http://www.onbeing.org/program/james-doty-the-magic-shop-of-the-brain/8397