Did you see Horizon on BBC2 on July 9th at 9pm? I missed it but got a phone call around 10pm from one of the people taking part in the the course I run, Mind Mood Mastery.
“Barbara, Barbara, I’ve just seen this bloke on the tele, who seems to have done your MInd Mood Mastery course!” She said excitedly. ”Blimey,” I said. “You mean someone was hiding behind the screen and snuck in without paying?”. ” Maybe,” she replied. “He was talking about Mindfulness and actually stuck himself in an MRI scanner after he’d been doing Mindfulness for about six weeks. His brain had changed shape! He turned himself from a glass half empty person to a raving optimist. Amazing! It was what you’d been telling us over the eight weeks of your course. I have to admit I didn’t quite believe you, but now I do!”
“I know, It seems so improbable doesn’t it? We can change the way our brains work for the better, simply by sitting still for a few minutes every day. So, you want to do the Advanced MMM course?”
“Definitely,” she said. “Sign me up now!”
When I was at medical school, we diligently learnt about the different areas of the brain, and which area was responsible for what function. One area, at the back, processed visual information, another dealt with sound, and so on. We learnt this elaborate map of what bit did what. That was the way it was. The brain was like a department store. “Lingerie? Certainly madam, on the second floor, turn left when you get out of the lift.” We also learned that this architectural arrangement was permanent. Actually we weren’t specifically told that. It was implicit. It was as if no-one even imagined that the brain could be capable of changing.
On top of that, we were taught that nerve cells and their neurons, the wires that connect one nerve cell to the other, degenerate and become fewer and fewer. We learnt that nerve cells do not regenerate. They die. We lose them in the daily progression from childhood to old age.
This is the way we have understood it for over four hundred years. Then various new techniques were developed that allowed us to see what was happening inside the brain as it was working. One of these is the functional MRI scanner. “Functional” in this context means in action, doing things. In other words, we can watch on a computer screen what happens inside the brain as someone carries out a particular task.
We can see specific areas light up as the person inside the MRI tube is asked to do different tasks. And we can see how big and how active these areas are, and map any changes that might take place from one session inside the tube to another. This is what happened to Michael Moseley. He was shown what his brain looked like before and after doing Mindfulness over a number of weeks.
Guess what? It changed!
What we are discovering about the brain is the equivalent of Christopher Columbus sailing west and keeping on going. ”Don’t do it,” everyone said. “You’ll fall off the edge.” They said this because the predominant belief was that the world was flat. Well, it wasn’t a belief really , it was the truth. It was the just the way it was, like the fact that water is wet. He kept on going, and proved that the world was not not flat. Of course no-one believed him.
It’s a bit like that with what we are now finding out about the brain. The funny thing is that a lot of what is being discovered actually backs up certain practices and techniques that go back over two thousand years. For example, that sitting in quiet contemplation every day is good for you. Now there’s a turn up for the books!
I’ll be telling you more about what is being discovered, and what the impact and implications of these new findings is, in my next post.