I recently watched the PBS documentary, “The Secret’s of the Brain: The Baby’s Brain.” In this documentary, they highlighted the specifics of the brain’s development, both prenatal and within the first year postnatal. I was intrigued by many insights that they shared, but I found myself returning to a single aspect of our biology that absolutely fascinated me; the knowledge that while all other cells in the body die and replenish, the engaged cells of the brain are with us throughout our lifespan.
The documentary revealed that by four weeks from conception the neurons of the brain are being developed at the rate of 500,000 per minute! Now, just a quick reminder, in case your biochemistry is a little rusty; neurons are a part of your nervous system. “Neurons contain a cell body with a long axis, called an axon. At the end of the axon is axon terminals which contain tiny sacs of chemical substances called neurotransmitters. Growing out of the cell body are projections called dendrites, and they receive messages from other neurons via neurotransmitters… Over 100 neurotransmitters have been identified; serotonin and dopamine being the two most commonly known, and they tell the neuron to start or stop firing… The brain is still developing its neural pathways until the age of 30.” Basically, the neurons are the communication network of the body.
I should also say that brain cells do get purged when we don’t use them, however, the ones that have been engaged, are with us throughout our lifetime. That means every memory, learning, or experience we have encountered throughout our entire lifespan exists in our brain. Perhaps it’s just me, but I found this information absolutely fascinating! Why was it determined that our utilized brain neurons were so essential, so special? Why does having the neurons of our infancy experience matter as adults? Why wouldn’t past events that we rarely recall simply be purged, or regenerated?
Here is where I would like to veer off the biochemistry, and into the realm of spirituality. Yes, our nervous system is what is hard-wired; helping us through our experiences to form an identity, to sculpt our emotional being, and the learnings we’ve gathered about what keeps our sense of love, safety, and belonging intact. As I’ve shared before, our motivators in life can all be boiled down to our learned experiences about what kinds of actions, reactions, and behaviors have been required, in the early years of our individual life; to keep love, safety, and belonging secured. But why would every single moment in your crib be valuable enough to keep?
I think the part of this that grabs me is that it makes me pause to recognize that every living moment of our life has held a place within us, literally, and that they are all valuable. And, despite the thoughts and memories that I choose to replay in mind, thus strengthening their neuro-pathways, that because none of them have been purged by my body, that they truly are all equal. This leads me to the idea that our lives are ultimately about where our focal point is. I can dwell on past memories of anguish, thus strengthening their connection to my emotional systems, or I can mull over my memories of joyous experiences, strengthening those responses within my system. Or, even more so, I can let each past experience, and the wirings it has established, allow me to be more present in each current moment of my life. I can use my sense of self-awareness to investigate when my heart rate rises because a well-trotted neurological pathway of the past has been ‘activated.’ By keeping my focus in the present, those lifelong neurons can help guide me toward the life I desire by making me aware of where my actions, reactions, and choices are coming from.
Another point this documentary makes is that our brains are pliable up until we expire. So, if we are settling for what is, we are choosing to. If we’ve convinced ourselves that we are a reactionary person, or we are easily distracted, or we are not capable of learning a new task, or we can’t help getting upset, then we have told ourselves these things to avoid asking ourselves why we assume that to be true. We are avoiding growing because of fear, or perceived pain. Here’s the beauty though; it’s never too late. It’s never too late to investigate into why you are the way you are, and how you can become how you want to be. Your neurons await the awakening!