How forgiveness rewires the brain

In a recent article on Brain Neuroplasticity I wrote about the Brain’s capacity to grow and renew itself – provided we keep on learning and provide it with new new and powerful experiences to process.

Today I want to talk about how letting go of useless regret and bitterness enables Bodymind to spring clean the brain and restore emotional wellness.

Some writers think that resentment about past misfortunes is an emotion. I disagree: it is a Headmind state which keeps on replaying tapes from the past in a futile attempt to make sense of some terrible event so that Headmind can control and prevent its re-occurence.

For example, I used to have repeat nightmares about the treatment I received from other children – and from my ‘teachers’ – as the lone deaf boy at the elite grammar school I attended. Those lasted until well into my twenties. And – each time I recalled the abuse I would be filled with bitterness and thoughts of revenge. Although the Headmind intention might have been to put me on guard against bullying in future, it merely made me paranoid.

I had to learn forgiveness but I was put off by the idea that this meant learning to love people I knew very little about. Later on I learnt that the word ‘forgiveness’ had an entirely different meaning – even for Christ. What it actually means is something like ‘set me free’. So, when Christ speaks – in Aramaic – of the forgiveness of sins, he means ‘free us from the faults of others.’

So that’s the most important clue we have: to ‘forgive’ really means to move on from upsetting memories and then focus on something better, more important, more rewarding, more empowering, in the present.

Now here’s what happens to you when you focus on resentment:

  • Your Conscious Mind calls up the movie
  • You relive the emotions associated with that story (e.g. anger, fear, disgust)
  • Because the movie belongs to the past, and the past is unchangeable, Headmind concludes that you are a victim of your emotions
  • The Pre-frontal cortex in the forebrain, which interprets information about what happens to you, sends a red-alert signal to the Amygdala, in the Limbic system
  • The Amygdala then triggers an alarm reaction in the sympathetic nervous system, the muscles, gut, skin and the immune system – which you experience as stress

What is worse, this stressful experience sensitizes the cells in the nervous system, the muscles, the gut and the immune system, which become more and more wired to prepare a response to trauma – to something that might have happened to you thirty years ago!

And here’s what happens when you forgive:

  • You stop watching old movies
  • You engage more in the present and keep busy on activities that bring you reward
  • Your Conscious Mind has less and less opportunity to replay the tape
  • Headmind starts to lose the thought that you are a victim of your past
  • As that happens the alarm circuit between the Pre-frontal cortex and the Amygdala grows weaker
  • New, empowering, experiences create new connections between the cells in your brain, nervous system, muscles, gut, and immune system
  • You become both happier and more resistant to disease

Image by littledan77

Neuroplasticity and the brain

Over the past few weeks I have asserted that our ever-faster rate of discoveries about the brain will transform assumptions about emotions, disease, free will, personal change, and how Bodymind really works.

Research into brain neuroplasticity is another example of that.

Neuroplasticity refers to the way in which the brain can renew itself and reprocess damaging experiences.

Renewal occurs through:

  • Cell growth
  • Cell replacement
  • The formation of new cellular connections
  • The formation of new neural networks
  • The creation of new cellular memories
  • The reversal of ageing

Relearning occurs through the absorption of new experiences that:

  • Change the way we remember things
  • Erase stress responses
  • Replace depression and anxiety patterns with a solution-focus
  • Increase endorphin release
  • Replace trauma with detached responses
  • Reverse burnout
  • Expand creativity
  • Interrupt addictive behavior
  • And many other changes besides

The old view of the brain is that it was like an attic which, over time, filled up with cobwebs, out-of-date toys, and unwanted junk. And then you went senile. The new view is that it is more like the interactions you have with a friend: the experiences you have together will change you both in unpredictable ways.

My namesake, Howard Eaton, has some great material, including podcasts, on neuroplasticity and its implications for health on this blog here.

There is also a great video on neuroplasticity on this link here.
Amongst other matters, it talks about how one woman overcame severe
‘mental illness’ (not my phrase but those psychiatrists love it!),
using meditation to reprogram her brain to grow new neural connections
which – in turn – interfered with her bad psychotic habits.

This article is by way of an introduction to a huge subject and I will be writing about the implications of neuroplasticity and emotional experience in later posts. But here is a thought for today.

If you try doing one thing you have never done before – each day – then you are going to:

  • Open up new cell networks
  • Learn a different way of being
  • Solder those new possibilities into Bodymind
  • Improve your memory
  • Stay young
  • Achieve liberation

What is your choice for today?

My own experience? Since breaking my right wrist two months ago I have learnt how to a) be left-handed, b) develop patience, c) slow down, d) – no, I won’t specify that one (but it was good)

Let me know of any enlightening experiences you have with this.

Why the mind isn’t in your head

 This century will see an explosion in our knowledge about cellular
intelligence. And we will come to realise that Mind isn’t just in the head.
It’s in the body, in the brain, in the heart, in the hormones, and in
the cells. It’s also out there in society, in our culture, in our schools, in our legal system and in the media we watch, read and listen to.

Much of what we think of as ‘mind’ isn’t personal. Our thoughts are mirrors of the ideas transmitted to us through the systems we encountered in earlier life: the family system for one, and the educational, employment, legal, marital, cultural and media systems we were introduced to later on. To a large extent external ‘mind’ is
about knowing how to work the rules.

Here are two illustrations:

What would happen (to you) if you went into a supermarket, filled up
your basket with groceries, went to the check-out counter and then, one
by one, offered to haggle for each item? Or if you stopped at each
broken road sign, pulled out some tools and then started to repair each

You’d typically expect to be treated as crazy. That’s because ‘the
right way of thinking’ is based on the implied social rules we are all
expected to know. People who don’t seem to know the rules are assumed
to have something wrong with their minds.

Looking inside the human being we notice that mind is distributed
over different places there too. The so-called emotional brain (limbic
system) follows one system of rules based on Bodymind evaluation of the situation. The Heart, too, has its own ‘brain’, as is shown by the fact that it can ‘remember’ feelings associated with other people and alter the heart rhythm when you meet them again (which is why our heart races when we fall in love).

We also know that the nervous system, the immune system, the gut, and even the muscles each have miniature brains that make decisions independently of the brain in
your skull. Going further on down the chain, Candace Pert has shown that every cell in the body (and there are at least 10 trillion of them) has a consciousness of its own.

Taking both external minds and internal minds together then most of the decisions we make are neither personal nor conscious. Instead, we are like a theatre audience watching a play – constantly trying to make sense of changes in the plot, without necessarily being a party to it.

Loved up on Oxytocin

You may not realise it yet but the 21st century will be remembered as an era when we discovered how human beings actually work in terms of brain science.

That’s because we now have MRI scanners that can track every electrochemical change in the brain while we are thinking, emoting, deciding, suffering or just bonding to another human being. And photograph them.

The newest discoveries have focused on Oxytocin, a hormone that is manufactured in the Hypothalamus.

It used to be thought that all that Oxytocin was for was to ease birth contractions and release milk during breast-feeding.

We now know that it does a lot more than that. Indeed, it seems to be one of the key chemicals that Bodymind uses to cue feelings associated with nurturing children, learning to trust, and falling in love. People who experience surges in Oxytocin levels after the birth of a child develop powerful, and instinctive, bonds with their children. Oxytocin is also released during orgasm – which is one reason you should be choosy about your sexual partners.

Oxytocin is also used to create cellular memories about people with whom we have bonded before. We know that because a mouse low in oxytocin levels won’t remember other mice it has already mated with. Nor, I suspect, would it remember much about its offspring.

And you can now buy Oxytocin in a nasal spray! It is usually given on prescription to pregnant women but some researchers have found other uses for it.

  • It reduces anxiety in people with social phobias
  • It helps people forgive and forget mistakes their partners have made
  • It speeds up new friendships
  • It increases pleasure during massage, foreplay and sex
  • Some people are even predicting that Oxytocin could become another club drug!

In another article I will explain why Oxytocin injections may not be a good idea for some people.

What do you think?

Image by A_of_DooM

Endorphin rush

I have been arguing for some time now that any worthwhile treatment for Anxiety, Depression and Stress-related illnesses needs to include a program for raising Endorphins.

I have written about how we do that in Reverse Therapy in the free book we released last year.

Endorphins are protein chains (neuropeptides) that are released by the Hypothalamus area in the brain. They act in the same way as morphine except that endorphins are 18-50 times stronger.

An endorphin rush can occur when:

  • You do vigorous exercise (‘runner’s high’).
  • You laugh
  • You listen to music
  • You dance
  • You eat chocolate (addictive!)
  • You eat chilis (also addictive!)
  • You practice yoga, tai chi, qi gung, etc
  • You have a massage
  • You do something creative or inspiring
  • You achieve something important
  • You share affection
  • You have an orgasm
  • You cut yourself (which is why self-harming is addictive)
  • As well as lots of other ways that are personal to you

Bodymind uses endorphins for several purposes. Firstly. to boost energy when you need it; secondly to reduce pain from injury; and thirdly, to signal that you are doing something worthwhile or enjoyable and to encourage you to do more of the same.

Next up I will be writing about how binaural beat programs can boost endorphin levels by changing brain wave patterns to the alpha and theta frequencies.

Please let me know if you have your own tips for creating an endorphin rush and, if I get enough suggestions, I will post them up on this site.

Image by AfferentRapture [Dave]