“The brain has reasons that reason knows nothing of.” – with apologies to Blaise Pascal
When I was 20 years old a group of aspirants would meet weekly with a Sufi wise man visiting America from Turkey. One day, at a particularly teachable moment, he delivered a directive that lit up my neural network and has powerfully shaped and guided my life ever since. In part it was what he said, but in equal measure it was what I was ripe and ready to hear. Fifty years later that directive has circled round and lit up my neural net once again.
Feedback Loops – Good or Bad?
One double-edged aspect of the way feedback loops affect our brains (and believe me – spiritual directives can be very powerful feedback loops) is that whatever we pay attention to in our lives tends to increase. So, for example, when we begin learning the multiplication tables and say “Three times three equals nine,” actual wires (axons) connect to other wiring (dendrites) in our brain. The more we repeat the multiplication tables, the more wires connect and the stronger the connections become, until one day – voila – we’ve built a sufficiently robust, integrated network that demonstrates we’ve learned all the multiplication tables. This wiring process repeats all through our lives with every bit of learning, including, unfortunately (and fortunately) learning that ends up breaking our hearts.
With respect to the spiritual directive I received, a number of network fibers had already been laid down – the equivalent of several exposures to the multiplication tables. I had sold a business I’d started in California, and was now back in Connecticut working with a friend who’d just started a housebuilding enterprise. I didn’t know it then, but my brain and body really thrived in being active and working outside every day. A big part of housebuilding, especially for two guys building their first house by themselves using a textbook (Willis Wagner’s Modern Carpentry), was creative problem-solving. This too, was a boon to my brain!
Back to the spiritual directive. What the Sufi wise man said that was so impactful to my unfolding heart and brain was: “Provide shelter for people.” This teacher obviously knew that a kind heart trumps good looks!
To a 20-year-old with boundless energy, that directive meant “Build whole houses for people.” Which essentially is what I did for more than a quarter of a century. But the body ages and energy wanes. What’s an elder to do about that Spiritual Directive then?
Well, several weeks ago, the answer to that question arrived in an email from a friend. It was a short, inspiring Karma Tube video. It was this one of a guy in West Oakland, CA suddenly connecting a bunch of Rich Club networks in my brain (which I suspect ultimately connect to the heart – although I have only anecdotal evidence, which is often more than enough to form a research hypothesis or two around).
What the video provided was an illustration of one man’s efforts to help heal a few local broken hearts (including his own). Here’s how his efforts have inspired me.
Slowly I Turn
When I turned 50 it became clear that I could no longer take on the stress and responsibility for planning, constructing and completing one new home after another. I could do remodels and additions – things that required less time and energy and afforded some downtime between projects to recover. As the years have gone by and my interest in brain science blossomed, I have done less and less construction work.
For the last two years though, I’ve been looking into the Tiny House movement, and have built the equivalent of several tiny houses on our property (see the Wood Chapel at the right and Ollie’s Love Emporium image below). Last year I almost went out and bought a trailer to build my first mobile Tiny House on.
And then along came Greg Kloehn’s video. Not surprisingly it triggered memories of two times in my own life when I was homeless, couch surfing, sleeping in trees and in friends’ parked cars. And because I know how important a sound, safe night’s sleep is for integrated brain function, my own neural network lit right up.
And now Prayer Pod has been born. My first sleeping pod for the homeless – a form of “shelter for people” that my current level of time and energy can readily manage. It’s well on the way to completion (you can see pictures HERE). I find my brain and body abuzz in ways that it hasn’t been for quite a while now. Especially because if anything will begin to address the complexity of homelessness, a safe and sound good night’s sleep is a great place to start. Oh, and the research shows how beneficial helping just one person actually is for the brain, not to mention…the human heart. Whose heart does your brain yearn to help heal?