I know – strange title, right? What’s a ‘Brain Garden’ anyway?
Well, in an article called ‘Your Brain has a Delete Button‘ authors Judah Pollack and Fox Cabane use the metaphor of a garden to explain how the brain works. They invite the reader to imagine that our brain is like a garden, except instead of growing flowers and veggies, we grow synaptic connections between neurons. These connections allow for neurotransmitters like dopamine, serotonin and others to travel across.
Turns out that just like we have some control over what happens in our backyard garden, we also have some control over what happens in our ‘brain gardens’. We can choose what we ‘grow’ in our brain, as well as what we ‘prune’.
Each time we think a thought or review an image/memory, we strengthen the neuro – circuit of it. This is referred to as ‘neurons that fire together, wire together.’ The more we practice certain things – like a musical instrument, a language and even new concepts, the stronger these circuits get. This is the process of choosing what we ‘grow’.
Our brain also has a ‘pruning’ mechanism. It marks the synaptic connections that get used less with special proteins and these get ‘pruned’ – destroyed – from the brain. This pruning allows the brain to make space to create new and stronger connections in order for you to learn more. So, things that we choose to think LESS about, get ‘pruned’.
When I read this I said to myself “Wow! I better get a grip on my ‘brain garden’!” I can be quite lazy with my thinking and now I realized how harmful that can be. My brain may be pruning some really good stuff because I’m not using it and may be strengthening negative thoughts, memories and beliefs that have become habitual.
So, in order to get a better grip on my ‘brain garden’, I decided that I would do my best to be more conscious of what I’m thinking.
But how could I control my thinking? Thoughts are like clouds that are constantly drifting in and out of my brain all the time. As a woman, I don’t have a ‘nothing box’ (ha-ha).
Yet, I did notice that I do have the ability to choose which thought clouds to follow. Each one has a particular destination. Some thought clouds have negative pathways and create feelings of anxiety, sadness, annoyance, shame etc. Others are uplifting and kind and lead to feelings of hope, joy and peace. Which way did I want to go?
Now, this is not to suggest that I advocate ignoring feelings. Nope – that’s a big ‘no, no.’ When feeling emotionally triggered by a person or situation, those feelings need to be acknowledged. If you find yourself in the midst of a tornado of thoughts, this is called ruminating. Ruminating happens when you’re overthinking a situation rather than dropping into body awareness and experiencing the physical sensation of the emotion.
(Please read “Let it Flow” for a simple technique to do this).
The thought clouds that I’m referring to here are the ones that drift in and out of our minds when we’re by ourselves – walking, cooking, cleaning etc. In choosing which thought clouds to ‘jump on’, I’m basically choosing what gets ‘grown’ and ‘pruned’ in my brain.
Here’s five tools that I found to keep my ‘brain garden’ as happy and healthy as it can be. I invite you to try some of these:
1) Have kind people in your life:
Interacting with kind people means more feel-good ‘brain food’ – pleasant memories, gratitude, laughter, intimacy and joy.
2) Anchor Gratitude:
Place your hand on your heart, take a conscious breath and think of things/people that you feel grateful for. For example, a butterfly just flitted around my garden. I put my hand on my heart, took a conscious breath and thanked G-d for giving me the vision to witness this beauty with my eyes. I find that by combining a physical action with the gratitude thought, I’m anchoring that moment of joy deeper into my being.
When you find that you’ve jumped on a thought cloud that is negative, jump off. Tell yourself ‘nope, not going down that path now – the less I think that thought, the greater chance that it will get ‘pruned’ from my mind.’ Give yourself the freedom NOT to think certain thoughts. It then becomes a habit to discern and discipline.
4) Surround yourself with uplifting images and phrases:
Words and images are powerful. It’s great to ‘seed’ the positive ones in your mind and grow these kind of synaptic connections. Speak the phrases out loud as well – pretend that you’re talking to your imaginary friend, but the friend is you!
5) Sprinkle people with compassion and compliments.
Spreading kindness to others strengthens your neuro – circuits of dopamine and serotonin and theirs as well.
With these tools, next thing you know, we’ll have a world full of people with happy, healthy ‘brain gardens.’
Miriam Racquel (Meryl) Feldman is a Somatic Healer and Certified Mind-body and Martha Beck Coach. She is a published writer and speaker based in Chicago. Integrating her knowledge of Kabbalistic Judaism, Somatic Healing, and Coaching, Miriam Racquel empowers women with clarity and peace-of-mind in their relationships, career and health.For more information, visit MiriamRacquel.com or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.