Isn’t everyone curious about their mind? Doesn’t everyone wonder why they love who they love, why some habits are so hard to break and what they can and can’t change in themselves?
I come from a crazy, bright, troubled but in some ways oddly cohesive family. I have been preoccupied with philosophical concerns about the brain and mind pretty much since I could think. Unsurprisingly, I studied Philosophy to post graduate level and then turned to biology and neuroscience when I realised that I just didn’t have the basic biological knowledge to think through the implications for understanding the brain and mind in philosophical terms. One Masters and a PhD later and I have discovered an enduring fascination and respect for nature and evolution. Not a month goes by without my reading another study that shows that brains adapt exquisitely, intricately and intimately to their environment.
Early in adulthood I worked in children’s homes and with kids in foster care and trained as a mental health nurse. It saddens me that many kids grow up in environments where they don’t have enough of a basic sense of safety and love to be able to focus outwardly on learning about the world and instead spend their energies anticipating threat and trying to avoid, avert or appease it. This habitual pattern does not release its hold when the threat, and your childhood has passed. Evolution prefers you to stick with what has worked and survive rather than let you relax and risk encountering further danger.
For the last third of my life (so far) I have been deeply engaged in therapy and this has freed me up to experience more of my emotions, relate more authentically and to be able to think and feel my way through my life, rather than just THINK. I reckon I have a a pretty well rounded perspective on mind and brain, encompassing philosophy, psychiatry, neuroscience, psychotherapy and the lived experience of complex trauma, which shaped me, and a successful psychotherapy which also shaped, and continues to shape me.
Haley’s comment is a wonderful pun (thanks Craig) and also an opportunity for me to write about the brain, the many ways it is shaped by experience and the implications that this has for me for us and for society. Accepting our brains are shaped by experience promotes a more compassionate understanding of each other, it also refocuses us to make pro-active personal and policy decisions about the quality of experiences and environments that we and our vulnerable populations are in. Experiences shape us. Choose your experiences with intention and wisdom.