Old Dogs, New Tricks, and the Formidable Powers of Neuroplasticity

The most powerful sex organ of the human body is the brain. Your eyes don’t see, your ears don’t hear, and your fingers don’t feel; your brain does—do you find this surprising? Instead, what these sensory faculties (eyes, ears, fingers) do do, is transmit patterns along nerves to the brain, which then interprets them into perceptions: I love him. I see the mountain. I hear the orchestra. I feel your body.

 

What’s important to remember is that when one of these sensory faculties is compromised or destroyed, it doesn’t mean that the brain can no longer do its interpretive work—which is where the field of sensory substitution and neuroplasticity enters the picture. As long as the signals can be transmitted to the appropriate part of the cerebrum (for sight, for hearing, for touch), our brains will continue to interpret the data. We can still see, though our eyes don’t work. As I recently learned during an iPhone tutorial, there is more than one way to accomplish a goal. The brain’s ability to adapt to changing stimulus—say the deterioration of a sense—is what brain plasticity is all about. Which makes this research into “seeing through sensation” so fantastic!

 

Now, what does any of this high falutin’ science business have to do with re-booting? Well, I’ll tell ya. Sensory substitution and cortical remapping are powerful analogies for those of us who fear that by losing X, we have forfeited the ability to enjoy Y.

 

Not true.

 

Far too many people live their lives wistfully looking in the rearview mirror. Whether it is a result of the developments associated with physical aging, a loss of a relationship or job they loved, or some other seemingly catastrophic event, they worry/fear/believe that the joys they experienced at that earlier point in time are now foreclosed to them. “I can’t run like I used to,” they declare. “I’m too old a dog; my knee is destroyed.  I’ll never feel the thrill of crossing another finish line.” Or, “She can never be replaced in my heart, so I guess I’ll consign myself to a flat lined existence.” Or, “We used to have so much more money, and now look at us. How will I ever give them what they deserve?” Before reading any further, I want you to take a moment and think back to some time in your life where you’ve told yourself something similar or watched someone close to you make a comparable decision about their life.

 

Now, I am not minimizing the grief of genuine loss and ability, truly I am not, but one of the core qualities of re-booters is resilience, often evidenced by a determination to cultivating our own forms of achieving our goals using new approaches. We, re-booters, are cortical cartographers! Just because you can no longer run in the race, does that mean you can never experience the thrill of crossing a finish line? Of course not! Changed doesn’t mean bad. Maybe “different” brings with it something even more fantastic! Just because the “love of your life” is no longer present, is it impossible to imagine a future where you feel fully loved and understood? Are you so ready to close that door simply because the periphery vehicle (ex. your great love) which transmitted those signals to your brain is no longer available? This is where cortical remapping comes in, my friends. Synaptic pruning! Cross modal plasticity! Here is where you try a different path, practice it, and become acclimatized to a new mode of seeing, an innovative path towards perceiving sound. Shouldn’t this same approach be used when re-booting your life? You are seeking out a more joyous way to live after something has gone seriously askew. You are the blind man discovering another way to see. You are the dog determined to learn new tricks. It’s not too late. You’re not too old or too hurt or too dumb. But you have to try. You have to be willing to push through those first couple of times that may or may not work, that feel awkward or funny or just plain hopeless. Give yourself the freedom to redefine what it means to do these things, in a way you’ve never before considered.

 

I mean, who’s to say that the feelings of genuine acceptance and patient companionship don’t provide more powerful perceptions of intimacy and fulfillment than that generated by the roar of hormones and youthful beauty we once experienced? I, for one, am unwilling to roll over and play dead.

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One Response to “Old Dogs, New Tricks, and the Formidable Powers of Neuroplasticity”

  1. Kaaren Robertson Says:

    So great! Congratulations! XXX

    Kaaren Robertson

    >

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