One of the most heartening things I've learned in recent years is something I picked up at a workshop given in Seattle by Jack Kornfeld and Dr. Daniel J Siegal called The Wise Heart and the Mindful Brain. The workshop was essentially a dialogue between the principles of Buddhist psychology and new advances in neurobiology (the crossover was amazing), but the piece that excited me the most was the neurobiological discovery that the brain is capable of re-programming itself; that you CAN teach an old dog new tricks.
My own most recent example of this is this photo, which I shot while we were up on Hurricane Ridge earlier this week. It's been almost exactly a month since I went to Colorado for my Miksang workshop; almost exactly a month since I spent two days just shooting moments of color. But my eyes, or at least their neural pathways, still carry the residue of that experience. So even though we were standing on a mountaintop, surrounding by intriguing dead trees and these amazing long views, my attention was caught by this brightly colored collection -- a tarp, a water jug, some canvas straps -- in the back of a truck, and I couldn't seem to walk by without shooting that flame of color.
It's a bit like it was when I was pregnant: suddenly everywhere I looked there were pregnant women. Or when I was in the throes of my divorce; I seemed to keep meeting other people who were really struggling in their marriages. It's almost as if we can choose what we're attuned to. When we focus our energy on something particular, it is as if the act of focusing leaves an imprint, like the press of a hand on one of those heat-sensitive foam pillows: the imprint lingers long after the hand is gone, doing a slow fade, continuing to influence thoughts and perceptions.
Perhaps that's why making regular time for prayer or meditation is so important -- because it leaves an imprint that continues to mold you even after you've stopped and returned to your daily tasks: it is certainly true that the things which occupy your mind when you're NOT meditating have a way of intruding on your meditation time!
But the most important learning here is that we can generate new habits of thought, new ways of living, new ways of seeing. It IS possible to replace old habits of thinking with new ones; it just takes conscious effort and some conscious repetition -- which means that even if we can't change the situations around us or the people who challenge us, we CAN change the way we see them and respond to them. And if we can build these new habits of thinking, they can actually stick with us; they have staying power, they're not just temporary fixes. The brain is imprintable.
I find that incredibly encouraging.