*photo from wired.com
Perhaps past generations will read this and find me nothing but spoiled and asshole-ish.
The conversation I have been having most often with my friends focuses on another doozy – why do we get sick of everything?
It’s become an art form – The Art of Quitting at Everything.
I’ve wondered forever how it’s possible to get tired of every thing, including the things I love the most (blowjobs). No matter how stimulating, moving, or life-changing, it all grows old and mundane. I don’t expect simple-minded people to understand or relate to this. It’s not something you experience when you’re used to being mediocre, living primarily through the reptilian and mammalian brains that only care about food, shelter, sex, and a sense of belonging to a community. Those are the old requirements for living a fulfilling life, as a Neanderthal.
These days we have to worry about a third layer of the brain, the neo-cortex. And maybe even a 4th layer that is spoken about among fringe scientists. In these outer layers the questions revolve around the meaning of life, true love, greater purpose, and all the other things your annoying yoga friends speaks endlessly about, but we feel them too, in this pesky soul of ours.
Let’s tie this to a child’s mind and why things get boring. A child is like a sponge; we’ve all heard it. But why?
I was hanging out with Ryan and little Jasper yesterday and if you’re my friend on Insta you’ve seen this ridiculously cute and clairvoyant kid at an increasing rate. A while back we told him about my nickname, Meat Toosh, which is essentially a verbal tribute to my thunder thighs. Yesterday, I pulled up to the house and Ryan said, “Hey, who’s that guy?” Jasper tilted his head to look in the window and said, “That’s Meat Toosh.” We all erupted in goofy laughter.
It had been months since he heard that name. And it was only mentioned once in passing. So how did he remember? It defies what we know now about retaining information. Our short-term memory loops in 2-4 second cycles and if we don’t repeat the information hours, days, AND weeks later we lose it. But little baby Jasper had no problem drawing this name from the well months later.
Tell me now…
For a long time scientists thought the brain was a fixed map. Each function in the body corresponding with a particular location in the brain. Later on, scientists proved that it was plastic, meaning that it was capable of changing just like a muscle.
Imagine that the ability to bend your index finger is controlled by a portion of the brain in the frontal lobe, in the primary motor cortex. And then by some unfortunate accident in a Burning Man tent you lose your index finger. In the past, people would believe that the part of the brain that controlled that function would shut down and become grey matter. But what really happens is that section of the brain is overtaken by neighboring sections, making their specific functionality in the body stronger and more efficient. The brain is constantly rewiring itself to become as efficient as possible at the tasks you regularly perform. It is literally built on the motto of use it or lose it.
Not necessarily. After a while, we develop such intense muscle memory that plasticity (change) in the brain is reduced. It doesn’t grow and neither do you. <Enter lack of purpose feeling>.
Now to why babies are living the life.
A part of the brain is always active during the critical growth period of children, until they are around 7 years old. It’s called the nucleus basalis. It activates when new or important information travels through the visual cortex. When you’re a child, everything is new and important, leaving the nucleus basalis permanently on.
Think of the nucleus basalis as the drug that Bradley Cooper takes in Limitless. And this is how and why small children can learn multiple languages easily, how they can find so much joy in playing with a simple block, and how they can remember nicknames like Meat Toosh months later. They are always paying attention. They are literally creating their brain maps.
And then, inevitably, they develop enough of a map to cruise through life on autopilot and grow into unsatisfied adults like many of us.
But there’s a way to reactivate this part of the brain as an adult – change your life. Do things differently.
Use your opposite hand to brush your teeth
Practice a new language
Draw upside down
Take dance classes
Ride your bike to work
Talk to strangers
Have your spouse thumb cap you
And put yourself in any position possible that scares the living shite out of you
Do SOMETHING. Your brain is crying and so is your soul.
The nucleus basalis is automatically activated when we’re challenged, trying new things, afraid, and most importantly, when we are simply paying attention to what is happening around us.
While it’s not as dreamy as yoga-speak, at least you’ll have a basic explanation for how to stimulate the little match lit fire waiting to be stoked.