More Than Grey Matter


Our brain is an extraordinary engineering marvel — it does thousands of tasks without getting into boredom. Think of it — the thumping of our heart, lung function, or the surge of oxygen into our blood stream. The list is endless. The brain is a ‘pharmaceutical’ wonder — it maintains and processes hundreds of chemicals in our body. Besides, it warns us when danger lurks in the corner. It keeps us close to our family and our loved ones. It invents and fulfils dreams; it analyses and solves life’s multi-dimensional issues and problems. Put simply, it guides us through crises.

We have taken over millennia, or more, to know what we now know about the brain — but, the amazing fact is our brain takes just a fleeting micro-second for conscious functions that we perform day-in and day-out. This encompasses a vast gamut of chores that are light years ahead of the most sophisticated computer chip. Some examples are communication, data processing, organising, eating, sleeping, writing, balancing our bank account and finances — or, messing with them? — not to speak of health, exercise, career, and a host of other activities.

Our brain works in an ever-changing environment, or situation — it adapts to change at the drop of a thought. In the process, it channels our inner resources to enable us to grow in terms of knowledge, and also emotionally, logically and spiritually. Besides, it co-ordinates and regulates several other functions at the speed of thought — emotions and actions, such as laughing, crying, blushing at the prospect of getting engaged, or going through stress just before an examination, or presentation.

The brain also regulates and maintains our psychical, psychological, and physiological — or, functional — systems. It heals and restores our body to optimal health too, after an illness, or injury. You may call our brain the seat of healing — this is not limited to the external aspect, the skin. It also relates to the emotional processes of our being that exist deep within us. The therapeutic clout of our brain is our power to heal at every level of evolution. It is not limited to just the repairing process; it also represents an ongoing, incessant ability to handling new situations, pressures, or stresses of life.

Just as much as our mind-body-spirit dimension is interconnected, or interrelated, so too are our emotions, feelings, aspirations, struggles, and triumphs. This is best expressed by the famed two-word phrase, ‘gut feeling.’ This is an emotional feeling, all right, but it connotes a far too deep-seated meaning — one that is conveyed on our face, through our eyes, or body language.

Philosophers too have, for long, compared the human brain to different ideas and inventions. In an era long gone by, the brain was thought to be better than a machine, chronometer, or telephone exchange. Our favourite parallel for our brain today is the state-of-the-art computer, albeit the ‘jury’ is mixed — some folks infer our brain is better than the computer, while others believe the computer is better than our brain. Most people, therefore, opt for the middle path — because, the brain is better at doing most tasks and the computer with other tasks.

The whole construct isn’t as simple as it sounds. This is because the human brain is endowed with confirmation bias — the ability of the mind to solicit evidence that conforms to its own theories and skims over, or wholly disregards, conflicting evidence. The two classical attributes of our brain just cannot be explained through computation, nor by way of basic mathematical cadence. Yet another colossal difference is our brain cannot be divided into simple, functional pieces. You get the point — our brain’s neuronal ‘circuitry’ is fuzzy. It is also from a computer standpoint ‘leaky.’ In other words, the different functional parts of our brain impact each other in modes that we’re simply just beginning to understand, unlike the workings of a computer.

One thing is certain — what ‘fuels’ our thoughts and feelings are events, happenings and conditions of our everyday life. This often relates, or connects, us to family situations, workplace pressures, financial issues, rising prices, happiness, job success, recognition, and so on. They mirror the state we are always in — day-in and day-out.

To highlight a classical example — a good word, at the beginning of the day, makes us feel on top of the world. A bad word, from your boss, can, likewise, throw everything out of your happiness window. This is one reason why our ancients, especially philosophers, emphasised that it is only when we begin to consciously cultivate our emotional responses that we would all do better and accept events that ought to happen in life — with refined composure and practical forbearance.

Is there a way to achieving such an outlook, without sweating the big stuff? There is. Think of your mind as your touch phone, with your five senses being akin to responses to your ‘touch’ on the handset. If you stir your touchscreen far too many times, there would be a time lag — this is quite like bombarding your mind with too many touchpoints, or triggers. The result is anybody’s guess — too much of mental clutter upsets the template on your mind-body balance, or your functional and thinking mechanisms. What happens next is just as predictable — too many mixed-up ‘hit-and-miss’ feelings that throttle your best thoughts, actions and behaviours. When this reaches the crescendo, it is like keeping your own call on hold in order to buy time to think, articulate, act, or respond.

It would always be a good idea for all of us to prioritise our priorities and not hold back our conscious thinking — while attending to one thing at a time. When you focus and organise, thus, you will not expend too much active energy than is required. This has a healthy effect — it keeps your impatience or angst, at bay.

— First published in The Himalayan Times, Nepal