July 10, 2015
One of the most exciting recent scientific discoveries is the notion of brain plasticity. The idea is that the brain, rather than being a hard wired block of concrete from puberty on, is actually more like a plastic that can, with effort, change. This came to my attention through Dr. Norman Doidge’s book “The Brain That Changes Itself”. The book tells the story of stroke survivors who cannot walk due to brain injury. Through a process of visualization and exercise, the patients regain mobility in ways that were previously thought impossible. It’s a great read.
What is astonishing about the science behind the book is the notion that a thought can change matter. In the case of the stroke survivor, the brain changes the flow of neurotransmitters in the brain. For me this conquers up images of Hindu Swamis lifting objects, or even themselves. But it also segues into the world of energy (prana for yogis, chi for tai chi). That we are walking energy fields has never been accepted in Western science. And yet, my sister spends one afternoon a week performing therapeutic touch in Toronto hospitals. The funny thing is there is no touch involved. She passes her hands a few inches over the patient’s body. The result is that the patient relaxes deeply and often falls into a refreshing sleep. But really, isn’t this voodoo? A practitioner passes her hands over a patient and something good is supposed to happen? Why would doctors, good scientists all, allow such a practice? The answer is that many of them just turn a blind eye. It was the nurses who saw the practical value in therapeutic touch and lobbied for the service to be provided (albeit by volunteers only).
I have been involved in my own brain experiment for the past three years. I have been (trying to) meditate for twenty minutes twice a day. The purpose is entirely selfish. I want to become a better playwright. I believe that the attitude I bring to the work is as important as the time I devote to the work. However, the benefits that have accrued from meditation are so incremental that they are hard to notice. But recently, during rehearsals for Double Trouble, my composer Marc Schubring said admiringly, “You are so cool with the director.” Me? Cool? I certainly didn’t feel cool. On the other hand, I was very clearly aware that losing my cool would get me nowhere. It could easily void the influence I could have on a busy director’s attention. So I was, as much as possible, quiet, respectful and strategic in my interventions. I think I got as much as possible given the situation (the situation being, as always, a lack of time). So maybe this is what Marc saw as being “cool” and maybe this has accrued from meditation… maybe…
A friend suggested this gap between experiencing something (intuitive, right brain) and knowing something (scientific, left brain) is the result of a finite brain trying to understand a cosmic reality. You can’t know it, you can only experience it.
And on that note, have a good weekend!