The bitter wind shrieks as it surges past a young man. His attempts to dodge the relentless torpedoes of snow and ice, catapulted by the wind, are all to no avail. Here he stands on this rock in an alien climate that provides no comfort. Every step hurts; every breath is strained. His primary goal is just to make it down from this lofty estate, but he is outnumbered in force and outlasted in tenacity. Little does he know, but his body is working against him. He is running out of oxygen. His starving brain has already succumbed to hypoxia. In a fever of disorientation, his contaminated encephalon becomes his worst enemy. Starved neural pathways debase reasoning culminating in a mental battle of life and death; he is completely oblivious.
Stumbling upon a cache of full air-canisters, dropped by the party that traveled this route before him, his brain convinces him these canisters are empty. Here he stands, looking, holding the very element he needs in order to live, but his hypoxia has grown too comfortable to be eradicated. Mere inches away from the oxygen that would clear his mind and sustain his journey, he drops a canister back into the snow and walks out into the white abyss, never to be seen again.
It was not his first trip up a mountain, but it was his last.
“Your experiences matter. Not just for how they feel in the moment but for the lasting traces they leave in your brain. Your experiences of happiness, worry, love, and anxiety can make real changes in your neural networks. The structure-building process of the nervous system are turbocharged by conscious experience, and especially by what’s in the foreground of your awareness.
“Based on what we have learned about experience-dependent neuroplasticity, a modern version would be to say that the brain takes its shape from what the mind rests upon” (Rick Hanson, Hardwiring Happiness).
In Neuroscience, we are taught: Neurons that fire together wire together. Meaning that over time, as neurons in your brain simultaneously activate, they will literally wire together. Take, for example, learning to ride a bike. At first, it can be quite a challenge as neurons in your brain fire independently. The more attempts you take, the more neurons become wired together. Until eventually you can ride a bike without even thinking about it, even if it has been years since you last rode a bike. In the process of learning to ride a bike you literally rewired your brain.
The analogy of riding a bike is a vivid picture of how you have the potential to rewire your brain. The quote by Rick Hanson above asserts the idea that you can, and do, rewire your brain through experiences. The idea is known as experience-dependent neuroplasticity, and it reasons that the experiences you have on a daily basis develop pathways in your brain and affect the way your brain perceives the world around you. Take for example a bad breakup, the next relationship you enter into you will find yourself being a little more cautious in order to prevent the hurt you experienced.
Now, I have taken the long way around the world to simply say: experiences matter. Who you spend your time with, where you spend your time, and how you spend your time all affect your future. This is the prime reason why going to church regularly and surrounding yourself with good friends is important. At the time, it may feel like missing one little Wednesday night service is not that big of a deal, and maybe it’s not, but you run the risk of beginning a watershed. Your decisions and experiences today determine the reality of your tomorrow.
There are positives and negatives to this argument, just as there are with all arguments, and so here is the positive: as you pray, read your Bible, attend church regularly, spend time with church friends, and actively pursue a deeper relationship with God, you are literally rewiring your brain.
Some of us recently attended North American Youth Congress where 19,000 Apostolic young people assembled together in one mind and one accord. The experience impacted and rewired many of us. Many of us went home replaying the highlights and ruminating on the timely messages we heard every day. North America Youth Congress was an experience that, if you allow it, has the potential to rewire your thinking about the church, your future, your calling, and your relationship with God. Outside influences impact internal cognition; what happens around you determines what happens in you.
At the beginning of our discussion, we read about Andy Harris, a guide on an expedition to Mt. Everest in the spring of 1996. Harris was an experienced mountain climber; he had all the knowledge and ability to get himself back down off of Everest despite the hurricane-force winds and blizzard conditions. The problem was simple, the outside conditions Harris faced produced an internal battle that he was smilingly unaware of at the time. And the same is true for each and every one of us.
I believe that we take decisions and experiences too lightly. As it has been said, “Nobody just wakes up and decides to backslide.” There is a slow, yet steady, progression that can typically be traced back to some influence or some decision that at the time seem trivial at best. The first domino never has to be the biggest, it just has to be there. My purpose here is to call for methodical cognition in our everyday lives. The apostle Paul said it this way, “Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil” (Ephesians 5:15-16, English Standard Version). The King James Version uses the word circumspectly. The word literally means: wary and unwilling to take risks. In your spiritual life are you wary and unwilling to take risks? Sure, going to a party with some friends, or staying out too late with someone who you like, might not be that big of a risk, but mind you, it is a risk. Are these, and others like them, the risks you are willing to wager on your eternal destiny?
What pathways do you have in your life that are affecting your decision making and changing your future?