At the age of 19 I decided to leave college life in Grand Rapids, Michigan and join the ranks of Youth With A Mission (YWAM). Attendance at one of their Discipleship Training Schools (DTS) was required and I chose the school in Northern British Columbia called, “The Frontier Discipleship Training School.”
Sounds adventurous, doesn’t it? (Truth is, when I was 16 I fell in love with the Rocky Mountains when, for three weeks, I biked through the rugged and take-your-breath-away landscape of Alberta and British Columbia. Needless to say, this experience heavily influenced my choice of where to do my DTS).
The Frontier DTS experience was amazing – no electricity, no running water, no modern showers, toilets, wash machines, fridges, stoves, televisions, or any other type of appliance or convenience you or I might be accustomed to today.
Why do I tell you this? Because I learned something very valuable about myself during the five months I was removed from the love of those I knew and the safety of what was familiar. While bunking in a small cabin in the northern outback of British Columbia and eating black bear liver in the company of complete strangers, who, over time became good friends, I began to experience personal breakthroughs in my life.
I didn’t know it at the time, but introducing new experiences into your life is a very effective way to learn new things, rewire your brain, and experience clarity.
The Field of Neuroscience:
The relatively new field of neuroscience teaches us that our brains are malleable. This means our brains can adapt and change by integrating new insights and experiences, which in turn can lead to profound breakthroughs of personal growth and healing. Old world thinking taught us that we were fixed, or hardwired for life, like a machine with a specific set of abilities, talents, personality traits, and genes. This was great if you were born a genius of great pedigree with tremendous abilities and amazing personality.
But what if you were born with a learning disability, or you were sexually abused as a child? What if, as a result of certain life events, you now experience post-traumatic stress disorder, or as a result of anxiety and stress, you experience the abyss of obsessive-compulsive thoughts and behaviours. What if?
The old world theory that we humans are hardwired for life is a death sentence for anyone who experiences deep pain and suffering in their life.
However, the good news is you can change, you can adapt, you can heal. You can experience profound wholeness and love in your life, and therefore, no matter where you might find yourself today, there is hope. The new world of neuroplasticity is uncovering the brain’s natural ability to reorganize itself by forming new neural connections throughout our lifetime.
At this moment you may be asking yourself, “How do I help my brain to naturally reorganize itself so that I can experience clarity of purpose and wholeness in my life?”
Daniel Siegel, a clinical professor of psychiatry at the UCLA School of Medicine and executive director of the Mindsight Institute, provides valuable insight when it comes to nurturing change and breakthroughs in our life. Dr. Siegel states in his book, Mindsight, that personal transformation becomes possible through experience. “Experience” he writes, “activates neural firing, which in turn leads to the production of proteins that enable new connections to be made among neurons, in the process called neuroplasticity.”
So what kind of experience cultivates neuroplasticity in our lives? Four things we know for sure: focused attention, aerobic exercise, emotional arousal and novelty.
In a nutshell, experiencing breakthroughs is about introducing something new into your life. Something that will encourage you to see life, feel life, your life, all of life, through a new window. Something that might expand your present point of view of self and shift your perspective on what you believe to be possible.
Gretchen Rubin, in her national bestseller, The Happiness Project, talks about how challenging experiences and novelty are key elements to happiness. She writes, “The brain is stimulated by surprise, and successfully dealing with an unexpected situation gives a powerful sense of satisfaction.” So what did Gretchen do to nurture the seeds of novelty in her life? She launched a blog, and as a result, expanded her perception of self, which she admits nurtured a deeper sense of well-being.
So there you have it. Choose to introduce new ideas and experiences into your life, and to really hit it out of the park, do it with gusto! No, you don’t have to eat black bear liver in the outback, or live without electricity or running water, but you do need to be proactive about introducing new, life-enriching experiences into your life.
Today’s Unitas Project:
- Some people might take up ballroom dancing or gardening while others might join a running or cycling club. Perhaps some people might learn to play a new musical instrument like the guitar or cello, while others may travel the world or go on a short-term mission trip. How about you? To what new experience could you commit yourself to exploring and taking action on?
- Do your research, trust your intuition, make a commitment and go for it. Who knows what you may discover.
Until next time…
Be You. Be Unitas.
Photo from iStock Photo