Imagine there is a bridge under water. It appears to be made of neurons. It looks both cosmic and molecular because it stands gyrating on its own in blackness. One of the guys who founded Silent Barn tells you its your two faces. “Do you recognize it?” he asks. You dubiously respond that you do. You want to please him. But the yellow bridge of neurons is yours, no matter how you feel about him and his enviable success.
This week we are celebrating the aesthetic and literal development of neurons, the beautiful web in our minds that is everything about communication, that is everything about absorbing sensation. Existing as a bridge, the very symbol of air and water that express, finally, the act of understanding.
Let’s learn together this week, to both aesthetically uphold and nurture our neurons, and communicate more efficiently with ourselves and others by strengthening or shifting our own neurological bridges.
The nervous system controls any movement both voluntary and involuntary from the beat of a heart to a step taken, as well as incoming information, detected by the sensory organs: sunlight flowing through the window, the feeling you get when you see a bear alone in the forest. It even controls your mood, your joy, your sleep, your hunger.
To get a sense of how the nervous system works lets look at the cells:
Imagine you are playing tennis. The cell body in this case, is the racket, except bulbous. So you are playing tennis with an octopus. At the base of the octopus is in this case, the handle of the racket and your arm. This part of the cell is called the axon and is protected by a little myelin sheath, as if your whole arm is covered by a leg warmer. The leg warmer only goes down to your elbow, which for the moment is violently ripped from your arm, so you have a good amount of dangling veins and arteries. Bear with me, because you have not lost your arm forever. These loose veins and arteries at your elbow are synapses: the sender. Let’s pan out: a disembodied arm covered by a leg warmer with a racket that is an octopus. The legs on the octopus are what are called the dendrites. Dendrites receive information.
Fortunately your partner is in the same boat. Here the ball is the information, some sort of coup de foudre. A touch by a lost lover on a cold winter night while you’re wearing your favorite faux fur, “where have you been all my life?” He touches your cheek. The nerves pass the information to the central nervous system at the base of the brain and the spinal cord. And the tennis match begins. The dendrites grasp the touch. The octopus head sighs and flutters its legs, turns the information into a chemical, and sends it down the axon the veins of the disembodied arm tickle the next octopus. The information is passed along electrically in the form of chemicals called neurotransmitters.
Once the information is in the brain it is delegated to a section, either involuntary, prefrontal cortex, or amygdala. Your hippocampus lights up, please think of a macaroni shaped hippo in your brain that is the mother of memory. If the neurochemical passes to the amygdala, you will find yourself, on that cold winter night, either punching him in the face or running for your life – and where will you be going, young one? And what have you done to this human?
If this information, overwhelming as it may seem, makes its way to the prefrontal cortex, your long developed humanity catches up to you. You breath one time. The prefrontal cortex is the decision making part of the brain that can think rationally. It was only developed recently, so we’re kind of newbies when it comes to effectively implementing and controlling it.
The space between a synapse and the dendrite of the next octopus is 20 millionths of a millimeter. There are billions of these kinds of connections within the brain, and over time these connections can move or change depending on your habits. Your attention. The more signals are sent between two neurons, the stronger that connection is, hence, neural pathways, and thought patterns. The paper folded, just so, the thoughts fall through like water on a riverbed. The very way that we interact with the world is ingrained in our brain. But not necessarily permanent. And there lies your power.
A forest of oceanic-like seaweed winds to grasp the other in our brain, to understand the next, to make a chain of knowing. The difference between building a forest and deforestation is the way we understand ourselves. Emptiness, not being about nothingness, but the infinite space between all things. You’re the only one who can give yourself space within your bridge, let it waver, and enter it, that electric place. The roads are vast and long before you. Covered in air.