For a short period of my childhood we raised cows. The cows would leave the barn in the morning and wind their way down to the water tank (pond). There were a few large trees and some fencelines between the barn and the water. The cows would wind around down the fenceline and around the big Oak creating a well worn path from barn to water.
One Spring there was a horrendous storm and lighting hit the tree and cracked it in half. A huge part of the tree fell on and crushed the fenceline. In the after repair, it became obvious that the fence wasn’t needed and both the tree and the fenceline were bulldozed.
Here’s the interesting part: after the grass grew back in you could again see the well worn paths the cows (still) took down the fenceline and around the tree, even though the fenceline and tree no longer remained. I remember how strange it looked seeing a winding path out in the middle of a field that the cows could just walk straight across. Why would the cows keep using the same old path when a new more efficient path was now available to them?
Normally Depression occurs because the reality we are experiencing and the reality we want to live in differ. In otherwords it is an environmental stimuli. The University of Kansas performed a study that indicated when someone has gone through multiple depressive episodes, a neural pathway is created that makes it quite easy for the mind to slip into a depression even without the continued environmental stimuli. In other words, once a route to depression is established it becomes a well worn path. This can be compared to the pathway that cows make in a familiar field.
In order for us to create a new path, we have to be willing to step out of our familiar rut and do something different. Not only do we have to do something different, but we have to keep doing it until our conditioned unconscious animal mind starts walking the new path. In other words, it’s ok for us to be in a rut, as long as it is the most efficient rut we can create. That’s what mindfulness allows us to do. By practicing, we keep walking down the new path until a familiar pathway becomes engrained within the neural pathways of the brain. If we don’t intentionally practice the path of peace within ourselves, then how can peace ever become our conditioned path.
Indeed the science is now showing that practicing Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction can increase gray matter brain tissue in areas associated with executive function, memory, and emotional regulation. Just as we can create pathways that lead to depression and anxiety, so can we develop pathways that lead us to peace and joy.
Becoming present in a daily practice allows us to observe the internal pathways of thought, emotion, and sensations. Increased awareness gives rise to knowledge that “hey”, maybe we can stop traveling the same path and this time just walk straight across the field.
Scott Martin holds a Masters in Clinical Mental Health Counseling and teaches a quarterly Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction class in Tyler, Texas. For more information on developing a mindfulness practice or processing emotional trauma visit www.etsrc.org