My son recently asked me a question that as usual, came out of the blue. “Why do they call it junk food? A simple junk is enough. What is the need to attach the word “food” to the phrase?!” Obviously, my mind began to whirr from the moment he formed the question mark. That is how I began to wonder about the possible connections that the brain made with the phrase junk-food.
Let us look at the word junk first. The brain associates junk with the idea of something that is useless. But, on the other hand, because the brain understands that food is useful and vital to the body, it connects food with the opposite idea of useless. When the brain puts the two opposite ideas together, it gets…well…you know what happens when opposites get together…confusion happens.
If you want to know what is going on inside the brain every time it hears junk food, just imagine a slight jolt happening in an electrical wiring. That is what is happening with the brain’s wiring too.
If we had simply called junk food, junk, the brain would have at once rejected the food, however wonderful it had smelt or however delicious it had looked. But by adding the word “food” to the word “junk”, we have promoted the establishment of confusion within the brain. The brain is in fact, at odds with itself every time it hears junk-food – should I make the connection towards useless or useful?!
But very soon, we solve this problem for the brain by either giving in to our temptation to eat junk food, or by pushing the temptation away. And depending on how often we repeat this pattern, the brain, the great habit former, begins to lead us either towards junk food, or away from it.
So how does the brain understand language?
The brain understands language very simply. It takes an image and associates it with its related sound. This information is what forms and strengthens neural connections in our brain.
And connections made during early childhood are hard-core connections, that form habits lasting a life-time. A child who is shown the picture of a dog but is taught that it is a cat will associate the image of a dog with the sound of a cat, and will call a dog, cat. For a very long time. If you have noticed children, you would have also noticed how stubborn they are at their habits. So, what we teach a child can make or break them.
Back to the brain and language
The brain learns through making these associations, and the brain is constantly learning. Which means, the brain is also constantly making connections. Think of how a child begins to learn in school. They start with word-picture associations, and then move onto learning complete sentences. Inside the brain, complete sentences are our thoughts, and comprehension passages are our ideas – an organised collection of our thoughts.
And here is how our brain organises our thoughts…
When the brain plays out our thoughts, it plays them out like a movie. There are no stationary images, and our dreams are proof of this. Imagine you are thinking of going on a vacation to Bali. What the brain does at this juncture, is pull out images of Bali from your memories of the place – information you have collected, stuff that you have heard about, or ideas that you have formed based on your opinions. The brain then creates a vacation sequence for you.
The brain also does something else. It puts you or your loved ones in this sequence. That is how we begin to attach ourselves to our thoughts. And we all know what attachment leads to – emotions. The more we think about the vacation, the more attached we become to our idea of a vacation.
But I am not seeing these movies
That is because the brain plays out these thought sequences at such a high speed that we often have no control over it. Which is also why we do not observe our thoughts, rather, just move along with the flow, except with various levels of attachment to it.
Once again, if you have observed your dreams, you would have also observed your presence there and that is because when dreams happen, they happen in slow motion.
Why the drastic difference in speed?
People who have observed their dreams, observe it, simply because the brain is not doing anything else at that time. Otherwise, when we are awake, the brain is also engaged in several other activities like processing, organising and storing information, creating new memories, transporting and retrieving older memories, along with managing body functions, etc, etc, etc. Yes, the brain is definitely one hell of a multi-tasker.
Since the brain is handling so many activities, it is only natural that we too get pushed towards doing so many different activities during the day. But, if we slowed down…if only we slowed down, we will be able to notice our thoughts, and watch the movies that are being played out by the brain. This slowing down is the reason why people who take time out to meditate regularly, are able to also get into the habit of becoming aware of their thoughts.
So, what happens when we begin to notice our thoughts?
Imagine you are in a theater watching a movie. Once the show is over, you end up either liking it or disliking it. When we watch our thoughts, the same thing begins to happen. We end up either liking or not liking the way our thoughts are unfolding.
Now let us see what does not happen when we watch a movie. While we feel, think, and fuss so much about it, most of us do not realize that not one single part of the movie was under our control at any point of the time. We are not the story-tellers of the movie.
But the tale is quite different in the movie theater that is our mind.
When we begin to observe our thoughts, we also begin to realize that it is like standing inside a movie shooting, in which, we are the story-tellers with absolute control over our script. And that automatically means we can take our thoughts anywhere we want to.
As long as we are flowing with our thoughts, we were mere actors. The minute we being to observe them, we transform into master story-tellers. For it is always the narrator who has control over the story. It is the difference between being a part of the show and running the show itself.
So, we can…
Yes, we can give a different ending to our brain’s narrations – change the script that the brain has pre-loaded itself to deliver. What I am trying to say is, we can change the way we think, thereby we can change the way we feel, and we can become masters of our own mind.
Hail the story-teller!