From Scarecrow’s song in “The Wizard of Oz”:
I could while away the hours, conferrin’ with the flowers
Consultin’ with the rain
And my head, I’d be scratchin’ while my thoughts were
Busy hatchin’ if I only had a brain
I’d unravel every riddle for any individdle
In trouble or in pain
With the thoughts I’d be thinkin’, I could be another Lincoln
If I only had a brain.
Be careful what you ask for, you might get it.
I think it was a New Yorker cartoon where in the foreground were a bunch of squiggly lines appearing to talk to each other and in the background was rubble and the mushroom cloud of an earth-destroying nuclear explosion. The caption underneath was, “Next time, no brains!”
The notion that evolution could possibly be in our hands, where we could have some say in our future direction, is a little mind boggling. For whatever reason, we have brains capable of what seems to be unlimited creativity, and it seems a prudent idea to take care of them as best we can.
The only two bits of information about brain health I came across as I was growing up were that fish is brain food and consumption of alcohol kills brain cells. I have read that the assumption that alcohol kills brain cells is incorrect. Not sure where the information came from in the first place, but I have read that this has been disproven scientifically.
As for fish being brain food, I have also read there are numerous brain-healthy foods available, depending on what article you read. Wild-caught Alaskan salmon, blueberries, nuts, seeds, avocado and whole grains are the most commonly recommended brain foods. There are numerous sources that say that whole grains and other carbohydrates such as sugar are contributing to the brain drain with the SAD – Standard American Diet.
The next most important way to care for our brains has to do with what activities we spend our time doing. There are many kinds of exercise that are beneficial to our lungs, heart and joints. We used to hear that running was bad for the joints because of the impact, but now studies are telling us that people who are runners actually have less arthritis than those who do not have a history of running.
One study I read looked at numerous types of activities, and dancing came out on top as the best exercise for your brain. Learning new steps and coordinating the body to move in a timely fashion to the music incorporates numerous brain functions at the same time. Repetitive functions such as bowling, running, or even just doing the twist like we did last summer do not involve different parts of the brain and are beneficial but not necessarily for the brain.
As far as I am concerned, these are all theories. Scientists tend to restudy things and next week we will be hearing something new for a different For example, a recent study put iceberg lettuce higher on a scale of nutrient density than kale. This flies in the face of other studies that support the thought that the darker the leafy greens we eat, the better.
The people who teach us about meditation say that emptying our minds of all thoughts while focusing on our breath or a word or syllables is a path to higher functioning. The practice of meditation is said to have far-reaching effects on our health and well being. Emptying the minds is not as easy as one might think. It is not as simple as taking out the trash or vacuuming the living room or weeding the garden or even flushing the toilet. It takes years of perseverance and practice to attain any real moments of an empty mind.
Random thoughts and that ever-running dialogue we have with ourselves constantly invade any quiet we might be able to embrace. If you have not tried meditation, it is worth the pursuit. Learning it from a book is a possibility but it is helpful to take a class in the basics and finding a group that does it regularly exponentially expands the experience.
I think of meditation as a way of taking out the trash. Some say it clears the way for spiritual answers to be heard. The nice thing about meditation is that it requires no tools or fancy equipment and it can be done just about anywhere. Even if there is noise going on around, it can be filtered out and focusing on the words “in” and “out” as we breathe in and out. You can do this for two minutes or two hours. Sometimes people go away for weeklong meditation experiences. I have felt a calmness of just five minutes of bringing my thoughts back to the in and out rhythm of my breathing.
I am often impressed with all the inventions and discoveries our species have made. I love architecture and tools and gadgets and arts and literature and music and forms of transportation, whether it is a bicycle or a rocket capable of traveling to other planets.
Likewise, it is growing increasingly easy to look around at all the destruction of our planet and see all the after-effects of what our brains have created in the name of progress. My optimism brings me to thoughts that somehow our brains will discover ways to repair the ozone layer, recycle waste more like Mother Nature recycles waste, and creatively figure out ways for us to stop killing ourselves and each other.
If you look up Solar Freakin’ Roadways on Google, you might feel some optimism for the future of our species. It is one of the most exciting innovations stemming from the creative process of the human brain that I know about.
Whether we asked for brains or whether they are a quirk of nature, gift from God or the Wizard of Oz, it seems we would benefit from holding on to what we have if for not other reason than to help us get out of the mess our brains got us into in the first place.
Lenora Trussell, R.N., is an end-of-life tour guide who is available for consultations, presentations, and workshops. Her email is firstname.lastname@example.org where inquiries, suggestions, and comments are welcome.