Research and experience tell us that our brains stay young(ger) if we challenge them. In addition to getting enough sleep, eating healthily and exercising, we support our neural networks by doing something different, or something familiar in a different way. When our neural networks are strong and flexible, our focus sharpens, our memory improves, and our awareness expands.
Sounds pretty good, right? And there are lots of ways to do this. Those with resources and time on their hands can travel. Some people take up piano, or guitar. Some start learning a new language. Others use alternative routes to get to familiar places.
All of these options will grow our neural brain muscles, but commitments much smaller can also do the trick. “Brain aerobics” can be as simple as writing or brushing your teeth with your non-dominant hand. Cooking with new recipes works, as does shopping in an unfamiliar grocery store. Anything that pushes the default settings in our brain will help us with positive functional change.
Our spiritual lives work in a similar way, I think. Trying a new form of prayer, or adopting a new spiritual discipline—no matter how small, even for some part of one day!—works our spiritual muscles. Even small shifts in how we live our faithfulness can lead to an expanded awareness of the holiness that surrounds us.
We are moving toward fall, but there is still a bit of summer left. As the season changes, I hope that these waning days of longer light and softer air offer surprising and unexpected opportunities for grounded insight and new perspective!