Change Yourself, Change The World

Photo: Chad Erickson

Every year, young people from all over the world come together in New York City to participate in the International Brain Education Association’s World Peace Leadership Program. They meet with many officials from various organizations and country missions associated with the United Nations and take part in a U.N. conference focused on using brain-based holistic education to support the sustainable development goals of the United Nations.

It was an incredible journey for me. I have gotten to know some beautiful individuals in the course of one week. We’ve laughed, we’ve cried, we’ve learned, we’ve questioned, and we’ve grown our conscious awareness about the choices we make in our lives; our ability to manage our own body’s response to the stressors in our lives; and our responsibility to act and live a life that not only makes us happy but contributes to the well-being of our planet and our shared humanity.

Among the speakers who stood out for me was Ambassador Carlos Enrique Garcia of El Salvador. As he spoke to us about the recent IBREA project in El Salvador, one of his central points was that money is not an end in itself, especially when considering the “problems of the world.” He explained that, yes, money is important in the sense that it allows you to finance projects, but at the same time it is secondary because the project itself — that is, the content of the project — is what makes a difference. It is not the money that enables children to value their own creativity, their own self-worth, but rather something deeper. He brought an example, of how for decades we have spent millions upon millions of dollars trying to eradicate poverty, yet programs that have received this funding have not been successful in eradicating the phenomena. So we can continue to spend all the money we wish, but at the end of the day, money alone does not create lasting solutions.

In a separate session, Dr. Jeronimo Cortina of the University of Houston, confirmed this perspective with research on the effect of migration of migrant workers on their children who are “left behind“ in the origin countries. Essentially, parents move to places where they can earn money; they then send some of this money back to their children who are left in the origin country. The children receive additional money, and you might think that because of this additional money, that the child’s life would be better off because they can afford more things. But in fact his research shows that it is actually the opposite. In surveys taken, the children express that they are less satisfied with their life than children who do not have migrant parents. Children who are not satisfied with their life are more likely to engage in risky behavior such as join gangs, abuse alcohol, and other dangerous behaviors.

Another thing that struck me during the IBREA conference held at the United Nations was the opening remarks by Dr. Elizabeth Carll, chair of the NGO Committee on Mental Health. She shared that depression is projected to be the number one disease affecting more people than even heart disease worldwide within the next fifty years. This is really startling because the mind is our greatest asset, and yet at the same time it seems to be our biggest impediment. This is also startling because many of us do not talk about depression openly, like we do with heart disease. Even more startling is the idea that some feel that depression isn’t “real” or that it’s some kind of a taboo subject, or that one can never do anything to “get rid of it” or “fix it.” One of the major health concerns worldwide is not getting the attention it needs.

Yet it is possible for our bodies and minds to heal themselves. During a recent book signing, Ilchi Lee, the president of IBREA, spoke about the metaphor of creating a “mental bathroom” through which we can get rid of excess information. I really liked this analogy because it speaks to how our body processes what we take in — it stores nutrients and excretes byproducts or waste. In the same way, “brain education” proposes to serve as a pathway through which we can identify the nutrients and excrete the unnecessary information, or waste, from our mental system.

The Audacity of Hope to Taking Action

It may seem like a hopeful dream of someone who doesn’t really know how human behavior works to advocate that human beings can change their habits and improve their mental well-being. Actually, the science is now catching up with the experiential projects.

For example, at the U.N. conference, Dr. Dan Pavel of The Neuroscience Center, presented research on the brain imaging of participants who did a three-month brain education program involving physical and mental training. The brain SPECT images showed color-coded areas of activity in the brain, with red representing high blood flow in the region (a lot of activity), and blue representing less blood flow in the region (less activity) . When participants finished the program, their scans showed two differences in stressed brain regions (those representing a lot of activity): they showed a reduced level of activity — and also showed a lower intensity of activity. So in essence, the excess activity in the brain was “excreted.”

I am grateful to all the participants, speakers, and the coordinators who took action to make this conference possible. So with all this new knowledge and listening to the various speakers’ experiences, I learned that there is much hope for people as individuals, in the sense that if we can master our own brain — then we can master our lives — and by extension contribute to a healthier, more balanced planet. But like anything that is worth doing, it only makes a difference if we actually have the courage to live by our convictions — and do the things that we believe in.

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A magazine dedicated to the brain.

We believe that neuroscience is the next great scientific frontier, and that advances in understanding the nature of the brain, consciousness, behavior, and health will transform human life in this century.

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