Why I care about “Brain Plasticity”

For about 20 years, building and flying radio-controlled model airplanes was my great passion. I had a shop that was dedicated to building and maintaining them and was an above-average flyer. Then in 1994 my wife and I were moving into another home, and I had been putting rarely-used kitchen items into the lower section of a floor-to-ceiling set of cabinets. My wife had been putting items into the upper section and left a cabinet door open. I started to stand up and hit the edge of that upper cabinet door with my head.

I was dizzy for an hour or so, but could still function as usual, or so I thought. About two weeks later we were settled in and I really wanted to go flying – something I usually did for several hours, several times a week. Charging the batteries, heading to the field, checking to ensure that I was the only one flying on that radio channel, I took off. What joy! What freedom! Then I rolled the model airplane inverted and flew around upside-down…but when I needed to roll the airplane right-side-up, I had no awareness of how to do that and in less than a minute, the airplane crashed. I couldn’t maintain control with it upside-down.

I still marvel that I could perform all the other parts: taxi-ing, taking off, turning right and left, staying inside the area we were approved to fly in, even rolling upside-down was effortless…just as several years before. But rolling right-side-up? The cupboard concussion took away that single part of all the parts of flying a model airplane.

Then I developed sleep apnea somewhere around 1999-2000…the doctors aren’t sure when. Slow to develop, it was five or six years until a sleep study showed the apnea and pinpointed the reason why all my body systems were shutting down. I couldn’t remember that I needed my personal billing code to dial an outside line at the real estate office where I worked. Then I forgot to guide a buyer-client to set up a Home Inspection after I negotiated an accepted offer on a home he wanted. Over 700 successful sales with this very important part always remembered and completed…I would meet the home inspector there whether or not the client could come. I had lost that capacity…and more. The next week I forgot another important aspect of a transaction with another client, so I retired from real estate.

The decline continued and instead of working 12-14 hours a day, I needed to sleep that much – sometimes more. Mentally, I was probably at the IQ 60 level. Emotionally, just numb. One day, I could not remember if I lived anywhere – that aspect of awareness was gone and I just sat in my car at the Clackamas Town Center parking lot just 2 miles from home. I meditated, then 30 minutes later the awareness of the first half mile came to me…and the rest came as I drove. When I arrived home, though, it was like driving up to a house I had never been to. But my reflexes knew to push the button on the remote garage door opener. And going inside: it was still more like viewing a house for sale than the home I had lived in for a year or more. I acclimated over the next couple of days.

Here’s the good news: the meditation I learned to do from the Chinese grandmaster in 2008: I continued sitting meditation practices as well as Dong Gong – standing and moving meditation. (Tai Chi is a good example) And my brain/memory/mental functioning slowly rebuilt. Now, I have 80% of my old capability back. And now, there is a scientific study that explains how meditation affects Brain Plasticity.

I will add this: while the brain may rebuild; while we can play the guitar or piano, sing, dance: some of the more refined aspects of mental functioning can take years to rebuild…if ever. It depends on the type, severity or extent of brain damage. I have learned Surrender: when my son’s name won’t come to mind, I just accept that. It will come again, as other names and places and even forgotten memories have come back. I wish you Courage, Willpower, Success in rebuilding…and Surrender to What Is in the moment.

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