Neuroplasticity is a term that has gotten a lot of validation in psychological research. It refers to the brain’s ability to change and form new neural connections throughout life. Here’s a link to a short YouTube video that helpfully summarizes Neuroplasticity in clear language. In the past we believed the brain formed in childhood and remained fairly static, but we now know that isn’t true. Neural pathways develop in early life and are used repeatedly unless there are new situations (injury, disease, or environmental changes) that require alternative pathways to be created. What happens in our lives (environmental changes) can impact our neural connections. This means that within the brain’s design there’s a mechanism for change based in our new experiences. Our spiritual practices are in this category of experience that alters our neural network. The challenge to changing our neuropathways is that lots of repetition is required before the old ways of thinking diminish and the new pathways are strengthened. The lesson of neuroplasticity is that we must not give up too soon.
Spiritual Bypass, as we’ve been thinking about it the last several weeks, occurs when the old neuropathways based in our early life experience are not challenged effectively (repeatedly) by our current experiences with God. We unconsciously carry expectations of others rooted in the past and react accordingly which may cause us to miss many moments of genuine and intimate encounter with God and others because we perceive what’s going on around us based in the old ways of thinking or in the language of neuroplasticity, based in neuropathways remaining connected in old ways. This way of thinking adds new light to famous passages in the Bible like 2 Corinthians 5:17, noting that in Christ old things pass away and Ephesians 4:20-24, teaching that our former or ‘old self’ is set aside. The famous story of Nicodemus coming to Jesus (John 3) and hearing that to be a follower of Jesus, he must be born again takes on new meaning as well. True spirituality that escapes Spiritual Bypass is full of surprise encounters within and with others as our neural pathways change from old repeated connections to continually renewing ones, based in current experience. God meets us in the present and frees us from our former hurts, fears, and old neural pathways that lead us to erroneous conclusions and often unconscious limiting of our joy.