I was reminded of a song by Bonzo Dog called the “Canyons of your Mind,” on a recent trip to Utah and Arizona. I was so inspired by the majesty and grandeur of God’s design in the raw. Creation at its best, where you can see nature at work. The landscape tells the geological story of time with the many-colored layers of rock, the massive buttes that stand sentinel over the land. The mighty Colorado and San Juan rivers thread their way through the Canyons cutting deeply into the rock layers every year. Looking at the San Juan River at Gooseneck, set me thinking about the canyons of your mind. I could see how like a brain this landscape could look like as the river wound through deep horseshoe bends, similar to the indentations that cover a human brain.
Five things that Canyons and the Human brain have in common.
1. Canyons start small, gathers debris along the way
A Canyon starts as a tiny rivulet. Water flows after a storm and gathers at the lowest point. The force of the water gradually moves the soil, which it pushes further downstream with any rocks and debris in its path making its way to the sea. It gets deeper and deeper as it flows as it is joined by other runoff along the way until it either ends in a lake or exits into the ocean. Every year and every season, the water cuts deeper and makes a significant impact that keeps the river flowing along its course. The rocky banks, mostly unyielding, make it more challenging to change the path as it stays within the parameters cut into the surrounding soil and rocks.
A child is born with a fast-growing brain; it has a primitive survival brain that tells it to cry when it needs food and care, that continues to develop with other survival skills. It also starts to create pathways as it learns different things, motor skills, and communication skills. It knows when it gets hurt. Often this is repeated until it learns, all the time making impressions in its brain. A child’s brain grows the fastest between ages birth and five years old. These layers get embedded first and make the most significant impact on how the child views its environment. Are the cries ignored, are its need for warmth and love met as it learns to survive outside of its mother’s body? Is the child spoken to and taught social skills?
2 Canyons make impressions year on year
- As the seasons move on, new layers of silt, debris, and rocks are added to the riverbed. There will be years of drought when the river is nothing more than a bed of stones and sand marking its course. Events like excessive drought will dry it up, and the mud will have open dry cracks. There may be excessive rain or floods in another season, forcing the collected debris further down the river. The force of the water can bring new rock, mud, and even topsoil from the surrounding land as it furiously churns before depositing its load further down the river. These times of flooding can cause a redirection in the course of the river if it is not too deep, or it may start making new tributaries. The old course may fill with the silt and debris deposited so redirecting the flow of water.
There is substantial evidence to suggest experiences between birth and the age of five have significant impacts on outcomes later in life. In fact, children’s experiences and strengths at the age of three can often be used to effectively predict health, happiness, and other successes in adulthood. “(The Front Project)
As the child grows, learns new skills, has unique experiences, each season will add further growth to the brain. Events like new schools, new people, harmful events, hospital visits, harsh punishments, and abandonment will mark their groove. A child’s brain is primed to learn critical thinking and emotional maturity between ages three and five. If a child has been neglected or harmed in the former seasons, its primitive adaptive behavior will start to manifest. Often called ‘acting out,’ especially when new siblings are introduced. Or it will begin to form new adaptive behaviors to its environment and how it perceives its world. Every experience will leave its impression on the brain, reinforcing the child’s belief system. The child’s brain is trusting. If it knows it will be protected, the child will dare to push its boundaries because it feels safe. This is healthy because it will feel happy to explore its world and not be afraid of it. On the other hand, if the child is fearful of exploring, the primitive survival skills will become more ingrained as the child believes his world is unsafe.
3. The Canyons foundations are in place
- Year after year, century after century, the river cuts its course through the rocks, perhaps altering its course a little in the flatter parts of the landscape, but the deeper and steeper the sides of the riverbed and canyon, the more difficult it is to change its course. Wind, rain, ice, snow, sunshine, gravity, and vegetation all have a part to play in the landscape, leaving pockmarks, fallen boulders, isolated buttes, and scars along the course of the river as it snakes its way through the canyon bottom.
As the child matures into an adult and its brain completes development, most of its belief system is ingrained. Children will have been taught or learned about their family’s value system, faith, and culture. The foundational beliefs around God, love, provision, reward, punishment, and role are well ingrained and used as reference points in making judgments and adjustments to their life situations, whatever they happen to be. This mindset will continue to be their compass unless they actively decide to change it. Usually, spiritual direction, counseling, therapy, or psychology will help them learn new ways to think. This is on an individual level.
4. Cataclysmic, life-lifechanging events can change the face of a canyon
- Cataclysmic events can change the whole course of the river. Looking at the upended rocks and vertical or inclined sedimentary layers of the landscape in Utah, a cataclysmic geological event or events changed its landscape. Earthquakes, fault fractures, volcanic action, and moving of the tectonic plates, climate change all these things in which nature is in control, change what was, and a new geologic era was born.
It often takes a personal or community cataclysmic event to change or force people to change their mindsets and regrow neural pathways in different areas to survive and move on, as their old manner of adaptation no longer serves them. This could be a severe accident with physical injury, divorce, widowhood with emotional injury, war, or other trauma or life-changing event. This can be really hard for some people as the primitive brain continues to operate as it did when it was formed as a child. Our society also gets reshaped each time we have a cataclysmic event, like the current COVID, 9/11, and social unrest. We all have to find ways to adapt to this and one another.
5. Time, or Timeless, the canyons are evidence of a good Creator
- The landscape remains. Looking up at the canyons in Utah, they are beautiful, rugged, timeless, and a challenge to survival at the same time. They are a reminder of the Creator, our God who formed the earth from the beginning and declared it good. Psalm 104 tells the story of the canyons “You placed the world on its foundation, so it would never be moved. You clothed the earth with floods of water, water that covered even the mountains. At your command, the water fled; at the sound of your thunder, it hurried away. Mountains rose and valleys sank to the levels you decreed. Then you set a firm boundary for the seas, so they would never again cover the earth.” NLT
The above passage in Psalm 104 also reflects part of the musings of Job’s friends at his suffering. Yet, God vindicated Job for keeping his faith in a good God amid his pain and trials. When He prayed for his friends who were discouraging in the least, his fortunes were restored, and the second half of his life was more blessed than the first half. God was the one who created us, our brains, and the intricate way they function. He gave breath and life to our bodies and knows us intimately. Are we able to hold onto the goodness of God in cataclysmic events in our life? This often will make us revisit our belief system around God. If this was faulty and we don’t believe in His goodness, it is difficult to adapt to life-changing events.
The Canyons of Utah are a gift from God. They teach us from nature about His goodness even in the cataclysmic events of life that change our landscapes forever.