Mind Matters at King County Libraries

rebecca crighton

In the lobby of Horizon House in Seattle, where Rebecca Crichton works, an intricate, hand-woven Indian tapestry in muted red, brown and violet colors adorns one wall. A visitor admiring it meets Crichton, who smiles warmly and says, "Want to see it even closer?"

From her purse, Crichton extracts a loupe, a small flip-top magnifying glass, and lifts it to the tapestry. The tiniest silk threads swell into braided strands like ship lines. Crichton shows the structure beneath the pattern, as if drilling down to the source of the silk itself.

"I like going deeper," she says.

rebecca crighton

Rebecca Crichton

As executive director of the Seattle-based Northwest Center for Creative Aging and a retired Boeing Company executive, Crichton is focusing on one of the deeper mysteries: the human mind. She is a woman passionately devoted to leading people to greater awareness and insight into themselves, cultures, relationships, creativity, death, bereavement—and the importance of kindness and laughter.

Crichton was featured speaker at a class at the Des Moines Library for Mind Matters, King County Library System's series focusing on brain health and development. In a lively interactive talk called "Happiness is an Inside Job," she drew on the latest research into brain science and positive psychology, asking her multi-aged audience from all over King County questions like, "What gives you hope?"

The class was a bit stumped.

"Oh, you have to have hope," she said, citing research showing that it's the single most important element correlated to a positive attitude.

Brain research itself is yielding hope. Although it may seem like common sense that the brain and feelings are linked, science is proving it, Crichton said. Researchers who in the past relied on autopsies to "see" the brain, now have tools such as Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging, allowing them to see which of our millions of neurons light up as they form pathways and connections in the brain in response to everything from autism and exercise to blushing.

Can you re-wire your brain? Science is showing that the answer is yes.  

"How you use your mind changes your brain," Crichton said, describing a new concept called neuroplasticity. "Neurons that fire together, wire together. Neurons can connect with each other. Mental states become neural traits."

Learning something new, challenging yourself to do something complex, and doing something with a higher purpose are all ways to keep developing your mind, Crichton said. One woman told the class, "It's true! I've been studying a new language (German, for an upcoming trip), and I swear my neurons are firing differently. I can't tell you how exciting this is!"

Crichton told the class that those who practice joy, affirmations, gratitude and other positive thoughts can offset the human brain's innate "wiring for negativity." She asked students what gives them joy, and hands shot up with a spectrum of responses: "Seeing a sunset," "hearing children laugh," "the serenity I feel working in my garage," "my kids," "playing the guitar," "nature," "meditating," and "reading books."

In many ways, life gets better with age, Crichton said, "but it has to be interdependent. It's a deep myth, an American cultural and pioneer ideal, that says we're all self-reliant and don't need each other. The truth is, we all need each other."

She added, "My favorite bumper sticker is, 'Don't believe everything you think. But don't stop thinking.'"

Contributor Wendy Pender, the older adults project specialist at King County Library System, oversees Mind Matters. Learn more about Wendy in "UW Certificate Program Leads to Success Working with Older Adults" in this issue and more about Mind Matters at www.kcls.org/mindmatters.

While your brain is not a muscle, it does need care, feeding and exercise to keep it in top shape. KCLS' program series, Mind Matters, offers free programs, classes, tips and reading suggestions to stay sharp with many topics, from nutrition to meditation to diet, music, memory, prevention and healing, and even juggling! Explore your creative side!