Previously, on the Flowering Brain Blog … we explored the first six of 12 ways our brains work that don’t necessarily serve us very well. These are vulnerabilities that we often consign ourselves mentally and emotionally to hell for. Here are six more ways (of thousands) our brains can make us feel badly about ourselves.
Our brain is prone to making threat-based decisions – which often end up badly – Once stress “jumps the hump” from good stress (eustress) to bad (distress) – often without telling us it’s done so – it goes about the work of literally cutting any number of the ties that connect the emotional parts of the brain with the thinking parts of the brain. It does that by actually severing the adherence proteins that hold our neural networks together (see the illustration below for a clear picture of your brain unraveling under bad stress. Synapses are where brain neurons connect. Nectin-3 is the adherence protein keeping the network connections connected that distress severs. Severing adherence proteins produces the same effect that cutting an electrical cord does. No more juice). When stress severs our cognitive wiring, it often lets threat circuitry rule our mental roost. Fear and anxiety can end up running our lives.
Our brain thinks emotional disturbance means our soul is defective – Being emotionally disturbed has very little to do with the soul. It has much more to do with neurobiology involving structural, functional and molecular alterations in several key areas of the brain. The parts most vulnerable to disturbance are the ventromedial prefrontal cortex, lateral orbital prefrontal cortex, dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, anterior cingulate cortex, ventral striatum, amygdala and the hippocampus. Knowing the names of the parts isn’t important. What’s important is to realize that balanced functioning in these areas is compromised – some circuitry becomes over-active, increasing our sensitivity to noise and/or pain, while other areas become under-active, producing lethargy, attention deficits and poor memory. None of these vulnerabilities say anything about the condition of our soul.
Our brain tricks us into thinking we are somebody – Essentially the brain interacts with the people, places and objects in the environment and then makes up stories about the experiences we’ve had with those nouns. Then it enthusiastically goes about doing whatever it takes to make us believe those stories and convince us those stories are true so they can be woven into the fabric that becomes our personal history. Who we are is how we are, what we do, what we’ve done and how we’ve been. We rarely remember that our life unfolds in successive, dynamic moments of now, which are constantly replaced by new successive, dynamic moments of now. There’s no Me in the mix – only Me-now, Me-now, meow. 😉
Our brain stores our story – From before birth up until this moment, somewhere in our neural network every significant moment of every single day of our life is believed to be stored. Most of it is stored in memory matrices, outside ready recollection. Some amount of it is “misfiled,” combined and blended with other memories, experiences that we vividly fantasized, or things that actually happened to somebody else! Memory is notoriously unreliable. But whatever our story is, we’re not stuck with it. In fact, we can begin to methodically pay increasingly less attention to it. As we do, who we think we are – the sum total of who we’ve been until now – can instantly or gradually be extinguished or replaced. Anything becomes possible the moment we begin taking on the creative practice of no longer allowing our adrenal glands to be the boss of us. Truly a life’s work worth embracing.
Our brain listens to and believes the poop-thoughts it secretes – Here’s an everyday experience that happens over and over that the language/thought-generating modules in the brain hide from us in plain site: language mediates human experience. A true tragedy if you believe Nassim Taleb who asserts: “Half of life – the interesting half – we don’t have words for.”
Rather than look closely at the vibrant, living creature actually feeding right now outside my office window, and noticing how the shades of blue and gray and white bend and blend all over it – looking as if for the first time – my brain announces: “That’s a scrub jay.” And off it sends me back to my oh-so-interesting computer screen.
In what I consider to be one of the great psycho-spiritual gifts of the last ten years, Jill Bolte Taylor describes what the world looks like when language is no longer dominating experience so powerfully, and also, how the process of acquiring language filters, shapes and directs experience once we acquire it. Way more of the world than we can easily grok gets surprisingly lost in translation. Which can make the world scary. But our everyday world is much safer than our brains (and mass media, and our adrenal glands) want us to believe it is. And … it’s still a good idea to tie our camel.
Our brain is fearful of the mystical sublime – Years ago I read a paper by psychosynthesis pioneer Frank Haronian entitled, “The Repression of the Sublime.” That article is memorable even to this day for encouraging me to “reclaim my projections,” both positive and negative. “If you spot it, you’ve got it” speaks to this aspect of the Talmudic decree, “We don’t see the world as it is; we see the world as we are.” One place our brain makes us most vulnerable in this regard is that it constantly assigns Buddhist, Christ-like and Muhammad-like qualities to Buddha, Christ and Muhammad, rather than realizing that we can do our own work necessary to obtain access and reclamation from within. Buddha didn’t practice Buddhism; Christ didn’t practice Christianity; and Muhammad didn’t practice Islam. They each followed their own path in search of the mystical sublime. So must we; repression be damned.