As we update to the latest iPhone (well, some of us) it's sobering to note that our own inbuilt hardware, namely the nervous system, is some millions of years old.
And badly in need of an upgrade.
We ultra-moderns, living in relatively safe environments, run on outdated technology. We’re equipped with a system primed to react immediately and instinctively to the slightest threat.
Act now, think later.
We’ve been hard-wired for survival, full stop. When it comes to finding happiness and satisfaction, we have to install the software ourselves.
600 MILLION YEARS OUTDATED
When the nervous system evolved some 600 millions years ago, in extremely harsh conditions, survival of the fittest ruled.
The ancestors who passed on their genes were the threat-sensitive guys. They were the paranoid types who suspected tigers to be lurking. The more cruisy ones, whistling a song as they tramped along, were not on the lookout and got eaten when young.
BLAME THE BRAIN
Our wiring mirrors theirs: a keen survival instinct and hair-trigger reaction to threat.
Lash out now, think later.
It’s why we so easily slam down the phone to a telecaller or difficult relative, walk out on a provocative meeting, smack a child or punch someone in the nose. Only later to come to our senses and regret it (well, perhaps not the telecaller).
FULL THROTTLE FRONTAL
It’s a bizarre situation.
And a different story for the brain’s frontal lobes, which evolved more recently, only a couple of million years ago.
The rational executive function of the higher brain brings us dazzling technologies such as micro surgery and the nuclear bomb. But our hard-wired emotional reactions, known as the limbic system, undermine our rational intelligence again and again.
RED ZONE, GREEN ZONE
There’s an inconsistency here.
It’s kinda unfair that we snap so easily into red zone: the revved up, reactive ‘fight or flight’ mode that triggers whenever we feel threatened.
It’s kinda unfair that it’s not so easy to shake off. (Typically it takes five positive interactions to recover from a negative one.)
And it’s kinda unfair that effort is usually needed to activate green zone, the cruisy responsive rest-and-digest mode that is our baseline of okayness we rest in when the threat has passed. Home of contentment and satisfaction, it’s the best place to be for long-term for health, happiness and well being.
PUT THE JARS BACK
I like to use the analogy of my husband helping out with maintenance plumbing under the sink. He moves the rows of jars to get to the pipe, fixes the problem, and saunters off.
But he doesn’t put the jars back. He leaves that to me.
LEARN TO SELF-SOOTHE
Our evolutionary biology is like that. Mother Nature keeps us safe- but she doesn’t put the jars back. She leaves the mess.
It’s up to us to clean up.
The whole point of Mindfulness is having a tool for reactivating green zone and staying there longer.
It’s just a matter of learning how.
And putting the jars back. Over and over.
copyright Shakti Burke 2016
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