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Inner Radiance Blog

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Move over reptilian brain, there's a new brain in town!

Let’s start with an apology. I am sorry I haven’t written lately. I apologize to all of you and, most importantly, I apologize to myself. Writing makes me happy; writing keeps me healthy. It is how I move energy and process all of thoughts and emotions that get stored in my body from the work I do.

Put simply, writing helps me make sense of the world and my place in it.

Over the last few months, I have been struggling with some rather large health issues. While I don’t feel it’s appropriate to go into great detail here, I will say that my body has been rejecting anything and everything I have put into it.

After weeks of searching, working with an extremely gifted naturopath, getting blood work done (not once, but twice), and being advised
by many wonderful energy healers, I realize there are no easy answers.

I admit I have felt scared by what has been happening, but I am now aware that I have been reacting with only a small and very old part of my brain; I have been seeing the world through what neuroscientists call the reptilian brain.

According to author, therapist, and NLP master Yvonne Oswald, relying on this part of the brain might have ensured the safety of our ancestors, but can no longer meet our current needs. The reptilian brain protects us when our lives are in danger, when we don’t have even a second to think. Put your hand next to a hot stove and this automatic brain function helps you to react quickly. In more dangerous situations, it can save your life.

However, living in this day and time while moving between states of “fight or flight” and merely trying to survive is like getting a job as a McDonald’s cashier when you have a PhD in astrophysics —it’s not taking advantage of the resources you have or the possibilities before you.

According to the Triune Brain Theory, two other parts of the brain—the limbic system and the neocortex—offer us the ability to operate in the world in more productive and fruitful ways.

The limbic system, also referred to as the “middle brain,” governs emotions (especially those other than fear and anger), parts of our personal identity, rules around social interaction, and communication. It helps us navigate our lives, because of the order it offers.

In her book, Every Word Has Power: Switch on Your Language and Turn on Your Life, Oswald calls the limbic system the “family brain,” because of its role in creating and sustaining social norms. While this part of the brain helps individuals live harmoniously with othe
rs through strong boundaries surrounding family, tribe, and community, its main drawback lies in the fact that it only allows the world to be viewed in black and white. Oswald summarizes the limbic system by saying, “Its goals are short-term and focus primarily on good/bad, right/wrong, and yours/mine. It’s habitual, hierarchical, and simplistic. It does not have a capacity to visualize or grow because it thinks in terms of polarities.”

How can we see beyond such polarities and make efforts toward self-actualization?

The answer lies in the last part of the triune brain, called the cerebral cortex or neocortex. The word neocortex comes from Latin, meaning “new bark”. It is the most recently developed part of the brain and is responsible for higher brain function, such as initiative, reason, and imagination. It is also what makes our love of art, literature, and philosophy possible.

Although this part of our brain governs speech, Oswald suggests that the language we use today fails to accurately reflect or capitalize on our potential as human beings. Many ideas and concepts became entrenched in language when we only saw two choices before us: good and bad. With tools such as NLP (neuro-linguistic programming) and conscious language, we have the power for our language to be creative rather than merely descriptive.

Oswald asks readers to notice how their use of language affects their lives.

When you consciously weed out fear-based language and nonsupportive beliefs, you open yourself up to new possibilities. Oswald says:

This h
igher brain function is where your magic formula for happiness begins as you connect with the higher consciousness. Use of the higher brain produces consistent success in your everyday life. You can now plan your goals and visualize wonderful possibilities with this magical tool.

Rather than use the higher brain to rescue yourself
when you feel less than happy, it’s time to utilize it and live in it by “spring cleaning” your language
…going beyond what you ever thought possible to achieve.

So, I am taking a page from Oswald’s book and paying attention to how I speak and think about my health.

I’m telling my reptilian brain to take a hike, letting go of long-held beliefs about my body, and sitting in silence more.

And, I’m writing again.

I can feel the possibilities unfolding…even before I can see them.


At March 4, 2009 at 10:23 PM , Blogger Courtney Putnam said...


Your post here is so perfect for me right now. My reptilian brain goes on overdrive when I experience anxiety. My hand is not on the proverbial stove, but sometimes my reptilian brain thinks it is.

I'm inspired to check out Oswald's book and learn more about NLP and "spring cleaning" my language.

Thank you for writing this (so glad you are writing!).

peace and healing,

At February 17, 2010 at 10:51 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

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