Image by John Paul Edge
The primal emotion of the lower brain is fear. All other feelings, responses and manifestations issue forth from this very primal emotion. As the ancient texts of India, the Upanishads aptly state, “Where there is other, there is fear.” Therefore everything other than oneself, on a very fundamental level produces fear. Fear is the first emotion of lower brain processing; fear keeps us the same. A fear of everything other allowed us to survive in a hostile environment with many different threats coming from many different directions.
The higher brain has “fear-busting” potential, and the shift to that higher command center, reduces fear. If your body is storing energy and directing blood flow into the areas of the body needed to protect you, it cannot be simultaneously “in” the higher brain. Consequently, if you can turn on more of the higher brain, even for a moment, fear must be released.
You cannot sustain fear if you connect more fully in the higher brain. The lower brain still remains ready if needed, but is no longer stopping our growth and development by being the dominant mode of relating to the life process.
Anxiety: The Built-Up Stress Response
Anxiety is the stress response ‘built up’ without anywhere to go, it is the experience of being in a jungle with a million little tigers all around you; which one do you fight? What direction do you run? They are everywhere and the lower brain cannot process complexity – too many potential threats are out there and a deep sense of anxiousness creeps in.
When the lower brain can’t really identify the threat (since it is the demands of modern life and not really a tiger) the energy the lower brain mobilizes to protect you becomes stuck in a feedback loop. It becomes ‘locked into the system’, it doesn’t dissipate by fighting or fleeing (because there is nothing really there to fight or flee from), it remains circulating inside, constantly reinforced by its negative survival-based perception of the environment. This circulating survival response begins to eat us from the inside out and we experience this as anxiety.
Studies now link reduced activity – on the specific area of the higher brain called the prefrontal cortex (PFC ) – in people suffering from depression. Additionally, increased alpha waves in the higher frontal brain have been associated with decreased depression and increased creativity.
Addiction affects millions as lower brain physiology keeps us from experiencing the bliss states: joy, connection, passion and purpose that require higher brain physiology. If higher brain physiology is unavailable, and dopamine cannot bind in the dormant PFC, then we seek to fill the missing bliss, joy connection, through any substitute (sex, drugs, alcohol, food, social media etc.) that can create even a temporary rise in dopamine and sense of well-being.
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Addictions are our substitute gratifications for a lack of purpose and joy in life that become habituated by the lower brain. Many studies have shown a link between lower brain processing and addiction and I won’t belabor the point here. To break the bad habit, we have to upgrade the physiology and insert the new habit during the higher brain state.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
PTSD is a condition that develops following severe trauma. Following the traumatic event, it is as if the person’s brain never resets to where it originally was. Instead it has been rewired to react to a car backfiring as though it were bombs on the battlefield, or the inadvertent touch of a stranger on the subway is perceived as though a rape is occurring. Research has shown that the physiology of PTSD involves a hyperactive amygdala, one of the primary ancient structures of the ‘lower brain’.
Through trauma, the lower brain has been conditioned to perceive the world as a threat and remains on high alert even though the previous traumas (rape, war, etc.) are long gone and unlikely to exist in the current environment. This understanding of brain changes associated with PTSD presents a great starting point for the model I am proposing.
I am suggesting that in most all of humanity, the lower brain is all too active and we all perceive the world on some level as a threat, simply because the lower primitive brain continues to be locked in and not let energy flow upwards to the evolutionary new brain structures. PTSD is simply a dramatic example of this modern human problem. Potential exists above our current baseline that makes the ‘normal life’ we are living seem just as far away from our potential, as PTSD sufferers are away from what we now call normal.
Interestingly, the shift in center of gravity to the higher brain does not diminish the ability of the lower brain to do its job if our life actually is threatened. My belief is that it (lower brain) works more efficiently if it is not being burned out by the constant activation in 21st-century life.
It’s our fear that has been required to allow us to evolve – fear of death promotes survival which promotes evolution. Next up for the species is to enter into a post-fear, conscious evolution era.
Note that the common denominator for all of these “mental/emotional” disorders – anxiety, PTSD, depression, addiction – is… you got it, lower brain processing, stress physiology.
‘Stress’ is the name we give to the lower brain’s response to life. All information from, and experience of, your environment first goes into the lower brain for processing. Because survival is the top priority, this part of the brain needs to know its environment immediately in case there is a threat.
Once a threat (or potential threat) is registered, the lower brain is designed to react very rapidly. It is built to keep you from being eaten.
As information from the environment comes in through your senses (sight, touch, smell, hearing, taste), it goes into the lower unconscious primitive brain first. This is an important point: all information that comes into your sensory system is first filtered through the lower primitive brain, even before the higher conscious brain knows anything is out there.
This is why you may jump away from a snake only to find a few moments later (when the information makes it up to conscious awareness) that the snake was only a small coiled garden hose. The lower brain doesn’t think or rationalize; it only reacts to protect you. Something out there may want to eat you and you cannot waste precious time uploading all the way to the higher layer of thinking brain (or beyond) to analyze what to do; you must react. Reactivity is how the lower brain processes the world around you.
The Lower Brain on Constant Alert
The problem is that our lower brains are not equipped to adapt to the multiple demands and complexities put on it by modern living. So this primitive mechanism quickly goes into overwhelm and never turns off.
In modern life, the lower brain holds a constant baseline of low level engagement, it never cools off and resets itself after the threat is gone, because it is interpreting all the demands and complexity, that it is not made to deal with, as though they are threats of some kind. Modern life therefore becomes perceived by our brains as an unsafe place to be and we feel the results of this locked-in lower brain physiology as stress.
The amygdala and hippocampus are two of the lower brain areas most associated with the stress response. Stress burns out the hippocampus (up to 25%) which then does not tell amygdala not to secrete stress hormones.
Living In The Higher Brain
Living in the higher brain does not diminish the appropriate lower brain survival response when it is needed, in fact, this response can be initiated more efficiently when your energy is not being burnt out by low-grade stress responses that are active throughout most of our modern world days. The way we physiologically defend ourselves comes at the expense of our growth and evolution.
How much good can psychotherapy or life coaching really do if lurking beneath the surface of the great advice you are given is a Stone Age brain that fears change of any kind?
We must change the brain first. How can you take the advice that you receive and use it if the dominant part of your brain does not want to change? You can rearrange the deck chairs on the Titanic but that won’t solve the problem! Numbing ourselves (through medication) doesn’t change our environment either or get us into the higher brain and doesn’t seem like a good long-term strategy to me.
Just imagine what could happen when all who suffer mental emotional problems could not only flood the brain on demand with ‘happy molecules’ but could link that new state to areas of their life in need of change.
The Thrive DNA of the New Human
A new field called epigenetics (which means beyond genetics) has scientifically disproved much of the prevailing model and belief that DNA is the major factor in health and well-being. Leading edge researchers are concluding that your DNA is not your destiny.
Within each of us is the capacity to select and then reselect different genetic responses based on our current and ever-changing relationship to the environment. Science has also now shown, that we all contain genetic material that can be used to rewrite DNA.
Research now demonstrates that new perceptions of the environment are proven to positively influence whether “good genes” or “bad genes” are activated. Conventional wisdom about the role that our genes play has been wrong for decades.
How liberating is it to know that you are not captive to your DNA? And it gets even better; we now know that epigenetic changes can be passed on generationally. Wow! This is evolution occurring in very non-Darwinian terms.
If you are living from your higher brain and you experience the world with gratitude, joy, and empowerment, you flip off the switches of unhealthy genes and flip on the switches of healthy genes. Scientists now know, as fact, that how you relate to your environment throughout a lifetime can change which genes are turned on. Evolution is much more than Darwin realized and much more than the ‘orthodox Western scientist’ or the ‘new atheist’ will admit.
©2018 by Dr. Michael Cotton. All Rights Reserved.
Publisher: Findhorn Press, a division of Inner Traditions Intl.
Source Code Meditation: Hacking Evolution through Higher Brain Activation
by Michael Cotton, D.C.
Providing a simplified step-by-step guided process to SCM, Dr. Michael Cotton explains how to shift energy out of the lower “survive” brain into the higher “thrive” brain to bring confidence, clarity, and empowerment for transformative change in all areas of life. Distilled from the world’s most comprehensive philosophy, Integral Metatheory, SCM offers not only a way to create the brain state necessary to change the mind, but the crystal clarity needed to use these advanced meditative states to actualize your potential and live your destiny to the fullest.
About the Author
Michael Cotton, D.C., is a leading theorist in the evolution of consciousness, culture, and the brain. The creator of the Higher Brain Living technique with more than 30 years’ experience in personal and cultural transformation, he holds a doctorate in Chiropractic.