In his book "The Joy of Living", Yongey Mingyer Rinpoche tells us how "The billions of neurons in the human brain are grouped by function into three different layers. First and oldest is the brain stem, the most primal "reptilian brain". It's primary purpose is to regulate basic involuntary functions like breathing, metabolism, heartbeat, and circulation. It also controls the fight or flight, the "startle response". It unconsciously starts adrenaline coursing through the body and causes rapid heartbeat and muscle tension. This is why reptiles tend to be combative rather than cooperative.
With the evolution of vertebrates such as birds and mammals a startling development in the brain occurred. A second layer of the brain evolved. This is referred as to the limbic region and surrounds the brain stem like a helmet and includes a series of programmed neural connections that stimulate the impulse to nurture, provide food and protection, and teach essential survival skills through play and other means.
Mammals distinguish between the sounds of their young and the types of sounds they make such as distress, pleasure, hunger, and so on. In addition the limbic region can read the intentions of others through posture, movements, facial expressions, the eyes, and even subtle scents of pheromones. Mammals and birds adapt flexibly to changing circumstances, laying the groundwork for learning and memory.
Adrenaline and other hormones create extremely powerful emotional memories and patterns. Because these are so powerful they can be triggered by events with even slight resemblance to the original memory. This offers important survival benefits but can cloud or distort perceptions of ordinary experiences. For example children who were humiliated and criticized experience inappropriately strong feelings of fear, resentment, and other emotions when dealing with authority figures later in life. One significant element in a present situation similar to the past can stimulate a whole range of thoughts, emotions, and hormonal, and muscular responses.
The limbic system is the emotional brain and is balanced by the third layer of the neocortex. It is specific to mammals and provides the capacity for reasoning, forming concepts, planning, and fine-tuning emotional responses. The neocortex gives us the capacity for imagination, creation, and for understanding and manipulating symbols. It gives us language, writing, mathematics, music, and art. It is the seat of rational activities such as problem-solving, analysis, judgment, impulse control, the ability to organize information, learn from the past, and empathize with others. Every thought requires a series of complex interactions among all three layers of the brain."
If you look at the work of Dr. Alan Watson's Complete Coherence, or the HeartMath Institute you find that when we are stressed our cognitive ability takes a dive, and we go into fight, flight, or freeze modes. We don't hear or see as well, and as Dr. Watson says, it creates "A do it yourself lobotomy". So where does our energy go in these situations? To our "lizard brain"?
The fact is this entity actually does have many other "higher" capabilities, but many, perhaps most of its functioning is primarily instinctual rather than rational. We react first, and then reason it out as we reach for safety. Why is this awareness so vitally important? Because it is so very easy for us to believe we have little or no choice in stressful situations because we react so quickly and strongly.
Yes, we can "lose our minds" at these times, but that is only the beginning, not the end of the story. We do have choices and can train ourselves not to be quite so reactive. In fact some "super meditators" that have thousands of hours of training have overcome the startle response to an unexpected, sudden, loud noise, a feat researches previously didn't believe possible.
Unfortunately, stress also appears to cause us to skip over our nurturing, protective, and playful mammalian brain as well. One part may remain active; the feeling part that leaves us feeling trapped, alone, and frightened. This is a very important awareness also, so that we may care for ourselves in hard and trying times with all the loving kindness we can muster.
Through focus and concentration on our inner and outer world, we can reach understanding, and through these eventually wisdom and transformation. We can become masters of our fate, and live from the inside out for perhaps the first time in our life. We find we actually have many, many choices, and that the world is bountiful and beautiful if we can see it, choose it, and live it. We can now know, life is what you make it!
Don't Listen to your Lizard Brain.
Five Powerful Reptilian Brain Hacks to Get More Control Over Your Life.
How Your Reptilian Brain Controls Your Behavior.
How to Beat Your Lizard Brain.
Also a YouTube: Overpowering Your Lizard Brain