In my book, ReRight Your Life, I present a simple model of the human brain by suggesting that we have a primitive brain and a modern brain. I explore the idea that by changing the way we speak we can stimulate our modern brains and quiet our primitive brains, which is where our fight, flight , freeze responses comes from.
In a new article (the full version is here), I explore how our modern brains—the neo-cortex—operate at two different levels: the lower mental plane and the upper mental plane. The word “plane” is meant to indicate a range of consciousness. Lower mental involves less consciousness than upper mental.
Fear and Anxiety are different
Fear resides in our primitive brains. It is a deeply instinctual response to any perceived threat. Anxiety is different; it resides in our modern brains—the neo-cortex. Anxiety arises as a result of three things, all of which occur due to the development of our modern brains.
- As our brains evolved and we started traveling in time, to the past and the future, we were no longer fully present in the moment. The result of this has been an increase in anxiety, because when we aren’t fully present we are less aware of potential threats.
- As our brains evolved and we became aware of time we also became aware of our own impermanence, this creates more anxiety.
- As our brains evolved we began to have more options and choices, this led us to recognize the uncertainty of life, adding further to our anxiety.
A partial solution to anxiety
I believe that we created our Identity as a means to manage our anxiety. Our Identity, which some people refer to as our ego, provides us with a sense of continuity while living in a constantly changing world. Some forms of religion or esoteric practice seek to remove or dissolve the ego. I propose that it is a mistake to try to rid ourselves of our egos, because they serve a vital function in our lives.
A more realistic solution to manage anxiety involves two steps. First, we need to learn to loosen our grip on our egos, practicing non-attachment. It is easier to do this when we recognize that our Identities are always evolving and changing, never static.
Second, we need to shift from operating primarily in the lower mental plane to operating more in the upper mental plane. The lower mental plane is characterized by rigid rules and routines. The result is that we categorize things as “right/wrong” or “good/bad.” Such characterizations increase anxiety due to the concern that we will be “wrong” or “bad.”
When we shift to the upper mental plane we begin to think about how we think. This form of meta-cognition creates space and time for more thoughtful responses to stimuli. In addition, upper mental thinking seeks “both/and” instead of “either/or” solutions to any problem. To imagine such solutions requires us to embrace uncertainty and accept paradox.
When we make this shift to the upper mental plane we are stepping further away from the kind of thinking that is likely to create anxiety. The more we embrace the upper mental plane the more our consciousness expands and the more relaxed we become. To learn more click here.