There are things that stand in our way in terms of developing a rich spiritual life and spiritual realization, and one of them is what scientists call “the lizard brain.”
The Encyclopedia of the Brain defines the function of “the Lizard Brain” as the following. “As a whole, the limbic cortex serves as an association area for behavioral regulation acting to coordinate the exchange of information between higher regions within the neocortex and the subcortical limbic structures.” In other words, the lizard brain responds to stimuli it receives and enables the person to make a split-second decision on what it should do to survive.
Transforming the lizard brain in human beings can be tricky, as it has been in existence since the beginning of humanity. It is that part of the mind that tells us to be fearful and watch what you are doing in the world. It also helps us to keep watch over our most base instincts.
The lizard brain identifies those characteristics that tend toward being secure in an uncertain world, so it is egoic and selfishly attends to business. It expresses concern and overthinks possibilities. It hesitates in the face of uncertainty. It responds rather than reasons. It deals with the stimuli the world presents and responds with no faith, no hope, and no-nonsense primitive responses. Although many psychologists and scientists would say it’s necessary, it can stand in the way of moving forward and progressing beyond limited thinking.
Mythically speaking, the lizard brain evolved from dragons. The dragon is that beast that protects the treasure. Although it has no use for it, the dragon ensures that no other animal will have access to the bounty of abundance it enjoys, so it can maintain its base and give reason for its survival.
Having taught adolescents for a long time, I’ve seen my share of reptilean responses in addressing social situations. Parents tell me they shake their heads and question “What is that kid thinking?”
“What were you thinking when your friends told you to be a numbskull and compromise your integrity by sticking that french fry up your nose as far as you could?”
“What were you thinking when you acted like a twit and showing off in front of that girl thinking it would help you get in her good graces?”
This aspect of primitive thinking can be more pronounced when brain development is at its most vulnerable state of growth and decisions students make to survive in social situations and respond rather than think. It can compromise their integrity. As a teacher, you get used to it and nothing surprises you.
I’ve seen it at football games when a bad call is made and fans lose their beans and overreact, throwing objects at refs and making stupid decisions due to anger.
In some cases, this thinking can serve well. Heightened instincts serve to protect us and if we trust our instincts, it can warn us against danger and keep us safe.
If you are hoping to take chances and move beyond fearful thinking, it is the one thing that stands in your way in full spiritual realization. Jesus, the Buddha, Lao Tzu, Confucius were individuals who inspired their followers to move beyond the limitations the mind proposes.
The goal is to find that place within that can nullify fear with courage and strength. It’s locating the promise of something more. It is establishing a spiritual discipline for yourself that will strengthen the muscle of faith.
The true spiritual aspirant operates from a position of strength, consistently faces fear and knows full well that it will be conquered.
An aspirant rises above the appearances the world throws at him and quietly, humbly goes about his business with an eye on serving the greater good through an elevated state of consciousness.
The justice advocate Bryan Stevenson has said, “We are more than the worst thing we have done in life.” Judging from the lizard brain mentality that dominates this world, it is sometimes hard to believe, but it is true. Every day we battle to do right by others helps us exercise our faith muscle and attunes us to an awareness of God’s grace.
Awareness that the lizard brain is alive and well in all of us is a step in overcoming the lizard brain mentality. God help us as we daily recognize that part of ourselves and evolve into the conscious act that we are all saints and sinners any given second or any given moment in any given day.