From Brain Function to the Belief System Learning to live meaningfully

                      Article by Fr TD John, Counsellor

Hyderabad Aug. 18: We had some inputs on how we function in life and how we can change our lives and live more meaningfully. We had discussions about how our mind functions. We spoke of the part of our mind called the ‘reptilian brain’ whose sole purpose is to keep us safe. It does all the FIGHT or FLIGHT stuff and, in extreme circumstances, it can switch off the rest of our brain, or FREEZE.

When there is danger, such as when we are facing a wild animal or a threatening gang, our reptilian brain will take over. There will be an immediate adrenaline rush that pumps energy to our muscles. The reptilian brain will give us two choices: Fight or Flight. Seeing the danger we may run like hell. Our reptilian brain makes sure we are able to run faster and further than we’ve ever run before. Actually we will be running without noticing what we had come for. In other situations the reptilian brain helps us to fight back. If the danger is overwhelming, the entire brain may be shut out or we FREEZE.

In normal circumstance, reptilian brain equates ‘safe’ with habits, routines and repetitive behaviours. Example: our daily schedules of rising, eating, working and so on.  Routine makes us feel safe. Around those we build up our comfort zones. Habits also infiltrate our thinking. Based on our knowledge and experience these habits form our belief system. Our view of the world is determined by our experiences, good or bad. Our belief system is manifested in the way we speak, we think and we believe.

Take the example of the circus elephant. The 4 ton beast can be tethered with a rope around the ankle. Why doesn’t the elephant run? It is comfortable with its routine of being fed and watered. It has already given up the thought of escape. When it was a baby elephant no matter how hard it tried to escape, it just resulted in a sore ankle. Now the elephant has grown up, but it has already learnt that it cannot escape. So the elephant is held back by its belief system. The rope is only a symbol.