“Instead of fixating on the peaks of civilisation, we need to pay attention to the foothills’ ... Fans Wels, a Dutch biologist
Do you remember Week 4 in MBSR when we talked about how the design of our human brain leaves us prone to stress? In the compassion course, we go into more detail on our brain by learning about our 3 emotional regulation systems, the safety system, the drive system and the soothing system. The course focuses on how we can can compassionately care for ourselves by getting to know all 3 systems and learn to intentionally activate the soothing system.
But first a quick, recap on the story of our 'Triune brain'…Our species evolved over millions of years, and much of the structure of our brain evolved in pre-human existence. Our current brain has 'old' reptilian and mammalian parts and a 'new' homo-sapien section.
Reptiles have many offspring with a low survival rate. They don't socially bond and are not worried about each other’s vulnerability. Reptilian young are independent and head off straight after birth. Each for themself!
The brainstem has the task of defending territory, hunting prey (survival of the individual) and ensuring reproduction so the species will survive.
Our brainstem controls automatic and unconscious bodily functions such as heartbeat, blood circulation, respiration and digestion. New reactions are learned automatically, just like Pavlov's dogs.
Mammals have fewer young that are born vulnerable, needing protection for a relatively long period. They bond and care for each other to survive.
In early mammals, this caring serves their own survival and that of their immediate offspring. More evolved mammals can direct this caring capacity to members of other species.
The mammalian brain helps with living in groups, enables social bonding and caring.
The more protection and care an animal's young need, the less automatic the brain is and the larger the capacity for learning. The mammalian limbic system mediates learning through rewards and punishment, using emotions such as the experience of being angry, afraid, sad or happy.
Humans have more scope for learning as we can postpone our fulfilment of needs. We can choose to continue to do what is unpleasant and refrain from satisfying our immediate desires. We can remember previous experiences and imagine the future. We can have conversations and learn. We also anticipate, analyse, deduct, fantasise, ruminate, organise and integrate concepts about ourselves, and what happens in the minds of others.
We can do so much with this new brain and are often not aware that it evolved to increase our chances of survival rather than make us happy.
Our new brain allows us to create new problems that actually decrease our chance of survival and well-being. We just think of a disaster, and our stress system is activated. We experience unrequited desire.
Our thoughts often spiral one on top of the other and our stress levels grow. "I want those shoes, I can't afford them. I'll never look as good as everyone else….etc." We can worry and ruminate to the extent where we forget to care for ourselves and our loved ones.
In Living Mindfully With Compassion, the annual follow up course to MBSR, we explore 3 emotional regulation systems that are influenced by the structure of our brain. These are the safety/threat system, the drive system and the soothing system.
The reptilian brain is linked to the threat and drive system. The mammalian brain is connected to the soothing system.
The threat system focuses on self-protection (fight/flight/freeze). The drive system is reward focused (wanting, striving, achieving, consuming) the soothing system focuses on affiliation and connection (kindness, caring).
Where do you live most often? We often live in the drive system, or the threat system, wanting, striving or pushing and fearing.There are high costs when we are primarily driven by the "old brain" threat system or an 'out of control' drive systems.
Our new brain has the unique capacity to know that it knows. It allows us to think and to know that we think, to feel and to know that we feel.
Our new brain allows us to develop insight and insight enables us to take some responsibility, and step aside from the 'old brain' automatic thoughts. The old brain is so quick and automatic, and our challenge is to get to know it, the animal inside, better. To do this, we need our new brain.
Empathy and compassion are not exclusive to the human species. What is unique, is that our capacity for both compassion and cruelty, to ourselves and to others is unlimited. We often limit our compassion to those we feel most strongly connected to and it can feel difficult to have compassion for ourselves. Why? Because we get tangled up in the emotions and other survival mechanisms of the "old brain."
In this course, we explore all three of these emotional regulations systems and the role of self-compassion in caring for ourselves and others. We do this in an MBSR like way. We meet, we practice, we reflect and do exercises. The practices in this course are shorter, usually 20 minutes and there are 2 different practices each week. It is a lovely course. Please book in.
Course dates:Thursday Feb 14-April 11. Time 7:00-9:30pm. To Book or www.headrest.com.au