Friday, October 8, 2010

Disarming the reptilian response

"If we could read the secret history of our enemies, we should find in each person's life sorrow and suffering enough to disarm all hostility."
-- Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, quoted in Jack Kornfield's  A Path With Heart

My course reading this week has all been about the havoc we can create when we think we can see into one another's hearts; when we think we know what they are thinking and feeling and needing from us.  And even when we know to be careful NOT to do that, when we are consciously working to articulate our own thoughts and feelings and to be openly, trustingly curious about those of the people around us, we still retreat to old patterns when under fire.

My blogsister Maureen referred to that in a recent comment as "that old lizard brain," and Roger Schwarz in his book, The Skilled Facilitator, refers to it as "the unilateral control model."  But what each is describing is the natural human habit, in an embarrassing or psychologically threatening situation, of reverting to the old familiar defenses of controlling, not communicating, self-justification and demonization.

I find it reassuring to think I'm not the only fool who does that.  But it does sadden me to think that the more our lives have been filled with threatening situations, the more deeply ingrained these habits become -- and the more likely it is that we will be perceived by others as hostile, as enemies -- all of which seems to become a self-replicating spiral. 

And it occurs to me that this may be one of the primary purposes of consciously working to create a more compassionate response: that if we practice enough -- meditation, awareness, presence, forgiveness, hope, generosity -- we might awaken the true self deep within enough so that in those stressful moments it can respond from the heart instead of allowing the reptilian brain to jump in and start controlling.

That's the hope anyway. 

And how's that working for you?

1 comment:

Maureen said...

It's my hope, too.