For if humans had just stood there, surveying the situation, they would have been eaten or maimed, and thus not able to pass on their genes.
At the same time, anything non-threatening slid right off their radar screen, as smooth and quick as Teflon. For these were not life or death matters.
So, the genes that got passed on were the lightening quick reflexes of flight or flight. And they are within us now, sticking like Velcro!
This is a very simplified (perhaps even simplistic) version of how we developed a “Velcro” brain for anything that looks threatening or negative, and a Teflon brain for pleasant happenings.
Not exactly a recipe for happiness and fulfillment is it?
However, neuroscience is helping us understand that we can re-structure the way we think to optimize our seemingly infinite capabilities and resources for the joy that is our birthright.
In our postmodern world the majority of our threats are to the ego, rather than the physical body. Now the everyday wounds are more emotional, rather than physical.
Here’s an example of how the negative sticks to us and the positive slides right off.
Can you recall a time when you went to a gathering, and after you left the main thing you remember is how one person slighted you or said something unflattering? Or perhaps you said something rather stupid.
Even though many people treated you in a welcoming fashion, there was this one incident that was unpleasant.
What do you spend time thinking about after the event? For most of us this one thing just sticks to the craw. It doesn’t matter about all the lovely or nice things that happened. We don’t think about them.
But the negative sticks to us like Velcro, causing unhappiness.
The truth is that we can’t run away from, or effectively fight, anxiety.
We have overplayed our hands, it seems.
The good news is that our brains can be re-structured to bring forth peace and fulfillment by learning that old survival instincts aren’t really helpful now, and can be released.
What is helpful now is to retrain our brains to notice the pleasurable things in life, and stop and enjoy them, rather than giving the majority of our attention to our wounds.
We can hang onto those lovely sweet (perhaps heretofore unnoticed) moments of our days, not letting them slide away into oblivion.
We can savor them, take these sweet moments right into our souls, and thus build a Velcro mind for pleasantness.
This is called balance, giving our attention to what causes us to thrive, and not just survive.
We can begin to be aware of what is going on, moment by moment, in our minds. Are we using old survival patterns? If we are arguing, shaming, or blaming we can be sure we are.
After investigating these old patterns, we can breathe them out and look around us for something good that is happening. There is rarely a time when something good is not taking place.
We can pay attention to the small everyday joys, such as passing someone and smiling at them. Or receiving a smile from a stranger. Or the joy of watching the antics of a puppy, or small child.
Don’t let them slide off like Teflon! Take a moment and hold them in your heart.
By taking a few moments to savor them, and repeating this throughout our day we build a Velcro brain for joy!
Yes, we are actually changing the very structure of our brains. Neuroscience is presenting some pretty optimistic facts here.
I recommend getting a copy of the book, The Buddha’s Brain, and discovering this for yourself!
Imagining something beautiful or inspirational, and feeling it in our hearts, creates new neural patterns in our brain.
Life is pretty much an even mix of happiness and sorrow. How we respond to each experience makes all the difference.
We can look for that which makes us happy, and we can learn to treat sorrow wisely.
Transformation comes by changing the “eye” that sees. When we attend to what is true, to what is good and to that which is beautiful we actually re-wire our brain.
Setting our intention to be love may be all we can do in the present moment. But will we do it?
St. Paul’s put it very wisely when he said to look for that which is true, honest, just, pure, lovely and good, and think on these things. Praise them; for they lead to peace. Phil: 4:8
Yes, we can develop a Velcro brain for that which is good and true and beautiful.
It’s a worthy task! It’s a hero’s journey.