The Physical Workings Of The Brain

There is a part of the brain called the occipital lobe, and within this area you will find the visual cortex.

This visual cortex receives, integrates and processes visual information relayed from the retinas of the eyes.

In the mid region of the brain, you will see the hippocampus, the amygdala and the thalamus. Unlike the cortex which does a lot of decision making and logic thinking, the mid region is more primitive – It’s where memories are stored and it is also known as the emotional brain.

The amygdala in the mid brain is the fight or flight response alarm. The hippocampus is where we store memories from the past and part of the role of the thalamus is to release peptides into the blood stream of the body so that we can feel the fear, or the joy, or the sadness, or the excitement when they all occur.

So, we go from taking information from our outside world via our retinas, this information travels to the occipital lobe and gets processed and then that information travels to the emotional brain and as a result, we get an emotional and physical response in the body.

Sometimes, information from the external environment may be so quick and intense, the information goes directly to the emotional brain before your visual cortex is even able to process anything.

Ive heard few describe certain events where they were so angry or afraid and they blacked out, not being able to recall some of the details. This may be a result of the emotional brain reacting before the thinking brain even had a chance to process the information and intervene with logic.

This all happens so quick, but the amazing thing about the brain is that it gives us the illusion that everything in reality is happening in sync with each other.

You start walking and you feel the floor beneath you, you hear the steps as your feet hit the ground and you can see your feet moving and hitting the ground. To you, all of this is happening in complete sync – this is another one of the minds illusions.

Whatever you experience through your senses is not entirely reality, but rather your brains representation of its external environment.

The Toxicity In Stress & Fear

If you’re prone to feeling many of the negative emotions such as fear and stress, even when there is little to no need for your brain to respond in these ways, try diaphragmatic breathing exercises.

Many people walk around constantly in a state of stress and fear. As for myself, ever since I can remember as a child I have always been prone to feeling high levels of stress and fear almost always.

This is less of a character flaw and more of a character trait and depending on what end of the spectrum you are in terms of neurosis, this will determine the level of fear you will experience in your everyday life.

To put it simply, everyone has the capacity to fear, but when that response gets triggered depends on the person. Some people walk around with fear and negative emotion when there is nothing to fear or feel negative about. This all comes down to personality type and past experience.

If you find that you are in a constant state of fear or stress, it means your amygdala, the part of the brain that is like the alarm bell that rings during situation where the fight or flight response is required is over active, sometimes even hyperactive like in my case.

Activity in the amygdala eventually becomes feeling in the body. Once signals from the amygdala reach the hypothalamus in the brain, peptides are released into the body relating to feelings of stress, anxiety and fear.

What started as signal of fight or flight in the amygdala is now a feeling you experience throughout your body.

When your body receives the signals for fight or flight, a lot of your blood travels away from your digestive system and other organs and into the limbs. With so much blood and energy in your limbs, this enables you to either escape for safety, or fight the threat.

If you are prone to stress and anxiety though, the issue is that your brain and body are going into fight or flight mode when it isn’t necessary. Even when there are no threats, the brain can imagine one and then put the body in a state of fight or flight intensity.

Eventually, this leads to more stress and fear. When your muscles are constantly tensed up because of the body’s response to the peptides released by the brain, this causes one to overextend on this natural instinct, unnecessarily.

With diaphragmatic breathing, you are bringing oxygen back into the stomach and the organs, and this calms the nerves and switches off the fear response, as all the blood rushes back from your limbs into your main organs.

After you have applied some breathing, consciously scan your environment so your brain can process that there is no danger in the present.

Working with these ancient instincts of body and mind and applying them to modern day living is the challenge, but it’s also the trick.

Image – pituitary gland attached to hypothalamus in the brain. Where neurotransmitters from the brain get turned into peptides that travel throughout the bloodstream of the body.

Defusion & Acceptance Commitment Therapy

Defusion – The separation of an emotion-provoking stimulus from the unwanted emotional response as part of a therapeutic process, in the same way as when a bomb is “defused”.

In his book, ‘The Happiness Trap’, Dr. Russ Harris introduces a technique called defusion. This is a mindfulness based technique that has you observing the thoughts in your mind. Every time you find yourself getting caught up in a thought or an idea in your mind, you simply say to yourself, “I am having the thought ….”.

For example, you have a particular stressor in your life, and as a result the mind keeps coming up with negative thoughts and stories that lead to negative emotions and feelings. I am scared about money, or my illness, or my family member, or my job – all of these stressors create negative thoughts and stories in the mind.

Pick out a particular negative thought or story that continuously plays in your mind. “I am too fat”, “I am too lazy”, “I am not smart enough”, “I am not good enough”, “I cant do this, or that”. Whatever it is, pick it out and each time you catch yourself thinking this, say, “I am having the thought that I am…”.

When I first learned this technique, I didn’t pay too much attention to the name. But, now with more understanding, I have decided to find out more. I have discovered something from reading the definition – “The separation of an emotion provoking stimulus”.

That word ‘separation’ explained so much of this for me.

In spirituality, there is a journey of one realising their true selves, outside from the egoic mind. We become so completely identified with the mind that we easily lose touch with true reality and our true selves. We get so wrapped up in all of the day to day stories of our mind, but the mind is just full of illusionary ideas about what we think reality is.

This tight identification with the mind becomes a big problem, and that is because it is not 100% truth. Its full of our own perceptions, dogmas, belief systems and judgement and it creates this sense of self; a self that can be harmed and judged.

These thoughts and stories in our minds have no real basis in life – They are just a constant stream of ideas running through the mind, most of them are negative because the mind isn’t designed to be happy. Biologically, we are built to survive and this comes with a lot of fear and anxiety. There are many problems in the world, and we are wired to survive these problems.

But the more we identify with this, the more we suffer it. This technique of defusion is what aids the separation process. A mindfulness based technique now used in ACT – Acceptance & Commitment Therapy, many practicing psychologists are now implementing this in their tool kits.

Separation from the mind, this is something that this technique of defusion achieves. Instead of becoming identified with a negative thought, you pick it out, say, “I am having the thought…”, and you have defused it.

The more you apply the technique, the less identified you become with these thoughts in the mind and the more you can experience them for what they really are, which is just a thought that most likely has no basis in reality.

Emotions & The Chemistry of Your Body

We all have the tendency to run away from difficult emotions and feelings.

This is the nature of the human mind. It wants to desperately avoid pain and chase pleasure.

Imagine yourself in an open grass field. There are two cats; one big scary one which you are trying to run from because you are afraid it will attack you, and a small one you want to catch because you think it’s adorable.

You end up running around in circles, trying to balance out the two extremes. You want to, so desperately save your life, but you are also extremely fixated on capturing this small cat.

This is what the mind does with pleasure and pain. The problem is, it’s a never ending battle because wherever you go, there will always be pleasure to chase and pain to deflect and avoid.

It’s in constantly avoiding and running from this pain where we suppress and reject the discomfort of some of our thoughts and emotions.

Because you have not taken the time to confront them and let your body process them naturally, these emotions get stored in different parts of the body, keeping you in a constant state of things like; anger, frustration, loneliness, emptiness and fear.

How can these things be stored in the body?

A thought begins in the mind. A thought about how much you hate your boss, or how much your partner frustrates you, or how much that person pissed you off, or how scared you are about so and so.

These thoughts in regards to fear or frustration or anger start in the brain and then become feelings in the body. These electrochemical signals that began as thought in the brain, their chemicals get released into the bloodstream and eventually get to the organs in your body.

These emotions that come from chemicals in the brain and body are forms of energy, and when you are stuck in a certain emotional pattern, your body cops a beating because there is all of this blocked energy sitting in different parts of your body.

It’s crazy to believe that this all began with a thought in the mind.

If you continue to have these thoughts, then your brain is going to continue to pump out all of those toxic chemicals to the body and those toxic chemicals of anger or fear are going to get stored in the body, continuing to feed those toxic thought patterns.

Sometimes, something as simple as lower back pain can be traced back to stress in the mind.

So then, what’s the solution?

There are many things one can do, such as changing the biochemistry of the body with nutrition. It’s like a pharmacy in there, with all these different chemicals. You can eat certain foods which helps balance out those chemicals, favourably. If emotions come in the form of these chemical signatures, then we can change those with the good things we feed our body.

Some esoteric practices like yoga and mindfulness meditation help.

Yesterday, I was dealing with some very difficult emotions. These emotions have been lingering for many months; fear, guilt, frustration, anger.

I observed how I respond to these, and I found that a lot of the time I would walk to the fridge to stuff my face with food, or I will light up a cigarette, just to deal with the discomfort.

But then, I decided to change things around and instead of reacting to the feelings this way, I sat on my bed in silence, closed my eyes and just sat in the body.

I confronted these feelings head on by simply just feeling them through.

It was painful and confronting, because I wasn’t drowning the mind in television or food or cigarettes like usual. I was there with them, allowing for my body and mind to fully become aware of them so I could process them and then let them go.

I woke up today feeling slightly different to yesterday, and I am excited to continue this process of sitting with pain and discomfort.

It’s in sitting with it and coming to a place of acceptance where you can begin to slowly peal away the layers of letting go.

On a biochemical level, your body and mind are well off because you are no longer stuck in an emotion and feeling which was most likely caused by a situation from the past.

How much does stress contribute towards our illness?

I have been hearing more and more about the effects of stress on the human body and mind. A lot of professionals say that so many illnesses begin with stress in the mind – cancer, for example.

The mind is a collection of memories from the past, visions for the future, and with these thoughts follow with emotion – joy, sadness, anger, fear, trust, distrust, surprise and anticipation.

A stressor may begin in the mind in the form of something like a trauma. These sometimes traumatic memories become stored and embedded, particularly if the experience or event came with a lot of intense emotions. In fact, the more intense the emotion at the time, the more emotional baggage you are likely to experience in the present and future.

The issue is, these things don’t finish in the mind – This is just the beginning.

Its the limbic system in the brain which is commonly referred to as the ’emotional brain’. Its here where the initial thoughts created by the logical mind relating to something stressful, meets with the chemical factory of your brain, which is the creator of neurotransmitters like; oxytocin, dopamine, serotonin, adrenaline, noradrenaline, endorphins, acetylcholine, glutamate and aminobutyric acid.

All of these neurotransmitters carry different functions. Sometimes, your body needs adrenaline, when stakes are high. It needs serotonin for mood, and dopamine for pleasure – the limbic brain is where these chemical concoctions in the brain occur, and this sends electrochemical signals from the brain to all different parts of the body.

Once these chemicals enter the blood stream, they travel to your organs, and so what began as a thought in the mind, is now something you experience throughout your body. These impulses of the mind get transferred into the body and become things actions and behaviors.

This is what plugs your body into the software of your brain – the mind. So, how much do these thoughts contribute to some of the chronic illnesses and diseases?

Looking at it from the lens of mind and body connection, its clear that this is all a full body and brain unification. Even small day to day things that go unnoticed, every thought is creating an emotional and bodily response.

This is the synchrony of the mind and body that creates our full experience.

How Serving Humanity Can Improve Your Well Being

The more time I get to look back and process my journey I had in Cambodia as a humanitarian, things start to make more sense.

When you are in the heat of the moment, you aren’t even aware of what you are actually doing. When you reflect and process it all, your own patterns become more exposed.

I didn’t know it, but at the time I was actually embarking on this journey as a humanitarian after gathering much information from things like Buddhist philosophy, human psychology and the biochemistry of the brain.

Coming from a place of mental health issues and emotional adversity, it’s clear to me now what I was doing by going to Cambodia to serve humanity.

It was by coincidence that I landed in a Buddhist country, because it was the very same values of compassion, empathy, kindness, generosity and human connection which inspired my decision to test these ancient values and ideas in real life.

After the philosophical inspiration came the scientific research that suggested that things like generosity, kindness and gratitude actually changed the structure of the brain. I began to wonder whether one could find more of a sense of well being and purpose through philanthropy.

If you go down to our biological roots, you will learn that we are all one of the same thing.

Nature has a way of safe guarding its species through instinctive acts of altruism, and this is manifested in many different ways across the many different organisms that live on earth.

What I left with was a hypothesis, and I came back with a whole thesis of real life knowledge and experience, recorded and documented, first hand.

I didn’t only read about it, but I actually lived it.

It’s no surprise that I found that sense of purpose and well being when serving others. The ancient philosophers were saying it, and the modern day scientists say the same, each of them conveying their message through different language.

Money Mindset

A really interesting idea I have heard in regards to your personal finances is, don’t hold on to cash for too long. Holding on to cash in fear of running out brings about this sense of scarcity in your mind. It’s like, you are protecting something and not letting go of it because you think it’s fleeting.

This creates that level of fear and uncertainty that a lot of people, including myself face when it comes to your money. The reality of it is, cash comes and goes. It always will be the case, as this is a huge function of currency.

The idea doesn’t advocate reckless spending of any type. It’s not about that, but more about the emotional baggage you carry, and the mental process of thought that occurs when it comes to how you spend and save your personal finances.

Grant Cardone explains how he fills his fridge up with an abundance of good foods. He says, it’s not about gluttony or greed, but more about priming his mind and body with constant reinforcement of the idea and feeling of abundance. He keeps his money mind rich – the bank flourishes as a result.

These come down to mindsets and your emotions around the underlying values that currency brings with it, like a sense of security, good health, acceptance and status and the ability to make a contribution.

  •  1