Neuroscience is discovering that the brain has a ‘negativity bias.’ This is because processing danger signals is more important to survival than processing signals that are safe. This seems like a sensible adaption of the brain in early humans. We no longer live in constant danger to our survival. It seems some of our primal fears have survived into modern times, though perhaps they have morphed and may not be so recognizable.
Humans today have money worries. Money is the primary way our society is setup to ‘secure’ survival. Humans today are afraid of not being loved; of not being successful; of not looking a certain way. We’re not facing wild animals anymore, instead they’re inside! And the triggers for negativity are still there, albeit they’re sanitized, complicated and hidden under layers.
The result is what scientists call a “negativity bias” in the brain. It’s like Velcro for negative experiences, but Teflon for positive ones. This is a great strategy for passing on gene copies – which is the engine of biological evolution – but a lousy one for quality of life. The brain is tilted toward survival, but tilted against happiness.
— Rick Hanson, PhD
You may wonder what chance there is to be positive if the brain is wired this way. It gets worse:
…the more we practice reactivity to our fears (e.g. from small fears to PTSD), the stronger the neural connections in our brains become that make us more likely to be automatically reactive to our fears. Or, the more often we practice automatic negative thinking, the stronger the neural connections become that lead to more automatic reactivity toward automatic negative thinking.
— Elisha Goldstein
The good news is that the same is true for positive thinking. Neuroplasticity works both ways. The brain is malleable and it can trend positive or negative.
…it is the simultaneity of firing (within a few thousandths of a second) of neurons that are connected with each other that leads to strengthening existing synapses – which are the junctions between neurons – and to building new ones.
For example, if you routinely dwell on your resentments and regrets, the neurons involved in that particular mental activity will fire busily together, and automatically start wiring together as well. Which will add one more bit of neural structure to feeling discontented, mistreated, angry, or sorrowful. On the other hand, if you regularly focus on the good facts around you and inside you – like your own good qualities, such as patience, determination, or kindness – then the neurons involved will wire together, stitching more resilience, hopefulness, confidence, and happiness into the fabric of your brain and your self.
— Rick Hanson, PhD
All well and good. We can mold our brain. Much admired, researched and fawned upon, the brain is near deity status. However, the brain is still a material object, an organ. There are two other levels to our existence than the physical. These are mind and spirit.
Mind isn’t physical matter, but it is subtle matter; it’s ethereal and luminous. The mind isn’t limited to the confines of the brain. Every cell of the body has mind in it. It also goes beyond the body in the exchange of ideas and how thoughts live in our creations and relationships. The mind is mobile in its nature and influence. It’s local with the body and personal experiences, but it’s also nonlocal in its reach, what it influences, and what can influence it.
Since the mind is not the brain alone, it can be used to train the brain, and also to make choices moment to moment. The mind is able to observe our autopilot reactions and impulses. Observation is the first step to modification and change. The mind can help us to stop being victims of past patterns that have been wired in the brain by life experiences, heredity, and by the way we ‘view’ these experiences, in other words our attitude toward them.
It’s best if the mind itself is informed by something other than itself.
Generally, we think that the mind dwells in either the head or the heart. The head is the center for the outer mind that works through the senses. The heart is the center of the inner mind or feeling nature that transcends the senses. The brain is no more than a screen on which the energies of consciousness from the heart get reflected… This is not the physical heart but the core of knowing deep inside ourselves. We should not confuse this center with a physical location. It pervades all our mental activity.
— David Frawley
The brain becomes what is fed to it, positive or negative. The mind can oversee that what the brain engages is healthy and productive, if awareness is cultivated. The question remains, how accurately is the mind perceiving. Ordinary mind processes input from the senses. The senses are prone to dullness, error, bad habits, and a host of other filters that can be delusive.
The senses and the mind are the outer doors through which knowledge percolates into the consciousness. Human knowledge filters in through the senses and is interpreted by the mind. If the senses err in perception, the conclusion drawn by the understanding of that data is also incorrect.
— Paramahansa Yogananda
The next time you’re overcome with negative thoughts and feelings about yourself, your life, your circumstances, realize that these perceptions may not be true at all. Even if there are some real issues to deal with, negativity certainly won’t find you solutions. Most often, even if your perceptions have a tinge of truth, negativity takes on a life of its own and colors events darker than they actually are.
This is where intuition comes in. Intuition perceives truth directly. Everyone has native intuition. A lot of it is schooled out of us, but doesn’t disappear and so it can be cultivated, to be established again. Intuition is read in the heart. It’s independent of the brain, senses, or mind.
Instead of paying attention to the thoughts that the brain produces, or the habituated thoughts of the mind, get a better handle on your situation by first perceiving from a cleaner awareness. An awareness cultivated by mindfulness. At least use some of the mind’s higher functioning. There’s strength there and clarity.
In time you can bypass the past, any habits that don’t serve, the brain itself and even the mind by being informed at a soul level, working with intuition, honing and trusting it. Negative patterns may still arise of their own accord, however, you’ll be equipped to dismiss them, because you know the truth of yourself.
The cultivation of intuitive calmness requires unfoldment of the inner life. When developed sufficiently, intuition brings immediate comprehension of truth. You can have this marvelous realization. Meditation is the way.
— Paramahansa Yogananda
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Reiki Master-Teacher of Authentic Japanese Usui Reiki in Fort Lauderdale at my South Florida Oasis Reiki Dojo. Meditation, Healing, and Spirituality training and services, and educator.