Posts Tagged ‘limbic system’

A changing presence

September 18, 2010

How God Changes Your Brain has made it to my list of favorite spiritual reads. It is not like most other spiritual books I have read. This one has some nifty scientific stuff in it like references, an index, and everything.

It even has atheists. Although atheists don’t believe in the traditional God of the Bible, they, too, perform meditative and contemplative exercises, and their brains show the same improved activity as those who do believe in God.

Occasionally dry and a bit high level, the authors talk about the brain and how it generally likes to run things. The limbic system (nothing to do with limbo games or that special place in hell where virtuous pagans reside for eternity after they die but both words have their root in the Latin word limbus meaning border or edge) in our brain is a major center for emotion formation and processing, for learning, and for memory. The limbic system likes stability. It likes for things to stay the same. It is probably the reason why the brain dislikes the presence of change.

On page 175 of How God Changes Your Brain, the authors talk about “the belligerent brain” and why it is difficult for us to change our habits and ways even when we want to, even when our thoughts and behaviors don’t serve us well. They state (and I believe them) that our brain gets nervous when we try to change something about ourselves that kept us alive and at least got us to this point in our lives. As near as the brain can tell, whatever methods we are using work well so why change anything?

What’s a presence to do when it wants to change? It is difficult to argue with the limbic system given that the brain is pretty much in charge of everything . . . just try getting along for a few minutes without one. The brain rules with complete autonomy.

Here is why I like this book: the authors offer practical methods that anyone (even atheists) can implement to work with the reluctant brain. Underlying the methods is the need for a conscious commitment to change (those of us in psyche world like to use the word “intent”) and making only small changes each day, along with social support, optimism, and faith. Faith can mean faith that a higher power will support us, but it can also mean that we have faith in ourselves to persevere.

The methods are a set of 12 meditations and relaxation exercises. They are commonly known. To implement them without freaking out your brain and engaging resistance, you need to spend a few minutes each day engaged in one of them. Regularly. Every day. You sit with your nervous brain, allow your limbic system to wring its little brainy wrinkles, and you do what you know you need to do anyway. What you will discover is that your old habits and ways of being will still be there for you to rely on (which reassures your brain), but also you will have the choice of a different behavior available because you have activated a different part of your brain.

At the end of the meditation or exercise, your presence is changed in some tiny, yet significant way. You have more presence available to both you and your brain, and your limbic system will engage to support that change because it is now the you that it recognizes. You are changed, but now you are more of who you truly are.

And your brain will love you for it.

©2010 by Barbara L. Kass