I picture my Reactive Brain as an 8” tall cartoon Napoleon.
He’s strutting around with his face in a grimace,
shaking his fist up at me,
“It’s IMPORTANT you watch out for enemies!” he shouts.
“Do NOT relax. EVER.”
“One slip-up and YOUR LIFE WILL FALL APART!!”
“Are you LISTENING TO ME!?”
Some days that little guy persuades me. I seem to shrink down into becoming one of his soldiers and obeying his commands.
He gets in my head.
“Watch out. Don’t be fooled by all of this focus on the positive that fool Creative Brain is dishing out.”
“I must be VIGILANT because, you know, the future is coming and it’s bound to be BAD.”
“Maybe there is some beauty in the world, ok, sure, but what a waste of time to cultivate that when there are PROBLEMS TO BE SOLVED.”
I was talking to a new mom yesterday and it took me a while to realize her Reactive Brain tyrant had moved into her head and was in command.
She was describing her to-do list, how it seemed unending, and how all of those suffocating tasks kept her from getting back to her creative self. We talked about her biggest fears, and she processed through some of that energy; I brought up the Genius Quadrant so we could see how much time she was doing what she didn’t want to do. As none of that really moved the issue for her, I caught on: Her Reactive Brain tyrant had taken over.
Now, her tyrant is even more difficult to please than mine. The stakes are so very high: Her baby could die if she isn’t constantly watching for, listening for, monitoring every breath, burp, and bowel movement. Even worse, if he died she would forever carry the responsibility of his death.
No wonder she listens to that unrelenting voice.
Now, Reactive Brain is exactly who we want to have in charge under certain circumstances.
In emergencies and any other time where there’s true urgency to make a decision, Reactive Brain doesn’t hesitate: It automatically jumps in and issues those fight/flight/freeze orders that we are hardwired to follow.
When survival is at stake, Reactive Brain is our best leader.
However, letting Reactive Brain dictate costs us. A lot. Being in a reactive state fills our body with stress chemicals, wearing us out with hormones like adrenaline and cortisol. Our brain goes into sentry mode, watching for enemies–and always finding them.
We plunge into the roiling waves of pride, anger, fear, sadness, despair, guilt, shame…and fear. And more fear. Our lives shrink with the stories we tell ourselves, about the world, the people around us, about ourselves.
We lose access to what makes our lives worth living: joy, love, peace, flow, harmony. Creativity is out of reach, our dreaming, imagining, thriving lost in the contraction of focusing on staying alive. And perhaps worst of all: access to our essence self, our true north that guides us to self-expression and fulfillment, is gone.
Once I caught on to how much my client was caught by her own Reactive Brain tyrant, I changed course to see if we could wrest his/her/their grip from her insides. We tried an Open Focus exercise that didn’t work, but at least brought the vise-grip of fear clutching her chest to her awareness. After three months of keeping a newborn alive, her body knew its job was to stay on guard 24/7.
We ended up negotiating: I promised that, if she was willing to leave Reactive Brain for a tiny amount of time, I would help trigger her back into it so she could resume guard duty.
We settled on two minutes.
As I tracked time, she allowed herself to relax, breathe, in-loop* to her own body. She accessed her Creative Brain, her essence self again–albeit until I kept my end of the deal and got Reactive Brain back on line by reminding her of how much her baby depended on her.
Afterwards, she agreed to build in time to try some oscillation, not trying to remove Reactive Brain from its post but to allow it (and her) to take short breaks to allow the rejuvenating energies of Creative Brain.
How can you know that your inner Reactive Brain tyrant has taken over?
Here are some signs:
- Your mind is filled with what is wrong.
- You feel the slight nausea of adrenaline and cortisol, and have to use substances (e.g. caffeine, nicotine) to keep your energy going.
- You have other physiological symptoms of reactivity: heart racing, shallow breathing, exhaustion, dullness, tight muscles.
- When you see others enjoying themselves, you judge them.
- You believe that whatever you’re dealing with must be solved RIGHT NOW–even if it doesn’t.
- When you imagine enjoying yourself, you put off doing anything that would feel good so that you can get “important” things done.
- When you try to take breaks or lay down to sleep, you worry.
- You require other substances (e.g. alcohol, cannabis) to relax or sleep.
And how to get that tyrannical voice to stand down, even for two minutes?
- Try what my client did. Set a timer. Tell your Reactive Brain you’ll be back. (You could leave yourself a note so you don’t forget the important issue Reactive Brain is worrying about.)
- Use shift moves to change your physiology. Meditate, walk, sing, dance, hold a warm mammal, listen to Les Fehmi recordings to open your focus, read something inspirational.
- Once you’re out of the tyrant’s clutches, wonder if whatever got you stuck is actually something that is threatening your survival. If it isn’t, give yourself more time in Creative Brain. Go to a garden, write, read, play. Let the replenishing juices of Creative Brain rush back through your being so you can reconnect with your true, essential self.
- Let your Creative Brain tell you a new story about life, the beings around you, whatever the issue is. And decide: Which part of you do you want to install as the ruler of your life? That unrelenting, demanding tyrant? Or your Essence?
These days that little guy still jumps up and down, still shakes his fist and yells at me. But I’ve got a lot of love for him. He’s saved me many times (“Quick! jump out of the way!” “PUSH THE BRAKES NOW!!!”) so I make sure he has an honored place in my head. But now I rule my inner world by consensus, not a dictatorship.
Blessings to you, as you discover how to have your biggest, most powerful life!
*Kathlyn Hendricks created the concept of “Loop of Awareness,” which is how to alternate where we place our attention between the internal and external world.
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