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The Evolving Heartbeat of Humanity
Dr. Michael Thomas

There is a very old story about a frog and a scorpion. Both were perched on the edge of a river, and both wanted to get across to the other side. As the frog got ready to jump in and swim across, the scorpion asked him a question. “Would you let me ride on your back as you swim across? I very much need to get to the other side.” The frog didn’t think that sounded like a very good idea. “If I let you onto my back you would surely sting me.” “Oh, no I wouldn’t.” said the scorpion. “If I stung you, we would both drown.”
The frog considered the proposition, and being of kindly frog nature, decided to do the scorpion a favor.
“Hop on” he said, and the two of them jumped into the river.

Half way across the river, the scorpion couldn’t resist the urge any longer. He stung the frog and they both began to sink beneath the surface. “But why?” croaked the frog as he felt his life ebbing away.
“It’s my nature. There was nothing I could do.” And the scorpion, too, slipped beneath the waves.

I wonder, as I watch the world scene, peering at it through the Internet and television, newspapers and magazines, for all our sophistication, are we acting more like the scorpion than we’re willing to admit? Will we human beings wake up to the effects of our behavior or will we just continue to erode our environment through the effects of our actions until it becomes inhospitable to our own continued presence? Is aggressive use of force the only way to provide for survival against others?

Instincts run as deep as life itself. There are many patterns of behavior that have repeated themselves over and over, for untold eons in a multitude of life forms. Some of these instinctual behaviors are actually hardwired into the nervous systems of human beings. Only recently have we begun to gain perspective of our “hardwiring” and understand the plasticity (potential for change) of our nervous systems. A scorpion must always be a scorpion, but a human being’s central nervous system has potential undreamed of by other creatures.

A researcher by the name of Paul MacLean developed the idea of the “triune” brain in the human being. His studies made clear that there is a hierarchy of function that guides the way our brains work. His explanation begins with the brainstem or “reptile brain”. This is basically the only brain that a reptile possesses. It controls the basics of life’s processes: level of consciousness (i.e., awake or asleep, drowsy or hyper-alert), posture control, centers that direct heart rate, respiratory drive, and vasomotor centers that control blood pressure and more. This part of the brain has had millions of years to perfect its incisive and important functions. Decisions made by it are the product of long inheritance. They are quick, reflexive, pragmatic and always serve survival. The kinds of decisions made by the primal brainstem never change their pattern–think of an alligator.

Above the brainstem lies the limbic system. This area adds an emotional flavor to the life-survival process and is sometimes called the emotional-cognitive brain. Smell and hearing first occur in the limbic system. Joseph Chilton Pearce, in his new book The Biology of Transcendence (2002, Park Street Press), has recently written this about the limbic system: “…here in this nurturing emotional brain are the foundations for all forms of relationships, including our general cognition of the world as somehow “other”, as something to which we must relate. A reptile’s relationships are simple: When its primitive vision spots a moving clump of contrasting light and dark (the only visual discernment it can make), the reptile asks, “Is it something to eat, mate with, or be eaten by?” Thus the repertoire of its subsequent actions can be classified in two ways: Go for it or get away from it. The mammalian system is infinitely more complex than this, and infinitely more discriminating. The collective term for those tools by which we qualitatively evaluate all our relationships-particularly our relationships with each other-is emotion.” Pearce goes on to note that the reptile brain (the brainstem) relates us physically to the external world. The old mammalian or limbic system gives us a sense of our inner world and relates us emotionally to the external world.

Finally, above the limbic system in this nested hierarchy, lies the neocortex. The neocortex and the prefrontal lobes develop the sentience associated with the higher creatures and in humans, it has become massive–five times the size of the brainstem and limbic system combined. The neocortex allows us to make objective observations. Through its power we are able to employ reason to situations and not just react to our instincts; language is now possible. For the first time in human evolution, we can think about the future, not just the present-time consciousness of the brainstem or the dual sense of present and past that guides the limbic system. Now the whole inner world is awakened within each of us, its potential beauty–and its unspeakable horrors.

One of Pearce’s great contributions to this discussion is his illumination of which part of the brain gets to be in charge. So often, he writes, an experience occurs that causes stress. Most of us would agree that we experience stress several (perhaps many!) times a day. This experience of stress immediately activates the brainstem, which gives an instinctual reaction. The neocortex is then employed in the service of the brainstem to provide a rationalization. Regardless of the action, a perfectly logical explanation is generated in the neocortex. Lies and deception, he notes, are ancient survival mechanisms. The cover story given by the neocortex is more recent. This “reptilian nature” is not hard to miss by any people watcher. We have thousands of years of recorded history that shows us where a life lived based on defensive behavior leads us. Interestingly, we don’t know very much about what a life lived in love, looks like.

Pearce writes that the next evolutionary step for humans is to begin to respond to life’s events instead of just being puppets of our reactions. It is time for our higher brain centers to uncover their potential abilities to guide our lives with greater wisdom. This deeper wisdom comes through coordination of the neocortex and an organ that we have always associated with wisdom in poetry and mysticism but not physiology–the heart. Putting the neocortex in conjunction with the heart in charge gives the possibility of hope for a different kind of future for each of us individually, and for humanity at large.

One organization has been at the forefront of this idea. The Heartmath organization, through rigorous and well-published research, has developed simple protocols that can help all of us reach that potential. It has long been a truism that wisdom resides in our hearts. Until recently, physiologists have never seen the heart as more than a pump. The field of neurocardiology has begun to show the links that the heart has with the central nervous system. We are beginning to realize what a powerful partnership the heart and brain can make. The potential of the heart is important for another, only recently understood reason. The electrical conduction system in the heart is known to create an electromagnetic field that is measurable by instrumentation, 10-15 feet away from an individual’s body and it contains some amazing information.

We don’t talk much about field effects today but in the future we may begin to more commonly understand what fields are and how they work. An electromagnetic field contains more than just energy; it also contains information. You might think of a radio or television wave that transmits a great deal of information. One interesting aspect of a field is that information regarding the whole field can be accessed from any point within the field, similar to a hologram. When we say that someone we have met with has “touched our heart”, we may be more accurate than we had imagined. It now seems probable to some researchers that the heart can help to guide the brain.

Just as mystics have always known, love is the resonance that connects the whole universe. This may sound like nonsense to a “scientist”, but to a growing number of us, it sounds like an eternal truth. A life lived in love has access to the deepest wisdom. No longer confined to our own puny experience, we can step onto a much larger stage.

We don’t have to be bound by our instincts. We don’t have to ravage the earth and plunder each other (and ourselves!) like the scorpion in the story. In these dark days of fear and terror, it is more important than ever before to open up to our evolutionary potential. We can open our own hearts up to the same love that drives the universe. Opening up the access between the heart and the neocortex requires a deep commitment to the process of forgiveness. This is the great shift from a life based in law to a life based in love. We don’t have to sting like the scorpion; we can begin to become fully human. When stung by others, we don’t need to automatically sting back. Love, not fear, can be our guide.

If you are interested to learn more about these topics, read “The Biology of Transcendence; A Blueprint of the Human Spirit”, by Joseph Chilton Pearce; 2002 Park Street Press, ISBN: 0-89281-990-1, or visit Heartmath at: www.heartmath.com.