The triune brain theory supposes that our brain can be separated into three parts – the lizard brain, the limbic system, and the neocortex. In this note I will call these parts of the brain our ‘reptile brain’, our ‘monkey brain’, and our ‘higher brain’.
The “reptile brain” is found at the base of the brain, and contains the cerebellum and brain stem. It is the part which is responsible for our most basic instincts.
The next part of the brain, the ‘monkey brain’ is responsible for more complex tasks as well as emotions. Most of us interact with the world through our ‘monkey brain’, the part that responds to our fears and desires. Most of our interactions with the world are nothing else but actions and reactions that take us closer to what we want (desires) and away from what we don’t want (fears). For most people on the planet, life is nothing else than a movement towards desire and a turning away from fear.
The most advanced part of the brain we could call it the ‘higher brain’, which consists of the outer layer, surrounding the ‘monkey brain’. This area allows for logical, concentrated thought, as well as delayed gratification and what can be called higher aims like harmony, beauty and truth. It is by using our ‘higher brain’ that we are able to, for example, reason before we respond, rather than just reacting.
Of course, when we are faced with real threats, we should not stop and analyze what’s going on, quite the opposite; we need to act! During these times we should be very glad to have our ‘reptile’ and ‘monkey’ brains to get us to safety through our fight or flight response.
The problem is that because we have so many things going on at one time, we find ourselves often restless, confused and distracted, which means that our minds are exploding with thoughts and worries and anxieties, regretting the past and fearing the future, and therefore we can easily find ourselves using mostly our ‘monkey brain’.
And as useful as it can be in front of a situation which requires a quick response, it is what causes most of our difficulties in life.
Think about it.
To create anything at all, like a chair, a building, a work of art, a pot, it takes knowledge. And to create anything with quality, besides knowledge, it takes time, concentration, attention, focus, experience.
And this is not at all different with our thoughts. Our thoughts are the building blocks of our lives!
Our life really depend on what we think and how we think.
It is not what happens to us, but it is what we think that happens that actually matters.
What happens, whatever that is, does not come to us other than through our thoughts; through the way we think about what happens.
Our thoughts translate our experiences for us.
But if we trust, and most people do, the thoughts coming from the ‘monkey mind’, we are going to base our experience of the world on a wrong and faulty translator.
We cannot let the thoughts coming from the ‘monkey mind’ to tell us about the important things of our lives because the ‘monkey mind’ does not have neither the quality nor the depth that these kinds of things require.
When we think about things like ‘who am I?’, ‘what is important to me’, ‘what do I want from my life’, ‘where am I going with my life’, ‘what is failure and success’, ‘what is the meaning of my life’ and many questions like these the mind has to be quiet and open and focused and concentrated and rested and of course, present. As important as the ‘reptile mind and the monkey mind’ are in their respective fields, when we want to think about important subjects, we need to put them aside and connect ourselves with our ‘higher mind’.
And we need to know that the ‘higher mind’ is not always available.
When we are tired, upset, over stressed, too anxious, have eaten too much or too heavy, spent too many hours in front of the computer or TV, the ‘higher mind’ is not available, and so, we need to remember not to make decisions nor take very seriously any thought that comes under any of these circumstances.
The quality of our thoughts depend on the state of our mind.
This means that two thoughts that appear in the same mind may not have the same quality.
If a thought comes out of the ‘higher mind’, that thought will be a more wise, insightful, perceptive, useful thought.
But if a thought comes from the ‘monkey mind’, the thought will not have the quality required to translate a more complex experience.
As a teacher of mine used to say: ‘Don’t believe all your thoughts, but learn to choose between them’.