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The Neurobiology of Burning the Candle (Day 104)

Updated: Apr 17, 2022

We're looking at your emotional reactivity, and today we talked about exactly how to burn the candle down – how to bit-by-bit get rid of all the reactivity/suffering that you've created over your whole life, which you carry with you everywhere, and which has a defining impact on 'who you are'.

We've talked about how bringing awareness and acceptance to the moment (body sensations) creates a posture in which old reactions burn off...but what exactly is the mechanism of that process, neurobiologically-speaking?

Looking at our 4-part brain, things start with body sensations in the reptile mind. The mammal then reacts to these sensations. These reactions then power our thinking monkey mind, wherein our sense of self lives.

Emotional reactions are food for our thinking mind, and if we don't feed it, it will eat an old stored-up one – just like your body does with skipping meals and burning body fat. As we practice mindfulness, we're learning to react less, which means you will increasingly be working through your old reactions/trauma.

Here's neuroscientist Antonio Damasio talking about this process in his book The Feeling of What Happens – Body and Emotion in the Making of Consciousness [edits below are mine]:

[He starts by describing the 3 animal minds]

The body-based stability of the nonconscious proto-self [Body], which is reconstructed live at each instant, and the conscious core-self [Emotions], which emerges from it in the second-order non-verbal account [Reactions] when an object modifies it, are enriched by the accompanying display of memorized and invariant facts, your autobiographical-self [Thinking].

The continuity of consciousness is based on the steady generation of consciousness pulses which correspond to the endless processing of myriad objects [Life hitting you], whose interaction modifies the proto-self [Body]. The continuity of consciousness comes from the abundant flow of non-verbal narratives [Reactions] of core consciousness [Emotions].

It does not matter whether the object is present and interacting with the organism or is being brought back from past memory. In healthy individuals, as long as the brain is awake, the machines of consciousness are "on", and we are not manipulating our mental state by doing something like meditation, it is not possible to run out of objects [Life will keep hitting you], and it is thus not possible to run out of consciousness [You will keep reacting].

But, of course, we ARE 'manipulating our mental state', and over time we will fundamentally change our consciousness, transcending the brain's pre-programmed, animalistic approach, and overcoming our suffering in the process.😊

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