Research shows your mind ranges from two mental extremes, which give you a radically different experience in terms of well-being and behavior. Here I’ll present these two extremes and suggest how to use this knowledge to improve your life.
One mental extreme is what is known as your defensive state. This is your animal brain having fully taken over command of your thinking and actions. Adrenaline is coursing through your veins. Heart-rate and blood pressure are up. Your amygdala is running the show and, because of that, it has bypassed your cortex, the part of your brain that does rational thinking. At the highest levels of defensiveness, you basically become a beast, scared and angry. I call this our dragon state. This may sound exciting, but it’s very unpleasant.
This state of mind is useful to save your life in situations of real imminent danger. The milliseconds your cortex needs to think about things could get you killed, so the amygdala takes over. If you’re running away from a flood or trying to survive an attack by a vicious animal, this is great. Not so great, however, if you’re just trying to deal with family and coworkers, traffic or something else equally non-life-threatening.
The other extreme is exploratory. In this mode, you’re engaged in something that greatly interests you. You’re absorbed in doing, studying and experiencing something to such a degree, your whole self is one with the here and now. In its purest form, this is known as the state of flow, where decisions and thoughts occur with lightning speed, with apparently no deliberation. The sensation experienced is one of joy, intense vitality and connection. I call this the angel state, where you’re more than a mere human. In this state, you’re operating at your very best, flowing with life and expressing your inner self brilliantly.
We’re very sensitive. Any perceived threat pushes us towards the dragon state. Even seeing someone’s grumpy face from a distance moves you towards defensiveness, even if the person is not looking at you. Thoughts are processed as reality by your brain. Feeling anxious about future events, fear of unpleasant outcomes or even reliving a bad experience are interpreted by your brain as actual events in the here and now, and thus trigger you towards your dragon state. You can see why we spend so much of our lives in a bad mood. We’re freaking ourselves out, though subtly, often unconsciously, all the time. And if we let our emotions take control, then we can go all out dragon in a fit of rage, over the silliest things, such as bickering over the choice of a restaurant with our spouses or in dealing with your teenager’s latest test of your limits.
Knowing this constant shifting of the mind, between dragon and angel, we can begin to assume control of our life experience. Here are three practical steps to achieve this:
- Engage constantly in self-observation. Be aware of your mind. Practice mindfulness of your own state of being and of your emotions. Be aware of your thoughts. This is a key habit to develop to live a better life and one that’s increasingly more emphasized by psychologists and gurus alike.
- Pacify your mind. As soon as you feel yourself uselessly drifting towards your dragon state, in anxiety of some future result, in lamentation of an unhappy memory, stop the downward slide. Do this by breathing deeply and calmly and bringing your mind to the here and now. Return to reality at hand, right now. Not the version of reality full of doubts and uncertainties your mind is freaking you out with, but with reality in the moment, happening around you. In short, practice mindfulness. If things are getting really agitated, then you’re entering the dangerous level of having your amygdala take over – full dragon mode. You have to take immediate action while you still have a little control of your cortex. The amygdala will shut down in response to slow steady breathing and the relaxing of the muscles and your mind will move towards your angel state again. Be aware and stop the dragon from rising before it’s too late. Check out this video on anger to understand better this process.
- Seek out your angel state. Do this by finding joy and meaning in everything you do. This is possible by becoming attuned to your dharma, your essence, and putting that into action. When you’re focused on living who you really are, you are taking your mind to the angel state. The more you can focus on living your essence, the closer you approach the perfection of the angel state. Full focus means being in the zone, blissfully absorbed in life.
In the book “The 3T Path” (http://3tpath.com/books/) I explain in much greater detail how to practice mindfulness and how to live and understand your dharma.
Watch my video on this topic here.
Look what they’re saying about The 3T Path book: “The 3T Pat is a book that connects yoga wisdom with your day-to-day, with practical tools and examples of how to keep your mind healthy, focused on the here and now.” – Taila Roncon