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Why a Drastic Change To Our Way of Life Could Make Us More Human

(Or at Least Less Reptilian)

Some of my strongest memories of daily life are from when I lived in a new place. Everything was different. Everything required my attention.  

Buying groceries, doing laundry, going shopping—none of it could be done by routine. I couldn’t go about my business mindlessly, as I didn’t yet know what my business was. As a result, I had to be aware of my various activities. If I wasn’t, tragedy, such as missing the patisserie on the corner and never getting to taste their pain au chocolat, could ensue. Mindlessness, when life is suddenly completely changed, can have serious consequences.  

All of that to say, world-altering change often forces us out of our routinized, habitual lives. Today, we are living through the most drastic affront to our daily lives that many of us have ever experienced. The COVID-19 pandemic forces us to pay attention to every moment spent in the grocery store, for fear we will touch our face or forget to disinfect that box of crackers as soon as we get home. The lives we led without thinking, getting in our car and ending up at work without any memory of how we got there, are gone for many of us.   

The reptilian mind governs habits and routines, behaviors that we engage in instinctually, lives “lived” mindlessly in a pattern of survival. Individuals dominated by a reptilian mind will rile against any change to their routine, because their bodies feel like they need to follow their set pattern to survive. They will likely resist closing their businesses or churches, call for people to return to “normal life,” without any awareness of the science of the pandemic or that their actions put their employees’ lives at risk. All they understand is their instinctual desire for homeostasis.   

Sadly, afflictions during infancy, such as a lack of nurturing or environmental toxins, can keep people stuck in their reptilian mind, unable to develop their old mammalian mind in childhood, their new mammalian mind in adolescence, and their Human mind in adulthood. Individuals who have never developed a higher mentality do not have a choice in how they behave, they will act from their reptilian mind as their only option, until one or more healthy, beneficial relationships allow the person to progress through each mentality. Leaving one mentality for the next is a risky process that requires positive feedback for doing so. Until we receive that from our relationships, we will stay stuck in a pre-Human mentality.  

However, something that is important to remember is that, even if we have had the good fortune of a healthy environment that allowed our Human mind to come online on schedule, we will still act from our lower mentalities from time to time. Although the quadrune mind model often talks about a person’s “dominant” mind, that does not mean the other minds cease to exist. In that sense, some of us do have a choice in how we act—if our higher mentalities are accessible, the decisions we make can help activate them. Our goal in the model is to grow to be more Human more often, and consequently reptilian, old mammalian, or new mammalian less often (except in the rare instances when those minds are appropriately necessary).  

To that end, having our habits broken for us, against our will, by a pandemic could give us an opportunity to become more aware of them, of when we have let our reptilian mind guide us mindlessly through our lives. It could help us question what would be necessary to live more often out of our higher mentalities and not allow our reptilian mind to lead us through our patterns unaware.  

We will react to the threat of a pandemic in different ways, depending on what mentality we are using in that moment. The threat of a deadly contagion does not make us tear each other apart for the last package of toilet paper any more than it makes us decide to offer what we can to those in need. (A key to China’s recovery effort has been the willingness of thousands to volunteer aiding those whom they do not know.)

We can give into the fear of this time, letting it drive us to new habits of hoarding toilet paper and disinfectant. Or, we can activate our higher mentalities and rise above survival behaviors.

We can see this as a rare opportunity to embrace a new awareness, not only of the germs that we now realize are everywhere, but of all aspects of our life. An opportunity to question if how we have lived up to now is really serving us and those around us. An opportunity to seek out new ways to love each other. If we can’t hug our friends, can we write them a letter? Can we extend our love beyond our circle by giving to a charity that’s helping the homeless and unemployed and other vulnerable groups who will be the hardest hit by this crisis? Can we take time to explore our thoughts, looking at where we might be stuck in patterns that harm us and those around us? When we feel those pangs of fear that this virus could attack me or my family, could we use it as a cue to expand our awareness and feel empathy toward everyone else in the world dealing with the same fears? Is it possible that some of these lifestyle changes—shopping less, realizing what is actually necessary—are positive and should be carried into the future in order to better serve the environment?  

Before we rush to make new habits and routines to “power through” the unknown, let’s take a moment to experience the strangeness. Sometimes, when we let the void be, creation begins. In the midst of uncertainty, if we can practice being at peace with it, we may grow toward being more Human more of the time. Only the Human mind can accept uncertainty and continue to act with compassion and create beauty when faced with the unknowable.  

There are all kinds of ways to show love and respect, which is what we all need to receive and give during this difficult time. The more we think about how we can care for those around us—not only our families inside our homes, but others whom we may not even know—the more we will access our Human mind. 

Many people are using their Human minds to greet the fear and uncertainty of this time with compassion, beauty, and love. This awareness alone of what the Human mind can do should give us hope. We can act from a place of empathy, insight, and compassion, even during the darkest times. This is our birthright as human beings, to reduce suffering and increase healing for all.  

Compassionate capitalists have funded efforts to provide necessary supplies to hospitals in need, without regard for their own profit. Many people have been drawn to create beauty, sidewalk chalk rainbows that allow them to reach out in spirit, even if they cannot physically. Likewise, artist Liza Lou’s “Apartogether” community art project seeks to bring comfort to those feeling desperately alone. Professional and ad hoc artists alike are saying, “I am with you and there is still beauty in the world.” Becky Wass sent out postcards offering to help those she had never met with grocery shopping or a chat and inspired countless others to do the same. Kindness postcards and public art are just two ways we can create human connection in the midst of a pandemic—on a level that may even go beyond the connection we had before. A global pandemic highlights a reality known to the Human mind—we are intrinsically connected to everyone in the world and to the planet itself, and when a part suffers, the whole suffers.  

We each contribute to creating the world that all must live in. The more people live from their Human mind—taking action for the public good, feeling empathy, wisely caring for others, and giving love freely—the better the world will be for all. And the less we allow mass fear to drive us into our reptilian mentality, choosing instead to reflect our thoughts and intentions and not jump into new, mindless habits when met with uncertainty, the better the world will also be for all.    

6 replies on “Why a Drastic Change To Our Way of Life Could Make Us More Human”

Well said, Kerri. One of your best points is to use this virus disruption to become more aware of habits that may need changing. We all need to become more aware anyway, but this is a good time to reflect on the choices we make without thinking. As you imply, this type of event brings out the best and worst in people. Hopefully the snakes in the grass will be exposed enough for the humans to prevail.
Keep up the good work.

Thank you Kerri. Grateful for your insights for a directed meditation on embracing this time of physical isolation and turning it into mindful social (“Human”) connectedness. Namaste: bowing in recognition of the godliness, generosity, and creativity–in you!

Thanks Beth! That makes my heart smile so! Namaste to the wonderfulness in you, as well! By the way, I came upon this series of guided meditations on Jack Kornfield’s website (he has an entire Pandemic Resources page). I haven’t gotten to do them yet, but I bet there is some good material to help us continue being mindful while sheltering in place!

Thank you so much Allan! Haha, I too hope the Humans have more influence now that the outbreak has shown us some of the areas where society could benefit from change.

Kerri, your comments covered the various concerns and challenges we humans face not only during times of national and world crisis but also in our daily lives. Thank you for your clear and thought-provoking message. Keep up the good work.

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