The Dangers of the Reptile Brain

“The most primitive area of the brain is the smallest, the oldest, and the quickest. Sitting at the base of the skull, it is quite similar to the entire brain of a reptile. It determines your alertness and is the homebase of the fight or flight response. The reptile brain, or the brains stem, reacts very quickly so that if a lion is chasing you, you don’t sit around wondering what kind of lion it is or share a few choice words with it. You escape. The trouble with reptilian brain is that because there aren’t lions roaming into your village these days, it is often a loose cannon, firing but not very accurately.”

– Laurel Mellin, Wired for Joy

So many of us are doing work that feels new and scary right now. Whether we are teaching in-person, in a hybrid model, or virtually, our work looks and feels different in many ways. I often find that when I’m doing work that feels new and big and scary, my anxiety goes up. I feel tightness in my chest. I experience scattered, racing thoughts, and I feel rushed. I feel like I’m running on a motor – like I should run to “do the things” even when this is not the reality. It’s like being chased by a lion, but the lion is my fear.

What am I afraid of? Things that won’t kill me but feel like they will. Fear of mistakes, failure, dropping a fall, what dropping a ball says about me as a person…threats to the ego.

I’m really working on being more fully human. Whether it’s the practice of feeling my feelings or leaning into the understanding that I don’t know the answer but can find out, we are all quite simply people first.

I often find that I will get to the end of my day without any awareness of how my body is reacting to my environment. I can go all day without eating or drinking water. I can go a full day without leaving my computer or stepping away to stretch my legs. But when I do, when I spend all day frantically running around in my mind palace, the quality of my thoughts and my work diminishes.

Yesterday, I caught myself racing through the office to the point that I was winded under my mask, and I stopped dead in my tracks and asked myself, “What am I doing right now?” Because I honestly couldn’t even remember.

Ew. That is not the energy I want to bring into the spaces I serve.

Maybe you connect with this. If you do, this is your reminder to just stop for a moment when you find yourself on that hampster wheel racing to…wait, where were we going, again?

Let’s take a moment to be human and wholehearted.

The way we show up matters. Emotions are contagious. Spread the good stuff.

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