January 9, 2024

From the Rector…

As usual, Old Cloverdale didn’t experience any real damage from the storms last night until after they had mostly passed at which point, we lost power.  It wasn’t an immediate loss of power, the transformer fought hard before finally shutting down.  The lights would go out and we would hear the grueling battle cry of the transformer as it struggled to return us back to the modern era with our incessant candescent glow.  This happened four or five times and then, the struggle was over.  But the cries of the transformer—its groans and grimaces—had done their worst on poor Petunia’s state of mind.

Petunia, one of the Tweedles (Basset Hounds), does not like loud noises and the transformer just about did her in.  Couple that with the sudden off again, on again flickering of the lights and she went straight to lizard brain.  For the next couple of hours, Petunia did not leave my side.  She insisted I carry her like a toddler and tucked her head under my chin.  When I did put her down, she stood in between my feet knowing she would be safe if I was standing over her.  Her lizard brain was on high alert—she was in full on fight, flight, or freeze mode.

Scientists tell us that we have three brains in our heads.  The lizard or reptilian brain is the most primitive part of our brains.  Its primary function is to ensure that we survive.  It was the first part of the brain to develop and rightly so.  Our ancestors needed an alarm system when danger approached, especially in the form of a T-Rex.  Those whose lizard brains functioned well survived.  Our lizard brains are still important today even though we don’t have to worry about dinosaurs anymore.  Our lizard brains fire up our limbic system so that we can automatically respond to danger.  The trouble is that bright flashing lights or anxiety ridden newscasts can trigger that same fight, flight, freeze response—a response that is not known, necessarily, for its rational behavior.  Fear, after all, often leads to irrational states of mind.  This is exactly what happened to Petunia this morning.

When Petunia’s lizard brain kicked in, she had no hope of thinking, much less acting, rationally.  She doesn’t know how to utilize breath awareness or even tools like “tapping” to decrease anxiety.  When I tried playing calm, soothing music, her anxiety level only increased because now there was another source of sound she couldn’t account for.  By holding her, eventually her lizard brain was able to begin to calm down and allow her emotional or “dog” brain to kick in. 

Our dog brain was the second brain to develop.  It allows us to respond with emotional capacity that desires connectivity with others.  Humans might survive “in the moment” on their own, but our long-term survival is dependent on others.  Our capacity to be with other people is emotionally driven. Petunia’s connection to me this morning was healthy in helping her move past her fight-flight-freeze reactivity.  As she began to feel soothed, she was also able to begin to reconnect to the other dogs in the household so that when it was time to go to doggy daycare, she was appropriately excited and her normal joyful self again.

Not only does our emotional brain serve to connect us to one another, it can also serve to exclude those who are different or seem threatening to our homeostasis.  The emotional brain functions to keep us connected in ways that encourage the status quo even if that status quo leads to eventual dis-ease in the community.  This is why the third brain developed in homo sapiens.  Some believe that other mammals like dolphins and monkeys have developed this third brain as well.  It is called the rational brain, and it is the brain that helps us to think and make decisions outside of concerns for our own selves.

Rational brain is the most recently developed of the three brains.  It can offer perspective and beliefs about the world and other people that the lizard brain nor the emotional brain are capable of providing.  The great challenge with rational brain is that so few of us intentionally use it.  It is estimated that the vast majority of us are driven by our lizard and emotional brains and that less than 30% of us utilize our rational brain when making decisions or choosing how we will act or react to situations.  Petunia doesn’t have a rational brain.  Her fear is driven by her lizard brain and her comfort by her emotional brain. 

Fear and a desire to feel secure through our connection to others are important aspects of our survival.  But it is our intentional willingness to choose to utilize our rational brain that helps us grow and be transformed in life.  The rational brain is the brain that connects with the message of Jesus Christ that allows for suffering and sacrifice as beneficial to the world as well as ourselves.  It is the brain that helps us to grow beyond our self interest and into the interests of God.

Light and Life,