The Triune Brain
Sierra and Berrios describe a “cortico-limbic” circuit for depersonalization. It starts in the left-side of the brain in the prefrontal cortex where an inhibitory signal is sent down to the amygdala. This quiets the emotions and the sympathetic nervous system (those nerves that give us the fight or flight response). However, part of the amygdala is not inhibited and it sends an excitatory signal to the “ascending arousal systems.” These systems spread alertness into the right prefrontal cortex. Thus, one combines restfulness (no fight or flight) with heightened awareness (alertness).
In the depersonalized state, a driver skids his car on ice but can quietly maneuver it safely to a stop, because he “never feels a thing.” Echkart Tolle mentions this depersonalized state of altered alertness often in his explanations of detached ego. Its efficient and silent mode of action to Tolle speaks to that enlightened state. And brain studies of regions activated during meditation bring out the same list of characters: prefrontal cortex, amygdala, the ascending arousal system…
What is curious to me is the tour de force this cortico-limbic circuit represents in terms of brain architecture and evolution. The ascending arousal systems are rooted in very ancient parts of the brain. In fact, this region of our brain has been called the “reptilian brain,” for it was all the brain the reptiles possessed. By contrast, the amygdale, as part of the limbic system, is much more recently evolved. It is located in what’s been called the “paleo-mammalian” brain. Located above the reptilian brain, yet below the neo-cortex, this is the extent of brain possessed by most mammals. It was here that love became “invented.” Love and joy, fear and grief, passion in general are all a gift from our mammalian forefathers and the paleo-mammalian physiology. It is only the neo-cortex, only recently enlarged beyond all the older species, that is the creation of the primates and modern man. The neo-cortex allows our logical thought. It lets us pay very close attention. It gives rise to our creative, verbal impulses. In short, it enables that which modern man most admires. But, look at what the neo-cortex sits upon- all those ancient animals right down into reptilian.
So now the Taoist practices make more sense to me. Evolution loves to tinker. It takes what’s at hand and with a bit of rewiring shapes a new and novel system. I would propose that this has happened first with freeze response evolving into depersonalization, and then with the depersonalization circuitry being recruited into a more circuit to support witnessing in Cosmic Consciousness
Taoism is a Shamanic, Nature-based philosophy. It goes after these deeper, ancient circuits by invoking the animals themselves. The monks who invented the martial arts and Qigong modeled their movements after the animals. Sum Faht cultivates development by spontaneously reaching down and reactivating the stuff of ancient circuits. What arises is no longer simply freeze response, but often the lower higher-self, a sacred mudra, or the helpful roar of lion.