Life can be perceived as full of opportunities and challenges or laden with burdens, stress, tension and frustrations when faced with difficult decisions, emotional imbalances and dichotomies of head and heart.
In fact, we are constituted with powerful machinery. For our present discussion, we will confine to the interplays of our brain. Basically, we find that the limbic system which sits on the stem of the brain above the neck, deals primarily with our emotions. It provides us with powerful learning and memorable experiences. It also serves the purpose of our growth and evolution by providing us with strong will and determination to build our character and personality through our connections and interactions with our families and community.
The limbic system also takes care of our emergencies, when we are required to make life threatening decisions in split seconds. Heroic actions such as mother jumps into a dangerous situation to protect her child, fireman and a soldier protecting other’s lives by putting their own life in danger. These life threatening situations require quick decisions which are performed by the limbic system by employing other parts of the brain and engaging the whole brain to meet the demands of the emergency situation.
The limbic system, also called the (emotional brain), is further connected with the neocortex (thinking brain) which helps us to discriminate between right and wrong, good or bad etc. It helps us to analyze the situation before we decide to act. The emotional brain calls for “to act or to move”, whereas the neocortex system analyzes and discriminates before deciding to act or not. There is an interplay between the limbic and the neocortex systems. Aristotle said “Anyone can become angry. That is easy. But to be angry with the right person, to the right degree, at the right time, for the right purpose and in the right way, this is not easy.”
Limbic and neocortex systems are interconnected circuitry of the brain. They are coordinated since feelings are essential to thoughts and thoughts to feelings. However, when emotions surge, the balance tips, it’s the emotional mind that captures the upper hand, swamping the rational mind. Tension between emotions and reason occur. Our rational mind grew from the emotional brain. In the case of anger, blood flows to the hands, making it easier to grasp a weapon or strike at a foe, but with fear, blood goes to the large skeletal muscles, such as in the legs making it easier to flee. Therefore, we experience these fundamental reactions to our emotions “fight or flight”, to serve the purpose of meeting emergency situations.
However, in our journey of life, many times we find ourselves abusing or misusing our emotional brain and develop attitudes or patterns of behavior which are self defeating, destructive and harmful for our growth and development.
On another hand, we have opportunities to experience emotions of love, joy, peace, fulfillment and satisfaction through our family and social connections. Our contracted mind becomes expanded and we manifest more open mindedness. When we connect with others, we develop understanding about other cultures and their values, learn to respect others in spite of our differences. We move towards unity in the midst of complexity and diversity. At this stage, the heart expands to the maximum. There is no tension or disputes within head and heart. They follow and comply each other. The flow of life goes on like a river which flows towards the ocean, in spite of obstacles and detours on its way, finally merges into the ocean fulfilling it’s mission.
Life is a journey. It provides us opportunities to accomplish in the midst of struggles, turbulences and difficulties. By accepting challenges of life, we move forward through life like a skillful captain who continues to move forward in the midst of storm. A captain who didn’t get panicky, or agitated or blame others for his misfortune. On other hand, he keeps focusing on the route and finally the ship reached its destination by a skillful, calm but determined captain.
Focusing on our destination in the midst of struggles and difficulties is very important. Through conscious living, focusing on the present moment, not distracted by the past or future is needed. By focusing on the present moment, there is a tremendous clarity about life and its events which provides valuable knowledge and experience. We are not biased by our subconscious and unconscious mind. As mind learns to get focused on the present moment, it becomes very powerful with focused will and determination. Many mysteries of life get demystified. Not only we feel peaceful, unafraid of others, we spontaneously develop empathy and compassion for others. This type and development of life brings true meaning and purpose of our journey in life. Mind is filled with positive attitude, hope, love and joy. Thus every cell of our body flows with energy and enthusiasm. This is a complete harmony between head and heart. A world renowned mystic of 20th century said “I can’t shun myself from me but love”. He felt the whole world belonged to him and no one is a stranger here. About Gandhi, it’s said that his power was nil but his authority was enormous. It came of love. The source of his power lay in his love for others.
With emotional balance, we can develop self control, zeal, persistence and ability to motivate ourselves. How emotional imbalances can make us vulnerable, lonely, depressed, angry, unruly, nervous, prone to worries, impulsive and aggressive. How do we manage our emotional life with intelligence, is our responsibility. Our passions when well exercised, have wisdom and they guide our thinking, our values and evolution. The problem is not our emotionality but the appropriateness of emotions and its expression. The question is how can we bring intelligence to our emotions and civility to our streets and be caring and loving to our families and our community.