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The In-built Traps
If you have been studying the brain diagrams on these pages, you will have noticed that there are a couple of in-built negative feedback mechanisms that we all have that will inhibit our progress. I have shown this in the simplified diagram below.
Trap 1 – homeostasis. Locked away in our limbic brain is the circuitry that constantly acts to return the body to a quiescent state. Regulating body temperature, water retention, salt, oxygen, sugar and many many other factors in the body. It wants us to remain in a state of quietly doing nothing. If there are no dangers to fight or run away from, stay quiet and conserve energy for the next emergency.
This is not quite the same as the bliss of meditating in peace – more a state of slumber and sloth. It is very important that the body homeostasis circuitry runs continuously and returns our bodies to a state of balance, but if it should predominate we will become lazy and do nothing. This will not help us on our quest for enlightenment.
Trap 2 – the reward/addiction feedback loop. I’ve mentioned this one a few times already on other pages. Acting on stimuli that make it into the conscious brain, we have developed preferences for certain types of activities that stimulate the reward (dopamine) circuits in our brain. There are many types of things we can become addicted to; not only types of food and drugs and alcohol, but many other types of activities. Even strenuous physical activity can become an addiction. This is a trap because these activities become our predominant pastimes, and are often destructive. Because the limbic brain is involved, they can be very powerful and very difficult to stop once patterns of behaviour have become established. We must be very conscious and alert to catch and short-circuit these at source.
Using the ego in a positive way
A positive way of combating these feedback loops is to use the ego centre of the brain constructively. Some of the Hindu texts refer to the “energy of the seeker”, represented by characters such as Arjuna (in the Bhagavad Gita) or his son Abhimanyu (in the Mahabharata). To act against the common feedback loops we have mentioned, we need a positive feedback loop – and the ego can be used in a positive way with the required energy to bring about change in our lives. This is the self-actualization that Maslow referred to; using the power of the ego to eventually transcend it.
I have listed in the table below some of the positive (seeker) and negative (ego) qualities of the ego to help you recognise these in your own experience. The particular quality that stands out here for the energy of the seeker is that of “drive” or motivation – the ego only does what it needs to do to look after itself. With the activation of “energy of the seeker” we undertake a mission to address issues beyond ourselves, which can be humanitarian issues or the quest for self-realisation and the transcendence of the ego.
The feedback loops, these in-built traps, are pretty powerful and it does take a lot of personal effort to overcome them.