Brain Levels and Dreams

The Spinal Brain

The Reptilian Brain

The Mammalian Brain

The Neo-Mammalian Brain

Conditioned Reflexes

The Reptile Brain and Territorialism

Cause and Effect in our Life

As the twig is bent so the tree grows

Where Did We Begin

Our Storied Self

Our Spinal and Organ Brain

Back to the Mammal

The Seventh Brain

During the last century an enormously expanded understanding of the human mind and consciousness has arisen. In other cultures much of what our own scientifically oriented culture has arrived at had already been stated. However, it is important for the western individual to gain insight from their own perspective, as much from past cultures is stated in language that is often not properly understood, and we often fail to really grasp what is being presented.

3Brains So in beginning to consider the levels of our everyday awareness and how this links with our physical brain, we can look at what anatomy, physiology and psychology have defined. For example it is now known that in the womb we start off at the very primitive level of cellular production. Then our forming body goes through a fish stage and has gills. Slowly it moves toward an air breathing body. And all these evolutionary changes leave their mark, for we have at least four levels of brain – the spinal – the reptilian – the mammalian and then the human.

Basically the brain is separated into two halves, generally called the left and right hemispheres. But it is now understood that our brain developed its sections over the long span of evolutionary history. Because of this it has, within and also separate from the two hemispheres, a number of levels. As our present brain evolved it developed four separate ‘brains’ or levels, each with its own memory, motor and other functions (David J Mahoney, 1991). Each new level, as it developed, elaborated on and extended the function of the preceding levels. So, from the spinal cord the hindbrain and midbrain developed. The first level of brain that developed beyond the spinal cord has been called the Reptilian Brain. This is because what we carry within our human brain is still found in reptiles. This ‘brain’ often encompasses several parts of the physical brain.

The neurologist Paul MacLean gave a definition of these physiological and psychological facts of our brain in 1990. He said that these levels of the brain work like “three interconnected biological computers, [each] with its own special intelligence, its own subjectivity, its own sense of time and space and its own memory”.

Prior to MacLean’s findings it was assumed that the highest level of the brain, the neocortex, dominated the other, lower levels. MacLean, and since him others (Earl K. Miller), have found this is not so. In fact Miller was recently able to demonstrate that the older brain learns fast, and it gradually ‘trains’ the prefrontal cortex.

Returning to MacLean’s definition the base brain is the Reptilian. The next level he called the Mammalian or Monkey Brain, and the third is called the Neomammalian or Human Brain. 

The Reptilian and Avian Brain

Taking the Reptilian Brain first, this is sometimes called the ‘R-complex’, and includes the brain stem and the cerebellum. It carries our genetically transmitted ‘instinctive’ behaviour such as suckling at the breast as a baby, aggressive response as with and including territorial defensiveness, the courtship and mating behaviours in reproduction. That is what people often think of their personal loving feelings, but is largely their instincts going for it. One of the best known expressions of this brain is the ‘flight, fight, freeze or faint’ response in survival situations and of course panic attacks.

This brain deals with behaviour that is either innate, as described above, is learned and has become habitual, or is a conditioned response. If it is habitual we can repeat it without having to learn it or be very aware of how we do it – as with riding a bicycle or driving a car once we have mastered the skill.

The ‘R’ (reptilian – which also includes birds) brain deals with those responses and actions, behaviours and attitudes, that we express without much awareness, or erupt from us because of an external stimuli. It has great strength, but also can lead to powerful anti social behaviour and psychosomatic illness. This is because it links intricately with our unconscious physical and psychological systems and with our self regulatory functions. So it throws into consciousness things that might detract us from a direction, a decisions or a relationship. This might not be rational as far as we are consciously aware, but is nearly always based on past experience that throws up a red danger signal, or a ‘yes’ response. There is no moral judgements at this level of our awareness. The ‘R’ brain simply gives rise to acts in ways it has learned that enable survival, reproduction and food gathering. In actual lizards it has a limited range of behavioural responses.

Unfortunately, we as the human animal, is a victim of irrational fears, anxiety and apprehension. For instance in the example the person is constantly faced by fear of injury and death. Yet there is no real threat there. Whenever we dream its images are not like real life, because a dream is nothing like outer life where things could hurt you, but is an image like on a cinema screen that even if a gun is pointed at you and fired it can do no damage – except if you run in fear. So all the things that scare you are simply your own fears projected onto the screen of your sleeping mind.

(Here the difference between the outer world where things can kill you and the inner world we experience in sleep – where whenever we dream its images are not like real life, because a dream is nothing like outer life where things could hurt you, but is like an image like on a cinema screen, so that even if a gun is pointed at you and fired it can do no damage – except if you run in fear; so, all the things that scare you are simply your own fears projected onto the screen of your sleeping mind. In the early days of moving pictures, a film was shown of a train coming fast toward them; the viewers all fled in terror, fearing the train would crush them. That is exactly the same response if you are terrified of any thing you dream of. See Masters of Nightmares)

Example: Now a huge unknown creature began to enter into my awareness. I felt the presence of an enormous creature rising to the surface of something like a swamp or a body of water. At first I thought it might be a whale, but as I paid attention to what was happening it defined into a huge crocodile/alligator.

This huge creature looked at me and said, “Mathew, join me.”

I laughed at this because it was so huge, and with so many associations of swallowing things, that I said something like, “What do you mean join you? Don’t you mean that you want to eat me?”

The creature replied to me, “No. No, it’s not like that, I’m just like a submarine. I have all these lives in me. I have many, many lives in me. I am life. I contain the many. You can swim this ocean alone Mathew, if you wish. Or you can join me, you can join the many. You can always, if you choose to live your independent life again and  leave us.”

I laughed here because I had the image of me being independent, stripping off, diving over the side of the boat into the ocean and swimming off. It is something I have often done in the sea, swimming long distances alone, or off to an island out to sea, by myself.

I began to give myself to that great creature which I now understood as the collective unconscious, the unity of lives. It felt as if it was absolving me, much as I had experienced earlier on. (One of those strange and beautiful, and also moving coincidences just happened. I am reading this in using voice recognition, and it is proving to be very accurate. But in the sentence where I said that I felt it was – and the word was supposed to be absorbing me – the software used the word absolving. And here I am again, back in the ocean, weeping as I know there is no judgement on the life I have led so alone and cut off.)

Science has demonstrated that unless kids (and other mammals) are given deep emotional connection (“attachment”) from birth by parents or others, infant neurological systems just don’t develop well. The infant brain literally requires programming by an adult’s eyes and facial expressions to begin to program its own neurons.

What goes wrong from “conception to 36 months” can fry our reptilian/avian brain and put it in permanent fight-flight or freeze (dissociation shutdown).

Example: I had a dream that I went into a nature enclosure/wild animal reserve with a few friends. I did not know these people in real life but in the dream they were 2 men, one quite reckless, the other relaxed and resourceful. There was also a woman who in the dream was my sister; she was bold, beautiful and fearless. I felt anxious in the dream, with a foreboding that something bad would happen. We were driving a sort of buggy cart, and all the time I kept saying we needed to get back as it was getting late.

When we stopped in the bear enclosure, and I was terrified we were going to be attacked, but when we looked down a whole family of bears were sleeping beneath us. We carried on. It started to get late as we approached the area where I knew the lions would be. I kept seeing flashes of lions and had the feeling they were hunting us. I became very scared, like my foreboding was coming true. Hearing screams from the reckless man we were with, we realised he’d been attacked and killed, so we tried to escape, we were on foot and losing the light, it was terrifying. The resourceful man was looking out for me, protecting me.

We managed to get near to civilisation and buildings, but the lions were closing in. My beautiful strong sister (in the dream) tried to run to a nearby tent, and was suddenly attacked by a huge fearsome lion, she was fighting him with all her strength and at points she looked to be dominating, but he slowly overpowered her and each time she fought hard, he hit her with his huge powerful paws and started biting into her skin and killing her. I watched her fight over and over to near death and felt terrified and powerless to do anything to stop it. Other people by this time were watching and some had guns but they did not shoot the lion. I woke up feeling very scared!

Except in stress or survival situations we usually modify and augment our internal reptilian responses. But occasionally the cerebral influence gets distracted or knocked out by drugs, such as alcohol, or exhaustion or some form of stress. Then our reptile or monkey brain can live through us again without having to hide in the obscurity of the unconscious or sleep. At such a time we might make love for the first time in our life with total passion, sensation and abandonment of guilt. A sudden extra awareness as if with sharpened senses might arise, enabling us to precisely read another person’s body language and non-verbal communication. This brain also enables us to act in dangerous situations with enormous speed, strength and without having to think. MacLean says another important function of this ‘R’ brain is ‘homing’. This means it gives us the ability to return to a base state of being after reaching out for a mate or food. Mahoney (1991) sees this as being involved in the human ability to create a sense of an external reality within the ever changing sensory and social impressions we live within. This ‘brain’ is also the seat of what Ivan Pavlov called conditional reflexes. (See the feature on Conditioned Reflexes.)

The lower brain, moreover, seems to be the source of profound emotional responses that are beyond our conscious control. We cannot deliberately decide to feel love or hate, anxiety or aggression any more than we can consciously influence our rate of growth.

Example: I dreamt I was outdoors walking through open ground, maybe at times gardens. I was with others – not sure who, and we frequently came across large snakes which we reacted to as if they were venomous. Then I came across a lot of them and they swarmed onto me. I froze, terrified that if I made a move I would be fatally bitten. But they just swarmed over my body and got under my clothes without harming me. Gradually I relaxed and slowly began to move about with the snakes still on me. They started to feel like a built in defense system which would attack anyone who was aggressive to me. At one point several large and aggressive dogs walked past me. They turned as if thinking about attacking, then appeared to sense the snakes and ran off cowed. As time passed the snakes felt like part of my body.

Example: Dreamt that a snake – a huge python – had raised me. I had the sense that it had cradled me in its coils when I was a baby, and that it had taught me without words how to survive. This was a sort of jungle/life wisdom.

But there is a darker side too. A young man of usually gentle behaviour, whose work in his home town in USA was to spray peoples lawn with a powerful weed killer, abruptly murdered one of his clients. He had suddenly, and quite out of character, wanted to urinate while working. Instead of finding a toilet he had peed in the customer’s garden. She had come out and complained to him, whereupon he killed her.

Findings show that one of the chemicals in the weed killer produces a diuretic effect making one want to urinate. It also acts on the brain, and possibly inhibits the cerebrum and cerebellum. If that is so, what the young gardener was left with was his reptilian responses without moral judgement.

In dreams we express our reptilian side of ourselves in such dreams as:

 Example: Last night, prior to going to sleep I explored the coloured snake dream. When I imagined myself as the snake I clearly felt I had no voice. I could not speak, and my existence was of being impelled by impulse and response to the environment. At its peak this was a very subtle feeling of existing as unconscious life – a living being that finds its way through experience without thought. I felt there was great richness in the snake, but it was still unconscious, so unknown. This was shown by the many colours.  

The Mammalian Brain

The functions of the second, Mammalian brain that exist within the Human ‘brain’, MacLean likened to the skills shown in mammals such as wild dogs and apes. Whereas the lizards do not demonstrate mutual activity in hunting or caring for young, mammals show enormous awareness of bonding, caring for young, group activity, hierarchy and recognition of family and pack. They also have a much bigger pool of behavioural responses and can learn even more. This part of your human ‘brain’ integrates and refines the functions of the reptilian brain. It provides emotional range and intensity, and gives a greater complexity to what motivates or deters us. It is this greater awareness of how we relate to others, and the social structure in which we exist, along with a sense of what place in it we occupy, that enables us to modify and coordinate the impulses arising from the reptilian brain.

Unlike the human brain which often experience depression and feeling lost or aggression towards others, the mammalian brain recognises proper relationships within the herd or pack. Here too lie the beginnings of being able to reflect and learn from experience in that way.

At times when we tap the resources of this brain we discover enormous insights and wisdom concerning relationships and social interactions. But at first people have dreams of attempting to run away or even kill this part of them, for that is what they have been doing when faced by the natural and even wild side of their nature.

But if this part of you is accepted then we can see the meaning behind body language, the social hierarchy, and also real parenting. Unfortunately many people who become aware of this part of their own functioning either pull back in fear, try to kill or run from experiencing it. But killing or avoiding it is that you are killing or avoiding parts of your own wonderful spectrum of life and  living.

Example: I realised and experienced this personally when exploring a dream about prehistoric creatures rising from a swamp. I described it as follows: “I understood in a flash the meaning of the creatures in the swamp dream. I am life – ancient, prehistoric life, meeting the demands of today’s world, today’s social scene, today’s conscious self and its decisions. It is the ancient self my inner research has uncovered in its dealings, yet I have been running away because my feelings self has been so hurt and in pain. I called it an ancient beast. Consciousness is riding an ancient beast and it is very beautiful.

As I sat with my eyes closed I heard Ralph walked from his room to the toilet and urinate, then come into the kitchen. My hearing was tremendously sensitive, like that of a beast. I could tell, from what I heard, what sort of person Ralph was. I knew, as the beast, how he related to our small group – for he knew us as a group within the larger social group. I knew that the ancient social rules of the beast still expressed through us unconsciously. I am the dominant male in the group. Hyone the dominant female. Ralph expressed his unconscious respect for this by the way he walked. His walk expressed care, thoughtfulness, self-control, respect perhaps too much of himself held back by concern and respect. I told him he was a careful beast. I don’t think he understood.

That incredible awareness is a wonderful thing. How much more loving, more helpful, more harmonious, people would be if we were aware like that most of the time, and could direct our life from it. That is what I want, not the ability to hold my breath for a long time. And that awareness comes from an aliveness and acceptance of the beast in us – our mammalian brain.

As I sat I became aware of my right arm, its relaxed state, its loose weight hanging, without effort and free. It was in a passive and heavy state until I moved my finger. Movement was a sinuous flow, a weaving through space, a movement of energy in extension. I moved my hand up. It was a wonderful experience, so mobile, graceful and beautiful to feel. This, added to the world of the beast’s social perceptions, was an addition to the good things our body and soul offers us. There is so much wonder still to claim and extend in our beast.”

Example: The role then came to life and spontaneously I as Vince the dog went to Alan and stood up on my hind legs with my paws on his chest, looking into his eyes. I wanted to communicate something to him.

The communication was so strong that I as Alan felt it and will describe it. Vincent reminded me of the many things we had shared in life. As this happened I felt such love – the love I really had felt for that beautiful dog. As I felt this Vincent and I became one being. I remember carrying him in my arms when he was young because, as a runt he was so nervous that at times he couldn’t even walk. I remember going everywhere with him as I walked London. I also knew that Vincent represented for me the ability to see into the invisible worlds – psychic sight and sensing. He had demonstrated it to me at least twice.

As all these memories poured through me I felt deep emotions pouring up and started crying. Crying because Vincent was helping me be aware of things I had not put together before. Lately I have been trying to extend personal awareness again, into lucidity and into the world. The emotions I was feeling were due to a realisation, and as this happened I knew what the previous dream of Vincent meant. I understood because various bits of memory came together to form a whole.

Example: The other day, while Andrew was with me and we were walking, a local bitch/dog came up to me. I squatted down as a result, and felt at ease to show Andrew what it really wanted. Slowly it lay down and went over onto its back because it wanted me to rub its breasts. As I felt, one of its powerful urges was to have pups and have its breasts sucked. Now, to deal with that urge, to get some satisfaction, it needs its breasts rubbed.

I mention this because as human beings we tend to hide many of our real needs. We deny ourselves so much that we express our needs in very peculiar ways or in roundabout fashions. The dog was beautiful because it had none of our ridiculous sense of shame or shyness. Her fundamental instinct is to give through her breasts. It is just kindness to rub her breasts.

But like any mammal, a horse for instance, can be scared and bolt, creating havoc, especially when such feelings explode in the human mind. But we have as part of our instinctive nature many sides to our mammalian brain. It can express as loving behaviour, defensive and protective, or downright aggressive – as dogs are often expressed in our dreams.

Example:  In most American dreams, the animal character usually frightened and attacked the dreamer and seemed to represent fear of the dreamer’s instinctual drives. Among native populations, the dreamer was usually engaged in some hunting or fishing pursuit of the animal who more often represented a potential dinner.

Example: When I left my first wife and was living with my present wife, we shared a lovely country cottage in a small hamlet. Although beautiful, the few months I lived there were an emotional hell because I was away from my children, I could not find a job and because of the of the divorce the pain was hellish.

My second wife and I then moved to be nearer my children. We had left some beehives at the previous cottage however, and so six months later we started driving back to collect them. On the way I started experiencing severe stomach pains. The suddenness of this, and the fact I couldn’t think of any physical cause for the pain made me investigate my feelings. As soon as I did this it was obvious that a part of my nature which was usually unconscious, was just like my dog, responding in a conditioned reflexive way. The cottage was a place of torment – why were we going back? More to the point, how could it stop me going back? How could it deter me from facing that pain again? As soon as I explained this to the animal feelings I had, and told them (by speaking to myself as one would to a dog to calm it) that we were not staying there and the painful situations no longer existed, the pain went and never came back. Pete

In dreams we express the mammalian side of ourselves in such dreams as:

Example: In my dream I was in a field and saw what I thought was a huge black bull in the distance. I felt fearful then it bolted towards me. I lay down in the grass terrified but it was a beautiful big black horse and he lay down beside me and licked my face as though he was kissing me. I felt good and I felt happy and relieved that I wasn’t harmed by the bull but really surprised by the horse acting like that to me.  

The Neomammalian or Human Brain

The Neomammalian or Human brain, known as the neocortex, takes up 85% of the total size of the brain. Despite its size it may not be the most powerful. An American advertising company, describing the three brains in its instructions to planning advertising campaigns says, ‘Our Reptilian Brain is more powerful than the Limbic (emotional) Brain, which in turn is more powerful that the Cortex (thinking) Brain. It is best to take all three brains into account when planning a marketing/branding campaign.’

Nevertheless, it is this ‘brain’ that is involved in much of our daily life in activities such as speaking, writing, reading and doing skilled tasks. MacLean describes this,’brain’ as “the mother of invention and father of abstract thought”. With it we are able to learn the complexities of language and analysis, along with self awareness and examination. It gives us the ability to reprogram old behaviour patterns to some extent, and to be personally aware of our relationship with others, rather than simply responding from old behavioural patterns. It, if linked with the older brains, can become very wise in its understanding of being human.

Conditioned Reflexes

Even so we must not overrate this human ‘brain’ and its abilities. Human beings in general are still largely moved by the old reptilian and mammalian urges, pushed into war, conflict and murder, territorialism and old mating patterns in ways that are far from rational. Most of us are urged to action by factors that are still completely or largely unconscious, arising as they do from levels of our being we know little of. Two examples of this follow. See Avoid Being Victims

Pete in the above example meets a very clear experience of a conditioned reflex. The conditioning occurred because of the painful situation of living in the ‘lovely cottage’, and was directly linked with the cottage itself. So when Pete sets out, quite rationally, to go back to the cottage, his reptilian and mammalian ‘brains’ respond with danger signals – ‘It hurt last time and it will probably hurt again!!!’ Fortunately Pete understands enough to help his ‘R’ and ‘M’ brains to drop their danger signal. Part of the importance of this example is that the two ancient brains do not neatly send a verbal or intellectual signal saying, ‘Please Pete, be aware we are frightened because of the pain experienced in that place before.’ That is not how animals function. They experience immediate primitive pain or fear in their body and emotions, enough to turn them away from possible danger. And that is exactly how our own ‘R’ brain communicates with us still. Such communication results in what we call psychosomatic illness, irrational fears, and panic attacks.

However, the ‘R’ brain can also release quite another type of response, as described in the following example.

When I got home from work, as I ate my lunch, my wife Barbara, told me how she had looked at a dream that morning and released a lot of resentment about me and my mother, and the damage we had done to her. I asked if it had just been noise or had she released feelings with it, as mostly what she does is without feelings. She resented my question and suddenly her face contorted with rage and she punched me in the body which was okay. But then she hit me in the face and I was punching her, feeling satisfaction at expression of my anger. It was all over in perhaps two or three seconds, but I had landed perhaps five or more heavy blows. Barbara was in a defensive position shouting out that I was a pig, and crying deeply. She went upstairs and I followed her and helped her release more of what was coming out. Most of it was anger she had been hitting herself with. She told me afterwards it was all to do with being left by her mother when her brother was born, and anger at her brother. But it had led me to discover more of my dangerous animal. Mike F.

In what Mike describes we see two explosions of violence emerging suddenly and without warning – very sure signs that the fight or flight response latent in the ‘R’ brain, or a conditioned reflex has been activated. In Barbara’s case the conditioned reflex was set up by her pain and anger at the arrival of her brother, and by resentments in her relationship with Mike and his mother. But what Mike says about his own immediate and powerful violence is, ‘I later came to understand that the only reason I hit Barbara was because she hit me hard on the face. Because of my eye and nose injury I seem to have developed a reflex that doesn’t even reach my brain. My body simply reacts to protect my eyesight, like a knee jerk reaction.’

This is a very telling piece of information. Mike had in fact previously experienced an eye injury that left him partially blind. It led him to feel very defensive about his other eye, the loss of which would have left him completely blind. His nose had also been smashed as a child, so he was doubly defensive. But up until that moment he had not known that a response could simply occur out of his body, without him feeling any personal anger.

Mike’s conditioning was his double injury to his face. His reflexive action was violence to protect himself from further injury. But we would be mistaken if we left Mike in the equation. Even without a conscious personality the response would have happened. If Mike were an animal without what we call self awareness, the response would have been the same. Such conditioning bypasses the conscious self.

As an example of this, some years ago I was taking a large and friendly Alsatian dog belonging to a friend for a walk. We had been playing with a stick and the dog, Sultan, was still carrying the stick in his mouth. Suddenly Sultan saw a black Labrador dog in a nearby truck. He immediately went into a frenzy of rage. I had him held tightly on a lead, so he couldn’t attack the dog, but the stick in his mouth was shredded.

This would again seem like an irrational response if we didn’t know that Sultan had been attacked by a black Labrador when he was a pup. Mike’s response was just the same as Sultan’s. We need to remember that we are all animals, and we still carry the ‘R’ brain. We can however, mitigate such responses by understanding their origins and releasing or reprogramming the conditioned response.

Here is an example of a dream showing the physical connection with a dream horse.

So I put my hands each side of its head with my face touching its nose, and we entered into a sort of very gentle and quiet communication. The horse closed its eyes as if it were deeply relaxed, and I could feel the enormous peace we were sharing. As this happened I became fairly lucid and was aware that my body was vibrating quite powerfully, as it has often done in the past. 

And her is another one illustrating relationship with the horse we are.

John was with me. There was a young but large, slightly long haired horse with us. It was the size of the medium sized cart horses of my childhood. I had been helping or encouraging John to ride the horse, but he found this difficult and didn’t manage it for long. So I got on the horse and started riding it to show John how it was done. John became very excited about this. I had the sense that he really wanted to know or see that it was possible. Or maybe the excitement was that I could demonstrate that it could be done.

So I got on the horse and rode it across the brow of the hill, following a footpath across the ploughed furrows. As we were crossing the brow, or coming to it, the horse broke into an exuberant gallop. He ran as horses run sometimes as they gallop in high spirits – not in any particular direction. At first I felt concerned about this. Firstly in case I was unseated – but that was okay and there was no sense of falling off. Secondly because the horse galloped off the path across the ploughed furrows. But even with that I began to relax.

Here we see an example of the first man struggling to control his natural urges, and the second man allowing himself freedom to express his animal. See Conditioned Reflexes

The Reptile Brain and Territorial Fighting

When we understand that the ‘R’ brain is the seat of territorial and ritual behaviour, out of which arises the feeling of needing a base, a home, a territory in which you are safe, we can see another cause of aggression as individuals or a group of people feel their ‘territory’ is being invaded. Street gangs as well as nations go to war out of just such drives.

MacLean suggested that without a basic security, physically or emotionally, people are unlikely to extend their learning or be ready for change. This might also apply to some people who are labelled slow or dumb. The reason might be that they are too busy trying to seek emotional or physical safety to take in greater subtleties.

Because each part of the brain influences us in its own special way, and as MacLean says, ‘each with its own memory, motor and other functions,’ there may at times be conflicting drives at work within us. Dreams particularly illustrate these conflicts in a variety of ways. A nightmare is an example of this. The older levels of mind lying behind the Neo-Mammalian or Human (‘H’) brain are very active in survival drives, which in turn are part of the self-regulatory or homeostatic process keeping our body alive and psyche in balance and growing. (See: self regulation.).)

A nightmare is an attempt by the ‘R’ and ‘M’ brains to release and re-evaluate old trauma that has caused conditioned reflexes that may be interfering with the efficiency and well-being connected with our present physical and social survival. Such re-evaluation occurs when we become fully aware of the original feelings and events involved in the trauma that conditioned us. In a very real sense the nightmare is a symbolic presentation of an original situation full of important information. But it has got hermetically sealed within layers of resistances or defences – basically fear, avoidance of pain, and feelings of threat – so that we cannot integrate and understand what is causing such things as depression or apparently irrational avoidances, anger, violence, panic attacks or phobias.  

The Neo-Mammalian Brian

The conflict is between the homeostatic action that attempts the healing by re-presenting the experience, and our conscious self – what we call me or I. Actually it is more complex than that as we all have an automatic avoidal mechanism to pain or what we fear, and as the re-experiencing of the initial trauma or conditioning often involves emotional or physical pain, we unconsciously avoid such re-emergence. This is what Freud observed and called resistances or repression. See Resistances

A strange loop may occur in this conflict. The self-regulatory process attempts to release into your awareness – through a dream or a waking experience – the fears and pains of the original event. But we might, as a vulnerable ego, be terribly afraid of feeling fear or emotional pain, so we repress the experience. The result – conflict, tiredness, depression, etc.

Other dreams illustrating lesser conflicts are when we are in argument or a fight or flight situation with other characters or animals in the dream.

So if you look at an illustration or model of our brain it is easy to see the ‘R’ brain as a real physical part of you. What you may miss altogether though is that it is also a very real facet or level of your total awareness.

Cause and Effect in our Experience

Being human is something like being on a moving strip that constantly transports us past scenes, landscapes and interactive experiences. Each thing we pass through is a real experience, but as we look back we see that what we have left behind fades into twilight, then darkness. Perhaps here and there in the far distance a few things still have some light on them – but not many considering what we have passed through.

In front of us the strip becomes a haze too, and so we are largely experiencing only what is here and now. However, there are some remarkable features about this moving strip. If we watch carefully we can see the law of cause and effect is at work. How we are responding to what we are passing through at the moment is conditioned by what we experienced in the past, and how we reacted and interacted with it. Also, what emerges out of the haze in front of us is also largely forming out of what we are doing, thinking, desiring at the moment, and how we are interacting with the people and world around us. That is not a totally consistent thing because we are also part of the world, and the unexpected does arise, but if we really trace its details we might still discover the flow of cause and effect.

As the twig is bent so the tree grows

The amazing thing about the strip is that although looking forward or back gives only indistinct awareness as what is apparent to us fades into twilight or darkness, what we passed through is still there. Our personal waking awareness only allows us a view of a short length of the strip. However, it is known from people’s experience of therapy in which they meet again experiences from childhood or birth, but also from conception, that we can in fact move into what appears lost in darkness (the unconscious) and throw light on it again. (See the birth example under active imagination.) There is an action in our ‘mind’ that synthesises and summarises what we have experienced and from that directs our present actions and feelings.

Perhaps most misunderstood or ignored is another factor of this strip on which we ride. Where did it begin? Remember that it has just been said that the light of waking awareness can enter into dark places usually unconscious.  

Where Did You Begin?

Did the trip begin when you first realised yourself as a person? Did it begin when you were born? Was your real beginning at the moment of conception?

If conception was your real beginning, remember that conception could not have happened if the two cells that united had not been alive. And where did that aliveness begin? If you really trace it back, that aliveness began at the very first moments of life on earth, and continued its journey through to the present. Yet even that is rather a limited assessment. Life only emerged because the universe existed and offers the potential for life to manifest. To say that ‘I’ didn’t exist way back then is only a way of saying, ‘I did not have personal awareness; focussed self awareness with a name.’ That may be so, although some people will argue that. But if we accept that, it still doesn’t mean that what supports and underlies your personal awareness did not exist till the light of your self awareness lit up. The living processes and cells that give you existence have been there for a very long time. The Beginning of Us All

So, if we put together these suggestions – that the light of your waking awareness can be carried back into what is usually the gloom of your unconscious; and that your being is a lot older than your personal awareness, the possibility is that you can explore, delve into, bring to awareness, the deep living processes of your cells, your life processes, your ancestral heritage, the reptilian and mammalian past that you carry in the very structures of your body and psyche. Those things exist in the dark cellar of our ‘unconscious’. When we turn our focussed self-awareness on them it is like walking down into that cellar with a torch.

Although that is an amazing possibility, it is not uncommon for people to experience it. In certain circumstances we can be aware of the deepest levels of our body, its functions, organs and tiny cellular activities. The Psychiatrist Stanislav Grof, in his book Realms of the Human Unconscious, gives details of people experiencing vivid and specific awareness of what he calls Organ, Tissue, and Cellular Consciousness. Also, Dr. Bernie S. Siegel started the Exceptional Cancer Patient Clinic through his experience that patient’s dreams showed what was happening in their body. Such dreams diagnosed their illness long before present technology could.

To consciously enter into these levels of our own interior is to meet a very different world than we are used to in everyday waking life. Usually we meet these deep levels in our dreams or in the imagery the unconscious uses to portray what it holds. In doing this there is revealed to us the intimate life of our body and how it is inextricable linked with our personality, its loves and fears. Here is the account one man gives of his realisations about this.

Over the past few weeks, slowly a deeper realisation has come regarding the results of unconscious fears of illness, or negative attitudes. These are not simply ideas or feelings as many believe, but are inextricably woven into the structure and cells of our body. Bringing them out of the body is like tearing a growth, a fungus or structure out from the fabric of our intellect, emotions, and body, that had become built into them. These may even be apparent to our imagination as dark frightening shapes or creatures that have been living in us like parasites. One man in my yoga class during the vowel sounds (chanting) said, ‘As you began the sounds I had the terrifying sensation that you were calling a dark shape out of my body.’ Questioning him afterwards I discovered that he had a fear of weakness regarding his heart, and the ‘dark shape’ was probably a representation or embodiment of that fear. The fact that the sounds seemed to call it out of him would suggest that a master of that inner world would actually be able to call these dark shapes out of us by their words and the power of their own conquest that lay behind it.   

The Many Storied Self

So behind or within the physiology of our brain is the personal experience of how it expresses. In many Eastern and some traditional Western esoteric teaching about the human soul and spirit, such as in alchemy, the Pythagoreans and Rosicrucians, the inner life of a person was shown to have many levels. This could be likened to a house with seven levels, each with different characteristics. (See: Levels of AwarenessDimensions of Human Experience.) Entering these various levels is a matter of focussing attention in different ways. In waking awareness for instance – the ground level of awareness – our consciousness is almost totally consumed with sensory impressions. If we turn off the flood coming in from our senses, as we do in sleep, then we experience other levels or dimensions of our totality. The following description is from a woman who was involved in a meditation group lasting several days. Gradually she penetrated levels of awareness not usually open to her.

During the weekend I had two dreams, although I was awake at the time. In the first I was going to sleep but was not unconscious, and had a very vivid experience. It was accompanied by an active feeling sense as well, so that I felt an emotional response to what I was ‘dreaming’ as one does in an actual dream. I was in a huge indoor aquarium. The water was very clear, but had a slight yellowish or straw colour tinge to it. I was swimming under the water looking at the many creatures. I had a sense of being within a very ancient environment. The creatures were all primordial, each functioning in its own distinct way, some of which would be dangerous to me if I related to them wrongly – i.e. if I let them contact my skin, or get into my cavities. But I was fascinated and felt a sense of wonder and privilege. As I swam I began to feel that I was actually looking within myself to the ancient processes of the blood and cells. I had a sense that we are all the time immersed in this ancient aquarium, relating to its creatures one way or another.

When we take waking awareness to these levels we can begin to interact with what we find in a healing, learning or constructive way.  The following example is from a man experiencing a full immersion in quite a deep level of his inner life. As can be seen, imagery and symbolism are still potent ways in which he meets the reality of his inner life. Interesting too that at base he realises that the creative centre of his being, the level of himself that formed or created him, ‘has the same face’ as he.

As I was exploring the several dreams of a ‘secret place underground’ I was led to remember that millions of cells in my body die all the time. I intuitively knew or realised this connected with the ‘secret place underground’ dreams. As soon as I thought of the dream in an attempt to understand it I was inside my body. I realised I could communicate with my cells and organs – that we can all do this. It is a faculty we all have but which is usually unconscious so seen mostly in dreams. A realisation grew in me showing me that we are all Princes and Princesses. We have all been given a vast kingdom to care for and rule. It is the kingdom of our body. The billions of subjects are our cells. Our self awareness is their collective experience, but also their god, their ruler. I realised my fear of death had given my subjects a sense of there being no future for them – so why should they strive to live vitally to the end? Putting those fears on them was not a wise rulership.

With growing wonder I saw that if I were a prince, who was the king? Why had I not sworn my allegiance to the King? Then I met my creator, my King, my Heavenly Father. I loved Him/Her/It (the very foundation of myself) so intensely, I gave my being to what had created me. This was what all my subjects had been waiting for. Now they knew that on the battlefield of life, when the end came to us all, we would be drawn back to the Heavenly city and our existence honoured there in the eternal. All that was vitally ours would live on. In fact, the more cells I carried through into this merging with the creative centre of myself, the healthier body could be formed now and in future sojourns in time and space. The face of the Creator still seemed to be my own face.  

The Spinal, Organ and Cellular Brain

Long before the reptilian brain formed, creatures still lived and survived because of the development of their nervous system, what we call the spinal cord. But even prior to that development, single and multicellular creatures responded to their environment, sought food, and reproduced. Their behavioural responses were very limited, but that was simply because their physiology had not developed complexity. Considering that we are ‘ you and I ‘ the surviving cells of those earliest creatures, we can see the potential innate in them is now expressed as our own complexity and enlarged behavioural repertoire.

To quote from the feature on self-regulation:

The level after level of safety factors built into our system are nothing short of incredible. For adequate functioning our blood pressure needs to be at about 110 to 120 (i.e. it displaces 110 millimeters of mercury). It can drop to 70-80 before a critical situation arises in which tissue may die because blood is not reaching it. If we lose a lot of blood, even as much as 30 or 40 percent, the self-regulatory process maintains adequate blood pressure by constricting the blood vessels. This action is controlled by a part of the brain. If that brain area is injured or destroyed, other centres take control. If they are eliminated, ganglia in the sympathetic nervous system direct the action. If they too are eliminated the walls of the arteries and veins themselves regulate their own activity.

As is so clearly expressed in that description, control centres are capable of acting at every level of our being, not just the brain or nervous system. In fact, what is slowly coming to be realised, but has been said already by people who have explored their inner life, each cell is an intelligent being. But its intelligence and agency only attain self awareness if we are able to touch it by entering its world with focussed self awareness.

When we are able to do that very fully, effects on sick areas of our body and mind are produced that are considered miraculous or impossible, or are perhaps labelled as ‘spontaneous remission’, by the medical fraternity. We are able to tap a vast source of information, transcend the usual limits of time and space, and discover our own roots in the universe itself. For more information on this see Michael Talbot’s book The Holographic Universe, Hadad the Rogue Yogi.

However, the intelligence in the cells might go beyond simple ability to reproduce and survive. In a recent (November 22nd 2006 BBC 4 broadcast), Ian and Lynda Gammons explained how, after Lynda had donated one of her kidneys to save her husbands life, he underwent very marked personality changes. In fact, after being married for thirty years and developing habits of living together such as Ian hating shopping, gardening and cooking, he suddenly showed insight into household needs, enjoyed shopping and gardening, and now does all the family cooking. The transplant took place in October 2005, and Ian says the apparent opening in him of a sharing Lynda’s inner disposition is still developing. In fact they have begun to have exactly the same dreams.

Dr Paul Pearsall, Clinical Professor at the University of Hawaii, after his own hip cancer and what it revealed to him about the depths of his body, went on to study the experiences of transplants and explains, in his book The Heart’s Code, about even more extraordinary cases of cellular memory.

Recently – June 2007 – Canadian biologists discovered that plants have “complex social behaviors such as altruism towards relatives.” This was revealed by watching how plants in the same ‘family’ “do not increase their root growth while sharing a pot with siblings or family. But if they share a pot with a stranger, they “get competitive and start growing more roots, which allows them to grab water and mineral nutrients before their neighbors get them.” The study appears in the Royal Society Journal Biology Letters. It shows yet again that consciousness is not unique to mammals. The whole universe demonstrates sentience at various levels of complexity.

So, the more fully you move your self awareness into the realm of your organs, cells, and beyond, the wider your horizons of awareness become. Perhaps this is a simplistic way of looking at it, but considering that we have all developed from the same simple cells, we are all related and ‘know’ each other at the cellular level. However, some thinkers in quantum physics say that it goes beyond that. Their statement is that the fundamental material or energy of the universe is sentient and holds all experience.

Touching it means we share that huge awareness and timelessness that is the foundation of our own existence.   

Back to the Mammalian Brain

As already said, each of the higher ‘brains’ extends and modifies the preceding level. So the ‘M’ brain extends the basic responses of the ‘R’ brain, and modifies it by controlling aggression and informing the flight or fight, mating, and food gathering responses. It does this through its much enhanced and extended emotional range, along with its ability to have insight into social and interpersonal situations.

The major areas the ‘M’ brain deals with can be observed in the behaviour of mammals when compared to reptiles. Although the caring for young is seen in some measure in reptiles – the crocodile for instance – it becomes much more marked in warm blooded creatures, and especially in mammals. Mammals have also markedly developed ways of working as groups, special cooperation in mating, social awareness and a hierarchy of roles. In particular they have an expanded range of what we call emotions. The word emotion comes from the Latin ‘e movere’ meaning to move, and in the case of emotions means to be moved, to have our feelings, and therefore our responses changed. Such ‘moving’ experiences are very important in connecting us with another person, such as our mate or children. Without emotions life often feels empty or meaningless. If people have been injured in regard to experiencing their ‘feelings’ they often find it difficult to make decisions or to relate to people other than in practical ways or even brutal ways. They lack empathy.

Whereas the ‘R’ brain deals in survival, self-defense and counter-attack responses such as feeding, fighting, fleeing and reproduction, and is moved, but not by subtle feelings, only the drive to survive and the fear of death, the ‘M” brain is part of the drive that has led mammals to develop breasts. They give if themselves to their young for long periods; unlike the reptiles that are on their own when they hatch from the egg. The mammal male and female protect their young over what is for their life span a long period of time. Mammals teach their young strategies of survival and social interaction. In mammals other than humans they do this solely through the young learning by example. This occurs in human young as well, but is supplemented by verbal and other forms of education.

Another aspect of the ‘M’ brain is its tendency to defend territory, fight for or display for a mate. Together these tendencies led to the formation of what we call family. It is the ‘M’ or primate brain and its tendencies that lies behind what we see in human society as strategy or planning, group action, hierarchy, cooperation, religious feelings – i.e. recognition of fellowship and common origins – and the ability to sympathise or empathise with others. It is this ‘feeling’ level of our experience that is so often hurt and made ill in human society and the way of life developed in industrial societies. This is because in the reptile there was no childhood as we know it. There was no innate and dominating need to be cared for and ‘loved’ in a very specific way. When these needs are not fulfilled in us during our rearing, important aspects of our potential do not develop. Many men and women in their forties and beyond admit that they do not know how to love, or what love is. It has been so damaged or unfulfilled in them in infancy that it never emerged in their experience. Such undeveloped ‘mammals’ can be very aggressive, anti society, and murderous. They lack the finer feelings that enable sympathy and empathy. A dream partly showing this is below. See Learning How To Love.

Example: I dreamt a small animal was clinging to my chest. It gave me the strong feeling of its animal nature, and was like a small bulging eyed monkey or lemur. As it clung it had one of my hands held firmly in its mouth using it as a teat. Its teeth were slightly painful. I knew it did this on account of being frightened, and I, with others, was taking it back to where it had escaped from.

The dream clearly shows the vulnerable ‘mammalian’ feelings of the dreamer, and how this part of him is frightened and lost in the human world. The next dream illustrates another aspect of how we deal with these different levels in us of the reptile and the primate.

Example: I was in a room, or storeroom, full of chimpanzees. I had to leave them. Some of them opened the door. It was not locked, and I didn’t lock it, but I went back in and asked them not to open the door, as there was a busy road nearby, and they might get run over. As I spoke, one was standing with me who was now almost as tall as myself. Its features had become almost human, female. She seemed very sad, perhaps because she was only half human. I felt deep links of sympathy.

The person whose dream this was explored their feelings connected with the dream and explained their conclusions as follows.

When I was in the room with the chimpanzees I was feeling that I was dealing with a part of me that was not as integrated with the modern world as ‘I’ am. I feel this part of me as very loving, but it has a different relationship with things, and it needs to be protected from certain things, as suggested by the warning about the road. So the chimpanzees are powers or abilities I have, but they are not yet integrated fully into my everyday life. But being in the room together means we are now being brought together, being integrated. The room is a gathering point, in a journey toward being made human. I mean by this that although people call themselves human, we are really only half formed. We have not yet integrated these older parts of ourselves and so are rather disintegrated and liable to breakdown. I guess this can be seen in modern society where so many people need medication or other aids to live a functioning life. I experience the female chimpanzee as a special feeling of love that flows into my life; something from beyond myself that transforms me and helps me to become whole.

The dream shows how the world of today, the consumer society, the industrial world, is harmful to that natural and loving life in us. We need to be aware that we are living in an environment that is dangerous, just as dangerous as a jungle with predators. If it were not so the countless people who break down and become mentally ill would not occur.

A man who dreamt of having to deal with a dead ‘ape man’ who gradually came to life, comments on his dream as follows.

The monkey man feels like my own earthly, primitive, caveman strength. The sexuality, the total life of my body. As a ‘civilized’ man I am frightened and somewhat ashamed of it. It was dead and is coming to life. The doctor in the dream I can experience as my good, strong, positive emotions that have been so apparent lately, and are having a healing influence on the way I relate to the ape man. In fact that part of me is coming to life again. In the past I have seen myself as a fairly pathetic, or ordinary human animal. I know that I am one of the mass of human beings – half animal, half man. But I have an urge to grow, to know myself more fully.

The ape man me is the part that feels the anxiety and agony of the human condition – that is able to look at and get to know other people more deeply through knowing in myself how human I am. Maybe that’s what love is?

The ‘M’ brain also has a form of thinking and language. But it’s thinking is largely in what we see as dreams or fantasy, the exploring of ‘ideas’ through imagination, in relationships or dramatic events.

But one form of behaviour that is unique to mammals is play. This joyfulness and abandonment is seen in all manner of mammals. However, in both mammals and humans the ‘R’ brain is still very active and ready to strike out aggressively at others. But when extended self-awareness really wakes up and feels secure, it becomes joyfulness, and is transformed into the energy of wider awareness. See: Energy Sex and Dreams.

When we enter the ‘M’ brain with awareness we experience a greatly increased perception of what is happening in relationships, is social situations, and in children. Here is a description of what this is like.

While working in the kitchen of a hotel on the dishwasher, I was standing cleaning a worktop. About five or so metres in front of me the elderly boss of the hotel was talking to one of the waitresses. It seemed to be just light stuff about how many customers were about this season. Then I happened to look up at them and suddenly the whole way I saw them changed. Every tiny movement they made was like a massive flow of understanding pouring into me. Everything was changed. I could ‘see’ that they were ‘talking’ to each other through tiny shifts in their body and face. But they were probably not aware of this, as the signals were to a part of them that understood but was perhaps not conscious, only felt. And as I watched I could ‘see’ a column of energy connecting them at the solar plexus, which I understood showed they had a sexual time together. Seeing this I realised that when we have sex with someone we form this energy connection with them and we flow into each other in some way. Later I asked F. is she had at some time had sex with the boss. She admitted she had.

Our forebears, and especially mammals, probably saw or see in this way all the time. Without language they ‘read’ each other’s body language and inner disposition. They needed to in order to survive. They also understand the world, as the above dreamer suggests, through what is ‘felt’.   

The Seventh Brain

Life often moves beyond what it has expressed as and through. We see this in the brain the lizard developed as it moved from being just a spinal creature. We see it in the mammals as they moved to a fuller range of responses and behaviours beyond the reptile. In humans their development of language and cooperation, creativity and invention is seen in their larger and more complex brain. But in many humans in the past and today, there is an expression and speculation about a fourth brain.

However, older civilisations than our own, and some that explored the reaches of mind through generations or even centuries, have said that we have at least seven levels of consciousness. This is quite understandable when we see how they are explained. It isn’t that we have seven levels in the physical brain. What these older cultures say is that consciousness is not located just in the brain, and doesn’t depend on it.

There is as yet no agreement in the west as to just what these levels of awareness are, or what their organs are, but there seems some evidence from people who experience their functioning, even if only temporary, that there are groups of cells throughout the body, and some areas at the very top of the brain, that are not fully functioning in most people. These areas are sometimes stimulated or awoken by events or disciplines such as meditation or self-enquiry. Chuck Pettis. Talking about his own experience of the fourth brain, says, ‘I have hypothesized a “Fourth Brain” that has these characteristics: Compassionate, loving. Equanimous. Ethical. No emotions. No thoughts. Pure, formless. Unconscious and conscious merge and are one. I would add to this “Fully intuitive” – that is, a mind that doesn’t think, but just experiences and thus has perfect knowledge without “thought”.’ For a fuller description of these see: chakras.

Other people have said that the fourth brain function is a unifying of the other brains. This leads to a profound awareness of all you meet around you and within. What Chuck calls fully intuitive is a good description. Your awareness encompasses vast amounts of insight all at once and arrives at understanding not from thinking, but from direct insight.

Carl Jung said that the key to this change in awareness comes through action in non-action. He goes on to say it arises from letting things happen within ones life; not controlling all the time, and not editing what is thought and felt. Aiming to be still would be a form of massive editing, unless it arose spontaneously from non-interference.

However, there is an important point here. It is that if you stop editing, and let things happen as Jung suggests, material that had been repressed and unconscious starts to emerge. If you are still totally identified with your emotions, your body sensations, your sexual urges and thoughts, then you could be tossed around like a rag doll by a dog.

Non identification, the still awareness within the midst of thoughts, emotions and urges, is vital. Only in that way can you meet and transform the backlog of material and life experience that has been pushed into unconsciousness. Only involved detachment can bring that about. Exercises in self observation or Vipassana meditation are excellent training to develop that condition. Exploring the dramas and emotions of your dreams is also a wonderful training ground. See  MANY WAYS TO A NEW LIFEMethods of Awakening; Life’s Little Secrets.

So, coming back to the experience of this new potential in humans, it involves a direct experience of what you are looking at, sometimes even a massive overall view of things. Perhaps it can be explained by saying that mostly we consider things from what we feel, who we are at this time in our life, its needs, fears, demands and difficulties or opportunities. But, if you imagine that you are somehow enlarged so you not only know your life here and now, but at the same time you experience all the years of your life at once. This massive awareness leads to amazing insights from the very depths of you into who you are, what you are and what you are actively pursuing. But the ‘fourth brain’ takes us beyond even that, and to our personal experience is added everything else.

There are many dimensions or levels that this fourth mind opens us to. There is such an enormous literature on this that it is difficult to summarise it, but basically we are looking at the emergence of a new type of woman and man.

In these further spaces of the mind people have found access to the motivations, fears and responses that lie behind their waking success or failure. They have a gateway to the roots of creativity and innovation that can enrich their everyday life. The processes of the body, usually beyond control, can be influenced to improve health.

In these further spaces of the mind people have found access to the motivations, fears and responses that lie behind their waking success or failure. They have a gateway to the roots of creativity and innovation that can enrich their everyday life. The processes of our body, usually beyond control, can be influenced to improve health.

To finish, Eileen Garret, in her book My Life, says, ‘’In each phase of evolution all changes in states of consciousness become enveloped in an external form appropriate to its degree of being. Higher states would inevitably evolve corresponding forms of being. And this I know to be true from my own personal experience of seeing and living in supernormal areas’.

See: Four Great Meditationbrain-left right hemispheres; reptilesGoing Beyondthe fundamental process.

Useful questions are:

In what ways can I recognise the action of my reptilian and mammalian brains in my daily life?

Am I denying or mishandling the normal and natural drives of these parts of me?

Where in my dreams can I see the contact with and influence of these different brains?

Have there been times in my life when I felt the fourth brain functioning?


-bearded dragons for sale 2013-02-09 3:13:42

This text is priceless. How can I find out more?

-Fya 2012-04-25 11:07:06

thank you!

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