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Instinctual Passions


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Please note that the text below was written by the feeling-being ‘Peter’ while ‘he’ lived in a pragmatic (methodological), still-in-control/same-way-of-being Virtual Freedom before becoming actually free.

The Need to Belong

Belong –– Be rightly assigned or appropriate to as an adjunct, function, duty, etc. ME. 2 Pertain or relate to. 3 Be connected with as a member, part, inhabitant, dependency, etc. 4 Be related or connected; be naturally or rightly placed; be classified. 5 Be a member; fit a specified environment, not be out of place. Oxford Dictionary

Peter: The genetically programmed instincts one is born with are located in the primitive brain or amygdala and consist in part as a hard-wired quick response mechanism that pumps the body and brain with chemicals as a reaction to any perceived danger. The amygdala also has its own independent memory section that is evidenced as an emotional memory as distinct from one’s cognitive memory.

A bit from LeDoux will confirm the scientific evidence of this independent (unconscious is the term he uses) memory.

[Joseph LeDoux]: ‘A fundamental assumption in this work is that the brain has multiple memory systems, each devoted to different kinds of memory functions. For traumatic memory, two systems are particularly important. For example, if you return to the scene of an accident, you will be reminded of the accident and will remember where you were going, who you were with, and other details about the experience. These are explicit (conscious) memories mediated by the hippocampus and other aspects of the temporal lobe memory system. In addition, your blood pressure and heart rate may rise, you may begin to sweat, and your muscles may tighten up. These are implicit (unconscious) memories mediated by the amygdala and its neural connections.

They are memories in the sense that they cause your body to respond in a particular way as a result of past experiences. The conscious memory of the past experience and the physiological responses elicited thus reflect the operation of two separate memory systems that operate in parallel. <snip>

Only by taking these systems apart in the brain have neuroscientists been able to figure out that these are different kinds of memory, rather than one memory with multiple forms of expression. <snip>

Learning and responding to stimuli that warn of danger involves neural pathways that send information about the outside world to the amygdala, which determines the significance of the stimulus and triggers emotional responses, like freezing or fleeing, as well changes in the inner workings of the body’s organs and glands. <snip>

The implication of these findings is that early on (perhaps since dinosaurs ruled the earth, or even before) evolution hit upon a way of wiring the brain to produce responses that are likely to keep the organism alive in dangerous situations. The solution was so effective that it has not been messed with much, and works pretty much the same in rats and people, as well as many if not all other vertebrate animals. Evolution seems to have gone with an ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ rule when it comes to the fear system of the brain.’ LeDoux Lab., Centre for Neural Science, New York University

So, in investigating one’s instinctual self – which is programmed into the amygdala – one is not only investigating the instinctual passions of fear, aggression, nurture and desire, one inevitably encounters the instinctual ‘memory’ as well. LeDoux’s studies are seemingly primarily concerned with the emotional memories imprinted onto the amygdala’s memory since birth. Thus we have imprinted the traumatic incidents in life since birth and those fears instilled in us, largely by our parents, in the very early years before the development of our cognitive memory. There is also scientific evidence that the foetus is influenced by the flow of chemicals via the placenta which would allow for a pre-birth encoding of emotions.

But it is obvious from a study of animals that certain actions and behaviour patterns are not taught after birth but must be genetically pre-programmed in the instinctual memory. The reaching for, finding and suckling the nipple in mammals, the waddle to the ocean of baby turtles, the unlearned migration patterns of birds, etc. There are multitudinous examples of non-cognitive animals who exhibit quite sophisticated behaviour and ‘knowledge’ that is not learnt but must solely be due to a pre-coded memory that is genetically inherited.

Given that the human animal is the most advanced of the primates, it does beg the question as to how much pre-memory is genetically programmed in the human amygdala and therefore ‘set in the flesh’, as it were. Two of these pre-codings are vital in understanding the human psyche –‘who’ one thinks and feels one is.

Firstly, there is most obviously an instinctual sense of self-recognition, a faculty we share with our closet genetic cousins – apes and chimps both recognize ‘themselves’ in a mirror. This instinctual primal ‘self’ is made more sophisticated in humans, for the cognitive neo-cortex (the ‘conscious’ to use LeDoux’s term) is only capable of detecting the chemical flows of the amygdala (non-cognitive and ‘unconscious’), and these are ‘felt’ as basic passions or emotions and interpreted as feelings – ‘my’ feelings. Thus, we ‘feel’ this genetic instinctual programming to be ‘me’ at my core. This program thus gives every human being an instinctual self which is translated into a ‘real’ self that is both psychic – LeDoux’s ‘unconscious’ made obvious and real by the ensuing flow of chemicals from the amygdala – and psychological – interpreted as thoughts by the modern cognitive brain. (The modern brain is also taught much after birth – one’s social identity – but I’m interested in the deeper level at this stage.)

This explains that the spiritual journey ‘in’ is thus a journey to find one’s instinctual self – one’s roots, one’s original face, the Source, etc. If, on this inner journey, one ignores or denies the passions of aggression and fear and concentrates one’s attention on the passions of nurture and desire, one can shift one’s identity from the psychological thinking neo cortex – the ‘ego’ to use their term – and ‘become’, or associate with, or identify with, the good feelings of nurture and desire. This is a seductive and self-gratifying journey, for one is actively promoting the flow of chemicals that give rise to the good, pleasant, warm, light-headed, heart-full and ultimately ecstatic feelings. These flow of chemicals overwhelm the neo-cortex to such an extent that they become one’s primary experience, and the input of the physical world as perceived by the senses and the clear-thinking ability of the cognitive modern brain are both subjugated – or ‘transcended’ to use their term. One then ‘feels’ one has found one’s original ‘self’, which one has of course, though t’is all but a fantasy of one’s imagination.

I particularly remember when I first came across spiritual teachings, the mythology and poetry that alluded to this ‘inner’ world seemed to strike a deep cord with me – the tales of Ancient Wisdom ‘connected’ with this deep (unconscious) level which was a connection with the instinctual memory in the amygdala. I had ‘found’ someone who had the answers, was in touch with the Source, knew the meaning of life, the truth – I had come Home. I began a journey into the inner world of good feelings, made real by the ability to enhance the chemical flow of nurture and desire and dampen, suppress or ignore the feelings of aggression and fear. I was literally leaving the real world behind and seeking solace and succour in the spiritual world. I was thus forfeiting any chance of breaking free of my instinctual passions, in total, for a selfish bid for personal bliss and a permanent place in an imaginary ‘other world’ composed solely of chemically-supported blissful feelings.

Secondly, the other faculty I see as essentially pre-coded is an instinctual need to ‘belong’ to the herd – the herding instinct, as Vineeto puts it. It might seem banal and obvious given that humans, as a species, have perennially needed to maintain, at very least, a family grouping in order to ensure the survival of the species. Given that the human infant is helpless for such a long time compared with most other species, the immediate family group was the basic minimum need, and the chance of survival was considerably increased with larger and stronger groupings. This is an instinctual program that over-rides the individual’s own survival instincts for one is ultimately programmed to ensure survival of the species – not one’s own, as in self-preservation. Given that these involve more sophisticated programming than mere instantaneous ‘fight and flight’ reactions they must be encoded in the genetic memory of the amygdala, passed on from ‘way back there’, in the mists of time.

This instinct, implanted by blind nature to ensure the survival of the species, pumps the body with chemicals that induce the feeling of fear whenever one is straying too far away from the herd, abandoning other members of the family or group or being on one’s own. I remember particularly, in my early twenties, travelling across Europe and the Middle East on my way home from London and arriving at the border with Iran. I was turned away at an isolated border post as I didn’t have a visa and I was struck with a deep sense of panic, a feeling of utter loneliness. Looking back, it was as though I had gone too far striking off on my own and had hit the limit. This feeling of loneliness was to haunt me for many years – the image of becoming a lonely old man on a park bench, outcast and abandoned. It coincidentally was to prove one of the images that made me leap into the spiritual world with such gusto. I was to lose this fear later in life but living alone was always accompanied by a bitter-sweet feeling of loneliness. My major period of living alone was also the period when I began to have spiritual experiences, Satoris and an experience of Altered States of Consciousness aka Enlightenment.

From my investigations and experiences it is obvious that ‘who’ I think and feel I am – ‘me’ at the core – encompasses both a deep-set feeling of separateness from others and the world as perceived by the senses as well as a deep-set feeling of needing to ‘belong’.

This over-arching feeling of separateness – of being a ‘separate self’, who is forever yearning to ‘belong’ – is the root cause of sorrow in me and the all encompassing ‘ocean’ of human sorrow in the world.

The tradition approaches to these conflicting feelings has been either –

  • to make the best of one’s lot in life, promoting the good feelings and chemical flows as much as possible, being a good and moral real-world citizen, or

  • to throw one’s lot completely into the fanciful spirit-ual world, practicing ‘right-thinking’, ‘good-dreaming’ and ‘blissful feeling’. This transcending of the real world is a disassociation from the world-as-it-is. It involves identifying oneself with the instinctual passions of nurture and desire – the soul – and also satisfies the need to ‘belong’ with feelings of ‘Union’ and ‘Oneness’. It’s a very powerful instinctual lure, given substance and credence by the chemicals that flow from the amygdala. Most importantly, it not only maintains the instinctual self in existence but it also enhances it – ‘I’ become noble, grand, all-encompassing, all-powerful, rising above the world-as-it-is and people as-they-are – in short, Divine and Immortal.

Thankfully I’m pursuing a third alternative, which is the total elimination of my ‘self’ in total – the whole of the amygdala’s instinctual programming that gives rise to the animal passions. The startle, quick-scan function of the amygdala still operates as a physical safety function but the chemical surges that give rise to the emotions of fear, anger, nurture and desire have almost ceased to be of influence. I am left with a lot of shifting sensations in the head, neck, heart and belly that tell me something chemically is still happening but these very rarely translate into emotions or reactions.

I remember in the first few weeks of coming across Actual Freedom and realizing that to become actually free of the Human Condition would not only mean the ending of ‘me’ but also it would mean being a traitor to Humanity. To live without malice – to have no ‘me’ to defend and therefore no need to attack, no need to struggle to survive, achieve, be somebody – was to cop-out of the struggle. To live without sorrow – to not be sad, to not commiserate with others, to not seek consolation, to not wallow in self-pity or to pity others, to not play the game of ‘Oh what a miserable existence being a human being is’ – would be to be judged heart-less. And yet, here I am doing it and riding out the chemical surges that warn me – don’t do this, or else…! The thing that I have discovered is that there is no ‘or else…!’ As long as I don’t goad a fanatic, and I obey the laws of the land and sensibly avoid trouble, the world as-it-is is an eminently safe place – chock full of sensuous pleasure, delight. A life of consummate ease is readily and freely evident when one’s fears are seen for what they are.

It’s an extraordinary thing being a human being in 1999. It’s definitely not an experience to be missed.

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