4. Embracing Emotion
If you understand the magnificent machinery that is the human brain, youll better understand why some of us bounce around with great joy and others slouch through life like Eeyore (from Winnie-the-Pooh). That three-pound bugger is more powerful than our strongest computer, more artistic than a Renaissance painter, and often more mysterious than our entire universe. Every day, were pummeled with thousands upon thousands of pieces of information. And its not just information per se, like the kind you read in the paper or an e‑mail; sometimes its informational stimuli that you take for granted as part of your everyday routines, such as traffic lights or coffee shop menus. Frankly, your brain is pretty darn good at inputting all that info (red equals stop, venti is the extra-large cup). But because of that influx and onslaught of sensory information, we need some kind of prioritizing system to help manage the inflow. Remember from our chapter on stress that our neurological gatekeeper is the amygdala which instantly assigns emotional meaning to this type of information. Often, we suppress those emotions even though theyre automatic.
Our goal here shouldnt be to ignore emotions when they come up whether we are reacting painfully to a loss of a loved one or getting angry when were mad at our boss or kids. In fact, were biologically hardwired to pay attention to emotions and use them intelligently. For example, we recommend that you use empathy to help harness anger (for example, thinking that maybe the jerk at work has some home stresses that are causing him to be a jerk). Our goal should be to observe emotions and even learn to think with these emotions to help give our lives even deeper meaning. That is why meditation is not the emptying out of our brains so they are devoid of ideas, but rather a technique to gently nudge out ideas that enter, without your becoming emotionally attached. Now more than ever, were understanding the biology behind this sense of transcendence beyond our typical reality.
For example, were now able to explain how out-of-body experiences happen, at least physically. The primary senses of sight, smell, hearing, and touch have great blood supply, but the part of the temporal lobe that integrates these senses together is in a watershed area that suffers from inadequate oxygen when your blood pressure drops too low. When this happens, the sensory input becomes disconnected; many people who have had near-death experiences report leaving their bodies. Transcendent experiences are also associated with things such as hallucinogenic drugs and even orgasms when you experience the feeling that nothing else matters. Thankfully, humans have healthy ways of achieving these states of disconnect (like meditation). As we search for meaning in life, were moved by these experiences that reveal the big picture.