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Life by Committee

By Frank Conerton

Few people would argue against the idea that Human Beings are a union of Soul, Mind and Body. Haven’t we all had an experience of making a decision such as going on a diet, but our body decides that we are going to have that double chocolate brownie regardless of that decision? Or we might realize that serene acceptance is the most spiritual attitude to deal with people, until someone does something that makes us really angry and we let them hear about it. Many of our experiences support the idea that we have these different aspects.

There are many articles about our brain which describe three different levels: the Brain Stem or reptile brain which deals with survival and fear, the Middle brain similar to a chimp’s brain, and the Neo-cortex where our human consciousness resides. But then our neo-cortex is divided into right and left hemispheres. One hemisphere is linear logic while the other is associative or artistic.

Our reptile brain deals with life threatening situations the quickest of all the areas, with freeze or flight responses. Our mid brain operates from an animal’s motivational triad of seeking pleasure, avoiding pain, and doing everything the easiest way possible. Our human brain operates according to the programming which we accept: attitudes, beliefs, thoughts and habits. There are other articles which talk about our “heart- brain” and our “gut- brain”. These articles say that some of our consciousness, awareness and decision making take place in these areas outside the brain in our cranium.

These different areas of consciousness also communicate in different manners. Our human consciousness can communicate with language while our body informs with sensations. Mind may deal with images while spirit may use attitudes. This scenario gives us nine different areas of consciousness within us, communicating in different ways. Is it any wonder that life is sometimes confusing?

Which part is in charge of our life? When we are going through our day, unaware of the committee composed of different aspects of consciousness, which aspect is making the decisions? While working a 12-step program, I realized that the program could be understood as selecting a different hierarchy of power in my aspects of consciousness. While using (practicing my addiction), that addiction (body) is in charge. All other aspects of consciousness are subordinate to the addiction. When I started into 12-step recovery, my higher power (soul and higher mind) became the leader, king, or chairman of the board, with the ego as a steward or agent for the soul and the other aspects as subordinate councilors. Twelve step programs of recovery may work through establishing a new hierarchy in the different aspects of consciousness.

Having been in counseling for anxiety, I learned that the brain stem (reptile brain) which deals with fear and survival recognizes danger even before we can become aware of a situation in our neo-cortex. This is based on simple brain structure. The process that I learned to deal with anxiety was to consciously move to the neo-cortex awareness and analyze the situation before reacting. This was a vast improvement over simply feeling the fear from the reptile brain.

I wonder how many of my problems in life exist because I have not established and practiced a hierarchy in the different aspects of my consciousness? How many problems come up because of an unrealized competition within these different areas of consciousness? It feels to me at times that different aspects of my consciousness are fighting with each other to win control and the power to make the decisions, or to overthrow decisions made by other aspects.

A great spiritual principle is “as above so below.” Is it possible that the struggles for power in the microcosm of our lives manifest in external struggles in the macrocosm of the world? Are the many struggles for power in the world simply outgrowths of the unrealized internal power struggles between the various aspects of consciousness?

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