Children growing up in a family are often told what to do. You, as a child, and an adolescent, were told what to do, perhaps way more often than necessary. The alternative to be told what to do is being presented with choices. Instead of ‘go clean your room’ it becomes ‘you can choose to clean your room before you play video games for 1 hour, or after. If you choose before, you get 1/2 hour extra.
Being told what to do is very familiar, comfortable. Choices can be troubling, difficult. So, it makes a lot of sense that people, in general, have a tendency towards wanting to be told what to do. It’s what we grew up with. It’s normal. If nobody is around to tell us what to do, we’ll find somebody. Who’s the boss? Who’s the authority? Who’s the parent, the teacher, the bully, the friend, the spouse, the lover, who tells us what to do? Moreover, we internalize others telling us what to do so even if there is nobody around, we let others tell us what to do within our own mind.
A part of us, you know, is animal. We have an animal brain residing underneath our human brain. We have a body, that is animated, ie, animal. We are very socially animated; our sense of self is integrally woven with social interaction from birth to immediate family, to neighborhood, to community, to nation, to planet. The animal part of us does one thing really really well, much better than the human part of us, and that thing is ‘idle.’ Like being in a car, resting, gazing out at the scenery in front, while the engine is idle.
Being idle, animal idle, is often exactly what we have been told not to do. Instead, we are told to do something, anything, other than be animal idle. The upper most part of the human brain is referred to as the frontal neocortex. The activities that go on in this region of the brain are referred to as ‘executive functions.’ Underneath this frontal neocortex are a lot of systems around emotions and existence. Our animal brain is very aligned with existence, much more so than our executive functions.
Existence is not in a rush, and it has no goals; in a sense, it has nowhere to go, and nothing to do. It is existence; always has been present; always will be present. Animal idle is resting in that existence. Human idle is considered lazy; and, as humans, we typically look upon animals resting in the shade, with nothing to do and nowhere to go, as dumb. Of course, we know, intellectually, they are not dumb, they are just animals. Humans are animals, and the animal brain on which rests the executive functions, which are uniquely human, is operative, though atrophied. We’ve been told by the executive functions to do almost anything to avoid being animal idle; these executive functions in the frontal neocortex do have goals, agendas, something to do and somewhere to go. We’ve been told to do so much, so often, that the prospect of animal idle as a very comfortable and healthy state of mind and body would appear preposterous. And yet, perhaps it is that state of mind and body, this state of animal idle, that all humans yearn to reclaim. To be still, quiet, at ease and in comfort with existence.
Read the companion blog post The Bully in the Brain