Ignoring the lizard brain

My beloved mother will die from pancreatic cancer. Her time in this life is being measured in months. I will write more about this in the future as I have so much to share about my mother’s journey towards the inevitable we all face. Her love, bravery, peace, and spiritual strength is quite an experience to behold, and I know that my character and my contributions – my legacy – will be different and better for witnessing it. I feel I have a deeper understanding of life and death, but I have been too paralyzed by grief to write about what I’ve learned or to even write about creativity, what this blog is supposed to be about. My father keeps urging me, “You must write about this.” I reply, “I will…”

Yesterday something happened that made me want to boot up the laptop, and decided I would write about my lizard brain again. It’s the amygdala, the oldest part of the brain, the part responsible for most irrational human behavior. I’ve written about it before and how we need to tame it if we are to move forward.

Last week, after months of research, planning and coordination with my neighbors, I led a long overdue home improvement project to replace a 23-year-old decaying fence with a new one. The investment on my end was substantial as only one neighbor out of four was able to contribute to the cost. One of the neighbors who did not contribute hasn’t thanked me for the effort or the financial contribution. Instead, I have received complaints about trivial matters related to the fence, in strangely worded emails that imply I’ve done something wrong and will be held responsible.

I have spent time responding to these minor complaints and gone above and beyond to resolve them with the fence company. This is good because being a good neighbor is important. I have spent time reading Robert Frost’s Mending Wall (the origin of the modern proverb “good fences make good neighbors”) and smiling at his irony and that of this situation. This has been good as I ended up reading quite a few of his poems one night.

I have also spent time alone and in the presence of family obsessing over my neighbor’s ingratitude and communication style, to the point of losing sleep over it. This has not been good. Last night, I finally realized this trivial matter has been consuming me and is such a waste of energy. I chastised myself, “I’ve got bigger issues and way more important things to spend my mind and heart on. Haven’t I grown spiritually and developed a deeper understanding of life to not allow myself to be consumed by absurdities? Why am I letting this get to me?”

Because of my lizard brain, that darn amygdala. The lizard brain sees silly neighbor drama and points and screams, “Squirrel!!” It sees a distraction from grief, frustration, helplessness, and anger, and it eagerly scurries towards trivialities that waste time and energy. But my heart – love – is stronger than that. It can quiet the lizard brain and even protect me from it so that I can set aside the small problems to focus on the bigger picture and what matters.

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