In the past posting we looked at how the evolution has conditioned us to react with automatic reflex under certain context. The reptilian brain was designed to aggressively protect ones own territory. If someone came into our territory they got aggressively chased out. When we are afraid and sense danger we automatically  go  into  fight – flight mode to get out of danger.

As life got more sophisticated, evolution found a way to allow living in-group setting without being overly aggressive and seriously harming each other. There is a distinct advantages of  being able to live in a groups. As mammals started to live in a groups their behaviour got more sophisticated; the need for fighting and the rule of sexual engagement was handled through rules of status hierarchy . Long before Carl Jung described the workings of the archetypes in humans, and even long before we come on the scene, mammals were dealing with the archetypal themes that enabled sexual competition, loyalties and betrayals,group living and tribalism, submission to leaders and fear of dominant males , the striving for status and social position, cooperative hunting and working together.

Our minds are still preoccupied with these themes today. Our desires that flow within us were implanted in us not only long before us but long before all humans. It is tragic that sometimes our brain gets turned on and off according to the evolutionary journey our brain has taken; resulting in knee jerk behaviour causing enormous damage. I myself have said things to my loved ones in anger, which with all my heart I wish I could take back. This happens when we simply turn off our capacities for compression and let cruelty flourish. We are then in danger of losing balance. We may become cruel and callous to ourselves with self – criticism , self dislike or even self-hatred. Because we are doing it to ourselves, like bullies who have no one to stop them, we think its fine to be self -uncompassionate. But it’s not fine.

We have an intelligent and creative mind; let us not be dominated by the past protective but now destructive evolutionary strategies. It is these strategies when triggered out of context that puts us at risk. They don’t work very well in our fast paced and sophisticated society of today. We can reduce the risk of these strategies being triggered inappropriately by conquering fear,anger and desire to harm with simple caring and compassion.


The Compassionate Mind  by Paul Gilbert

Origins of impulsive desires, sexual conquest, aggression, enforcement of ownership and control.

In the previous posts I mentioned that we will look in-depth how our minds were designed and why they can be full of difficult feeling such as anxiety , anger, despair and unhelpful or destructive desires, as well as of course , love and kindness.

The in-depth will give us better understanding of our mind. Lets start from just after the beginning of time when the first microbe appeared on earth more than billions of years ago. Initially these microbes were nothing more than genetic codes, they replicated and died generation after generations. Slowly over time new, more complex life forms appeared with gene mutation and successive replication. The job of these simple life form was to replicate and build more complex systems. Today, this sort of process where genes interest is to replicate and build new systems may seem like gene has a selfish interest in passing its information to the next generation ( selfish gene theory ). But this sort of view can only be appreciated billions of years later; at the time these simple genes were just replicators and builders of new systems. Over time new biological systems evolved that they could move; and specialization inside their bodies appeared which allowed them to be attracted and motivated by certain things. From this comes the systems that the evolutionist says supports the four Fs’; feeding, fighting, fleeing and ..fu….reproduction. These than leads to motives for acquiring and defending/ protecting. Notice that the new biological systems are just emerging overtime by playing out a set of laws and processes; there seems to be nothing that is designing these organisms.

As time goes on many life forms become more complex and develop senses for detecting light and sound; limbs to move; cardiovascular and respirator system. Many life form started to eat other life form to survive. We also start to see repeating patterns of behaviour, which are first signs of evolved minds.

Reptiles emerged around 500 millions years ago, and are basically concerned with eating, gaining and defending their territories and mating – the four Fs again. They will threaten any who displays a posture of challenge; leg stiffening and staring for example.  No one has taught them that, they are guided by their reptilian brains that contain blueprint for action and strategies, which are embedded in their genetic codes. This behaviour is not that different from that of men fighting or when they are driven by the urge for dominance, possessions and territories. Carl Jung would come to name these powerful, innate patterns for feeling, thinking and behaviour (e.g.. to seek status, control a territory, find a mate) as ‘ archetypes ‘. Their origins are rooted back many millions of years.

Kent Bailey of Virginia Commonwealth University pointed out that it’s not that difficult to adopt a reptilian view of the world, focused on impulsive desires, sexual conquests, aggression and enforcement of ownership and control. A reptile’s mind is only interested in power, control, food, sex and personal gain. The reptilian mind has no interest in family life, love, play , building trusting alliances or having empathy.

The reptiles‘ strategies and archetypes will not be removed from the genetic code as long as they are successful in passing on genes. There is nothing inherently good or bad about this; it’s simply how evolution is. Later life forms will adapt these struggles, mould them and add to them, but they cannot go back to the drawing board and start again.

Change through evolution can only adapt what has gone before. So in one form or another, concern with power, sex, territories and control continues to live in and through us humans. It was the reptiles’ struggle for life and evolved solutions that have influenced gene flow. They, and the strategies that they followed, are not ‘evil’ but are part of the evolution of life and of the mind to come. Harsh, savage and tragic they may be to our minds but they also comprise the foundations of our evolutionary journey.

About 120 million years ago mammals emerged in the flow of life. With the mammals come new struggles that goes with warm-bloodedness; living in family groups that offer care and protection. Mammals also form status hierarchies rather than strict territorial ones. In some mammal species only one female is able to breed and she suppresses, chases off or even kills competitors. So sexual competition in mammals are driven by the desire to both engage oneself and prevent others from engaging in sex; this tension will texture their lives.

In the next post we will pick it up from here and look at how the archetype works in sexual competition, loyalties and betrayals; just to mention few. We will see many of our desires that flow through us today were not only designed long before us but long before all humans.


The Compassionate Mind.  by  Paul Gilbert

Looking For Nourishing Mind Food

In the last post I talked about how we had little say in the design of our brain and  how we had little control over our minds.  I will elaborate on these themes in the future posts but todays I would like to give you overview on what we can do, so that we are not always at the mercy of our automatic responses. I feel the overview is necessary  at this time because people intuitively know that some of what I said in the last post rings true at some level; and I also sense some urgency of readers wanting to know the possible solution to this predicament in which we find ourselves.

Let start where we left off in the last post; we have a brain that is unique to ourselves, it is the result of the genes we inherited from our parents and the experiences we had in our early life. We will react to a given situation in a very unique way, it will be according to how we have been hard-wired to react by our genes, our experiences and whether we have learned to ‘control’ our impulses. The key to our predicament is how we view ourselves and others in the world.

I want to remind ourselves that all the people in this world had no say in the brain and the mind they find themselves with, we are all in the same boat. Sure some had better childhood experiences than others, some may have ‘ better’ genes for some useful skill; but it all happened by chance. With this realization it is hard for me to blame and condemn myself or others because at some level we have no control over it. I hope no one is going to conclude from this that we are free to behave as we wish without taking any responsibility for our behaviour. Over millions of  years, nature ‘ realized ‘ that we have to control some very raw and aggressive impulses for us to be able to live in a constructive and mutually beneficial way. These aggressive impulses served a very important role in our evolution( which I will elaborate in the future post)and they may still serve us today in some situations but over all things have changed , we have to refine our raw impulses and use them only on a rare occasions where they maybe still quite appropriate. You may wonder about what the nature, through evolutionary process, has equipped us with to deal with these difficult situations ? Well, it is our ability for thinking ahead, being able to stand back from and reflect on what is going on in our minds, and in what we are feeling and doing. It is these special gifts that have evolved over millions of years that allow us to behave differently  from other animals; like crocodile for example. Crocodile  behave in a very predictable way according to it primitive reptilian brain. We too have this reptilian brain, but evolutionary process have added on new parts which allows us to behave and enact our desires in novel ways.

Once we stop blaming others and ourselves we will be freer to genuinely move towards developing the insight , knowledge and understanding we need to take responsibility for ourselves and our actions. None of us is responsible for having brains that is capable of feeling great fear, rage or all kinds of sexual desires. But, learning and practicing compassion will help us feel more content and at peace with ourselves and more concerned for others. I should point out that compassionate behaviour is not just about acting in kind, warm and friendly ways. It’s also about protecting ourselves and others from our own destructive desires and actions;it’s about being assertive , tolerating discomfort and developing courage. We can reason similarly for much wider issues, such as issues about our planet. There are many destructive processes going on that are killing our planet , drilling for oil for example. It is not the posture of  blaming psychology  that would be helpful but instead our genuine desire to nurture and repair  that requires  our attention. Without it, it’s so easy to get stuck in denial or simply get angry and say ‘why should I.’

Paul Gilbert writes …”We can learn to cultivate certain aspect of our minds such as our compassionate mind, which will help us with other aspects of our mind and promote our well-being. We can also become more aware of how our societies may stimulating the selfish ‘me first’ part of ourselves with unrealistic fantasies and desires and setting us up to want more  and more and, at the same time, to feel more disappointed and personal failures.”

You can see from the general theme that we have to learn some important skills if we are to feed our brain and mind with the nourishing food that would be healthy not just for our own mind but also for others who share our world with the same predicaments. More in the future posts.


The compassionate Mind by Paul Gilbert.

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