Ancient brain, modern world

Ancient brain, modern world

We just aren’t fast enough. In terms of evolution, we’re far more like a tortoise—one of those really old ones—than a cheetah.

In his book The Perfect Health Diet (pages 5-6), Paul Jannet, PhD, says it would take approximately 200,000 years in the modern era for a genetic mutation to reach “fixation.” In other words, universal presence. As the population grows, the time it takes for a fixation to occur grows longer.

The brain we have now is a throwback. Let’s say a throwback of two million years. Somewhere before then, the genus homo evolved, and it existed in several different species, such as erectus, rudolfensis, neanderthalis, and the sapiens. As a species, we’ve had our current nervous system, including brain, spinal cord, and nerve pathways for hundreds of thousands of years, if not far longer.

In those hundreds of thousands of years, humans changed very little, except as needed when they moved to different parts of the globe. For example, the Neanderthal had a bigger body and eyes, due to living in mountainous regions. There is a species that existed in the Pacific islands that was dwarfish. All of those changes happened over millennia. Then sapiens came along, and things changed.

Man invented agriculture.

For hundreds of thousands of years, we hunted and gathered. That was the way our nervous system wired and fired, and that was the reality that was encoded in our genes and passed to our progeny along with the attendant emotional and physical behaviors. About 10 to 12 thousand years ago, man started to use agriculture as a means to stabilize the food source. That meant several things. One was settling down around the food. That altered gathering behaviors and physiology. A second was the need to protect the food  and themselves. For hundreds of thousands of years, threats took the form of a tiger or abear, or an angry Neanderthal who wanted something we had. Back then, we fled if we needed to, or fought. For hundreds of thousands of years, we acted on our nervous system response to fight or flee. We burned up the survival energy our bodies produced and we went on with life.

With agriculture, our threats changed. We had to worry about crops being sufficient. We had to contend with waste management, food storage, weather, and plain old getting along with each other. Life changed, but we didn’t. Remember that 200,000 years? Since the advent of agriculture, we invented the compass. The wheel. Writing. The steam engine, cars, airplanes, computers, smartphones…..

All of that change from agriculture to today took place in a little over one percent of the time we’ve existed as humans. Most of it in about a quarter of one percent.

What happened to the bears? The tigers? The other Neanderthals? What really changed? Us, or the world around us?

That’s what I mean when I say we have ancient nervous systems in a modern world.

Look at it this way. Imagine that we played baseball for millennia, the same way. The kids grew up playing it, generation after generation after generation. Then one year they decided to change a rule. After a lot of blank stares, players adapted to that rule. Then another rule changed a few generations later. More blank stares, but they adapted, too. Every couple generations, they began to expect a rule change. Then two rule changes took place in a single generation. After that, changes started taking place every year, then at the beginning of each month, then at the beginning of each game, and then just about every time a player swung a bat. That’s the speed at which things are changing in the world today. We’re still the same old batter, with our paleo brains and nervous systems, and we just can’t keep up with all the changes taking place in the world around us.

Understanding all this can make it easier to function in the world. The gift TRE gives us is the ability to help our ancient nervous systems adapt to the constant changes that take place in the modern world. Let me use an image.

Imagine, if you will, that you have a glass in your hand. It represents your capacity for stress. Along comes a stressor -- say your alarm going off in the morning, and it pours water into the glass. Then comes another stressor (you’re late because you hit the snooze button), and more water goes into the glass. You skip breakfast (more water), traffic is snarled (the water level is getting higher), you’re late to work (higher still), then the boss calls you into his office (it’s getting closer to the top, now), and there is a problem directly affecting you (the glass overflows). It’s only 9:30 a.m.

What TRE® does is empower you to dump “water” out of your glass. Most of what we interpret as threats to our survival actually aren’t, so we need a means of getting rid of the survival energy we’re constantly being flooded with. TRE enables us to maintain the capacity to deal with modern life’s issues without our ancient brain getting overwhelmed.

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My Perfect Storm

My Perfect Storm

Our community was already reeling from the November deaths of three young men, who were killed by a drunk driver when, on Christmas Day, part of a tree fell on a passing vehicle, killing a 9-year-old girl. “Zippy” was the daughter of a well-known and loved family in the community. As an EMT on duty, I responded to that call, and it was my perfect storm.

My life essentially came undone after that. I had lost my job a few months before, was homeless for a while, lost my marriage,and had a whopping case of PTSD, which I couldn’t name at the time. I just felt it — as did everyone around me. Because of that call, I experienced my first and only single phase critical incident stress debriefing (CISD) in the 15 years I spent serving as a volunteer firefighter/EMT.

For weeks after the call, I would break down crying anywhere and everywhere. One day, while in a local coffee shop, I could feel it coming on. I never recognized the triggers, I just felt the unstoppable flood approaching. I sought out the back room, which was usually empty, sat down and cried. Eventually, Petra, who I’d met there a few months earlier, walked in. Knowing that I’d responded to that call, she asked, “Who takes care of you guys?”

“No one,” I replied. I told her about the CISD, and yet, here I still was, crying. I have since learned that the efficacy of single session CISDs can be as harmful as helpful, if not more so. She felt something was wrong with that picture. She orchestrated a grief counseling event for the entire community, but was unsatisfied with the results. Someone needed to help these emergency responders. But who? She was just an English major, what could she do? Then she realized that she could ask healers to help and built a website that listed those who were willing to offer free care to emergency responders. It was a safety net for our community’s safety net. And the nonprofit organization Whidbey CareNet was born.

Used by permission of Paul Combs

Used by permission of Paul Combs

I was asked to serve as co-director, and we soon discovered how hard it is for helpers to ask for help. Providers were eager to serve emergency responders, but were disappointed when they failed to take them up on the offer of free care. Petra and I became more and more interested in empowering responders to help themselves and began looking for tools that could prevent stress and trauma rather than relieve it after the fact.

One day, a retired firefighter from Canada told us we needed to check out what Dr. David Berceli was teaching about healing trauma. Within weeks, we were in Canada with Dr. Berceli, learning TRE®.

It was Dr. Berceli who first suggested that I take a test to determine whether I had PTSD. A year later, I took it and could finally name the affliction that haunted me. Fortunately, I also had a new tool with which to cure it.

I entered into a period of full-blown PTSD anxiety symptoms, and I had to learn how to use my new tool to deal with it. I was able to dial TRE in and found that doing just enough of it kept me relaxed and feeling safe enough to function. As the trauma released, my symptoms dissipated, and I was able to adjust my use to accommodate the greater capacity that my system developed. In the process, we also learned about other tools that are effective in helping to mitigate stress and trauma symptoms. Tools like mindfulness, writing, emotional intelligence, breathing techniques, and yawning.

From all that experience, a new business was born, one we named because of what we experienced and wanted others to experience: Raise Your Resilience, LLC. I discovered that I could heal the PTSD I had, I could heal the neglect and trauma of my childhood, the later addiction, the passive aggressive behavior, the disconnection, the dissociation, the anxiety, the hypervigilance, the flashbacks. I learned I could address the backlog of stress responses I had stifled from my past, and live more fully in the present moment.

Our research led us to understand how stress and trauma affects neurological development, psychological integration, relationships, and physical health. We also learned how the tools we use can heal us, restore our organism’s balance, and can return us to health.

I survived my perfect storm. I cured my PTSD, and I don’t spend my time having to control my symptoms or take meds to mask them. I am spending my time living my life. I want to help others live theirs, so they can get onto the trajectory of embodied wholeness. This is why we do what we do.

I know life is tough. But I also know from personal experience that you can grow through it.

Feeling broken

I was one of eight TRE providers who volunteered to join Dr. Berceli in Manheim, Pennsylvania, for an event organized specifically for veterans. I enjoy being present any time Dr. Berceli teaches, even if it is just for two hours, like this event was. There’s always something to learn.

Achieve Your Dreams. The power is within you.

The capacity to heal is innate and it requires relatively little to learn how to use it. I have been surprised and blessed by this work I do, not by its simplicity, but in its power.

Where our TRE® journey began

Our interest in TRE® began with the desire to help volunteer firefighters and EMTs address the stress and trauma they encounter in the process of serving their communities. 

Why we love TRE®

Leckey and Petra were torn between pursuing training in Peter Levine’s Somatic Experiencing and Berceli’s Tension and Trauma Releasing Exercises. They attended introductory workshops in both. Petra asked Dr. Berceli how he would describe the difference between the work of Levine and his own, and he said “I’ve had to teach TRE during a five-hour cease fire.” That was the moment she knew that TRE was perfect for what she and Leckey were trying to do.