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The main difference between humans and most other primates is that we have a far more developed neocortex than they do. Ever wonder why dogs have much more expressive personalities and even something resembling a sense of humor when compared to cats? This is due, in part, to dogs having more developed neocortices. How strange that they--ahem--remain the inferior creature of the two. If we are to understand anything about human behavior, we must understand that our brains and bodies aren't really designed for the twenty-first century. We are built to hunt and gather. We're more equipped for nomadic lifestyles. Our minds and bodies have all they need to address situations that are simpler and yet entail a much more severe precarity: identifying dangerous predators, finding adequate shelter, fending off other groups not known to ours. The emotional responses involved in such a life are far more intense than what most of us need to navigate our world today. The limbic system, which is involved in all acts of aggression and violence, is basically a primitive being. In the same way, if we do not focus our attention initially on establishing a posture that naturally supports and aids the process of meditation, we create many difficulties for ourselves as we attempt to make progress in our meditative quest. The word posture comes from the Latin positura, which means a position, and ponere, to place. Applied as it customarily is to the structure and appearance of the body, it refers to how we position or place our bodies in space and to how the different segments of the body relate to one another. In addition, posture or posturing may refer to an attitude or self-image that we self-consciously create, identify with, and project. The determined slouch of an alienated or angry person, the overly developed musculature that attempts to conceal insecurity, the affectation of casual confidence by a lawyer attempting to win over a jury--all of these self-images ultimately depend on holding our bodies in different ways that allow us to project a desired image. By holding our bodies, we create different postures that express different attitudes. Mostly this kind of posturing or posing carries with it a connotation of unnaturalness. We can tense the muscles in our bodies and hold ourselves in different postures to manufacture a desired persona or self-image. This is precisely what actors do as they attempt to enter into a role, and consequently theater schools spend a great deal of time focusing on the purely physical aspect of the actor's craft. However, the natural state of the human being, as with any animal, is to be balanced and relaxed.

Your prescription to reduce your nature deficit Aim to get outside every day for at least 20 to 30 minutes or a minimum of two hours a week. Choose activity over passivity -- get up and get out. Take back control of your time and choose to do something that makes you feel good in the great outdoors. Start gardening or mountain biking or join a walking group. bird watching or ocean swimming is more your style. Use walking as a means to avoid waiting! If hanging around is driving you nuts or worry is getting you down, getting outside for a short walk can help restore calm and peace of mind. Buy some pot plants for the patio, balcony or office, or create a living wall or a roof garden. Go for a swim in the ocean (if nearby) or an outside pool. For our purposes here, we'll refer to this part of our brain as the Defender. The renowned neuropsychiatrist Dan Siegel once said during a training that when we get angry, we can think of the anger of a mother fish in a pond in a cave protecting her eggs from a predator 500 million years ago. We can consider the fight-flight mechanism our defensive parts employ as having the force of half a billion years of evolution behind it. It's ancient, but it is strong. The neocortex is the seat of our compassion, morality, willpower, personality, and problem-solving ability, as well as our senses of identity and connection to others. It's a little closer to a Buddha--gentle enough to appreciate the innate preciousness of all human life and connect with others, strong enough to weather stormy seas. It's like a Sage--confident enough to assert itself and its worth, genuine enough to do the right thing even when nobody's watching. It's also, evolutionarily speaking, the youngest part of the brain. In other words, the sagely neocortex is yet to develop the sheer prowess that the Defender--the limbic system--enjoys. Though, in a functional sense, these two parts of the brain are tightly integrated, I find it helpful to delineate them to describe two polar opposite types of emotional responses.

By consciously manipulating our bodies so that we can create and project a specific self-image, we limit our range of expression, restrict the natural movement of energy within our bodies and minds, and forfeit the natural ease of balance and relaxation that is our true birthright. The French word poseur describes this condition quite accurately. It refers to someone who is trying to be something other than what he or she naturally is, an imposter. Contrasted with this unnatural way of being in the body, the posture of meditation aligns our bodies and minds in the most comfortable, guileless way with the greater forces of nature that condition us. In this way we accept ourselves as we are in truth and have no need to be anything other than what we naturally are already. As we learn to let go of some of our unnatural posturings and posings and enter more comfortably into the posture of meditation, we find that what we naturally are is very wonderful indeed. We experience a comfort and relaxation that reveal ever deeper insights into our true nature. Just as the gradual, but consistent, evolution of the human species toward an ever more upright and vertical posture has been accompanied by a parallel growth and expansion in consciousness, so too do the higher states of consciousness that can be contacted through the process of meditation depend on the continued refinement of verticality and relaxed balance in the body. This preliminary act of coming to balance as the primary condition on which the inquiry of meditation can proceed is often overlooked, however. Meditation, instead, is mostly presented as a variety of different techniques or activities in which we engage our minds and on which we focus our attention. Seek out green and blue destinations and start visiting them regularly. Establish a new routine such as going for a walk after work or after dinner. Hard-wired to connect We are like islands in the sea, separate on the surface but connected in the deep. William James Elinor and I have been best friends for the best part of forty years. We met at medical school and just `clicked'. We've been housemates together, have always celebrated and commiserated our various triumphs and failures together and supported each other during challenging times. She was bridesmaid at our wedding and is godmother to our daughter. Others have sometimes mistaken us for sisters because we're alike in so many ways.

No one has taught me more about these two types of emotional responses than Emma Goldman and Henry Lee, my two cats. I challenge you to find cats more aggressively affectionate. It won't happen. Yet, I witness the strange metamorphosis they undergo every day in response to powerful and specific stimuli: even the slightest crinkling of a bag of cat treats, and they are transformed. They'll be in their natural state--pacific, purring, affection-prone. Bring out the cat treats, though, and they become los desperados. Their Defenders light up. In a flash, they're edgy, pensive, anxious. They frantically consume at lightning speeds whatever I toss them. They also begin bullying each other, competing for more. We may, for example, be instructed to sit and silently repeat a word or phrase or to visualize and merge with the image of a deity. We may be told to sit and pay attention to the passage of breath as it moves in and out of the body or to observe the ever-changing contents of our bodies and minds. We may be asked to sit and attempt to come up with an answer to an insoluble riddle or to imagine a cord of expanding white light in our spines. We may be instructed to sit and listen to the inner sounds of the body or to focus on one particular point in the body to the exclusion of all others. We may sit down and contemplate the meaning of a specific passage from a article we value, or we may simply be instructed to sit and do nothing at all. Meditation techniques are extremely varied. The Buddha enumerated approximately forty different techniques, and the Vigyan Bhairav Tantra lists 108 different forms of practice, any of which is capable of taking the practitioner to the highest stages of realization. It is entirely appropriate that there is such a diverse offering of meditation techniques as we all have different temperaments and inclinations that may make one technique a more suitable avenue of exploration for us than others. Many roads can lead to the same place, and ultimately it makes little difference which one we choose as long as it suits our temperament and abilities and allows us to reach our goal. In the end, the best technique is the one we adopt for ourselves.

Once left alone in a room we can talk and laugh together for hours, picking up from our last conversation as if it was five minutes ago. Our bond is as strong today as it's ever been, despite the fact we live on opposite sides of the world. Relationships matter, and in a world that can sometimes be cruel, violent and judgemental there's never been a greater need for more human connection. It's the strength of our interpersonal relationships that keeps us safe, healthy and happy. Wired to connect Being a member of the Homo sapiens species puts you in a pretty special group. You're capable not just of thinking but of knowing how to regulate your emotions and build a network of relationships. From an evolutionary perspective, belonging to a group meant being able to: We operate within a number of different group or tribal contexts, including family, friends and work colleagues, each with its own set of conventions and rules. While building your emotional intelligence is great, understanding more about your social brain and how it works to sustain stronger positive relationships is vital to your physical and mental wellbeing and overall happiness. And when treat time is over, they vigilantly scour the floor, just in case. think I'd get some appreciation from them, being Gatekeeper of the Treats and all. once treat time is over, should I try to pet them, they jump back away from me as if I'm a threat. they finally realize that there are no more morsels to be had, they leave the room. This used to confuse me to no end. In a flash, we go from a connected moment to a treat-induced mania, and then they turn against me. What gives? SAFETY, REWARDS, AND BELONGING At the neurological level, beings are driven by three basic things we need in order to thrive: safety, feel-good rewards, and belonging. These intrinsic, core motivations correlate with the three basic layers of the brain: brain stem, midbrain, and neocortex.