Would you like to grow your brain—learn how to use more of your brain? What if you could go from using 15% to 20%? Imagine the changes that would occur. The 2014 movie “Lucy,” explores this subject by dramatizing what happens when the main character gains access to 100% of her brain. Essentially, she expands into a state of universal consciousness.
But that’s science fiction and it’s a myth that we only use 10-15% of our brainpower. The myth is attributed to a comment made by William James in the late 19th century. But he never said that we only use 10% of our brains, he said, “the average person rarely achieves but a small portion of his or her potential.”
Most of us use the vast majority of our brains; we just don’t use them well. As I have written about in previous articles, no one ever taught us how to make meaning, they just told us what things mean. The same holds true for how we use our brains; most of us weren’t taught how to think, we were told what facts and figures to remember, the processes to add, subtract and multiply, and what labels to use for categorizing events in our lives.
In this article I explore how to better use our brains.
The Mental Planes
There is an esoteric idea that we operate on various planes. Two of these are mental planes—lower mental and upper mental. The word “plane” is meant to indicate a range of consciousness. Lower mental involves less consciousness than upper mental.
When I function in the lower mental state I am seeking to create security and safety. I rely on rules and routines. I assess things as being right or wrong, good or bad. I compare one thing to another based on what I already know. I evaluate something so that I can define, label and categorize it. Many of my definitions were formed when I was young so many of my ideas are now outdated—even my ideas about who I am.
In the lower mental plane my Identity is fixed and anything that challenges it, I perceive as threatening.
Much of psychotherapy involves listening to people share their lower mental states. Sometimes, in these situations therapists challenge the client’s self-imposed rules. Other times, therapists validate the client’s experience to such a degree that they unintentionally reinforce the client’s unhelpful rules and definitions.
I recently worked with a new client who said, “I know I can ’t love my partner because I haven’t learned how to love myself.” I asked, “Where did you get that idea?” He said, “My long-time therapist and my psychiatrist both told me this is at the crux of my problem.”
I knew this man was passionate about animals and I asked him, “Have you ever loved a dog or a cat?” He immediately responded with a congruent, “Yes.”
I suggested this as proof that he can love another whether or not he loves himself. I then went on to say, “If you love your partner really well do you think you will be more likely to end up loving yourself?”
By challenging his assumption that he can’t love another until he loves himself, I was challenging one of his rules—handed to him by his therapist. I was also inviting him to an upper mental state when I asked him, “If you love your partner really well do you think you will be more likely to end up loving yourself?” Let’s explore why this question is an invitation to the upper mental state.
When I’m in the upper mental state my consciousness expands and I am more relaxed. I don’t just think in an instinctual or habitual way, I can also think about how I think. I am able to ask questions about why I think the way I do and how might I think in a different way.
I observe the person I refer to as “me,”—witnessing myself—and in so doing I create more space between any stimulus and my response. I begin to notice my habitual patterns of response. When I identify some of my responses are unconscious, they are no longer unconscious.
With greater consciousness I can decide if my rules make sense, do they serve me or do they limit me? I can create new rules.
Instead of losing myself in my stories, which I often create at the lower mental level, I can see myself as the storyteller. The result is that I become less attached to my own stories and I can create new stories that allow more room for uncertainty and paradox, both of which are expressions of the upper mental state.
When I recognize myself as the storyteller, instead of the story, I become aware that language is one of my primary tools and by changing my language I can alter the meaning of events in my life.
Language can open the upper mental state
Lower mental and upper mental states can easily be detected by listening to how people speak. Lower mental is reflected in speech characterized by the rigidity of “right/wrong” and “either/or” expressions. Upper mental is characterized by flexibility, respect for diversity, and “both/and” expressions.
Say to yourself, “I can love you or I can take care of myself.” Notice how you feel. Now say, “I can love you and I can take of myself.” Notice the difference. This change in language creates a completely new possibility.
Perception Language stimulates upper mental states better than ordinary language because it embraces uncertainty and minimizes simplistic judgments in which we reduce things or people to being good or bad, right or wrong.
Perception Language focuses on what is happening now, in the present moment. When we focus on what’s happening in this moment we become aware of the temporary nature of everything—because we notice that each moment is short lived. This further allows our consciousness to expand—when we don’t resist—as we shift from needing certainty, to being present.
When I am present and living according to my values, I need not be overly concerned about tomorrow. Thich Nhat Hanh said, “If the present moment has peace and joy and happiness . . . then the future will have (this) also.” The way I would say this is, “If I learn how to be in the moment, in joy, as long as I have access to my upper mental plane I will be able to recreate this state.
We suffer from problems that don’t exist
When I am in the lower mental plane and I think about my challenges, I will perceive there to be problems all the time, and I will limit my solutions. As soon as I shift to the upper mental I will notice that many of my problems are not actually problems, and for the ones that remain I will recognize new solutions.
I cannot live solely in the upper mental plane. I need to live in both the upper and lower mental planes. The key is to be able to shift fluidly from lower mental to upper mental. It’s like a dance and I help myself when I can answer two questions:
- Which state am I in at the moment?
- How do I shift from the lower to the upper?
One of the ways to become aware of what state I am operating from is to notice how I frame things. Am I using “either/or” frames or am I using “both/and” frames?
I also help myself when I notice my physiology. Am I feeling defended, tense and reactive? Because that’s a sign that I’m in the lower mental plane. When I am more relaxed, open and non-reactive I’m in an upper mental plane.
The shift from lower mental to upper mental can be done in several ways. The simplest is to ask the question, “Am I in lower mental or upper mental right now?” This is a question about how I am thinking, so it comes from the upper mental.
But sometimes the most effective way to shift from lower mental to upper mental is not to be mental. In other words, the answer is to get out of my mind—my mental chatter and recursive loops. In Live Conscious we use Sensory Awareness for this very purpose and more recently we are introducing participants in our retreats to breathing techniques. A previous article provides a brief description. (To learn more about this I encourage you to look into Somato Respiratory Integration, developed by Donald Epstein, the founder of Network Spinal Analysis).
Finally, if you practice Perception Language, you will naturally stimulate your upper mental plane. It’s a practice that’s available to you all the time and requires you to think about how you are thinking—how you are making meaning. The very act of doing this will allow you to use your brain more effectively—to grow your brain. Who knows, do this enough and you may expand into a state of universal consciousness, like Lucy.