Your Brain Doesn’t Like the Unknown (But Your Soul Does)

Our first night in Portugal, we arrived in the middle of a two month stretch of rain storms - the kind where the rain falls sideways from the whipping wind. We stumbled into our rental apartment, with our oversized bags trailing relentlessly behind us. All we wanted was a hot shower, a warm bed, and a good night's sleep. But, we quickly discovered that the shower was broken. It was a cold, damp night (nothing like the land of perpetual warmth and sunshine that had made its way into our minds during the long journey) and we weren't used to apartments without heat (which is typical here).

Seemingly designed to add to our disorientation, there happened to be a full-on circus across the street from my daughter's bedroom window. Muffled circus announcers and zany music echoed through the rainy darkness until two in the morning. I tried to imagine what sort of antics were going on over there and the joke was not lost on me. At that moment, my life felt like a wild circus wrought with sleight of hand trickery.

I went to check on my daughter and she said, "Mom, you made it sound like it was going to be so great here. Will it get better?" My heart sank as I wiped the tear from her cheek. The circus announcer's voice rose to a pitch indicating great peril and I said the only thing I could say, "Yes, it will get better." The truth was, the jet-lag was getting the best of me and I too, felt quite uncertain about moving two teenage daughters across the ocean. Then, I entered my other daughter’s room, and was greeted with equal trepidation, “Mom, we don’t speak Portuguese. We’ll never fit in here.” I took a deep breath and tried to reassure her. But that one hit me even harder.

I closed her door and headed to my room. As I laid in the cold darkness, I did my best to find some kind of inner anchor. All my mind could come up with was the Talking Heads song, Once in a Lifetime: You may ask yourself, where does that highway go to? And you may ask yourself, am I right? Am I wrong? And you may say to yourself, “My God, what have I done?"

Trust would be so much easier if we could see the bigger picture while in the midst of those dark, scary moments. If I had known that a year and a half later, my daughters would indeed feel at home in Portugal, with lots of friends and a mecca of music festivals to attend, maybe I would have slept better that first night. And maybe I would have skated through the tense moments of not knowing what the hell we were doing at the swarming rush-hour roundabout or through the endless, cryptic labyrinth of protocol at the foreigner’s office.

But then again, I suppose that would defy the definition of trust. Why is it so difficult to trust in the midst of the unknown? It's because most of the time, we are operating from our lower mind (ego) and not from our higher mind (soul).

Our ego mind sees itself as separate. It believes it is in charge and can only function based on what it knows already. In other words, it operates like a closed circuit. It’s also comparative based – it exists only in comparison to things outside itself, like a whale using sonar to determine its location. It prefers to keep us in the realm of the “known” even if it’s not truly what we want. Our higher mind (soul) sees itself as connected to a unified field of consciousness, like a type of open circuit. When we are operating from our higher mind, we are able to embrace what is happening in the moment from a place of allowing and receptivity to potential and possibility. Our higher mind knows that creativity happens in the unknown, and that in our true essence, we are powerful co-creators.

Here's the tricky part: when we take action toward living a soul-based life, our brain goes a little haywire. In his Psychology Today article, David Rock (author of Your Brain at Work) explains that we prefer the certainty of focusing on problems and finding answers in data from the past, rather than risking the uncertainty of new, creative solutions. To the brain, uncertainty feels like a threat to your life.

I found that shifting from the lower mind to the higher mind is a daily practice. Understanding the power of subconscious beliefs helps tremendously. In Caroline Myss’ book “Entering the Castle,” she illuminates our common human need for safety and control, and offers a contemplative pathway for moving beyond the constraints these place on a soul driven life. If we can begin to see where we are gripping based on our need to feel safe and in control, we can then begin to make conscious choices toward what we really want – without firing off the alarm bells in our brains.

It helps to know that we’re wired to see the negative. From humanity’s earliest beginnings, being aware of and avoiding danger has been a critical survival skill. The problem is we’ve gotten a bit stuck there. As we collectively move from ego-dominant beings to soul-dominant beings, we must bring our brains along for the ride.

Here are some phrases you can use to retrain your brain. (Try saying them out loud - it’s a powerful tool for building new neural pathways).

Dear wonderful brain,

Inform me of beauty and of all the things that are going well in my life.

Inform me that I am fluid, that everything can change in an instant, and that I am an integral and deeply loved part of creation now and now and now.

Show me that there is unknown all around me, and how safe and protected I am within that.

Show me evidence that miracles are real in and around me.

Inform me of a higher reality manifesting and moving into this realm in wonderful ways.

Notice how safe and peaceful and secure it is here.

Trust isn’t easy. But, with a little help, we can grow into our capacity to be certain in the face of uncertainty and to connect to something greater that is unchanging in the midst of change.