On Opening the Olympics & Taming Our Reptilian Brains

We humans are a curious lot.  Some days, we drive one another crazy; others, we touch one another with our beauty, generosity and courage.  Some occasions it’s a mix of the two. 

On Friday, I was moved by much of the Olympic opening ceremony, especially the big picture of nations of the world, diverse peoples, cultures, religions, costumes gathering to do something that enhances our wonder and appreciation of excellence and hard work, something we call games.  It was beautiful to see the peoples of the world getting together not to make war but to make sport happen, following on years of demanding preparation, training and discipline that are all part of being an athlete.  Beauty was present at the assembly in Tokyo.

Amidst all the conflict in the world, it was a bit of a respite to meditate on some of the better expressions of our species.  And by definition (my definition anyway), it was also a rebuke of the dominance of the reptilian brain. 

Ana Ivanovic in the process of serving. This picture was featured on the front page of her website. Photo by Zoë Reeve on Unsplash.

The “I win, you lose” consciousness of the reptilian brain is currently running naked and unbridled in much of the politics and authoritarian attractions of our time including war and preparations for war. 

We find it in the media and the social media, so it is literally “in the air.”  It is a sign of our times.  The reptilian brain lies behind the history of slavery, empire building, the genocide of indigenous peoples and the way we are currently treating mother earth and all her amazing creatures.  It is out of control.  And it lies at the heart of the false masculine, the sick masculine, the toxic masculine and therefore of patriarchy.

We can choose to tame the reptilian brain rather than be run by it.  I recognize three ways to do that:  First is meditation.  Reptiles are not good at bonding but are very good at solitude.  Being still and alone tames the reptilian brain therefore.  Art and creativity also steer the reptilian brain to positive directions.  And thirdly, sport. 

Women’s track team preparing for a race. Photo by Matt Lee on Unsplash.

Sport actually plays with the reptilian brain—it creates boundaries, time limits, rules and referees and then says: “Go for it.  Let your reptilian brain work hard to win”—and fans share wildly in the excitement of my team winning and yours losing.  And, when the final whistle blows, it’s over.  There’s a winner and a loser until next time. 

There is genius in humans coming up with sport as a means to play with the reptilian brain.  The Olympics are part of that genius.

Yesterday also, there was an article on the internet about a scientific finding that “humans are hardwired to cooperate” and that selfishness and the drive for supremacy are recent additions to our nature.  That the so-called “selfish gene” of Richard Dawkins and others are more projections by unexamined souls and by patriarchy than they are built into our humanity by evolution.  “The assumption that pre-historic life was a desperate struggle for survival—is false.”  Check it out!

See: https://scroll.in/article/971633/humans-are-hardwired-to-cooperate-traits-like-selfishness-and-supremacy-are-recent-ones

On sports as spiritual experience, see Matthew Fox, Confessions: The Making of a Post-denominational Priest, pp. 19f., 26f., 49-52, 60.  A

nd Matthew Fox, Whee!  We, wee, All the Way Home: A Guide to a Sensual, Prophetic Spirituality, pp. 43-49.

Banner Image: The famous Olympic Rings. Photo by Bryan Turner on Unsplash

Queries for Contemplation

How does this meditation connect to the thinking of Howard Thurman and other mystics we are considering?  And to your own experience?

Recommended Reading

Whee! We, Wee All the Way Home: A Guide to Sensual Prophetic Spirituality

Years ahead of its time when first published in 1976, this book is still bold and relevant today. Perfect for anyone who thinks mysticism needs to get out of the head and into the body. Matthew Fox begins the Preface to this book by stating, “This is a practical book about waking up and returning to a biblical, justice-oriented spirituality. Such a spirituality is a way of passion that leads to compassion. Such a way is necessarily one of coming to our senses in every meaning of that phrase.” One of Matthew Fox’s earliest books, this title explores the importance of ecstasy in the spiritual life. Fox considers the distinction between “natural” ecstasies (including nature, sex, friendship, music, art) and “tactical” ecstasies (like meditation, fasting, chanting); he goes on to consider that a truly authentic mysticism must be sensuous in its orientation, so to cultivate the maximum amount of ecstasy for the maximum amount of people.

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8 thoughts on “On Opening the Olympics & Taming Our Reptilian Brains”

  1. Avatar
    Julett M Broadnax

    Recently, I felt overwhelmed emotionally and sought out a counselor to help me make a plan to restore my mental and emotional health. The steps I took are similar to what you stated above. Removing negative input and replacing it with positive input immediately seemed freeing and energizing. Then seeking healthy companions gave me the support and encouragement I need, as well as feedback on my plan that gave me the most bucks for the bang was a plus. I signed up for a grieving workshop, as well as gathered information on finding prayer companions for regular praying together. I am now pursuing a needlework group to have projects to complete to also help me see progress in action. I am also enjoying a creative writing course, for the purpose of writing my memoirs as a further source of healing from past wounds. I am enjoying studying Laudate Si to become more aware of how I can contribute to caring for Mother Earth. Each day is a joy that reminds me of all the gifts and blessings in my life. God is still holding me in her hand and nurturing me in ways that help me carry out the original plan she had for me to be a flower in her garden, though sometimes I may feel like a blooming digit, which helps me tame my ego in true humility.

  2. Avatar

    Pre-historic life was not an endless and desperate struggle for survival- not if the hunters and gatherers studied by anthropologists are anything to go by. They enjoyed 21-24 hour work weeks and devoted their spare time to ritual, art and story-telling. It’s we who are the desperate ones

  3. Avatar
    Jeanette Metler

    What I see common within the mystics, due to the spirituality that led them to examine their own souls through spiritual practices… was a progressive movement from a perspective of the human experience being solely based on survival, rooted in the fear of lack and not enough… to the revelation of love, abundance and more than enough. What I see is a kind of remembering… awakened… often forgotten… of the real meaning and purpose of our existence… which is so much more than the survival of the fittest at any cost. It seems to me that the mystical path is more revolutionary, than evolutionary… more of an unfolding process of learning to nurture, cultivate and tend to that inherent goodness, founded on remembering our true origins, rooted not in fear, lack and not enough… but rather in love, abundance and more than enough. Even today, this is a revolutionary vision… often rejected and denied… which results in the death and destruction of the existence of that inherent goodness within the all and the everything of creation. Awakening and remembering this revolutionary vision… that desires our acceptance and response can shift our movements into selfless giving… from that indwelling source of infinite love, and the abundance of this, which is more than enough… which leads to new life and the creation of a new reality of the true meaning and purpose of our existence in relationship with that inherent goodness within ourselves and the all and the everything of creation. The invitation to participate in this revolutionary vision is offered to each one of us all.. and part of this is the life long journey of examining our souls, and what lies there within our own hearts and minds and the choices we make daily. Each moment we either choose fear or love, lack or abundance, not enough or more than enough… we choose either to reject and deny or accept and respond. An examined soul learns to choose wisely, accessing the wisdom of this revolutionary vision and in doing so remembers and awakens to one’s true origins and one’s true meaning and purpose and the inherent goodness of this… already there within oneself… which is now being nurtured, tended to and cared for… not only within oneself, but also within others and the all and the everything of creation.

    1. Richard Reich-Kuykendall
      Richard Reich-Kuykendall

      Jeanette, thank you again for your thoughtful comment. I especially liked how you ended your comment: “An examined soul learns to choose wisely, accessing the wisdom of this revolutionary vision and in doing so remembers and awakens to one’s true origins and one’s true meaning and purpose and the inherent goodness of this…”

    2. Richard Reich-Kuykendall
      Richard Reich-Kuykendall

      Jeanette, yes, mystics examine themselves through spiritual practices that move from survival to a revelation of love and abundance. And it is true as you say, “The invitation to participate in this revolutionary vision is offered to each one of us all.. and part of this is the life long journey of examining our souls…” Thank you again for your comment.

  4. Avatar

    It seems to me that we find what we are seeking. Studies can be steered by biases and assumptions, and it is good to find those that are positive, for a change. “Thank God for Evolution” by Michael Dowd from a few years ago also makes similar points about the development of the human brain.

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