Last year, I was smitten with Jeffrey Martin’s research on how to strengthen an inner capacity for fundamental well-being. I love that he interviewed many people and created a program which promises a high likelihood that you too can cultivate a permanent sense of fundamental well-being.
In the context of climate change and climate collapse, attention to our well-being is more important than ever. I believe that because of meeting mindfulness and neuroscience-oriented therapist Judy Zehr.  She taught me a lot about stress and conflict and many of her lessons went into the book we co-authored a few years ago called Hold On To Yourself – How to Stay Cool in Hot Conversations. 
What I learned from Judy is that when we are stressed, we think more rigidly and more judgmentally. We are more prone to “other” the other and want to either fight, flight, freeze or submit. These are not our higher natures. And, the bad news is, we all can switch into this lesser part of us, and in a nano-second.
When the pesky little amygdala in our brain is triggered, we can blurt out things we would not usually say, certainly not to someone we love. Our physiology jumps out of balance and we act in ways that are not reflective of our more compassionate states – me included. I can have all the conflict resolution training in the world (and believe me, I have a lot of it!) and still, if someone says something that trips up my social brain, my heart starts racing and fear or anger or hurt rise before I can cognitively do anything about it. I can be in the grip of my emotions through an amygdala hijack!
We are mammals and all mammal brains feel emotions. We do have more pre-frontal cortex than most other mammals, that part of the brain which allows us to think and to reason, but it is not always on line!
It helps me tremendously to know this. It enables me to realize that I need to, time and again, bring myself compassion for my own emotional reactions.  I also know that when I am in those states, I am thinking differently than when I am calm.
Most recently, a dear conflict colleague and I were in a conflict. He thought I wasn’t giving him enough of my time; I thought I didn’t have more time to give. Pretty soon, my palms were sweating and I was going into fear. Does he hate me? He’s so angry with me. I don’t want to see him!  Then he texted me – telling me he was seeing me as the “other.”  We know the language! We know the drill!
Luckily, having knowledge and skills available from the pre-frontal cortex (our thinking brains) can help. He suggested we move from texting to audio messaging, so we could hear each other’s tone of voice. Studies have shown that we read into texts our own tone of voice, and since tone of voice is almost 50% of communication, it can be a big barrier.

That was our break-through! No, we weren’t conflicted over what might be the big issues. This wasn’t about land use, or who might get the last piece of food as our food supplies dry up or a racial injustice. The stakes were low – we’ve been friends for decades and have worked through other tensions in our past.
But when I was in the grips, it was very real for me.
What happened next, speaks to the importance of fundamental well-being and how it is interwoven with our relationships.  When my colleague friend and I switched to an audio environment, and I heard his voice and he heard mine, I started to calm down.
I shared that sometimes when he becomes irritated, I feel afraid. He messaged back an audio message and told me he knows I’d said that before but he’d not really felt it so deeply before. He apologized and I could feel my whole body relaxing. It also helped me own my part of pulling away, which had fueled his own emotions in the first place.

I know the link between stress, fear and the tendency to be closed down and want to separate and “other” the other. Stress and fear erodes our capacity to be open, communicative and collaborative. My conflict colleague knows this as well. I was so happy that we found a way to share our care for each other and the impacts of our behaviours on each other in a kind way.  We are back to laughing and messaging away, knowing that we will find the right balance of time in our relationship. 
And, I feel completely different than I did days ago, when I felt afraid. Now I can feel my heart open again, and an optimism about our relationship part of it.
So, becoming aware of our brain states and how to move them back to stasis is a practice that we need not just for our own health and well-being, but for the health and well-being of those we love and for the planet herself.
Let’s keep re-calibrating ourselves to love and well-being and then come back to our relationships. It’s the best way forward.
“War hysteria and dark nationalism deactivates the mass prefrontal cortex (the rational brain) and activates the amygdala (the fear centers). They are the key tools for dark democracy…The key arsenal of dark democracy is developing hatred and enmity towards the neighboring countries. Politicians do this just to block the prefrontal cortex or the wisdom brain of the masses and to activate the amygdala, the fear centers of the brain of the masses.” Amit Ray, Nuclear Weapons Free World Peace on the Earth