By Michael Bennie
Daydreaming of cave men birthed my most refreshing aha in recent history. Picturing them huddled around the fire, clubs in hand has eased my angst over the angst I feel when anything bad happens, when my lizard brain screams, “NOOOOOOOO!!!!” Before my caveman vision, I used to think something was wrong with me when I’d forget a stack of 94½ goodish feedback forms and remember the one gripe. Or when I’d miss a sunset right before my eyes, too busy replaying an eye-roll that’d irked me earlier. Or when I’d fixate on a hurting part of me and ignore all that was pain-free. I used to brood over my negativity bias, like I was defective, broken.
But the cavemen have helped me see where this came from, and why. Two of them, to be exact—call them Ug and Ah. Daydream with me…
Ah sits alone by the fire, watching the flames, listening to the crackle of the wood that cooked his dinner, enjoying the night. All of a sudden, from the bushes comes a sound of leaves shaking. “What that?” wonders Ah, who turns an ear toward the rustle he heard. His fingers extend, ready to reach for his club. Then he takes a deep, calm breath, belches, leans back toward the fire, and thinks, “Just bird.” Right then, the saber-toothed tiger leaps from the bush and makes Ah her dinner.
Somewhere not too far from Ah, Ug crouches by his fire, stomach full, enjoying the night. From the bushes, he hears a rustle. Fear and rage course through his veins. Ug grabs his club, leaps to his feet, swings with an enraged “YAWP!!” at the brush, imagining it smacking the saber-toothed tiger fatally between the eyes. Instead, the only sound is the whoosh of leaves and the flutter of the offending sparrow as it flies to safety. Ug looks around, embarrassed, but alive.
Now, for the quiz. Which caveman is more likely to be my googily-great-grandpa? The chill, enlightened, mindfulness master we called Ah? Or the hair-triggered, reactive, club-swinger Ug? Which one survives to pass on his genes and temperament to me—and to you?
Survival. We have our Ug-ish ancestors to thank for it. Our fearfulness got us this far, and for that, we can be grateful. We can love the lizard brain that has thus far kept us this side of the lawn.
We can even say thanks. “Thank you, Lizard Brain, for keeping us alive all these millennia. Thank you, strong forbears, for swinging clubs at nothing often enough to keep us in the gene pool.”
And, we can continue, “So Lizard Brain, you’ve worked all these years keeping me safe—both when I needed it and when I did not. But right now, rest, dear inner Ug. It’s about time I gave you a little more time off.
“Right now, I am safe. So I give myself less to survival, and more to life.”