Men of a certain age love their ginseng. Ask a ginseng user, and he’ll tell you it gives him more energy. It’s like a cup of coffee without the screeching violins. A health nut will tell you that ginseng is good for the immune system, it increases your concentration, and it’s good for the heart. An old cowboy will tell you it makes his dick hard.
What makes ginseng tick?
Until recently, scientists considered Ginsenosides (ginseng saponins) to be the active ingredient in ginseng. During the past two decades, pharmacists have found another active ingredient called Gintonin, a glycolipoprotein – a protein with bonded carbohydrates and lipids, or fats.
Ginsenoside and Gintonin
Ginsenoside is Yin. It acts as a negative regulator. Gintonin is Yang. It acts as a positive regulator.
At the atomic level, Ginsenoside blocks positive-charged ions and it enhances negative charged ions. In the amazing factory of our bodies, this atomic action relaxes the excitability of nerves, it relaxes smooth muscles, and regulates heart muscles. In plain language, the Yin property of ginseng is that it soothes jangled nerves, which increases concentration. It lowers high blood pressure and regulates the heartbeat. And because it dilates the blood vessels, it makes that old cowboy one of the favorites at the dance hall.
At the atomic level, Gintonin increases the calcium ions that play a role in signal transmission along those miles of nerves. In the amazing factory of our bodies, positive calcium ions stimulate neurotransmitter release, increase muscle contraction, and stimulate fertility. In plain language, Gintonin makes the brain and nerves work better, it makes muscles stronger, and yes, that old cowboy is smiling now.
If I’m such a spiritual giant, why do I get so worked up over bullshit?
We know that love can build a beautiful world. We know that our own fear and anger can only destroy it. Let’s take a look at one theory of the brain, and how it relates to this dilemma.
Was it Karma or did my parents do it?
Neither. We did it to ourselves when we programmed our Reptile Brain. The Reptile Brain crowns the spinal column like a knob in the middle of our heads. This is the involuntary brain that keeps our hearts pumping, that keeps us breathing. It is the seat of knee-jerk responses like flight or fright. The Reptile Brain is the repository of all our basic instincts. It is programmed by what we make of our very early childhood experiences. It sends electronic impulses to other parts of the brain in response to stimulation from what is outside of us, and in response to what is going on inside of us. These impulses carry no meaning. They are just energy. The patterns we stuff into our own little Reptile Brains are set for life. What other parts of the brain make of these patterns can change.
Pink clouds and raging bulls
The energy of impulses from the reptile brain change as they travel through higher portions of our gray matter. The first area the impulses hit is the Mammal Brain, the seat of emotions. During the first year of our lives, before we develop language, the reptilian impulses register as feelings. Sucking on a nipple, whether of flesh or soft rubber, the gush of warm milk, feels good. That hot nasty thing in our diapers feels bad.
The sweet embrace of our mother, the loving cooing of our daddy feels good. When mommy abandons us to be with daddy, it feels bad. This little story is the basis of Freudian Theory. Oedipus wants his mommy and he wants to kill daddy. Electra wants daddy and she wants to kill mommy. Sweet romance.
Before we develop language, none of this has a story yet. We are programming ourselves with basic instincts, storing energy patterns into the Reptile Brain in response to their effect on our middle brain, the Mammal Brain, also called the limbic system, which scientists have discovered is located in the cerebellum. The field of human development calls this “early patterning.” We develop patterns of behavior that, in later life, will serve us well and drive us mad. Good instincts gone awry.
As we grow toward language, we learn how to exercise our will. Crying, we learn, will tear mommy from daddy’s embrace, bringing her to us to change our diapers or stuff a nipple into our mouth. Making bright eyes and gurgling sounds makes daddy coo and smile at us. We learn the power of a smile. We learn the power of a frown. We learn how to work it.
The Reptile Brain is territorial. It is the seat of the will to power. The Mammal Brain changes these primal instincts into basic instincts. These instincts are good, but they go awry. This is the basis of Country Music, The Blues, and all of their popular derivatives.
The shit hits the fan
When we develop language, the shit hits the fan. We begin to make up stories about the things that cause little electric currents to jump from the Reptile Brain into the Mammal Brain. When the language centers of the higher brain come on line, we begin to make up the story of reality. We are so convinced that our story of reality is true, that we are willing to die for it. All forms of life share this illusion.
In the Triune Brain scheme, this higher brain is called the Human Brain. The part of the Human Brain that makes up stories about reality is located in the pre-frontal cortex. To be fair to our beloved pets, they also have a pre-frontal cortex, but ours is 40% larger. This is why humans can invent complex things like politics and economics, but a dog can find a bone n a forest and be perfectly happy.
Like evolutionary theory, which has life moving from the swamp to crawling snakes to mammals on all fours and eventually an erect form, Homo Sapiens, the human brain has evolved to an erect state.
The erectile brain and the making of the new world
Before the modern world happened, the culture we were born into controlled the stories we made up about reality. People felt safe with a strong leader and a set of proscribed rituals that everybody practiced.. The theory of law came into being, and small tribes came together to form larger collective states. Like dogs, we were happy and secure when we were obedient to the laws of our culture.
Then things changed. I blame Genghis Khan. His will to power drove him to conquer much of the known world. He brought the best ideas of each culture into each new territory that his hoard swept into. Things got mixed up, and a new form of human mind evolved. Historians call it “the enlightenment.” The enlightenment brought about ideas of freedom that led to the greatest social experiment in history, The United States of America. Aamerican dieals of freemdom have spread to the rest of the world. Is that a good thing, or a bad thing? As the Zen Master.
Erectile brain dysfunction
And, so we come back to the question, “If I am such a spiritual giant, why do I get so worked up over bullshit?”
A conservative might point to a lack of discipline. A liberal might point to an over-developed sense of constraint. A politician will analyze your zip code and credit card bills and tell you “the other” is to blame. Most spiritual gurus say it’s in the stories we make up about things.
Chances are you are intelligent, you have a cultured mind, and because of this you are aware that the same bullshit pops up over and over again.
So what is it, really? It’s quite simple. Things bother us deeply when we don’t create a space between the primal instincts of the Reptile Brain, the emotional reactions of the Mammal Brain, and the stories we make up in the Human Brain. This lack of space is called “habit.”
Doing the Jerk
We cannot change the knee-jerk instincts programmed into our Reptile Brain. When we react to them without thinking, we act like a jerk. That’s where the term comes from. We jerk each other around, but in our own minds, we are innocent, meaning we can be unconscious when we truly feel “I’m innocent. You’re the jerk.” This is the wonderful thing about drugs like alcohol, cocaine, opioids. We can remain unconscious but the feel-good neurotransmitters flow, so we act with impunity and feel great – until the hangover sets in, the remorse, the self-loathing. We can make the decision to stop using drugs and alcohol, but after a year or two we realize, oh dang, the same bullshit keeps coming up over and over again. This is because we cannot change the primal instincts we stored in the Reptile Brain before we were old enough to use the Human Brain.
The only thing we can do is to become aware of the causes and conditions that live in that bump on top of our spines, how they leap into the higher parts of our brain, the stories we make up in response. We can change our habitual responses.
Space, the final frontier
In 1974, a group of neuroscientists met with a group of Tibetan monks in Boulder, Colorado. The monks asked the brain guys what they would most like to develop in their field. The reply was, “We’d like to help people take four seconds between stimulus and response.” This is the space between the Reptile Brain and the rest of it that is required to change our habits. This is the space required to become a happy person.
My mother knew that. She taught us to count to ten when we were angry. Neuroscientists got it down to four. They were smart guys. While it is true, that pausing when agitated can prevent World War III, we still have the old problem of pain, terror, and uncertainty that wells up almost daily as we have our average of 66,000 thoughts a day. If you think you’re over it, drive out to get groceries during rush hour. Fall in love. Check your bank account. The Days of Our Lives, a soap opera, has been showing weekly since 1965.
The way out is the way in
The way out is through daily practice. The brain will revert to it’s original state if we don’t tune it up on a regular basis. The practice of creating space in the brain has many names. Those who were born into or who adopted religious cultures call it prayer. Eastern cultures and the new age call it meditation. Cultures that predate the common era call it contemplation. Athletes call if focus. Atheists and agnostics sometimes think of it as self-hypnosis. By any name, it is Love. Turkish poet Yunnis Emmri wrote, “Love, you have taken me away from me.”
In a post-apocalyptic America, an old man sits with a group of people under a tree and regales them with a story.
“There was a man,” he tells them, “Called Lawrence Durrell who wrote a set of books that stirred many readers. The subject of these books was Love.” His audience drew closer. “Romantic love is a relatively new invention,” he said. “Durrell told us that the invention of romantic love made man the most vulnerable of all creatures, subject to fits of hunger which can be killed by satiety but never satisfied.” He pauses to let that sink in. “ Unlike D.H. Lawrence, who built a Taj Mahal around something so simple as a good fuck, The Royal Road to Happiness, he told us, is open to souls with a morality that does not attach meaning to that which kills joy.” And then, the old man leaned forward and spoke in a whisper, as storytellers will do. “The subtext of the books,” he said, “Was power.”
“You see, during the time of the Industrial Revolution, when natural resources like oil became very important, the powers of Europe colonized North Africa and the Middle East. In Egypt, where Durrell’s tales of Love were set, the British encountered a sticky problem. The government leaders were smart people, the Coptics, who knew how to run things.” A woman who was listening raised her eyebrows. She knew the Coptics were Christians, that they had been wiped out by Muslim evangelicals. The old man nodded, and he continued. “The Coptics knew the pitfalls of governing, so they kept the people informed. As we all know, informed people cannot be colonized and subjugated. They will not tolerate lies and manipulation. So the British knew they must soften the will of the people They came up with a very crafty plan. They replaced these smart government leaders with the Mullahs, the religious leaders who were vain men, more subject to flattery than common sense. The powers of Europe, the colonizer, whispered into the Mullahs’ ears, You must convince the people of these truths: That you, the Mullahs, are the direct representatives of God, so the people must listen to you, for you are wise beyond belief, and as a sign of the favor of God, you wear rich garments, You have dinnerware made of gold and large, rare jewels on your fingers.”
The old man sat back and looked around. Then he leaned forward and put his hands on his knees. “And so the foolish Mullahs held sway over the people, convincing them of their fears, and the people began to feast on each others’ unwholeness. Women, they said, must be kept in their place. They are inferior to men. The Mullahs, you see, were very afraid of their own mothers, who in the time of smart leaders, ran the world. The shamans and healers amongst us, the Mullahs said, are tools of the Devil. You must come to our places of healing, and buy only or medicines at great cost. It is wrong for workers to join forces and make demands of their employers, for they, like the hand of God, make it possible for you to put bread into the mouths of your families. As the foolish Mullahs installed their religious policies, cities began to fall apart. That is how the colonizers gained their power. They allowed the infrastructure to crumble. They poisoned the water. Roads fell into disarray. Bridges collapsed. And the middle east crept back into the Dark Ages.”
“70 years later, my friends, the same thing happened in a land far to the west.” The story teller waved his hand in a semi-circle. “The ruins where we now sit,” he said, “Was once a great nation called America. For 200 years, America was a land of prosperity. Then, little by little, as it was colonized by a ruthless oligarchy, it slid into darkness.”
“Years before, a great leader tried to warn them. Beware, he said, of the military-industrial complex. And for years the people listened. As we all know, an informed group of people cannot be colonized and subjugated. They will not tolerate lies and manipulation. But, the conquering horde had a plan. They softened up the people, as colonizing entities often do, by reshaping the role of women. They made them into sex object because sex sells. Love became a hunger that could be satiated but never filled. Let’s go shopping, the people said. They subverted the Arts, building a Taj Mahal around something so simple as a promise of a good fuck. Where once they were purveyors of Truth, artists became the instruments of shame and fear. They began to craft an American Dream. They subverted a medium that came into everybody’s home, called television, and filled people’s heads with inane stories that had one message: You are not good enough. You cannot possibly live up to ideals portrayed in our images unless you become wealthy, and the only way to do that is to sacrifice your lives to the ideal of work, and to keep your money in these large banks, which we will manage for you. We will give you credit cards so that you can get whatever you want at low-interest rates of only 27%. They commissioned economists who convinced the people that a golden shower trickled down upon the land.”
The old man looked around to see if they were still with him. They were. “But still, the people maintained control of their government, which regulated the would-be conquerors and held them in check. The corporate oligarchy had to be content to work behind the scenes, using lobbyists and perks and junkets to buy the favor of politicians.” His older listeners nodded. They remembered these government regulations against monopolies and for fair trade policies.
“And so the oligarchy, who were billionaires by now but could never amass enough wealth came up with a second plan. They studied the techniques of Imperial Europe. We must give power to the Mullahs, they said. Just as our forefathers sent missionaries to soften the minds of the Indians so that we could take their lands, we will send them again to take the power of government away from the people. And so, my friends, America fell into the hands of the Mullahs, the vain and foolish fundamentalist leaders. They took over school boards and changed the textbooks. The deliberate dumbing down of America opened the floodgates. They ran test cases, poisoning the wells with industrial spills and bursting pipelines, to slowly gain the power of controlling water and selling it to people in plastic bottles. When The People stood up against this heinous act in South Dakota, they passed a law to make it legal to kill protesters with a car or a truck. As this new millennium began to ripen, the Mullahs gained control. Women, they said, must be controlled. We will close down their evil clinics which sin against God. Unions, they said, were evil. Our golden shower cannot trickle down upon the people if there is a minimum wage. The power of the evil empire came to a crescendo when they took over the government. They installed an orange faced narcissist with nylon hair as the chief executive. He appointed foxes to guard the hen houses, a cabinet of oligarchs, each of whom contradicted the very truths their positions were supposed to uphold. And the people who called themselves Patriots thought that this was good. The billionaires are smart, they said, so they know how to run things. This, they felt, is the Brave new World.”
A shrill whistle pierced the silence. “You,” a policeman hollered. He pointed at the storyteller. “Get on your knees. Put your hands behind your back.” The audience scattered.