Homeostasis: The impact of our internal state on the environment
Posted on May 23, 2014
We discussed last week that homeostasis is a constant process of matching our internal mental and physical states with the environment, in an attempt to create equilibrium. I was reflecting on homeostasis this week and I started to consider homeostasis’ role in creating the caring and compassionate society that is needed to end the abuse and pain experienced by the members of the society. As I sat on my porch looking off into the forested mountains in which I live, I struggled to understand how people living on such a beautiful planet can treat each other, and the earth, so badly.
What is it inside of us (our internal state) that creates environments where interpersonal trauma, war, and inequality are so prevalent? Societies are a meta-reflections of the internal states of its members as they create environments that come into equilibrium with this collective mental and psychological functioning. Once this environment is created, the environment and those that created it get locked in self-reinforcing patterns that drive the creations of policies and structures to maintain that environment, even in the face of great evidence that those structure are not working (i.e. War on Drugs, War on Poverty, or pretty much any “War”).
What hit me in the contemplation is that with all the possibilities and opportunities we have, we seem stuck in our social evolution, and it is those without power that are suffering while waiting for us to take the next collective step. With developments in neurobiology, genetics, psychology, and other fields, we have a whole new understanding of ourselves as human beings. This knowledge dramatically shows us flaws in our philosophies that drive our social service, healthcare, criminal justice, and environmental policies. We didn’t create many of these philosophies, but inherited them from times in our history where we didn’t have science to guide our thinking.
Our history is filled with faulty thinking (world is flat or Earth is the center of the universe), and this history shows us that we are slow to give up outdated thinking, even when there is a mountain of logic showing us we are wrong. So instead of rethinking such concepts as free will or our addiction to fossil fuels, that are so central to our self-concepts, we continue down hurtful and dangerous roads as fast as possible in order to not look at the destruction and pain that we are creating. This knowledge is difficult because it challenges our homeostasis and challenges us to be more than we are today. We have the capacity to be logical and compassionate people who understand we are citizens of a larger human community and caretakers of a fragile earth – the question is, do we have the courage to realize this potential?
The chaos and pain in our world is a result of the uncertainty and fear that lies within each of us. We are not only stuck in old logic models. We are also operating in ancient biological systems created for surviving physical threats, and incapable of looking into the future or reflecting on the consequences of our actions. These ancient systems can easily justify using existing power and resources to gain more power and resources, while punishing those that are not lucky enough to have power in their own situation or lives. So we are left with overcrowded prisons, homeless shelters who have to turn people away, and a level of poverty that should be unfathomable in the world’s richest country.
I only say we are stuck because we know there is a next step in our evolution. Most of us have a level of safety and stability that enables us to shift our energy and information from these ancient systems to a higher, more modern biological system that is rational and compassionate. At this moment in history, we have the science to see that we are stuck, and, thanks to millennia of trial and error, also have practices to strengthen our modern prefrontal cortex and related systems.
In others words, we have the science and practices to create a truly mindful society. It starts with each member of that society understanding that their internal state has a meaningful impact on the environment and on those who inhabit that environment. Being able to identify and manage the ancient systems would quiet the fight response that dominates much of our political and cultural systems.
Imagine the society that realizes this truth first. Shifting from the ancient fear-based system and unleashing the collective prefrontal cortex would bring forth a tidal wave of innovation, leading to improvements in every aspect of the society. We would immediately see a huge opportunity to build a new societal foundation based on modern logic that could be utilized to address our outdated systems and build new ones that actually solve the problems, instead of just managing them or passing them to the next generation. Just think of the current state of our government against Daniel Siegel’s characteristics of prefrontal cortex functioning: flexible, adaptive, coherent, energized and stable. Instead of creating a government and policies that are founded in logic and compassion, we continue to yell and hold on to outdated logic. This threatens the future of any society, as it continues to support practices that bring pain and hardship into people’s lives throughout the economic and social spectrum.
If this revolution is ever to take hold, it starts within each of us. As healers in our modern society, we hold this new logic and have the responsibility to implement this knowledge in our own lives, as well in our communities. Is there a time today that you can just breathe, if only for a few moments? Can you shut off your computer and phone and just be with yourself for an instant to see if your internal state is in line with the energy you want to give the environment around you? If we are the ones that bring the message of hope and healing to our communities, we must make sure that we have an internal state that allows this message to be felt as well as heard.
Today ask yourself: What is my internal state, and how does this state impact my work with clients and the role I play in my community and family? Love to hear your insights in the comment section!