As you the reader may be aware, my knowledge of the three levels of mind comes from my healing journey through Janovian Primal Therapy. Arthur Janov used to say that the therapy he developed to work with the human brain was actually evolution in reverse.
The therapy starts with a discussion about what is happening in the present and this process takes place within the prefrontal cortex. This brain area is the most recent one to evolve. After establishing context in the present through thinking and voice, the patient is encouraged to let the underlying feeling come through. Science tells us that feelings arise in the limbic system, and in evolutionary terms is older than the prefrontal cortex. When the feeling comes through talking becomes more difficult and the therapist remains quiet so as not to disturb the patient. Any talking will mean the patient will need to close down feelings to enable the thinking process to dominate.
Science does not fully understand the three levels of consciousness but it does know that thinking and feeling involve two different areas in the brain, and when one is active the other quiets down.
In therapy it may take many months exploring and dealing with traumatic feelings, and during this time the person becomes aware that his way of thinking and acting in this world is really dominated by the underlying feelings. The next step is to enter the brainstem sensation, and rather than being a conscious decision, the sensations tend to arise when the deepest of feelings are being explored. At this stage sliding into the sensation is also sliding way beyond where science is currently at. They are still exploring the gateway between thinking and feeling, not aware of the lower gateway between feeling and sensation.
Jaak Panksepp was a scientist who did some ground-breaking work in this area. He says “The PAG (peri-aqueductal grey) is the most ancient , and most highly concentrated, emotional convergence zone within the brain. The PAG is much more important for the generation of raw emotional feelings than the amygdala. The amygdala is the cognition-emotion interface.” (what I referred to as the thinking- feeling interface above). From what Panksepp describes and my experiences in therapy, I would assume that the PAG is the gateway between feeling and sensation. The PAG happens to be situated between the limbic system and brainstem, so it is in the right location.
The brainstem was one of the first areas to evolve, so millions of years ago we survived by sensation alone. In fact when I attain this state of mind during therapy, feeling, and most certainly the ability to think and form words, shuts down. I know without doubt that accessing the brainstem sensation and dealing with imprinted trauma at this level in the brain was the reason I became emotionally and physically healthy. It is difficult to bring this knowledge back into the (mostly false) reality that humans now live in, because it is a profound personal experience that simply cannot be shared.
But I would like to point out that it makes sense in evolutionary terms. To survive in a harsh environment our organism must have needed to develop survival and healing mechanisms from the very beginning. This means ‘sensing’ a safe environment and developing an immune system to deal with all the virus’ and bacteria that would have destroyed us.
Psychiatry uses psycho-active drugs, psychology uses a vast array of cognitive methods, and medical doctors have an armoury of pills to alter symptoms of disease. None of these methods treat the underlying cause which is a wrongly programmed brainstem. ( the Adverse Childhood Experiences research is heading in the right direction).
There are also dozens and dozens of different psychotherapies evolving to address the ‘sicknesses’ of humanity, but as far as I can tell Arthur Janov’s Primal Therapy is the only one that fully understands the three levels of mind, and knows how to take a person from cognition to feeling via the amygdala gateway, and then continue from feeling to sensation via the PAG gateway.
If we want to heal emotionally and physically in the present then we need to understand the three levels of mind in evolution, and work with that and not simply ignore it as something we no longer need.