The Poetry of Psychoenergonomics

17 October 2009 at 2:06 am Leave a comment

While an undergraduate at the University of Tampa, I was assigned to read Leaping Poetry, which is subtitled An Idea with Poems and Translations chosen by Robert Bly.  The one concept that stuck with me from the book was the “lizard brain”:  for Bly, the wild, “leaping” poetry of Spanish poets like Federico Garcia Lorca, Cesar Vallejo, and Pablo Neruda manifests a kind of emotional surrealism that leaps among the three brains Bly identifies as the “lizard brain,” the “mammal brain,” and the “new brain.”  These three brains are all present in our 21st century mind and manifest the evolution of the brain from its beginnings.  When I picked up Bly’s work again, I discovered that he employs the language of energy flow in presenting this idea, and he hints at the possibility of directing energy from one part of the brain to the other, much like the concept of “psychoenergonomics” I have put forward in this blog.

According to Bly, the  lizard brain is equivalent to the limbic system, the emotional part of the brain that I call “the fear factory.”  This is the part of the brain focused on survival and “fight or flight”:  “The presence of fear produces a higher energy input to the reptile brain” (60).  Then the mammal brain evolved, wrapping itself around the limbic node; this newer brain focused on communal love and care.  “Evidently in the mammal brain there are two nodes of energy: sexual love and ferocity. (The reptile brain has no ferocity: it simply fights coldly for survival.)” (60).  The “new brain” is equivalent to the neo-cortex, the brain tissue of which “is incredibly complicated, more so than the other brains, having millions of neurons per square inch.  Bly speculates that “the parables of Christ, and the remarks of Buddha evidently  involve instructions on how to transfer energy from the reptile brain to the mammal brain, and then to the new brain. A ‘saint’ is someone who has managed to move away from the reptile and the mammal brains and is living primarily in the new brain” (62).

Bly goes on to suggest that “the three brains must be competing for all the available energy at any moment. . . Whichever brain receives the most energy, that brain will determine the tone of that personality. . . .” (62).  Spiritual growth, he continues, “depends on the ability to transfer energy.  Energy that goes normally to the reptile brain can be transferred to the mammal brain, some of it at least; energy intended  for the mammal brain can be transferred to the new brain” (64).  He suggests that meditation is a way to transfer energy from the reptile or “lower” brain center to the mammal and new or “upper” brain centers (similar to a previous post about the Dalai Lama).

The poet is one who should try to inhabit all three brains, tapping all of them in the process of writing a poem: the poet as brain-energy-manager.


Entry filed under: energonomics, neuroscience, poetry, psychoenergonomics, psychology. Tags: , , .

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