So now we have looked at how each band of frequencies can affect what we do and how well. We’ve seen that fast and slow processing speeds and middle awareness frequencies each do certain things well and others not so well. Ideally, we understand that the brain has the ability to shift up and down the range, rest in the middle states and do all things at least fairly well.
Today we are going to talk about something other than the ideal, a situation in which many of us find ourselves. Being dominated by a particular frequency can have its benefits. Perhaps you know an excellent engineer or accountant who takes full advantage of a dominance of fast frequencies in her brain’s habit patterns. Many therapists or artists have brains more dominated by slow patterns which tilt them toward intuitive or creative strengths. It’s likely however, that you recognize that you wouldn’t go to the engineer for understanding and guidance in personal issues or to write a nice birthday poem for a spouse, and few of us would want to be the first person to drive a truck across a bridge designed by a creative/intuitive engineer. It would probably look very cool, but you might have some doubts over how well the load-bearing stresses had been calculated.
Perhaps you know someone who everyone describes as very “zen”—not upset by much. That person may be ideal at dealing with stressful situations, but you might find that his level of motivation to get things started and finished is frustrating. Buddhist monks train themselves to strong middle states, but they don’t usually get married, have kids, work 40 or 50 or 60 hour-a-week jobs.
How we get stuck
As we’ve discussed earlier, brains—like any complex chaotic systems made up of billions of interactive parts—tend to develop stable activation patterns. Beginning quite early, your brain finds a strategy for dealing with the life it experiences—something that “works”—and begins to use that pattern for understanding new experiences and for dealing with the challenges of daily life. There is solid evidence that this begins in the womb and is highly dependent on early experience. That is not to say that there are not layers built on our early foundations, but it is fairly rare that upper layers diverge completely. This is partly because, as we have said earlier, what we experience and how we experience it are often controlled by the patterns already existing in the brain. We create our reality. But how does that translate into energy levels and activation patterns?
Fast Dominant: This is the pattern of a highly excited, sensitized brain, a brain that does not rest. When a very young brain experiences anxiety or fear in the blood chemistry it shares with its mother, its activation levels tend to match them. Born into an environment that is experienced as fearful—with or without “objective” reasons for that feeling—the child’s brain is likely to learn vigilance, always keeping an eye out for danger. If there is a failure in the nurturing experience, or active abuse experienced, that can turn to hypervigilance. In short the brain is always looking for danger, and we find what we look for. Over time this type of brain exhausts itself, maintains a nearly constant state of “fight-or-flight”, and blocks itself off from emotional life and often from memories.
Slow Dominant: This pattern is often related to weak brain metabolism—an out-of-shape brain. It is common to find a history of “blue baby”, long delivery periods, etc. that give the emerging brain the message that it can’t count on having oxygenated blood flow with which to operate. I often find a history in such brains of early commitment to image-based experience at the expense of language processing—television and video-games rather than reading. Most brains start slow and speed up as they mature. Use of language is one of the most powerful “exercises” to aid in increasing capacity to produce faster speeds. A brain whose experience is dominated by image processing tends to prefer image-based experience and may not speed up, resulting in an internal, dreamy view of life. Very early traumatic experience can also result in “dissociation”—a blocking off of painful or frightening experience—into very slow theta or delta frequencies.
Middle dominant: When early experience is strongly based in nurturing and positive feedback, there is often a clearer development of a Center and greater access to the middle frequencies. Ideally this results in access to the “resting-ready” state rather than a brain “stuck” in alpha. However, as with other speeds, a dominance of (especially slower) middle speeds can also develop for other reasons. In patterns such as fibromyalgia, it is not uncommon to see the use of these frequencies as a kind of “anesthetic” to block emotional pain. A person who appears very stressed and driven doesn’t seem to notice it and seems remote. Chronic users of marijuana and some other drugs frequently show an unmotivated and disconnected approach to their lives also related to slow alpha. In such cases, one of the indications is that the alpha frequency doesn’t block when the eyes are open. Head injuries that kill neurons without breaking their connections can also show this pattern of dominant alpha with eyes closed or open, and even at task. The affected area does not seem to be able to shift into working speeds.