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  • Mark Brafield

Let's get things in perspective

I have just been reading Ruby Wax's excellent book on mindfulness 'How to be Human - The Manual' (Penguin, Random House, 2018) and I recommend it very highly.

The book is written jointly with Gelong Thubten, a Buddhist monk, and Ash Ranpura, a neuroscientist, and it sets out so clearly much of the theoretical basis on which my work is based.

Her thesis, simply, is that as human beings, we think we are the rational pinnacle of evolution, but in fact we are largely running very primitive software, designed to keep us alive on the savannah, rather than facing the rather different challenges of modern-day life, and it is that clash of cultures that so often causes us so much anxiety.

Her first chapter deals with evolution and includes some mind-boggling statistics.

Scientists have traced our development back to the most primitive life-forms, appearing on earth around 100 million years ago. By the time of the dinosaurs, around 70 million years ago, 'we' were scampering around looking something like today's hamsters. Homo sapiens as we now recognise him only came into being around 200,000 years ago.

Just to put that in perspective, if that primitive life form appeared at one minute past midnight on New Year's Day, Homo sapiens with his oh-so-clever brain only appeared on the scene at about 7.00am the following New Year's Eve.

And as if that wasn't enough, she reminds us that we share 98% of our DNA with the great apes, 90% of our DNA with mice, and 25% of our DNA with the humble banana.

That means there is an enormous history of primitive behaviour to be assimilated by Homo sapiens and - whisper it quietly - he may not be quite so sapiens as he would like to think.

So, it is hardly surprising if we find that we are still a long way from coming to terms with it all, and that is why we experience, anxiety, depression, rage, phobias, addictions and all the hundred-and-one other things that people come to see me for help with. But the good news is that if you can see things in this perspective, it makes you realise that there are good reasons - stretching back millions of years - why we so often behave as we do, and so no need to beat yourself up about them. Because quite often it is what you think about your behaviour, rather than the behaviour itself, that is the real problem.

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