Parking spaces have been on my mind lately…Perhaps you read my article in June’s issue that spoke of me saying a “prayer of thanks” for nabbing a rarely available primo parking spot. This incident started me thinking about a few of my friends who always seem to find great parking anywhere, anytime. I wondered,
“Do these people have some kind of special ‘parking angel’ hovering close by just waiting for the opportunity to use their magical powers, or is there something else at play?”
It turns out it could all be occurring in a part the brain called the “Reticular Activating System” or RAS for short. The RAS is a web-like structure of bundled cells that rests in the most primitive part of the brain, known as the Reptilian Brain. Located at the core of the brain stem, the RAS also includes neurons situated in diverse parts of the brain and spinal column. It mostly controls wakefulness, sleep-wake transitions, and attention. Some common disorders in the RAS are attention deficit disorder (ADD), sleep disorders, and Alzheimer’s, to name a few.
What does this have to do with parking you may be asking? The RAS also is a very sophisticated filtration system responsible for separating out all sensory information it deems unimportant and prioritizing what it believes is valuable. You see, at any given moment you are bombarded with over 2 million bits of information. Your brain can process roughly 150 bits and is only consciously aware of around 40.
The RAS acts as your very own “guardian at the gate,” allowing only those visitors on the VIP list in to see you. How does your brain decide who/what is important enough to get through? Well, let’s say you are in search of a parking space. Because your brain has determined a perceived value in finding a space, it begins a screening process of its external environment, limiting focus from any other stimuli around it—screening only for an open space or a perceived threat. This sense of hyperaware focus can appear to create a parking space where none existed before.
You can try this on your own. Simply bring something to mind, like a green shirt or elephants. Make believe that this item is of extreme importance to you, and then wait to see what happens. Shortly thereafter, you will begin to see green shirts or elephants showing up all around you. “But surely the RAS must be for something more important than just great parking spaces or elephants?” you might protest. Absolutely: The RAS plays a huge role in whether you see the world as a wonderful, magical place filled with opportunities or one filled with sadness, lack, or fear. It also is the part of the brain that comes into play when you desire to manifest something.
The RAS is at the heart of the statement, “What you focus on you will find.”
From the moment we were born, based on our emotions, our brain began to create a databank of things that were considered valuable and “true” and those that were not. Over time, these filters become our default system, filled with beliefs and conditioned thinking patterns that can become so strong that many are willing to die for them. About 95 percent of the time, it isn’t even our conscious mind making decisions for us but, rather, our conditioned brain. The filters are different for people based on their hierarchy of needs. This creates roadblocks for many people who live day to day on autopilot, never examining their old beliefs and outdated filters—which are now running the show.
The RAS is constantly comparing your external world with your internal beliefs, and if they are in conflict, it can create cognitive dissonance. Here is a common example: If you grew up in a belief system that taught you couldn’t earn a living as an artist or a musician, your brain would filter out any and all evidence to the contrary. As opportunities came along to contradict that mindset, you would not be aware of them because the RAS is filtering them out.
“Well, I would notice and grab the opportunity,” you think. Not really. The RAS is so good at doing its job that you won’t even notice that you didn’t notice. Another example is when you have a belief about a certain race of people or a particular person or a religious group. Any information that may be shared by that community, person, or group—even if it was accurate or helpful—would be filtered out as untrue or unreliable and, therefore, not get through.
There is good news, however. The conscious part of your brain, the frontal lobes, has the power to override the RAS system. All you need to do is place your focus on what it is you want rather than what you don’t want. By learning to examine your thoughts and beliefs, you will begin to notice the limiting ones that are holding you back, keeping you in fear, and directing your life. If you can embrace a daily consciousness practice around this objective, you will learn to maintain greater and greater states of awareness. This approach will put you back into the driver’s seat…and I’ll just bet you find a great parking space to boot!
Darlene Coleman is a veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps who was meritoriously promoted twice and honorably discharged. She went on to a career as a professional paramedic-firefighter in the greater Washington D.C. area, where she also hosted the local television program, “Fire and Rescue Digest.” She has completed extensive studies in holistic healing that have resulted in the development of successful treatments for relieving emotional and physical pain experienced by children, adults, and seniors. A graduate of Bennett-Stellar University, Darlene works with a variety of clients, ranging from professional athletes to writers. She is also the author of the “I-Stop Smoking Workbook” and addiction-cessation program. Contact her by email: email@example.com.