The 4 Characters

The 4 Characters

Triune brainMost of you will be familiar with some basics of our brain physiology. Our brain is hemispheric: it has 2 distinct halves that are biologically similar but behave somewhat differently. We sometimes describe them as the rational and intuitive sides. Our brain also has a vertical structure known as Triune: our instinctive reptilian brain, our limbic emotional brain, and the higher mammalian neocortex on top.

Many of you will also be familiar with Jill Bolte Taylor’s famous TED Talk, A Stroke of Insight, where the neurobiologist describes her stroke. It took out her left (rational) brain, leaving her in an expanded but dysfunctional state. Her talk was the first to put TED Talks into the larger zeitgeist.

Recently, Rick Archer of Buddha at the Gas Pump interviewed her, exploring her more recent research and book, Whole Brain Living.

In the conversation, Jill describes 4 “characters” that drive four different areas of our experience. 2 are the thought centres on the 2 sides of the upper brain, and 2 are emotional centres in the limbic brain.

For most people, the first is the only one that’s conscious. She proposes that our evolution is about making all 4 centres conscious and balanced, hence Whole Brain Living.

The 4 characters are:

Character 1: The Rational Thinker
From the left thinking part of the brain, it is the rational & conscious thinker. Here, we define self in terms of the world.

It is productive, orders our external world, decides right & wrong, social norms, knows time, sequence, and hierarchy.

The perfectionist, it also triggers our stress response.

Character 2: The Emotional
The left emotional section of the brain, this is often unconscious. This is the remarkable part that instantly compares everything to past experiences, before the experience is conscious. It is our unresolved past, our unhealed traumas, and the filter through which we experience.

This includes fear of the unknown, overwhelm, anxiety, and unworthiness. This drives a sense of lack rather than abundance. We can then fall into blame or addiction to avoid these emotions.

The love we feel here is based on the past and is conditional.

We use other parts of the brain to observe our trauma and heal. She mentions anger is a response to unresolved pain.

Character 3: The Emotional Experiential
The right emotional, usually unconscious, and present moment. It seeks similarities rather than differences. It is playful, chaotic, creative, expressive, and collaborative. C3 is oriented to joy and community. It is in the body and we get good through repetition.

Fear can make it explosive.

Character 4: The Peaceful self
This is our right thinking and usually unconscious, present moment self. It is a peaceful, open, boundless, and loving self. I am alive. Gratitude, celebration, and goofball.

Spiritual practices calm C1 & C2, revealing C4. C4 regulates the chaos of C3.

These parts are always with us. With spiritual practices and healing, we can make them conscious and balanced.

Jill suggests we name our characters as we get to know them.

Notably, these 4 also correspond to Jung’s primary archetypes: the persona, the shadow, the anima/animus, and the self. These seem to be in the same sequence as the characters above.

We could also broadly summarize them as mind, emotions, body, and spiritual interfaces in the brain.

Jung’s archetype model led to the popular Myers-Briggs personality type testing. (INTJ, ESFP, etc.) This suggests the test also shows our emphasis of the different characters (in the 4 pairs).

As a modern scientist, Jill leans towards consciousness as an effect of brain functioning vs. the brain as a medium through which experience is processed. However, this is fascinating research.

The framing in this article is largely hers. While it may imply enlightenment is the subjective experience of opening up C4, there’s a lot more to it than that. It certainly relates to self-actualization, though. Follow the links for more background.

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  1. Lynette

    Wow, everyone has their own perspective, I guess all of them are correct, depending on which angle you’re looking at. I, myself think the brain is just a medium for consciousness, as any part of our body. The reason I say this is because I have observed my own father who was brain dead, but still can react using his body, like lift his eyebrow when you talk. Tears flowed, when we said we love you. His heart was still beating. Consciousness, I guess is customize to an individual depends on where they are in that level in their life. Finally my father’s heart stopped beating he died, so I guess his Consciousness left his body and on to the next.

    1. Hi Lynette
      I wouldn’t say all are correct but they have some truth, relative to the perspective. Jill’s model is backed up by research and makes good sense. There needs to be tie-in’s so there is 2-way communication between the layers. Thus, our more subtle aspects have to have connections in the physical.

      Right. Without the brain, he lost a lot of functionality but other parts were still there for him to experience you. The senses connect with the mental body, for example. But once the body as a whole stopped working, he drops back into the emotional body and lifts out of the physical. After awhile, he then drops back into the mental. Most people hang around for a few days or weeks, saying their goodbyes and letting go. Then they move on.

    2. Wow this is incredible, and so helpful – I feel as though it’s given me a ‘map’ to understand some of my recent experiences, and has aided in shifting my relationship to myself. About a month ago in an article from Amma she shared how focusing on sound can aid in deepening meditation, and since I noticed that focusing solely on my mantra sometimes gets me caught up in my (rational) thinking brain (and sometimes causes me to nod off into dream state) focusing on sound has been profound, bringing about a much deeper silence & level of awareness. Having read this, I understand my experience as now ‘watching’ my attention (?) flow through the different centers (sometimes getting caught) and helping me realize which ‘character’ is online/running the show. This in turn has helped me shift out of C1 or C2 when over-identification happens, usually when moving through trauma.
      I’m also ambidextrous – right hand dominant but ‘write’ with my left (writing with my right is doable but less natural) – and have recently discovered that brushing my teeth (with right hand) while stirring a beverage (with left hand) causes the most pleasant and calming sensation in my brain which I would assume is accessing C4? I would be interested to know how this correlates with human design. I also very much relate to ‘C4 calms C3’ as moving through fear has been a major theme in my life – and I know myself to be an ‘explosively’ creative person ;). Thank you for sharing David

      1. Hi Jenifer
        OK – just be clear that what you’re describing is a different practice. Getting caught up in thoughts or drifting into dreams are normal experiences in meditation. They indicate processing and you don’t need to try and control them.

        Yes, it is nice to have perspective on our experiences.

        1. ‘just be clear that what you’re describing is a different practice’ – do you mean in terms of focusing on sound vs focusing on mantra?

          In both situations I find my mind attempting to control, but the sound seems to help calm that a bit, especially in the beginning where I can then introduce the mantra.

          Thank you

            1. Oh oh, I see. Right, the mantra is a sound – maybe describing what is happening as simply coming deeply into my senses ‘via sound’ ie, paying attention to what I’m hearing in my environment (and cognizing *that* I’m hearing) prior to introducing the mantra, is a better way to put it. I have found this method helps calm the ‘meditation as a task to complete’ very active, focused, addictive part of my brain that wants to control the practice. Does that make sense?

              1. Ah yes, Jenifer. That’s a way to become present as a preparation for mantra meditation.

                The traditional approach is to do some effortless yoga asana and pranayama to prepare for practice but awareness techniques can be faster.

  2. Gina

    I’ve heard that the left brain controls the right side of the body and the right brain controls the left side of the body, and that people are either right-handed, ambidextrous, or left-handed depending upon which side it is dominant or if neither is dominant. . . That means that left-handed people are the only ones in their right mind. . .

    Sorry, couldn’t resist…

    1. Right, Gina. Good point.
      Left side of the body is often associated with the feminine, creative, and intuitive and the right brain. Right side with the masculine, rational, and linear and left brain. This is the functionality Jill lost for awhile.

      Handedness starts in the womb and is actually thought to be genetic. Humans are the only species where handedness isn’t roughly 50/50.

      But yes, there are those who consider more creative and intuitive people more sane. 🙂 Jill proposes we culture all of it.

  3. Elisabeth

    I came to the realization just very recently that enlightenment is about merging our logical/rational side fully with our creative side aka left brain fully merging with our right brain.. balancing each other out. Funny how I came upon this article of yours today.

    1. Hi Elizabeth
      I’d refine that slightly to say enlightenment is about embodying all our aspects, or characters in this context. Waking up itself is a shift in being but enlightenment is about embodying that in all areas of life.

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