If you’ve been following this series, you’ll be getting the idea that there are at least two parallel things going on in our mind/brains:
1. The Amygdalic System is the automated, stimulus-response mechanism which scans our physical and mental environments and computes our potential survival when faced with what it considers to be departures from ideal surroundings. If it finds us wanting (and it often does) it bypasses our analytical thinking and gets us ready to freeze (play dead), run or fight whatever the threat is perceived to be. It’s plan is to keep us alive in a moment-by-moment linear fashion.
2. Imaginative Reasoning is the self-controlled, creative process which also scans our physical and mental environments all the time, connecting up significances and providing meaning and depth to our lives. It is part of our analytical thinking; it tends to be slower and even leisurely at times, as it isn’t immediately concerned with our day-to-day survival. It’s plan is to grow our understanding of reality in a latitudinal fashion.
We’ve pictured these working side-by-side. It might help to look at the accompanying diagram and see how their mutual operations produce a series of ‘zones’. You might come up with more zones, or differently named zones — all the zones are is a way of understanding how these things fit together. The diagram shows how the Panic Zone is the one which is dominated by the amygdala. Here, all the alarms are ringing and we are somewhat terror-struck. But as the amygdala loses influence, the power of the imaginative reasoning mind grows: in the Anxiety Zone we still feel unwell, but can operate; in the Rhythmic Zone, other aspects of living become feasible. Once we reach a point at which our reasoning is slightly stronger than the amygdala’s alarms, we feel naturally ‘calmer’ — going on from there, we gradually ‘corner’ the amygdalic system, until by the time we reach the Play Zone it is used for precisely that: ‘play’. Things which might have terrified or paralysed us in the Panic or Anxiety Zones become sources of amusement of entertainment here, like scary novels or films, provided we can get to that point. The Zen Zone is postulated as being entirely free from amygdalic influence.
The diagram also shows the role of Cognitive Distortion. This is the ‘grey area’ where the amygdala’s alarms ‘pollute’ or overpower or unduly influence our otherwise sensible reasoning minds and we come up with reasonable-sounding perspectives which we consider useful in the battle to survive. Closer inspection reveals these thinking patterns to be erroneous and dangerous — they don’t help and can grow to hinder our linear happiness. But we cling to them for reasons which we will explore further.
Hopefully seeing all this in diagrammatic form will help you to visualise things a little more. Next time, we’re going to look at an analogy which might help even more.