Standard meditation gets you to a relaxed state. As we have asserted, that state could be considered a ‘normal’ state — anything other than a peaceful contentment within yourself should be thought of as non-optimum and perhaps even ‘unnatural’, except of course that tension is usually created through natural means too.
But, in our exploration of the amygdala and its functions, your current ‘normal’ is most often considered to be inadequate as far as threats are concerned. In your most relaxed state, the formula would still come out as You < perceived departure = alarm triggered. What that means in practical terms is that as soon as you stop meditating, the alarms will start to go off again. You’ll probably feel calmer for a while, but they’ll wear you down soon enough.
You may well have experienced that for yourself already: you spend an hour meditating, but within minutes of recommencing your life, your mind is full of worry and anxiety, often about nothing in particular.
That’s because standard meditation hasn’t taken you anywhere: it’s simply ‘scanned’ you back to some kind of normal.
But ‘normal’ isn’t good enough in the amygdala's calculations.
That’s why you need Active Meditation.
Active Meditation seeks to boost your current normal.
It does this by not simply asking you to relax (which means turning down or turning off existing alarms in your head) but, by using other faculties in your mind, develops your concept of yourself.
The amygdala function can push an individual into seven broad zones:
7. The Panic Zone
As suggested by the name, this is the full on panic attack state. Here, the amygdala has pushed so many ‘fight/flight’ buttons that you have lost control of your physiology — heart rate races, respiration speeds up, bowels go crazy and so on. This is the body in full ‘fight/flight’ mode, preparing for a physical battle or for fleeing the scene — which may have been useful in prehistoric times, but in a modern context creates awkward and often disastrous problems. You’re physically and mentally unable to go about your normal routines in this zone.
6. The Anxiety Zone
On the edge of panic, you can still function somewhat and get basic things done, but your mind and body are electrified by worry. Though there is usually no actual physical danger present in the environment, your instincts are telling you that there is — you are nervous, especially around others or if you have to go out, and you may try to calm yourself using drugs or other substitutes for rationality. With great effort, you can sometimes manage to appear ‘normal’ in company.
5. The Rhythmic Zone
This is where the anxiety/panic can ease off for periods of time. You actually sometimes feel quite normal. But there’ll be a pattern and frequency which you can learn to spot: sometimes you’re OK, sometimes you’re not, on a fairly regular basis. Your ‘mood swings’ may be visible to others, and you can often attribute your own behaviour to physiological changes in your body.
4. The Calmer (Karma) Zone
Things are not too bad here: you can function and even find some of life pleasurable and relaxing. Anxiety attacks have faded in frequency and intensity — they can still occur, but they seem random, not following any pattern that you can see at first. After a while, you may spot a correlation between something you’ve just done or a person you’ve just met and a bout of anxiety (hence the ‘Karma’) but this takes some skill and you might not always be able to isolate connections.
3. The Manifestation Zone
Here you begin to understand and to master the amygdala, through Active Meditation or through some other means. Rationality comes to the fore and serenity begins to manifest itself as you come to grasp that the personality you’ve developed over time incorporates elements of the amygdalic mechanism which you no longer need or have to listen to. Instead of reacting to your environment, you can begin to respond analytically and creatively.
2. The Child Zone
Most children are in a condition of free play. Of course, they begin to experience amygdalic reactions as soon as they are born, but when they are well-fed, rested and loved, their normal or natural state is to regard Life as a playground. Even inanimate objects possess a kind of life to them. It’s possible to position the amygdala mechanism so that most of Life is play for mature human beings too.
1. The Zen Zone
Rare among human beings, this is the state achieved by the great mystics and saints, individuals for whom the universe appears very differently. ‘Fight/flight’, karma, reaction and loss of rationality are as foreign here as they are common in some of the other zones.
Active Meditation encompasses techniques used to raise individuals into at least the Manifestation Zone. Some may be able to progress beyond that point and achieve the higher levels, but most find it a challenge to leave behind the lower zones, for reasons which we will examine later.
You’ve probably already spotted where you fall in this table of zones. Many people shift between zones over time, but for an ordinary person Zones #4 to 7 are usually the norm. Just knowing that there are these zones can be helpful to some, but it’s possible, using practical Active Meditation methods, to move closer to something calmer and more stable.