I hope that it's understood that this whole subject of active meditation is a vast one which I'm unveiling bit by bit as we go out of necessity, really. There's a tremendous amount of material to come and some of these earlier chapters will make more sense once the later ones appear.
For example, here’s a simple drill which supports Active Meditation and the progress towards regaining control of yourself, but it's based on principles which we'll cover later. Feel free to try this (or not) at your leisure.
1. Find a particularly uncomfortable noise — you can find just about anything on the internet these days. It might be an especially harsh kind of music, the sound of a dentist’s drill, a fire alarm, an annoying sound effect — anything that is unpleasant and has some duration.
2. Using headphones — mainly because you don’t want to annoy your neighbours or those around you — adjust the volume of this noise so that it is loud enough to really irritate you without being harmful to your ears.
3. Find a comfortable place to lie or sit and press ‘Play’.
4. Observe what happens to you, physiologically and mentally, as the annoying sound plays over and over again.
How long can you tolerate it initally?
5. Try again. This time, relax using standard meditation techniques while the noise is playing in your ears. Note how easy or how difficult this is.
6. Repeat this procedure a few times until, without turning down the volume, you can feel reasonably relaxed in the presence of the incredibly irritating noise.
Note that you are not trying to ‘block out’ the noise; nor are you trying to find some other way of ‘ignoring’ it, or ‘sublimating’ it or doing anything else to escape from it. What you’re aiming to do is to co-exist with it. Simply be there, in relative comfort, in the presence of something you would normally run away from, switch off or otherwise avoid.
What’s the point of this drill?
This parallels what is happening to you most of the time in relation to your amygdala mechanism: it’s signalling that it considers that you are at risk in some way by setting off multiple physiological and mental alarms, loud enough and unpleasant enough to prompt you into immediate action. Your usual response is to react: you sweat, you tense up, you tremble, your breathing and heart rate skyrockets, your thinking dashes all over the place — exactly what the amygdala intended, ‘for your own good’ in its estimation.
But all of those unpleasant reactions are like the loud music or whatever it is you’ve been listening to through your headphones: they are ‘in your face’ and getting under your skin, literally. Just as you can learn to co-exist with the irritating sound, though, you can learn to co-exist with the amygdala’s alarms without your first response necessarily being to ‘obey’ them.
It takes practice. After many sessions of Active Meditation, it becomes feasible to ‘lie side-by-side’ with the worst that the amygdala can trigger in you, recognising what those signals are telling you but choosing to retain rationality instead.
From there, you can go on to the modifications of self-image which will lessen the amygdala’s power altogether.