Overcoming the Amygdala Part 1

There’s a lot of talk these days about ‘mindfulness’ and there always has been lot of talk about meditation. It’s worth taking a look at the different approaches to both, by way of discovering what exactly they are for and why their use has become more prevalent. Finding that out can tell us some interesting things about ourselves and perhaps give us a way of living a better life.

Mindfulness and meditation are often used to mean the same thing and there are several interpretations as to what that is, but they boil down to mindfulness as a ‘being aware’ of thoughts, feelings, behaviour, and everything in one’s environment. Mindfulness could be said to be about being fully engaged in the here and now — minus one very important factor: judgement of ourselves. It’s a non-judgemental paying attention to the present moment, if you like.

Removing the judgemental element, or trying to, means that it becomes possible to encourage or allow tenderness and kindness toward ourselves. It’s like turning a loud radio off so that we can hear other voices in the room.

Mindfulness is also supposed to release ‘happy’ chemicals in the brain, lower blood pressure, improve digestion, and relax tension.

Meditation is similar, but encourages an awareness of ‘nothing’. Both meditation and mindfulness can support each other. In its many forms, meditation urges stillness, allowing the mind to empty of thoughts, and so on.

What I wanted to examine briefly here is why we feel we need either.

The Amygdala Function

There are arguments about whether there’s a mental basis or a purely physical basis for what follows. Let’s take a look at the physical side and come to our own conclusions.

The amygdala is a collection of nuclei found deep within the temporal lobe in the brain. The term amygdala comes from Latin, meaning ‘almond’, because part of the amygdala has an almond-like shape. (There are actually two amygdalae—one in each cerebral hemisphere.) It’s part of the limbic system, a group of structures in the bo