Overcoming the Amygdala Part 10
A few words about the actual practice of meditation, standard or Active:
1. It is highly common — in fact, the norm — to fall asleep while practicing meditation techniques. Your mind will wander; perhaps it is experiencing levels of relaxation that are not within its usual understanding. Naturally, it will take the opportunity to ‘switch off’ quite often.
What should you do about this? Nothing. Don’t worry at all. It’s perfectly normal and natural. Of course, try to make sure that you are getting enough sleep as a regular thing anyway — a tired mind and body will take the first opportunity to sleep, so you’ll be fighting an uphill battle to meditate if you haven’t had enough rest. But, given that you are sleeping reasonably well, you’re still going to drop off from time to time while trying to meditate.
Mentally ‘telling yourself off’ or plunging into disappointment because you’ve drifted off ‘again’ is counter-productive to the whole process of what you’re trying to do: you’re engaged in a kind of self-therapy here, a gentle discipline which will lead you into new realms of understanding about yourself and how you can operate differently, so please don’t punish yourself for nodding off.
Over time, with practice, two things will begin to happen: you will find that your ‘conscious centre’ will grow stronger and you’ll remain awake for longer; and you’ll begin to understand the strange hinterland between sleeping and waking a lot better.
2. It is also highly common for the human mind to wander. There you are, trying to concentrate on relaxing, while all the time your mind dodges around thinking about your worries, upcoming events, noises or sensations, or even what you saw on TV recently. Random images, ideas, and subjects wander around in the mind as though your mental real estate was a giant park designed for the casual leisure of all and sundry. Frequently, you’ll be focused on something and a moment later find yourself pondering something completely unrelated — you’ll be totally unable to see the connection between the two things, even though as your mind drifted it seemed logical to jump from one to the next.
Again, what should you do about this phenomenon? Again, nothing. Trying to teach the human mind not to wander is like trying to teach the wind to stay still: it’s just not going to happen. Like the wind, the mind is almost by definition, going to be something in motion.
The answer is practice: over many sessions of meditation, you will not only come to understand and have better control of this wandering, you’ll start to see patterns in it and to comprehend things about how your mind works which formerly would have been mysterious.
3. You’ll occasionally experience ‘jolts’ in which you jump out of a meditative state altogether and suddenly become aware of the world around you where you are sitting or lying. These jolts are especially common the more ‘amygdala-triggered’ you are, and again are perfectly natural and nothing to be worried about. Think of them as those moments when, learning to ride a bike, you suddenly toppled over. That’s all that’s happened: you’ve lost your balance. Just as in bike riding, there will come a magic moment when it seems as though the mind says ‘Oh, that’s what you’re trying to do!’ and you will be able to continue in a meditative state for longer. Jolts may still occasionally happen, but they will be less ‘jolty’ and less common.
Clearly, meditation functions less well in the presence of chronic or severe physical pain or some pressing issue which absorbs all your attention. To make progress, you’ll need to address some matters on a practical level, obviously — get pain relieved, put out ‘fires’, get your immediate environment in relative order, so that you can concentrate more on what you’re trying to achieve. But even in the most extreme circumstances, meditation can often help. As you grow stronger in the practice of it, you’ll find that a split-second’s pause and quiet contemplation of some aspect of something you’ve learned about yourself will assist you in dealing with the most urgent and demanding situations.