Overcoming the Amygdala Part 14


There’s a key moment in Dante’s Commedia at the end of Inferno, canto 34, when, having surveyed all the Nine Circles of Hell, the two poets — Dante and his spirit guide Virgil — reach the abode of Lucifer. Initially, they perceive him as a giant creature embedded up to his waist in a frozen lake. They climb down Satan’s furry body, through the surface of the frozen lake and out of Hell, but, as Dante soon learns, in doing so they pass through the centre of the Earth and experience a reversal in gravity, causing Satan to appear upside down: whereas he first appeared buried up to his waist, a lord in the domain of Hell despite his entrapment, he now has the appearance of plummeting head first into the ice, a fallen angel. It’s a crucial moment for Dante, but also for an understanding of the mediaeval universe — things are flipped around and what seemed dominant is suddenly revealed to be abased on a cosmic scale.

It could also be a crucial moment for us, as we try to progress from the upper circles of our Personality Ecosystem to the deeper truths of the inner circles.

Outermost of the circles was the Panic Zone, the harsh interface between us and the material world, where our amygdala reigns more or less supreme and its dominant alarms overpower us; next came the Anxiety Zone, in which some daily functions are possible but which is fraught with fear and worry; below that was the Rhythmic Zone, where we began to glimpse a different kind of reality, one in which the individual has some respite, some peace and quiet away from the stimulus-response amygdala universe.

As we progress inwards, we come to the next zone, tagged ‘Calmer’ or ‘Karma’ depending upon your inclination. Here, real peace is possible, outside the range of most meditation techniques or only briefly glimpsed by them. And it’s here that we encounter what could be grandiosely termed the ‘Inversion Threshold’ but which is perhaps better called the ‘Flip Point’ — like Dante, we can reach a point where everything seems to be turned upside down, and what appeared to be supreme becomes relegated to almost an irrelevance, while what was formerly invisible becomes central.

The best initial image for this is probably a continuation of our iceberg picture from the Rhythmic Zone — but this is the distinct point, mentioned earlier, where the ‘iceberg’ as an image outlives its usefulness and melts away. Instead, we are left with the ocean as a central motif — a sea in which we are floating, at present just beneath the surface, drifting with currents and forces we can scarcely envisage.

Karma comes into play here as a concept. The word itself has been defined as the ‘deed’ or ‘work’ or ‘action’ but also ‘object’ or ‘intent’, usually meant to mean the executed action as a consequence of an activity, as well as the intention behind it. A good action or intent creates ‘good karma’; a bad action or intent creates ‘bad karma’, put simplistically.

In popular understanding, it has come to mean that the present circumstances of an individual are a result of his or her actions in the past. These actions may be those in a person's current life, or, in some traditions, possibly actions in their past lives. The laws of karma are supposed to operate independently of any deity or any process of divine judgment.

For the purposes of Active Meditation, it’s a si