Overcoming the Amygdala Part 15
Astute readers, and anyone practising Active Meditation thoroughly and regularly, may well have detected that it’s difficult to proceed much further than the Calmer Zone in ordinary circumstances. That’s largely because of those ‘ordinary circumstances’ — we still have bodies and routines and demands upon our time, and we cannot spend forever floating in an imaginary ocean enjoying a peace and tranquility that refreshes us even down into our mental bones, no matter how pleasant that may be. The upper circles of our personality summon us back: time ticks by and part of us at least still dwells in the mortal continuum.
To go any further, it might first be necessary to say a word or two about Time.
Time is at once the most obvious and yet the most mysterious aspect of our existence: it ticks on no matter what we do, but its fundamentals are little understood. In terms of a trigger for anxiety, Time is a basic culprit: both the Past and the Future are our greatest sources of worry and fear — the Past because of what we have lost and cannot change, and the Future because it is so unpredictable and apparently inevitably terminates in death.
Time is usually thought of as linear because we have little alternative but to think of it as progressing ‘forward’ in some sense, moment by moment, along a narrow line which seems to ruthlessly abandon the moments just gone as much as it remorselessly plunges into the moments coming. So let’s take that linear image as a starting point and see where it leads.
We know from motion pictures that there are about 24 ‘moments’ in every second. How do we know this? Because if we play a film at a rate of 24 frames a second the motion on the film appears to be ‘normal’ to our eyes; but if we play more than 24 frames a second, motion seems to slow down, while less than 24 frames produces a speeded-up version of life. Extrapolating from that, we could hypothesise that we experience Life at a rate of about 24 ‘frames’ per second.
Imagining these moments as ‘frames’ turns out to be useful. Linearly speaking, we proceed through each frame, leaving one behind and moving on to the next in a flash. The apparency is that one frame contains the same amount of ‘stuff’ as the next, but slightly altered in position — and so Life appears to be ‘in motion’ and change appears to be the universal constant. Like an animated drawing, flick flick flick go the frames, creating what might be an illusion of things moving.
Why might it be an illusion?
Well, if we took each of these frames — the ones we think we have lost which we call the ‘Past’ and the ones pouring in at the front which we call the ‘Future’ — and laid them out across a floor, not in a line but like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle, our perception of Time might change completely. If each ‘frame’ that we experience was not arranged linearly, but ‘latitudinally’, the overall picture becomes quite different: instead of flickering by at a rate of knots, they would form a huge canvas for us to contemplate.
The whole thing would look very much like a vast painting. There would be important details here and there, like in a picture of a battlefield — tiny focus points where major ‘events’ take place — but there would also be large areas where ‘nothing much happened’: zones where there appeared to be blocks of unchanging colour or texture, with not much change at all.
Everything would be included, of course: all that time spent waiting for a bus or a train, or daydreaming, or sleeping, along with those sharper moments when someone said something of critical importance to us, or a decision was made, or an accident happened. Looking down on the canvas, we’d be able to see accidents coming, in fact — patterns leading up to the point where something ‘occurs’ would be as obvious as daubed areas of paint in a Constable landscape.
Our entire experience of the ‘painting’ would be non-linear: unless we zoomed in on a thread or line or patch of colour and tried to follow that to the exclusion of all else, linearity would in fact be hard to reproduce. We would have to shut out almost everything in order to directly experience individual strands; what we call ordinary human life would largely be a matter of tremendously dedicated exclusion of everything other than a ‘line’.
Ponder this in the light of what we have explored so far in Active Meditation: does it not seem to equate somewhat with our description of the Zones? Does it not seem that the Panic and Anxiety Zones are the most linear, the ones most full of fear, or a moment-by-moment existence, with the Past vanished into regret and the Future rushing at us full of unknowns? Does it not seem to be the case that only when we reach the Rhythmic Zone do we start to get a sense of non-linear perspective?
As we sink into a meditative state, we can perhaps begin to perceive Time not as a linear frame-by-frame forward progression, but as a compression or exclusion of a broader, lateral appreciation of reality. The lateral giv