Overcoming the Amygdala Part 16


Those practising Active Meditation assiduously may find that the early stages of the process, in which the focus is on relaxing the body and mind, can be accomplished much more swiftly after a while. The word ‘relax’ itself can be enlightening in this regard: the dictionary defines it as ‘to make or become less tense or anxious, or to rest from work or engage in an enjoyable activity, or to cause (a limb or muscle) to become less rigid, to make (something) less firm or tight, or to make (a rule or restriction) less strict. It comes from Latin relaxare, from re- (expressing intensive force) + laxus ‘lax, loose’.

Active Meditation takes the slightly different approach of analysing what has made something tense, anxious, rigid, firm, tight or strict in the first place — and we find that this is largely the work of the amygdala, the function of which is to bypass the individual’s conscious mind and prepare the body and mind to fight or flee from perceived menaces in the environment. We are tense or anxious — even panicky — in other words, for a reason, and that reason is primitive self-protection.

Walking through the woods, I often find that I accidentally disturb birds in the branches around me — they suddenly become aware of my presence and in a flurry of wings, they leave. No doubt if I disturbed something larger, like a badger — Britain’s largest wild predator, I think — and it felt itself unable to flee, it would turn and fight. These basic amygdalic responses to the presence of human beings are all around us in the animal world, from the fly dodging our waving hands to the mouse dashing for the wainscotting. Being built of similar nervous stuff, we are also equipped to run most of the time, or, if cornered, to grit our teeth and fight.

The problem is that we are also built of different stuff altogether, stuff which has no nerves and no need of them — powerful, analytical, intangible, mental and spiritual ‘stuff’ which has neither need nor inclination to flee or fight. We have lost our familiarity with that part of ourselves, for whatever reason, and are left with the animalistic side, to the detriment of our peace of mind and general environmental competence.

Regular practitioners of Active Meditation become re-familiarised with that part of a human being which is untouched by the amygdala’s influence and which, by definition, remains untouchable no matter what happens.

Even in the deepest crisis, there is a part of us which stays calm. It is often drowned or inaccessible — and becomes more and more impossible to reach the more powerful the amygdala becomes. But it is always there. At times of great trauma, there are many stories of the ‘still quiet voice’ which somehow made it through the noisy static of the moment to bring a brief respite or a word of guidance despite the surrounding chaos. One doesn’t have to believe in any supernatural aspects of humanity to take this on board: rather, it is possible to grasp this by coming to a fuller understanding of what we are calling the Personality Ecosystem.

As the meditating individual goes deeper and deeper into this ecosystem, they can find a plane of stabilisation which we have called the Calmer or Karma Zone. Here comes the person’s first real glimpse beyond the ‘inversion threshold’ or, more colloquially, the ‘flip point’, where the formerly ‘normal’ panic and anxiety associated with daily human life recede and retreat into their own regions and the new centre of things becomes the Untouchable — that core of being which by its very nature has never been disturbed by the amygdala and never can