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 be.
You’ll know it when you feel it — mainly because if at any time you feel anxious or worried about anything, you can immediately conclude that you are not yet in this region. It is conceptually untouchable: if it seems to be disturbed, it is because one’s focus hasn’t yet arrived there. When the individual’s attention detaches from worry altogether, when there is a brief moment of ‘unmooring’ or floating off, or (to put it more truthfully) ‘coming to oneself’, that is when the individual can truly claim to have experienced the Untouchable.
Like riding a bike, it’s the magic moment when balance is achieved which is the key to everything else. Subtly, gently, and probably briefly, the mind will slide into a state of freedom from nervousness of any kind. It’s like slipping behind an impenetrable force field, or closing the door of a comfortable home on a stormy outside world.
The ordinary human instinct is to ‘test’ it immediately: ‘OK,’ says the little voice in our heads, ‘if this is the Untouchable, let’s touch it and see.’ And so in our minds arises an image of worry or concern to challenge the tranquility. But we haven’t ‘tested’ the Untouchable by doing this; we have, by raising that image, left it. It’s like trialling an impenetrable force field by turning it off, or testing the security of a sealed door by opening it — of course, those are no true tests at all, merely negations. One doesn’t test one’s honesty by lying, nor one’s dryness by jumping into a lake, nor the placidity of a quiet woodland pond by dropping a rock into it.
How does one test the Untouchable, then?
Well, one doesn’t.
A state is either untouchable or it isn’t; if it can be ‘touched’, it’s not untouchable. The real question to ask is what is prompting the test in the first place — why feel the need to assess whether one has reached a level of untouchability by challenging it? Prodding things to see if they react is part of the whole zone of stimulus-response which we are supposed to be leaving behind.
Once the individual has experienced a sense of untouchability, as they enter the circle which we have termed the Calmer Zone, he or she will feel no desire to disturb it and, at the same moment, recognise with a tremendous sense of inner relief and enlightenment, that it cannot be disturbed. It is possible to think a disturbing thought, but in doing so one exits the Untouchable, by definition.
Don’t worry — the Untouchable remains, awaiting the next visit, as it always has and always will. It’s a conceptual state, not subject to the whims of stimulus-response or even cause and effect.
Those whims need a little more exploration, but that’s for next time.