Overcoming the Amygdala Part 40
There you sit in your ‘command centre’, reading this. From that central point in your head, you set out to design and create your life. Everything around you started from an idea that someone originally had in their own command centre. It seems as though we hold the power to create worlds of happiness or misery depending on how we use the tools at our disposal.
Active Meditation can help you make the most of it through three stages:
1. Feel Your Body
Many people are numb to their bodies—numb to what emotions, thoughts, illnesses and potentials they are carrying around physically. As they focus more of their attention on outer things while being disconnected from their inner selves, it’s easy to lose track of what’s going in inwardly. Through meditation, you can connect your body and mind together so you can feel the sensations within you. Many of the techniques already covered result in a deeper awareness of your physical self, especially if practised regularly.
2. Explore Your Values
While in a relaxed state, you might be able to scan through those ideas which you have held to be true or wish your life was based on — things like honour and personal integrity and being kind and so on. As you do this, you might begin to see some values that you have come to accept which aren’t necessarily your own or which aren't helpful, or both. These are the foundations of cognitive distortion which we have examined in depth earlier.
Over time, people tend to fixate on their deepest belief systems, and insist on their values’ superiority over those of others, which tends towards binary thinking (black/white, good/bad etc.) and leads to conflict and prejudice. The problem is that our most deeply held values are woven into our thinking, and it can be incredibly difficult to spot which ones are actually harming us: we don’t want to ‘let go’ of what appear to be our primary defences in times of crisis.
The key here is twofold:
i) isolating a suspect value as a one line statement — for example, ‘People like me are naturally superior to people like them’. You can see that, under pressure or in moments of fear, a person might cling to this belief more and more fervently in order to give themselves strength and a feeling of security. But it’s equally obviously a dangerously divisive generality.
ii) once isolated as a clear statement, write out (or voice to a trusted and neutral person) how this is actually true. Yes, that’s right — state how the statement is correct.
That seems counter-intuitive, doesn’t it? But initially a person will be extremely unwilling to list how this statement is false: at first, a person will be only too willing to defend the rightness of it and will be adamant that it has served them well. Only by having them voice how the statement has helped them, again and again, elaborating upon every incident they can think of, will the person eventually come to see how ludicrously unhelpful, and possibly quite lethal to sanity, the statement has actually been. This may take a while, but eventually, given a neutral environment and proper listening, the individual will spot the craziness and destructiveness of the original statement and it will ‘dissolve’ mentally.
This step needs to be repeated regularly: the values we hold most dearly and the emotions connected with them usually lie just below our rational thinking minds, where all of our life’s experiences, traumas, and memories — and cognitive distortions— are stored, dictating our actions and perceptions to a large extent but without us noticing. Releasing any negative information or false beliefs stored in this zone means that we are purposefully dismantling the things that are creating obstacles in our lives. When we tap into this level, we can begin to clearly see the things that have been holding us back, how much they’ve been directly affecting us, and finally, let go of them.
But we won’t necessarily do so easily or willingly at first, because we have used these things to build our lives with. We need a ‘simulator’: a set of circumstances in which we can give voice to these false values and distortions in a harmless way.
It’s like having a kind of safe room in which someone can use a double-edged sword over and over again without hurting anyone else, until he or she realises that the only person really hurt is themselves. The person won’t easily spot that a double-edged sword is a bad idea, if it seems to be helping them; they have to be shown evidence that it is harming them, and they can only get that evidence by bringing it out into the open and giving voice to it.
3. Discover New Values
Once at least some of these false values have been spotted and removed, the individual is free to orientate around new, positive values.
This can be a life-changing experience.
Instead of operating on distorted foundations, a life can be built again around firm and strong roots. This isn’t just a case of ‘feeling better’ but of beginning a new way of living.