Overcoming the Amygdala Part 66
It’s not necessarily easy to get our heads around the idea that we project our unconsciousness onto the world around us during our waking hours, but ‘get our heads around it’ is exactly what we should try and do.
Diagrams might help.
Here’ are two showing what we apparently do every day: we put our attention into something we call ‘the outer world’, while all the time projecting onto it the contents of what we call ‘the inner world’. Our parasympathetic nervous systems, including our amygdalas, ‘ping’ back to us anything that they detect as a ‘departure’ from our projections (shown in the second diagram), resulting in the fight/flight responses with which we are all familiar.
The resulting experience is what we call ‘Life’.
To eradicate the influence of the amygdala altogether would probably mean to cease being human — but we can at least theoretically imagine a situation in which we could become so familiar with the contents of our inner worlds that the urge to project them onto the reality around us became less compulsive.
Two things might result:
1. We would see much more clearly ‘what was actually there’ in the outer world, as opposed to what we were projecting onto it, and
2. Our relationship with that outer world would change, perhaps dramatically. It would cease to be the ‘cinema screen’ with which we would normally be accustomed; we might cease to seek out satisfaction or sensation from it, knowing as we would that the whole thing was illusory. True satisfaction, and possibly true sensation, would not be dependent on us feeding our inner reality through a circuit, but would be directly attainable, without vias, without intermediaries, without the interposition of the outer world at all.
Perhaps a new relationship would develop in which the outer world was no longer perceived as a potential source of anything meaningful for us, as we would be aware that all meaning actually resides within, and is laboriously exported outward in order to get the attention from the waking self that it needs.
Certainly, were we able to achieve this conceptual state of being, the amygdala would have a different role: instead of alerting us to departures from our projections, it could concentrate on actual threats to the well-being of the conscious waking self — things like forest fires or fast-moving traffic or sabre-toothed tigers. Any excess anxiety, stemming from defeated dreams or thwarted ambitions or vague conflicts, would fall away. The experience of Life would probably be a lot saner.
While it may never be possible to attain such a conceptually ‘pure’ experience of the world, are there things that we can do to approach it?
1. Pay more attention to the inner world.
This doesn’t mean walking around in a dream — technically, you’re probably already doing that anyway. Beneath your conscious, waking, sweeping attention which perceives the daylit world around you is, as we found by experimentation a while ago, a constantly bubbling set of inner activities, images, events, scenes, connections, which you can glimpse at any time by simply closing your eyes.
What it means is opening up your awareness to that inner activity, even as you go about your daily life in an ordinary way.
You can do this explicitly by setting aside times to meditate or ‘turn inward’, but it might be better achieved by simply broadening the frequency of your thought.
What does that mean?
Imagine a radio playing in a room while you’re working; or imagine a conversation occurring in the next room; or picture a screen flickering against a wall near where you’re sitting. These are analogies of what is actually happening in your head: music, talking, scenes, motions are playing out all the time just underneath your waking attention. Generally, you shut them out so that you can ‘get on with it’, by which you mean concentrate on the activities of your daylit existence. If you were to pay too much attention to these ‘off-stage’ activities, you might be distracted and your work might suffer; pay them a little more attention and you might be considered a lunatic. Imagine what would happen if at work you were chuckling to an obscure comedy skit that was playing out in front of you, unseen to others; or if you stopped what you were doing to listen to the rest of a conversation which no one else could hear; or paused in a meeting to contemplate a peaceful scene which was invisible to everyone else in the room?
If it happened often enough, you’d probably lose your job, or your friends, or your spouse. You would be perceived by others as being ‘out of tune’ with their reality, the reality which ignores everything like this. But you probably already recognise in these things the actions and habits of people who are often considered as ‘savants’, people who possess mysterious insight into the world around them of one kind or another. These habits are commonplace for people like writers, for example.
This isn’t to suggest that you should just ‘tune out’ of the ordinary outer world and start daydreaming yourself into unemployment or an asylum — but please place this in context: if you did so, you would be largely tuning out of a set of projected illusions in order to be ‘at one with yourself’.
Keep in mind also that shutting out the inner world only compels it to seek attention by projecting itself onto the outer world more strongly in various ways.
It just so happens that, in order to maintain some kind of stable relationship with others in this outer world, to generate conversations and incomes and all the rest of it, we all agree to 'tune out’ of our inner selves to one degree or another. We focus on the world that we see in front of us (or that we think we see), ignoring that it is to a significant degree made up of our own projections, and get along the best we can, amygdalas ringing or not.
In fact, we go to great lengths to shut out that inner world, even, like a couple of people I’ve known, leaving a radio playing through the night so that we can sleep. For some people, any kind of reminder that there is another world, much more fluid and random than the waking one, ready to impinge upon our awareness at any time, is an anathema: better to lock out the night, leave all the lights on, turn up the music and pretend that what they see is all that there is, than let even the slightest glimpse of that inner zone try to make itself known. Ironically, of course, as astute readers will have surmised, those who most seek to adamantly expunge the inner world from their consciousness are the ones for whom ‘reality’ is mostly a projection of that same inner world.
The inner world is like an ocean, while our waking awareness is like a rowboat: while we try to focus on what’s happening in the boat and attempt to set a course for ourselves, we are nevertheless carried where the ocean’s currents take us and are occasionally overwhelmed by its tsunamis. Rather than ignoring the ocean, then, might it be advisable to learn something of the ways of the sea?
2. Take up a creative pastime.
Our inner worlds are full of creativity and seek to beam out what they create onto our waking panoramas. Taking up an artistic hobby like painting or writing or even knitting gives that creativity a channel other than projection. Writing in particular is illustrative of this: the whole process of how a story comes into being is a mysterious one and highly redolent of inner world activity. Characters appear and behave like independent entities; landscapes unfold of their own accord; plots develop as these strange things interact, with the writer often relegated to nothing more than an observer or recorder. Some complain that critics ‘read too much into’ the work of some authors — but in fact the layers and depths of symbolism and interconnection may have had little to do with the writer, who has merely scribbled down as quickly as possible the events which unfolded in his or her inner world, laden with tiers of meaning quite beyond the poor innocent scribe.
The result can be like opening a valve: instead of having to go ‘underground’ and seek attention through projection onto the person’s outer world, all this material is released into conscious awareness more gently, and perhaps more thoroughly and satisfyingly, as creative work comes together. Works of art, being seen by more than just their ‘projector’, then perhaps fulfil more of the inner world’s desire to be noticed because they can garner audiences and spread around the globe.
There’s more that can be done too, as we will see.