Overcoming the Amygdala Part 87
What we’re trying to do, then, is move from a condition in which waves of anxiety and brief glimpses of an underlying ideal seem to wash over us randomly — a condition called ‘Life’ by a great many human beings — to a position in which the ideals are more under our own control and the departures they highlight become isolated and reducible through the application of reason.
The alarms of the amygdala only ring to draw our attention to departures.
If we can a) narrow down those departures to actual situations which need addressing, rather than ‘false alarms’ arising from misalignments in our thinking and b) handle what we find using precise and rational approaches which remove or reduce swathes of departures efficiently, then we will end up living much saner and more self-determined lives which will benefit not only ourselves, but those around us.
Our amygdalas will fall into almost complete silence.
Determining what needs to be handled comes first.
Resources available to handle what is found come next. Accurate power to handle comes third.
If the first two are clear, the third often comes as a bright notion or idea of what to do with what’s available which opens the way to a better set of circumstances.
It doesn’t take long to spot insanity around us.
All you have to do is listen to or watch the news, or perhaps even go to work, or maybe even just get out of bed in the morning. You will soon encounter scenarios in which common sense and the application of reason are rare or slender. Families in strife, workplaces in disarray, nations in chaos — these are easy to find. The problem is that they all encourage reaction rather than observation and solutions.
The sane response to insanity is as follows:
1. Observe without reacting. 2. Notice a departure of some kind. 3. Work out what would be the ideal for what is being observed. 4. Tally up the departures from that ideal which now should be apparent, and categorise them accordingly.
5. The Biggest Departure will be the largest gap between what you’ve observed and the ideal. This will be the source of the majority of the departures you’ve observed. It will be a person or a place or an item or an activity or something which you can point to and say ‘A-ha! That’s the cause of our problems!’ This won't be an accusation based on opinion, but an accurate assessment which points to relief and solutions.
Many people, even those with authority, get mired into situations because they are caught in a reaction spiral: they don’t realise that they are reacting, they think they’re taking action, but they’re actually caught up in an Anxiety Zone sort of response. Unable to step back and observe, they fail to recognise that they are in anything that could be isolated or defined. They set about ‘fixing’ things randomly, hoping that soon they will get lucky and fix the thing that is behind all their other problems. Organisations, groups, families, individuals, all are the same: they get themselves caught in a web of reaction and counter-reaction which goes nowhere but down into more departures.
Defining the Ideal Scene
In any existing set of circumstances — individual-orientated, family-related, work-connected, group-associated, national, anything —anyone who wants to stay sane has to recognise that there are in fact two sets of circumstances:
1. The Ideal Circumstances
2. The Existing Circumstances
This recognition immediately does something to one’s thinking: it gives one a point of view outside those circumstances. Rather than being caught up in what might seem to be a storm of data, items, assertions, motions or whatever, an individual who recognises that there are two sets of circumstances in play is instantly given power over them to some extent.
Knowing this, he or she can detect (without error or guess) any departures, find out why those departures occurred and work out a way of manoeuvring towards the ideal. How does one know the ideal?
Anyone with a notion of sanity can work out what an ideal should be for any set of circumstances with which they are reasonably familiar.
It takes much familiarity when the circumstances require some specialist knowledge — for example, you wouldn’t want someone who possessed no medical knowledge at all deciding what an ideal would be for a brain operation; nor would you want an unqualified person trying to determine a flight plan for the latest jet aircraft. But in most everyday sets of circumstances, common sense called into play usually does a fair job. An ideal for society, for example, would probably be a safe environment in which one could happily live a productive life; an ideal for an individual might be a healthy body and mind enabling a person to accomplish particular goals. An ideal for a family might be a cheerful and productive home environment in which individuals could communicate freely and effectively and flourish together.
The gap between Ideal Circumstances and Existing Circumstances can be enormous — but unless one sees that there are two sets of circumstances, one can’t even begin to address the gap between them.
I noticed this as a teacher. Some teachers set out to educate classes with a clear idea of where they were trying to get that class to in any given year: they worked out targets and goals and established an ideal set of circumstances. This then enabled them to assess where the class was in relation to those targets and goals and thus plan out lessons which would lead the class forward, step by step.
But other teachers, for whatever reason, didn’t do this. They received their classes and simply taught whatever they felt that class could manage, day by day.
You can probably predict what happened: the first type of teacher usually accomplished something with a class over a year. By observing that there were two possible sets of circumstances, ideal and existing, they were able to forecast, isolate and overcome specific obstacles and move most students forward to new heights of learning and ability.
The second type of teacher barely accomplished anything — some students picked up some knowledge, but it was all pretty hit and miss. What tended to happen with those classes was that the lowest achieving students held back the class as a whole because nothing was done to address what it was that made them low achievers. The teacher wouldn’t even recognise what ‘low achievement’ was, because he or she had never compared levels of achievement.
— know what an ideal is
—broadcast that ideal clearly at every available opportunity and in a variety of creative ways, and
—plan and act to bring that ideal about with everything that they do.
— have no clue what an ideal is
—waste enormous potential by ‘taking one day at a time’, and
—just try to teach the next thing on a given list of ‘things to teach’.
Effectively, bad teaching is just reacting to the class that appears. Good teaching is observing, figuring out ideals and spotting and overcoming departures.
An awareness that something is wrong is the beginning of being able to correct it.
Without this awareness, improvement can be much impeded, mainly because the idea of ‘improvement’ is alien to the unaware.
It’s always possible to see things that are wrong and do no more than moan and complain about them. One only has to spend a few minutes on social media to see that this is as far as a great many people get. Not knowing what's intended or being done, or what resources are available, or the magnitude and complexity of the problem, armchair critics can rail and rant without any reality at all. To lift the situation, one must recognise or postulate or imagine or project a realistic set of ideal circumstances rather than just whinge about what exists.
Those who only see existing circumstances and their wrongnesses are failing to accomplish anything because they are not projecting an ideal and thus are not able to design any kind of gradient path towards that ideal.
Take a look at any area of your life right now.
There are existing circumstances and there are ideal circumstances.
In all likelihood, all you’ve perceived is the existing circumstances. Your amygdala is probably ringing alarms based on departures from unconscious or vague or half-baked ideals which you have mainly unknowingly projected onto your surroundings.
You can try to silence the amygdala in various ways, but it will be an uphill battle to do so.
I once took my car to a garage to see why a particular light on the dashboard kept flashing. It was saying ‘Check engine’ and so was indicating that something was wrong. I said to the mechanic, ‘Can you please do something about this flashing light?’ He reached under the dashboard and switched the light off. Fair enough — the light stopped flashing. But whatever it was that the light had been trying to warn me about was still there, now hidden. This would surely manifest itself mechanically in due course.
It’s the same if you simply try to stop the amygdala from activating its alarms. What you need to do is recognise that the amygdala is a ‘resource of last resort’: it’s an unconscious mechanism which is trying to alert you to a gap between an ideal and an existing set of circumstances. Only by spotting those two sets consciously yourself will you be able to reason your way through to solutions.