From ancient byways to modern highways, glimpses of faith are everywhere...

Friday, May 6, 2011

Amygdala: 'Almond joy' in six soothing steps

By: Horst Frank
If you feel like you’re "going nuts,” it might just be those almond-shaped clusters of nuclei hidden deep within your brain.  Otherwise known as the amygdala (right, left, or both), they have been linked to the rise and fall of many emotional states.

For example, the Associated Press recently reported that a woman who lacked a working amygdala was unable to feel fear, even within threatening situations.  Conversely, amygdala enlargement and/or amygdala hyperactivity has been found to be associated with intense emotional conditions such as autism, schizophrenia, borderline personality disorder, and bipolar disorder.

What’s an amygdala-laden individual to do under such tenuous circumstances?  Wikipedia reports that “Buddhist  monks who do compassion meditation have been shown to modulate their amygdala…”

This Buddhist meditation is otherwise referred to as “the cultivation of loving-kindness” (aka metta or maitri).  It is an “unclinging” form of love – much more synonymous with the ancient-Greek concept of agape than with that of eros.  Buddhism teaches specific practices for cultivating metta.  These include tonglen (the breathing in of suffering, and the breathing out of happiness), and the contemplation of the
four immeasurables (benevolence, compassion, sympathetic joy, and equanimity).

According to Wikipedia, Buddhism also teaches a six-step compassion meditation which is designed to progressively cultivate loving-kindness towards:  oneself; a good friend; a “neutral” person; a difficult person; all four of these equally; and then (gradually) the entire universe. 

Important pointers for successively (and successfully) practicing these six meditation stages include carefully choosing whom you wish to meditate upon.  For example, sexually-charged relationships are not ideal to begin with.  Neither is an emphasis upon those who have already passed on from this world.  For the “difficult person” stage, it is best to pick a challenging focus, but not one that is so immediately
overwhelming as to crunch the amygdala before they can even begin to recover.


Copyright May 6, 2011 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved 

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