Book Review: Tickle Your Amygdala by Neil Slade

Tickle Your Amygdala by Neil Slade coverI’ve been carrying Neil Slade’s new book, Tickle Your Amygdala, around with me for a couple of months now. I take it with me to my favourite café, open a page at random and start reading. It’s an amazing book – in its way one of the best I’ve ever read.

Tickle Your Amygdala is both a “how to” book and a collection of interviews with people who, in the author’s opinion, demonstrate frontal lobes cooperative, creative and intelligent thinking in their daily lives. If the subject is new to you, I suggest you read my article, The Crazy Wisdom of TDA Lingo first and then come back here. I wrote that article years ago, not long after I discovered amygdala clicking (now more appropriately called amygdala tickling).

Okay, now that you’re filled in, I’ll get on with the review. Neil Slade has been talking and writing about the amygdala and its potential role in “brain self transcendence” or just plain positive thinking for over 30 years. His website, neilslade.com, contains something like 2000 entries and has been read by millions. He regularly makes appearances on nationally syndicated radio shows in the U.S. In spite of this, he is not a big name “self help guru” and would probably cringe at the notion of becoming labelled as such.

image from tickle your amygdala by neil sladeTickle Your Amygdala is Neil’s latest effort to show the world how easy it is to tap into the better parts of your consciousness. He does this in a number of ways, including interviews with a variety of people who, in his opinion, demonstrate advanced frontal lobes brain activity in their daily lives. Not only do these individuals not all practice “amygdala tickling” as Neil explains it on his website, some of them don’t practice it at all, but the results of the practice resonate with them.

I was recently asked a question by someone:

I’ve been giving the amygdala tickle a go, but with little success. I can’t seem to envision the actual tickle sensation, and also struggle with the location I should be focusing on. Any tips would be very appreciated!

I’ve been putting off answering it because I don’t know quite how to answer it. The “feather tickling” exercise worked for me originally, but since then, I’ve discovered dozens of other ways to shift my consciousness from the reptilian brain to the frontal lobes. There’s no sense outlining them all, because Neil does a much better job of it in his book. I will, however, offer this quote, which I think sums it all up best:

Brain Radar is a force that manifests through Passive Activity.

Passive Activity is “effortless effort”, to do something with a light touch.

Imagine shooting an arrow into a target. You put your arrow in your bow, you aim, then you let go.

The arrow flies, and meets its destination.

. . . . . .

It’s not the product of doing nothing, but the product of doing nothing special. It occurs as the result of a perfect balance between Doing, and Being.

I’ve sat down and tried to write a review of Tickle Your Amygdala a half dozen times at least. Every time, I find so many quotes I want to use, I’m almost tempted to transcribe the whole thing. This afternoon, for instance, I was sitting in my favourite café here in Sihanoukville wondering, for the upteenth time, why I seem to be one of the few expats in town who enjoys life here. What’s not to enjoy? It’s a friendly town, has great beaches and now that it’s grown, I can even get my favourite Western comfort foods. In spite of this, the majority of expats here live in fear and loathing of the police and seem to think half the population is out to get them. There’s a rather dramatic example of the difference between their perception of Sihanoukville and mine in this post from my Sihanoukville Journal: Sihanoukville Police Checkpoints!

So I’m sitting there with these thoughts in the back of my mind when I open the book and have a Duh! moment (A Duh! moment is sort of like a Eureka! moment, but the flash is so obvious you feel a little dumb when it comes). The reason why I’m happy here and so many are not is because they still perceive Cambodia as a dangerous, corrupt and frightening place. In other words, they are stuck firmly in their reptilian “fight or flight” fear based brains while I, probably thanks to “amygdala tickling”, can see the positive side of life here.

My “Duh!” moment still didn’t help me with my other dilemma, which was how to answer the question, “How can I make it work for me?” Well, I opened the book for answers and once again, I was tempted to transcribe the whole thing. Then I had another “Duh!” moment. It went something like this:

That’s a question Neil Slade and those he interviews answer best in Tickle Your Amygdala.

I happen to be one of the people Neil interviews, but that’s beside the point.

If this sounds like a sales hustle, let me assure you, I am not compensated financially in any way if you buy the book. My compensation comes from the satisfaction of knowing I’ve given the best possible advice.  Here’s the link to the Tickle Your Amygdala purchase page. Note that it’s not a tiny url and doesn’t have an affiliate ID tacked on to it.

I’ve been on a roll today. This is the second review I’ve written. If you’re interested, check out this article on my Writing Resources blog: How to Learn Positive Writing.

The Amazing and Amusing Amygdala

Forgive my title: I couldn’t resist the amazing and amusing amygdala alliteration opportunity

The only thing I don’t like about Neil Slade’s voluminous Amazing Brain website is the sheer size of it. There are so many gems hidden in there, but without taking the time to wade through all the stuff he’s collected over the years, many of the best of them remain as dormant as the average brain. Fortunately, now and then Neil plucks one or two diamonds out of the mine and offers them to his newsletter readers.

Such was the case last week when Neil provided links to two articles by Marie-Louise Oosthuysen de Gutierrez. In the first article, she writes about Wisdom and Amygdala Clicking. She begins by defining wisdom as “good judgement, empathetic understanding, psychological insight, emotional regulation and discerning and shrewd advice.” She took this definition from the “Berlin Wisdom Paradigm”, something I had never heard of before. I looked it up and found a “Wisdom Quiz” which I took and scored a relatively high 4.3 on. I may have cheated a little, though, since it was pretty easy to detect the answers they were looking for. She then goes on to convincingly explain in neurological terms how amygdala clicking can aid in the attaining of wisdom.

The other article, Frontal Lobe Stimulation, starts with a detailed explanation of Paul MacLean’s triune brain theory, which was the basis of TDA Lingo’s theories. In it, she makes the connection between wisdom and stimulation of the frontal lobes via amygdala clicking, saying that in “the absence of an emergency, the prefrontal cortex has the capacity to modify the response of the amygdalae.” What I found most interesting about this sentence was that, intentionally or unintentionally, de Gutierrez was saying that the prefrontal cortex, not the “I” who imagines it is the boss is the one who does the modifying.

Somewhere in the mish-mash of neural activity in our brains is the capacity to make conscious choices. That’s why, after reading Neil Slade’s and TDA Lingo’s “far fetched” theories, I was able to make a decision to try amygdala clicking. What is amusing to me is that, as far as I can tell, the response that follows a successful “foward click” into frontal lobes nirvana, is no more conscious than the reaction that follows a backwards click. Let’s say I didn’t cheat and my 4.3 score indicates that “I” am a relatively wise person. Am I really? Why, for instance, do I feel empathetic when I do? Empathy is not an emotion you can fake and it is often contrary to the much vaunted survival instinct. It just happens, just as an outburst of anger just happens.

Good judgement, too, does not come as a result of some complex intellectual exercise, it seems to come from elsewhere. It just happens. In my case, at least, it often happens in spite of myself. Sometimes, when I’m really “switched on,” I do things that are contrary to what my intellectual perception of “good judgement” is and they turn out to be “my” wisest decisions. On other occasions, I’ve seen “miracles” occur that definitely fall outside the realm of neurology.

We live in interesting times. Between the successfully manufactured fear that fuels the War on Terror, the fear of global warming and the fear of economic collapse, the American collective amygdalae in particular are really working overtime. Some, like yours truly, believe all of these fears are manufactured ones. Who orchestrates them I can’t say for sure, but one thing I strongly believe is that the solution is individually and collectively simple. See the amygdalae for what they are and discover how easy it is to make the simple decision to flip the switch from fear to freedom. That is the only decision you have to make. After that, just let the “still, small voice” of wisdom whisper in your ear.

How to Activate Your Frontal Lobes

I hope I’m not being presumptuous here by offering a brief “How to” manual and I cringe at the thought of sounding preachy, but for what they’re worth, here are some ideas for frontal lobe activation:

Remember the title above, Frontal Lobe Stimulation? That’s a little different from amygdala tickling and may be closer to the mark. Tickling the amygdala with a feather worked brilliantly for me, but since my conversation with Neil, I’ve been rethinking things, as, I believe, he has. Instead of imaginatively switching the negative energy of a “clicked back” amygdala forward, I’ve just been either turning off the switch or, when its voice is too loud, turning down the dial. By reducing amygdaloid activity, I can let my frontal lobes (or perhaps the non-neurological intelligence that runs their show) take over without conscious interference.

However you choose to do it or whatever method you use, the important thing, I think, is to create a space between consciousness and amygdaloid activity. Ramana Maharishi suggested doing this by asking yourself, “Who am I?”  whenever thoughts cropped up. Mantra repetition also seems to “short circuit” amygdaloid activity. Visualisation has the added benefit of being non-verbal.

I believe it’s only when the pesky voices that come from the Dante’s Inferno of the reptilian brain are stilled that we begin to see the Light of wisdom. Do whatever it takes, but “just do it.” You’ll be glad you did – and so will those around you. Who knows? You just might save the world.

 

Why I Like My Frontal Lobes

Two recent events inspired this post. The first was a big increase in traffic to my site and subscribers to my newsletter thanks to Neil Slade’s recommending this site to his readers. The next was a Facebook exchange about Ron Paul that got me to thinking about religion and what it means to be religious. I have never thought of myself as religious, but I am sympathetic to the core values of religions, in spite of the evils done in the name of religion. “Why is that?” I asked myself. Then I asked myself, “What are those core values?” Then I started thinking about where my own core values came from. This is what I came up with:

  • My personal “conversion” to the core values of religions came to me when I was 20 years old. At the time, I was practising meditation as taught by Paramahansa Yogananda, whose Self Realization Fellowship calls itself the “Church of All Religions.”
  • A year later, I moved to a spiritual retreat in Northern California run by a direct disciple of Yogananda’s, Swami Kriyananda. There I taught hatha yoga and was able to meditate in an ideal setting for 4 months of the year during retreat season. I was thoroughly blissed out for those 4 months, but things got rougher when I had to return to the city in October.
  • My disenchantment with Kriyananda led me to go to India, where I spent a year. Much of that time was spent with My Guru Who Isn’t My Guru, Neem Karoli Baba.
  • Shortly before I had to leave India, Neem Karoli Baba told me to spend Easter weekend in retreat in my little woodcutter’s cottage in the lower Himalayas reading the New Testament. On the evening of Easter Sunday, I finally finished the canonical gospels. As I watched the sun set, I was asking myself what Iesu (Jesus) meant when he said, “Take, eat. This is my body.” As I contemplated these words, the universe seemed to come rushing into my body. As it did so, it said, “This is my body.” The experience was so overpowering, it was terrifying, but I was left with the lifelong conviction that God really is Love.

That was my peak experience, but others that came before and after have led me to have some core values that I associate with the highest ideals of the world’s religions. These values are not beliefs I adhere to because I read them in a book or was taught them by a guru; they are there because of those peak experiences which, I believe, changed me for the better. They didn’t turn me into an awesomely wise and saintly person by any means, but they did change me to one who found value, meaning and even personal gratification in behaviours usually associated with spirituality. I find it more gratifying to:

  • Be kind, rather than cruel
  • Love, rather than hate
  • Give, rather than take
  • Forgive, rather than judge
  • Be truthful, rather than lie
  • Be gentle, rather than harsh

The list goes on, but I think you get my drift. I rarely have those whiz-bang peak spiritual experiences I had when I was younger any more, but even as I write this, a peace comes over me that is worth more to me than all the money or power in the world. This tells me that I am in tune with my “religion” as best I am able to be at this moment in time.

At the same time, I know I’m quite capable of indulging in behaviours that are quite at odds with my “better half.” Like philosophers and theologians throughout the ages, I struggled for years trying to find answers to why this was so. Unable to settle for a theological explanation, I found one that works for me when I stumbled across Neil Slade’s Amazing Brain website and learned about the function of the amygdala in the brain. The pieces all fell into place:

  • The way I learned to meditate was to focus on the Third Eye (the point between the eyebrows). This was, according to Yogananda, where Christ Consciousness was located in the chakra system. This form of meditation worked brilliantly for me as long as I was able to do it regularly.
  • When my circumstances changed and I was no longer able or willing to meditate, I knew of no means of switching my higher consciousness on and a period of about 20 years of relative “darkness” ensued, with moments of illumination coming only randomly, usually triggered by memories, when I was doing stuff with my kids or when I was alone out in nature (especially surfing).
  • When I started experimenting with amygdala tickling, I had a big “brain pop” early on. I think it had something to do with having “primed the pump” with meditation early in life.
  • After I started switching my consciousness forward into my frontal lobes regularly, I had a great deal of success with my experiments with energy healing, something I previously thought was only for the gifted few.
  • I started listening to my intuition rather than my intellect; using my intellect as a tool, rather than as a master.
  • I’m happy inside for no particular reason far more often than I ever was before.

This list, too, goes on, but again, I think it gives you the idea. If you’re looking for happiness and fulfilment, the answer is right there between your eyes. That’s the way I see it anyway.

Neil Slade and Me

About ten years ago, after having abruptly been terminated from a job, I had no option but to take the first job I could find. This was at a factory that manufactured multi-million dollar yachts. The working conditions were atrocious, the crew immediately alienated me because of my American accent and the pay was terrible. Needless to say, I was depressed.

After a couple of weeks of wallowing in self pity and self-blame for having allowed myself to get into such a predicament, I stumbled across Neil Slade’s Amygdala Amazing Brain Adventure. To tell you the truth, I wasn’t all that impressed. At the time, I had a high-brow prejudice against amateur brain scientists and thought Slade fit into that mould. On the other hand, I liked his upbeat style and the fact that he didn’t put on airs. It seemed like he was sharing information rather than preaching, so I gave him the benefit of the doubt and read what he had to say.

Neil did have something to sell, but he was willing and even anxious to share his biggest “secret” for free. This was something he called “amygdala clicking.” Unlike most self-help techniques, the technique he offered was absurdly simple and the only background information needed was a basic understanding of how the amygdala worked. Had it been more complex, I wouldn’t have tried it, but since all it took was a conscious shifting of awareness from the reptile brain to the advanced frontal lobes, I gave it a try.

At first I felt only mild affects from amygdala clicking and wasn’t overly impressed. Then one cold rainy morning as I drove in the rain towards my dreaded job, I clicked forward and had what Neil called a “Brain pop.” Instantaneously, I went from depressed to elated. The world was a beautiful place and my job a fascinating excursion into a world I had never experienced before.

The years after that initial brain pop were challenging ones. First came the death of my father and then an unexpected divorce. They were also fascinating and enriching years. I credit that simple technique with having a great deal to do with my ability to navigate my way successfully through an almost unending succession of challenges.

By ‘successfully’, I don’t mean that I have ‘manifested abundance’ as preached by the abundance gurus. Wealth is grossly overrated, in my opinion. In fact, the word itself is derived from the word ‘wellth’, which simply means living and feeling well rather than having mountains of money and lots of stuff. By ‘successfully’, I mean I have managed to survive, find solutions to problems and make a positive contribution to the lives of those around me.

I’ve been a subscriber to Neil Slade’s newsletter since I stumbled across his website. I’ve subscribed to a lot of newsletters over the years, but his is one of the very few I haven’t unsubscribed to. The worst of them have been the feel-good new agey newsletters, which inevitably preach to me and try to make me feel like I have a shitty life that only their very expensive teachings can fix. Neil’s newsletters, on the other hand, are filled with anecdotes from his life and the ways that “brain magic” works for him. Sometimes they are spectacular and sometimes mundane, but I enjoy and appreciate his take on life.

I recently did a link swap with Neil Slade. He then asked me if I would please provide a link to one of his other sites. Easy How to Paint a Car. What? A car painting site? What’s that got to do with consciousness exploration? Well, nothing and everything. Let me explain:

Neil Slade needed a car. The car he wanted ever since he was a kid was a 1965 Lotus Elan. These were rare and expensive cars, though, so finding one he could afford was a longshot at best. He waved his magic wand and he found one less than a mile from his home. Mechanically, it was in mint condition, but it badly needed a paint job. He  taught himself everything he needed to know in order to restore the car to pristine condition. Then he wrote a step-by-step manual. He left nothing out and explained everything in detail. Gradually, the book began to sell. He continued to tweek the book and eventually turned it into a DVD.  It became his best seller and continues to be a major source of income for him today.

Neil Slade’s Easy How to Paint a Car is a perfect example of how “brain magic” works. If his brain had been stuck in negativity, he would have given up on his dream of owning that car. If his greed had overcome his better judgement, he may have borrowed the money to buy an expensive restored Lotus Elan and conceivably be paying it off to this day. Instead, he “clicked forward” and a solution came to him.

I’ve gone way over my self-imposed word limit, so I’ll close, but later I want to tell you a story about how ‘brain magic’ has worked for me. Honestly, it goes way beyond the brain and into the realm of the ‘miraculous’, but I’ll have to leave you with that little teaser for now. It’s time to get back to my paying job. At least now you know why there is a link to Easy How to Paint a Car on my site.