Monday, December 7, 2015

Jeffrey Martin's Finders Course Protocol

For reference on the Finders Course, some notes from a Three-Part Video Workshop taken by Jake Yeager.

The advice seems to be to meditate for an hour a day, starting with breath meditation and then body scanning and then moving on to a number of different major meditation protocols to see what works, mixed with a bit of positive psychology.

Friday, October 30, 2015

Psilocybin Research Expanding

A study at UW-Madison is doing something along the lines of the Johns Hopkins research on psilocybin.  The main emphasis here is on the pharmacokinetics, however attention is paid to set and setting.

And the NYU - Johns Hopkins studies continue, now with an eye towards members of the clergy as participants in the psilocybin research.

Lucid Dreamers More Aware

“Our results indicate that self-reflection in everyday life is more pronounced in persons who can easily control their dreams”

It does seems kind of obvious, that awareness in daily life would lead to awareness in dreams.  That's certainly been my experience, not that I'm a "super" lucid dreamer or something.  But since I've "gotten the meditation thing done", the lucid dreaming has definitely increased from close to nothing to not uncommon.  I think it's particularly useful to closely examine one's environment in a lucid dream, and also to meditate within the dream.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Dharma Talk(s) 019 - The Progress of Insight

Somewhat amazingly, someone from the IMS tradition is talking with relative openness about the "progress of insight", an old Buddhist map of progress from the commentaries, most commonly associated with the Mahasi tradition.  The consensus meditation community tends to avoid direct talk about such things.

It is a fairly theoretical overview, but there are some practical tips and some references to actual phenomenon, for example in the section on the arising and passing.  Thanks to Winnie Nazarko (and Dharmaseed) for these talks, each of which is around an hour in length.

Progress of Insight part I - insights 1-3 starting around 40 minutes or so in

Progress of Insight part II - insight 4, the Arising and Passing

Progress of Insight part III - insights 5-11, the Dukkha Nanas thru Equanimity

For reference, the Progress of Insight, as outlined by Mahasi Sayadaw:
  • 1 - Mind & Body
  • 2 - Cause & Effect
  • 3 - Three Characteristics
  • 4 - Arising & Passing
  • 5 - Dissolution
  • 6 - Fear
  • 7 - Misery
  • 8 - Disgust
  • 9 - Desire for Deliverance
  • 10 - Re-Observation
  • 11 - Equanimity
My brief thoughts on this:
These could be thought of as forming something like a sine wave on a scale of pleasantness vs. unpleasantness, with the peak of pleasantness being at 4 - Arising & Passing, then sliding down through the zero point in 5 - Dissolution, then falling into the unsatisfactory valley of the rest of the dukkha nanas 6-10, then rising back to even once more to 11 - Equanimity at the end.  At equanimity, technical Stream Entry (cessation) is possible.

As for the first few nanas, there really isn't much there if you ask me.  These were I believe added by Mahasi for largely theoretical reasons and to have something to talk about for rank beginners.   3 - Three Characteristics are indeed part of Buddhist philosophy, but I'm not sure the nana is really specifically about that.  It's more commonly experienced, if at all, as something like a persistent hardness or pain and perhaps relates to the sustained attention required in the territory of 1st jhana.

And being able to let go of this sustained attention and/or pain, this leads to the release experienced in nana 4 - Arising and Passing, again, not sure it necessarily relates to the theoretical qualities of the title, but there can be great pleasantness, and there can be bliss and light and energy and so forth and it relates to the territory of the 2nd jhana.  Everything is beautiful, baby, and if a big experience is going to happen, it's typically going to happen in this territory.

Then on to the Dukkha (unsatisfactory) nanas, relating perhaps to the out-of-phase-ness of the 3rd jhana, and these can be thought of as something more like a kind of package rather than individual bits coming up separately in a specific order.  But these types of things can be experienced.  One might be more likely to experience a pang of fear out of nowhere or have a fear/danger dream.  One might be more likely to experience frustration in everyday life, or feel a grimace-like digust-type sensation in meditation.  At Desire for Deliverance, one may feel quite the need to get up off the cushion ("I gotta get out of here!").  Re-Observation, however, is the real boss, the real suck, like all of the dukkha rolled into one - an angsty, depressing, unsatisfactoriness.  The trick is to keep going, stay aware, and to allow it to be just like that.

And then one can break out of that, letting go into Equanimity, relating to the territory of 4th jhana, where everything is okay.  Pleasant stuff is happening, that's okay.  Unpleasant stuff is happening, that's okay too.  It's all good.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Self-awareness, self-regulation, and self-transcendence (S-ART)

Self-awareness, self-regulation, and self-transcendence (S-ART): a framework for understanding the neurobiological mechanisms of mindfulness is a long and dense paper that attempts to blend knowledge about ancient meditation practices with modern neuroscience in a comprehensive way.

It gets a bit more into details and neurology than I or most laypeople could follow, but I think it contains some really nice secular pointers.

S-ART refers to three components of mindfulness, Self - Awareness, Regulation, & Transcendence:
  •  Self-Awareness - a meta-awareness
  •  Self-Regulation - an ability to effectively modulate one's behavior
  •  Self-Transcendence - a positive relationship between self and other that transcends self-focused needs and increases prosocial characteristics.
This triad "illustrates a method for becoming aware of the conditions that cause (and remove) distortions or biases."

Relevant perceptual, cognitive, emotional, and behavioral neuropsychological processes are highlighted as supporting mechanisms for S-ART, including:
  • intention and motivation
  • attention regulation
  • emotion regulation
  • extinction and reconsolidation
  • prosociality
  • non-attachment and decentering
"mindful awareness is thought to be critical for improving access and insight toward subject-object relations, such that the most fundamental nature of objects (including the self) is perceived "as they truly are," without distortions or biases inherent in cognition. This undistorted form of insight or experiencing is also referred to as “bare attention,” perception without interpretation."

Analysis of a number of different mindfulness scales used in research resulted in five facets of mindfulness including:
  • Observing - An enhanced capacity for noticing or attending to internal and external experiences
  • Describing - An enhanced capacity for noting and labeling internal experiences (feelings, images, and thoughts)
  • Awareness - An enhanced capacity for acting with present-centered awareness rather than on “automatic pilot”—lost in the past or the future
  • Non-Judgement - An enhanced ability to take a non-evaluative, non-judgmental stance toward inner thoughts, images, and feelings and outer experiences
  • Non-Reactivity - An enhanced ability to allow thoughts, images, and feelings to come and go without reacting to them or getting carried away by them

Legal or Quasi Legal Psilocybin Mushrooms

Vice reports on the relatively tolerant Indonesia scene found on Gili Trawangan island with the article Magic Mushroom Milkshake Island.

And apparently Jamaica has gone much the same way as evidenced by retreat centers such as Myco-Meditations.

In Guatemala, the Sinchi Runa Consciousness Technology Center offers a number of entheogenic experiences including mushrooms.

According to Wikipedia, the following countries have some form of either legalization, decriminalization, or some form of tolerance despite local laws of psilocybin mushrooms.  YMMV:
  • Brazil
  • British Virgin Islands
  • Canada
  • Czech Republic
  • Cyprus
  • Greece
  • Italy
  • Mexico
  • Netherlands
  • Portugal
  • Spain
Simon's adds the following:
  • Austria
  • Bulgaria
  • Indonesia

Monday, October 12, 2015

Can We End The Meditation Madness?

The NYT Op-Ed Can We End The Meditation Madness? asks us to stop "evangelizing" about meditation.  Which is probably a fairly reasonable request, given the amount of media attention, combined with the fact that most people will receive only mild benefits from their meditation practice.  And some people will have problems arise because of it, although this is in the same sense that some people will have abreactions in psychotherapy or with psychedelic drugs, because they are opening their minds up to material that may be temporarily hard to deal with.

The writer attempts to debunk the meditation hype, explaining that there are only mild benefits and that these benefits can be found elsewhere.

Op-Eds like this do tend to stretch the limits, or even break, the bounds of intellectual honesty, what with straw man arguments and cherry picking and so forth.  That is the style of the format.  Unfortunately, here I feel the author ends up throwing meditation out with the bath water.

And here I will evangelize.

I recall an early researcher, looking at Tibetan monks meditating, and the researcher just assumed that these monks were wasting their time in nothing more than religious ritual.  And there is some of that, but to the extent that those monks were getting their minds trained to be present and unattached to the contents of their awareness, oh yeah, they were doing something of possibly [hype] unimaginable importance [/hype].

Okay, so most people will get maybe not so much benefit, but probably most people who purchase a gym membership won't get much benefit either.  But it's not the fault of the gym.  There are a few, though, who adopt a routine, change their lives, get fit, drop a lot of weight, gain a lot of muscle, whatever.  There is at least the possibility of significant change, even if it isn't normal or expected.

There is the story of a 65 year old Indian woman with "mild developmental delays", who was basically retired with nothing to do.  Her husband recommended she get meditation instruction from Dipa Ma, their neighbor.  The woman repeatedly forgot the instructions (for noting practice), but after about a year mastered the practice and became "like a tiger".  She went on to attain stream entry, the first stage of enlightenment.

A cherry picked example, perhaps, but the implication would be that anyone can do this.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Oliver Sacks - Psychonaut

I recently came across this three year old New Yorker article by Oliver Sacks describing his rather extensive experimentation with recreational chemicals.  His roster includes LSD, cannabis, morning glory seeds, artane (belladonna), amphetamines, morphine, as well as the experience of full on DT hallucinations from chloral hydrate withdrawal.

One reason I thought to post this, besides the obvious, is that his practice of dealing with difficult hallucinations was:
"to write, to describe the hallucination in clear, almost clinical detail, and, in so doing, become an observer, even an explorer, not a helpless victim, of the craziness inside me. I am never without pen and notebook, and now I wrote for dear life, as wave after wave of hallucination rolled over me.

Description, writing, had always been my best way of dealing with complex or frightening situations—though it had never been tested in so terrifying a situation. But it worked; by describing in my lab notebook what was going on, I managed to maintain a semblance of control, though the hallucinations continued, mutating all the while."
This practice reminded me of noting practice, of mindfulness or vipassana, and it struck me that some very visual-verbal people might plausibly get a lot out of a written noting practice.  It also reminded me of Adyashanti's practice of written self-inquiry.

Psychedelic Therapy Re-Emerging

"One small randomized controlled trial indicates that LSD-assisted psychotherapy might help reduce anxiety from terminal illness. Another small study, in which the active molecule in "magic mushrooms" was used as part of therapy for alcohol addiction, shows a significant reduction in the number of days alcohol was used as well as in the amount. A small US study of the drug MDMA shows a reduction in PTSD symptoms in people with chronic, treatment-resistant PTSD."

Skepticism Warranted in Meditation/Psychedelic Experiences

We already know that the brain under the influence of psychedelics has a tendency towards an overactive imagination.  I'm not sure that is a specific clinical finding, but I've heard researchers comment in that direction.

From the abstract "Increased False-Memory Susceptibility After Mindfulness Meditation," participants were more likely to present false memories and had "reduced reality-monitoring accuracy after completing the mindfulness induction. These results demonstrate a potential unintended consequence of mindfulness meditation in which memories become less reliable."

Another study found that participants given LSD were more suggestible, and that this was tied to the traits of absorption or immersion, as well as conscientiousness.

Neuroscience of the Self

“self-processing in the brain is not instantiated in a particular region or network, but rather extends to a broad range of fluctuating neural processes that do not appear to be self specific”

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Dharma Talk 018 - Awareness Of Awareness

We could describe enlightenment as maybe having something to do with the degree to which one has trained the mind metaphorically back to the original mind, towards what we might refer to as non-conceptual awareness.  The natural, relatively unconditioned pre-verbal state. Just the meat, the flesh, prior to conditioning.  Pure, fresh, bare awareness, without much attachment to what is appearing.  Everything is happening without grasping or resisting.

My tendency is to lean hard on awareness as the key.  Training the mind so that awareness is happening a high percentage of time, and for long continuous stretches.  In order to get that happening, I recommend structured approaches to meditation that incorporate some kind of constant interaction or feedback, as well as placing a priority on the sensate experiences of seeing, hearing and feeling.  Things like (Mahasi) noting practice or breath counting are structured approaches.  Less structured styles such as generic mindfulness or MBSR can work, but in my experience the average person spaces out too much if they don't have some method to keep them on point.  Good practice makes good practice permanent.  Practicing spacing out a fair amount of the time tends to teach the mind to space out a fair amount of the time.

It's not simply awareness that we are after, but more specifically awareness of awareness.  It's that extra layer of awareness, that recursive awareness where one knows what one is aware of, that seems to make the difference.  This monitoring or observing mind has a kind of freedom within that extra distance or space, in contrast to a mind that is deeply embedded in and attached to thought.

What we're ultimately after, and implicitly describing, is the relaxation, the lack of attachment, the letting go that can take place within that kind of awareness.  Letting go of grasping and resisting, letting things simply be as they are, without fighting or arguing with reality.  But first and foremost you have to be able to see and feel those things, and for that you need that awareness of awareness.

"This is the way it is. You detach. You let go. Whenever there is any feeling of clinging, we detach from it, because we know that that very feeling is just as it is. It didn't come along especially to annoy us. We might think that it did, but in truth it just is that way. If we start to think and consider it further, that, too [thinking and considering], is just as it is. If we let go, then form is merely form, sound is merely sound, odour is merely odour, taste is merely taste, touch is merely touch and the heart is merely the heart."

"Let things be just as they are! Let form be just form, let sound be just sound, let thought be just thought."

-Ajahn Chah

Monday, August 17, 2015

Mindfulness & Neuroscience with Jud Brewer

Some YouTube videos from Judson Brewer, director of research at the Center for Mindfulness at UMASS.  The CfM has an online forum to support MBSR meditation.

A very brief (1 minute) intro to what they were doing with Real-Time fMRI Meditation Neurofeedback.

A couple of longer videos that get more into the nuts and bolts, The Center for Mindfulness’ Research Priorities (41 minutes) and Mindfulness and Neurofeedback (72 minutes), each including a bit of Buddhist theory and at least indirectly, some pointers to practice.

The Science of Compassion (17 minutes) covers some similar ground with a slight focus on loving-kindness meditation.

Dr. Judson Brewer: Life Worth Living and the Buddhist Tradition (32 minutes) is a one on one interview that delves into personal experience.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Is Psilocybin The Next Cannabis?

Is Psilocybin The Next Cannabis? covers the benefits of psilocybin and discusses the difficulties of getting it legalized in comparison to cannabis.

Personal comment:  Psilocybin is following a legalization track based on relieving existential anxiety in terminal cancer patients.  I would be interested to see how psilocybin would perform if substituted for MDMA in the studies on PTSD.  I suspect it would do pretty well.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Psychedelics In Buddhism

The Long Strange Trip (Tricycle) reports on the publishing of the 2nd edition of the book Zig Zag Zen, which consists of essays covering the intersection of Buddhism and psychedelics.

It was something I noticed back in the early 1980s, when I was working as a newspaper reporter and interviewing longtime members of San Francisco Zen Center.  I’d ask them how they got interested in Buddhism, and I’d keep hearing about “the long, strange trip.”

“Well,” the answer would go, “I guess you could say it started with that first acid trip back in 1965.”
Among other things, the article refers to the rapidly changing legal landscape, mentioning that "as early as 2020, researchers now predict, MDMA and psilocybin could be reclassified by the US Food and Drug Administration and routinely used under the watchful eye of trained therapists."

Top 21 Benefits of Meditation

From an anti-aging site, the top 21 benefits of meditation.  The article goes into some detail on each of these.

  1. Meditation reduces stress, ruminative thoughts, appraisals of threat, increases compassion, and may slow the rate of cellular aging
  2. Meditation reduces heart rate, ambulatory blood pressure and stress-induced hypertension
  3. Meditation reduces carotid artery intimal thickness (CIMT)
  4. Meditation lowers lipid peroxide levels in the blood
  5. Meditation improves Heart Rate Variability (HRV)
  6. Meditation increases melatonin levels, which helps you sleep. Melatonin also prevents cellular senescence and activates SIRT1 gene expression
  7. Meditation increases telomerase activity by 43%
  8. Meditation effectively treats Depression with the same “effect size” as medication
  9. Meditation reduces mortality 
  10. Meditation down-regulates pro-inflammatory genes – COX2 and RIPK2
  11. Meditation increases DHEA levels and reverses its age-related decline by 5-10 years 
  12. Meditation increases the size of the brain
  13. Meditation increases Activity in the Brain’s “Attention Center”
  14. Meditation Deactivates (decreases activity) in the Brain’s “Daydreaming Center”, also known as the “Default Mode Network”
  15. Breathing Rate with Meditation Determines the size change of a very specific area under the occipitotemporal lobe.  Breathing rate decreases with increasing experience of the meditator
  16. Meditation can reduce Chronic Pain
  17. Meditation can reduce anxiety
  18. Meditation is an “Epigenetic Drug, changing gene expression
  19. Meditation can reduce stress in caregivers of those taking care of dementia patients and handicapped patents or children
  20. Meditation changes gene expression in peripheral blood lymphocytes
  21. Meditation reduces Loneliness in elderly adults

Thursday, July 16, 2015

A Skeptic Meditates on Meditation

Meta-Meditation: A Skeptic Meditates on Meditation strikes me as a partly useful wake up call to meditation sycophants and quite a bit of a very biased sour grapes rant.

It's extremely common to hear a story that goes something like this: "one time I tried to meditate but I just couldn't do it."  Yep.  But it's like someone saying they picked up a musical instrument and because they weren't an instant virtuoso they gave up.  I mean, that would be silly, right?  The author sounds a bit more experienced, but I think something along those lines is taking place.

In terms of benefits, I think most people who meditate would be hard pressed to describe more than the very mildest benefits, namely that they are a little bit more aware and a little bit more relaxed, and that's about it.  To get more benefits means you would really need to get the thing done, get the mind trained.  You have to really learn to play that instrument, and I'm not sure a whole lot of people really master any instrument, much less one that they have unconsciously trained in another direction for say, 16 hours a day for their entire life.

Sure, there's hype and bad gurus, and like any somewhat speculative area, there is some weak research.  But knocking Matthieu Ricard with a cherry picked example?  Seriously?  That's delusional.  That's bad form.

Or this:
Meditation is the equivalent of telling yourself, over and over, “Be happy,” or, “Chill.” In other words, meditation, like psychotherapy, harnesses the placebo effect. In fact, you meditators out there can have this mantra, free of charge: “Chill.”
Certain meditations, maybe.  Actually, I think this is not such a bad idea.  I recommend, from time to time, using a custom mantra that you invent on the spot.  Need love?  Then that's your mantra, "Love."  Need awareness, peace, bliss, whatever, there you go.  That kind of thing can be useful if it gets you to stop grasping at other stuff.  But ultimately it's not about chasing some kind of perfect state, it's about being okay with what is.

I would agree that the having no goal problem is a problem.  I think a lot of teachers teach from the end stage, where we might say that there is nothing to do.  But realistically most people are going to require a lot of training to get the mind aware and present before they can really engage with that type of direction.

Arguing against the "niceness" of meditators again seems like cherry picking.  Overall, you get people more aware and relaxed, I'm pretty sure things will probably be a little bit better.  It's not going to be worse.  And if people take it far enough, they naturally become more compassionate simply because they're not quite as identified with the individual self.

I think part of the reason for this person's rant is that the consensus meditation community is not so great at teaching people how to really get it done.  Regardless of the style, people are generally left to their own devices and in many ways are encouraged to contemplate on the cushion, to relax and think.  Which if you're actually able to be detached from those thoughts while you're thinking them would be fine.  But I wouldn't bet on many people actually getting it done that way.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Podcast with Brad Burge of MAPS

The Tink Tink Club's interview with Brad Burge of MAPS.  Lots of interesting talk, mainly about MDMA research.  Apparently we are on track to have legal MDMA for psychotherapeutic use for PTSD by 2021.

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Dharma Talk 017 - Awareness and Relaxation

I was recently watching the "Brain Games" television show on the National Geographic channel, I believe it was the one about Scams, and at the end of it Jason Silva said:

But remember being gullible isn't all bad.  If your brain wasn't capable of suspending disbelief you'd never lose yourself in a good book or get sucked into a movie.

I wanted to comment that for me, this "awareness" thing deriving from meditation took off and at a certain point we could say that it more or less took over my life.  One of the first times I noticed this was when I went to a movie and I didn't get sucked in.  Not for a second.  I was aware and present the whole time.  And I recognized that this was unusual, like, hmm, "this is new".

At the time I was participating in some regular video chats with several more advanced yogis.  I mentioned this phenomenon to them and at that moment, the screen of maybe 3 or 4 yogis suddenly lit up with everyone gesturing "thumbs up" into their webcams.  The place lit up with thumbs.  At that point I realized I was on the right track.

I don't want to be too obtuse about this - to some degree I can get a little bit absorbed or lost in something, but for the most part nowadays, I am typically aware.  I would be happy to bet money on whether or not I am present, because I know that is a bet I would win on average.  A friend of mine at the time, one of the senior yogis, remarked that he felt as if he was "stuck in the present".  Yes.

The key, though, is that even if I get a little bit absorbed into something, I am relatively unattached to whatever that is, and there is a flexibility with that, and there is even then at least a little bit of a foothold into the present.  There's a friend of mine that likes to sleep with a foot out from underneath the covers.  However covered up she may be, there's still that one little piece that is exposed to the ambient temperature.  So it's a little like that, a little bit of awareness that is always grounded in the here and now.

I'm reminded a bit of Les Fehmi's training that he refers to as Open Focus.  Same kind of thing.  A vipassana type awareness of space and volume is used to train awareness and to have an attentional flexibility between a narrow and wide or open focus, and to always have a little bit of that broader open awareness of the here and now.

The key that I referred to is this relative lack of attachment, and there is a certain kind of relaxation or tranquility that comes with that.  We can try to relax, but it appears that for the most part we must be aware in order to relax.  So awareness comes first.  If we are aware, we can be truly relaxed.  If you are lost in some kind of daydream, you might come out of it and notice that some part of your body was tensed up in response to your thoughts.  Once you come out of the fantasy, you see that your body is tensed up and it is often very easy and obvious to relax that tension.

When I watch movies, I sense when there are scenes that are interpreted as tense, and I kind of feel a little bit of that, but I don't really get sucked in.  I am aware, though, that people around me are in fact tensing up, and after a scene like that you will often hear a lot of deep sighs.  As people come out of that tense scene and gain some degree of awareness of the tension that they were holding, they naturally let go of that tension in the diaphragm, and relax.

There is this obvious level of physical tension that can be let go of, and maybe even more importantly I would say that there are levels where we could say that emotional tension can be let go of, and mental tension as well.  But it requires that we be aware, that we be aware very continuously, and that within that we feel all those little sensations and feelings and thoughts, and our resistance or craving of those feelings and sensations and thoughts, and that we see all this and allow the body to really see this and to maybe relax a bit.  And you just practice that kind of awareness and feeling and releasing for a couple of thousand hours, and there you go :)

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Streaming Psychedelic Computer Visions

Based on the same type of technology referred to in the post Computer Visualization Similar To Psychedelics, here we have Large Scale Deep neural net dreaming, steered by chat. 

Inputs from chat continuously steer the computer based visions as if in a strange fractal dream.

Consciousness is less in Control

Associate Professor of Psychology Ezequiel Morsella's "Passive Frame Theory" suggests that the conscious mind is like an interpreter helping speakers of different languages communicate.

"The interpreter presents the information but is not the one making any arguments or acting upon the knowledge that is shared," Morsella said. "Similarly, the information we perceive in our consciousness is not created by conscious processes, nor is it reacted to by conscious processes. Consciousness is the middle-man, and it doesn't do as much work as you think."
This is very much in line with insights from classic enlightenment that everything is just happening and that our attachment to self identity is illusory.  That consciousness is like some kind of delusional reporter, continually late to the scenes of crimes and yet imagining itself to be involved or even causing the crimes.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Computer Visualization Similar To Psychedelics

In the field of pattern recognition, the current state of the art technology are the so-called deep neural networks, with many layers of neurons that learn to recognize features.  The way that these learn to pick up certain features such as the edges of objects and then build them into an image is similar to the way our own visual processing works.

This page hosts some images, like that shown here, of places in these layers that are processing images, at the stage of the incomplete feature detectors.  I find these have a lot in common with the way that visuals are perceived on psychedelics.

The original article is Inceptionism:  Going Deeper into Neural Networks.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Self-awareness not unique to mankind

From the article Self-awareness not unique to mankind.

Researchers suggest that any animal capable of simulating an environment (i.e. what we do with our brains) must have some form of self awareness, possibly a sense of self.  Perhaps an illusory sense of self, I might add.

Conducted by University of Warwick researchers, the study found that humans and other animals capable of mentally simulating environments require at least a primitive sense of self. The finding suggests that any animal that can simulate environments must have a form of self-awareness.

Read more at:

Conducted by University of Warwick researchers, the study found that humans and other animals capable of mentally simulating environments require at least a primitive sense of self. The finding suggests that any animal that can simulate environments must have a form of self-awareness.

Read more at:
Conducted by University of Warwick researchers, the study found that humans and other animals capable of mentally simulating environments require at least a primitive sense of self. The finding suggests that any animal that can simulate environments must have a form of self-awareness.

Read more at:
Conducted by University of Warwick researchers, the study found that humans and other animals capable of mentally simulating environments require at least a primitive sense of self. The finding suggests that any animal that can simulate environments must have a form of self-awareness.

Read more at:

Conducted by University of Warwick researchers, the study found that humans and other animals capable of mentally simulating environments require at least a primitive sense of self. The finding suggests that any animal that can simulate environments must have a form of self-awareness.

Read more at:

Dharma Talk 016 - Thinking Out Loud

I think the first time I ever really did something close to this exercise of thinking out loud was while rehearsing for a talk that I had to do at school.  I did the whole in front of the mirror thing.

What I mean by thinking aloud (there's actually an intended pun in there) is actually thinking out loud, i.e. talking to oneself.

Over the years I discovered that my personal internal thinking style might be categorized as somewhat more abstract or intuitive.  While I was a classically good objective thinker, on the inside I was a bit less concrete, going a bit more by feel and intuition.  Occasionally, in the real world, some of my ideas might have initially felt pretty solid, but it was sometimes difficult to translate these into words.  And every now and then I might find that once I got an idea out into the cold hard light of day there were some serious holes in my thinking.

In response to that phenomenon, I began to occasionally flesh out my thinking on certain topics by actually thinking about them out loud.  Talking to myself.  I found this fairly useful, but it was fairly rare that I actually did this.

After getting seriously into meditation, specifically noting practice, at some point I adopted this thinking out loud thing as a kind of informal practice and tried to do it whenever I could, often on a daily basis, or at least when I had something to work on thinking wise.  Having a bit of time alone is helpful for this.  While driving the car, for example.  Maybe in the shower.

The results of doing this fairly regularly for several years is quite striking.  There is something about turning those vague and sometimes sticky thoughts into something immediately physical and objectifiable that has paid great dividends.  I suppose individual results may vary.  Clearly, I have seen people walking down the street talking to themselves that are quite embedded in their thoughts and lost in that way.  I'm not talking about that kind of thing, I'm talking about really being truly and continuously aware of what you are thinking and saying.

When thinking out loud, the thoughts are "out there" in a very dramatic way.  The thoughts are experienced on multiple physical dimensions.  Beyond the thinking itself, the thoughts are heard, and the vibrations of the voice are felt.  Somehow this process, which could be thought of as a slight variation on out loud noting practice, gave me some extra "distance" from the thoughts.  At least for myself, it becomes very difficult to space out and lose myself in thought the way that can happen when I am thinking to myself.  I can think as long as I want and never get stuck.

Given that attachment to thought is generally one of the stickiest things to overcome, a technique like this can be really helpful.

Hallucinogens and God Survey at Johns Hopkins

Straight from the website:

Have you ever taken a hallucinogen and had a personal encounter with God or a Higher Power?

The States of Consciousness Research Team at Johns Hopkins needs your help. We’re conducting an anonymous, web-based research study to characterize experiences of a personal encounter with something that someone might call “God” (e.g., the God of your understanding), “Higher Power,” or “Ultimate Reality.”

If you’ve ever had such an experience, we would greatly appreciate it if you would take our survey. If you know of others who’ve ever had such an experience please send them the link and encourage them to participate. This includes people who had such an experience long ago.

As you may know, our team has conducted survey and laboratory studies characterizing experiences with psilocybin and other hallucinogens. You can see our body of work here: This new survey is an important extension of our published and ongoing research about mystical experiences occasioned by psilocybin and other classic hallucinogens.

To participate visit the following website:
Principal Investigator: Roland R. Griffiths, Ph.D. Protocol IRB00054696

Approved February 27, 2015

Pro Psilocybin 920 Coalition

Mushrooms are medicine.

The 920 Coalition is organizing dozens of events on 9/20/2015 in the US and around the world focused on recent research on the role of psychedelic psilocybin mushrooms in our society and health care system. We are a collaboration of non-profit organizations and individuals, we hope you'll join us!

Monday, June 15, 2015

United States Psychedelic Churches

The Peyote Way Church of God is an Arizona based non-sectarian organization offering a Spirit Walk that requires 24 hours of fasting followed by a solitary peyote experience in natural surroundings.  There are a number of states that do not restrict the use of peyote when used as religious sacrament, either within the Native American Church (NAC) or similar religious organizations.  The current US states that allow this outside the NAC are AZ, CO, MN, NV, NM & OR, with various others allowing it for members of the NAC.

Similarly, various ayahuasca experiences seem to be available in the United States through the Churches of Santo Daime, UDV (Uniao De Vegetal), and the NAC.  There does not seem to be much information available directly online, you would probably need to contact some of these groups although I'm not exactly sure how, it seems you would need to know a member.

Here is a short documentary about a Santo Daime church in Ashland Oregon.  The church is known as the Church of the Holy Light of the Queen, as mentioned in the article The Holy Dose: Spiritual adventures with Southern Oregon's psychedelic crusaders.  The Santo Daime experience, at least in Ashland, comes with quite a bit of ritual, special clothing and chanting.

The UDV is apparently happening in Colorado, New Mexico, California, Florida, Texas, and Washington.  Santa Fe's UDV church has been mentioned in the news.

Ayaquest offers an ayahuasca ceremony which I believe is in Kentucky and within the NAC.

In the past there has been a Church of the Sacred Mushroom although the link seems to be dead.  To me, this seems like something that we should be doing in the sense that the mushroom experience takes one to a similar territory, is not as puke-inducing as ayahuasca or peyote, and it fits into a slightly more manageable time frame.  But, to each their own.

At any rate, there are many alternative experiences and treatments available, even with the US.  For example, I recently heard of someone looking into ketamine treatments for depression.  And outside the US, ibogaine treatments are available.


Soulquest Ayahuasca retreats in Florida

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Mixed Results on tDCS: Prejudice Down, IQ Down

Electric brain stimulation decreases racial prejudice scores while lowering cognitive improvement scores.

Ibogaine Reduces Nicotine Addiction

Metabolite of psychedelic drug ibogaine reduces nicotine self-administration in rats.

Metzinger: Spirituality & Honesty

Spirituality and Intellectual Honesty is a 30 page essay by German philosopher Thomas Metzinger, author of The Ego Tunnel (a book strong on the idea that the self is a bit of an illusion).

It's a mildly heavy intellectual essay, not sure I would necessarily wish it on anyone, but there were a few ideas that stood out to me.

We could see vipassana or mindfulness as something that teaches us to see things as they are, to see things clearly.  Along these lines, Metzinger sees spirituality as an "inner ascetism", an incorruptibility towards oneself, something that requires us to let go of our comfortable inner prejudices in order to see reality.  He sees intellectual honesty as a special form of spirituality, and as the opposite of dogmatic religion.

I tend to look at the enlightenment game as potentially encompassing this broader view where one might go in the direction of actually letting go of many beliefs, in a sense back towards "ground zero".  That view would contrast with the idea of those people that we could consider to be conventionally enlightened, but are still operating within a religious framework that I would consider to be "extra" layers of belief.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Deep Dive: Your Brain On Psychedelics/Spirituality

Deep Dive: Your Brain On Psychedelics/Spirituality:  "As part of our Deep Dive series on drugs and religion, HuffPost Live takes a look at how our brains and bodies respond to both mind-altering substances and spiritual experiences—and whether drugs can actually bring us closer to God."

Including interviews with Roland Griffiths, Andrew Newberg, and Franz Vollenweider.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Online Light and Sound Entrainment

Squareeater hosts a number of trippy stroboscopic lights and patterns along with binaural beats and sound.  Such as Transfix.

MDMA Reduces Self-Criticism

MDMA or “ecstasy” can help reduce self-criticism and increased self-compassion, according to preliminary research published in the Journal of Psychopharmacology.

An interesting study where apparently participants provided their own recreational MDMA.  I guess that's one way to get around some of the hurdles in research.

How Psychedelics are Saving Lives

How Psychedelics are Saving Lives - a short video on the benefits of psychedelics from the folks.  Its almost a bit too positive, but then again I think it is kind of necessary given the negative hype these substances have received over the years.

Ayahuasca Hype

It seems to me that the consumption of Ayahuasca (as opposed to any number of other major psychedelics), along with the business of Ayahuasca tourism, has been way over-hyped.

There are people who might never touch something like mushrooms (or anything else) who somehow become convinced that Ayahuasca has magic healing powers, and they set out on an expensive trip to the Amazon.

I want to say that it may be that Ayahuasca might eventually test out as something particularly useful.  But the main point is that I think it wouldn't be too surprising if Ayahuasca doesn't end up particularly standing out from the pack of other psychedelics.

I think there are a number of things that may contribute to the actual or perceived effect of the Ayahuasca experience:

  • It's A Psychedelic Drug - We already know that the psychedelic family of drugs has great potential for psychological healing, going back to the early studies on LSD and continuing with recent studies on MDMA and psilocybin.  The fact that a drug in this class may have similar properties should be completely unsurprising.
  • It's Kind Of Legal - It's kind of in a legal limbo of sorts internationally, which I suspect may change pretty soon.  The practice is legal in Brazil within the framework of religious use.
  • Massive Commitment - I suspect that people making a large commitment of money and time for an authentic Ayahuasca experience, and such a sacrifice of personal comfort, might well be more predisposed to making some changes in their life, and more willing to see things in a different light.  In the aftermath of an experience, they might well be disposed to reflect on it in a positive light to justify it.
  • Ceremonial Aspect - Similar to the point on commitment, the use of a Shaman or spiritual guru type within a magical framework, an ancient "back to the earth" type ceremony, may be something that certain people are looking for and derive meaning from.
  • Purging - Many clearly view this as a literal purging of toxins, both physical and psychological, a kind of casting out of demons.  I think it is pretty straightforward that the body is reacting to chemicals.  Notice that there are psychedelics available that don't typically cause you to get sick.
  • Exotic location - A literal physical escape from one's normal life and an encounter with perhaps a more simple, earth based culture.  Even a normal vacation can help reset people.
  • Massive visuals - I'm not sure that Ayahuasca is the most visual of psychedelics, but if it isn't, it is probably right up there.  The visuals "give" something to the participants, they may feel as if something is actually being done, something magical, even.  They are taken on a journey.  It may be that in some cases the visions do speak to the participants, allowing some unconscious material to be revealed in a useful way.  But other psychedelics do this as well.
Not all of the above points are necessarily bad or problematic.  And there may be quite a lot to the Ayahuasca experience chemically.  There are a number of chemicals in the caapi vine, for example.  But then again people get very similar effects from the raw chemicals of DMT and an MAO inhibitor.

I don't necessarily want to discount the Ayahuasca experience.  But rather to point out that there may well be nothing special here, that the same results might be achieved perhaps even more reliably and safely with substances that say, don't tend to cause people to puke and shit their guts out.

I think it points to the possibility of centers around the world that offer a therapeutically based psychedelic vacation experience.  Perhaps with trained psychologists or trip sitters on hand rather than a shaman.  A certain amount of ceremony could be used, similar to the way the Johns Hopkins study participants receive the psilocybin in a chalice.  I am not sure of the legality, but it would seem such a thing could exist in Amsterdam, if it already doesn't.

In my life, I have had a couple of acquaintances go down and do the authentic Ayahuasca thing.  It's too small a sample, but both had negative experiences and reported being dosed too high.  With one woman, the "shaman" told her the next day that he "felt" she should be given a double dose.  Clearly the shaman's ancient wisdom failed.  Perhaps we could move on to some more modern wisdom.

Talk by Johns Hopkins Psilocybin Study Participant

This is a talk (mp3) by Clark Martin, a practicing psychologist who was one of the subjects in the Johns Hopkins psilocybin-cancer study.  His perspective as a psychologist makes it particularly interesting.

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Monday, April 20, 2015

How Do Psychedelic Drugs Work On The Brain?

An interesting video by Robin Carhart-Harris explaining the effects of psilocybin on the brain.

One of the primary effects of psilocybin (and meditation) is to decrease the activity of the Default Mode Network (DMN), an area of the brain that usually receives about 40% more blood than other areas.  The DMN, something like the wandering mind, involves activities such as:
  • self-reflection
  • complex mental imagery
  • mental time travel
  • theory of mind (thinking about other's thoughts)
  • metacognition (thinking about thinking)
Plausibly, meditation should be designed so as to lean away from these types of things.

In addition to decreasing DMN activity, the integrity of DMN and other networks is decreased.  This may be related to feelings of being "fragmented" or a disintegration of self, and may explain distortions in time perception.

EEG amplitudes are decreased, particularly alpha, in part because of a decrease in overall coherence and synchrony.  There is more instability, more chaos or entropy.  Since the waves aren't aligned, they can't get reach the same amplitudes.

However at a network level, say between the DMN and TPN (task) networks that are usually more anti-correlated, these actually become more similar in activity.  The integration of the mind at this level might relate to feelings of oneness.

The decreases in the DMN are correlated with intensity of effects, ego disintegration, decrease in alpha power, as well as an increase in "magical thinking" and speculative ("impetuous") inference.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Pain and Anxiety reduction from Meditation

Article describes:

... an experiment that involved applying unpleasant electric stimuli to a group in a meditative state and to a control group with a similar healthy lifestyle, each group comprising 17 volunteers. All test subjects were in an fMRI scanner when the stimuli were applied.

The experiment produced surprising results, as it revealed that mindfulness practitioners were able to reduce pain perception by 22 percent and anticipatory anxiety by 29 percent during a mindful state.

Acid Test: LSD, Ecstacy, and the Power to Heal

Interview with Tom Shroder, author of Acid Test: LSD, Ecstacy, and the Power to Heal He explains the process of MDMA assisted psychotherapy along with the history of MDMA's rise from party drug to harbinger of hope.

Psychedelics in American Religious Experience

Psychedelics in American Religious Experience, some background relating the Pahnke Good Friday / March Chapel experiment and a survey about what percentage of the general population are having mystical experiences by way of psychedelics.

Monday, March 9, 2015

No Link Between Psychedelics and Mental Health Problems

The article Seeing Opportunity in Psychedelic Drugs reports on a massive study published in the Journal of Psychopharmacology, at odds with widely held perceptions.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

A Skeptical Talk about Powers

Psychic or paranormal powers could refer to any number of things - ESP, clairvoyance, psychokinesis, remote viewing, etc.  This is a long post, and I apologize in advance for being a buzzkill on this topic.

When I was very young, particularly at single digit ages, you could say I believed in powers.  I think of it as a stage of magical thinking that children go through, and I guess you could say that I used these powers all the time.  For example, I occasionally used them (i.e. believed in them) while taking tests to call up an answer here or there, if the answer was a bit hard to recall at first.  Sometimes it worked, and importantly, that is all I really paid attention to at the time.

One of the more notable things I did was to attempt to use these powers to get the elementary school teacher that I wanted for the upcoming year.  Every day during the summer, I would focus my intent in this way.  And for two years in a row, this worked - I got the teacher of my choice (1 out of 3 odds).  But imagine my surprise when in the third year, following the exact same process, I somehow got the "wrong" teacher.  I couldn't believe it - how had my powers failed?

The teacher failure didn't exactly change me overnight, but in the scheme of things I suppose it was an important data point, and frankly I consider it lucky that I had ended up creating a testable experiment (of course a sample of three is a complete joke).  But in a larger sense I began to find that I was simply paying attention to everything that was happening, and I was beginning to notice that there were misses to this power thing as well as hits, and over many years I began to see that it really didn't matter whether I focused my magical intent or not.  Coincidences were happening at about the same rate regardless of my focus on the powers.

One big question, really THE question, is whether or not it is a problem that people believe in such things. 

Is it a problem if someone hears an old wives tale and rubs a potato on a wart to make it go away?  In a smaller sense, maybe not.  We just have people wasting time and potatoes, and for the most part they will still have warts.  But in a larger sense, the passive acceptance of such things trains people to believe in superstition and to use sloppy thinking, things that will plausibly affect society in the long run.  And I fear that it is ultimately a surprisingly small step to go from believing a potato will cure a wart to believing that sex with a virgin will cure your AIDS.  And that is a criminally negligent and dangerous belief.

There is a pragmatic aspect to this - if there is some kind of magical imagination that enhances reality with little downside, perhaps we can go along with that, long term societal effects notwithstanding.  After all, William James suggested "we judge the mystical experience not by its veracity, which is unknowable, but by its fruits: does it turn someone’s life in a positive direction?"

Perhaps someone is having some difficulties in life, and by imagining certain powers and "calling" upon them, they end up getting themselves in better alignment with positive outcomes, more focused on what they want.  Perhaps they let go of any subtle or not so subtle mental beliefs that are obstructing their desired goals.  This could be a good thing.

But my point is that these are all things can be done without magical thinking.  Call it simple logic, or more to the point, a simpler form of pragmatism, clear thinking about life and goals.  To me, calling up the image of a deity or something is extra work.

Once upon a time, in graduate school I smoked some hash oil which turned out to be much more powerful than I had anticipated.  I ended up retreating to my bed in a fetal position to ride it out, and I had an out of body experience (OOBE) - it seemed as if I had floated up to the ceiling above where I was resting.  But my eyes were closed, I was virtually tripping, and I think it would be much more accurate to say that I had an OOBE daydream, an OOBE imagination.  Many things are possible in imagination.

I am reminded of Susan Blackmore's OOBE experience (also on marijuana) where she had the experience of floating outside the building she was in for several hours.
"It was just over thirty years ago that I had the dramatic out-of-body experience [OOBE] that convinced me of the reality of psychic phenomena and launched me on a crusade to show those closed-minded scientists that consciousness could reach beyond the body and that death was not the end. Just a few years of careful experiments changed all that. I found no psychic phenomena - only wishful thinking, self-deception, experimental error and, occasionally, fraud. I became a sceptic."
I would mention that during her OOBE, as she floated outside she reported seeing gargoyles on the building.  I think it is highly relevant to the discussion that there actually were no gargoyles on the building, something that was made clear in the cold hard light of day the next morning.  But she was impressed enough nevertheless to spend many years on paranormal research.

For those who believe in remote viewing, I cordially invite you over to my place.  Come on by and float around.  There are 4 decent sized works of art in the dining room / living room area.  Clearly demonstrate to me (or a neutral party) that you've seen one or more of these.  The piece over the fireplace is one that would be very easy to be specific about.

If you believe you are skilled at clairvoyance, why not consistently send me an email each morning disclosing what the change in the stock market will be for that day, or the winning number of the lottery.  If this was successful over time, we could start a non-profit and distribute the winnings to the most effective charities. We could do a lot of good for a millions of people that are suffering.

A few years ago, while getting out of the car, I noticed a couple of women's hair bands just outside of my car.  I can probably say that up to that point in my life, in 50 years I had never noticed hair bands on the ground.  For some reason, maybe because they were right there, right where I was about to step, or the phenomenon just seemed kind of odd to me in that moment, I just paid some attention to them.  Now, after a few years, I've probably seen a dozen or more of those things lying on the floor or on the pavement somewhere.  But never until that one day.  So what is happening?  Am I "manifesting" these things, has the law of attraction gone somehow bizarrely askew?

I would say no.  It's just that out of all the zillions of things I could be aware of, I somehow became aware of hair bands and my pattern recognition became primed for recognizing these things which I previously ignored.  This is one of many cognitive biases.  It is referred to as the frequency illusion.

A practical understanding of these kinds of cognitive biases is in my view tantamount to a kind of enlightenment.  This is a kind of vipassana, a kind of clear seeing, seeing things as they are.  But traditional spiritual enlightenment does not encompass this.  People learn to let go of the illusory qualities of a separate self, while maintaining beliefs in many crazier things.  But to me there seems to be a direction of letting go of beliefs in general, at least ones for which there is no reasonable evidence, that correlates somehow with the direction of enlightenment.  Of course the central problem is that many people fail to
understand what is reasonable evidence.

I find that people who claim these various powers often list many things which they consider to be proofs of these powers in their lives.  I can't really discount every single one of these things, but it is notable to me that the overwhelming majority of these claims easily fall into the category of coincidence.  And coincidences will reliably happen in complex lives of billions of people interacting with millions of things.

I guess if you want to claim something as proof, it needs to be something extraordinarily specific, and something that is not really possible by other means.  For example, when I've heard people say things along the lines that they caused a cigarette smoker across the room to light up a cigarette, you have to understand that's not very impressive to me.  It's something that was pretty clearly going to happen anyway.  You tell me in advance that the person is going to suddenly place their pack of cigarettes on top of their head, that might be something.

If we're hiking in the wilderness, and you suddenly stop and say that you have a "premonition" that there is a snake 20 feet ahead, hidden in the leaves, well, that might be interesting, but it's something that you may have some kind of legitimate information about based on something weird about the pattern of the leaves, some kind of movement that was not consciously processed, etc.  But it would be indeed be interesting if you told me that a half a mile down the trail there's going to be a copperhead.

For those who understand how to be pragmatic and can offer intelligent caveats along with their indulgences in crazy beliefs, fine, I suppose, but the problem is that many people are not going to be pragmatic.  And we end up with people with dashed hopes, people living in poverty sending money to Peter Popoff (debunked faith healer), people spreading AIDS to virgins.  The danger is that some people will not see the harm, and they will have been encouraged in their delusion by people that are in many cases much smarter than them, people who should know better.

We can use things like good thinking and knowledge of our biases, and a thoughtful alignment with our goals, in conjunction with an openness to possibilities, as an intelligent alternative to spreading beliefs about powers that might not actually exist.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Neurofeedback, Meditation & Nootropics

Interview with Dr. Andrew Hill on hacking your brain for peak performance (nootropics, eeg, meditation and more).  A good look at the practical application of these various interventions.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Friday, January 23, 2015

Thinking is Good, Thinking is Bad

Is thinking really aversive? A commentary on Wilson et al.'s “Just think: the challenges of the disengaged mind”

Some skeptical pushback against the pro-mindfulness worldview.  I think they make some excellent points, but in my own sample of one research I'd have to say that staying present and detached from thought tends to have the edge.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Psychedelic Tourism

I suppose this already exists in the form of ayahuasca ceremonies, the psychedelic truffles in Amsterdam or the mushrooms on Tortola in the British Virgin Islands.  But here is an interesting idea about so-called seasteading, Someone Should Build a Psychedelic Resort/Lab Seastead, by Ben Goertzel.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

tDCS "Massively Hyped"

A review of the current literature finds little evidence of effect.  It is possible that tweaking of various parameters may help down the line, but

"The danger is that people have been promised better memories, better reading, better maths, increased intelligence… you name it. The effects are small, short lasting, and no substantial claims have been replicated across laboratories. This paper is hopefully the beginning of a counterweight to all the bullshit."

Monday, January 19, 2015

Jeffrey Martin - Locations of Enlightenment

Part of Jeffrey Martin's research on persistent non-symbolic experience (enlightenment) was finding that individuals tended to land in one of several locations.  All of these reflect some degree of loss of a narrative, discursive, language-based sense of self and might, um, speculatively be thought of as analogous to Buddhist paths.  I nabbed these from a powerpoint presentation on the site.

Location 1
- Expansion of sense of self, connection to divine
- Much less affected by ‘self’ thoughts
- Distance from but still have positive and negative emotions
- Deep peace but can be suppressed by triggered conditioning
- Effects from perceptual triggers fall off quickly
- Deep peace and beingness feels more real than anything previous
- Trust in ‘how things are’
- Personal history less relevant, memories less

Location 2
- ‘Self’ thoughts continue to fade
- Peace increasingly harder to suppress/conditioning fades
- Shift towards increasingly positive emotions, until only very positive emotions remain
- Intermediate levels of perceptual triggers increasingly fade
- More likely to feel that there is a correct decision or path to take when presented with choices
- Higher well-being than location one

Location 3
- Only single positive emotion remains
- Feels like a combination of universal compassion, love, joy, …
- Higher well-being than location 2

Location 4
- No sense of agency
- No emotions
- No ‘self’ thoughts
- Perceptual triggers at their bare minimum
- No sense of divine or universal consciousness
- life was simply unfolding and they were watching the process happen
- Memory deficits/scheduled appointments, etc.
- Highest well-being reported

Friday, January 16, 2015

Psilocybin Research

An overview of psilocybin research from Reality Sandwich.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Dharma Talk 015 - Ajahn Chah

I really enjoyed substantial parts of this talk by Ajahn Chah titled Unshakeable Peace.

I first heard of Ajahn Chah by way of Jack Kornfield.  My sense was that Kornfield studied with Mahasi and got stream entry, and then went on to study with Ajahn Chah.  If that is even correct, that was about the limit of my knowledge about Ajahn Chah.  I knew he was a Thai Forest monk, a lineage often thought of as more traditional or fundamental, and that aspect turned me off a bit.

Coming up through the Mahasi style and the Pragmatic Dharma movement, I came to see certain aspects of traditional Buddhism as being somewhat dogmatic and less than skillful at times.  This talk by Chah was given in the presence of a visiting scholar monk, and I relatively swooned at Chah's admonishment to "observe the workings of the mind, but don't lug the Dhamma books in there with you."

I was extremely surprised to read this talk and find that Chah's words were often mirroring many of my own more radical insights and non-traditional takes on things.  Not everything, I can still find some dogma to pick at, but yeah, very nice.

For example many teachers seem to take words that are associated with insight practice such as investigation and contemplation, and they use a modern intellectual definition for those words, basically encouraging their students to think and analyze, as if they were going to cognize their way into enlightenment.  To me passages like the following point to seeing things very directly, just as they are.  "Simply know what you are experiencing."
"Utilize the power of this peaceful mind to investigate what you experience. At times it's what you see; at times what you hear, smell, taste, feel with your body, or think and feel in your heart. Whatever sensory experience presents itself - like it or not - take that up for contemplation. Simply know what you are experiencing. Don't project meaning or interpretations onto those objects of sense awareness."
Chah is of the non-striving camp, something I both agree and disagree with.  I think ultimately one comes to more of an effortless practice, but effort is particularly required at first, because there is a massive amount of conditioning that must be overcome.  If we strap a brick under your left shoe and make you walk everywhere with that for a year, you will become conditioned to walk with that brick.  If we remove that brick, it's not like it's suddenly going to be effortless to walk - you are going to be way off balance because of your prior conditioning.  It will take some effort to relearn how to walk even though the brick has been removed.  Eventually, though, your walking will become more and more effortless.

Chah describes certain types of striving as unskillful, someone setting goals in practice and then beating themselves up for not attaining them.  I would agree about the beating oneself up part.  But to my way of thinking Chah somewhat contradicts himself, imploring his students "try to steadily and persistently train the mind."

My take would be that if one can't get it done with little or no technique, i.e. just sitting or doing MBSR with sheer intent, then a technique such as noting practice that essentially forces one to demonstrate that one is aware every moment might be useful, and tiny, achievable goals along the way seem to be very helpful for learning.