Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Talk 30 - Working with the Unpleasant

Part of the game is that there are unpleasant phases.  The trick, as with everything, is to fully experience the unpleasantness, the fear, the angst, the anxiety, the nausea, the depression, allow it to be, surrender to it, and in that way become less attached to it, to let go of what can be let go of.

But it can be difficult to stay with such sensations.  We want to escape it, to divert ourselves, distract ourselves.  Meditation is a great opportunity to stay with what is actually happening.  But even then we might divert ourselves into some tranquility that is present instead of dealing with some minor unpleasantness.

There is a sense here of exposing oneself to one's fears as a way of overcoming them, a prominent technique for dealing with phobias.

I recently saw the movie "The Accountant" (not sure I would entirely recommend it) where the central character deals with his autistic tendencies by exposing himself to loud, jarring music, flashing lights, and physical pain in an attempt to desensitize himself.

In my own case when I first started playing around with light and sound machines, mainly for the interesting flashing lights and the potential effects on brainwaves, I found the lights overstimulating.  Sometimes it would affect my sleep.  But over time, and perhaps after making some progress in meditation, the lights no longer bothered me.  I got used to it, I adapted.

In the same spirit, I wanted to recommend some music that I stumbled across.  It is the Realignment Series (free on archive.org) by Sister Waize, a series of somewhat dissonant industrial ambient music pieces.  I find it evocative of the unpleasant states and useful for keeping one's focus to these elements and thus working through them.

Sister Waize's original instructions for listening to the music.

EDIT:  A similar type of music, used in the Finders Course, was brought to my attention.  This would be the out of print 1994 "Sri Yantra" by Jeffrey Thompson.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

TED Talk: Griffiths on Psilocybin Research

Researcher Roland Griffiths goes over the extraordinary results of four areas of psilocybin research:

  • healthy volunteers
  • psychologically distressed cancer patients
  • cigarette smokers seeking abstinence
  • long term meditators
Results hint at future research on addiction and treatment resistant depression.

Results seemed partially tied to the degree that an individual approaches a genuine mystical experience, and Griffiths is hopeful about the implications for postive changes in human ethics and altruism.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Finders Course Webinar

Finders Course 10 LIVE Q&A Webinar with Dr. Jeffery Martin and Nichol Bradford (12-2-2016)

The Finders Course is an attempt to come up with a rational approach to enlightenment.

Psilocybin aids Death Anxiety, again

Hallucinogenic drugs help cancer patients deal with their fear of death.

Psilocybin continues to be validated as useful for end of life anxiety and depression, when combined with therapy.
“They are the most rigorous double-blind placebo-controlled trials of a psychedelic drug in the past 50 years”

Also the Atlantic's coverage:

Therapeutic Ecstasy/MDMA by 2021?

3rd stage clinical trials approved for MDMA.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Talk 29 - The Big Experience

It is relatively common for people early on the path to have a BIG experience.  It doesn't have to play out that way, but again, a big initial awakening or opening is not exactly a rare event.  What's going on?  What is that about?

The experience referred to here often has some kind of taste of complete freedom or liberation, possibly great joy, love, light, etc.  In the Theravada progress of insight, this kind of thing falls under the technical mapping as the stage of knowledge of arising and passing.  It may happen as a result of meditation, most commonly on an early retreat of some kind, or from using a psychedelic.  Extremely rare individuals may stumble in by simply reading a sentence that gives them great insight.

The experience may be so big that a person may think they are enlightened.  Indeed, they may have gotten a glimpse.  But as pure as that experience can be, it would generally be somewhat tainted by being viewed from substantially within the assumptions they currently hold.

To my way of thinking a couple of things are going on here.  On the one hand, in order to have a big experience, you need a thorough indoctrination into attachment to language, concepts, beliefs, cultural assumptions, and identity.  Check.  Pretty much all people fall into this category.  But the more attachment the better.  My speculation is that it could "help" if the person is particularly rigid about some of these things, solidly married to their worldview, even neurotic about it.

The other side of the coin is that you then need a complete relaxation of all these things.  You need to stumble into a pure consciousness that has dropped as many of these attachments and rigidities as possible.  A complete letting go into pure consciousness, the metaphorical original mind or natural mind.  Complete freedom.  A thoroughly different point of view.

It is the difference between these two that creates the ground for a big experience.  The more radical the change in perspective, the bigger the relief, the more dramatic it will be perceived.  For some people who already "get it", it might not be as big, it might not ever happen that way.  This would be like someone who has been meditating a little bit over time and slowly gets it, kind of like the apocryphal metaphor of boiling a frog.  But for someone who is more thoroughly entranced by thought addicted identity views, the bigger the experience might be.  And again, pretty much everyone is subtantially "attached", even if they've read a whole stack of buddhist books.

The blue line in the graph above attempts to portray the theoretical progress over time of a typical person on the path.  Slow at first, then perhaps a tipping point such as stream entry, and a resulting acceleration, and then a slowing down again as one asymptotically approaches some ideal.  Actual progress could be much noisier and more different.

The graph explains why the big experience is generally only possible early on, or in the acceleration phase:  the gulf that creates the ground for the experience is vast at first, but as progress is made, the chances of a big, dramatic experience fall off.  As one moves towards the liberated perspective and leaves the attached perspective behind, any jumps into a very pure version of freedom seem more and more inconsequential.  After a certain point, it cannot be perceived as big or dramatic, this is simply the way things are perceived all the time.

Although this kind of experience can be repeated, it is also very common to have just one big experience, and this may commonly be the biggest, most dramatic experience of a meditator's life.  On the other hand, it is possible to repeatedly release into a very absolute experience, and some may have more of a predisposition to this kind of thing than others.  Psychedelics do help to reach this kind of absolute, but even here some degree of meditative practice makes a big difference.

At any rate, the experience often provides the motivation to get serious about a meditation practice and continue on the path.

Bill Murray on Mindfulness

Bill's response to "what do want that you don't have?"

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Spire, another meditation app

There are many meditation apps, this is yet another one, Spire.  This one may be slightly different in that there is a device to sense the motion of your breathing, so there is actual feedback involved.  I found the old Resperate device, based on breath measurement and pacing, to be one of the most useful pieces of biofeedback I've come across, so maybe this simple tech can get the same job done.


Sometimes an affirmation can be a good way to change behavior.  One formula for an effective intention is this (specificity is key):

“When I encounter (a specific situation),
I will (perform the following behavior),
to (achieve specific goal.)”

Real Magic: How One Sentence Triples Successful Behavior Changes

Friday, November 18, 2016

Jorge Luis Borges

From brainpickings:

Making his way through the maze of philosophy, Borges maps what he calls “this unstable world of the mind” in relation to time:
A world of evanescent impressions; a world without matter or spirit, neither objective nor subjective, a world without the ideal architecture of space; a world made of time, of the absolute uniform time of [Newton’s] Principia; a tireless labyrinth, a chaos, a dream.

Behind our faces there is no secret self which governs our acts and receives our impressions; we are, solely, the series of these imaginary acts and these errant impressions. The series? Once matter and spirit, which are continuities, are negated, once space too has been negated, I do not know what right we have to that continuity which is time.

Outside each perception (real or conjectural) matter does not exist; outside each mental state spirit does not exist; neither does time exist outside the present moment.

Monday, November 7, 2016

What If Schools Taught Kindness?

What If Schools Taught Kindness? This program from The Center for Healthy Minds answers that question.

Video: Richard Davidson - Change Your Brain by Transforming Your Mind

Researcher Richard Davidson presents Change Your Brain by Transforming Your Mind (1:09).

Including his four dimensions of wellbeing (neuroscientifically speaking):
  • resilience
  • positive emotion
  • attention
  • generosity

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Talk 28: This is the Happiness of the Buddha

This is the Happiness of the Buddha, from PlasticBrainBlog.  Nice essay that pretty much covers it all.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Instant Psychological Profile

Meditation and psychedelics can trigger big changes in the dimension of openness.  The University of Cambridge has a pretty cool algorithm for instantly assessing your personality (including the big 5 traits of Openness, Conscientiousness, Extraversion, Agreeableness, and Neuroticism, as well as many others).  On their Apply Magic Sauce site one can simply log in with Facebook (for a more comprehensive report) or enter a sample of text to instantly generate estimates.  Know thyself.

[edit] This test seems to require a fair amount of stuff like movies, books and music that has been "liked".

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Talk 27: Awareness is the Limiting Factor

About 10 years ago I was driving to the beach in a sports sedan and enjoying the coarse thrill of occasionally downshifting into 3rd and flogging the engine up to redline* while passing cars on a narrow two lane blacktop so curvy and treacherous that a friend nicknamed it "the Devil's Highway".

This was at some point after having had a big awakening experience and my dabbling in meditation was becoming more serious.  I was practicing being aware on the drive, that is, practicing this awareness of awareness that we talk about, a kind of less attached awareness, less embedded, less lost.

And this was working fine for the most part, but when I would get into the intensity of that experience of passing the car, the speed, the excitement, the fear, I would lose that extra awareness.  I would become completely lost in that visceral excitement, concentrating, grasping so tightly on the goal of the moment, and resisting the fear.

And then, afterwards, that extra awareness would return.

At the time I had no real tools for maintaining this awareness other than my intent, just sheer willpower which obviously failed when tested at the highest level.  Possibly I could have thought about it a bit and figured out that I could have followed my breath or something.  But I just wasn't there.

Any number of techniques could possibly be applied here, perhaps a mantra, following the breath, body scanning.  I wonder how they would compare with the directness of noting exactly what is happening in the moment, simply naming what one is aware of:  excitement, tension, pulsing, fear, seeing, grasping, resistance, etc.

In some ways the real work of meditation is practicing letting go of attachment, the prototypical grasping or resistance of objects of awareness.  But it can't happen unless one has this kind of awareness.  This real work can't take place if we are embedded or lost in the dream.  And we could also have problems with the relaxing part as well, the letting go part.  So we could have problems with both of the two main meditative dimensions of awareness and relaxation, but understand that the awareness problem is the limiting factor.

If you are not aware in this way, you are not going to be able to do the real work of letting go.  And just sitting on a cushion is no guarantee of this kind of awareness.  And so for some folks like myself some kind of technique may be necessary to cultivate this kind of continuous awareness.  I favor noting, but regardless of what works for you understand that this kind of awareness, done in a continuous way, must be cultivated.  We have cultivated the lost, embedded style for tens or hundreds of thousands of hours, it will take some intent, some work, some persistence, to regain this less attached style of awareness.  And then the real work can begin.

*[In the years that followed, speeding tickets arose, and divided highways arose, and 9 mph over the limit is about it for me.]

Friday, October 7, 2016

Documentary on Thich Nhat Hanh coming in 2017

With unprecedented access, ‘Walk With Me’ goes deep inside a Zen Buddhist community who have given up all their possessions and signed up to a life of chastity for one common purpose – to transform their suffering, and practice the art of mindfulness with the world-famous teacher Thich Nhat Hanh.

Filmed over three years, in their monastery in rural France and on the road in the USA, this visceral film is a meditation on a community grappling with existential questions and the everyday routine of monastic life.

As the seasons come and go, the monastics’ pursuit for a deeper connection to themselves and the world around them is amplified by insights from Thich Nhat Hanh’s early journals, narrated by Benedict Cumberbatch.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Scientists Find No Evidence of Common Brain Training Claims

Scientists Find No Evidence (so far) of Common Brain Training Claims (i.e. Luminosity, etc.)

The study, published today in the journal Psychological Science in the Public Interest, concluded that “based on our extensive review of the literature cited by brain-training companies in support of their claims, coupled with our review of related brain-training literatures that are not currently associated with a company or product, there does not yet appear to be sufficient evidence to justify the claim that brain training is an effective tool for enhancing real-world cognition.”

Replacing Detention with Meditation

Some schools have been finding some benefits to replacing detention with meditation.

Neurofeedback Plausibly Useful For Unskilled Meditators

Culadassa, director of Dharma Treasure Buddhist Sangha in Tucson, Arizona and author of the pragmatic dharma book The Mind Illuminated, reports on a small and casual retreat experiment where the Zengar neurofeedback system appeared to be useful for less advanced meditators that used the device for an hour a day during the retreat.

Quitting Smoking with Psilocybin

Two or three moderate to high doses of psilocybin in combination with therapy yielded a success rate of 67% smoking abstinence at the 12 month mark.

"(86.7%) rated their psilocybin experiences among the five most personally meaningful and spiritually significant experiences of their lives."

Guided Meditation by Sam Harris

There are a number of these out there, this Guided Meditation by Sam Harris is taken from a speech titled Death and the Present Moment.

Talk 26: Semi-Pragmatic Jhanas

Jhana expert Leigh Brasington recently published a book on jhanas, Right Concentration: A Practical Guide to the Jhanas.

A short intro to the subject can be found in Leigh Brasington's interview with Dan Harris on the 10% Happier podcast.

Talks 25: Semi-Pragmatic Vipassana

Steve Armstrong recently finished a translation of an unpublished text by Mahasi Sayadaw, Manual of Insight, which may be one of the more comprehensive books on the subject of Mahasi's Theravada vipassana approach.

Here are six recent retreat talks by Steve Armstrong on the Progress of Insight.

For a shorter introduction, here is Steve Armstrong talking about the Progress of Insight on Dan Harris' 10% Happier podcast.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

MDMA with therapy kicks the sh*t out of PTSD

Can MDMA help cure trauma?

Alice’s recovery was astonishing. The gold-standard assessment tool for this kind of trauma is the clinician-administered PTSD scale, or Caps, which uses a lengthy questionnaire to determine the severity of a patient’s symptoms. Any score over 60 is “severe”. Alice’s score went from 106 to two. It’s now at zero. In other words, her PTSD is gone.

The Loneliness of the Long Distance Meditator

No one cares about your mind blowing, life changing experiences.

... although extraordinary life experiences are exhilarating at the time, they may carry a social cost. Because when we normally chat with people, the authors contend, our conversations center on the things we have in common — movies we’ve seen, books we’ve read, people we know, places we’ve been. But uncommon experiences makes us at once “alien and enviable,” the authors write, which can leave us feeling left out. “At worst, people may be envious and resentful of those who have had an extraordinary experience, and at best, they may find themselves with little to talk about”

If an fMRI can do noting, so can you

MRI scanner sees emotions flickering across an idle mind

"It's getting to be a bit like mind-reading," said Kevin LaBar, a professor of psychology and neuroscience at Duke. "Earlier studies have shown that functional MRI can identify whether a person is thinking about a face or a house. Our study is the first to show that specific emotions like fear and anger can be decoded from these scans as well."

Alternate title: Noting - Be your own mind reader.

Saturday, September 3, 2016

Finders Course

Some previous posts have contained a few scraps of information about Jeffrey Martin's research into well-being and enlightenment and the Finders Course which attempts to deliver the goods:

I recently stumbled across a Finders Course website that seems to be looking for volunteers to participate in various meditation styles in conjunction with various forms of biofeedback including EEG, HRV (heart rate variability) and GSR (galvanic skin response).  Previously they charged a bit for their course, not sure if this possibly more research oriented project might be easier on the wallet.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

How Complaining Rewires Your Brain For Negativity (And How To Break The Habit)

How Complaining Rewires Your Brain For Negativity (And How To Break The Habit) reveals that your mind becomes what you practice, and if you practice complaining, well, you get the picture.

Mindfulness, at minimum, can make one aware of these kinds of habits.  Plus, you are practicing to be aware and relaxed, so you become ...

The Case Against Reality

The Case Against Reality, a think piece covering everything from evolution-based insights (selection favors survival over a realistic world view) to philosophy of mind.

Magic Mushrooms and the Healing Trip

Magic Mushrooms and the Healing Trip, a short video about "Eddie Marritz, a cinematographer and photographer in remission from small-cell carcinoma, [who] was a participant in one of N.Y.U.'s Psilocybin Cancer Anxiety research studies. Marritz, and the researchers, take us through the experience"

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Stephen Fulder was the sample of one in the paper "How does it feel to lack a sense of boundaries? A case study of a long-term mindfulness meditator."

His descriptions of internal experience were characterized as a fading away or dissolving of the following senses:

  • sense of internal vs. external
  • sense of time
  • sense of location
  • sense of self
  • sense of agency/control
  • sense of ownership
  • sense of touching/touched structure
  • sense of bodily feelings
  • sense of center/first person - egocentric - bodily perspective

Saturday, July 16, 2016

(Video) Interview with Kenneth Folk

From meaningoflife.tv, an interview with Kenneth Folk, influential figure in the Pragmatic Dharma movement.

Friday, July 15, 2016

You Can Meditate Anytime

Here’s How You Can Meditate Anytime, Anywhere, simple instruction video from Mingyur Rinpoche by way of Huffington post.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

People who meditate are more aware of their unconscious brain

People who meditate are more aware of their unconscious brain describes that meditators may become aware of their impulses some 90 milliseconds before non-meditators.

It seems in line with the training of awareness, as well as such descriptions as "extra bandwidth" from advanced meditators, a sense that one is further "back" in the chain of processes of the mind.

Medical Potential of Psychedelic Drugs

A nice overview of the subject:  The fascinating, strange medical potential of psychedelic drugs, explained in 50+ studies.

The drugs may be helpful with addiction, obsessive compulsive disorder, end-of-life anxiety, and depression.

I found the description of the healing power of the mystical experience as "inverse PTSD" to be interesting.

Table of contents
1) Psychedelics are one of humanity’s oldest forms of medicine
2) The mystical dimension of psychedelics is part of what makes them therapeutic
3) We don’t really know why psychedelics trigger such powerful mystical experiences
4) One reason psychedelics may work: They treat the person’s context, not just their illness
5) The research is extremely early, with small sample sizes, so it’s hard to say if psychedelic drugs really are effective at all
6) There are some big risks to psychedelic drugs
7) Still, psychedelic use may eventually benefit more than the gravely ill
8) Medical psychedelic research exposes a big flaw in drug policy and funding

Saturday, June 4, 2016

Talk 24 - Timothy Leary and some Rambling

Timothy Leary described himself in the late 1950s as "an anonymous institutional employee who drove to work each morning in a long line of commuter cars and drove home each night and drank martinis ... like several million middle-class, liberal, intellectual robots."  He was a product of an increasingly institutionalized and narrow capitalistic cultural system - birth, school, work, death.  Another cog in the machine.

As we come into the world, we are naturally and necessarily indoctrinated into language and culture, but in the process we become unconsciously conditioned into a virtual world of narrative, discursive, symbolic thought that we are completely identified with.  Functionally, this is where most people end up living their entire lives.  While thought itself can be useful, the essential problem is the level of attachment to and identification with this virtual world.

How is it that you came to speak your primary language?  We could say that, in a way, you assumed it. You copied other people, mimicking their sounds and actions and behaviors.  You were indoctrinated into that particular language.  Within language itself, you assumed the framework of duality, of subject-object.  The very structure of language gives us the implicit assumption that all must be dual, self and "other".

Within one's primary family, you were similarly indoctrinated into a unique psychological style - through first hand experience, you assumed those particular ways of interacting with and relating to people.  You were indoctrinated into the culture at large, with all of its many beliefs.  Religion.  Everything conditions and affects everything else, and the child is like a sponge, soaking up the patterns around it.  Some of those patterns may not be so useful as an adult.  Some of those patterns may not have made much sense to begin with.

One can understand this through cognition, leading to something that Jed McKenna referred to as Human Adulthood, waking up within the dream, but it can be hard to deeply or more permanently see one's way out of conditioning, or as he put it, to wake up out of the dream.

Back in the sixties or thereabouts, an increasing number of people managed to let go of some of their preconceived notions about culture by way of sometimes controversial or confrontational methods such as EST.  People were taken out of their day to day routines and pushed and pointed until they saw through some of these beliefs.  At least at a conceptual level, they woke up a bit, within the dream, out of the system and their indoctrination.  They began to see the games they and others were playing, their "rackets".  Their old views didn't have the same weight anymore.  There is a kind of enlightenment there.

Psychotherapy, I think particularly group therapy, offers some possibilities for getting some honest feedback and seeing how things actually are.  It can be slow and time consuming, but I know many people that have benefited greatly.  Having a neutral observer to one's life can be a valuable thing, and becoming one's own neutral observer is a laudable goal.

Psychedelic drugs also offer the possibility of seeing through the dream.  Commenting about his first psychedelic experience in Mexico in 1960, Timothy Leary commented that he had "learned more about ... (his) brain and its possibilities ... [and] more about psychology in the five hours after taking these mushrooms than ... in the preceding 15 years of studying and doing research in psychology."

Meditation, taken far enough and long enough, offers perhaps a deeper, more permanent, more detailed version of these kinds of understandings.  Processes can be seen continuously in real time and let go of at the root, not just seen through at a temporary, superficial, intellectual level.  On the meditative path, not only can these games be seen through, but experience itself can be seen as it is - phenomenon happening at the sense doors, arising and passing, everything merely as it is in a field of awareness.  The understanding that one's experience is pure consciousness, the wall of Plato's cave.  The understanding that in the realm of our experience, there is nothing but that.

So, awakening, great stuff, I recommend it, but I'm not sure I could entirely recommend it.  I was always fascinated by such things, and was dissatisfied with life to the degree that I suppose in some way I always had to go down this path.  But I sure took my sweet time, dabbling, never really committing to meditation for decades.  Odd in a way that I had always sought solutions outside myself, making the dream better as opposed to waking up, and that I had never actually looked at the basic problem of the mind itself.  In all fairness, I didn't really know there was anything that could realistically be done, and I wasn't quite the type to go off and live in a monastery for decades.  As it turned out, that wasn't required.

One thing I can say is that it sure didn't happen until I really committed to practice earnestly, and kept at it for a few years.  The first year and a half (for me) being very important.  It's not that previous or later years were not important, but I think it's about cracking the egg.  Once that sucker is substantially cracked, it's probably going to ooze out all over the place no matter what you do, eventually.

Friday, May 6, 2016

you’re a mindless robot with no free will

More evidence that you’re a mindless robot with no free will.
"The results of two Yale University psychology experiments suggest that what we believe to be a conscious choice may actually be constructed, or confabulated, unconsciously after we act — to rationalize our decisions. A trick of the mind."

Slides for talk on Psilocybin and the Brain

PPT slides for talk on Psilocybin and the Brain, covering effects, etc.  From a local meetup group presentation.

Mindfulness beats Depression

"the new study – the largest-ever analysis of research on the subject - found mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT) helped people just as much as commonly prescribed anti-depressant drugs and that there was no evidence of any harmful effects."

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Meditation for Veterans

Mind Body Medicine from the Naval Medical Center San Diego.

Psilocybin reduces psychological pain after social exclusion

Psilocybin reduces psychological pain after social exclusion, more evidence that psychedelics can be useful in the treatment of many psychological problems.

Soma = Psilocybin Mushroom

Theories about the vedic soma are a dime a dozen, but here's another one, based on the scene depicted on some ancient burial textiles.

"Good fruit we drink you, elixir of life, and achieve physical strength or light of god, and control over senses.  In this situation, what can our internal enemy do to us, what even can violent people can do to us."

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Talk 24 - Martyn Wilson

I was a bit fascinated by this story of Martyn (83 min. video), a very skeptical guy who initially set out to prove that his girlfriend's meditative interests were bunk, and ended up becoming enlightened.

Martyn followed a technique of visualization to get relaxed and then sat with the question "I wonder what my next thought will be?" for many hours over many months, maybe a few years.

Some bullet points describing his progression were:
  • Observe your thoughts
  • Question your beliefs and opinions
  • Surrender to all that is
  • Just Be
  • Be Happy
I think the one that stands out there is "question your beliefs and opinions", because it is a little different than the "believe everything" kind of message that often dominates spiritual circles and more importantly because of what it can ultimately lead to.  There is no end to the number of conscious and unconscious assumptions that we have made about our world.  We're not talking the kind of skepticism that is hard edged in itself, but rather a process of observing and letting go of the rigidities and contractions around those views.

Psychedelics: Lifting The Veil

In Psychedelics: Lifting The Veil (16 min. TED talk video) researcher Robin Carhart-Harris characterizes psychedelics as allowing access to a more childlike, imaginative mind, with freer communication pathways and expanded visual processing similar to the dream state.

He describes some apparent good results with psychedelics (I believe LSD here) for depression, with significant short term results for treatment resistant depression.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Ayahuasca may lead to anxiety cures

Similar to previous research with psilocybin and the extinction or decrease of a trained fear response in rats, ayahuasca appears to do something very similar.  It would seem that the major psychedelics have this in common.

LSD Study Demonstrates Present Moment Orientation

Another Carhart-Harris paper with the odd name of "Decreased mental time travel to the past correlates with default-mode network disintegration under lysergic acid diethylamide" reveals significantly fewer mental excursions to the past on LSD which relates to decreased connectivity in the default mode network.  Similar to what is seen with advanced meditators.

First LSD Brain Imaging Study Completed

Carhart-Harris' research, "Neural correlates of the LSD experience revealed by multimodal neuroimaging" reveals the plausible neural basis for many aspects of the psychedelic experience, including ego dissolution (correlated with less coordination in the default mode network) and visual distortions.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Interview with Daniel Ingram

From meaningoflife.tv, an interview with Daniel Ingram, founder of Dharma Overground and author of Mastering the Core Teachings of the Buddha.

The conversation takes place from a fairly technical perspective at times, but there's some good stuff here and this is maybe the best interview I've seen with Daniel.

Monday, February 29, 2016

Talk 23 - The Backwards Bicycle

The so-called "Backwards Bicycle" [youtube, 8 minutes] is a bicycle that has been made to steer in the opposite way that a normal bike steers.  So if you turn the handlebars left, the bike will turn right, and vice versa.

It's a fascinating story.  The intuition is that one should be able to quickly adapt, since you can easily understand the basic concept and you already know how to ride and balance on a bike.  But that intuition would be wrong.  Turns out that it is exceedingly hard to re-learn/un-learn the way you ride a bike.

The reason for posting this here is that it strikes me as a passable analogy for awakening.  We have all been indoctrinated into a certain kind of attentional style (attachment to thoughts and self identity) which has been practiced for hundreds of thousands of hours.  Awakening or enlightenment could be thought of as a substantially different style of attention.  It is possible to stumble a bit into this different attentional style, i.e. ride the backwards bike straight for a second here and there, but in order to actually master this different attentional style takes some serious practice.

People in various meditation communities preach relaxation and say that there is nothing to do.  Sure, I get that.  There is certainly room to relax if one is substantially grasping or resisting and one becomes aware of that (BTW, how does one become aware of that?).  And once one has thoroughly and completely learned to ride the backwards bike, sure, the message is going to be to just go with that, go with the flow and let that happen, nothing to do anymore, just relax and be.

But when one is starting out and can't really ride that new bike, effort, repeated effort, over and over again, is definitely required or else all that will ever be happening is falling down over and over again and the bike will never be ridden.

Learning a new skill requires effort at first, particularly if it goes against the grain of previous conditioning.  For example, I find it much more difficult to learn a person's name if I get their name wrong the first time.  In the case of awakening we are working against unbelievable amounts of conditioning that has been honed to the level of completely innate instinctual behavior.  It takes time and effort to undo that.  However, once learned/relearned/unlearned, then it can start to become effortless.

I advocate a balance between awareness of awareness and letting go.  This post is intended to highlight the fact that some kind of serious intent or effort to be mindful is necessary, a notion that is typically eschewed by the consensus meditation community.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Magic Mushrooms legal in New Mexico

Blowing my mind, but apparently psilocybin mushrooms are legal in New Mexico as long as you grow them yourself and don't dry them.  It was decided in a court case that growing the mushrooms was not considered drug manufacturing.

Psilocybin: decreased activity, increased connections

Study Finds That Psilocybin Creates A Hyperconnected Brain

In a past study, it was concluded that psilocybin decreased brain activity resulting in a sort of dreamlike state, but further research has found this to be only a partial explanation.

A more recent study, conducted at King's College London, has found that psilocybin does seem to disrupt normal communication networks in the brain, hence the decreased activity. However, fMRI scans showed that, while some of the brain decreased in activity, the psilocybin somehow connected "brain regions that don't normally talk together," said Paul Expert, study co-author and physicist at King's College London.

Meditation reduces inflammation

Currently in the news, mindfulness meditation was shown to reduce the IL-6 marker of inflammation, with suspiciously little training (a 3 day intensive program).  The study was unusual both due to the brevity as well as the use of a control group with a sham treatment in the form of relaxation training.  Few participants continued to practice, so it's a little bizarre that they got results 4 months later.

Monday, February 15, 2016

Skill Acquisition Through Neurostimulation - NOT

Now you can learn to fly a plane from expert-pilot brainwave patterns.  This points to some interesting possibilities, like a meditation retreat with tDCS based on the brain patterns of advanced meditators.

You can learn how to improve your novice pilot skills by having your brain zapped with recorded brain patterns of experienced pilots via transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS), according to researchers at HRL Laboratories.

“We measured the brain activity patterns of six commercial and military pilots, and then transmitted these patterns into novice subjects as they learned to pilot an airplane in a realistic flight simulator,” says Matthew Phillips, PhD.

The study, published in an open-access paper in the February 2016 issue of the journal Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, found that novice pilots who received brain stimulation via electrode-embedded head caps improved their piloting abilities, with a 33 percent increase in skill consistency, compared to those who received sham stimulation.

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Sunday, February 14, 2016

Science and Sacraments Documentary

Science and Sacraments Documentary (52 minutes, YouTube)

Meet Frances Vaughan, who in 1965 took part in a legal research study on psychedelics. Under carefully controlled conditions, she was given a large dose of LSD and had a profound mystical experience that changed her life. Meet James Fadiman, one of the researchers who sat with her on that journey, and who had experienced his own life-changing laboratory-induced mystical journey. These stories and others offer insights into the fascinating history of psychedelic research and its relationship to mystical experiences. This film explores the research done by early pioneers, such as Albert Hofmann, Stanislav Grof, and Timothy Leary; the subsequent shutdown by the government; and the current renaissance of research on the potential of psychedelics to enhance creativity, support cancer patients, and catalyze spiritual awakening.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Talk 22 - Sedona Method, Like Vipassana

Somewhere after WWII, a man named Lester Levenson had a heart attack, and facing mortality, asked himself some hard questions.  He ended up with his own process of coming to terms with reality and finding happiness and peace that came to be known as The Sedona Method (book)The bullet points of the vipassana-like process are:
  • Feel what you are feeling
  • Ask "Could I let this feeling go," allow this feeling to be here, welcome this feeling
  • Ask "Would I be willing to let this feeling go?"
  • Ask "When?"
  • Repeat as necessary
Very much in line with the overall process of awareness and letting go that we see running through all successful meditative practices.  The technique is explored in the book linked above, also the Sedona Method company has a lot of pricey CD based instruction and retreats as well.

It's been a while since I was exposed to this.  I believe Lester had a thing where he would go beyond the basic feelings and further subdivide things into "wanting approval" or "wanting control".  More opportunities for noting/labeling, like submission/dominance or craving/aversion.

Also as I recall, Lester described first a level of happiness where he emphasized dissolving one's need to change things and leaning in the direction of love (perhaps like metta), and then "beyond" that a level of peace where he described letting go of trying to find happiness and giving support to other people.

Talk 21 - Focusing, Like Vipassana

Focusing (website) and a book by Eugene Gendlin, a professor of psychology at University of Chicago.

Focusing is described, in part, as a therapeutic technique that "teaches you to identify and change the way your personal problems concretely exist in your body."  In many ways it is vipassana, learning to become aware of one's body, feelings and thoughts and the subsequent discharge of tension.

The bullet points of the technique are:
  • Clearing A Space - getting still, aware, relaxing
  • Felt Sense - focus on the non-verbal aspects
  • Handle - like noting or labeling in vipassana
  • Resonating - checking and adjusting the handle to match the felt sense, steep in it
  • Asking - what is in this felt sense, or what makes this quality?
  • Receiving - allowing, surrendering
What focusing is not:
  • Talking to oneself
  • An Analytic Process
  • Mere Body Sensation
  • Not Just Getting In Touch With Gut Feelings - but rather the "broader, at first unclear, unrecognizable discomfort which the whole problem (all that) makes in your body".  Gendlin suggests words like heavy, tight, "like glue", cowed, jittery.
The book provides a lot of examples and exposition to flesh out the process, which could be useful for people working with vipassana.

Monday, January 11, 2016

Talk 20 - What Is Awakening?

Some views on awakening from a decent sample of fairly awake people.

From Buddha At The Gas Pump, 14 people discuss the theme "What Is Awakening", starting after a 7-8 minute introduction. 

From Sounds True, interviews with 34 people on "What Is Awakening".  Seems a bit expensive here, but this was initially available as a freebie for people trying out Audible.  Also, it weighs in at a prodigious ~23 hours.  This collection contains some big names like Tolle, Adyashanti, Kornfield, Wilber, Brach and includes some science friendly types like Hanson.  I really liked Mukti's direct pointing, Hanson's reasonable approach, and Adyashanti breaking down in tears.

I think it's useful to get a lot of different views, and although there are indeed a lot of different perspectives, I think what is important are the similarities that cut through all of it.  Jeffrey Martin's work on surveying and studying these type of people is useful as well.

[Addendum: from Conscious TV, conversation "What is Enlightenment" with Freke, Weber, etc.]

For myself, at one time I posited that awakening is something like the degree to which one has re-trained the mind metaphorically "back" towards the original, bare, pre-conceptual awareness style.  Which I would still substantially agree with.  Some people bristle at the metaphor of the original mind, because we leave that behind with the conditioning of language and culture, and we can't ever quite put the genie entirely back in the bottle.  But I still think it's a good pointer.

I think now I might want to point a bit more at the relative degree to which the mind is unattached to objects of awareness.  In my opinion it's that constant direction of letting go, of relaxation, that is the essential benefit of awakening.  Letting go of attachment to thoughts, self-identity, emotions, so there is an internal flexibility and openness and ease of being.  Internally, one stops fighting and arguing with reality and leaves things be.

In a conversation the other day, I noticed towards the end I was trying to make a certain point, which is fine, but I was grasping a bit, and that kind of thing really sticks out to me in recent years.  In that moment, I was fighting a little bit internally, like I wasn't completely okay with the outcome if I didn't get this point across.  And that's where the practice is for me, to see that internal grasping and to let go of that and if possible, any beliefs that might be causing it.  I can still make points, and could even do this very emphatically if that is what is actually flowing without internal resistance, but to be clear the path I am taking is towards where everything is just happening as it is, without the arguing or grasping or resistance.  An ease of being.  Ultimately to be more okay with everything.  In that sense awakening is just kind of adjusting to reality, to what is.

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Roland Griffiths and Psilocybin and Meditation

Psychedelic researcher Roland Griffiths of Johns Hopkins on a few podcasts talking about psilocybin and meditation.

Buddhist Geeks 377: Meditating on Mushrooms
Although the formal research is ongoing, in this podcast Roland hints that at least so far,  there appear to be significant benefits for experienced meditators that occasionally (and carefully and prudently) experiment with psilocybin.  Your mileage may vary, but in my experience, duh!  Very exciting to finally hear a little bit about this slowly progressing study.

They are still looking for appropriate candidates that are experienced meditators that have either no experience with psychedelics or experience that preceded regular meditation practice.

Buddhist Geeks 378: Psilocybin: A Crash Course in Mindfulness
Continuing the interview with Roland Griffiths.

Radiolab: Blisshrooms
Some talk about the Good Friday Experiment, Griffiths' validation of that, etc.