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.