inertia

Another thing modafinil illuminated was how over the years we can become buried beneath layers of inertia. We may start out life with incredible energy to explore all the exciting potentials, we may be “called” by things we can’t even name or describe, our hearts might hurt with a sweet, nostalgic, beacon of pain towards the great inexplicable but by the end we’re just looking for a place to sit, rest and watch a screen or escape. Which is a shame because I think it’s less a physical depletion than a gradual smothering of a spark we all carry. When this spark is alive — or coming back to life— we see amazing possibilities in every day in time unhinged from lethargy.

It may be what we figure out life is about, for us, what are we here to do, explore or accomplish that can reignite this. And how best we can contribute to this masterpiece we live in by being nothing other than just ourselves rather than the numbed product of acculturation. To do this, we may have to release judgment about what everybody should do, and how the world ought to run and return deeply inward to find again what WE are about. Maybe it’s time to come home. And maybe that’s how we authentically contribute to the world.

Meditation and Modafinil

What happens when a pill engineered to increase focus is combined with a meditation practice designed to hone concentration? Let’s find out.

Subject:  (see above)
Materials: Alertex (Modafinil) 200mg. Couch
Optional: Latin American electronica from the appliance store across the street

Currently, my practice of meditation is called samadhi (also samatha). An exotic term for focusing on just one thing. Usually the breath. Samadhi, or concentration meditation, is often poo-pooed by other serious adherents to meditation like the Vipassana practitioners. At best they see it as stepping stone to stabilize attention for more serious practices. At worst they believe samadhi may lead to getting hooked on blissful states and paranormal phenomenon that sometimes arises.

Serious samadhi practice leads to a set of states (and strange phenomenon); these states are called jhanas, and are reached from a sort of staging area called “access concentration.” The staging area is reached by sustaining concentration for an extended period of time, long enough for things to start dissolving into very pleasant and distinct feelings that mark the entry to the 1st jhana. There are 7 more jhanas awaiting as concentration deepens even further.

Reaching the staging area requires stilling the mind; bringing it back to the breath again and again as it flits off with whatever arises. After a while, the mind gets like Teflon and thoughts and feelings arise to just slide off rather than catching the attention. At least it’s how it normally works. With modafinil, the process alters. Instead of mind getting slippery, formless and more relaxed, the attention gets stickier. That’s the best I can describe it.

Both approaches seem to facilitate passage to the staging area of access concentration, but the state waiting across the threshold is different.

Rather than the familiar pīti (bliss) and sukha (pleasure) bubbling up in the traditional first Jhana, another state is accessed in Modafinil which is a feeling of deep and resourceful “readiness.” Also pleasant, but very distinctive. Whereas pīti and sukha encourage one to hang out and enjoy, the readiness “Jhana” of modafinil, while not suggesting anything in particular, is ready to kick some ass somewhere. In a motivational sense. But it is not compelled to do so. It just wants you to know it could. If that’s what you wanted.

Will I repeat this experiment? Probably not. Modafinil demonstrated that concentration can also tap into a great reservoir of potential. A potential available to work with complete, settled focus rather than the low level, almost subliminal agitation of distraction that is usually a constant companion in our activities. Very useful, especially in contexts of learning.

But I prefer that type of focus that comes in samadhi as an encompassing and relaxed sense of abiding. A flow where the moment is complete as it is, there is nothing to add, that unfolds just as it should and must without effort. Which is sort of counter-intuitive to what one might think a strongly focused state entails. But some things change, once they deliver us to the threshold, and another journey begins. And it may have to do with whether the attention to get there was sticky or frictionless.

 

An Ode to Renting

Renters catch a lot of flack over their lifestyle choice. At best perhaps they’re saving for a house, at worst they’re throwing money away. Most flack comes from well-meaning home-owning friends and family, and part might come from cognitive dissonance; trying to justify a position after having made such a major commitment. It’s human nature when we have hidden doubts about our course of action to argue its virtues to others in order to convince ourselves. If others climb on board, we have more validation. If we can label them as foolish for not joining us, we feel more confident in our choice.

And it’s true, renters usually pay more than people paying mortgages, but their estate comes with exclusive benefits not available to owners. And it’s true that someday, maybe when they are old, or if they win the lotto, or get rich in their careers, or pay long enough, that homeowners will see a reduction in their payments, maybe just to property taxes and insurance and ongoing upkeep. For renters, they pretty much expect to pay the equivalent of the mortgage+ payment for the foreseeable future. So this factors into their plans.

As part of this mortgage+benefits package, a renter’s estate spans the entire world. They might have an estate in Colorado for a year, then go to an estate in South America for a few, to an estate in Asia for several months. If they don’t like the weather, neighbors or conditions in one estate, they have pretty much the world to choose from for the next. If they feel like they want to live in the mountains for a while, or the beach, or the desert, they don’t have to get a second mortgage for a vacation villa or timeshare. If it’s too hot in the summers, they can live somewhere cooler. And they don’t have to worry about their estates when they are gone.

Of course, there are issues renters cope with that the owners do not. They deal with the hassle of moving stuff. Either from place to place or place to storage and back. Which usually results in them trimming down to just what they need to make this easier. Many of them find this simplifies their lives as well. For people who need, or collect, lots of possessions, this may be a deal breaker. Homeowners also seem to be constantly working on projects to upgrade their spaces whereas renters can just relocate to a space they like better when tired of the old. And repairs? That’s somebody else’s problem and not an out of pocket expense or even a planned contingency for a renter.

Owners have their own hassles: upkeep of their place, carrying a huge debt which, in some cases, forces them to work at a certain wage. Not that renters don’t have to work, but renters can look for work in a much larger market and broader span and aren’t pinned to a limited radius from their home. Homes don’t like their owners to be away for too long, and they are like being responsible for children or pets. Mail needs to be picked up, lawns mowed. Security monitored.

Renters have to be savvier about mobility and many aspects that homeowners don’t have to consider. Passports, virtual mail, flexible communication and banking options, good insurance that’s not pinned to an HMO or limited area. But they usually enjoy the independence these adaptations provide, even when they are in a single estate for several years.

Homeowners may feel they have the flexibility of building equity, selling their homes, then they too could have the renter’s options. But they usually reinvest in another big loan, a little larger, for a little nicer place, plus things have gotten more expensive by then and they can’t do this as frequently and as easily as the termination of a yearly lease. And there’s often tons of work each time to get things fixed up and ready to sell so they don’t take a loss. So unless they take their money and become a renter, it’s a much too lumbering a dance to keep up with the fleet-footed renters.

So the decision for owning or renting is not a clear-cut financial decision but is weighted by many other factors. And I don’t think there is one right answer.

remember

keep a bit of crazy
for an ally
a bit of dangerous
a touch of innocence
a big scoop of freedom
blue open sky
a dash of asshole
a shake of saint
a streak of sinner
and a glow
always keep a glow
if you lose it
look for its ember
somewhere deep in your belly
don’t give yourself away
don’t sell yourself short
know that self is illusion
but a useful one
wield it skillfully
don’t let it wield you
interview your thoughts and feelings
ask what they bring to the table
task them with joy and power to accept
turn away thieves of well-being
of judgment, disdain, criticism without heart
parasites and leeches
cut away contingent love and conditions
don’t take zombies personally
don’t become one yourself
remember
remember
remember

Meryl Streep and Ice-Cream

What do you see here?

Your brain may tell you there are blinky gray dots in the crossroads. There are not. It’s a physiological mechanism called lateral inhibition, which has the effect of causing a bright surround to an area appear darker and, conversely, a dark surround will make an area appear lighter.

Our brain tells us lots of stuff. Not all of which we should believe.

A product of millions of years of evolution, our brain actually has three independent and sometimes competing brains. The brain stem and cerebellum is known as the reptilian mind. It’s our instinctive self and has two functions: survival and reproduction.

The second brain is the limbic system, center of emotions. We share this development with our mammalian kin. The peak of humans’ evolution is the third brain, the neocortex.

Reptilian brain trumps limbic brain and limbic brain trumps neocortex most of the time. Based on this there are many ways the brain can be hacked to influence us without our awareness (via the reptilian) and without our will (the limbic.) And some cantrips1 hack the executive actions of the neocortex itself.

It’s becoming mandatory to understand these hacks, not to wield them on others, unless you’re bent on world domination, but to know when they are being used on us.

Today I’m just going to discuss one of these brain hacks while it’s still fresh in the media. Let’s take the Trump/Streep saga as exhibit A.

If you’re not familiar, Meryl Streep gave this speech about Trump’s performance ridiculing a handicapped reporter. She cautioned that as leader of the free world it may behoove one not to set examples like this as they may encourage the more impressionable that bullying is ok.

And some people reacted with:

  • Are you kidding? A rapper creates a viral video stating: We are bombing countries, Isis is using weapons we supplied. Meryl Streep has the nerve to say Trump might incite violence?! Which strikes a chord with people: 4.5million views, 76k shares on Facebook (1/10/2017)
  • Streep gave Polansky, a convicted child molester, a standing ovation in 2003!

And let’s talk about what’s happening here. It has nothing to do with Streep or Trump or Polansky, but with how our brains get hijacked. This sleight of mind is called:

The Fallacy of Relative Privation

Or

B Happened and is worse than A
Therefore A is justified

In hypnosis this is also known as redirection. It’s a short-circuiting of focus (which in this day and age doesn’t need much to short-circuit.) Distraction in 2017 is child’s play and it’s a Trump card for politicians. If a news correspondent, for example, asks a politician directly:

“Did you say all these bad things about women?”

And he interrupts with:

“Only Rosie O’Donnell”

It basically triggers an automatic reaction in many people. A train of involuntary associations kicks off: “Rosie O’Donnel! I don’t like her. Ew. He doesn’t like her either. I like him. Wait, what was the question?” Except that last thought seldom occurs because the discussion has already moved on. It’s a non-linear move that games our neurology, which is much more effective in avoiding the question than mealy-mouthing an excuse about it being taken out of context which just appears defensive and duplicitous.

Outright denial is another distraction technique in this age of blink-and-miss-it media attention spans.

“I never said that.” Or “Check your facts,”

This stops inquiry in its tracks. Even those that are pretty sure they heard it might second guess themselves. Much less the true believers. Or those that might concede it happened—but B is much worse.

But let’s get back to A and B. The trick is to realize that this logical fallacy doesn’t really justify anything. It’s meant to keep attention off of what is being presented and B and A should each be evaluated in their own right for clear reckoning. B does not justify, negate or minimize A.

There are boatloads of these illogical misdirects during political discourse and there should be a more consensual understanding of how they are used to game the uninformed mind. Some examples:

“Barack Obama might be detaining people without trial and bombing civilians in other countries, but Bush did far worse.”
“Smoking may be a bad thing but it’s not as bad as global warming/car exhausts/body odor etc.”
“Yes, the US is keeping secret prisons, but we’re not as bad as Saddam Hussein!”

Relative privation is a class of distraction and distraction in general is a way to avoid addressing or validating the immediate issue. So when you see that toddler in the store screaming bloody murder suddenly silenced with an ice-cream, remember this trick is used on us daily.

Tune in next week when we explore how Lateral Inhibition works across abstract dimensions! (Just kidding… probably.)

BTW, check the National Geographic series on Brain Games and, in particular, this episode on Netflix.


  1. an old Scottish word meaning magic spell. Or something that reads the same forwards and backwards. I wonder what the connection is between those two? 

Dreams of Snakes and Wakening

I’m gravitating towards more dream work. For months now I’ve missed only a handful of nights journaling at least one dream. But I need to make some tweaks. If I watch movies late at night, it flattens my dreams. When I go to bed earlier than midnight, without a customary glass or two of wine (generally accompanying movies), the quality of dreams improves.

Two types of dreams have been recurring. Last night, for example, some people and I were trapped in a frozen vale. We tried various means of escape (a prominent theme) and finally it seemed we succeeded. But I was convinced all we had done was to “dream” we had escaped. And we were actually still trapped. With effort I demonstrated this was still a dream by levitating and whirling a large object around with just my intent. While this indeed exhibited it was a dream, to both myself and the others —I completely missed the larger import. Again. In these recurring dreams I often dream that I’m aware that I am dreaming. Which to me means I’m often asleep a couple layers deep in daily life as well. But also, that to realize what’s happening in the macro, look for a clue in the micro. Usually one so obvious it’s blinding.

In the second recurring dream, a snake crawls in my bed. I’m leery, but not particularly freaked out. The snake is a good buddy of mine in dreamworld, a familiar ally. It wraps around natural curvatures in my sleeping position and cuddles up as I fall back to sleep.

With my series on Netflix concluding  (The Travelers), and classes starting next week, I’ll be cleaning up my sleep hygiene to delve deeper into realms of dreaming. I have been monitoring quality of sleep with an app and learning more about when my natural deep sleep and REM cycles occur. I also snagged some supplements to facilitate dream excursions during my last trip stateside. In particular: Galantamine and Mucuna Pruriens. I’ll add these a couple times a week, along with my daily regimen of DMAE and Piracetam. More about these specific protocols later, perhaps.

don’t play the hand that’s dealt

is this the 2nd or 3rd or nth year of a series coming up or are we going to try something new? Are we bending over for the forces that be and hunkering down to take our punishment or have we dusted off that old craft we built deep in the forests of our youth and set it back up to tack into the wind and rise above the numbing zones, the moans and lamentations of those doing it “right”, being “realistic”, living the life with the crooked hands they’ve been dealt, grateful for the scraps …or do we have something up our sleeves this coming year? A card or two under the table? Something that doesn’t depend on the House paying cuts with its trickling odds at infrequent intervals just to lure us deeper into illusions of debt? I hear free men once walked these plains, once looked at these same stars we see from our feeding pens. I hear that it doesn’t take a lifetime of planning or preparation to make a change, that it’s just a simple matter of stepping sideways in our lifes and running with a different current.

 

Rattling Around

A8711293_orig spirit rattle shakes once. Coming from somewhere over by the bed where my android phone is running an app called Awoken. I look at my hands carefully, inspecting front and back. I remember where I am: sitting in my chair at the desk. How I got here: coming inside from errands and visiting the ATM. I carefully scan the room and my surroundings for anything that looks odd or out of place. This time reality checks out.

Last night the test almost passed, but there was a subtle slip-up. I remembered where I was and how I got there. But the memory  was sketchy, glossing over some things. OK, I thought. I guess that passes. I examined my hands to make sure. Which started out well, but I seemed to be missing a part of a finger and another finger contorted oddly. Aha! This was a dream! My first lucid dream in a while. I’ve been dream journaling diligently, beginning in November. And things have been ramping back up to re-enter dream territory with more intent. Especially with the plant journeys winding down.

Now that I had awoken in my dream, my goal was simple: stabilize as long as possible. Which means, first of all, regulate emotions. Most people, myself included, when they first experienced this weird phenomenon of being totally awake, inside a dream, find it so exciting, exhilarating and wild that they wake back up immediately. So the first trick is to be a little chill about it.

And the second trick, the one I’m working on now, is to maintain focus. Meditation helps. Learning to focus on the cushion, being pulled away time and time again by chains of thoughts, but returning to one’s original focus, is good training for keeping balance in the dream. Because if one starts getting caught up in the story, just like in the “real world,” one loses oneself easily to illusions. And presence vanishes. 1

So I focused on being focused. I looked at my hands and then back at the environment and back at my hands. Back and forth —a little too hyper— but it had been a while. Then I forgot and started attending to what was happening. I forgot to come back to center and things gradually unraveled.

At one point with lucidity slipping, I asked this girl I was with in the dream how to get out of my loop. She stared into my soul but had no answer. (I may have binged watched a bit too much Westworld last week.)

In the final few minutes, I was in south Ecuador and saw the shadow of a large Incan god. While I was deciding what to do about it, and what to do next, my focus frayed. I made one last play to engage the environment by asking a kid if I could have a bite of his cool looking bird shaped ice-cream, but that wasn’t the type of engagement or focus I needed, and with the bite, I woke up.

It was delicious. I am going back soon.

P.S. If you are interested in this topic, I highly recommend Lucid Dreaming: Gateway to the Inner Self by Robert Waggoner.