Monday 22 July 2019

How does the brain construct the psychedelic experience?

Ben asked:
Interested in any interesting psych interpretations or whitepapers you may know of on dmt and how the brain constructs the experience :) 

Sukhino bhava Ben,
You asked how the brain constructs the experience... certainly there are books and papers on this topic which you can find on google scholar and Amazon (a classic book is Antipodes of the Mind, but personally I found it so boring I could not read it), but my question to you is, which brain are you talking about? Everyone has different experiences, even the same person will usually have a different experience on different days, so there's no reason to suspect that every brain is constructing the experience with the same methods, however based on my own personal experience and based on reading of others, and seeing others, I can say that the brain/mind has a model of reality which determines the limits to which reality can be seen, as well as the limits to the expansion or deconstruction of the very same model. So it's a process of gradually gaining clarity, or as Buddha called it, Right View. Each time we gain clarity it helps us to figure out how to gain more clarity. You can also think of it like you are born wearing 1,000 sunglasses. You take one off, and you can see a bit clearer. Now you take the next off, and so on, all the while becoming more aware that you must have quite a lot of sunglasses on you, and maybe at a certain point you even figure out that you can shake them all off at once with the correct head movement. 

Now, unfortunately, some people do not want clarity about reality. They just want different colored sunglasses! So, they pluck a few off and then buy some new ones to put on. This is analogous to the folks who take psychedelics in order to travel to other realms and have weird new experiences (I've certainly had enough of those).

I will absolutely look into Antipodes of the Mind. This is exactly what I was looking for based on the amazon description. I have always been a believer that the ayahuasca and dmt experience is not channeling something external but instead tapping into something very deeply internal and tucked away past the conscious mind.

Am I external to your mind? Technically, no, whatever "I" am to you is all in your mind. In fact, although probably most people believe they exist, I don't have that belief, so in this case, for me, there's no me (just letters, fingers, sounds), but for you, there's me, here, talking to you in English. See, you don't need psychedelics to get mind-fucked.... sorry for the language. Since everything simply happens automatically due to conditions, there is really no you, no your mind, and that identity illusion, in fact, is the source of all questions, all doubts, all ignorance, and all suffering, just as, coincidentally(lol) Buddha explained in the Pali suttas. Ironically, the average person sees existence as the fountain of happiness, and in fact that is the basis for every religion in the world that I know of, aside from Theravada buddhism, if you could call that a religion, tho it's more just a teaching about reality/how to see clearly.

I once had a dream in which I realized I was dreaming, and I said to the dream characters in my room, "None of you exist! Why should I even talk to you?" or something like that. One female dream character said to me, "Even if we don't exist, we still have feelings!" In other words, at some level she understood she was just a dream character (as was I), but not completely enough to let go of her feelings, and so I had to take her feelings into account because her belief in existence created real suffering which I had to be careful not to make worse (in this case, by being nice and not implying that these people are stupid).

I completely agree that the mind can only construct through previous experience and learned axioms and that these experiences cannot exist in a vacuum. I have also read a bit on the ideas that these experiences echo the thoughts of Jung and his archetypes but, having read Jung, have not been very convinced. My interest is similarly in self discovery and trying to come to my own conclusions on why I have seen what I have seen - experienced what I have experienced etc.
To this point, I have had a hard time both integrating the experiences and mapping them to something digestible to the conscious, self reflecting mind. My experiences have been very very abstract. Which to be totally honest, is likely the reason for my curiosity. The idea that your conscious mind can have trouble knowing or understanding the motivation of another part of your mind in such a visceral way is fascinating. Interested in your thoughts on this and the best ways to continue exploring! 

Well, curiosity killed the cat, so it can't be all bad, right? Well, if you are the cat, and death is ego death, I mean. But be careful with curiosity because it can be sort of like treadmill (as can ego death). Using it skillfully we can come up with some ideas which we then check to see how they will improve our lives. If the idea does not liberate us, we can discard it, because ultimately, we are looking for (hopefully) the end of suffering, not to publish some academic paper (which nobody will ever read probably, unless they are a competing academic who wishes to argue with you). 

Yes, we have a conscious mind and a subconscious mind which is like 99.999999995% of our mind. Although we do not know every detail (we cannot, given the puny nature of our conscious mind) about our subconscious, we can gather that since we are evolved by nature to survive long enough to reproduce, the subconscious mind is that survival programming. It includes all kinds of tasks, such as receiving sensory data, interpreting it based on memories, binding to other sensory data (hearing to seeing) to build a coherent experience which can be identified with, producing the sense of self to ensure the desire for survival, creating emotions based on the sense of self to further ensure the desire for survival, including sensual lust, anger, love, and so forth.

There are plenty of general guidelines for improving one's experiences in life (and also with psychedelics). For example, do you have a goal when you are taking psychedelics? How long do you meditate on this goal each day? How long do you meditate on this goal prior to taking the psychedelic? Do you continue to meditate on the goal after taking it? What prevents your meditation from continuing? Do you get distracted by images or thoughts? Just let go of each one as it arises, without judgement. If it is too difficult to meditate on the psychedelic, chances are you took too much of the drug. I find that any more than 500-700mg of my acacia confusa powder (2% potent or so) becomes difficult to meditate with, because the thoughts & images project so vividly & constantly.

If you have no goal aside from explaining the mechanisms that create various experiences, then I hope you are happy to have infinite different experiences!

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