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May 13th, 2021
We each have a repetitive narrative that plays in our mind, reinforcing our own personal idea of who we are, what the world is like and what to think about the people around us. This is like an audiobook that is constantly playing in the background, and every morning after waking up, it starts up again on repeat. From this constant remembrance of what we think the world and ourselves to be, our behavior flows. We do things in accord with who we currently think ourselves to be. Change that idea of who you are and it can change the behavior you find yourself doing.
Another way of thinking about this narrative is to think of a pond. Every pond or lack is bordered by the land surrounding it, and the shape of this land can take infinite shapes, and as a result the sort of waves or ripples that we might see across the surface of this pond is highly impacted by the shape of the coast. Waves and ripples bounce and refract in certain ways depending on the shape of the coast they hit. The hard border of land dictates that in normal circumstances, the rhythms of water is going to continuously cascade in a particular and repeated way.
Now imagine a giant rock is dropped in the middle of this pond. A wave of sufficient strength can result to push out against the land and change the shape of the pond, and ultimately, the sort of music that plays across it’s surface in the form of ripples and waves. This rock is the equivalent of a significant psychological experience, like the death of a loved one, falling in love, or having a sufficiently powerful psychedelic experience. All of these unsettle the mind in ways that create a doorway or a freedom that can afford a new way of living, behaving and perspective.
The most accessible and controllable of such experiences is the psychedelic experience, oddly enough. We cannot predict nor know when we might fall in love or when someone might unexpectedly die. But we can, however consciously explore and decide upon the possibility of taking a strong psychedelic. For years such an experience has been cooped up in the realm of hippies having fun. But during the last few years it’s been making it’s way into serious mainstream study.
The rock in the pond is a valid analogy, a strong psychedelic shakes up the mind, affording the near guarantee of a radically new perspective. But a better analogy is to think of a tool, like a hammer. It’s possible to have fun with a hammer in a casual and innocuously destructive way, like taking a few swings at an old TV that’s getting thrown out. It’s fun, and that hammer is definitely being used, but anyone can walk away from that bit of physical exertion and think little of it. This is the ‘party’ form of psychedelic use, though nothing may actually be destroyed, it’s just incidental of the hammer that it can be used in that sort of fun way. The hammer, however, can be used in highly constructive ways: you can take apart a part of your house and rebuild it anew, better and improved if that hammer is used with skill. But this is the ‘skill’ that most people don’t associate with psychedelics. This skill is in the sense set and setting, of intention and integration for the experience. These are all terms that are currently being developed in the research surrounding psychedelics, and in premodern times, such things were incapsulated by the ritual that surrounded such experiences.
In terms of the pond image, the water and it’s rippled movement reflects the pattern of our neuronal firing, while the shape of land around the pond reflects the actual hardware of our brain, the placement and connection of those neurons in relation to one another. When a substantial psychological experience occurs, that pattern of neuronal firing changes substantially. Our neurons essentially play a different song, to a different beat…. For a time. Eventually and usually the hard reality of our physical brain exerts its influence and for the most part we return to our regularly scheduled audiobook of who we think we are and what we think of the world. There is, however, a brief time when the radical departure in thinking and subjective experience, as created by a radically different pattern of neuronal firing creates the opportunity for new behavior. This can be like ‘getting out of your own way’, escaping the cage of your own mind for a while and doing something. The actual doing, the physical behavior rooted in the body is a potential key for hardwiring a temporary positive change to make it permanent.j. Actual behavior, as downstream from a brief change in neuronal patterns can then refract back at the actual physical brain and get that brain to change it’s configuration, if only slightly, but enough to save the change.
None of this is proven of course, it’s just an elaborate image and metaphor in order to think about the brain and the mind, their link and how we might be able to consciously change the two for a better life.
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