Tag Archives: Herbert Benson

Holotropic Spontaneity and Carl Rogers I

A lot of this is about spontaneity.

Spontaneity of course can manifest in the “sudden solution” and “sudden inspiration” experienced by most people now and then, often described by artists or scientists etc. It’s dubbed the “Breakout” by Herbert Benson. Artists know the difference between real inspiration welling up, which is natural, and that which is calculated. The key in all these effects is their appearance from outside the system one thinks of as “oneself”.

Spiritually Transformative Experience works in just the same way. It is a natural welling-up, whether it is deliberately sought or unexpected.

When Kundalini comes, for example, sometimes it is dramatic:

Suddenly, with a roar like that of a waterfall, I felt a stream of liquid light entering my brain through the spinal cord… I experienced a rocking sensation and then felt myself slipping outside of my body, entirely enveloped in a halo of light…

– Gopi Krishna, Kundalini (1967)

One day, when I was meditating… an incredible power rushed through my spine to the top of my head… My whole body was burning… I felt as if my head would explode with energy…

– Hiroshi Motoyama, Theories of the Chakras (1981)

As I was running energy around the orbit… I saw a brownish-gold coil of powerful energy… it had a head like a viper and began to come up my spinal column… when it reached the skull this time there was no mercy and no stopping it… It was as if the top of my skull blew off and I was radiating up into a fountain of light…

– Glenn Morris, Path Notes of an American Ninja Master (1993)

But the welling-up I’ll write about in this series is quieter, and more of an initial preparation in many ways, forming a ground for experience to come. It’s also about coming to see one’s own personality and thus is not merely a quiet process, but it’s a gradual one, generating a new personality that is truer to the soul.


Re-Hanging My Hat

In all of these peak experiences it becomes impossible to differentiate sharply between the self and the non-self… Observe first of all that this is an empirical statement and not a philosophical or theological one. Anyone can repeat these findings.

– Abraham Maslow, The Farther Reaches of Human Nature (1971)

Quite unexpectedly, this post marks the beginning of the end of this phase of this blog. I will probably do one more next week, and then take a break, I don’t know exactly how long. During that break there will still be more on the Reading Lists and the Webster Rebuttal though.

I guess what I’m experiencing here is kind of a Breakout. :) I’ve written and rewritten the following post but don’t know that I’ve managed to convey what’s exciting me… Still, I think it will bear a lot of fruit down the road and I just want to experiment with it for a while without writing stuff down.

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Glenn: taught humanity not just spirituality

Since religion in any organised and orthodox Western sense is not necessary for spiritual experience and enlightenment, and in my case I’m sure would prevent it, I’ve always been looking for secular theories that will do the philosophical heavy lifting. Until now I didn’t appreciate how Glenn’s training in Humanistic psych helped him deal with Kundalini, in a sense prepared him for it attitudinally (along with martial arts of course). Humanistic psych is not exactly “spiritual”, just open to experience. For Glenn it actually did a lot of what a “having a faith” would do for someone, but wasn’t a faith, was empirical.

Glenn was able to be both highly connected to spiritual traditions and in a considerable degree of irony towards them, using powers of psychological reinterpretation to smoke out the crowd-herding dogmas, rhetorics, superstitions, and plain old mistakes.

I always thought in general that with enough transpersonal psych I’d get the answers I wanted. But after I went through all the Wilbers and the Ferrers, even though I learned something from Grof alright, my reaction was… ok, what else have you got?

I didn’t see that Glenn had actually got his stuff from the Humanistic and evidential, a lot more than from the Transpersonal, which is mostly non-evidential. What he did after he’d experienced Kundalini was a) replicate it on others; and b) develop psychological instruments based on chakra models. That is exactly what Maslow would have done. Wilber never did this. Translating the ancient transpersonal into our lives in a new form is about careful, cautious, wise prescription based on doing the legwork.

Because Maslow did that legwork he often had to backtrack. When he was more decisive he often was wrong and had to eat humble pie later, because the evidence went another way. That’s life! Humanistic psych, which in 1962 he liked to call “holistic-dynamic” psych, was always about understanding the human experiential world. After that, you could quantify.

I begin to understand how Glenn was able to integrate all his experiences without losing his scientific focus, and also how he could integrate so much hard science without losing his soul and going left-brained. He kept the Humanistic focus and never let the results run him. In turn I begin to get why so much conversation on the science of the transpersonal bores me rigid, why conversation with “skeptics” is such a farce — indeed, why I leapt at the opportunity to reply to Webster! He at least has a focus on the experience of human existence. Without that appreciation for the human, the world is ‘cut in half’ by scientific investigation, for no good reason. And we know that same cutting-in-half happens in religions too.

By sensitive observation, testing both qualitative and quantitative, on lots of people, you make something democratic. Religious top-down declarations of truth are undermined. It’s a different world at that point.

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Readers of John Michael Greer got a nice idea from him a few weeks back:

What you contemplate, you imitate

I remember Greer was talking about fellow peak oil writer James Howard Kunstler, for example, who has written so long and scathingly about certain aspects of American life, that he occasionally sounds and thinks just like what he’s lampooning. Compare that with the process by which a medieval monk’s long contemplation of Christ causes changes of a more positive kind.

I introduced the idea of entrainment, of which these are examples. I was groping there, still am, for the actual nub, trying to describe how “it” crosses over from human mind to “the universe”. What I didn’t manage to get across was that entrainment means something is happening, something more than what ”you” are consciously doing.

I said then: “Psychologically, let’s call entrainment the process whereby interaction with ‘something’ brings a personality into being.” That is what happened to Kunstler. There is a blurring of object with subject in a process of transformation. It just happens. Kunstler did the contemplating, but the imitating happened “by itself”. At the end of the day, whose behaviour do we have there? :) What caused the contemplation and what caused the imitation?

The fact that it occurs “by itself” is the key. I’ve always noticed “something acting through me”, I’m not trying to say this is something amazing, but something, even before I started out to work with all this. That to me is another great key which I need to take time off writing, and maybe most reading, in order to play with. St Romain describes “ground itself looking through my eyes”, and that is exactly it.

This connects to a lot of what Anandamayi Ma would say — she is worth the study — but at the same time via Humanistic psych it relates to ordinary human life, being constantly let go of, as we do when we peak. It may have seemed hyperbolic to say Benson-style Breakout was “the central human psychological mechanism” but I think there is something very important there. (I might refer to the Kunstler thing as a ‘plateau Breakout’.) What acts when we ‘let go’ is the real thing.

I believe one could look at the entire universe as the product of spontaneous entrainments. Think of the descriptions of the creation processes. Yin entrained to Yang and spontaneous results thereof. The universe as a big Breakout, one big continuous transformation.

The universe is a form of mentation. Spiritual training has you constantly learning to direct attention and increase its power, so that you can entrain and crucially de-entrain as opposed to being run by the entrainments you just find yourself with.

Qi is the medium through which entrainments happen, is itself the medium of transformation, even of the physical. That all fits with the science — the Lu/Yan experiments I talked about before showed qi as precisely that.

And I suspect that each human life itself in a sense is one really big Breakout waiting to happen. I think I’ll just leave that statement hanging there. :)

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Maslow — taught Glenn humanity

Maslow is just old enough to be yesterday’s man, not old enough to be “classic”, and totally “left behind” by fMRI in the last decade. I love that, because he was right. His empirical focus on positive aspects of human functioning is now derided as unscientific because it focused on values, but a) it was actually perfectly scientific, b) it came up with stuff you can actually use, and c) given that what you contemplate, you imitate, it was a bloody good idea.

When you say the world is mechanical, you don’t merely lose ‘meaning’, you lose all values, and hence, all chance of being scientific. Meditators know that neutrality doesn’t mean valuelessness. For human beings values are non-optional, and we can make rigorous scientific statements about them. Much normal science avoids this and is robbing us of our humanity. Maslow proved that human values can really be studied — the fact that so few picked up that gage is a choice, and it’s fear-driven, it’s deficiency-driven. People don’t want the responsibility. Many scientists want to be machines, and to know how to push human buttons.

What Maslow starts offering me is what he gave Glenn all along — a humanised way to tackle big questions and experiences, and relate them to ordinary humanity.

Think of the huge numbers of STEs and peak experiences which “just happen” — from ⅓ to ½ of the population in America has had an STE and numbers for general peak experiences must be even higher. We know that many of these events add meaning to life. We also know they don’t correlate to religious belief. When Maslow studied them he found fourteen consistent attributes which he called ‘B-values’ (“Being values”). Since these attributes appear spontaneously one could also call them “S-terms”, the attributes of spontaneity itself, as we experience it.

Here is one Maslow list of them:

WHOLENESS (unity; integration; tendency to one-ness; interconnectedness; simplicity; organization; structure; dichotomy-transcendence; order);

PERFECTION (necessity; just-right-ness; just-so-ness; inevitability; suitability; justice; completeness; “oughtness”);

COMPLETION (ending; finality; justice; “it’s finished”; fulfillment; finis and telos; destiny; fate);

JUSTICE (fairness; orderliness; lawfulness; “oughtness”);

ALIVENESS (process; non-deadness; spontaneity; self-regulation; full-functioning);

RICHNESS (differentiation, complexity; intricacy);

SIMPLICITY (honesty; nakedness; essentiality; abstract, essential, skeletal structure);

BEAUTY (rightness; form; aliveness; simplicity; richness; wholeness; perfection; completion; uniqueness; honesty);

GOODNESS (rightness; desirability; oughtness; justice; benevolence; honesty);

UNIQUENESS (idiosyncrasy; individuality; non-comparability; novelty);

EFFORTLESSNESS (ease; lack of strain, striving or difficulty; grace; perfect, beautiful functioning);

PLAYFULNESS (fun; joy; amusement; gaiety; humor; exuberance; effortlessness);

TRUTH (honesty; reality; nakedness; simplicity; richness; oughtness; beauty; pure, clean and unadulterated; completeness; essentiality).

SELF-SUFFICIENCY (autonomy; independence; not-needing-other-than-itself-in-order-to-be-itself; self-determining; environment-transcendence; separateness; living by its own laws).

This is from ordinary people’s self-reporting of peaks. It’s a basic, instant-grasp view of “how the Tao in action feels” for human beings. We know that neutrality and letting-go allows “it” to act. Therefore we know human “neutrality” is not morally neutral but full of values. Peak experiences can easily be remembered and focused on to hold true to one’s personal Way. This is an entrainment which will then break out in new peaks. Contemplate: imitate. Anyone who has looked over books in the Reading List will get the idea. I will give a couple of interesting things next week, but actually it’s all there.

Maslow provided a time-saving, tested, sure foundation for personal experiment on oneself that anyone non-religious, anyone determined to use their own symbols and translate the traditions their way, can use. Glenn went ahead and fulfilled this vision and democratised an even bigger chunk of higher reality.

I will try never again to underestimate Maslow. He was far righter on than I’d understood. Just look at this:

The person now becomes more a pure psyche and less a thing-of-the-world living under the laws if the world… B-cognition of the other is most possible when there is simultaneously a letting-be of the self and of the other…

Toward a Psychology of Being (1962)

I know there were times when he was wrong — but it doesn’t usually matter because one only needs to take the good stuff. Even then, I often find him eminently correctable. After all, he didn’t build a big “perfect” structure and then cry like a baby every time the truth took a bite out of it — he was always prepared to be wrong. One of the things he was wrong about, I mentioned before, was “needs”. He didn’t realise needs lose their blocking nature, not from being “fulfilled” necessarily (which may only entrain them further, as the Greeks knew) — but by conscious limitation and transmutation.

Yet Glenn was ahead of me:

Abraham Maslow, a great American theoretical psychologist, felt that one’s metaneeds (spiritual needs) could only be met when one’s basic needs for survival and security were met… He ignored the scriptures, tales of the aesthetes and ascetics who sometimes achieved enlightenment (self-actualization) through eliminating and shaping desire to higher needs.

Shadow Strategies (1996, p. 260)

And I believe Maslow did understand that, on some level:

There are certain theoretical advantages in stressing now the aspect of non-striving or non-needing and taking it as the centering-point (or center of organization) of the something we are studying.

Toward a Psychology of Being (1962)

Once awake to the possibility, you can move your energy in the down-the-pyramid direction (BTW the pyramid isn’t Maslow, it’s a later interpretation by Goble), and you don’t really need to alter the theory. He was thereabouts if not there; his finger missed some contours, but he was touching the truth that more reality = less need.

You can explain so much just with those 14 simple S-terms. Epicurus, who introduced me to need-reduction strategies that really work, fits very well from his angle. One could be literal and state that S-terms like “simplicity” and “effortlessness” are the particular focus of the Epicurean, whilst reducing both need and striving are the important methods. (Stress reduction was as big a deal for Epicurus as for Herbert Benson.) The nature of ataraxia, untroubledness, is fundamentally related to the neutral observation that enables transformation.

But one can go further and say that Epicurus’s ‘pleasure’ (hêdonê) is also related to peak experience in general. The Epicureans would have been having spontaneous peaks like anyone else, and their reduction of needs would have helped. The ‘pleasure’ of Epicurus moves toward the true self, of being as much ‘like a god’ as a human can be. It is more than mere ordinary pleasure, as he said so many times.

Maslow’s focus on actualisation of the individual was 100% correct. Ego death can’t be “done for you” and it goes one person at a time. Modern transpersonal “theory” like that of Ferrer (one is not allowed to call it psychology) has unceremoniously junked everything we once knew we knew about the psychology of egolessness, and all the places it touched Eastern tradition. Glenn ignored Ferrer completely.

I accused Maslow before of not recognising the relationship between peak experiences and death, but I wasn’t being totally fair there either. He writes:

Perhaps I should add here the paradoxical result — for some — that death may lose its dread aspect. Ecstasy is somehow close to death-experience, at least in the simple, empirical sense that death is often mentioned during reports of peaks… I have occasionally been told, “I felt that I could willingly die” or, “No one can ever again tell me death is bad”, etc.

Religions, Values and Peak-Experiences (1964, p.76)

So he knew about this. Just as with the pyramid, the data suggested a conclusion he acknowledged but didn’t place into the theory proper — an association of peak with death of the social self.

What happened with Glenn was that he back-engineered the qigong and chakra stuff in just this way, and tested it. This goes far beyond Maslow in terms of experience and effect, this is real goddess stuff — but Maslow is so open-ended it can be understood just the same exact way.

Believe it or not there is next to no widely-tested psychology on chakras apart from Glenn’s. People are writing books on ‘chakra psychology’ who haven’t even read his work, getting everything anecdotally. (I don’t denigrate a lifetime’s experienced wisdom in healing, for instance, but I do deny that it constitutes scientific knowledge in itself.) Psychology means testing, and you need a framework for testing. And it better be a Humanistic framework or else you’ll cut off the soul again.

From Glenn we know that different people habitually favour different chakras, and what that’s likely to do to stress levels, career, personality, and other measurable stuff, on a variety of accepted scales. That is actually unique so far as I’m aware. Bardon gives a lengthy process for determining one’s elemental balance — in my case Glenn’s test gave the same result as that process, but in 2 minutes flat. But of course Glenn also provides the crucial inner stuff, the connection to experience, so you can transform awareness, in a way you can customise to you.

All the physical experiments, all the quantifying, has to be secondary compared to that. That’s just information. What Glenn did has humanistic, customisable universality because thousands of people contributed to it, just as there were many subjects of Maslow’s B-values research. It captures something about living, something anyone’s unique life experience can add to.

(I’m not just dogmatically saying that “we need to test”. I’m saying I’ve just noticed that those who tested came up with results I could use, and those who didn’t, didn’t. I even believe that the limits on what is testable and in that sense knowable may be precisely the limits needed to maintain the personal freedom that religion can expunge.)

In this paragraph I should sum up what I’m saying… the world to me now looks as if it makes sense from a certain angle, a loose and usable kind of sense that redeems scientific endeavours since there is a way to integrate those with real feeling and value, and which shows that even the heights of “spirituality” are based on human conditions and proclivities that anyone can relate to. I don’t know why that has surprised me so much, but I do know that one reason I went for Glenn’s stuff is that he didn’t talk like a normal spirichal teacha, and now I begin to understand why, and what that has to do with the “it that acts”.

Incidentally, I also begin to understand why some people who ripped off Glenn’s methods ended up writing such crappy books.

I ‘ll take a little time off the blog to see what happens as a result, but will just do a quick post next week especially targeted at methods… cya then.


The Way That Finds Itself

The Breakout Principle

If you are going to do it, it is actually not “you” who will do it — “it” will do itself. A big part of the skill taught by successful lineages is learning to watch neutrally as the process does the process.

This relates, on the level of ordinary psychology, to the Breakout Principle of Herbert Benson, in which you first put a lot of energy into the process of solving any problem — performance anxieties or creative blocks, life rearrangement or stress reduction, deep questions of purpose — then having struggled you let go of the process, stop, do something different, something repetitive usually, something in which “you” are not involved in the same way. It could be meditation, it could be needlework… he gives pages of things people have used including reading, shaving, drumming or folding laundry. Thanks to a mechanism we all possess, this causes you to be struck by a solution “breaking out” of previous thought patterns, a solution “from nowhere”.

Benson’s book in my opinion frankly is a little naff, but still very good to know. :) LATE EDIT: Just speed-re-read it and added more to the end of this post; if that inspires anyone to get the book it’s currently going for absolutely peanuts, especially on UK Amazon. (Maybe the rest of his stuff is worth a look too — Glenn cued off him in a lot of ways. He’s even got some of the biology which is such a big key. I’ve read Relaxation Response and it’s a good basic book with a pleasing attitude.)

I think this “Breakout” just may be the central human psychological mechanism. Yet there is so little on it in psychology — even transpersonal psychology, whose very name implies it. I think many people experience these signs as little peak experiences, which is how Benson analyses them. That connects to Maslow, but Maslow didn’t produce any method, where Benson does. I described one of my early Breakouts here on the ‘Box back in January, but didn’t even realise I was talking about a Breakout myself! I see now the description is exact, as bolded here:

I remember the moment I got my first blast of the actual Earth, from opening the base chakra plus doing a bunch of work with sexual energy. It was after I’d stopped meditating for the night and was engaged in something unconnected. Suddenly I felt it. The first words into my mind were ‘old and strong’. That was how I observed-experienced it unfolding…, bristling and deep, full of silence, strong, massively present and aware…

The Sequence of States in a Breakout

I think that moment of life in which something breaks through is a fundamental aspect of psychology which really goes places when you get deeper. At the stronger STE (Spiritually Transformative Experience) end of the scale, it leads to removing “oneself” from the equation altogether. Hence, “death”, hence “egoless” and so forth. That thing whose fortunes one has to keep track of amidst the baboon horde no longer binds. Although this is radical, I must mention that it is incredibly subtle too.

And it just happens. I like to remember what Glenn says:

Most of the religious writings with the exception of Patanjali strike me as poppycock. They describe the life, but not the practice that resulted in the life.

Path Notes of an American Ninja Master (1993), p. 41

Exactly — nor the process that this practice set in train. Preaching at people that they “should” remove their egos is probably fairly pointless — the word “should” is an ego word. My most beloved process is the Kundalini process, which long-term enables this neutrality exactly. In just the same way as we have “peak experiences” and “plateau experiences”, so we have peak STEs and plateau STEs. Kundalini sometimes announces itself with a big peak, but the plateau element is inevitable once awakened and comes from living with it for years. These changes are profound and are really what ‘ego death’ means.

There may be many true ways to do this and we know many involve Kundalini — possibly others don’t. (What is valuable is any way that works.) But I could never imagine a way which didn’t involve letting go to “it”. It does it; “it” is always doing everything.

An eloquent writer on the result is Philip St Romain, who is both Kundalini experiencer and Roman Catholic. Right away that tells us something about universality. I don’t know if he has taught Kundalini but he has certainly described it pretty well, and joins the group of those, like Gopi Krishna and Glenn, who were practicing something and then suddenly found ”it” happening. They didn’t know what “it” was at first and that is not an easy situation. In St Romain’s case the practice was prayer which perhaps says something about how sincerely most people pray by comparison :) and resulted in interesting stuff like the throat opening first. He writes:

One of the first things that happened to me, when in 1986 my prayer deepened, was a sense of having lost myself. The union between self-awareness and self-concept was dissolved, and without a self-concept mirror to gaze into, I no longer knew myself. I still had a self-concept; my beliefs and convictions about myself were still there… But the emotional bond with self-concept was severed…

Who was I? I realized that I was not my thoughts, not my memory, not my body… I sensed a response coming from my intuitive higher self. “Philip St Romain is dead!” came the word. “Quit trying to find him”…

Since then, the Egoic pole of consciousness has returned, only not as before. For although there is, with me, a very definite sense of “I”, this “I” is not the old mental-conceptual Ego. Now, the “I” is just an “I”… I have become increasingly aware of my attending self, or “I”, as pure attention itself. It often feels like the Ground Itself sees out of my senses, and when this happens, attention is realized at its Root. There is just the seeing…

Kundalini Energy and Christian Spirituality (1991)

This is an excellent description of death and rebirth into a different form of consciousness, the idea embodied in those myths I’ve mentioned before — Zagreus and Osiris, etc. The “Ground” mentioned is the “Dynamic Ground” of transpersonal psychologist Michael Washburn. The new “I” doesn’t get in the way so much, and doesn’t need to be got out of the way for “it” to happen through the person. This is the key. Note how the “ego death” just happened, naturally, which is why it can be so central in so many places. This is natural human functioning, of a certain kind.

Spontaneity is central to Kundalini — the bodily movements, the feelings, the perceptions, the natural results of wiring into the bigger version of oneself previously excluded by habitual attention only to what comes through the physical channels. All of this occurs.

I don’t see enough on spontaneity. Psychology doesn’t often understand its relevance and stamping it out of people is one of school’s first tasks. All moments of creativity and inspiration are spontaneities. This to me is what transpersonal psychology should be about, this psychology which goes “beyond the person”. Not so much with the maps based on comparing thinkings. I suppose that may be natural at the transcendent level — but how do you get there? I want more with the getting sleeves rolled up and finding these links. Spontaneity works on the ordinary level and then on non-ordinary levels. That makes it a principle with universal application.

Another master of generating Breakouts, Milton Erickson, shines when it comes to how rigidity grows in the natural frame of reference:

Eventually the entire conscious awareness of the individual may become restrictively governed or dictated by the very structure that originally developed to allow an increased freedom of response.

– Ronald Havens, The Wisdom of Milton H. Erickson (1985)

… which is why one needs to let go of that structure. But Erickson didn’t do what Benson did and give a range of formulae for one’s own breakouts, since his interest was purely clinical. He was a master at getting others out of their own ways, but didn’t see it as his job to give them a new map about what had happened. For Erickson all conscious maps are wayward, bizarre, rigid and complex, but the unconscious is simple, universal, and brilliant if allowed to work.

Of the world traditions, Taoism is the one that most values spontaneity — it has a term for it, ziran, which is fundamental since Laozi. Isabelle Robinet points out that ziran is the Te, the power, of the Tao itself, and represents “being natural in its highest sense”:

… ziran defines the way the world goes on by itself without anyone “doing” it… In human beings, ziran means being free from dependence on some other thing or substance [equivalent to self-actualised]… being natural… and being creative… To respect ziran one should not interfere (wuwei)… To act spontaneously is to have no intention of one’s own, to let the natural force that is within everything work freely…

Routledge Encyclopedia of Taoism, entry “ziran

It’s quite nice to see such an exact match. Whatever one says about religious tracts, once one has taken on board some of the functions of “it” in us, along with the process of transformation into “it”, a lot of Tao Te Ching turns out to be precisely about that process. Differences in translation can be interesting, here are two good ones…

Act without action, (wuwei)
And nothing is without order.

(ch. 3, Wing)

Act without contrivance
And nothing will be beyond control

(ch. 3, Lin)

The idea itself is everywhere you look in that book. “It” orders, “it” controls, “you” act without acting, without it being “you” acting.

Knowing what beauty is makes ugliness, do not take hold of the world and act on it (that is, let go), do not employ forceful strategies, what you seize you lose. Teach the practice of no words, the usefulness comes when you don’t make an effort, act without expecting, make use of what is not there, abandon strategy, allow yourself to become obscure, know the male but hold to the female and become the world’s stream, become the pattern itself, enter the substantial and do not be occupied with the veneer…

… just finished a dash through Benson’s book again. A good story I’ll give briefly: An ambitious attorney has a huge case that could make his career, gets incredibly stressed, and ignores all advice from Benson on how to reduce stress. As he rises for his summation he thinks he will “never get a word out”, yet delivers an excellent address with incredible crowd rapport by having a spontaneous breakout based on one simple thought: none of this really matters.

As Benson notes (p. 77) at that moment he abandoned control over his situation — a perfect reflection of the Laozi ideas.

“None of this really matters”. When you have been struggling, struggling for ever, is that statement not in itself a kind of death? The push and the stress have engaged the nervous system, telling it in effect that this struggle is all about staying alive — the sympathetic fight/flight response is entrained. When you let go of that, you realise that your attempt to control is not keeping you alive, that life itself is what is giving you life.

Deep spiritual experience is stronger than this and leads to permanent changes, as St Romain was describing. As Paul says, “Die every day,” and Soko Morinaga ups it to every moment. There’s a whole chapter on this in the rebuttal (now being digested by its first advance readers BTW, many thanks to them) because Webster carps on it.

“Stress” or arousal is good up to a point — then let go. Have this take place within a realm of quiet attention… etc.

For those interested, here are Benson’s basic ideas on triggering mechanisms (for use after you have gone as far as you can with the conscious struggle upcurve remember) — all these can lead to a Breakout:

1. Repetitive physical or mental activity breaking previous thought patterns.

2. Becoming immersed in some expression of your personal belief system.

3. Surrendering, “total abandon” (as with the attorney above).

4. Participating in an absorbing personal encounter.

5. Becoming deeply engaged in an altruistic activity.

6. Filling your mind with a dominant sensory impression — sound or sight.

These are fine places to start. You can combine them. Obviously qigong works real well. The full list of individual Breakout trigger activities is 3 whole pages of the book — pp. 40-3. As I say, copies are going for 11p on Amazon so if you want this, go for it.

Sometime I’m going to talk a little about that second item, the “belief system”, and various radical ways to think about that… a combination of philosophy and the ability to reprogram the nervous system can produce very interesting results. In the end I have always tried to avoid being a “true believer” because once independent you can get results from your own sets of symbols, provided you know where the bottom line is.

Advanced processual meditation goes further than Benson knows about which is where Glenn comes in, but the priming and the letting go can both be done in meditative states. That’s where the aforementioned observing/witnessing states come in, which allow “it” to happen because “you” are just the process of watching the process. The “preliminary stress” just means concentrated attention and qi.

As a final word, I know nothing about Eckhart Tolle but I just remembered something I’d seen once:

One night shortly after his 29th birthday, Tolle says he was in a state of suicidal despair [as he had been all his life BTW]. “I couldn’t live with myself any longer. And this question arose without an answer: who is the ‘I’ that cannot live with the self? What is the self? I felt drawn into a void. I didn’t know at the time that what really happened was the mind-made self, with its heaviness, its problems, that lives between the unsatisfying past and fearful future, collapsed. It dissolved.”

He pauses and reflects. “The next morning I woke up and everything was so peaceful. The peace was there because there was no self. Just a sense of presence or “beingness”, just observing and watching.” He laughs lightly. “I had no explanation for this.”

Classic breakout from lifelong struggle on the “who am I?” level, resulting in ego death seemingly. His way doesn’t seem Kundalini-orientated and he doesn’t understand there’s more to enlightenment than this “egoless state”, but his description precisely parallels St Romain’s. And his process is slap in the middle of the theory we have here. Which is what I mean about a universal principle!


Just say NO

The Breakout Principle -- actually rather useful

Soul change as problem solving requires a cookbook of methods, because many of the most successful operations turn on the unexpected. Humans enjoy a change, are good at backs-to-the-wall rhetorical creativity, and use aporia — a Greek word for the whaaa? blankness Socrates aimed to induce in his interlocutors — to open the mind.

Common sense is valuable but far from sufficient. At some point soon I’ll go over a panoply of methods that can concatenate to loosen the frames which normally prevent reality dawning in humans. Cycling through different mindstates can be very helpful. There is no single ‘correct’ mindstate in which to transmute the “stuff” although obviously some are more useful than others. A main point is to approach what you are handed creatively rather than settling for regular meanings.

Herbert Benson got some of this down to a science around a decade ago. He summed up his findings in a book co-authored with William Proctor, The Breakout Principle (2003). I’ll give the quick version and those who like the sound can buy it to dip into since it’s quite cheap now like most of my recommends.

The sequence of states in a breakout -- but don't take the vertical axis too literally. (It's not "measuring" anything.)

What we have here is a way to deliberately generate a “Breakout” which is a moment of creative inspiration. It can involve a Maslovian peak experience, the solution to a dilemma, clearing a health issue, etc. The way to engineer one reliably amounts to: 1) work heavily on the problem, then 2) let go of it and do something unrelated, which induces 3) a ‘breakout’ from the subconscious bodymind, that appears to come from outside the normal personality, resulting in 4) a better ordering of the original situation by a sudden inspiration, an aha!.

Yerkes-Dodson stress-performance curve -- performance initially improves with stress/activation but then declines

The initial struggle with the problem or situation being worked is necessary, because a certain amount of stress is productive so long as it doesn’t pass the Yerkes-Dodson peak, so getting familiar with one’s personal stress tolerances and gradually raising their thresholds by all the usual techniques is time well spent. The ability to lower stress is the only safe partner for raising it.

Then at a certain point the idea is to give up completely on wrestling with the problem and do something unrelated which brings on relaxation response and parasympathetic activation combined with enjoyable clear-minded concentration. Benson has found nitrous oxide, NO, will be released into the bloodstream at this point, which counters the stress hormones. William James would be proud. Qigong or callisthenics, meditation or yoga, hypnoid trance or prayer or ritual, may be excellent, but are not exclusive triggers. One of the coolest real-life examples in the book has needlepoint as the letting-go. Music, drumming, fishing and even folding laundry have been used. The point is to zone troublelessly.

Dancing would work

I often do gentle work of this kind but major fistshaking stuff can also be done if desired. Then you can give up and admit “you” cannot solve your life (that is equivalent to a quite minor kind of ‘death’ for the dramatically inclined) whereupon it solves itself. This sort of thing is mentioned in zen koan training descriptions and has made Rinzai students sweat buckets before now. Ironically, as we know from multiple traditions and some Hollywood movies, the moment when it’s all too much and you can’t cope is the prelude to rebirth, so hold off on the suicide and watch the Marx Brothers as Woody Allen recommends for his particular peak experience. (It takes all sorts.)

This works well for emotional acceptance and to short-circuit cultural arguments which are being made dramatically by other people. I prefer things to be humming along more efficiently and peacefully most of the time but numerous new age guru types (you know, the ones who can’t be bothered to learn qigong) describe their ‘enlightenment’ events as happening at the end of much depressed hacking through questions about life’s meaning etc. When younger I did some of that myself and had quite a time. Bill Wilson founded Alcoholics Anonymous on the back of a similar experience including bright light and an elation followed by deep serenity.

Andrew Wiles only proved Fermat’s famous theorem when, following a month of despair as his mass of initial work was pulled apart by critics (= heavy stress), he simply admitted he couldn’t do it (= aporia) and tried to see why — his reaction when he found he suddenly had after all is a nice juicy subject-based peak breakout:

suddenly, totally unexpectedly, I had this incredible revelation [...] it was so indescribably beautiful, it was so simple and so elegant, and I just stared in disbelief for twenty minutes…

Singh (1998)

… etc. Unlike Wilson, Wiles was unlikely to shout, “So this is the god of the preachers!” in response to that moment, but as a manifestation of mathematical beauty his otherwise similar experience is quite in line with the Platonic path. Plato would insist this “beautiful and good” can be experienced without any other content and the kundalini-ist would concur. This is also a classic Maslovian peak.

Such a subject-based breakout in some ways is possible only because there is still a strong idea of a personality with boundaries around it, which the kundalini experience will take away permanently (trance does so only temporarily) providing more direct access to inspiration and body energy as one realises “I am also that which I thought I was not”… the usual emergence stuff. But even with no meditation practice, with the Benson Breakout you learn losing can be winning — in a personal rather than a doctrinaire way — which will do wonders for enjoying life.

I’m trying to move this towards a situation of continual creative solving in every moment, which I think is what human beings do. Such events can also be ‘seeded’ with prior trance work — much fun to be had with that as you just watch it pay off. It obviously helps to keep general stress down with basic practices as mentioned before. Social “sole ownerships of meaning” can be readily circumvented with all this. (It seems to occur to relatively few spontaneously that they use language normally only to relate to other people, not to themselves.)

You can also see this as manipulation of different types of entrainment, ref. last post.


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