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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2 responses to “Just say NO

  • Ben Iscatus

    Thanks for this, Jason. I certainly recognise the process! Not quite sure what you mean by “trance work”, though – do you mean meditation on an issue that one is trying to resolve?

    • Jason Wingate

      You’re welcome again… by trancework I mean more things like self-hypnosis, visualisation, or other work with metaphors and symbols where you entrain to them in some way different from regular consciousness. For me that stuff goes hand in hand with meditation and serves a different purpose.

      I’ve had some generalised blog posts on hypnosis before, especially Ericksonian, and I have some stuff coming up on the usefulness of trance with respect to the kind of stuff in this post. It serves a similar “Breakout” purpose much of the time — to prime creativity to harmonise the life etc. — but is a different way of doing it. I have some really simple methods which I hope I can convey in text form… might do an audio as well. (I’m studying hypnotherapy and hypno-analysis.) I like to have as many methods as possible.

      The key to trance in the Ericksonian format is that it allows things to solve themselves, just as with Breakouts. But it is a less consciously-determined process in which ‘it just happens’. I find it very good fun.

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