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Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Making the Boundaries Between the Self and Others Disappear

Fascinating studies (at Johns Hopikns Medical School, the University of Arizona; Harvard; New York University; the University of California, Los Angeles; and other places) are being carried out on the use of psychedelic substances - halllucinogens - involving psilocybin, the psychoactive ingredient found in certain mushrooms for depression in cancer, for obsessive-compulsive disorder, end-of-life anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder and addiction to drugs or alcohol. as reported in an article in the New York Times recently.

"Scientists are taking a new look at hallucinogens, which became taboo among regulators after enthusiasts like Timothy Leary promoted them in the 1960s with the slogan “Turn on, tune in, drop out.” Now, using rigorous protocols and safeguards, scientists have won permission to study once again the drugs’ potential for treating mental problems and illuminating the nature of consciousness."

[...]

"Scientists are especially intrigued by the similarities between hallucinogenic experiences and the life-changing revelations reported throughout history by religious mystics and those who meditate. These similarities have been identified in neural imaging studies conducted by Swiss researchers and in experiments led by Roland Griffiths, a professor of behavioral biology at Johns Hopkins."

"In one of Dr. Griffiths’s first studies, involving 36 people with no serious physical or emotional problems, he and colleagues found that psilocybin could induce what the experimental subjects described as a profound spiritual experience with lasting positive effects for most of them. None had had any previous experience with hallucinogens, and none were even sure what drug was being administered."

[...]

"Since that study, which was published in 2008, Dr. Griffiths and his colleagues have gone on to give psilocybin to people dealing with cancer and depression, like Dr. Martin, the retired psychologist from Vancouver. Dr. Martin’s experience is fairly typical, Dr. Griffiths said: an improved outlook on life after an experience in which the boundaries between the self and others disappear."

"In interviews, Dr. Martin and other subjects described their egos and bodies vanishing as they felt part of some larger state of consciousness in which their personal worries and insecurities vanished. They found themselves reviewing past relationships with lovers and relatives with a new sense of empathy."

“It was a whole personality shift for me,” Dr. Martin said. “I wasn’t any longer attached to my performance and trying to control things. I could see that the really good things in life will happen if you just show up and share your natural enthusiasms with people. You have a feeling of attunement with other people.”

The subjects’ reports mirrored so closely the accounts of religious mystical experiences, Dr. Griffiths said, that it seems likely the human brain is wired to undergo these “unitive” experiences, perhaps because of some evolutionary advantage."

“This feeling that we’re all in it together may have benefited communities by encouraging reciprocal generosity,” Dr. Griffiths said. “On the other hand, universal love isn’t always adaptive, either.”

[...]

"“Under the influences of hallucinogens, individuals transcend their primary identification with their bodies and experience ego-free states before the time of their actual physical demise, and return with a new perspective and profound acceptance of the life constant: change.”

Read entire article here

Due to all my reading in neuroscientific advances in recent research, I now wonder if we can't in fact, come to the same place these hallucinogens promise us with their lure of  "easy" psychedelic adventure, by full awareness, by the practice of mindfulness, by centering - so to speak - on the self, on that part of us that leads us to the sense of one-ness, compassion, empathy and love.

1 comment:

  1. This is so interesting to me, especially in light of my younger-days experiences with psilocybin.

    The researcher said,
    an improved outlook on life after an experience in which the boundaries between the self and others disappear."

    Personally, I've found that I still reference the spiritual "truths" I learned when on psilocybin.

    ReplyDelete