Psilocybin and experienced meditators

Gyakuto

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The similarities between the psychedelic effects of psilocybin and the reported sensations and fMRI data are well documented. But as far as I know, this is the first study where psilocybin has been given to experienced Zen meditators. There’s a rather gentle film about is called ‘Descending the Mountain’ (I watched it on Prime) with not too much scientific information (not enough), it’s worth a look at. The conclusion is that experienced meditators don’t seen to experience the potentially negative effects of psychedelic substances (quite the opposite in fact) and it appears to deepen the experience of meditation.
 
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Psilocybin-assisted mindfulness training modulates self-consciousness and brain default mode network connectivity with lasting effects

Lukasz Smigielski 1, Milan Scheidegger 2, Michael Kometer 2, Franz X Vollenweider 2

Abstract​

Both psychedelics and meditation exert profound modulatory effects on consciousness, perception and cognition, but their combined, possibly synergistic effects on neurobiology are unknown. Accordingly, we conducted a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study with 38 participants following a single administration of the psychedelic psilocybin (315 μg/kg p.o.) during a 5-day mindfulness retreat. Brain dynamics were quantified directly pre- and post-intervention by functional magnetic resonance imaging during the resting state and two meditation forms. The analysis of functional connectivity identified psilocybin-related and mental state-dependent alterations in self-referential processing regions of the default mode network (DMN). Notably, decoupling of medial prefrontal and posterior cingulate cortices, which is thought to mediate sense of self, was associated with the subjective ego dissolution effect during the psilocybin-assisted mindfulness session. The extent of ego dissolution and brain connectivity predicted positive changes in psycho-social functioning of participants 4 months later. Psilocybin, combined with meditation, facilitated neurodynamic modulations in self-referential networks, subserving the process of meditation by acting along the anterior-posterior DMN connection. The study highlights the link between altered self-experience and subsequent behavioral changes. Understanding how interventions facilitate transformative experiences may open novel therapeutic perspectives. Insights into the biology of discrete mental states foster our understanding of non-ordinary forms of human self-consciousness and their concomitant brain substrate.
 
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Gyakuto

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The default mode network (DMN) is made up of several areas of the brain. One of the important things it does is give you the sense of self…it’s responsible for the sense of ‘I’…and, in particular, it’s the medial prefrontal and posterior cingulate vortices that work together to produce this sense of self. Longterm meditation disrupts these two areas of the brain working together and eventually the ‘I’ disappears in people attaining this state and they feel sense of separation between everyone and everything, the first level of ‘awakening’ or kensho in Zen. It’s accompanied by feelings of bliss, inwardly derived happiness and well-being. However, it’s hit and miss if a meditator will experience this despite diligent practise. It seems psilocybin produces this effect with very much more reliability and in experienced meditators it profoundly deepens this decoupling between brain areas and the evaporation of the illusion of self. Cool, eh?
 

hoshin1600

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I did a lot of Zen meditation back in the day. I never had any kind of experience. Though I know a few people that say they have. I was always told these experiences may happen but they are not the point and should just it pass like any other thought.
I can't say if having altered states of mind is a good thing or not.
I belive so called enlightenment is the heightened use of one hemisphere of the brain and the repression of the other hemisphere.
A good example is Jill bolte Taylor who had a stroke and experienced an enlightenment state. Her book is " my stroke of insight". I haven't read it but heard her tell her story once.
It's possible psilocybin activates those parts of the brain to a heightened state.
 
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I did a lot of Zen meditation back in the day. I never had any kind of experience.
I haven’t either…much to my disappointment.
I can't say if having altered states of mind is a good thing or not.
It’s good because accompanying all this dissolution of self is the internally generated sense of happiness and contentment. We all derive our happiness from external sources- wealth, health, loved ones, a new toy/lover etc When these things go wrong or even stop coming along, our happiness, at best diminishes or even we go completely the other way sometimes with personally devastating consequences. If happiness could come from within in a never ending stream…well wouldn’t that be a good thing?
I belive so called enlightenment is the heightened use of one hemisphere of the brain and the repression of the other hemisphere.
This is known as ‘dichotomania‘ and is a myth. We have to use both hemispheres equally, albeit for different things, to make any sense of the world. Have a look at people who’ve had their brain’s hemispheres surgically separated (commissurotomy) for clinical reasons. Weird things happen.
A good example is Jill bolte Taylor who had a stroke and experienced an enlightenment state. Her book is " my stroke of insight". I haven't read it but heard her tell her story once.
Oh I have a copy of that somewhere. I bet the connections between her medial prefrontal cortex (MPC) and posterior cingulate gyrus (PCG) were damaged
It's possible psilocybin activates those parts of the brain to a heightened state.
It disrupts the cooperative workings of the MPC and PCG!
 

hoshin1600

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We all derive our happiness from external sources- wealth, health, loved ones, a new toy/lover etc When these things go wrong or even stop coming along, our happiness, at best diminishes
This is not technically correct. We do not derive happiness from the attainment of things. We are a goal or aim driven species. The dopamine system is triggered buy the sense of progress moving toward a goal. The highest dopamine hit comes before the attainment not after.
Also I don't know what type of meditation you do, but at least for Rinzai Zen, that I know, happiness is not the goal. It's pretty much inconsequential. It's a distraction.
This is known as ‘dichotomania‘ and is a myth.
Well this is my story and I'm sticking with it. Can you explain your dichotomainia. I can find nothing Google wise with a quick search. That aside, I fully acknowledge that both hemispheres are needed. That's not what I mean. I'll would have to give an indepth answer to explain.
 

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This short video touches upon the idea and Mcgilchrist has more credibility than I do. The concept is training the brain to "see" the world in a particular manner. We know the brain has plasticity and repetitive use of certain neural pathways will thicken and strengthen those paths. The effect of training would be to cause these functions to be dominant.
 

JowGaWolf

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I did a lot of Zen meditation back in the day. I never had any kind of experience.
As someone who experiences these things my best advice is to believe that some of the experiences are real and that they best way to experience it is to not look for it. Sometimes looking for the experience cause the brain to shift things in a way that may not be honest. In other words we see what we want to see.

In other ways the brain works like live. Those who see true love are least likely to obtain it. Those who find true love will say that they weren't looking it just happened.

A higher level mental state or awareness is like that. It will happen you don't seek it. For me it's something that finds you, you don't find it. You only need to have the door open so that it can enter when it sees fit to.

I don't recommend forcing it. That tends to skew things and online adds confusion. To be honest we all probably experience it without meditation but brush it off.

When the air feels heavy in one room or lighter in another. When the leaves appear greener than normal. Or when you say things like. "It must be my imagination. " Those are time that you might have had a higher awareness.

Just something to look at and regards to things you have already experienced.
 

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Very interesting research for sure, thanks for sharing. People have been utilising psychedelics, mushrooms, plant medicines etc for many years for experiencing those deeper levels of consciousness. Interesting actually giving them to experienced practitioners.

My issue has always been that the external drug could very easily become a dependency in experiencing those states, and paradoxically becomes a hindrance. You can become very very heavily reliant on the physical to experience beyond it and become further trapped in it, when much of meditation is to release one's attachment to well, anything, and find true freedom which was never dependent on anything.

Not that it's relevant but I have had many experiences of significant depth, more than I could count, many during meditation over the years and they have come about through the day. I semi-regularly go to a nondual group and I did ask one of the facilitators about these experiences, are they significant and how do I understand what I can learn from them, or if they mean anything at all. He was very quick to assure me to not consider them of much importance at all, and to not dwell on nor interpret them too much. He spoke with great directness and sincerity, but with such kindness. I really, really appreciated that from him. That's one of the biggest traps, to become enamoured by and 'chase experiences', that's the ego to a T.
 

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I didn't care about meditation when I was young. I also don't care about it when I get older. Even today, I still don't understand why people want to meditate.
 
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This is not technically correct. We do not derive happiness from the attainment of things.
And are those ‘things’ generally external or internally derived? We generally obtain happiness/please from ‘commodities’…stuff. The pleasure of the company of friends/family aren’t commodities, but they are external.
We are a goal or aim driven species.
All animals are and that goal is food and sex.
The dopamine system is triggered buy the sense of progress moving toward a goal. The highest dopamine hit comes before the attainment not after.
No disagreement there, but again are those aims internally-or externally derived. The point of meditative awakening is the happiness is somehow generated internally and endless while the state lasts, because it isn’t relying on stuff!
Also I don't know what type of meditation you do, but at least for Rinzai Zen, that I know, happiness is not the goal. It's pretty much inconsequential. It's a distraction.
‘Mushotoku’...ones practise should be without a goal, but didn’t you say earlier we’re a ’aim driven [sic] species’. Isn’t that a contradiction? I think mushotoku suggested not pushing things too hard as that makes the effects elusive.
Well this is my story and I'm sticking with it. Can you explain your dichotomainia. I can find nothing Google wise with a quick search. That aside, I fully acknowledge that both hemispheres are needed. That's not what I mean. I'll would have to give an indepth answer to explain.
Dichotomania was the 90s idea that one hemisphere of the brain could be preferentially selected and activated to produce preferred characteristics in the individual. It was believed the left hemisphere was analytical/mathematical/logical and the right side was creative and artistic so the belief was the right hemisphere could be activated to make you creative or the left side, to make you more Mr Spock! 🖖🏽 This is a problematic misrepresentation.

The left side of the brain is indeed analytical/mathematical/logical dealing with minute specifics and is the dominant hemisphere, the boss in the head, but the right hemisphere looks at generalities (this in itself is a generality!). Say you were in the Louvre looking at the Mona Lisa. Your right brain may be noting the over all brown tinge to the painting, the blending of colours into each other, her face shape and hair etc….the overall image. The left hemisphere on the other hand notes the brownish tinge is due to discoloured varnish and the colour blend is ‘sfumato‘ and notes is a technique said to be pioneered by Da Vinci. It notices the uneven background the left being inexplicably, slightly higher than the right. It notes the weird lack of eyebrows of Lisa Gherardini and subtle veil edge on the upper part of her brow. All these data are shared between the hemispheres (via the corpus callosum) to give you a coherent comprehension of the whole piece of art. It is vital they are shared and cannot be kept separate (unless you’ve had a surgical commissurotomy) otherwise we’d have incomplete comprehension. Suppressing one hemisphere would be like trying to prevent alternate combustion chamber valves in a car engine from functioning. That simply can’t happen as they’re on the same crankshaft.

It is this ‘detail/generalities’ information processing that allows us to make sense of the world.

What meditation/psilocybin seems to do is disrupt or even cease the communication between processing modules of the brain whether they be contra- or unilateral.

Does this help?
 

hoshin1600

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The map is not the terrain and talking about how a tree grows doesn't help it grow one bit. 😏
The aim of Zen is not happiness. The aim is non duality and removing all attachment from the root.
Is it not possible to be attached to happiness?
Happiness is fleeting. If one was happy all the time then that person needs psychiatric help. It's not ok to be happy at a funeral.
Happiness, sadness, pay no attention just let it come and go as it will.
 
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Gyakuto

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The map is not the terrain and talking about how a tree grows doesn't help it grow one bit. 😏
I have no idea what you mean.
The aim of Zen is not happiness. The aim is non duality and removing all attachment from the root.
…and that makes you:
A) Sad
B) Horny
C) Melancholic
D) Happy
Is it not possible to be attached to happiness?
Yes.
Happiness is fleeting. If one was happy all the time then that person needs psychiatric help.
Do you think that being happy is fist-pumping, shouting “yeah, whoop whoop, c’mon’? Or is it the absence of sadness? The default setting we mainly go through life feeling…neither elated or depressed.
It's not ok to be happy at a funeral.
What about at my enemy’s?
Happiness, sadness, pay no attention just let it come and go as it will.
You’re not making me feel very happy, hoshin1600! 😄
 

hoshin1600

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and that makes you:
A) Sad
B) Horny
C) Melancholic
D) Happy
If this was a multiple choice question I guess I'd have to pick, B.

Happy is not better than sad. Every emotion should have its place, but needs to stay in its place. But an emotion should not be the goal of Zen. That's totally contradictory to what the Buddha taught.
Because we are embodied creatures we set an aim towards something we perceive as good. The dopamine system helps us orient forward to that aim. We consider somethings as good and somethings as bad. The Buddha called this duality and is the root of the problem in our existence. Little Suzuki would say If sad be sad, if happy be happy. But don't grasp for happiness when sad. Grasping/ attachment , and trying to hold happiness is a problem. You can't hold happiness anymore than you can grasp water. It will always go away.
Just sit, breath.
This is the aim, not happy not sad, not up not down, not past not future. Just now breathing.
 

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Also I don't know what type of meditation you do, but at least for Rinzai Zen, that I know, happiness is not the goal.
This is the perspective that I have when it comes to meditation for peace. My personal thoughts is that peace is the by product not the goal. The people that I knew who did meditation for peace were often the ones most at war with themselves and would often treat themselves as less than others.

I understand that there are different ways to meditate but many "take the wrong prescription for the ailment"
 

JowGaWolf

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I still don't understand why people want to meditate.
There are many reasons to do so. I do meditation to many control certain things with my body or mind. In the past I did it to increase focus and to relieve pain. Now I do it control how long my body stays in a stressed state. I don't do it for to be peaceful. Peaceful is easy, just don't be angry at the world and avoid things that make a person angry. I also don't use it for spiritual reasons since stuff like that happens even if a person doesn't meditate.

Some people try to be a "higher self" I think it's overrated. It more like "the grass is greener on the other side " type example. Those who often achieve "the higher self" don't seem to be happy. To me they appear to be satisfied which is not the same as happy.

Just my perspective and observation. A monk willing to set himself on fire doesn't seem to be happy enough not to do it.
 

Kung Fu Wang

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I do meditation to many control certain things with my body or mind.
I have never done meditation in my life, so I really don't know what meditation can do for me.

I just finished 5 miles walking today. I'm glad that I can still do it for my age. I'm happy for what I have. I'm not sad for what I don't have. I don't need meditation to make me happy. I'm happy by default.
 

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Psilocybin mushrooms grow in a lot of places here, we have a lot of cows.

I’ve tried them on several occasions. All they make me feel is hungover. Never tried them while meditating. I imagine it would be like meditating with a hangover.
 

JowGaWolf

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I have never done meditation in my life, so I really don't know what meditation can do for me.

I just finished 5 miles walking today. I'm glad that I can still do it for my age. I'm happy for what I have. I'm not sad for what I don't have. I don't need meditation to make me happy. I'm happy by default.
I used to meditate while running 5K and 10K races. Most people have a limited view of meditation and it's use.

"Gettin your mind in the game" is a form of meditation. Most people like martial arts because for that One hour they drop all of the world's problem. For one hour they learn to be in the present. This is also a form of meditation.

If you have experienced this with anything that you do then you have done meditation.
 

JowGaWolf

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I have never done meditation in my life, so I really don't know what meditation can do for me.

I just finished 5 miles walking today. I'm glad that I can still do it for my age. I'm happy for what I have. I'm not sad for what I don't have. I don't need meditation to make me happy. I'm happy by default.
Meditation is not for making yourself happy. That would be like sleeping to get rid of your problems. You should never think of it as a way to make you happy. When people are truly happy then it's often something other than meditation that is making them happy.
 

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