Meditation And Psychedelics: Two Sides Of The Same Spectrum
Throughout our history as a species human beings have identified a myriad of mechanisms to alter our basic mode of consciousness in order to attain a specific goal, whether that be healing trauma and psychological/spiritual maladies, acquiring a taste of the divine and enlightenment through ceremony and disciplined practice of various techniques, elevating and evolving conscious awareness of the self and existence through trials and initiations, among many other ambitious actions.
As our culture falls further under the influence of nihilistic materialism the need and desire to obtain an immediate or long-term shift in consciousness is lost and replaced with an increased satiation for all things hedonistic, solid, material and physical. However some of these mechanisms are so effective, so potent, that it has been impossible for cultural thirsts and transformations to severe a relationship between humanity and these practices that span back into antiquity.
Two domains that are actually seeing a gargantuan surge in popularity and enthusiasm, arguably in a time when they are more paramount than ever, are that of meditation and psychedelics. These platforms are extremely diverse and differing, yet exist on the same spectrum of conscious altering techniques that allow the individual to see the world and themselves in a way that is detached from their normal, and somewhat restricted and bias, baseline perception.
The same draconian laws exist today that saw attempts to vanquish techniques and substances that fall into these categorize, along with the curious who practiced them, yet on a far more subtle but equally reputation and life damaging degree. Meditation is widely accepted in the western world as an almost essential way to keep the mania of modern life at bay. However the use of psychedelics remains a highly controversial issue, one shrouded in propaganda, where the opinion of those who maintain positions of power often overrides blatant scientific evidence and facts.
The slow but sure merging of these ancient mediums with modern scientific analysis is slowly giving birth to knowledge that will surely transform the arenas of mental health and medicine as we know it. Both meditation and the pantheon of psychedelic substances have been studied up to a point, and the results fall nowhere short of utterly groundbreaking.
Meditation: Calming the Storm
“Meditation can help us embrace our worries, our fear, our anger; and that is very healing. We let our own natural capacity of healing do the work.” — Thich Nhat Hanh
Industrialization has launched humanity into a lifestyle that we are most likely not in anyway suitably adapted to. The study of epigenetics is revealing that our environment has an incredibly profound impact upon our mental and physical health. The environment of corporate western living is one of strict time management, balancing financial weight, poor sleep, inadequate nutrition and less than desirable social interaction. This chaotic concoction can cause catastrophic levels of stress to a human organism that simply was not designed to withstand it. Our fight or flight nervous system response was designed to ignite our bodies with adrenaline and cortisol when, once in awhile, we were required to sprint from a ferocious animal or battle it to the death. However when this system is triggered many times a day, day in day out, problems can arise. The system is forced into an unnatural overdrive, potentially causing a negative feedback loop.
Excess or chronic stress can hammer our immune, which are of up-most importance in an increasingly polluted world, and is suspected to play a fundamental role in cases of depression and anxiety, nefarious conditions that plague millions throughout the world.
There is hope, however, for those harboring a portion of focus and an amount of dedicated discipline. For these factors are the prerequisites to a meditation practice: a momentary yet frequent alteration of consciousness that cultivates long-term benefits that translate into states of ordinary consciousness, enriching life.
These statements are not merely hypothetical hopes. Johns Hopkins research suggests that meditation may reduce the symptoms of the conditions mentioned above. Researchers analyzed 47 clinical trials and determined that meditation may improve the symptoms of depression, anxiety and even pain.
Additional research has confirmed that benefits from meditating span far past psychology and into the realm of physiology. Research published in the journal Perspectives on Psychological Science displays other possible benefits resulting from a meditation practice that include improved immune function, enhanced cognitive performance and reduced blood pressure.
Research performed at Harvard University unveiled key elements of how a meditation practice can physically impact our brains, and how this pays off psychologically. During the study, magnetic resonance (MR) images were taken of the brain structure of participants before and after engaging in an eight-week program that included a meditation practice. These images demonstrated increased gray-matter density in the hippocampus, an area of the brain associated with learning and memory. Increased density also occurred in areas associated with self-awareness, compassion and introspection. On the flip side, decreased gray-matter density occurred in the amygdala, a region key in anxiety, stress and the fight or flight response.
It is clear that meditation can provide a strong and stable mental structure to experience reality on, one that buffers cultures mental and physical assaults to the body-mind complex. It seems that such transformations will also enable an individual to handle the extreme and phenomenal terrain of a psychedelic experience in a much calmer and therefore perhaps more productive manner.
Psychedelics: An Inner Path To Freedom?
Psychedelic compounds have played a profound role in countless cultures throughout human history, from many different parts of the world. From the psychedelic mushrooms of Europe and Southern America to the Ayahuasca of the Amazon to the Iboga plant of Africa, many cultures of antiquity have maintained sacred relationships to visionary plants that have served as medicine and sacrament. Anthropologists, authors and journalists of recent time such as Graham Hancock and Terence McKenna have gone so far as to say that the evidence suggests these substances were actually the catalyst that catapulted us into this stage of our evolution. The books Food of the Gods (Mckenna) and Supernatural (Hancock) tell us that this may be very likely. If our behaviours and adaptations are a result of direct experience within the external environment, what else could have given rise to the abstractions of art, language and thought capable of questioning our very existence than the visionary plants that inhabit all regions of the Earth?
Regardless of how these mysterious and powerful plants sculpted and shaped our past, they are certainly regaining their integrity after literally centuries of inquisition and demonization. In a world where science is proving magic mushrooms can treat depression and ayahuasca addiction, innocents still face jail sentences for partaking. As the science continues to illuminate the sheer potential found within these medicinal powerhouses the floodgates of truth continue to open.
A study published in The Lancet Psychiatry involved 12 patients suffering from moderate to severe depression who were given capsules of the psychoactive psilocybin mushroom. During a 1-week post-treatment follow up it was found that 8 out of the 12 patients had achieved a temporary remission. Within 3 months 7 patients continued to show improved symptoms. Not a bad outcome considering antidepressant drugs and psychotherapy had failed to even touch their conditions.
As well as being able to aid people combat their shadow sides and assist them in overcoming the difficulties live hurls at them, these mushrooms may even contribute to new brain cell growth.
“People with depression have overactive default mode networks and so ruminate on themselves, on their inadequacies, on their badness, that they are worthless, that they have failed — to an extent that is sometimes delusional. [P]silocybin appears to block that activity and stops this obsessive rumination.” These are the words of Imperial College London Professor David Nutt.
Another study, published in the Journal of Psychopharamcology identified that psilocybin mushrooms may provide long-term and lasting positive personality changes, with one study participant explaining his experience as having an anti-inflammatory effect on the ego, allowing him to experience what was underneath.
Another visionary powerhouse that is attracting scores of westerners to venture to the Amazon jungle in search of healing, adventure or personal evolution is the DMT containing brew known as Ayahuasca. Countless anecdotes are arising from people of all walks of life claiming that Ayahuasca has healed them from PTSD, depression, addiction and a whole host of both major and minor psychological and physiological ailments.
The available science backs up some of these experiences, showing that Ayahuasca can indeed assist depression, somewhat more quickly and effectively than conventional drugs.
Ayahuasca has also been linked to changes into both personality and brain structure.
Another example of a visionary medicine with huge potential is the West African shrub Iboga that contains the hallucinogenic alkaloid ibogaine that reportedly launches the participant into a lucid and revealing experience. The Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies states:
“ibogaine is a mild stimulant in small doses, in larger doses it induces a profound psychedelic state. Historically, it has been used in healing ceremonies and initiations by members of the Bwiti religion in various parts of West Africa. People with problem substance use have found that larger doses of ibogaine can significantly reduce withdrawal from opiates and temporarily eliminate substance-related cravings.”
In conclusion, these visionary plants offer avenues into altered states of consciousness that are usually characterized by feelings of greater connections, blissfulness, a deeper understanding of reality and a greater awareness of the self. Upon reviewing the knowledge that modern science brings into this equation it is clear to see that the benefits of these substances are vast, relatively untapped and useful in for so many individuals in many different situations”
Psychedelics and Meditation: More Effective when Augmented?
Although the states of consciousness attained via meditation and psychedelics are extremely different, they have great potential to work in synergy with each other to assist us in getting to know ourselves better, in healing our past traumas and in remaining balanced in this fast moving and turbulent world. Meditation can provide us with brief points in each day where we can ground ourselves, soak in the present moment and really engage in a period of regeneration. It literally enables our brains to unwind and open up a space to develop compassion and calmness. As well as operating our day to day lives in a more reflective way, this state can also serve as the perfect launch pad for exploring inner realms of the mind during the healing and revealing nature of psychedelic experiences from a strong and stable place.
Written by: Lucas
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