Is Meditation Driving You Crazy?
Before we even attempt to answer the question…we must have a much closer look at the meaning here of “meditation” and “crazy”.
And a bit of a warning – this is just a short posting on a DEEP subject.
This will never make any sense at all without a basic understanding of some major aspects of brain neurology (don’t worry – it won’t be that technical).
Advanced neurological science recognizes that our brain has a bunch of “networks”.
Think of them as areas that “team up” to perform certain important tasks.
The biggest division can be considered the “inside team” and the “outside team”.
- The Inside Team is involved in internal thought, reflections, memory and even daydreaming. Most importantly, the Inside Team generates that special feeling called “me” and is considered the neurological creator of the “ego”.
- The Outside Team takes care of external tasks like making toast, driving your car, doing pushups and writing this post.
Technically, the Inside Team is called the Default Mode Network (DMN) because whenever you are not doing an external task, your brain automatically shifts into this network mode as a “default”.
The Outside Team actually has many teams but to keep it simple, let’s just bunch them all together and call them the Task Positive Network (TPN).
The DMN and the TPN normally act pretty much like a seesaw/teeter tooter. When one goes up, the other goes down.
One is “on” and the other is “off”. You are either focusing “inward” or “outward”.
Neurologically, this is called “orthogonal” (meaning at right angles – 90 degrees to each other) or “anti-correlated” (the action of one is opposite to the other).
OK – that’s enough information to set up exploring the question – Is Meditation Driving You Crazy?
Let’s start be dissecting the term “meditation”.
We must be careful to not just lump all types of meditation techniques into thing. Like the word “exercise” – there are MANY different forms of exercise and each has its own unique method and expected outcomes. Doing stretching will not improve your cardio. You know what I mean. Same with “meditation”.
Neurological science has begun studying the physical inner workings of meditation techniques. Aside from religious traditions and cultural views, scientifically there is an attempt to separate techniques into their brain actions.
Although there is not an exact agreement, these are the common technical categories being analyzed:
1) Focused Attention;
2) Mindfulness or Open Monitoring;
3) Loving Kindness/Compassion;
4) Non-Dual Awareness.
This posting is too short to dive deep into each but keep in mind that each of these categories produce distinctly different neurological actions in your brain.
Cut to the chase – in this posting, we will consider the Non-Dual Awareness form.
Next – about “crazy”.
Now this is a tricky one because “crazy” is also a very sloppy term and normally sounds like a bad state of affairs. It is also considered in dramatically different light depending on the social and cultural context. (For anyone with an interest in the subject, I recommend the landmark 1961 book by Michel Foucault, Madness and Civilization: A History of Insanity in the Age of Reason.)
This short posting is getting longer by the moment. Let me jump into the DEEP end now.
To attempt answering the title question (Is Meditation Driving You Crazy?), we need to triangulate:
1) Meditation (specifically Non-Dual Awareness);
2) Psychedelic Compound (specifically psilocybin/magic mushrooms);
3) Insanity (specifically early psychosis).
To quote a fascinating research study: (Schizophrenia Bulletin vol. 39 no. 6 pp. 1343–1351, 2013
Functional Connectivity Measures After Psilocybin Inform a Novel Hypothesis of Early Psychosis)
“There is a fundamental organization motivation towards in biological systems. However, it is also known that biological systems retain a degree of stochasticity (randomness) in their processes, so to enable flexibility. An imbalance in the relative influence of these 2 factors may occur in the psychedelic and early psychotic states. Characterizing the psychedelic and early psychotic states as states of relative disorganization yet heightened plasticity may enable us to explain a range of phenomena.”
“Focusing on the psychedelic state, it is known that psychedelics can promote suggestibility, spiritual and religious revelation, and delusional thoughts; and there is also evidence that they can be effective treatments for addiction and perhaps other mental illnesses. All of these phenomena presumably rely on heightened plasticity in the brain.”
OK – back to the DMN-TPN (remember the teeter tooter “Inside” Default Mode Network and “Outside” Task Positive Network).
Well, neurologically in both psilocybin experience and in early psychosis, the DMN and TPN have increased functional connections (also called “coupling”) – and that makes for a kind of “blurry” distinction between “internal” and “external” consciousness.
And as it turns out (again from the same research):
“Disturbed ego boundaries are a key component of spiritual-type experiences. It is curious therefore that increased DMN-TPN coupling has been found in experienced mediators, especially those practicing a form of meditation known as “nondual awareness”, which specifically promotes a unitary state of awareness in which there is no distinction between the subject and object.”
Time to admit something personal – I have been very fortunate to have been initiated and instructed in a Non-Dual Awareness practice by a seasoned teacher from Eastern Tibet.
I have practiced the Tibetan Dzogchen technique known as Trekchod for about 25 years now.
The research and topic discussed above have a powerful attraction for me and finally explains more scientifically why for a long time now I have said that I don’t “believe” in Inside-Outside any more.
What all of this means to me is that there is both benefit and risk in getting the DMN and the TPN to “couple” together instead of oppose each other as is common.
Using the neuroplasticity potentials in our brain can lead to tremendously positive outcomes. In the case of this posting, I can see that “controlled” methods utilizing “tempered instability” such as well-designed meditation techniques and the judicious use of a psychedelic such psilocybin can coax our brain into some “mind expanding” stochastic exploration and special learning.
In the case of early psychosis and even full-blown schizophrenia, the DMN-TPN coupling proceeds uncontrolled and without context – hence the insanity of it all.
Frankly, these design principles are central to the Brain Engagement approach in the neuroVIZR sessions.
For further exploration, please follow me as I unfold the Lucid Brain with topics like Entropic Brain Theory and other goodies.
Heh – it’s your brain, too.
I guess my meditation is driving me crazy.
Maybe, crazy like a fox!