Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Normalization & Drugs - Why drugs are awesome

Normalization & Drugs
     The brain is fan-fucking-tastic with its ability to normalize things. You can imagine the brain as a blank slate, with a few evolutionary rules plugged in: swimming movement, breathing, blood pumping, hunger, tiredness, thirst, etc. The rest of it is all a spongy mass, just waiting to normalize the incredibleness of the world. When a baby pops out of the womb, they are highly apt to cry, the world is brand new, and nothing is “normal” – and everything is important. That is why any of the littlest disturbances in their state of awareness can make them cry – because the feeling is important.
     As they grow, and reach adolescents, they are much less likely to cry if they are hungry, instead they may whine, or pout, or pull on your shirt and ask for food. As the years go by, hunger is not even that great of a discomfort. This is the power of our mind’s normalization – but it does not only apply to our instinctual responses such as hunger, thirst and sleep. It applies to all experience.
     When we are young, we can play with an ant hill for an hour. We can climb trees for the majority of a day. A new flower, or plant, can hold an awesomeness for some of us. Our child selves can become immersed in what an adult would ignore, or even find rather boring. This is not a matter of becoming more intelligent, which often people seem to imply with the term “Grow up”, but rather it is an increasing normalization of our world. It is a sign of our brains filtering out more of the world as we stop to place importance on objects and ideas in our everyday world.
     The first day your rode a bike, the first day you drove a car – those are likely to be magical times. You may even remember the feeling of awe-someness that arose in you, that feeling of “This is important!” As we age, however, we begin to dread car rides, and bike rides to and from work – because we have lost the importance of them, we have transmuted them into the mundane, the ordinary, the normal.
     Do you ever go to a concert or a theme park, or a vacation, and wonder why you’re not enthralled by the scenery, the music, or the setting? It’s that normalization. Your brain has been working against you for the entirety of your life, threading ideas, scenes, architecture, personalities together, to make as much of the world as normal as possible. After all, if everything is normal, what do you have to worry about? That is a goal of the mind – store as little information as possible for survival, and filter everything else out. If it isn’t helping or hurting your chance to reproduction and survival, it’s no longer important. Yet the child in you, that nascent level of curiosity and awe can beg to differ.
     DRUGS! This is where drugs come in. This is why LSD, Psilocybin, DMT, Ayahuasca, and others can radically change your perspective on life. That filter that you’ve built up over the years is lifted when partaking in these substances. That normal everyday drive now stimulates you to the core – no longer is traffic a trivial mass of cars, but rather a collection of human beings, in metal boxes, with wheels, attempting to perform duties, in trade for currency – and they’re stuck on tar. The “normal-ness” of our lives drops out from beneath us, and suddenly all things become important once again.
     The duality of this is the perspective that nothing matters, or everything matters. The prior is called a bad trip, while the latter is an experience of one-ness: That all things are inter-related and genuinely important.
     When in an entheogenic state on any of these substances, the grass is no longer something to be mowed, but a large, diverse organism, which is pleasing to the eyes. A flower is no longer an abstract beauty, but raw magnificence of life, attempting to attract your attention – and the bees. Your house is no longer an object to be bought and sold, but a dwelling of your life, a place you inhabit and connect with. All things suddenly become paramount to your existence, and reality itself.
     But this normalization is only partly subconscious. You can actively seek out new meaning and purpose to all things in your life. Tripping every day is not an option, but realizing the vastness of our reality is. One method I’ve discovered to remove the normalness of my day is to imagine I am a visiting scholar on my way to work. To tap into the mind and tell myself that this is a fleeting experience – my work – and that the setting and people I meet are new, important, and meaningful.

     Make an attempt to be a child, and see the flower in the yard as a magnificent structure of biology, something to stare at, and embrace. Realize traffic is not something to resist, but something to see on a grand scale of Human’s folly, (and try to laugh at it…). See restaurants not as logos and chains, but rather individual houses, with people’s dreams held inside – to sustain their life by feeding people. Strip away the normalness – and paint the world with importance.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

The Placebo .... Again

The Placebo
            The placebo is often talked about in medicine – that people are able to feel some sort of effect from taking a sugar pill - Whether it be symptoms being removed, pain killing properties, or even a full cure of a disease or disorder, all from a pill that is supposed to do nothing. Although this sounds miraculous, even magical, we tend to think of it negatively.
            I remember the first day me and my friends discovered alcohol. There were 4 of us in the kitchen, messing with the alcohol, and 1 was sitting in the living room, appropriately nervous. While the 4 of us were taking shots of disgusting things, we decided to pour a glass full of grenadine for our friend in the other room. Grenadine, as many know, is non-alcoholic. We watched him drink the full glass of grenadine, and what followed was fairly interesting to me, and hilarious to the others: he was drunk. Of course he wasn’t actually intoxicated from alcohol, that would be impossible, but his actions were certainly drunk.
            This happens all the time at parties – you see it - people take a shot of alcohol and suddenly act as if they've been drinking all day. The oddest part of this is the social aspect – we think negatively, or condescending to people who do this. It’s embarrassing to be a ‘victim’ of the placebo in our culture, which I’d like you to think about. Why would it be embarrassing to act drunk off one drink? For one it makes you a cheap date(!!), but two, it shows that you have an interesting ability to trick yourself into things. In the cases I just talked about, the benefit of this placebo is social lubricant, one drink is going to do little physiologically, by psychologically if it removes your inhibitions – that could be beneficial to making friends and forming fun memories.
            On a more serious note, however, the placebo extends far deeper than social lubricant – it is deeply entwined in healing, therapy, and curing ailments; and it is not something to be embarrassed about at all. In fact, I would say it should be praised. I am not easily given in to placebo, and this is unfortunate – I cannot be hypnotized, and I analyze any prescriptions, drugs, or foods I take very carefully to avoid the placebo in the name of hard science. However, often I wish I had never learned to go this route, for the placebo is a mastery of the mind in a way we often disguise as stupidity. We believe that it is simply tricking one’s self, and you must be a fool to trick yourself.
            Yet, digging deeper you will find that meditation, trance-states, astral projection, and other forms of self-hypnosis are actually the placebo effect, manifesting in various areas of our perception.
Meditation is a placebo for the idea that nothing is happening.
Trance-states are a placebo for the idea that you are feeling something more!
Astral projection is a placebo for the idea you are asleep!
            We can trick our minds into certain states of being, and the greater your ability to do these things, the more relaxed, healthy, and able you are going to be in numerous situations. To believe you are being healed by a sugar pill and to have done so, is a far greater accomplishment in my eyes than to know that you’ve gotten a placebo, since you feel nothing.
            This trickery of ourselves is a controlled loss-of-control, if that makes any sense, and I would argue it was highly necessary to our survival. All shamanism, and medicine men and women were able to not only access their placebo and enter altered states of consciousness to seek truth and understanding, but they were masters of bringing out the placebo in others. 
            We know that eating ginseng every day will probably not cure you of a serious disease. At the same time we also have heard of people being completely cured of serious ailments with one treatment of ginseng (or any other medicinal herb). Western culture identified only the ginseng as the medicine. Eastern, and ancestral knowledge knew that ginseng is just a carrier of the placebo, a carrier of the ritual, a carrier of an altered state of mind – one of healing, hope, and comfort.
            We have left the idea that rituals are required in medicine, and instead only kept the physical compounds which seemed to be “active”. But activity is often only half the picture. One’s state of mind is absolutely essential to the activity of any molecules in the body – and that goes with my previous video that the mind and body are one.
            Just remember next time someone “acts” more intoxicated, happy, or cured than you would expect – they aren’t fools, they have tapped into their controlled loss of control. They have accessed a state of mind that many of us have thrown in the garbage – the ability to believe, and the ability to cure ourselves from within.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

The Mind And Body Are One

The Mind and Body are One      

                We’ve all heard this phrase – and whatever image it conjures in your head, I want to replace. This one sentence is an incredibly important insight into what we are as human beings, as living things.
Often, in science, things are reduced to their parts, and then each part is analyzed separately and independently. Want to learn how a car works? Take out the motor, understand the motor first, then connect it to the axle, and so on. We tend to think of cars, computers, electronics and technology as parts – because we build them that way. An unfortunate repercussion of this is that we have applied the same reductionist logic to biological systems – including our own body.
                We like to believe that the brain is the brain is the brain. That if you were to remove the brain from the body and keep it in a jar of nutrient and oxygen, we could preserve who we are (Thanks, Futurama)– but that is pure fiction, for the brain is connected in an infinite many ways to the body through our nerves, which are connected to blood vessels, tendons, muscles, and all of our organs. These nerves read signs from every millimeter of our body, outside and in, and can tell us how we’re doing. If we were to remove the brain from the body, we would feel not only odd, but likely downright horrible.
                The brain is important, and so is the body. Learning and keeping the brain active keeps it growing, and keeps the neurons occupied. This contributes to our overall happiness. We also know that exercise does the same thing – but when you think of this is reductionist logic why on Earth would exercise make you happy? It shouldn’t – since the body isn’t the brain, it doesn’t have neurons*, it doesn’t sense depression or happiness.
                One of the greatest and most simple examples of how the mind and body are one is smiling. When you feel fairly bland, a simple forced smile will cause your brain to release endorphins, making you feel happy. A similar example is the spreading open of the arms – when you hold arms close to you, and shrink your body area, the brain closes off endorphin release and tends to create stress – however, if you open up your arms as if ready to give a big hug, and spread your legs out wider than usual, the brain senses calmness and ambition – again, making you feel good. One other useful example is chewing gum removes stress and anxiety – why? Because the brain more or less tells itself “If I were really in danger, I wouldn’t be eating right now” – so chew gum before an anxious or stressful event.
                But what does this really tell us? Is there such a thing as “real” and “fake” happiness? Nope; not at all. What this tells us is that happiness is a muscle, an action that we take, and just like muscles they can be activated involuntarily (like your arm muscles contracting when the hand contacts fire) or they can be used on command and strengthened. It also tells us that the brain shouldn’t be considered separate from the lips, the arms, the mouth, or any other part of the body. The brain is the body, and the body is the brain. You have more receptors for serotonin in your gut than in your brain!
                What you should remember is
1.       Logically, the brain and body are one. That they are inseparable and taking care of one is going to help in caring for the other.
2.       You can achieve happiness voluntarily. Sometimes it will be harder than normal, and sometimes it just won’t be worth the effort (imagine lifting weights after a marathon).

3.       Train it! Just like the muscles of your arms, the brain will grow in response to how it is used. The happier you attempt to make your day, the happier your following days will be.

*The body does have neurons but not the same as the brain.