I don’t know a lot about spiritual traditions. I haven’t read any Buddhist books (minus the Tao te Ching), I don’t meditate regularly, and most of my knowledge about chakras comes from Naruto.
But I do have ‘episodes,’ which I’ve mentioned briefly elsewhere on this blog. I don’t know what these episodes are, if other people have them or how common they are. Some people on Facebook suggested it might be Kundalini, which I’m uncertain about because the wikipedia article involves a lot of jargon I’m unfamiliar with. It’s possibly Kenshō, though descriptions of Kensho seem to lack the intensity I feel.
A few people have asked me to make an effort to describe the experience in depth, as well as any suggestions on how to enter the experience, so here we are.
An episode usually lasts 3–20 minutes, with visible symptoms such as crying, gasping, writhing, laughing, and mutism. The mutism onsets several minutes before and lasts several minutes after, and is usually an early warning sign for me that an episode is approaching.
Physical symptoms vary a lot, but most often involve an extremely pleasurable tingling at the back of my head at the top of my neck, spread between my ears. Less often it occurs in my lower back on the sides of my hips, and in my chest, stomach, and throat.
Internally, I experience ego death, at least a little and sometimes a lot. I view ego death as a spectrum, not a binary, and these episodes definitely push me onto the spectrum. It’s a little bit dissociative (but not really in a ketamine way), with overwhelming feelings of gratitude, increased awareness of sensation, and overwhelming bliss or pain.
Some feelings are harder to describe. There is the sense of a great eye, slowly opening and turning towards me, and it feels like my existence is gouged out by its gaze, like a chasm has opened up inside of me and I look down and there is no bottom, and my skin is prickling up and down I want to scream but I’m too far away to scream and so I just rely on the automatic physical process of gasping.
There is the sense of like… cracks in dry ground, or clouds parting against a bright sky, or water evaporating off a surface, where I am the ground, the clouds, or the water, and I become aware that what was previously an uninterrupted image now has very distinct edges, and that the edges are moving closer and closer towards myself.
I’ve had at least one very intense experience in my life where it felt like the edges consumed me whole and I was gone — the clouds completely vanished — which was accompanied by blindness and total loss of memory and contact with my body. These episodes are not that intense, but they are absolutely on the road in that direction.
My thoughts themselves feel slower, less noisy, and like the spaces in between them are very great. When they do occur, they feel ‘suspended’ — as though my consciousness is thoughts painted on a canvas, and most of my awareness transfers from the painting to the canvas, and the painting becomes less notable, even though it’s still there.
The aftereffects are pretty great. Mutism lasts for 5–20 minutes afterwards, and fades slowly. I usually end up really tired. I feel grounded, centered, more peaceful, and, if I’m struggling with something like insecurity, anxiety, or fear, the episode wholly relieves that for days to weeks afterwards.
For how fancy and spiritual it all is, I have a surprising amount of control over where and when it happens.
Do you know that sensation in a lucid dream where you become aware that you’re dreaming? You then might get pretty excited about it, or think a lot about what’s happening, or about the things you want to do in the dream — but the more mental activity you put in, the more likely you are to wake up. So you might find yourself trying to push this awareness to the periphery, to not ‘look’ upon that thought so directly. You’ve gotta sidle up on the dream, casually.
This is an important aspect of how I induce episodes (or how ‘episodes are induced,’ as I rarely feel responsible for it). If I sit down and think very hard “I would like to have an episode now,” it will escape me. I have to perform a mental movement that pulls my awareness into the canvas behind the thoughts, while leaving behind the thoughts themselves. It’s a very ‘periphery’ type of exercise, and really meditative.
But it’s especially triggered when trying to explain my episodes or the type of ‘philosophy’ that makes it more likely to have an episode. The fastest and most reliable trigger is if someone looks at me in a way and context that makes me think that they understand exactly what I’m saying. That look will drop me like a rock, which ends up being pretty confusing for them if they don’t actually understand what I was saying.
A good chunk of what I write about on this blog feels like a gentle cycling around the edges of a vast funnel, like I want to try to point out how reality is sloped ever so slightly, and what might happen if we slow down and let ourselves slide? There’s a thousand angles, and sometimes the slope is right and other times it’s left, but there is only one place to fall.
I used to think doing psychedelics was the same thing as ‘having an episode.’ I thought the higher the dose, the more of an episode people had. It took me a long, confusing time before I figured out that people weren’t always having episodes on psychedelics, and in fact you can have episodes while not on psychedelics. Psychedelics lubes the entry quite a bit, but you’re not going to fall in if you’re still holding on.
So I’d like to attempt to describe some mental movements that I think might help induce an episode — or at least ones that induce episodes in myself.
In a similar vein to Mythic Mode, this requires taking on ‘beliefs’ that might seem incorrect, which might feel like asking a foot not to expel a shard of glass. It might help to practice this as taking on a mask, where you step out of your own skin and into a new one, and the more you unite with the new skin, the more powerful the effects of the new beliefs will be.
I feel as though I hold both beliefs (my old set and my ‘episode inducing’ set) simultaneously, and pick one according to usefulness or some unknown whim. They don’t feel as though they contradict, because I’ve abandoned the premise that “there is no Truth but One”.
To watch yourself split into a chasm, you must believe:
- Time is an illusion.
The universe could have popped into existence a half second ago, preloaded with your brain that feels like it has memories. Your memories, expectations, stresses: all of them exist right now. If you simulated a universe, picked out one single sliver ‘snapshot’ of time, and deleted all the rest, that single silver would feel indistinguishable from your existence right now. This might not be very ‘functional’ to believe, but this isn’t about functionality — it’s about inducing an altered state by changing your narrative about your experience.
- Nobody else is conscious.
When you look at your friend or lover and believe that they are aware, what does that belief feel like, as a sensation? You might imagine ‘being them’ and looking out of a different body and feeling a sense of “I”. You might experience different emotions, the different thought patterns that they must have because they react differently from you.
But at the core of it, their awareness rests entirely inside of your own experience. It’s like a dream where you talk intently with another character, where you believe that they must be real, and then upon awakening realize that it was an illusion. In the same way, the people around you are indistinguishable from a dream.
Again, this might not be a very useful belief, but you must believe it in order to let the great eye find you.
- You are the creator of reality.
Typically we imagine a great universe with a bunch of rules and history and a future, and we are a small part inside of this whole. We imagine that we have a limited perspective, that we can’t totally sense the world around us, that sometimes we believe false things.
This is a story we use to help us make sense of the feeling of novelty (the feeling of learning something, or of being surprised). But if this is just a story, what is it I’m experiencing right now? What is that couch over there, the music playing, the memories I hold?
Information does not lie in the content, and the meaning of a book does not lie in its pages. To summarize a possibly poorly remembered analogy from Gödel, Escher, Bach, imagine we have a beautiful record player, which plays records. We typically think of the information of the song as resting inside of the record. We play one record and one song comes out, and a different record makes another song come out.
But a genie comes before you and produces a new record player, its insides outfitted with new technology. “This is a more fashionable record player,” it says. You put on one of your familiar records, and find it the player pulls out an entirely different song – and you realize the information doesn’t lie in the record, but in the reading of the record.
Information as a concept is rendered null unless there there is the act of ‘witnessing’, or rendering meaning. It makes as much sense to claim there is a song contained inside of a musical record alone as it does to claim there is information inside of the universe alone. To imagine a universe without a reader might feel useful for things like prediction, but at its core it is an illusion.
So in this sense, you are giving rise to what you witness. To think of anything as meaningful without you is a mental trick. You can’t escape yourself. Thou Art God.
These ideas are ones that must be felt more than thought. Look down at your hands. Why are those hands yours? Who is it that is looking at your hands? Pay close attention to the meaning bubbling up as you take in your environment. Feel yourself forming the shape of that tree, or that cup, or your hands. Who is it that is looking at your hands? Feel the sense of identity, this character that you are looking through. Notice the stories that occur in your mind: your memories, the way you are different from others, your preferences and insecurities. Watch them occur as sensations, like a book you’re reading about someone you’ve never met. The thing that is observing is not your character. The thing that watches is not your identity. Who is it that is looking at your hands?
You may be familiar with the Mary’s Room thought experiment, but if you’re not, it goes like this.
Mary is a scientist who has lived her whole life in a black and white room and has never seen color. She is very intelligent and knows everything there is to know (i.e. everything that can be measured like information) or will ever be known about color. At no point can anybody present her with a piece of information that will surprise her.
But one day, Mary goes outside and sees color for the first time. The question is: Does she learn something new?
You can do a lot of things with this experiment, but in this case the point I want to make is that stories about the world (the wavelength of color) can never bridge the gap into being the world itself (experiencing color). Your stories about yourself, everything you know about yourself, will never bridge the gap into what it is to look down at the hands in front of you.
Abandoning everything you know is a form of death. This requires a deep surrender.
Sometimes I fear I won’t come back, but that fear comes from an attachment to my usual story. The more willing I am to never come back, the more easily the great eye finds me.
But I have come back, each time, probably for the same reasons that it’s difficult to maintain a lucid dream. It takes energy to slip into the periphery, and reality probably always comes back. It seems really unlikely that my brain can sustain a state like that for too long.
Plus, time is an illusion anyway.
I recently was the subject of a film that captured several of my episodes. It’s not released yet, but you can listen to a podcast with me and the filmmakers here.
And as usual: Nothing I say is true, do not ascribe truth unto my words.