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My own work as a therapist has included an underlying Eastern philosophy. Buddha: In Search of Selflessness. He has extensive training and experience in Freudian psychoanalysis and Buddhist meditation and does an excellent job of integrating the two. Epstein begins with a review of Buddhist psychology and the way of living. Epstein is great at breaking down each of the four truths and eight paths into understandable components, and shows the way they can each work with psychotherapy.

Indeed, Epstein feels that Buddhism is a form of depth psychology. Early in the book, he explains how William James said that the future of psychology was in Buddhism. The book also takes an in-depth look at meditation and debunks, or at least tweaks, popular conceptions.

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I have heard many people say they have tried meditation and given up because they could never completely clear their minds and transcend into that blissful oceanic state. In particular, Epstein frequently refers to the concept of nonjudgmental bare attention. When feelings and thoughts arise, you just pay attention without judging them or yourself. It is impartial and open. However, in certain accounts of untrained-sensate experience there is evidence of a gain in sensory richness and vividness.

James, in describing the conversion experience, states: "A third peculiarity of the assurance state is the objective change which the world often appears to undergo, 'An appearance of newness beautifies every object'. I shouted for joy.

I praised God with my whole heart I remember this, that everything looked new to me, the people, the fields, the cattle, the trees. I was like a new man in a new world. When rising from my knees I exclaimed, 'Old things have passed away, all things have become new. Natural objects were glorified. My spiritual vision was so clarified that I saw beauty in every material object in the universe. Such a change in a person's perception of the world has been called by Underhill, "clarity of vision, a heightening of physical perception;" and she quotes Blake's phrase, "cleanse the doors of perception.

However, these accounts do suggest that a "new vision" takes place, colored by an inner exaltation. Their authors report perceiving a new brilliance to the world, of seeing everything as if for the first time, of noticing beauty which for the most part they may have previously passed by without seeing. Although such descriptions do not prove a change in sensory perception, they strongly imply it.

These particular phenomena appear quite variable and are not mentioned in many mystic accounts. However, direct evidence was obtained on this point in the meditation experiments already cited. The phenomena the subjects reported fulfilled Werner's criteria completely, although the extent of change varied from one subject to the next. I really began to feel, you know, almost as though the blue and I were perhaps merging, or that vase and I were It was as though everything was sort of merging. But in a certain way it is real. Thus, the available evidence supports the hypothesis that a de-automatization is produced by contemplative meditation.

One might be tempted to call this de-automatization a regression to the perceptual and cognitive state of the child or infant. However, such a concept rests on assumptions as to the child's experience of the world that cannot yet be verified. The glory and the freshness of a dream. However, he may be confusing childhood with what is actually a reconstruction based on an interaction of adult associative capacities with the memory of the more direct sensory contact of the child.

Rather than speaking of a return to childhood, it is more accurate to say that the undoing of automatic perceptual and cognitive structures permits a gain in sensory intensity and richness at the expense of abstract categorization and differentiation. One might call the direction regressive in a developmental sense, but the actual experience is probably not within the psychological scope of any child. It is a de-automatization occurring in an adult mind, and the experience gains its richness from adult memories and functions now subject to a different mode of consciousness.


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The de-automatization produced by contemplative meditation is enhanced and aided by the adoption of renunciation as a goal and a life style, a renunciation not confined to the brief meditative period alone. Poverty, chastity, isolation, and silence are traditional techniques prescribed for pursuing the mystic path: To experience God, keep your thoughts turned to God and away from the world and the body that binds one to the world.

The meditative strategy is carried over into all segments of the subject's life. The mystic strives to banish from awareness the objects of the world and the desires directed toward them. To the extent that perceptual and cognitive structures require the "nutriment" of their accustomed stimuli for adequate functioning, renunciation would be expected to weaken and even disrupt these structures, thus tending to produce an unusual experience.

The subjects of the meditation experiment quoted earlier reported that a decrease in responsiveness to distracting stimuli took place as they became more practiced. They became more effective, with less effort, in barring unwanted stimuli from awareness. These reports suggest that psychological barrier structures were established as the subjects became more adept. The effect of a distracting stimulus, as measured by the disappearance of alpha rhythm, Was most prominent in the novices, less prominent in those of intermediate training, and almost absent in the master 38 It may be that the intensive, long-term practice of meditation creates temporary stimulus barriers producing a functional state of sensory isolation.

When combined with contemplative meditation, it produces a very powerful effect. Finally, the more renunciation is achieved, the more the mystic is committed to his goal of Union or Enlightenment. His motivation necessarily increases, for having abandoned the world, he has no other hope of sustenance.

Granted that de-automatization takes place, it is necessary to explain five principal features of the mystic experience: 1 intense realness, 2 unusual sensations, 3 unity, 4 ineffability, and 5 trans-sensate phenomena. It is assumed by those who have had a mystic experience, whether induced by years of meditation or by a single dose of LSD, that the truthfulness of the experience is attested to by its sense of realness. The criticism of skeptics is often met with the statement, "You have to experience it yourself and then you will understand.

Indeed, there are many clinical examples of variability in the intensity of the feeling of realness that is not correlated with corresponding variability in the reality. A dream may be so "real" as to carry conviction into the waking state, although its content may be bizarre beyond correspondence to this world or to any other. Psychosis is often preceded or accompanied by a sense that the world is less real than normally, sometimes that it is more real, or has a different reality.

The phenomenon of depersonalization demonstrates the potential for an alteration in the sense of the realness of one's own person, although one's evidential self undergoes no change whatsoever. However, in the case of depersonalization, or of de-realization, the distinction between what is external and what is internal is still clear.

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Deautomatization and the Mystic Experience

What changes is the quality of realness attached to those object representations. Thus it appears that 1 the feeling of realness represents a function distinct from that of reality judgment, although they usually operate in synchrony; 2 the feeling of realness is not inherent in sensations, per se; and 3 realness can be considered a quantity function capable of displacement and, therefore, of intensification, reduction, and transfer affecting all varieties of ideational and sensorial contents.

From a developmental point of view, it is clear that biological survival depends on a clear sense of what is palpable and what is not. The sense of reality necessarily becomes fused with the object world. When one considers that meditation combined with renunciation brings about a profound disruption of the subject's normal psychological relationship to the world, it becomes plausible that the practice of such mystic techniques would be associated with a significant alteration of the feeling of reality. Stimuli of the inner world become invested with the feeling of reality ordinarily bestowed on objects.


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Through what might be termed "reality transfer," thoughts and images become real. The sensations and ideation occurring during mystic de-automatization are often very unusual; they do not seem part of the continuum of everyday consciousness.

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What is perceived is said to come from another world, or at least another dimension. Although such a possibility cannot be ruled out, many of the phenomena can be understood as representing an unusual mode of perception, rather than an unusual external stimulus. In the studies of experimental meditation already mentioned, two long-term subjects reported vivid experiences of light and force. For example:. Now when this happens it's happening not only in my vision but it's happening or it feels like a physical kind of thing.

It's connected with feelings of attraction, expansion, absorption and suddenly my vision pinpointed on a particular place and. I was in the grip of a very powerful sensation and this became the center This report suggests that the perception of motion and shifting light and darkness may have been the perception of the movement of attention among various psychic contents whatever such "movement" might actually be.

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Another example: ". I feel this in my body and particularly in my eyes. I have termed this hypothetical perceptual mode "sensory translation," defining it as the perception of psychic action conflict, repression, problem solving, attentiveness, and so forth via the relatively unstructured sensation of light, color, movement, force, sound, smell, or taste.

Although light, force, and movement may play a part in hypnagogic and dream constructions, the predominant percepts are complex visual, verbal, conceptual, and activity images. The concept of sensory translation offers an intriguing explanation for the ubiquitous use of light as a metaphor for mystic experience. It may not be just a metaphor. Liberated energy experienced as light may be the core sensory experience of mysticism. If the hypothesis of sensory translation is correct, it presents the problem of why sensory translation comes into operation in any particular instance. In general, it appears that sensory translation may occur when 1 heightened attention is directed to the sensory pathways, 2 controlled analytic thought is absent, and 3 the subject's attitude is one of receptivity to stimuli openness instead of defensiveness or suspiciousness.

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Training in contemplative meditation is specifically directed toward attaining a state with those characteristics. Laski reports that spontaneous mystic experiences may occur during such diverse activities as childbirth, viewing landscapes, listening to music, or having sexual intercourse. Those conditions seem also to apply to the mystical experiences associated with LSD. The state of mind induced by hallucinogenic drugs is reported to be one of increased sensory attention accompanied by an impairment or loss of different intellectual functions. On the other hand, when drug subjects lose their defensiveness and suspiciousness so that they "accept" rather than fight their situation, the "transcendent" experience often ensues.