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" —though I nearly drowned as I learned to swim."

To my mind this watery metaphor is the meaning of the myth of Atlantis, Noah's Ark, the Deluge etc.. The Deluge may have been literal, but seems the point is to have 'built an ark' before the first lightning bolt brings on the chaotic storm (there's even an arc...uate nucleus in the brain).

(And I liked this enough to steal/repurpose your Campbell quote too btw. Yoink and thanx!)

I had a friend who used to tell me I had delusions of grandeur (late teens. Last week I heard 80+% of teens want to be famous). A few months before the Big Jump (2022) I'd told my husband I'd be happy to do the budget routine for the rest of my life. Life was small, quiet and so good.

During the kundalini trip (like a week of hardcore LSD every day) I was ordered (by "God") to accept I was to die as nothing and it felt utterly fantastic, like a get-out-of-jail-free card.

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Thank you for this piece and making it public. This is an important topic. Not only because things like psychedelics are increasing in popularity, but so are things like meditation, which as you mention here, and elsewhere, are not neutral to the psyche. It seems also that more and more people are feeling a state of meaninglessness in the world and so are starting to turn towards spiritual practices that can have these effects you describe, as well as others not discussed here. Yet, people are invited by our society, without any preparation into these kinds of potentially transformative states and experiences, without so much as a discussion of what can happen, the profound changes to your psyche and the bad (and even sometimes good) consequences that can result from engaging such practices or experiences. Instead, they are simply treated as another commodity on the marketplace to be consumed. Just go check your community for yoga classes, kundalini classes, meditations, circling, etc.

These practices have been in many ways irresponsibly extracted from long, living traditions, in which the practitioners are embedded in the traditions and held inside structures and communities that prepare people for the practices, walk them into it, help them navigate it, help them process it, and help them pull themselves out of the darkness when they venture too far. I think this is likely a result of the commodification of everything by our society, an emphasis on having mode over being mode, our too rigid of a scientific “objective” materialist approach to reality,and many other factors that make up this meta-poly-meaning-crisis thing that is all the rage these days.

Yet, these very practices and tools, I suspect are also one part of our way out of the mess we find ourselves in as I suspect humans may need to fundamentally alter their relationship with themselves that requires a certain amount of transcendence. It is quite the quagmire and beyond my feeble brain’s ability to try and solve this issue of how do we take these things and put them into a safe community of practice? I don’t suspect that the western “secularized” man is going to start going back to the churches, Sufi orders, zen orders, and different mystical traditions, such that they can find themselves in a responsible sapiential community with elders and teachers and peers that can help people navigate these experiences and states. Nor do I suspect that it is wise to turn people to traditional scientific communities or laboratories to engage in these experiences as they are missing key pieces of the puzzle, i.e., wisdom that our mystical traditions have accreted through the ages, hell we don’t even have a scientific agreement as to what a healthy psyche is from which to make normative statements about what that is. Maybe some combination of science and sapiential communities needs to be developed?

I also worry about how people who may have these experiences will be stigmatized and pathologized inappropriately by our medical scientific complex and may have their lives ruined as a result of it. Even in these alternative spaces where people are engaging in the use of psychedelics or even just spiritual practices, I have personally seen how this very topic you speak about in this article is ignored as if it isn’t a real and dangerous issue for people, and I have also reached out to people in these communities to seek guidance on these topics you address, just to be ignored by those people. Then, I have seen when they see these issues arise, they try and avoid addressing it or quietly shuffle the people off the stages, maybe because it would get in the way of their work for there to be an acknowledgment that bad things can happen to people when they are not prepared or located in an appropriate community setting where others can help others.

So, first and foremost, thank you for this article. And second, I would love to eventually hear more of your thoughts on how these issues can best be addressed, so that more than just the lucky few, like yourself, and Carl Jung, can navigate these experiences and continue to function without breaking down.

I’m also curious if you have come across in your research, Pierre Grimes, his philosophical midwifery, and specifically his thoughts about what he calls pathologos? It seems to me that he has some good insights into what happens when you start to poke around your psyche with meditative and spiritual practices that are intended to help you unfold yourself further and develop. I have heard his students talk about experiences like the psychosis described in your article as a result of engaging in spiritual practices, and how Pierre responds to them, discussing this as an issue of pathologos. I am not him and have not spoken with him, so I can’t confirm my understanding of it is correct, but it seems that these manic and psychotic responses or even sometimes panic attacks or that result from these practices (or substances) are the pathologos fighting against your development. The pathologos (according to my limited understanding) seems to be the constructs our parents and societies bake into us until about adolescence about how we are supposed to be as people, what our roles and cultures expect of us, and that these help us to fit in to our society and culture, but at the same time, they are artificial limitations that prevent us from actually developing ourselves. When you engage in activities or substances that allow you to break free from these, your ego structures (part of the pathologos) respond as if there is a foreign invader threatening them which causes the psyche to respond. I suspect that those grandiose ideas that are had during these experiences are one way the “ego” and pathologos try and keep to the old ways of being, by making it about “you” and how “special” you are, thus reinforcing the artificial Cartesian self in an attempt to keep you from developing.

But I somewhat digress. Thanks for this article and I hope to see many more discussing this important issue.

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author

Thanks for the detailed response! I hadn't heard of Pierre Grimes, but I love the idea of philosophical midwifery. I will definitely check him out.

I'm both excited and frightened by the proliferation of religious technology, especially psychedelics. On the one hand, gaining a structured, scientific understanding of the mechanisms underlying them could help a huge number of people; on the other, as you point out, deploying them without respect for the traditions that birthed could cause a great deal of harm. I suspect we'll have to learn some difficult lessons first-hand (like I did) before we really grok the power of the forces we're dealing with.

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At the same time, every tradition got started by a heretic: at the highest levels of spirituality, there is no tradition. Granted, people can get fried with all this. I sure did. Perhaps there just needs to be an understanding that this stuff is risky, and then, let the chips fall where they may.

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That's pretty much my attitude here too. There's risk, and we should do what we can to minimize it, but experimentation is an important part of social-spiritual growth.

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Agree re. doubt the yoga places are equipped to deal with psychotic episodes. I don't watch many films but I see the odd trailer, most recent was 'Don't Worry Darling'. Like Fight Club and Shutter Island it was all about psychosis.

"It's as if they're trying to tell us something..."

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As always, your crystal-clear writing gives me the feeling of having a more navigable mind. Thanks for writing about this

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Thank you for writing this. It's a wonderful combination of personal experience and education.

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Nov 6, 2023Liked by Max Goodbird

"Active inference" or "free energy principle" models of the brain treat your utility function as just a weird special case of probabilistic belief.

under these models the organism is mostly just trying to minimize prediction error -- if it assigns high probability to events, it should observe those events happening. if this is not happening, change may require acting in the world, or adjusting beliefs.

then your "utility function" is just a very fixed belief that certain things will happen. Minimizing prediction error then leaves you no choice but to try to bring reality into agreement with that fixed belief.

It is in principle a problem with these models that your fixed belief that preferable things will happen, may also influence your beliefs about the rest of the world, the usual Bayesian way that beliefs influence each other.

i'm not an expert on this topic by any means. maybe the connection is of interest if you're already thinking about this in terms of priors and probabilities.

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This is an interesting connection.

I've heard the predictive processing assertion that you can explain actuators in terms of prediction error--my mouth is predicting it's going to taste coffee, but it's not, and my hand picks up the coffee cup in an effort to minimize that prediction error. It's always felt like kind of a stretch of language to me, but mathematically I see how the model fits.

But I don't think I've ever seen anyone point out the obvious implication you mention here: you'd necessarily be inclined towards optimism, so that your actuators move you in a good direction. Which raises some interesting questions: why has evolution allowed anyone to be pessimistic about anything? and why don't pessimists engage in self-defeating behavior to minimize their prediction error? (or do they?)

Probably the model of humans as mere prediction-error-minimizers is a limited one that's only valuable from certain perspectives.

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Nov 7, 2023Liked by Max Goodbird

I think the free energy people would say that a lot of our "priors" come from natural selection, which selects for survival and reproduction. So if pessimism (or maybe realism) could help survival, it might be adaptive and therefore baked in.

Another point is that if your beliefs about the rest of the world are certain or near-certain, this "optimism" effect is limited and really does only move your actuators.

I think probably natural selection does hit this tradeoff -- it endows us with some combination of optimism, plus strong-enough accurate beliefs that this optimism doesn't distort things a lot.

But the boundaries do get blurred -- like in all the cognitive bias stuff you talk about, or people's tendency to focus on the "happy path" when predicting the future.

If your model agent doesn't have these optimistic priors, then you get the "dark room problem" where the most reliable way to minimize prediction error is to lie still in a dark room. Which sure sounds like depression.

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Wow, thank you for this. What candour and clarity of expression. I've learned a lot here. It definitely ties in with what Huxley talks about in Heaven and Hell, the companion to Doors of Perception - well worth reading if you haven't, and very short.

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author

I love Huxley--will definitely give this a read!

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Nov 6, 2023·edited Nov 6, 2023Liked by Max Goodbird

Discernment is a word taken directly from the bible. Proverbs 119:66. And much more than a medieval concept of telling good spirits from bad. It is the skill needed to tell the truth from a lie.

From the age of 12 to 15 I took LSD and mescaline around three times a week. It was very mind opening though some areas opened I later wished had remained closed. To this day I'm not convinced all of what I experienced was "me". There seemed to be much more sophisticated influences than those I had known by that young age.

Thank for relating yours.

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Oh man, I can relate so much to your description of hypomania. In the past, I had several bipolar ii episodes. At times it felt Iike I was walking on water, brain on fire finding meaning in every coincidence. The comedowns were awful for me too..

Your model for manic psychosis is really logical and easy to understand. And this is so well put: "Discernment, for me, is the ability to recognize and discard those ideas, while still letting the good ones flow forward." While I no longer have bipolar episodes, I have recently started exploring psychedelics so I am at risk for psychosis. Along with outside help, I'll be referring to your guide if things get too weird...

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Jan 31·edited Jan 31Liked by Max Goodbird

Feels like there needs to be a support community for those of us who resonate strongly with this post. @Geoffe has the Creekmasons, which has been a supportive and helpful place for me.

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Jan 3Liked by Max Goodbird

I propose that there is much more complexity here than meets the eye...for example: how do you know the state you're now in (and the conclusions "you" form), roughly Normative Cognition, is objectively correct, as opposed to culturally "correct"?

One way to tell: you assert the ability to know the unknowable more than once.

Normalcy is a great way to fit in and feel good, but if everyone is a Normie, humanity can get stuck in a local maxima like the ones we find ourselves in, thanks to The Experts and our culture of half-assed thinking.

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Yeah I think this is the big epistemic tradeoff. Do you follow your contrarian instincts, most of which (averaged across humanity) are wrong? Or do you follow the herd, which is usually right?

All our genius and madness comes from the former. Leaning in that direction "turns up the heat", for better and for worse.

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(This is my original nitpick, I forgot to hit submit lol)

> Do you follow your contrarian instincts, most of which (averaged across humanity) are wrong? Or do you follow the herd, which is usually right?

Is this not a false dichotomy though?

As a wise man once said:

When people hear one story, they tend to ask: is this true? When they hear two stories, they tend to ask: which one of these is true? Isn’t this a neat trick? Maybe our whole world is built on it. Any point on which both poles concur is shared story: “uncontroversial, bipartisan consensus.”

Shared story has root privilege. It has no natural enemies and is automatically true. Injecting ideas into it is nontrivial and hence lucrative; this profession is called “PR.”

There is no reason to assume that either pole of the spectrum of conflict, or the middle, or the shared story, is any closer to reality than the single pole of the one-story state.

Dividing the narrative has not answered the old question: is any of this true? Rather, it has… dodged it. Stagecraft!

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Nitpicking further:

>Or do you follow the herd, which is usually right?

This seems questionable in the context of climate change. Ya, I "know what you mean" from a cultural perspective, but from a rational perspective, I suspect our culture's colloquial approach to logic may not yield correctness, despite "being right".

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Nov 6, 2023Liked by Max Goodbird

I'm curious about your social life before, during and after this period of your life. Did you keep the same friends throughout?

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I did, for the most part. I definitely strained a couple friendships in the process, but none of them broke entirely.

I also made a bunch of new connections during and especially after the episode. I think that's because I became super passionate about certain topics (the ones I write about) and I've managed to find people who are like-minded.

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Nov 6, 2023Liked by Max Goodbird

Good stuff: I posted my own manic symptoms here, I'm curious how many you identify with: https://liamrosen.com/2022/11/15/too-much-of-a-good-thing-what-mania-feels-like/

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Nov 5, 2023Liked by Max Goodbird

Thank you a lot for this post. It is a very deep analysis of the human spirit, it tells a lot about us all. I have to admit I haven't read anything as useful and interesting in a long time.

Keep up the good work!

Also, if possible, please turn of the display of full first names and last names in the comment section, it feels too exposing.

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> Also, if possible, please turn of the display of full first names and last names in the comment section, it feels too exposing.

Unfortunately it doesn't look like I have control over this--seems like something Substack decides.

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Nov 7, 2023Liked by Max Goodbird

I can control it in my settings, sorry for bothering you.

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Nov 5, 2023Liked by Max Goodbird

Have you taken any medication to escape mania/psychosis?

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I haven't.

If I'd had a harder time leading a normal life, maintaining relationships, holding down a job, etc, I'd definitely have sought out medication. But given that I was mostly able to keep it together, I think it was better that I rode the wave out to the end. My guess is antipsychotics or benzos would have made my life a lot easier, but probably would have also prevented that final catharsis from taking place.

My advice to anyone in that situation would be to take the meds if you think you need them, or if people you trust think so.

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Thanks for sharing! I think this is more common than people imagine.

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Nov 5, 2023Liked by Max Goodbird

This is so relatable.

I strongly feel this is your best work.

Cheers from the sauna

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