Tuesday, June 1, 2010

My New Age Side and My Intellectual Side: Reiki and Yoga and Quantum Physics, So Lost

So, this is going to be an incredibly difficult post to write. It will be mostly reflection. Then lots of talking about some ideas that help me think about my life a little better.

Anyways, that was in April, now it is the end of May. So it might be time to tackle this bad boy.

The major thing I need to grapple with is how my experiences with alternative medicine and new age stuff has been pretty compelling. My first hand experiences with yoga, reiki, and acupuncture have been very interesting, like I said, very compelling. There is something going on with these things. It isn't some sham. It isn't bs.

And so here is the problem: I can't tell you what the heck is goin' on with these things. I really like explaining things. I think I have always been exposed to an articulable world view. Faith has never really been a thing for me. I usually like to be able to explain why I think what I think. Reiki especially really pushes me to just believe that something is true or is working or is real just cause I feel it.

I think in college my penchant for articulation and clear thinking became even much more of a thing. So I think I sorta lost touch with thinking about things like yoga and reiki because I was too busy thinking about military history and other history/philosophy related things. Ummm, but recently I read some stuff that seems like it may provide a realistic explanation for something like reiki. That something is quantum physics in the context of self-directed neuroplasticity. Which has led me to read about things like quantum transfers of consciousness. Long ago I saw that movie 'what the bleep do we know?' and I realize now I should see it again. I was in high school at the time, and my understanding of quantum physics, and lots of other things, is much better now than it was then.

So this is precisely the order of things I will explore. 1. My high school experiences with reiki and yoga. 2. My college experiences with very academic thinking about history and philosophy. 3. My latest academic reading that has been on quantum physics that may somehow explain reiki, but at any rate has me interested again.

High School Yoga and Reiki
So in high school my good friend Dave Cannon happened to have a sister who was trained as a reiki master. I was raised in a house that thrived on agnosticism/atheism, and I was enticed by the idea of some kind of mystical Japanese healing technique. One night I went over to Dave's house and I had a very long conversation with his sister and hey boyfriend. They were both reiki trained, and had a lot of other interests in many new age things loosely associated with reiki. For example, reincarnation, aliens, astral projection, Atlantis, so on. I feel like this conversation really opened me up to quite a lot of thigns I had never been exposed to before. Naturally, I guess. Most people don't talk about reiki or ascension or anything of the sort, and I was young.

But the main thing is that this sent me on a pretty bizarre personal research/experience quest. I think I was a sophomore in high school when I first had that conversation. So my junior year I signed up for an independent study project. My project was very generally on alternative medicines. I talked about reiki in the paper I believe, but I also looked into acupuncture, yoga, and other sorts of alternative medicine that involved laying on of hands, etc..

The independent study was pretty rewarding I think. I feel like I didn't know how to do research very well in those days, so I got my feet wet and it expanded my interest in it quite a bit.

At least enough that I chose to do a mentorship my senior year at University of Maryland's Center for Integrative Medicine at Kernan Hospital in Baltimore. I had a great mentor named Bonnie Tarantino. She was a super nice woman who was trained in Prana Yoga, as well as Usui and Karuna reiki.

Prior to my getting involved with Bonnie during the 2004-2005 academic year, I had received two reiki attunements from David Gleekel at the reiki center of greater Washington. Reiki courses are pretty fascinating things. It is really strange and uncomfortable to be a 17 year old kid and be able to take a course where someone tells you that now you can channel some kind of universal energy through yourself into others.

After my first two levels of reiki training with David Gleekel, I had started my mentorship program with Bonnie Tarantino. I did about 8 months worth of yoga classes with her, and towards the end of my time with her I took a reiki class with her and a friend of hers who also taught reiki. That was in May or June of 2005 I think. But anyways, that final reiki course was quite intense. Quite strange. Some very bizarre experiences with psychic surgery etc.

After that Bonnie bought me a psychic reading from her friend Michael as my graduation gift. That was also a strange experience. He told me some strange things about my cousin. And about how well I would be able to astrally project. Something about matching the speed of the planet.

Regardless of their rationality or articulability, it is near impossible for me to discount the experiences that I have had with reiki, yoga, and other related new age/spiritual whatevers. I have cried because of some of the things that happened to me during yoga or reiki sessions. There has been such intensity to what 'energy' feels like. It is like a wave that moves in and out of or over my body. I know what it feels like for my hands to move themselves, to get really hot, to feel like I am transmitting energy to someone and like my head is light. Reiki feels too real to be fake. The role of prana in Yoga feels too real to be fake.

Could astral projection possibly be real? I was always a very young person doing all of these things with much older people. They always talked about it too.

But anyways, I took a break from writing this and now I don't think I can say too much more about my experiences with these alternative medicines and other new age ways of thinking.

S0 now I'll just talk about the stuff I did in college and how it clashed a bit with all this new age stuff.

College Academic Time
So I ended up being a history major. I suppose I was pretty fresh off the bulk of this reiki and yoga stuff. I took two classes with a guy named Mason at UMBC. Ancient Greece and ancient Egypt. Great classes. He was an interesting guy, liked to make jokes, all around a good teacher. I don't know what his credentials were. I wasn't really a history major then. I was declared psychology my first year at UMBC. Then I met Mason and when I transferred to UMDCP I chose history. It felt right. Then I met Jon Sumida in the Spring semester of 2007. He was quite a challenge at first. I actually talked with him recently. He basically set my heavy thinking into motion. A lot of my ideas come back to things he introduced me to.

But anyways I became very academic. I thrived in Sumida's military history courses, and met some really good sociology professors. David Segal was a really good military sociologist and I learned a lot from his classes. Emily Mann was a smart graduate student and taught sociology of sexuality, introduced me to Foucault, pretty engaging courses, pretty important stuff for me for sure. Meyer Kestnbaum's sociology of war class was really good. Very smart guy who did a great job uniting my work in military history with sociology of gender/sexuality/inequality.

The world of academics didn't really leave me much time for reflecting on yoga or reiki. I'm not sure how I've felt about them for these last 5 years. I guess for 2 to 3 years I was pretty occupied by them. But yeah, college academia overtook that. Definitely.

Some of my reading lately, however, has been compelling me to reevaluate my disinterest in yoga and reiki.

Quantum Physical Spirituality and the Quantum Self
My renewed interest in reiki and yoga happened accidentally, and it was actually a book that substantiates quite a lot of my other academic thinking. The book was Jeffrey Schwartz's The Mind & The Brain: Neuroplasticity and the Power of Mental Force. Schwartz is a neuroscientist who works with OCD patients. He claims that he has created a therapy that lets OCD patients rewire their brains using Buddhist mindfulness techniques. With OCD there is a neurological circuit that is clearly pathological. The parts of the brain responsible for warning, danger, etc., are overactive. Drugs can work on those neural circuits, but Schwartz claims that Buddhist mindfulness techniques can also reconfigure neural circuits.

More importantly, Schwartz thinks that these physical effects of Buddhist mindfulness can be explained by quantum physics. In both mindfulness and quantum physics attention is the key factor. I discussed all this quite extensively in my post of 4/25/10, so this is rough.

Mindfulness techniques are about paying attention to your thoughts. Acknowledging them, focusing on breathing, checking off your thoughts, letting them pass, focusing on breathing. Pay attention pay attention pay attention.

Schwartz claims that when OCD patients are trained to pay attention to their compulsive thoughts, they can reconceptualize the meaning associated with them, and then redirect thoughts to a more positive outlet. For example, if I feel like washing my hands, I'll work in the garden instead. If they exercise this mindfulness consistently, their brains compulsive circuit can disappear.

So why does paying attention transform the brain?

Well, what is the role of attention in the quantum world in general? Basically, in quantum physics a sub-atomic particle does not have a definite existence until it is observed. Before someone pays attention to something it exists as a superposition of possibilities. Attention is the key thing in bringing one reality into existence over another. Another relevant quantum law is the quantum zeno effect. This is when rapid and repeated observation of a subatomic system prevents it from transforming into another state. Certain molecules are made up of certain molecules, and have multiples forms that they can take. By repeatedly observing these molecules, however, they are forced out of the quantum superposition of possibilities and into a concrete observed reality more often. By repeatedly forcing a molecule to become an observed phenomenon you freeze it in that state and make it more likely to be that way in the future.

This applies to the brain, Schwartz claims. If we repeatedly pay attention to and redirect our thoughts we can make our brains more likely to behave in a certain way. While we aren't paying attention our brain can exist as a superposition of different possibilities, and it may be random which one comes into play. So we get the urge to wash our hands, but we pay attention and redirect our thoughts we can make our brains more likely to make us go to the garden. We do this over and over again and we can make our brains stay this way. We force ourselves to go to the garden instead of going to the sink over and over and the brain will rest itself and avoid the pathological OCD circuit.

So, interesting stuff, this generally introduced me to quantum physics. It also got me thinking about how quantum physics, and specifically non-locality, might be related to my experiences with reiki and yoga.

In both reiki and yoga intention and attention are the most important things. How do you direct reiki energy at someone? You do it with your intention, I was always told. Same thing with Buddhist mindfulness. It all seems to operate through intention.

Then I started looking at some interviews with a University of Oregon physicist named Amit Goswami. Now Mr. Goswami is very explicit about the possible connections between quantum physics and spirituality. He essentially claims that quantum physics is 'rediscovering the existence of god.' He describes something called downward causation, as opposed to upward causation. In upward causation it is when simple subatomic particles are the base cause of everything and it gradually unfolds from atoms to molecules to cells to brains etc..Downward causation, on the other hand, is when consciousness itself causes things to happen, and there is no material explanation.

Two examples of top-down causation. One is a basic non-locality experiment I read about in Schwartz, the other is Goswami's example. So basic non-locality: when two quantum particles are collided they become 'entangled.' Meaning that they now share certain properties of orbit and speed etc.. When one of these molecules is observed (making a quantum superposition become a reality) the other one behaves the same way. They both become actualities at the same time and give the same measurement. Entangled particles have been separated up to 11 km and will still behave identically. So there is no physical cause. Particles do not need to be near each other to act on one another. This matters in terms of reiki and its claim to be able to heal from long distances, which is supposedly done with intention.

Goswami also talks about an experiment he knows of that has supposedly been replicated four times in different labs around the world. I haven't done enough research to really verify this. But he says a guy named Greenberg at the University of Mexico first did this experiment in which he tried to create a non-local transfer of consciousness between two people. So he has two ordinary people meditate together in a room with the intention of making non-local communication. After 20 minutes he splits them up and puts them in electromagnetically sealed rooms and hooks them up to an EEG to monitor their brain activity. One of them is then shown a series of light flashes. They monitor the activity of their occipital lobe so they can tell when the brain responds to the light. Supposedly, at the same moment that the one person is shown the light the other patient experiences very similar brain activity. He said this is a quantum transfer of consciousness. Sounds very strange, and I'd like to do research in the future. But the basic idea being that consciousness, and not matter, is the most fundamental thing in the universe, and it can act non-locally etc..

The last thing I would like to talk about is something Goswami called the 'quantum self.' He said it was essentially the state of being that the Buddhist's call nirvana, or enlightenment, basically he said most of the major religions have their own name for this state of consciousness. Goswami said that because consciousness is the most fundamental thing in the universe, our consciousness is part of a great 'non-ordinary form' of our consciousness. So basically we are all one, we are all the same. We are all a part of the same unified consciousness. Goswami and this other guy are saying that we perceive our experience as continuous, but in reality their is a discontinuity and our consciousness sort of flickers, or something. But anyways, we are all part of the same fundamental consciousness and we only have a perceived separateness from others and the world.

The quantum self is when you are able to transcend the perceived separateness between individuals and recognize yourself as part of the same universal consciousness. Ummm. Rough stuff to lay out there, Goswami. I just find it intense. The first thing that comes to mind is the word 'namaste.' An Indian phrase I learned through yoga people. It means 'I bow to you' or just 'to you.' But there are more complex interpretations, and this one I have seen in the past and think is reminiscent of what Goswami says of the quantum self: "I honor the place in you in which the entire Universe dwells, I honor the place in you which is of Love, of Integrity, of Wisdom and of Peace. When you are in that place in you, and I am in that place in me, we are One."

I like that I think.

But it gets better. Goswami says that the ego, the 'I' as a perceived subjective individual, has a role to play in the quantum self. The ego has to first prepare to attain the state of the quantum self, and the ego then has to actualize the being of the quantum self.

I'm sorry, what? Ha no I find it really fascinating to hear someone say these things. But it really is a bit much for me to handle.

But Goswami says that he really likes to recognize himself as part of a greater universal consciousness and attempting to attain the quantum self (or perhaps Goswami thinks he has attained the quantum self, I'm not sure). But he says it allows him to live a much happier life, a life more focused on love.

Well then. It seems my experiences with reiki and yoga are indeed something I want to think about. Something I want to explore more. I should meditate more often. Could do it pretty easily. Should start doing more reiki. Strange stuff.

But I find the stuff on quantum physics to be lending some weight to the efficacy, or at least the possible existence, of something like reiki.

With yoga their is no doubt it is good exercise and a very relaxing experience. But my yoga instructor was also a reiki instructor, and the focus was on energy, on prana. We were told to ride it like a wave. It was pretty great, pretty intense. So I dunno, I think the quantum stuff might be relevant to a lot of this stuff.

But it really is just too much for me to wrap my head around intellectually at the moment. I think that I'll continue to read about quantum physics, perhaps in relation to brain functioning and consciousness. I read somewhere that quantum explanations of consciousness seemed unlikely. So there certainly doesn't seem to be agreement among the professional community.

I need more experience with all of this new age stuff. All this stuff. I should do more reiki and yoga, maybe get some acupuncture, maybe try to astrally project. Now that is wacky stuff.

Anyways, that is enough of that. This post isn't about answers cause it is all just so confusing. But I did want to catalog my experience and thoughts on these strange things, especially in light of my recent reading on quantum physics.

Oh here is something realllllly strange that happened to me that is related. Totally weird.

My parents are moving from their house in Columbia to Farmville, Va. And so my dad is getting rid of some books. I saw one called Quantum Generations: A History of Physics in the Twentieth Century. Published in 1999, seems like something that would be good for me to look at. Seems especially interesting because the other gives a fair amount of pages to the role of the world wars in accelerating physics research.

But now the strange thing. When I was outside saying goodbye to my dad a card in a plastic wrapper fell out of the middle of the book. I hadn't notice it up till then so I looked at it. It is a card with a photo of a Buddha state. On the back it says 'Peacefulness ~ Emptiness.' Synchronicity is also something that is hard for me to think about. But it is a fun coincidence to have that card fall out of that book based on my recently renewed interests in this spiritual stuff. I don't know what to call it. But I definitely have an interest in thinking peacefully, and also have a big interest in zen and Buddhism.

But anyways, experience will have to be the thing that helps me with this question. Hmmm. I wonder where I'll get this experience.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Riley! Good to read your blog. Glad you are still exploring. -- Reiki blessings... David Gleekel