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Chapter 8

Psychology 2011A/B Chapter 8: Transcendence

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Western University
Psychology 2011A/B

Chapter Eight – Transcendence  Mystical experiences are type of transcendence  Transcendence – one is in a state of being that is in some sense superior to ordinary existence  Some of the greatest achievements of transcendence have occurred in the context of human suffering  There are three ways where human function can be characterized: flow, peak experiences, and mystical experiences Flow  Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi – one of the things that can improve the quality of a person’s experience is to be faced with challenges that are more demanding than everyday living  Flow – when a person’s skills match the difficulties of the challenged o There is joyous and creative total involvement with live  Eight components of flow – discovered when participants were asked ‘to describe how it felt when their lives were at their fullest, when what they did was most enjoyable’ o Engagement in a challenge- have requisite skills o Absorption – one’s awareness merges with one’s actions o Setting of clear goals o Presence of feedback – goals are being reached o Attenuation of one’s usual concerns – while one is absorbed in a challenging task o Opportunity to exercise control – ex. mountain climbing o Loss of self-awareness – which can be accompanied by identification with one’s environment or with other participants with whom one is engaged in activity o Freedom from the uniform ordering of time – normally measured by a clock Peak Experiences  Abraham Maslow – asked people to list and describe the most wonderful experiences of their lives  Cognition and self-identity  Peak experiences – perfect, complete, self-sufficient, self-validating, intrinsically valuable, and a source of justification for one’s life  Good and desirable  Loss of self-awareness and temporary fusion with that which is not oneself o To the point of complete absorption in the object of one’s attention  Mystical ,religious, or philosophical peak experiences – whole world is seen as unity, as a single right live entity  Can be a disorientation in time and space – time may simultaneously seem to be both moving and rapidly standing still  Can mirror Csikszentmihalyi and flow itself, which Maslow has characterized as effortless, graceful, and decisive functioning Mystical Experiences  Peak experiences can be mystical experiences  Surveys can determine the frequency of mystical experiences in the general population o Affirmative responses: range from 20% to 74% of the population claiming to have had some sort of significant mystical experience o 35% of these people had some intense spiritual experience  Robert Moore and Imants Baruss (1986) – 47% of respondents claimed to have had an experience that could be described as a transcendent or mystical experience  34% of 305 participants had been close to a powerful spiritual force that seemed to lift them outside of themselves o After more analysis only 1% of these met criteria for having had a mystical experience Examples of Spontaneous Transcendence  Edgar Mitchell – Apollo 14 astronaut, on way back home from moon had a chance to reflect on his journey o Looking out the window he felt a sense of harmony and interconnectedness with the celestial bodies surrounding the spacecraft o What he felt was an ineffable experience o When back on earth, Mitchell changed course of career and became a full-time student of the totality of consciousness and founded the Institute of Noetic Sciences o Mystical experience of Mitchell’s epiphany during his moon voyage  Allan Smith o Watching sunset when he noticed the level of light in the room and also the sky outside seemed to be increasingly slowing o As light increased, Smith’s mood improved, and time seemed to slow down o Sense of time passing stopped and only present moment existed o Found himself in an ecstatic state in an intense light field and became one unified whole o Most significant aspect of his experience was his knowledge  the universe worked as a harmonious whole and that God was the loving and benign ‘ground of being’ o Mystical experience or cosmic consciousness appeared for 20 minutes o After switched from sciences to subject areas that would let him explore spirituality  Graduated with degrees in consciousness studies and in theology  John Wren-Lewis – 60 years old travelling with wife in Thailand when he was poisoned after eating candy that was laced with morphine o Had a fatal dose and went into a coma o Woke up and believed that the ‘shoddy hospital room seemed transcendentally beautiful’ o Tried to take himself back in time before he awakened from the coma – and he had emerged from ‘a deep but dazzling darkness’ o Thought he was looking through the wrong end of a telescope, perceiving everything very sharply from an immense distance o Darkness was an impersonal consciousness that seemed to know everything from the inside o Darkness was accompanied by a sense of surprise satisfaction, peace, love, bliss, and joy beyond joy o Wren-Lewis’ mystical state of consciousness persisted indefinitely  Found that he would slip out of this state for minute or hours without noticing o Said he was not in an altered state because his state of being was not a high from which he came down it was his normal state o Transcendent consciousness is blocked by hyperactivity of a psychological survival mechanism within each of us  Individual gets so locked into trying to secure the future of her individual consciousness that she shuts out the underlying universal consciousness with its every-present –moment happiness, peace and wonder o Coming close to death breaks this spell because the survival-mechanism gives up at this point Comparison of Transcendent and Psychedelic Experiences  Wren-Lewis has been a participant in a long series of high-dosage psychedelic experiments in England in the late 1960s – nothing was comparable to his state though o His psychedelic experiences were ecstatic states where he got high o His transcendent consciousness that he experienced he was in a sense where he was completely ordinary and obvious  Alpert: experiences induced by psychedelics are analogues of mystical states or, at best, transient genuine transcendent events  Buddhism: prohibition against the use of intoxicants to the point of heedlessness, loss of mindfulness, or loss of awareness  LSD experiences are imitative and can be misleading and could prevent a person from being able to realize the real thing  Douglas Baker – psychedelics and alcohol can induce transcendent experiences, but can damage subtle aspects of a person’s physiology that may not heal within her lifetime Meditation  Meditation – mental strategies whose purpose is to effect transcendent states of consciousness o Restricted to strategies practiced in Asian and to their reformations in Western culture  Meditation in Asia has been the cultivation of radical transformations of consciousness with soteriological consequences  In the West has been sued to reduce blood pressure and stress Transcendental Meditation  Transcendental meditation – type of meditation that was introduced by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi on his arrival in N. America in 1959 o Spent almost his entire life in India o Basic technique: repeating a word that appears to have no meaning over and over again silently to oneself while sitting with eyes closed for about 20 minutes o Redirect attention when you get distracted  Mantra – Sanskrit – assigned in the past to a person by transcendental meditations instructors on the basis of her age group  Tart – doing TM for one year and found out that he became more relaxed with an increased ability to still his mind o Recent and remote memories would surface o Did not experience a joyful, oceanic feeling and loss of ‘all sense of self’ o Found out he had increased resistance to cold and his enjoyment of alcohol decreased Physiology of Meditation  Herbert Benson – 1970s – reported the results of physiological studies of TM practitioners o Found relaxation response – pattern of decreased physiological arousal during the time of mediation  Associated with lowered heart rates, reduced blood pressure, lowered respiratory rates, and decreased oxygen consumption  Meditation + relaxation response can help in the treatment of hypertension, cardiovascular diseases, headaches, pain, premenstrual syndrome, insomnia, infertility, anxiety, depression, hostility, and stress o = therapeutic repertoire of many health professionals  Study: 5 TM meditators, each with 2.5 years of experience were monitored after being required either to meditate of nape for 40 mins o Electroencephalographs, electro-oculographs, and electro-myographs were taken o Say if they felt drowsy or had fallen asleep o Each participated in 5 meditation sessions and 5 nap sessions (only 4 of them were included in data analysis) o 40% of meditation time was spent in sleep stages 2,3,4 and sleep stages appearing for more than a quarter of the meditation time for 13 out of 20 meditation sessions  For 12 of these, participants indicated they had fallen asleep  Meditation associated with increases first in alpha activity, then theta activity, followed by deep meditation by beta activity o Sleep 1 has been found in meditation, because meditation may consist of the ability to sustain the hypnagogic state (or: periodically falling asleep or lucid dreaming)  Electrophysiological records: o During meditation there can be uniformity of electroencephalographic waveforms across the surface of the brain known as coherence sometimes lasting for more than 40 seconds  Alpha coherence correlated with clarity of experience and cessation of breathing  Meditation can facilitate the recall of traumatic childhood memories  Relaxation itself is not a homogeneous state but rather a diverse array of mental states and behaviors associated in various ways with the relaxation response Styles of Meditation  Studies of TM have showed improved intelligence, academic performance, and memory recall for meditatiors  Three main patterns of attention, introspection, and volition that can be identified  styles of meditation  C
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