Recently I was made aware that research on the effects of psilocybin continues. Psilocybin has been known for a long time to create a feeling of oneness with the universe or a state of inner peace and calm.
One of the findings of the research is the long lasting beneficial effects that even one "mystical" experience can have on a person's life. People report sustained positive changes in attitude and mood both when asked about these issues themselves and when the changes were rated by observers.1,2 Study participants say things like:
I can't really express the experience in words.
I didn't have a sense of time or space.
I was perfectly peaceful.
It feels like I'm completely joyful.
I'm not having conscious thoughts per se; I'm just empty, a part of everything.
Feels like some sort of oneness with the world.
It felt perfect.
I recognized the statements; they are similar (or sometimes exactly like) what many of the people I treat say after they've experienced the normal, balanced flow of qi that can be attained during acupuncture treatments when the practitioner balances the pulses. This is not to say that acupuncture treatments that use local points to treat pain or that treatments that follow acupuncture point prescriptions that are specific to a particular ailment aren't effective or don't/can't elicit a similar response in people. But, in my opinion, eliciting a sort of mystical or one with everything experience takes a specialized training in or interest in or use of the pulses to create a balance of Yin and Yang along with the connection or communication within the organ systems that consequently frees and nurtures the spirit.
In this article, I am speaking about what Walter Stace3 referred to as "introvertive mysticism" – that feeling of oneness, a non-spatial, non-temporal feeling of a sense of reality, joy, peace or happiness that can be hard to describe in words. The experiences, he explained, transcended our sensory-intellectual consciousness. He calls it the "total suppression of the whole empirical content of consciousness." It is important to see that he is not saying that consciousness disappears but rather that "only the ordinary sensory-intellectual consciousness disappears and is replaced by an entirely new kind of consciousness." I believe that this new kind of consciousness is attainable through carefully designed acupuncture/pulse balancing treatments. Stace's detractors were numerous and he repeatedly defended his position on the reality of the mystical experience when others called it hocus pocus (I think that Chinese medicine practitioners can relate).
In terms of pulse balancing, I say that the experience of balanced qi/Yin/Yang/organ systems creates a oneness with the flow of qi that is the world. Experiencing physical and energetic balance allows you to feel like a part of the universal flow rather than being aware of a separate, physical, stagnant self. Stace calls such a feeling "pure unitary consciousness, ineffable peace, one without a second, and the self." And I believe that there is tremendous therapeutic value in having that experience.
Researchers at Johns Hopkins2 are finding that there is a "sweet spot" dose of psilocybin. That is, a dose that will induce the positive effects while minimizing any negative effects (anxiety, feeling stress, fear, psychological struggle). Side note: it is my experience that we don't have to worry about negative side effects when inducing this state using acupuncture and pulse balancing. Interestingly enough it was observed that while high doses could lead to slightly negative responses, even when subjects had a somewhat negative reaction they still benefited from the experience. Scientists are curious about how this state of oneness or suppression of the empirical content of consciousness happens because they feel that there is the potential to use this sort of drug therapy for cancer patients to reduce their fear and anxiety, to help smokers quit, and to better understand practices like meditation. One finding is that the subjective effects of psychedelic drugs are caused by decreased activity and connectivity in the brain's key connector hubs thus enabling a state of unconstrained cognition. (Connector hubs are areas such as the thalamus and anterior and posterior cingulate cortex - ACC and PCC.) It has been demonstrated that the drug changes blood flow to certain parts of the brain and affects serotonin thereby changing the subjective experience of the user.
Research on acupuncture demonstrates that it also changes blood flow in the brain, stimulates the central nervous system, releases/affects hormones, and influences the body's self regulating systems some of which lead to a sense of well being.4 It alters brain chemistry in a positive way. Acupuncture points have been said to be conductors of electromagnetic signals that, when stimulated, can start of flow of endorphins and opioids. Acupuncture can stimulate the hypothalamus, limbic system5, and pituitary gland which can then lead to a broad range of results. Then there is the "competition" within our brains between the parts that respond more to external stimuli vs those that respond less to external stimuli.6 It's called anti-correlation and has been the topic of discussion and study with regard to how the process of anti-correlation is affected by activities like meditation or acupuncture. Could we consider an analogy between the anti-correlated brain functions/systems and the opposing forces of yin and yang since we already have evidence that acupuncture changes the brain?
One of the issues with the meditation studies is that it is difficult to determine to what extent study participants are meditating. But the beauty of pulse diagnosis is that we can tell what the qi is doing; we can determine the level of balance in the person who is receiving acupuncture. That is the goal of every treatment – get the person's pulses balanced, synchronize the yin and yang, create a situation where the person is one with the universal flow of qi. More importantly our goal is to retrain the body to maintain that balance or be able to get to that balanced state in times of stress or illness. It is possible, I believe, to achieve that goal with a mechanism similar to the one that induce the long lasting beneficial effects of just one experience with psilocybin: changing the brain.
Neural correlates of the psychedelic state as determined by fMRI studies with psilocybin. Robin L. Carhart-Harris, David Erritzoe, Tim Williams, James M. Stone, Laurence J. Reed, Alessandro Colasanti, Robin J. Tyacke, Robert Leech, Andrea L. Malizia, Kevin Murphy, Peter Hobden, John Evans, Amanda Feilding, Richard G. Wise, and David J. Nutt. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. 1991
Psilocybin occasioned mystical-type experiences: immediate and persisting dose-related effects. Roland R. Griffiths, Matthew W. Johnson, William A. Richards, Brian D. Richards, Una McCann and Robert Jesse: Psychopharmacology magazine. 2011
The Teachings of the Mystics. Stace, Walter T. New York: The New American Library, 1960.
What is Acupuncture? University of Chicago Medical Center
Acupuncture, the limbic system, and the default mode network of the brain. T. Sporko and P. Chan. Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard-MIT Health Sciences and Technology.
Influence of meditation on anti-correlated networks in the brain. Z. Josipovic, I. Dinstein, J. Weber, D. Heeger. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 2011.
Click here for previous articles by Martha Lucas, PhD, LAc.
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