Saturday, October 29, 2011
“I’ll Have a Cup of Enlightenment, Please.” “Will That Be With or Without Feelings, Sir?” By Bruce Wilson
Mindfulness meditation is the current zeitgeist in psychotherapy. Not surprisingly, it fits hand-in-hand with the other dominant therapeutic modality: cognitive behavioral therapy. In fact, there is now a hybrid of the two called MBCT - mindfulness-based cognitive therapy. Both techniques are based on the same mechanism—detachment from feelings and thoughts. The “how” of mindfulness meditation can be summed up simply: sit still for 30 or 40 minutes, keep your eyes slightly open, follow your breath, and pay attention to whatever is going on in your mind and body but don’t do anything about it. Just sit there. When you catch your thoughts drifting, get back to the breath. There are variations on this theme, such as walking meditation and meditation while doing yoga or manual work. In a word, meditation is about paying attention. Be here now! Nothing more, nothing less.
Buddhist meditation, such as that practiced in Zen, strives for a combination of concentration (such as counting the breaths) and open awareness (listening to sounds, noticing things in your environment, etc) The goal is the same—to be attentive to whatever is going on within you and without you, as the Beatles song goes. Vedic forms of meditation usually include a mantra or phrase that is to be repeated over and over while keeping the eyes closed. The intent is to create a state of bliss, which some people call transcendence but I call spacing out. TM, à la the Maharishi, is a form of Vedic meditation.
Today’s popularity of mindfulness in psychology stems from the work of Jon Kabat-Zinn, famous for his stress reduction clinic, established in 1979 at the University of Massachusetts Medical School. You could say that Kabat-Zinn made Zen Buddhism scientifically respectable by stripping it of its religious trappings and subjecting it to clinical research. Over the past 30 years, mindfulness meditation has swept throughout the medical world and is used to treat patients suffering from cardiac disease, terminal cancer, chronic pain, drug and alcohol addictions, and a host of other conditions. Indeed, the research shows that mindfulness meditation can bring a lot of benefit. Practiced diligently, it can reduce the stress response, lower blood pressure, improve immunity, ease depression and anxiety, and even thicken areas of the cortex involved in the regulation of emotions.
So if meditation is so good for you, what’s the problem? The problem, as Janov states, is that it is based on suppression of feelings, or rather, dissociation from them. Meditation is often not calming at all; in its more intense forms, it is practically guaranteed to bring up feelings. Humans are just not made to sit still for hours or days at a time like some sessile creature on the bottom of the sea. We are born to move and to feel, and when feelings do come up in meditation, they can be intense. Serious meditators often experience extreme anxiety or depression—even panic—but rather go into those feelings to find out where they originate, as one does in primal therapy, the meditator is told to sit still and observe them as one might observe clouds floating across the sky. Feelings are neither here nor there. They are to be regarded merely as sensations that arise from nowhere and go back to nowhere—ahistoric, meaningless, even delusory. Over time, the capacity to feel is attenuated as one’s consciousness becomes increasingly rooted in the moment. Here and now. Here and now. Here and now….
Truly dedicated meditators—those who meditate for hours a day and attend frequent retreats—often get to a point where they feel disembodied. Their sense of self diminishes as they advance toward the ultimate goal of enlightenment, where one transcends space, time, and life and death itself to become one with the universe.
Beyond Life and Death? How Real is That?
Admittedly, meditation can make you calmer, more focused, resistant to stress, and more functional, but it must be done daily. In that sense, meditation is like an addiction that requires its regular fix. Stop doing it and your feelings come rushing back. Meditators often report feeling more peaceful—even joyful—after years of practice, but at what cost? Where did the trauma go? What access to feeling has been sacrificed? I know meditators who seem more like animated pieces of wood than feeling human beings. Others may smile beatifically, but exude an aura of passive aggression under the peaceful exterior. Despite the dozens of studies reporting positive results, despite the brain scans showing thicker cortices and lower vital signs, one is led to wonder what happened to the pain. Does it just vanish? Is it true that mindfulness can heal trauma, as its proponents say? Or has the pain just been driven deeper into the body, leaving an appearance of being healed?
My hypothesis is that mindfulness meditation encapsulates those painful feelings and keeps them dissociated from awareness, much as an oyster encapsulates an irritating grain of sand within a pearl. And one must keep them encapsulated with daily meditation for the rest of one’s life. Therapists who specialize in treating PTSD say that mindfulness can help someone examine their traumatic feelings – look at them from afar so to speak – so they can be “reprocessed.” Reprocessing usually means “reappraisal” – i.e. rethinking your feelings rather than taking them at face value. Once again, it is an attempt to control feeling with cognition, in direct contradiction to the affective neuroscience principle that feeling (affect) always trumps cognition.
Personally, I've found mindfulness meditation to be useful for dealing with present-day stress. It can and does provide strength during those times when you need to keep things together but I’ve never mistaken it for healing. It is only an adjunct; a tool to help with difficult feelings and situations until one can resolve them through action in the present or through primaling, whatever is appropriate to the situation. Without attention to feelings, mindfulness meditation is little more than a virtual lobotomy.
Review of "Beyond Belief"
This thought-provoking and important book shows how people are drawn toward dangerous beliefs.
“Belief can manifest itself in world-changing ways—and did, in some of history’s ugliest moments, from the rise of Adolf Hitler to the Jonestown mass suicide in 1979. Arthur Janov, a renowned psychologist who penned The Primal Scream, fearlessly tackles the subject of why and how strong believers willingly embrace even the most deranged leaders.
Beyond Belief begins with a lucid explanation of belief systems that, writes Janov, “are maps, something to help us navigate through life more effectively.” While belief systems are not presented as inherently bad, the author concentrates not just on why people adopt belief systems, but why “alienated individuals” in particular seek out “belief systems on the fringes.” The result is a book that is both illuminating and sobering. It explores, for example, how a strongly-held belief can lead radical Islamist jihadists to murder others in suicide acts. Janov writes, “I believe if people had more love in this life, they would not be so anxious to end it in favor of some imaginary existence.”
One of the most compelling aspects of Beyond Belief is the author’s liberal use of case studies, most of which are related in the first person by individuals whose lives were dramatically affected by their involvement in cults. These stories offer an exceptional perspective on the manner in which belief systems can take hold and shape one’s experiences. Joan’s tale, for instance, both engaging and disturbing, describes what it was like to join the Hare Krishnas. Even though she left the sect, observing that participants “are stunted in spiritual awareness,” Joan considers returning someday because “there’s a certain protection there.”
Janov’s great insight into cultish leaders is particularly interesting; he believes such people have had childhoods in which they were “rejected and unloved,” because “only unloved people want to become the wise man or woman (although it is usually male) imparting words of wisdom to others.” This is just one reason why Beyond Belief is such a thought-provoking, important book.”
Barry Silverstein, Freelance Writer
Quotes for "Life Before Birth"
“Life Before Birth is a thrilling journey of discovery, a real joy to read. Janov writes like no one else on the human mind—engaging, brilliant, passionate, and honest.
He is the best writer today on what makes us human—he shows us how the mind works, how it goes wrong, and how to put it right . . . He presents a brand-new approach to dealing with depression, emotional pain, anxiety, and addiction.”
Paul Thompson, PhD, Professor of Neurology, UCLA School of Medicine
Art Janov, one of the pioneers of fetal and early infant experiences and future mental health issues, offers a robust vision of how the earliest traumas of life can percolate through the brains, minds and lives of individuals. He focuses on both the shifting tides of brain emotional systems and the life-long consequences that can result, as well as the novel interventions, and clinical understanding, that need to be implemented in order to bring about the brain-mind changes that can restore affective equanimity. The transitions from feelings of persistent affective turmoil to psychological wholeness, requires both an understanding of the brain changes and a therapist that can work with the affective mind at primary-process levels. Life Before Birth, is a manifesto that provides a robust argument for increasing attention to the neuro-mental lives of fetuses and infants, and the widespread ramifications on mental health if we do not. Without an accurate developmental history of troubled minds, coordinated with a recognition of the primal emotional powers of the lowest ancestral regions of the human brain, therapists will be lost in their attempt to restore psychological balance.
Jaak Panksepp, Ph.D.
Bailey Endowed Chair of Animal Well Being Science
Washington State University
Dr. Janov’s essential insight—that our earliest experiences strongly influence later well being—is no longer in doubt. Thanks to advances in neuroscience, immunology, and epigenetics, we can now see some of the mechanisms of action at the heart of these developmental processes. His long-held belief that the brain, human development, and psychological well being need to studied in the context of evolution—from the brainstem up—now lies at the heart of the integration of neuroscience and psychotherapy.
Grounded in these two principles, Dr. Janov continues to explore the lifelong impact of prenatal, birth, and early experiences on our brains and minds. Simultaneously “old school” and revolutionary, he synthesizes traditional psychodynamic theories with cutting-edge science while consistently highlighting the limitations of a strict, “top-down” talking cure. Whether or not you agree with his philosophical assumptions, therapeutic practices, or theoretical conclusions, I promise you an interesting and thought-provoking journey.
Lou Cozolino, PsyD, Professor of Psychology, Pepperdine University
In Life Before Birth Dr. Arthur Janov illuminates the sources of much that happens during life after birth. Lucidly, the pioneer of primal therapy provides the scientific rationale for treatments that take us through our original, non-verbal memories—to essential depths of experience that the superficial cognitive-behavioral modalities currently in fashion cannot possibly touch, let alone transform.
Gabor Maté MD, author of In The Realm of Hungry Ghosts: Close Encounters With Addiction
An expansive analysis! This book attempts to explain the impact of critical developmental windows in the past, implores us to improve the lives of pregnant women in the present, and has implications for understanding our children, ourselves, and our collective future. I’m not sure whether primal therapy works or not, but it certainly deserves systematic testing in well-designed, assessor-blinded, randomized controlled clinical trials.
K.J.S. Anand, MBBS, D. Phil, FAACP, FCCM, FRCPCH, Professor of Pediatrics, Anesthesiology, Anatomy & Neurobiology, Senior Scholar, Center for Excellence in Faith and Health, Methodist Le Bonheur Healthcare System
A baby's brain grows more while in the womb than at any time in a child's life. Life Before Birth: The Hidden Script That Rules Our Lives is a valuable guide to creating healthier babies and offers insight into healing our early primal wounds. Dr. Janov integrates the most recent scientific research about prenatal development with the psychobiological reality that these early experiences do cast a long shadow over our entire lifespan. With a wealth of experience and a history of successful psychotherapeutic treatment, Dr. Janov is well positioned to speak with clarity and precision on a topic that remains critically important.
Paula Thomson, PsyD, Associate Professor, California State University, Northridge & Professor Emeritus, York University
"I am enthralled.
Dr. Janov has crafted a compelling and prophetic opus that could rightly dictate
PhD thesis topics for decades to come. Devoid of any "New Age" pseudoscience,
this work never strays from scientific orthodoxy and yet is perfectly accessible and
downright fascinating to any lay person interested in the mysteries of the human psyche."
Dr. Bernard Park, MD, MPH
His new book “Life Before Birth: The Hidden Script that Rules Our Lives” shows that primal therapy, the lower-brain therapeutic method popularized in the 1970’s international bestseller “Primal Scream” and his early work with John Lennon, may help alleviate depression and anxiety disorders, normalize blood pressure and serotonin levels, and improve the functioning of the immune system.
One of the book’s most intriguing theories is that fetal imprinting, an evolutionary strategy to prepare children to cope with life, establishes a permanent set-point in a child's physiology. Baby's born to mothers highly anxious during pregnancy, whether from war, natural disasters, failed marriages, or other stressful life conditions, may thus be prone to mental illness and brain dysfunction later in life. Early traumatic events such as low oxygen at birth, painkillers and antidepressants administered to the mother during pregnancy, poor maternal nutrition, and a lack of parental affection in the first years of life may compound the effect.
In making the case for a brand-new, unified field theory of psychotherapy, Dr. Janov weaves together the evolutionary theories of Jean Baptiste Larmarck, the fetal development studies of Vivette Glover and K.J.S. Anand, and fascinating new research by the psychiatrist Elissa Epel suggesting that telomeres—a region of repetitive DNA critical in predicting life expectancy—may be significantly altered during pregnancy.
After explaining how hormonal and neurologic processes in the womb provide a blueprint for later mental illness and disease, Dr. Janov charts a revolutionary new course for psychotherapy. He provides a sharp critique of cognitive behavioral therapy, psychoanalysis, and other popular “talk therapy” models for treating addiction and mental illness, which he argues do not reach the limbic system and brainstem, where the effects of early trauma are registered in the nervous system.
“Life Before Birth: The Hidden Script that Rules Our Lives” is scheduled to be published by NTI Upstream in October 2011, and has tremendous implications for the future of modern psychology, pediatrics, pregnancy, and women’s health.