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.

Bruce Wilson


  1. thanks Bruce, you have given voice to what i have suspected all along; well done.

  2. Last thread France Janov wrote about gaining “access” to old pain and stopping “tortuous behaviour”.

    The operative word here being tortuous behaviour/ thoughts which in my case elevates bp. It’s difficult sometimes to avoid situations where others choose to dump their pain on you and you feel an injustice has been done you. These situations can be quite overwhelming and agitating long enough about them quickly elevates my bp.

    “No mind” from contentment ie elimination of pain from the past and present ideally is what keeps bp regular.

    Sometimes when these situations send me into overwhelm I will use mindfulness ( as Bruce Wilson has written) the “no mind” technique to shut down thoughts in order to collect myself sufficiently to where I’m able to sort out how to deal with the problem at hand that restores equilibrium and does not create more angst.

    France Janov has illustrated a good starting point is to know yourself, to understand about yourself from a primal perspective.


  3. "Mindfulness without feeling" is often seen to be practiced by parents on their babies and children. I've seen this done by very educated and caring parents and it may actually be the best they can do in some circumstances. How often have you seen a parent direct their child's attention to something that might actually catch the interest of the child in the hope that the child will forget to be uncomfortable or unhappy? Oh, look at the birdie! Sometimes it seems to work for a while. It starts very early - shaking the baby's rattle that's hanging in reach startling the baby into an awareness of the external world away from the suffering of unmet need. If the parents didn't care, the baby wouldn't even have a rattle to play with or would be just allowed to cry and cry while the parents directed their own attention elsewhere. Often a physical stimulus is used like bouncing baby around.

    I saw a boy, perhaps 3 years old, with a group of chattering women on a bus trip a few weeks ago being given this kind of treatment but there was nothing out there that interested him. Soon he found something for himself - he reached out for one of the other women who was happy to take him onto her lap but it wasn't long before the unnameable need arose again. He reached for another woman who took him on her lap and tried to settle him down while continuing the lady talk. This time he seemed to have run out of likely hostesses and instead of reaching for another he tried to get the woman's attention by pointing this way and that. It was probably no accident that she had to move her head a little this way and that to retain eye contact with the woman she was talking to.

    It was at that point that they reached the stop where they were getting off. I wish I could give you a more satisfying ending to the story. Perhaps the kid will grow up to be an MBCT therapist. Jokes aside, the persistence of the little boy speaks of a need for attention far beyond what he could have gotten from grandma and her cronies and a need that might be deviated in all kinds of directions, as he grows up, by such tactics of distraction but never resolved.

  4. The meditation thing sounds like crap, for sure. But in order for an intellect to function well, it does need a period of time where distractions and interference are kept away while the intellect does its thing in behalf of the rest of the mind and its interests. But the stem is always on alert should a fight or flight situation arise.

    But according to the Apollo theory of PT, the intellect cortex does not block anything, anyway. The stem actually does the switching on of the gates. As the sole source of emergency actions, the stem controls all that automatic instinct stuff so that if the gates stay on, you can blame the stem, 1st level. It is also the source of commands to the intellect to think up something to distract or comfort the mind and avoid setting off pain that the stem does not want to let go.

    When the stem perceives it is right, then it sends the pain signals up into the cortex. It is sort of an automatic reflex like puking or the like. If the stem is not entirely comfortable with circumstances, it may resist doing anything like sending up pain to be integrated.

    But in blaming the cortex, we miss the fact that the stem is displeased with something or other. Blame is easy to spread around but that does not mean it is accurate. The poor intellect takes a lot of blame and heat from PT therapists and leaves fans thinking the intellect is a bad thing in general. This does not set well with Apollo, as I am sure you are all aware of. We just need to get that blame thing right, ya know. My 2 cents for what its worth. Or you can get the fly swatter out and see if you can nail me buzzing around. Others have. In fact, it’s a popular sport now. But I enjoy the challenge. I am still flying for the present.

  5. Apollo: It is not us who gives the cortex a bad rap; it is those who do not understand that cortical connection is the most important part of the process. Otherwise you have pure abreaction. art

  6. Hi Bruce ,I never ever read a more lucid description of all the people practicing TM
    I had to meet and endure in my life!! Yours emanuel

  7. > "Others may smile beatifically, but exude an aura of passive aggression under the peaceful exterior."

    Man, true dat!

    I've watched meditating dudes intentionally sit in public places with closed eyes. Some have chanted, too. They often have faux-blissed-out smiles that radiate: "Look at me all you unfeeling, insensitive swine! I'm enlightened and evolved...and you're not."

    > "Without attention to feelings, mindfulness meditation is little more than a virtual lobotomy."


    Reminds me of a documentary on orphans taken into monasteries. The filmmaker thought it cruel that young kids were forced to sit zazen for hours at at time. It echoed how I feel about young boys in America who are given Ritalin to "calm down." Those little guys are going, literally, stir crazy! They need recess to burn off energy and gym classes to unwind.

    At least Dervish dancers whirl about while "meditating."

    I liked Jane Roberts, too, for breaking stereotypes. I never truly bought into her "channeling" Seth, but I definitely grokked her (smoking?) drinking beer while in-trance. Plus she felt dancing was a form of prayer.

    We are MEANT to move and make "joyous noise." Even Primals entail making moves and sounds.

    So why mimic the dead while we're alive? Oh, yes. I forgot:

    "Children should be seen and not heard."

    "Sit still!"

    "Stop being so fidgety."


    That is, we were taught to act dead/invisible/buried so adults' needs could be met.

  8. The people who are commenting here are silly people. I'd go into it, but there are always going to be silly people. But I may add, they are also superficial and terriably uneducated. Are these comments some vain attempt to sound knowledgable? Their anguish is almost palatable. I pity them. I honestly do. BJF

  9. I don't expect my comments to be was just a brief response. Like, do you think anything is really going to change?? Really??


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.