entropy. dissonance. chaos. These are words we normally associate with times of tension and lack of clarity, and they may even resonate with the complexity of challenges in the world that we are facing collectively today. Yet, it is this uncomfortable act that throws an established pattern up into the air and spun every which way around, and ultimately makes room for something new to emerge. It is what happened with the Big Bang, with the invention with electricity and penicillin, and is what happens in nature with large events like volcanic eruptions and earthquakes. It is also the tactic that farmers, conservationists, gardeners and wild animals use to stir up the soil and create movement for growth; space for new life. Why then, when it comes to chaos in human terms, are we so ill-equipped to understand and embrace disruption as a means for creative transformation?
This is the fertile ground that Michael Pollen explores in his book, How to Change your Mind. In many ways it is a link to how both both yoga and psychedelics work, or any large scale disruption — even like the one that is unfolding in real time.
One of the aspects of Pollen’s book is in recounting ongoing various medical research like the image below taken in 2014 for the Journal of the Royal Society Interface. Image (a) is of a placebo, and (b) is the brain on psilosybin. He goes into detail about the brain’s setting called the default mode network, or DMN, that is responsible for how we think about ourselves, our anxieties about the future as well as how we retain our past memories. The DMN helps us to create a consistent story about ourself across time, which maintains a kind of autobiography. In some ways, we need the DMN because it helps us to regulate new information and formulate stories about ourself and who we want to be over time. The problem is, it limits the function of the brain and how we might think differently. It locks us into a low-level pattern that prevents us from seeing new ideas in the way that a child sees things with fresh eyes.
One of the reasons that psychedelics work to reset the brain, is that they reduce the flow of blood to the brain and send it into a temporary state of entropy. In doing so, there is a heightened potential for new neural connections.
In some ways the persistent yogi is interested in the same things as a psychonaut – throwing the mind into a disrupted state to achieve higher states of consciousness. Both are using different techniques to ‘trip’ the mind out of habit patterns that lead to suffering: misunderstanding our true nature (which yogis and psychonauts alike report is Love); the ego which clings to our preferences and uses our aversions to create strong boundaries of opposition; and fear.
It’s no surprise that the late, great Ram Dass, born as Richard Alpert, seemed to hold the key to enlightenment in his teachings surrounding the basic idea that at our base level, we are all Loving Awareness. After co-creating the psychedelic revolution at Harvard with Timothy Leary, both were fired in a dramatic ousting instigated by a young, slightly misguided Dr. Andrew Weil just as the US government was losing control of their youth; the Love Revolution was a threat to the war machine. What seemed like a catastrophe at the time led to his pilgrimage to India, meeting Neem Karoli Baba, becoming Baba Ram Dass, and committing his life to spiritual service. When he passed away last December 22, 2019 he was mourned by hundred’s of thousands of people from all walks of life, all over the world.
Disruption comes in many forms. The house where I live was built in 1890, and it seems that the ivy and roses have been growing on the courtyard’s walls for nearly as long. While it provides a wonderful habitat for the birds, bees and other insects, I was told that if I didn’t cut it all back, it would likely die off. It’s what is known in gardening terms as the ‘hard cut’; the concept that a drastic measure needs to be taken for regeneration. A forest fire can be a ‘hard cut’, for despite the atrocity of habitat loss, the ash is fertile ground for mycelium and new undergrowth to rebuild a diverse and balanced ecosystem from scratch. A near-death experience, losing a loved one… even a pandemic can even be seen as a ‘hard cut’. All of life, from the tiniest cell to the largest tectonic plate rely on typical, and atypical movement. In order to recover from trauma, an animal’s nervous system goes into spasm to ‘shake’ the trauma off. Life needs to be shaken up in a myriad of ways to break things down and cleanse itself, to get back to basics in order to grow stronger. This is the essence of Shiva.
So whether you decide to Mary Condo your closet, trim the hedges way back, have lived through a life-threatening illness, or are stuck in a CV-19 zone where you need to re-evaluate how you go about the day to day, there is an element of disruption that provides a platform for living and evolving in a different way – one that is simpler, more sustainable…one we may have never dreamt possible.