Is My Meditation Experience “Normal?”

Dr. Charles T. Tart, Mindfulness, Institute of Transpersonal Psychology,

Lecture 2, Part 7 of 15 parts. To start class from beginning, click here.

Student: The second thing I wondered about was that I definitely have a state change happen. It does seem to be consistent that the more I focus my breath the more I change into this other state. Is that normal? Is that what’s supposed to happen or is that a standard thing? Do you go through standard states when you focus?

CTT: Oh, the power I have to tell you whether you’re normal or not! (Laughter)

Student: Is it healthy or -? (Laughter)

CTT: Or transpersonal. Some people relatively normally get an altered state of consciousness of some sort, possibly several altered states of consciousness, from doing this kind of practice. Yes. And for those who are really into it, there are 8 concentrative meditation states, 8 jhanas, J-H-A-N-A-S, if I recall this correctly.

Student: J-N-A –

CTT: J-H-A-N-A-S. Jhanas. I don’t know. I’m probably terribly mispronouncing it, if anybody really knows Sanskrit. And they’re considered more and more profound but again they mean a better and better quality of focus. And they involve things that I find very difficult to understand because the descriptions say things like with the third jhana you have nothing but joy, equanimity, rapture and happiness.

But then when you get a little further along you didn’t have a crude feeling like happiness anymore. It’s just joy and rapture and equanimity and then you get beyond a crude feeling like equanimity. It experientially doesn’t connect with me. I can’t make any sense out of it. So yeah, some people get them regularly.

The Buddhist contribution was again in saying that increasing concentration per se doesn’t lead you to any ultimate kind of enlightenment, because you’re not understanding yourself better, you’re just deliberately holding yourself in a different kind of state of consciousness for a period – which isn’t bad. You know, if things are terrible and you can take a vacation for five hours, well you don’t have to suffer. That’s not bad! But the Buddha eventually ended up saying that for most people, they only have to develop a basic amount of concentrative meditation skill and then they can start applying insight meditation very effectively to produce the changes that lead to enlightenment.

Student: Okay.

CTT: So yes, you’re normal. (Laughter) I suppose. Maybe if you told me about the nature of the state, I’d say wow, you’re crazy man. But I doubt it. (Laughter)


  1. “It experientially doesn’t connect with me.”

    Me neither. Maybe there is a problem with the translation? Also reactions to meditation can vary termendously depending on what else is happening in your life and what is going on with your biochemistry at the moment. I think this confuses a lot of meditation students: what happens one day doesn’t happen the next – but it is because of factors that have nothing to do with meditation.

    “But the Buddha eventually ended up saying that for most people, they only have to develop a basic amount of concentrative meditation skill and then they can start applying insight meditation very effectively to produce the changes that lead to enlightenment.”

    Is this referring to the fact that when we start trying to concentrate and observing distracting thoughts we see that our mind is out of control and therefor our opinions, attachments, and aversions are not “reality” because they fluctuate and arise unintentionally? What we want from meditation is not an absolutely still mind but a better understanding of the inanity of our moving mind?

  2. @anonymous:
    >Is this referring to the fact that when we start trying to concentrate and observing distracting thoughts we see that our mind is out of control and therefor our opinions, attachments, and aversions are not “reality” because they fluctuate and arise unintentionally? What we want from meditation is not an absolutely still mind but a better understanding of the inanity of our moving mind?<
    When your mind is too unstable, too varying, too wild, you can't study it because it doesn't hold still long enough. I think the Buddhist term for what you need is something like access concentration, enough stability to make self-study worth while. To use a microscope analogy, if it's unstable, keeps going in and out of focus, your study of the microscopic world won't get very far. Once you've got reasonable stability, you can learn an enormous amount – you don't have to put off studying anything until you get the world's most powerful microscope….

  3. As both a computer scientist and spiritual seeker, I have been following and appreciating your work for quite a while, so before posing my question, I wish to thank you for many things but mostly for making me feel less alone on this challenging path 🙂

    My question mainly relates to the relationship between calm abiding / shamatha meditation, and clear insight / vipashyana meditation, as well as the gurdjieffian self-remembering practice.

    I’ve always had problems in practicing shamatha – actually I couldn’t understand what was required of me and even when I finally did, I found it really difficult.
    So I directly plunged into self-remembering and I think this somehow made me understand the rest of it, in that it helped me dis-identify from my thoughts and understand that there was a part of mind which, being somehow other-from-thought, could work with thoughts and go beyond thoughts.
    I know this sounds rather dualistic, but in the end that’s why in my opinion this kind of meditation is a tool and not a goal.

    However, the question is the following. From my early attempts, I’ve come to realize that I do not particularly enjoy shamatha meditation. So I tend do do more the other kinds of meditative practices (I am following the Dzogchen teaching in the Buddhist traditions, so there’s plenty of them, and I also try to follow Gurdjieff’s approach although I do not really have a Teacher there).
    Do you think there is some fundamental experience I am losing in not directly practicing shamatha? I mean, I know I am definitely not going to experience the eight absorption states (I actually think they are the eight dhyanas :-)), but apart from that?

    1. I wish I knew enough to unequivocally say what’s best…but I don’t.
      If I were a teacher in some particular spiritual system, I would know what the goal was and what I and my tradition thought was the best way to reach it…but I’m not.
      Like you, I’m a scientist and a spiritual seeker, I’m a curious person – what is reality, what is this mind, why does it work this way, where can it go, etc., etc. – and I’m also a typical person in that my interests and goals change from time to time.
      My understanding is that you can go into the jhana states of absorption if you get really, really good at shamatha, concentrative meditation. I’m not personally that interested in those. Perhaps this lack of interest is a rationalization because I’m not very good at concentration, perhaps???…. If I lived a miserable life, I would certainly treasure the ability to get into altered states from this type of meditation, states where I had no awareness of the ordinary world and body, the places I suffer, it would be like taking vacations.
      Of course you come back after a while and your problems are still there. Thus I go with the Buddhist idea that you need to just learn enough concentration to be able to examine your mind more effectively, and so discover what you’re doing to create your suffering and, understanding this, have more ability to change it. Plus I’m just damn curious about the mind, so being able to examine it better is cool!
      I used to worry that I couldn’t “go beyond thoughts,” but I think I have a more mature view now that thoughts aren’t the enemy, it’s getting stuck in thoughts all the time, mechanically pursuing them, that’s the problem. Thinking is one of our greatest human assets. Being controlled by our thoughts, instead of using them from within a greater spaciousness, is a problem….

    2. Hi Dancer
      I have been around one extremely well informed, experienced and well grounded Buddhist scholar who comments specifically on some of the issues you present. Alan Wallace: he was taught Shamatha practice by, and is a student of the Dalai Lama (the DL is his primary teacher, he lived in Dharmsala beginning at age 20) and dozens of other living Tibetan lamas who are the lineage holders.

      Many of us westerners go for meditation training and come away with nothing, I did for 20+ years then that changed quite dramatically. Alan says, my experience agrees, Shamatha, actually the samadhi one can develop via Shamatha practice, is an absolute prerequisite for Vipassana. If we cannot focus the mind how can we get insight?

      My experience is it does require careful application of the technique and considerable diligence. I did lots of work (I had to …) to clear emotional issues and residue first thru psychotherapy, self exploration using altered states including psychedelics. I feel most of us westerners will be able to deepen shamatha practice far more rapidly by that kind of psychic roto rooter. Its is essentially same process. Shamatha is the fine tooth comb to “heal the mind” (Alan words and also my experience) but effective psychotherapy heals the mind of the gross or extremely coarse emotional issues thar impair the ability to utilize the more subtly shamatha practice. You probably could do it all with Shamatha practice …. over numerous decades. I think Dan Brown and company wrote a tome decades ago: “Transformations of Consciousness” in which they amplify on the psychotherapy first thing. Commonly asians have less of the really gross stuff impairing deepening of meditation practice. And they are more natural “relaxers” than we are because of it. ONe must relax into it, not exert colossal effort. Our difficulty “getting” meditation, I suspect, overlaps with our need to clear emotional /mental “static” most of us live with, some with so much they are tormented to death, take their own life.

      I had to modify my life style to be sure I was getting rock solid and sufficient sleep, some physical exersize helps and time in nature helps. They say one must have squeeky clean ethics.

      Very small bits of progress brought me very big rewards in my daily life, very big. I hope that is encouraging, it is meant to be.

      Alans rather exacting instruction is embedded in presentation on Lucid Dreaming and Dream Yoga at:

      I found his instruction especially clear that day and thru an immediate experience of deep samadhi was changed permanently … and was induced to integrate daily practice by that one profound experience.

  4. I think you have to consider 1) what the particular type of meditation is purported to do for the practitioner, 2) how realistic it is that someone will attain those results, and 3) whether or not that type of meditation really gives the results it is purported to. Then pick a type of meditation that is likely to give you results that you want.

    I know of someone who could easily attain the state that in zen is called kensho – union of subject and object. This is supposed to demonstrate the oneness of all things and eliminate the delusion of self. This person wasn’t transformed by the experiece and thought it was not terribly enlightening. It was just a state. It would be unfortuante if someone else made a great effort for many years to attain the same ability to enter the state of kensho and after all that effort came to the same conclusion.

    I also know of someone else who spends many hours a day meditating for the purpose of releasing their flow of kundalini energy to get it to flow in a way that is not disruptive. My opinion (based on my own experiences) is that they are misunderstanding their situation and will never accomplish what they hope to through meditation. What they need to do is change their diet and life style to reduce levels of stress hormones in their body.

    In my opinion what is realistic for the average person to get from meditation is the reduction of egoism from noticing thoughts that arise during concentration meditation, a greater awareness of emotions from vipassana, and a calmer mind and relaxed body from relaxation exercises or meditation. There are also types of meditation for and .

    If someone wants to experience altered states of consciousness there is nothing wrong trying those types of meditations said to produce them. But the practioner should understand what the likelyhood of attaining that state really is.

    One last example is OBE’s. There are many meditation like exercises said to produce OBE’s. However OBEs, eventhough they seem real to the experiencer, tend to rarely generate correct verifiable information which suggests that most of the time, for most people, they are more like dreams than real spiritual experiences. It seems to me that it would be unfortunate for someone to spend a lot of time and effort to learn to have OBE’s and then discover that they are not “real”.

  5. I have to say that it’s really interesting to read the experiences of you who practise meditation. I see that it’s common to gain some of the same mental insights that I’ve gained through practising my particular school of Qigong.

    I’d like to ask about experience with meditation when it comes to fixing bodily problems? Since I practise Qigong, and we work with body, mind and qi in parallel, effects come through all three also. I’ve seen pretty serious physical cases get healed through intensive training, and have also experience pretty intense and fast physical changes myself (although the norm is a steady and gradual improvement). In fact, the healing effects on the body are viewd as basic effects, and one of the criteria for judging if a method is good or not. If the method can not heal the body, then it is viewed as unlikely that it can help improve or balance the mind. There is a saying that one can not have a calm mind with a painful body, since the mind gets disturbed all the time.

    I’ve heard that it is hard to get healing of physical diseases through meditation alone? Anyone here have any experience of this?


  6. The link I gave in my message above describes the healing technique I am familiar with. I haven’t done any clinical trials, but one of my experiences using it on myself is described here:

    I’ve been a healer during services at Spiritualist churches and at one time I was training to get certified by the association of churches we belonged to so I have seven affadavits of healing by people attesting to the fact that they felt some benefit from the healing. None of them are miraculous. One person felt cold symptoms relieved, another felt relief from depression, one had her knee which felt “out of place” pop back into place, one felt difficulty breathing was relieved.

    I’ve also had several people tell me they experienced unusual effects when I didn’t tell them I was sending healing to them from a distance.

    Spiritual healing is not well understood in our culture. People hear it and think of miracles. In reality, when used by the average healer, it’s more like therapy than an operation. It’s effects accumulate gradually over time rather than occur all at once from a single treatment.

    1. I’ve also had several people tell me they experienced unusual effects when I didn’t tell them I was sending healing to them from a distance. ~anonymous

      Unusual effects? Like what? (Sorry, I’m being bad.) 😉

      I can attest to anonymous’ claim. Having him send healing from a distance without any warning is, to say the least, an unusual experience. But I didn’t throw up, so it must not have been too bad, hehehe…

  7. Rocket, it is really interesting hearing about the various approaches that you’ve gone through in regards to meditation. I can’t imagine even doing this stuff for the next 20 years! Although, as it turns out, even after the short period of time I have been doing it, I’ve found it helpful. I don’t even know what the names of various meditations refer to at this point. I’m just trying to figure out in very basic terms what works and what doesn’t work for me. I think my goals are different than most. I’m not looking for enlightenment; I’m just looking for a little relief.

    I was pretty surprised at all the emotional stuff that started coming out with mindfulness. A lot of grief, guilt and fear mostly. I knew the fear was there, but the intensity of grief really surprised me. It helps to have someone to talk to when you go through this stuff. I was under the impression that meditation is just about relaxing, but there is much more to it than that.

    The latest thing that I’m noticing is a need to ease up on the control that meditation facilitates, at least a bit. I started doing this stuff to gain a bit of control over the anomalous cognition that I was experiencing (I have imaginary friends). It doesn’t seem very logical to me, but I have gained a lot of control in a short time. That is a good thing. I’m much more functional because of that aspect of meditation. But I do need to let myself play a bit sometimes.

    I find that the meditation makes me feel small enough to fit into my body where I belong. But sometimes I don’t want to fit, I want to stretch outside and play a bit. That’s when I’m most likely to have specific kinds of anomalous experiences. Oddly enough, now that I don’t HAVE to have such experiences (because I can control them better), I find I miss having them a little bit. So I need to find some balance.

    Interestingly, the sorts of anomalous experiences I’m more likely to have when doing the mindfulness meditation exercises are very different than the sort of experiences that I started meditating to gain control over. So in a sense I’ve just exchanged one set of odd experiences for another. I think Tor mentioned the word “kundalini”, which would probably apply to many of the unusual meditative experiences I’ve had.

    So just out of curiosity… What else don’t I know about meditation that maybe I should? It seems like all anyone really tells you is that it is a good way to relax. Is there some kind of “normal” to meditative experiences? Or do we all just take our chances and get what we get? ?:-)


    1. It requires the courage to become transparent to all the contents of your psyche. In my experience psychotherapy is the quickest route to turn down the “high amplitude” disruptive contents coming from our psyche. I suspect it requires more than chit chat analysis type therapy though that may help …. but down in the gut experience that shakes things up, induces what Gregory Bateson referred to as a “shift in deep unconscious epistemology … a spiritual experience” (that is from memory from a while back, I did not go back and verify wording … the book was “Steps to an Ecology of Mind” ) …. meaning the very way we construe reality … the way we see reality, the world and ourselves in it.

      Shamatha practice is a type of functioning quite different to what western cultures are based on. It is not about learning to do some new thing ….. it is almost totally about learning to stop doing things we are already doing. It is about doing less rather than more. Try to do nothing …. very difficult. Our minds are running us all over the place but with practice we can become much more still. Its fantastic fun. Also requires significant effort to make such a change.

      1. I should add: this isn’t easy. It means generating a new way of functioning that is foreign to most of us. A nine to five job makes it tougher still. One really needs to get away occasionally into “retreat” to focus totally on the task, to suspend completely for a period old ways of functioning.

      2. Rocket, I’m not very brave. I would never have chosen the path I’m on; I arrived here pretty much by accident. Just like I never planned on the NDEs occurring. Both were the result of stupid accidents. I feel pretty odd about even trying meditation, but it has given me tremendous relief.

        I actually don’t have very much difficulty being quiet inside. I have a lot of difficulty coping with all the noise and chatter from people around me. I don’t understand how people can be that way without going crazy. I would really like to be normal. I’ve wanted to be normal ever since I was old enough to understand that I was odd, but I don’t know how normal people do it.

        I’m currently reading Dr Tart’s Book, “The End of Materialism”, where he has something called “The Western Creed Exercise” in chapter one (the online video is at ). I tried the exercise, and I found myself laughing all the way through it. I could barely say the creed because it seemed so silly. After the exercise, what really hit home was the thought that if I could talk myself into believing the creed was true – or even if I could just pretend to believe this stuff in public – my life would be so much easier… probably less interesting, but so much easier…

        That realization actually made me cry. The normal that I want so badly is in some ways a very sad ideal.

        1. Referring to the work of Carl Jung, the Jungian Psychiatrist John Weir Perry MD and also of Stanislav Grof MD the most certain way to remain mired in the uncomfortable situation you seem to describe is to dig in your heels and refuse to delve fully into it. It is your psyche, after all, presenting these experiences… like it or not. Experience tells us the way to exit the woods is strait through them. The folks mentioned above all seem to concur. Normal is the booby prize.

  8. I have to agree regarding the emotional turmoil one can encounter. Even though I’m practising something that comes from the Chinese tradition and not the Indian, some of it sounds similar to me.

    As an example I can say something about my own experience.
    Just now I’m a bit frustrated at times, because I have to face some emotions that I thought was dealt with. They are stuck in the stomach region, and I recognise them from before as they used to be connected to existential angst I had a few years ago. It came about basically because the scientistic world view managed to make me doubt my own intellect and experience. It didn’t matter that I knew better. It got emotional and when that happened I easily fell victim of mental loops which made it all escalate out of control. I managed to understand the mental mechanisms that was the source of the problem, and through focus and practise managed to size control of my mind again. The emotions were still there though.. It seemed like they had attached themselves in the body somehow and gained a life of their own. But eventually, after a few months of no more feedback from the mind, they faded away.

    I thought that was the end of it, but now some of this physical emotional stuff came back. It is disconnected from my mind, at least as far as I can tell. And when I practise it gets really bad at times. That said, during my daily practise I can feel how this emotion move about and morph. At times it’s like it wants to go up through my throat, and when it does it feels like sadness. I won’t be surprised if I suddenly get an emotional eruption while I practise, because this feels much like pressure going up and wanting to get out.

    I’ve heard many experiences from others about emotional issues that come about while they practise. Some get angry, some get sad, some cry, some start laughing. it isn’t uncommon to suddenly remember repressed memories/emotions either. Usually after an initial crisis, things get better. These are all normal reactions, but from my understanding they seem to be much more common in the west than in the east. It seems to me that in general our emotional systems are in pretty bad shape here in the west.

    Sandy, about what one can await doing these exercises, I can only talk about what the system I use say. One can expect that body and mind healthier and more harmonious. But one one must also expect that changes come through reactions (physical and mental) that can be uncomfortable at times. But the gain is worth the pain. Later on abilities can manifest themselves, but all the way the body and mind will continue to improve: of course this is all depending on the effort one puts in and the type of person you are. Some find things more difficult that others. My particular qigong method aims to develop wisdom and and ability, which includes things far beyond my current understanding. But one always have to fix the basic first.

    Sandy, I think you said something about feeling you are awake and others are sleeping? From what I know, ultimately the goal of many methods are to help us wake up, to get the veil away from our eyes. But doing so in a way that keeps you in control. Not just an open door swamped by new information.

    Christ.. I keep rambling about.. My teacher would tell me to think less and practise more. I should follow his advice now 🙂


  9. “I have to agree regarding the emotional turmoil one can encounter. Even though I’m practising something that comes from the Chinese tradition and not the Indian, some of it sounds similar to me.”

    There was communication between the Indian subcontinent and China. Zen is a Japanese version of a Chinese version of Buddhism. Buddha was born in what is now Nepal. But anyway what you are describing is a human phenomena not a Chinese or Indian phenomena.

    “It is disconnected from my mind, at least as far as I can tell.”

    Good point. This happens to Buddhist’s too. I’m a Buddhist (as well as a Spiritualist), I took the five precepts at a Zen temple, so I can criticze Buddhism. It has a big flaw. It seems to imply that the mind can control itself entirely through mental techniques. This is not true. Buddhism ignores the fact that our physical brain and its biochemistry affects emotions. No one knew about that sort of stuff during Buddha’s time. They believed consciousness was non-physical, they believed in reincarnation etc.

    But, lots of emotions are disconnected from the mind. For example, some people have higher than normal levels of stress hormones and are prone to anxiety, other people might have lower than normal levels of neurotransmitters and get depression.

    Sometimes a person learns about Buddhism and thinks they are going to end suffering through meditation and fix their emotions. Unfortunately, while meditation can help people cope with organic biochemical problems, it is not going to cure them. Someone might think they can make drastic alterations in their biochemistry through mental techniques, and maybe, theoretically, it is possible, but for the average person it isn’t realistic.

    Meditation is great for calming emotions caused by the tumult of everyday life. However it is also good at bringing to consciousness deeper emotions not necessarily connected with specific events and those it sometimes leaves you dangling with. It can help to look for deeper causes of emotions and look for other ways of healing them. For example, for some people, improving their diet can help a lot. Anything that affects your mind, like alcohol, tobacco, caffeen, sugar and refined carbohydrates is going to disrupt your neurotransmitter levels and receptor levels and mess with your emotions.


    1. “There was communication between the Indian subcontinent and China. Zen is a Japanese version of a Chinese version of Buddhism. Buddha was born in what is now Nepal. But anyway what you are describing is a human phenomena not a Chinese or Indian phenomena.”

      Yes, true. As far as I know Qigong has roots far older than Buddhism or Taoism. Probably ancient cultures had this kind of insight way before any written records existed, even before we had written language.

      I can not comment on Buddhism specifically, but I do believe that it’s hard to fix the mind and emotional problems by meditation alone, unless you already have an exceptional starting point. In Zhineng Qigong we practise body and qi in addition to mind. So we work on three levels at the same time. Also, one important feature of the method is that of the qi-field. Having a lot of people practising our method in unison in a group created a much stronger qi-field than practising alone. Now, this sounds a bit esoteric maybe, but the effects are felt quite easily when practising in such a field. The difference between practising alone is big, and progress is much faster. Another important aspect is to have a teacher that has high Gung Fu (can translated as skill). This will heavily influence the quality of the field that one practise in. A good teacher in Zhineng Qigong can be compared to a powerful magnet. Without it, maybe the small rods of magnetite around it are pointing a bit randomly, but with it they change to point in a more orderly fashion. This is one of the most fascinating aspects about our method in my opinion. I’ve actually felt my mind shift when I’m in practising in such groups under our teacher. I become calmer, less chaotic, less emotional and more harmonious. If only I could maintain this state myself out in the world. That is one of my goals.

      My point here is twofold:

      1)I think it’s really hard to fix issues, especially those that have to do with the mind, unless you have a skilled teacher to help and guide you.

      2)Working with body and qi in addition to mind seems to be preferable than to working with just the mind. It follows the philosophy that we have an energy system in our body that is connected to, but more fundamental in some sense, than biochemistry. In some way this qi “knows” the optimum state of our system and will try to do it’s best to reach this state, affecting both body and mind (which is why in our method we always try to get more qi and waste less qi). Since all of these three aspects are part of being a human being, working with all should create constructive interference.


  10. Hi Tor,

    What you describe about the qi field reminds me of something that is true in mediumship. It is much easier to do mediumship in a group than alone. Also, I noticed that when one teacher was present I was able to percieve much more information from spirits than with other teachers.

    I’ve read a little about qi healing masters that can sense the qi field in a very detailed manner. In experiments with tissue cultures they can tell what’s going on in with the cell culture from the qi field. Spiritualism has nothing that even approaches this ability. Do you know how one learns the healing forms of qi-gong? Are there any schools in the US you know of?


  11. Hi anonymous,

    Yes, I’ve read some of that research too. A lot of has been done in China on this, but unfortunately I don’t know the Chinese language, so I can’t read those. The Qigong institute ( have a database where they try to translate research article abstracts from China. There has been done a little bit research on a few teachers/methods here in the west too.

    About how to learn this qi control, I guess that depends on the particular school. In our school we don’t focus on this aspect much. The reason is that the basics needs to be fixed first, and one needs enough qi and a high enough quality of qi. A martial artist is only interested in a lot of qi, the quality isn’t that important. They just want use the qi in a coarse way (knock the opponent down, shield themselves etc). For healing on the other hand one needs a finer quality, and thus need to improve this aspect of one’s own qi. If you’re interested there are some tips and advice for Qigong in general (including how to find a good method, how to evaluate it, what should make one skeptikal etc), and our method in particular, on our method’s homepage. You can find it here:

    I haven’t practised any other Qigong school, and don’t know enough about others to make any good suggestions. But if the teacher and method have done some solid research with good results, that should be a good sign. Unfortunately, as far as I know our school is only taught in Europe (outside China). Maybe you can find some info at the qigong institute? Be aware though.. there are a lot of hustler or down right mentally unstable “teachers” out there. And some copy the name of more famous schools without any real ability or insight. Practising under such teachers can be a waste of time or plain dangerous.


    1. Hmm.. I see the Qigong institute have a list of teachers. You could check there. I don’t know what qualifications any of them have so I would do some research on the method/teacher if you find some near you. Hope it helps 🙂


  12. @Rocket:
    >I did not put that smily face in there, Dr Tart did you do that?<
    I've been away at a retreat for ITP faculty, so just catching up.
    No, I didn't put the smiley face in there. I would never edit somebody else's words without their permission. So this is a mystery. Some funny character in your original post that the blog software interpreted as a smiley face?

  13. For the want of a neurolinguist, the Kingdom of Heaven was lost.

    We have a couple of word-problems here, each having to do with a harsh tendency toward literal-mindedness. When we are children we learn words by associating them with their object, and then, their concepts. The vehemence of the teaching glues a child too tightly to literal language. Dr. Seuss has been supplying an antidote to this for half a century.

    “Normal” and “meditation” are both problematical words in this discussion. A “normal meditation” means “psychologically correct”, no different from “politically correct,” which was a term invented by Stalinists. Where the fervent Stalinist is alarmed at his incorrect thoughts, the fervent meditator is in addition alarmed that his body isn’t “totally relaxed.”

    The word “meditation” has become super-glued to the religious notions of any nationality. This implies a rigid sort of morality or censoring of one’s thoughts or the images perceived in a “meditation.” Some must be good and right! Others, wrong and evil! Think only the good ones! Your Higher Consciousness can’t grow with wrong thoughts! “At least,” goes some reasoning, “we are meditating, and that puts us above the fray of the unwashed non-meditators who voted for George Bush.”

    A genuine meditation is a spontaneous and naturally creative quality of consciousness. It is as natural as the heartbeat (noting here the numbers who attempt to interfere with their own heartbeats, thinking they’ll “improve” it). One meditates when he is doing a chore, allowing his thoughts free reign. They may linger on a subject. At the risk of sounding blasphemous, looking at pornography is a meditation. So is being absorbed in a book. So is gazing out the window. I am writing a meditation this moment. Forcing oneself into a given technique and calling that “meditation” can instead form a little battlefield — am I meditating right? Is what I am imagining normal? This muddies the natural attribute the word connotes — and denotes, unless the lexicographers have deferred to popular swamis these days.

    It is worse when one poses himself with the idea of “reaching higher consciousness through meditation.” We have taken ancient concepts too literally, and suppose “higher consciousness” is like ascending some imaginary staircase to some spiritual goal, laid out in narrowly defined steps fraught with the perils of psychologically incorrect thinking. But few of us can avoid thinking of a rhinocerous when the word is mentioned. If this rhinocerous is psychologically incorrect, we’re in trouble just for thinking it. Take two steps down, your consciousness just got lower, “further from God,” and closer to a rhinocerous.

    Gazing out the window on a rainy afternoon, letting one’s thoughts breathe as they will, already IS “higher consciousness.” The better term is “expanded consciousness.” Any meditation is a natural expansion of thoughts and of one’s awareness to whatever degree.

    “Normal” is a psychologically disastrous term. It’s synonymous with “the right way to exist,” and therein, another little moral battle among one’s own parts about “abnormal” thinking — and the behavior it could lead to! “Is the noise in my head bothering you?” (From “The Gods Must Be Crazy”)

    It isn’t that setting aside a certain amount of time in the day to employ a mental technigue is a wrong thing to do; but it is that the employment of such techniques of themselves have long become overgrown with “rights and wrongs”. Because of that, a natural inner psychological view of oneself becomes obscured, and the purpose is defeated.

    Attempting to “silence one’s thoughts” is also problematical. That’s like a tree deciding it must not grow so many leaves, as they do not serve its “higher purpose.” Once again, try blocking a rhinocerous out of your mind. It is a dangerous rhinocerous. Please do not think of a rhinocerous. It is immoral and psychologically incorrect to think of this rhinocerous.

    …or meditate on this rhinocerous. Follow your associations with it and the word as well as you can. Inspiration — which is the natural result of meditation unfettered by dusty instructions — will follow, large or small.

    One needs no permission to think freely. So many believe that. Why?

  14. @Tom Dark:
    You and others, Tom, are working with an important point here.
    “Meditation” is almost a meaningless word because it’s used to mean so many different things, often by the same writer in the same writing. And by “writer” I include people who are supposed to be spiritual masters!
    If you looked for the lowest common denominator, you might say “meditation” implies that someone does something with their mind that they think is importantly different from our usual thinking. There’s usually an implication that this makes the doer special in some vaguely spiritual way.
    It’s a nice way to make friends, I “meditate,” you “meditate,” we must have something important in common.
    But if you want to take communication beyond this too vague level, you’ve got to specify just what you mean by the word in the context you’re using it in.
    I’ve been on many semantic crusades in my life, trying to get some term used clearly and consistently. It doesn’t work, people will use words the way they want to. But at least if you specify what it is you mean in a given context, you’re more likely to be understood and get meaningful replies.
    I should illustrate what I mean.
    For example, sometimes when I “meditate,” I mean:
    -I sit quietly with an expectation, implicit, sometimes explicit, that I am doing something valuable that will help my understanding of and use of my mind
    (The expectation you sit down with may be more important than the formal practices)
    -I resolve not to fidget, so sit comfortably
    -I sit in a reasonably upright posture, comfortable enough that I don’t have to fidget much, not so comfortable that I easily fall asleep
    -If I am doing the kind of “body vipassana” technique I learned from Shinzen Young, I remind myself that I am trying to do 3 primary things
    -use and learn better concentration skills, that is staying on task
    -develop clarity about what I perceive
    -develop equanimity about what I perceive, let the specified range of things happen without trying to make things I like happen more or things I dislike happen less
    -I set a timer for a fixed period, say 20 minutes, so I won’t need to be concerned about the time
    -I set a clear perceptual goal, let’s say, for this example, noticing whatever the strongest body sensation at any given moment is
    -I remind myself not to go crazy with “Is this really the strongest body sensation or only the second strongest one, etc.?”
    -I observe the strongest body sensation
    -As I learn this skill, I see more subtle shades of various sensations
    -When a sensation fades I let it fade and switch to observing whatever the new strongest of the moment body sensation is
    -When I find I’m doing something that is not observing body sensation, such as wondering how to repair my bulldozer or how to express something in a paper I’m working on or wondering how much longer I’ll have to sit here, I gently come back to observing whatever the strongest body sensation of the moment is
    -If I observe myself wondering why my mind has wandered, I come back to the strongest body sensation of the moment, for I know that the “Why?” is an infinite regression of thoughts, and for now I’m intending to observe body sensations with clarity, concentration, and equanimity.
    (I don’t need to practice thinking, I’m already good at that….)
    If I do the above reasonably well, I consider it a “good” meditation. If I spend my whole time with my mind wandering….well I’m hard on myself and think it was a poor meditation. But even the “poor” ones may have given me a lot of practice at concentrating under difficult conditions of distraction.
    If I’m describing this kind of meditation practice to someone who is skilled at it, I may make much finer distinctions.
    At other times I do other things that I could vaguely and generally call “meditation,” but all could be specified much more completely.
    Anyway, long rant, but if you folks want to exchange info about “meditation” more profitably, it could help a lot to say exactly what you mean.

  15. I’ve tried the “body vipassana” technique you mention, Dr Tart. I found it on the IONS site at the end of an audio presentation ( ). I’ve only tried it a couple of times, but I find it highly entertaining. That probably isn’t the normal reaction. (I guess I shouldn’t use the word normal, or I’ll get into trouble now. How about “typical” or “characteristic” reaction instead?)

    I had the lab all to myself this morning. I was just feeding samples into a machine, waiting for the machine to beep, and putting through the next sample. I found myself doing the body vipassana just to pass the time between samples. The beep would go off every 10 minutes or so, and I would stop and set up the next sample. It was actually quite fun noticing how the strongest sensation moves around. After a while I kept noticing the feelings even while feeding samples into the machine. Very entertaining. I giggled a lot. :-))

  16. “In experiments with tissue cultures they can tell what’s going on in with the cell culture from the qi field. … Do you know how one learns the healing forms of qi-gong? “

    I found the answer to my question here:

    The form is called External Qi Healing (Wai Qi Zhi Liao)

    and here:


    It seems the way you develop sensitivity to the qi field is to do a type of meditation where you hold your hands with the palms facing each other, moving them together and apart slowly in synchrony with breathing. This makes perfect sense. As you move your palms together and apart you move them through your own energy field so you develop sensitivity by observing your own field.

  17. Anonymous,

    As long as you can find a good teacher it sounds ok. I would be a bit careful to practise this by myself without proper guidance. You can end up getting lost in the forest.

    Developing sensitivity to qi is, as I understand it, one of the basic steps of development in many qigong schools. It can also be a good sign for the quality of the teacher/school if this feeling comes fast. That said, there are many ways one can feel qi. Feeling qi is one of those things that needs to be experienced. It’s hard to explain.


  18. … I want to stress I do not wish to minimize your yearning for a more ordinary experience. I do strongly suspect you may find more of that kind of stability in the long haul as well as enrichments it may be difficult to imagine now.

    1. Rocket,

      I didn’t take any offense to your responses in regards to my situation. I do know that normal is probably overrated. It just looks easier sometimes. I don’t crave normal or beg my counselor for a cure anymore, and I think the meditation exercises have helped with that. I even have moments of feeling gifted despite my generally ambivalent attitude towards anomalous cognition.

      I know that there is a trend for everyone to claim to be a NDEr these days. The one thing I’ve noticed from corresponding with other people who have actually gone through a NDE is that many of us need help in coping with the experience. It is the most wonderful experience to ever f*ck you up, lol.

      Sandy 🙂

  19. @Sandy:
    This October 16-17, in San Diego, IANDS, the International Association for Near-Death Studies, will have its annual meeting. I may be one of the speakers. I’ve been to one of their annual meetings once before, and it was impressive and stimulating and humbling as could be to be among so many people who had gone thru their own NDEs, as well as researchers being there. Check out their web site.

    1. I am familiar with IANDS, Dr Tart, but thank you for the suggestion. Even though I correspond with a few NDErs, I’ve never sat down with another NDEr and discussed the experience. I would love to get the chance to do that some day. Even in correspondence, it is surprising that there is almost an unspoken language of understanding between NDErs. Things that I can’t get across about the experience to anyone else, another NDEr will figure out immediately.

      When I was first looking to “cure” myself of anomalous experiences, a very kind parapsychologist gave me the phone number of a psychic he had worked with so I could talk to someone familiar with such experiences. That did help a lot, but I actually find that I have much more in common with other NDErs than with psychics or mediums. Even NDErs who have not had the sorts of anomalous cognition that I am trying to cope with.

      I was so shocked by how “normal” a NDEr I am in many respects based on information from the IANDS website. Things like the transformative effect of the experience – I went from an artist/musician to a scientist – were what really surprised me most. I had no idea that there were other people who had gone through similar changes. And the homesickness for the NDE place. I used to think I was the only person in the world homesick for being dead, but other people feel that too.

      It is an amazing experience, but it can be difficult to carry such a thing in this world.


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