Dogma-free meditation for calming your mind
How to stay present and stop your mind from fixating.
Damien Echols: You don't have to believe in it. There's no dogma. Even like I said it uses iconography and symbolism from things like gnostic Christianity and esoteric Judaism, things like that. But it doesn't require you to believe in these things. The reason it uses this symbolism is, for example, in the part of the country that I grew up in there are literally places where you come to a four way stop and there are churches on all four corners. So even if you're completely atheist, even if you're repelled by these things, they are still part of your psyche, still part of our culture. So we on some level respond to those things in some way. That doesn't mean we necessarily have to believe in them for magick to work.
Like I said the people who devise these techniques wanted to know what works, why it works, how it works, and how we can make it work better. You don't have to believe in any of this any more than you have to believe that your muscles are going to get bigger by going to the gym.
The way that I guess one of the things that was so hard about Eastern traditions like Zen was you focus almost entirely on staying in the present moment all the time. That is really, really hard. Once you actually start trying to do that you realize how out of control your thoughts are. Our thoughts chase themselves around like a dog chasing its own tail all the time from the time we get up until the time we go to sleep. And a lot of the Eastern traditions deal with almost wrestling against that. Every time you realize you're doing it, bringing yourself back to the present moment, back to the present moment over and over and over. For me I didn't get a lot of results out of that. I never found myself in the present moment m ore than I was whenever I started the practices. Ceremonial magick on the other hand what it does is it doesn't really address that at all. Instead you're dealing like, for example, on energy circulation practices where you're circulating chi through different parts of your body, you're trying to energize different energy centers. It runs down through your spine. Doing that as a side effect you become more and more present. And I didn't even realize a lot of these practices say, for example, the lesser banishing ritual of the pentagram, when you would learn these things traditionally the organization, the Order, would give you these exercises and they would not tell you what they're going to do. They would not tell you what they're for. They would say "go practice this for a year, come back and talk to us then. And if you're interested in learning more and going forward we'll talk about it then." Whenever you came back they would say "okay, well what did you experience?" That's how they would know if you had actually been practicing them or not. So I would practice these techniques, the middle pillar, the lesser banishing ritual of the pentagram, and one day while I was in prison I bent over to tie my shoes and I realized, without even trying to do so, I was in the present moment. And it was almost like an atomic bomb going off because it was for the very first time in my life I realized "oh my god, I'm completely in the present moment!" Of course the second you think that it's shattered, and you're back to thinking or whatever. But it was even after years of Zen practice it was the first time that I had truly experienced that, and it was due to ceremonial magick.
One of the techniques that I use, you know, the analogy I used earlier about flushing yourself out like a cup of water, this is a technique that flushes our thoughts out. If you have a song going through your head over and over or if you're reliving an argument you had with someone a year ago, if you're obsessed over something that you can't get out of your head, this technique is good for that as well as just general meditation purposes. It doesn't have a name. I usually just refer to it as the prison cell meditation. But if you're interested I'll do that. Is that okay? All right. You start by closing your eyes and then you envision yourself in a prison cell. Standing in the center of a cell, everything is white. The walls are white. The ceiling is white. The floors are white. The only thing there is in the cell other than you on the back wall is a slit of a window. And it's up so high that the only way that you can reach it, the only way you can see out of it is by gripping the window ledge high above your head and hoisting yourself up by sheer, brute, physical upper body strength. Almost like you're doing a pull up or a chin up. So you want to bring as much tactile sensation to the visualization as you possibly can. You want to feel it as much as you can. So picture yourself walking to the back of this wall, pressing yourself against it, reaching up with your hands and gripping the edge of that windowsill with your fingertips. Try to feel what the back wall of that prison cell would feel like pressed against the side of your face, pressed against your torso. Feel the coldness of it, the grittiness of it. And as you start to lift yourself up off the floor using just your arms try to feel what that would actually feel like. Feel the muscles in your shoulders. Feel the muscles in your chest, in your abdomen firing, tensing as you're pulling yourself up.
Try to feel what the wall would feel like as you scrape against it lifting yourself slowly by sheer strength. As your eyes crest over the rim of the window white light bursts through the window, floods through the window, and obliterates everything: The cell, you, everything, until there's only white light remaining.
Do it again. Press yourself against the back of the wall, reach up with both hands, and grip the edge of the windowsill. Feel the muscles in your chest, in your abdomen, in your shoulders tensing as you start to lift yourself up. Feel the wall scrape against the front of your thighs, against the side of your face as you hoist yourself until your eyes come over the edge of the window frame, and then white light comes flooding in through the window obliterating everything – you, the cell, until there's only white light.
Once more. Feel yourself pressed against the wall, raise your arms, hook your fingertips over the window ledge. Begin to raise yourself slowly up by sheer strength, feeling the muscles in your shoulders, your chest, your torso straining as you lift your body weight. Feel the wall of the prison cell as you scrub against it; and as your eyes go over the edge of the window frame, white light comes flooding in, obliterating everything.
And this is one of those things you can do for as long as you have time. You can do it five times, you can do it ten times. The longer you do it the more effective it is. And it gives you something to work with in your visualization instead of just trying to stay in the present moment, which is really, really hard.
- Damien Echols was wrongfully imprisoned and put on death row for 18 years. He credits dogma-free meditation with helping him stay sane during that difficult time.
- Keeping your mind in the present moment requires practice, but mastering meditation of any kind can show clear medical benefits like lowered blood pressure and better sleep.
- Damien's meditation technique of choice was Magick, or what he describes as energy circulation via non-religious rituals.
- How 10 Minutes of Meditation Can Reshape Your Mind ›
- How to meditate when you're bad at it - Big Think ›
Can Impossible Foods beat other brands — like Beyond Meat and Tyson — in the war to dominate the alternative meat industry?
- The Impossible Burger will be available in 27 Gelson's Markets stores in Southern California starting Sept. 20.
- Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods sell plant-based burgers in restaurants, but only Beyond Meat sells products in grocery stores.
- Tyson could begin to edge out these smaller companies with its unique meat product that contains plant and animal components, appealing to health-conscious "flexitarians."
Most elderly individuals' brains degrade over time, but some match — or even outperform — younger individuals on cognitive tests.
- "Super-agers" seem to escape the decline in cognitive function that affects most of the elderly population.
- New research suggests this is because of higher functional connectivity in key brain networks.
- It's not clear what the specific reason for this is, but research has uncovered several activities that encourage greater brain health in old age.
At some point in our 20s or 30s, something starts to change in our brains. They begin to shrink a little bit. The myelin that insulates our nerves begins to lose some of its integrity. Fewer and fewer chemical messages get sent as our brains make fewer neurotransmitters.
As we get older, these processes increase. Brain weight decreases by about 5 percent per decade after 40. The frontal lobe and hippocampus — areas related to memory encoding — begin to shrink mainly around 60 or 70. But this is just an unfortunate reality; you can't always be young, and things will begin to break down eventually. That's part of the reason why some individuals think that we should all hope for a life that ends by 75, before the worst effects of time sink in.
But this might be a touch premature. Some lucky individuals seem to resist these destructive forces working on our brains. In cognitive tests, these 80-year-old "super-agers" perform just as well as individuals in their 20s.
Just as sharp as the whippersnappers
To find out what's behind the phenomenon of super-agers, researchers conducted a study examining the brains and cognitive performances of two groups: 41 young adults between the ages of 18 and 35 and 40 older adults between the ages of 60 and 80.
First, the researchers administered a series of cognitive tests, like the California Verbal Learning Test (CVLT) and the Trail Making Test (TMT). Seventeen members of the older group scored at or above the mean scores of the younger group. That is, these 17 could be considered super-agers, performing at the same level as the younger study participants. Aside from these individuals, members of the older group tended to perform less well on the cognitive tests. Then, the researchers scanned all participants' brains in an fMRI, paying special attention to two portions of the brain: the default mode network and the salience network.
The default mode network is, as its name might suggest, a series of brain regions that are active by default — when we're not engaged in a task, they tend to show higher levels of activity. It also appears to be very related to thinking about one's self, thinking about others, as well as aspects of memory and thinking about the future.
The salience network is another network of brain regions, so named because it appears deeply linked to detecting and integrating salient emotional and sensory stimuli. (In neuroscience, saliency refers to how much an item "sticks out"). Both of these networks are also extremely important to overall cognitive function, and in super-agers, the activity in these networks was more coordinated than in their peers.
An image of the brain highlighting the regions associated with the default mode network.
How to ensure brain health in old age
While prior research has identified some genetic influences on how "gracefully" the brain ages, there are likely activities that can encourage brain health. "We hope to identify things we can prescribe for people that would help them be more like a superager," said Bradford Dickerson, one of the researchers in this study, in a statement. "It's not as likely to be a pill as more likely to be recommendations for lifestyle, diet, and exercise. That's one of the long-term goals of this study — to try to help people become superagers if they want to."
To date, there is some preliminary evidence of ways that you can keep your brain younger longer. For instance, more education and a cognitively demanding job predicts having higher cognitive abilities in old age. Generally speaking, the adage of "use it or lose it" appears to hold true; having a cognitively active lifestyle helps to protect your brain in old age. So, it might be tempting to fill your golden years with beer and reruns of CSI, but it's unlikely to help you keep your edge.
Aside from these intuitive ways to keep your brain healthy, regular exercise appears to boost cognitive health in old age, as Dickinson mentioned. Diet is also a protective factor, especially for diets delivering omega-3 fatty acids (which can be found in fish oil), polyphenols (found in dark chocolate!), vitamin D (egg yolks and sunlight), and the B vitamins (meat, eggs, and legumes). There's also evidence that having a healthy social life in old age can protect against cognitive decline.
For many, the physical decline associated with old age is an expected side effect of a life well-lived. But the idea that our intellect will also degrade can be a much scarier reality. Fortunately, the existence of super-agers shows that at the very least, we don't have to accept cognitive decline without a fight.
The move comes one day before more than 1,500 Amazon employees are set to walk off the job as part of the global climate strikes.
- Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos announced on Thursday plans to swiftly combat climate change.
- Some parts of the plan include becoming carbon neutral by 2040, buying 100,000 electric delivery vans and reaching zero emissions by 2030.
- Some Amazon employees say the pledge is good but doesn't go far enough.