How Carl Jung Inspired the Creation of Alcoholics Anonymous

There may be as many doors into Alco­holics Anony­mous in the 21st cen­tu­ry as there are peo­ple who walk through them—from every world reli­gion to no reli­gion. The “inter­na­tion­al mutu­al-aid fel­low­ship” has had “a sig­nif­i­cant and long-term effect on the cul­ture of the Unit­ed States,” writes Worces­ter State Uni­ver­si­ty pro­fes­sor of psy­chol­o­gy Charles Fox at Aeon. Indeed, its influ­ence is glob­al. From its incep­tion in 1935, A.A. has rep­re­sent­ed an “enor­mous­ly pop­u­lar ther­a­py, and a tes­ta­ment to the inter­dis­ci­pli­nary nature of health and well­ness.”

A.A. has also rep­re­sent­ed, at least cul­tur­al­ly, a remark­able syn­the­sis of behav­ioral sci­ence and spir­i­tu­al­i­ty that trans­lates into scores of dif­fer­ent lan­guages, beliefs, and prac­tices. Or at least that’s the way it can appear from brows­ing the scores of books on A.A.’s 12-Steps and Bud­dhism, Yoga, Catholi­cism, Judaism, Indige­nous faith tra­di­tions, shaman­ist prac­tices, Sto­icism, sec­u­lar human­ism, and, of course, psy­chol­o­gy.

His­tor­i­cal­ly, and often in prac­tice, how­ev­er, the (non)organization of world­wide fel­low­ships has rep­re­sent­ed a much nar­row­er tra­di­tion, inher­it­ed from the evan­gel­i­cal (small “e”) Chris­t­ian Oxford Group, or as A.A. founder Bill Wil­son called them, “the ‘O.G.’” Wil­son cred­its the Oxford Group for the method­ol­o­gy of A.A.: “their large empha­sis upon the prin­ci­ples of self-sur­vey, con­fes­sion, resti­tu­tion, and the giv­ing of one­self in ser­vice to oth­ers.”

The Oxford Group’s the­ol­o­gy, though qual­i­fied and tem­pered, also made its way into many of A.A.’s basic prin­ci­ples. But for the recov­ery group’s gen­e­sis, Wil­son cites a more sec­u­lar author­i­ty, Carl Jung. The famous Swiss psy­chi­a­trist took a keen inter­est in alco­holism in the 1920s. Wil­son wrote to Jung in 1961 to express his “great appre­ci­a­tion” for his efforts. “A cer­tain con­ver­sa­tion you once had with one of your patients, a Mr. Row­land H. back in the ear­ly 1930’s,” Wil­son explains, “did play a crit­i­cal role in the found­ing of our Fel­low­ship.”

Jung may not have known his influ­ence on the recov­ery move­ment, Wil­son says, although alco­holics had account­ed for “about 13 per­cent of all admis­sions” in his prac­tice, notes Fox. One of his patients, Row­land H.—or Row­land Haz­ard, “invest­ment banker and for­mer state sen­a­tor from Rhode Island”—came to Jung in des­per­a­tion, saw him dai­ly for a peri­od of sev­er­al months, stopped drink­ing, then relapsed. Brought back to Jung by his cousin, Haz­ard was told that his case was hope­less short of a reli­gious con­ver­sion. As Wil­son puts it in his let­ter:

[Y]ou frankly told him of his hope­less­ness, so far as any fur­ther med­ical or psy­chi­atric treat­ment might be con­cerned. This can­did and hum­ble state­ment of yours was beyond doubt the first foun­da­tion stone upon which our Soci­ety has since been built.

Jung also told Haz­ard that con­ver­sion expe­ri­ences were incred­i­bly rare and rec­om­mend­ed that he “place him­self in a reli­gious atmos­phere and hope for the best,” as Wil­son remem­bers. But he did not spec­i­fy any par­tic­u­lar reli­gion. Haz­ard dis­cov­ered the Oxford Group. He might, as far as Jung was con­cerned, have met God as he under­stood it any­where. “His crav­ing for alco­hol was the equiv­a­lent,” wrote the psy­chi­a­trist in a reply to Wil­son, “on a low lev­el, of the spir­i­tu­al thirst of our being for whole­ness, expressed in medieval lan­guage: the union with God.”

In his reply let­ter to Wil­son, Jung uses reli­gious lan­guage alle­gor­i­cal­ly. AA took the idea of con­ver­sion more lit­er­al­ly. Though it wres­tled with the plight of the agnos­tic, the Big Book con­clud­ed that such peo­ple must even­tu­al­ly see the light. Jung, on the oth­er hand, seems very care­ful to avoid a strict­ly reli­gious inter­pre­ta­tion of his advice to Haz­ard, who start­ed the first small group that would con­vert Wil­son to sobri­ety and to Oxford Group meth­ods.

“How could one for­mu­late such an insight that is not mis­un­der­stood in our days?” Jung asks. “The only right and legit­i­mate way to such an expe­ri­ence is that it hap­pens to you in real­i­ty and it can only hap­pen to you when you walk on a path which leads you to a high­er under­stand­ing.” Sobri­ety could be achieved through “a high­er edu­ca­tion of the mind beyond the con­fines of mere rationalism”—through an enlight­en­ment or con­ver­sion expe­ri­ence, that is. It might also occur through “an act of grace or through a per­son­al and hon­est con­tact with friends.”

Though most found­ing mem­bers of AA fought for the stricter inter­pre­ta­tion of Jung’s pre­scrip­tion, Wil­son always enter­tained the idea that mul­ti­ple paths might bring alco­holics to the same goal, even includ­ing mod­ern med­i­cine. He drew on the med­ical opin­ions of Dr. William D. Silk­worth, who the­o­rized that alco­holism was in part a phys­i­cal dis­ease, “a sort of metab­o­lism dif­fi­cul­ty which he then called an aller­gy.” Even after his own con­ver­sion expe­ri­ence, which Silk­worth, like Jung, rec­om­mend­ed he pur­sue, Wil­son exper­i­ment­ed with vit­a­min ther­a­pies, through the influ­ence of Aldous Hux­ley.

His search to under­stand his mys­ti­cal “white light” moment in a New York detox room also led Wil­son to William James’ Vari­eties of Reli­gious Expe­ri­ence. The book “gave me the real­iza­tion,” he wrote to Jung, “that most con­ver­sion expe­ri­ences, what­ev­er their vari­ety, do have a com­mon denom­i­na­tor of ego col­lapse at depth.” He even thought that LSD could act as such a “tem­po­rary ego-reduc­er” after he took the drug under super­vi­sion of British psy­chi­a­trist Humphrey Osmond. (Jung like­ly would have opposed what he called “short cuts” like psy­che­del­ic drugs.)

In the let­ters between Wil­son and Jung, as Ian McCabe argues in Carl Jung and Alco­holics Anony­mous, we see mutu­al admi­ra­tion between the two, as well as mutu­al influ­ence. “Bill Wil­son,” writes McCabe’s pub­lish­er, “was encour­aged by Jung’s writ­ings to pro­mote the spir­i­tu­al aspect of recov­ery,” an aspect that took on a par­tic­u­lar­ly reli­gious char­ac­ter in Alco­holics Anony­mous. For his part, Jung, “influ­enced by A.A.’s suc­cess… gave ‘com­plete and detailed instruc­tions’ on how the A.A. group for­mat could be devel­oped fur­ther and used by ‘gen­er­al neu­rotics.’” And so it has, though more on the Oxford Group mod­el than the more mys­ti­cal Jun­gian. It might well have been oth­er­wise.

Read more about Jung’s influ­ence on AA over at Aeon.

Note: Note: An ear­li­er ver­sion of this post appeared on our site in 2019.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Carl Jung Offers an Intro­duc­tion to His Psy­cho­log­i­cal Thought in a 3‑Hour Inter­view (1957)

Take Carl Jung’s Word Asso­ci­a­tion Test, a Quick Route Into the Sub­con­scious (1910)

Carl Jung’s Hand-Drawn, Rarely-Seen Man­u­script The Red Book

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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When the CIA Studied Psychic Techniques to Alter Human Consciousness & Unlock Time Travel: Discover “The Gateway Process”

By now, it’s wide­ly known that the Cen­tral Intel­li­gence Agency ran a decades-long pro­gram of exper­i­ments involv­ing LSD and oth­er psy­choac­tive drugs called MKUl­tra from the nine­teen-fifties to the sev­en­ties. As one might sus­pect, that was­n’t the only research project into the manip­u­la­tion of human con­scious­ness the CIA had going on in the twen­ti­eth cen­tu­ry. Anoth­er, a study of some­thing called the Gate­way Process, has more recent­ly come to wide atten­tion through an unlike­ly chan­nel. The rel­e­vant doc­u­ments “had been declas­si­fied for decades — but a new, younger audi­ence was intro­duced to the Gate­way when Tik­Tok caught on in 2021.”

So writes Elle’s Han­nah Sum­mer­hill, a self-described “long­time seek­er” recep­tive to the Gate­way Process’ con­cept of har­ness­ing not drugs but sound to “the art of becom­ing more con­scious of one’s par­tic­u­lar inner resources, inner abil­i­ties, and, most of all, one’s inner guid­ance.” The doc­u­men­ta­tion breaks down the lev­els of focus thus the­o­ret­i­cal­ly achiev­able into a series of lev­els: Focus 10 is “a med­i­ta­tive state con­ducive to heal­ing, psy­chic abil­i­ties, and remote view­ing (the abil­i­ty to ‘see’ objects in real time from a dis­tance). In the deep­er Focus 12 state, par­tic­i­pants report meet­ing their high­er selves; in Focus 15, they can manip­u­late time and chan­nel a ‘strong and guid­ing’ God-like fig­ure.”

All this was orig­i­nal­ly con­ceived by for­mer radio exec­u­tive Robert Mon­roe, whose self-exper­i­men­ta­tion with the effect of sound on human con­scious­ness — the same phe­nom­e­na exploit­ed by study-and med­i­ta­tion-assist­ing “bin­au­r­al beats” — led to his found­ing the Mon­roe Insti­tute. “In the late stages of the Cold War, con­vinced that the Sovi­ets were research­ing psy­chic abil­i­ties for espi­onage, the CIA tapped the Mon­roe Insti­tute to explore these meth­ods for them­selves,” writes Sum­mer­hill. You can read Lieu­tenant Colonel Wayne McDon­nel­l’s declas­si­fied July 1983 report on Mon­roe’s tech­niques here, as well as Thobey Cam­pi­on’s break­down of its main points at VICE here.

“A project like Gate­way that mar­ries sci­ence with the human yearn­ing for mean­ing seemed awful­ly promis­ing,” writes Pop­u­lar Mechan­ics’ Susan Lahey. “But, as it turned out, the process was not a gate­way between mate­ri­al­is­tic sci­ence and expe­ri­en­tial con­scious­ness; it was more like an effort to write a tech­ni­cal man­u­al for the inef­fa­ble.” Even if it sounds plau­si­ble to you that a bin­au­r­al beat-like sound record­ing “syncs the hemi­spheres of the brain into a sin­gle, pow­er­ful stream of ener­gy, like a laser,” you may feel less con­fi­dent when the report posits “a giant cos­mic egg with a nucle­us in the mid­dle where the Absolute spews mat­ter from a white hole into one side of the ovoid-shaped uni­verse.” It seems that the CIA nev­er did fig­ure out a way to reli­ably engage in time trav­el, remote view­ing or com­mu­ni­ca­tion with the divine, but maybe the Tik­Tok­ers will fig­ure it out.

Relat­ed con­tent:

Inside MK-Ultra, the CIA’s Secret Pro­gram That Used LSD to Achieve Mind Con­trol (1953–1973)

How the CIA Secret­ly Used Jack­son Pol­lock & Oth­er Abstract Expres­sion­ists to Fight the Cold War

How the CIA Fund­ed & Sup­port­ed Lit­er­ary Mag­a­zines World­wide While Wag­ing Cul­tur­al War Against Com­mu­nism

Read the CIA’s Sim­ple Sab­o­tage Field Man­u­al: A Time­less Guide to Sub­vert­ing Any Orga­ni­za­tion with “Pur­pose­ful Stu­pid­i­ty” (1944)

12 Mil­lion Declas­si­fied CIA Doc­u­ments Now Free Online: Secret Tun­nels, UFOs, Psy­chic Exper­i­ments & More

Based in Seoul, Col­in Marshall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities and the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

A 6‑Step Guide to Zen Buddhism, Presented by Psychiatrist-Zen Master Robert Waldinger

Robert Waldinger works as a part-time pro­fes­sor of psy­chi­a­try at Har­vard Med­ical School, but he also describes him­self as a “Zen mas­ter.” This may strike some lis­ten­ers as a pre­sump­tu­ous claim, but he has indeed been offi­cial­ly accept­ed as a rōshi in two dif­fer­ent Zen lin­eages in the West. With one foot in psy­chi­a­try and the oth­er in Bud­dhism, Waldinger (pre­vi­ous­ly fea­tured here on Open Cul­ture for his work on hap­pi­ness and lone­li­ness) is well-placed to explain the lat­ter in terms amenable to the for­mer. In the Big Think video above, he breaks the ancient reli­gion — or mind­set, or way of being, or what­ev­er one prefers to call it — into six dis­tinct con­cepts: imper­ma­nence, noble truths, mind­ful­ness, attach­ment, lov­ing kind­ness, and begin­ner’s mind.

If you’ve felt any curios­i­ty about Zen Bud­dhism and pur­sued it online in recent years, the term mind­ful­ness will be famil­iar to the point of cliché. Waldinger per­son­al­ly defines it as “pay­ing atten­tion in the present moment with­out judg­ment.” You can work on your mind­ful­ness right now, he explains, “by sim­ply pay­ing atten­tion to what­ev­er stim­uli are reach­ing you. It might be your heart­beat, it might be your breath, it might be the sound of the fan in the room — any­thing — and sim­ply let­ting your­self be open and receive what­ev­er is here right now.” This can help us put into per­spec­tive the next con­cept, attach­ment, or our feel­ing “that the world be a cer­tain way,” which caus­es no amount of our dis­sat­is­fac­tion and even suf­fer­ing.

All of these ideas are much expand­ed on in pri­ma­ry and sec­ondary Bud­dhist texts, which any enthu­si­ast can spend a life­time read­ing. My own inter­est was first piqued by a pop­u­lar 1970 vol­ume called Zen Mind, Begin­ner’s Mind, a com­pi­la­tion of talks by a famous rōshi called Shun­ryū Suzu­ki Waldinger ref­er­ences Suzuk­i’s work in the final sec­tion of this video, and specif­i­cal­ly his obser­va­tion that “in the begin­ner’s mind, there are many pos­si­bil­i­ties. In the expert’s mind, there are few.” In Waldinger’s own expe­ri­ence, “the old­er I get, and the more peo­ple call me an expert, the more aware I am of how lit­tle I know.” True mas­tery lies in the aware­ness not of the knowl­edge we have, but the knowl­edge we don’t.

Relat­ed:

Bud­dhism 101: A Short Intro­duc­to­ry Lec­ture by Jorge Luis Borges

How Lone­li­ness Is Killing Us: A Primer from Har­vard Psy­chi­a­trist & Zen Priest Robert Waldinger

What Is a Zen Koan? An Ani­mat­ed Intro­duc­tion to East­ern Philo­soph­i­cal Thought Exper­i­ments

The Wis­dom of Alan Watts in Four Thought-Pro­vok­ing Ani­ma­tions

What Are the Keys to Hap­pi­ness? Lessons from a 75-Year-Long Har­vard Study

The Zen of Bill Mur­ray: I Want to Be “Real­ly Here, Real­ly in It, Real­ly Alive in the Moment”

Based in Seoul, Col­in Marshall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities and the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

Artist Draws 9 Portraits on LSD During 1950s Research Experiment

Dur­ing the 1950s, a researcher gave an artist two 50-micro­gram dos­es of LSD (each dose sep­a­rat­ed by about an hour), and then the artist was encour­aged to draw pic­tures of the doc­tor who admin­is­tered the drugs. Nine por­traits were drawn over the space of eight hours. We still don’t know the iden­ti­ty of the artist. But it’s sur­mised that the researcher was Oscar Janiger, a Uni­ver­si­ty of Cal­i­for­nia-Irvine psy­chi­a­trist known for his work on LSD.

The web site Live Sci­ence has Andrew Sewell, a Yale Psy­chi­a­try pro­fes­sor (until his recent death), on record say­ing: “I believe the pic­tures are from an exper­i­ment con­duct­ed by the psy­chi­a­trist Oscar Janiger start­ing in 1954 and con­tin­u­ing for sev­en years, dur­ing which time he gave LSD to over 100 pro­fes­sion­al artists and mea­sured its effects on their artis­tic out­put and cre­ative abil­i­ty. Over 250 draw­ings and paint­ings were pro­duced.” The goal, of course, was to inves­ti­gate what hap­pens to sub­jects under the influ­ence of psy­che­del­ic drugs. Dur­ing the exper­i­ment, the artist explained how he felt as he worked on each sketch. You can watch how things unfold­ed below (or above):

20 Min­utes After First Dose. Artist Claims to Feel Nor­mal

5IOEa - Imgur

85 Min­utes After First Dose: Artist Says “I can see you clear­ly. I’m hav­ing a lit­tle trou­ble con­trol­ling this pen­cil.”

dyR0C - Imgur

2 hours 30 min­utes after first dose. “I feel as if my con­scious­ness is sit­u­at­ed in the part of my body that’s now active — my hand, my elbow… my tongue.”

jyr3B - Imgur

2 hours 32 min­utes: ‘I’m try­ing anoth­er draw­ing… The out­line of my hand is going weird too. It’s not a very good draw­ing is it?”

MUu3y - Imgur

2 hours 35 min­utes: Patient fol­lows quick­ly with anoth­er draw­ing. ‘I’ll do a draw­ing in one flour­ish… with­out stop­ping… one line, no break!”

H0Uxo - Imgur

2 hours 45 min­utes: Agi­tat­ed patient says “I am… every­thing is… changed… they’re call­ing… your face… inter­wo­ven… who is…” He changes medi­um to Tem­pera.

wouQD

4 hours 25 min­utes: After tak­ing a break, the patient changes to pen and water col­or. “This will be the best draw­ing, like the first one, only bet­ter.”

eUdua - Imgur

5 hours 45 min­utes. “I think it’s start­ing to wear off. This pen­cil is mighty hard to hold.” (He is hold­ing a cray­on).

eUdua - Imgur

8 hours lat­er: The intox­i­ca­tion has worn off. Patient offers up a final draw­ing.

NGCEf - Imgur

Relat­ed Con­tent:

R. Crumb Describes How He Dropped LSD in the 60s & Instant­ly Dis­cov­ered His Artis­tic Style

The Pol­ish Artist Stanisław Witkiewicz Made Por­traits While On Dif­fer­ent Psy­choac­tive Drugs, and Not­ed the Drugs on Each Paint­ing

Alger­ian Cave Paint­ings Sug­gest Humans Did Mag­ic Mush­rooms 9,000 Years Ago

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Nobel Prize-Winning Psychologist Daniel Kahneman (RIP) Explains the Key Question Every Investor Must Ask, and Why It’s a Fool’s Errand to Pick Stocks

This past week, the influ­en­tial psy­chol­o­gist and econ­o­mist Daniel Kah­ne­man passed away at age 90. The win­ner of the 2002 Nobel Prize in Eco­nom­ic Sci­ences, Kah­ne­man wrote the best­selling book Think­ing, Fast and Slow where he explained the two sys­tems of think­ing that shape human deci­sions. These include “Sys­tem 1,” which relies on fast, auto­mat­ic and uncon­scious think­ing, and then “Sys­tem 2,” which requires atten­tion and con­cen­tra­tion and works more slow­ly. And it’s the inter­play of these two sys­tems that pro­found­ly shapes the qual­i­ty of our deci­sions in dif­fer­ent parts of our lives, includ­ing invest­ing.

In the inter­view above, Steve Forbes asks why indi­vid­ual investors per­sist in believ­ing that they can pick stocks suc­cess­ful­ly over time, despite ample evi­dence to the con­trary. Draw­ing on his research, Kah­ne­man describes the “illu­sion of skill,” where investors “get the imme­di­ate feel­ing that [they] under­stand some­thing,” which is much “more com­pelling than the knowl­edge of sta­tis­tics that tells you that you don’t know any­thing.” Here, Sys­tem 1 cre­ates the “illu­sion of skill,” and it over­whelms the slow­er ana­lyt­i­cal think­ing found in Sys­tem 2—the Sys­tem that could use data to deter­mine that stock pick­ing is a fool’s errand. When Forbes asks if investors should ulti­mate­ly opt for index funds instead of indi­vid­ual stocks, Kah­ne­man replies “I am a believ­er in index funds,” that is, unless you have very rare infor­ma­tion that allows you to pick stocks suc­cess­ful­ly.

Lat­er in the inter­view, Kah­ne­man touch­es on anoth­er impor­tant sub­ject. In his mind, the first ques­tion every investor should ask is not how much mon­ey should I plan to make, but rather, “How much can I afford to lose.” Every investor should assess their risk tol­er­ance, in part so that you can han­dle tur­bu­lence in the mar­ket and stick with your ini­tial invest­ment plan. If you are not aware of your risk tol­er­ance, “when things go bad, you will want to change what you are doing, and that’s the dis­as­ter in invest­ing… Loss aver­sion can kill you.” He con­tin­ues, “Emo­tions are indeed your ene­my. The worst thing that could hap­pen to you …  is to make a deci­sion and not stick with it, so that you bail out when things go bad­ly, so that you sell low and buy high. That is not a recipe for doing well in the stock mar­ket, or any­where.” Ide­al­ly, you should fig­ure out upfront how much you want to put in the stock mar­ket, and how much you want to keep out, so that you can psy­cho­log­i­cal­ly man­age the ups and downs of invest­ing.

From here, Kah­ne­man comes to his most impor­tant piece of advice for investors: Know your­self in terms of what you could regret. If you are prone to regret, if invest­ing makes you feel inse­cure and lose sleep at night, then you should adopt a “regret min­i­miza­tion strat­e­gy” and cre­ate a more con­ser­v­a­tive port­fo­lio to match it. Read more about that here. Also see Chap­ters 31 (Risk Poli­cies) and 32 (Keep Score) in Think­ing, Fast and Slow where Kah­ne­man talks more about invest­ing.

This post orig­i­nal­ly appeared on our sis­ter/­side-project site, Open Per­son­al Finance.

Relat­ed Con­tent on Open Per­son­al Finance: 

All the Finan­cial Advice You’ll Ever Need Fits on a Sin­gle Index Card

Why You Should Diver­si­fy: A Key Invest­ment Les­son from Econ­o­mist Alex Tabar­rok & Van­guard Founder John Bogle

Essen­tial Advice for Any Investor from Jack Bogle, the Founder of Van­guard

War­ren Buf­fett Explains the Pow­er of Com­pound Inter­est

 

 

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How to Rewire Your Brain in 6 Weeks: A BBC Reporter Explores How Everyday Life Changes Can Alter Our Brains

If you sus­pect that your brain isn’t quite suit­ed for mod­ern life, you’re not alone. In fact, that state of mind has prob­a­bly been clos­er to the rule than the excep­tion through­out moder­ni­ty itself. It’s just that the mix of things we have to think about keeps chang­ing: “The school run. Work calls. Infla­tion. Remem­ber your lines,” says BBC sci­ence reporter Melis­sa Hogen­boom in the video above. “Our brain nev­er evolved for any of this, and yet here we are, get­ting on with it as best we can, and it’s all thanks to our brain’s incred­i­ble capac­i­ty to adapt, to learn, to grow” — the very sub­ject she inves­ti­gates in this series, Brain Hacks.

In search of neu­ro­sci­en­tif­i­cal­ly sound “hacks to help strength­en cru­cial con­nec­tions and keep our minds younger in the process,” Hogen­boom put her­self through a “a six-week brain-alter­ing course.” The first seg­ment of the series finds her enter­ing into a med­i­ta­tion pro­gram she describes in this arti­cle: “For 30 min­utes a day, either as one sin­gle ses­sion or two 15-minute ses­sions, I prac­ticed a guid­ed mind­ful­ness med­i­ta­tion by lis­ten­ing to a record­ing.” In addi­tion, she had a week­ly ses­sion with Uni­ver­si­ty of Sur­rey pro­fes­sor of clin­i­cal psy­chol­o­gy Thorsten Barn­hofer, who also appears in the video.

Can med­i­ta­tion, and the oft-dis­cussed “mind­ful­ness” it empha­sizes, keep our minds from wan­der­ing away from what we real­ly need to think about? “Mind-wan­der­ing is some­thing that, of course, might be help­ful in many ways,” says Barn­hofer, “but it’s also some­thing that can go awry. This is where repet­i­tive think­ing comes in, where rumi­na­tive think­ing comes in, where wor­ry comes in. Those are the fac­tors which increase stress,” increas­ing the pres­ence of hor­mones like cor­ti­sol. And “if lev­els of cor­ti­sol remain high, that can actu­al­ly become tox­ic for your brain, for regions of your brain which are very plas­tic.” Stress, as Hogen­boom sums it up, “is a direct inhibitor of neu­ro­plas­tic­i­ty.”

“Research has found that after only a few months of mind­ful­ness train­ing, cer­tain depres­sion and anx­i­ety symp­toms can ease,” Hogen­boom writes, and her own expe­ri­ence seems also to point in that direc­tion. A brain scan per­formed after her med­i­ta­tion course found that “one half of my amyg­dala – an almond-shaped struc­ture impor­tant for emo­tion­al pro­cess­ing – had reduced in vol­ume,” pos­si­bly because the prac­tice “buffers stress seen in the amyg­dala.” It also revealed growth in her cin­gu­late cor­tex, “part of the lim­bic sys­tem that is involved in our behav­ioral and emo­tion­al respons­es,” which indi­cates “increased con­trol of that area.” Hogen­boom acknowl­edges that these changes “could also be ran­dom,” since “the brain is con­stant­ly chang­ing any­way”; the trick, how­ev­er and when­ev­er pos­si­ble, is to nudge it toward change for the bet­ter.

Bonus: Below, sci­ence jour­nal­ist Daniel Gole­man talks about mind­ful­ness and how you can change your brain in 10 min­utes with dai­ly med­i­ta­tion.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Med­i­ta­tion 101: A Short, Ani­mat­ed Beginner’s Guide

How Med­i­ta­tion Can Change Your Brain: The Neu­ro­science of Bud­dhist Prac­tice

Alan Watts Presents a 15-Minute Guid­ed Med­i­ta­tion: A Time-Test­ed Way to Stop Think­ing About Think­ing

Dis­cov­er the Back­wards Brain Bicy­cle: What Rid­ing a Bike Says About the Neu­ro­plas­tic­i­ty of the Brain

How Yoga Changes the Brain and May Guard Against Alzheimer’s and Demen­tia

5 Ways to Build an Alzheimer’s‑Resistant Brain: Neu­ro­sci­en­tist Lisa Gen­o­va Explains

David Lynch Explains Why Depres­sion Is the Ene­my of Cre­ativ­i­ty — and Why Med­i­ta­tion Is the Solu­tion

Based in Seoul, Col­in Marshall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

David Lynch Explains Why Depression Is the Enemy of Creativity–and Why Meditation Is the Solution

David Lynch has a vari­ety of notions about what it takes to make art, but suf­fer­ing is not among them. “This is part of the myth, I think,” he said in one inter­view. “Van Gogh did suf­fer. He suf­fered a lot. But I think he did­n’t suf­fer while he was paint­ing.” That is, “he did­n’t need to be suf­fer­ing to do those great paint­ings.” As Lynch sees it, “the more you suf­fer, the less you want to cre­ate. If you’re tru­ly depressed, they say, you can’t even get out of bed, let alone cre­ate.” This rela­tion­ship between men­tal state and cre­ativ­i­ty is a sub­ject he’s addressed over and over again, and the video above assem­bles sev­er­al of those instances from over the decades. It may come as a sur­prise that the auteur of Blue Vel­vetTwin Peaks, and Mul­hol­land Dri­ve, rec­om­mends med­i­ta­tion as the solu­tion.

That cer­tain­ly won’t come as a sur­prise, how­ev­er, to any­one famil­iar with Lynch’s world­view. Here on Open Cul­ture, we’ve pre­vi­ous­ly fea­tured Lynch’s expla­na­tion of how med­i­ta­tion boosts cre­ativ­i­ty, his draw­ing depict­ing how med­i­ta­tion works, his method of get­ting ideas through med­i­ta­tion, and his con­ver­sa­tions about med­i­ta­tion with the likes of Paul McCart­ney and Moby.

In the video below, he lays out how his favorite kind of med­i­ta­tion, the Tran­scen­den­tal vari­ety, has the poten­tial to dri­ve out not just depres­sion, but also neg­a­tiv­i­ty, ten­sion, stress, anx­i­ety, sor­row, anger, hate, and fear. These are grand promis­es, but not with­out inter­est to the non-med­i­tat­ing Lynch fan curi­ous about the mind behind his work, both of which were once wide­ly assumed to be deeply trou­bled indeed.

“Do you think you’re a genius, or a real­ly sick per­son?” CBC cor­re­spon­dent Valerie Pringle asks him in a Blue Vel­vet-era inter­view includ­ed in the com­pi­la­tion at the top of the post. “Well, Valerie,” he responds, “I don’t know.” He did not, at that time, speak pub­licly about his med­i­ta­tion prac­tice, but by the late nineties he’d begun to dis­cuss per­son­al mat­ters much more freely. In one Char­lie Rose inter­view, a clip from which appears in the video, he even tells of the time he went to ther­a­py. The begin­ning of this sto­ry makes it in, but not the end: Lynch asked his new ther­a­pist “straight out, right up front, ‘Could this process that we’re going to go through affect cre­ativ­i­ty?’ And he said, ‘David, I have to be hon­est with you, it could” — where­upon Lynch shook the man’s hand and walked right back out the door.

Relat­ed con­tent:

David Lynch Explains How Med­i­ta­tion Boosts Our Cre­ativ­i­ty (Plus Free Resources to Help You Start Med­i­tat­ing)

One Hour of David Lynch Lis­ten­ing to Rain, Smok­ing & Reflect­ing on Art

David Lynch Visu­al­izes How Tran­scen­den­tal Med­i­ta­tion Works, Using a Sharpie & Big Pad of Paper

Are We All Get­ting More Depressed?: A New Study Ana­lyz­ing 14 Mil­lion Books, Writ­ten Over 160 Years, Finds the Lan­guage of Depres­sion Steadi­ly Ris­ing

David Lynch Mus­es About the Mag­ic of Cin­e­ma & Med­i­ta­tion in a New Abstract Short Film

Charles Bukows­ki Explains How to Beat Depres­sion: Spend 3–4 Days in Bed and You’ll Get the Juices Flow­ing Again (NSFW)

Based in Seoul, Col­in Marshall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

Sun Ra Plays a Music Therapy Gig at a Psychiatric Hospital & Inspires a Patient to Talk for the First Time in Years

For some time now it has been fash­ion­able to diag­nose dead famous peo­ple with men­tal ill­ness­es we nev­er knew they had when they were alive. These post­mortem clin­i­cal inter­ven­tions can seem accu­rate or far-fetched, and most­ly harmless—unless we let them col­or our appre­ci­a­tion of an artist’s work, or neg­a­tive­ly influ­ence the way we treat eccen­tric liv­ing per­son­al­i­ties. Over­all, I tend to think the state of a cre­ative individual’s men­tal health is a top­ic best left between patient and doc­tor.

In the case of one Her­man Poole Blount, aka Sun Ra—com­pos­er, band­leader of free jazz ensem­ble the Arkestra, and “embod­i­ment of Afro­fu­tur­ism”—one finds it tempt­ing to spec­u­late about pos­si­ble diag­noses, of schiz­o­phre­nia or bipo­lar dis­or­der, for exam­ple. Plen­ty of peo­ple have done so. This makes sense, giv­en Blount’s claims to have vis­it­ed oth­er plan­ets through astral pro­jec­tion and to him­self be an alien from anoth­er dimen­sion. But ascrib­ing Sun Ra’s enlight­en­ing, enliven­ing mytho-theo-phi­los­o­phy to ill­ness or dys­func­tion tru­ly does his bril­liant mind a dis­ser­vice, and clouds our appre­ci­a­tion for his com­plete­ly orig­i­nal body of work.

In fact, Sun Ra him­self discovered—fairly ear­ly in his career when he went by the name “Sonny”—that his music could per­haps alle­vi­ate the suf­fer­ing of men­tal ill­ness and help bring patients back in touch with real­i­ty. In the late 50’s, the pianist and composer’s man­ag­er, Alton Abra­ham, booked his client at a Chica­go psy­chi­atric hos­pi­tal. Sun Ra biog­ra­ph­er John Szwed tells the sto­ry:

Abra­ham had an ear­ly inter­est in alter­na­tive med­i­cine, hav­ing read about scalpel-free surgery in the Philip­pines and Brazil. The group of patients assem­bled for this ear­ly exper­i­ment in musi­cal ther­a­py includ­ed cata­ton­ics and severe schiz­o­phren­ics, but Son­ny approached the job like any oth­er, mak­ing no con­ces­sions in his music.

Sun Ra had his faith in this endeav­or reward­ed by the response of some of the patients. “While he was play­ing,” Szwed writes, “a woman who it was said had not moved or spo­ken for years got up from the floor, walked direct­ly to his piano, and cried out ‘Do you call that music?’” Blount—just com­ing into his own as an orig­i­nal artist—was “delight­ed with her response, and told the sto­ry for years after­ward as evi­dence of the heal­ing pow­ers of music.” He also com­posed the song above, “Advice for Medics,” which com­mem­o­rates the psy­chi­atric hos­pi­tal gig.

It is sure­ly an event worth remem­ber­ing for how it encap­su­lates so many of the respons­es to Sun Ra’s music, which can—yes—confuse, irri­tate, and bewil­der unsus­pect­ing lis­ten­ers. Like­ly still inspired by the expe­ri­ence, Sun Ra record­ed an album in the ear­ly six­ties titled Cos­mic Tones for Men­tal Ther­a­py, a col­lec­tion of songs, writes All­mu­sic, that “out­raged those in the jazz com­mu­ni­ty who thought Eric Dol­phy and John Coltrane had already tak­en things too far.” (Hear the track “And Oth­er­ness” above.) But those will­ing to lis­ten to what Sun Ra was lay­ing down often found them­selves roused from a debil­i­tat­ing com­pla­cen­cy about what music can be and do.

Note: An ear­li­er ver­sion of this post appeared on our site in 2015.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

A Col­lec­tion of Sun Ra’s Busi­ness Cards from the 1950s: They’re Out of This World

Sun Ra’s Full Lec­ture & Read­ing List From His 1971 UC Berke­ley Course, “The Black Man in the Cos­mos”

When Sun Ra Went to Egypt in 1971: See Film & Hear Record­ings from the Leg­endary Afrofuturist’s First Vis­it to Cairo

Sun Ra Applies to NASA’s Art Pro­gram: When the Inven­tor of Space Jazz Applied to Make Space Art

Watch a 5‑Part Ani­mat­ed Primer on Afro­fu­tur­ism, the Black Sci-Fi Phe­nom­e­non Inspired by Sun Ra

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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