Hacking the Self

#028: Buddhism and Psychedelics in America with Dr. Douglas Osto

Scholar of of Indian Buddhism Dr. Douglas Osto talks about the intersection between Buddhism & Psychedelics in his most recent book Altered States: Buddhism and Psychedelic Spirituality in America. 
Guest bio:
Doug Osto grew up in the woods of Redding, Connecticut. He has studied and practiced Buddhism for over thirty years, and has advanced degrees in theological studies, Asian languages, and the study of religion from Harvard University, the University of Washington, and the University of London. 
He is the author of Altered States: Buddhism and Psychedelic Spirituality in America (Columbia UP, 2016), Modern Samkhya: Ancient Spirituality for the Contemporary Atheist (2016), and Power, Wealth and Women in Indian Mahayana Buddhism: The Gandavyuha-sutra (Routledge, 2008). 
Currently, he teaches Asian philosophies at Massey University, Palmerston North, New Zealand.

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#027: What Fredrich Nietzsche Can Teach Us about Today with Peter Sjostedt-H

In this episode I spoke with philosopher Peter Sjostedt-H about the work of Fredrich Nietzsche. Peter tells us why the great German philosopher Fredrick Nietzsche is still relevant to our own era.

Peter and I discuss he following topics including:

  • Why Fredrich Nietzsche is considered one of the precursors to modern psychology
  • Why Nietzsche’s writings are often thought of as prophetic
  • The implications of Nietzsche’s ideas for our contemporary age (particularly in the Patreon Bonus section where we get more into politics)
  • Philosophy of Mind
  • How psychedelics have influenced Peter’s perspective as a philosopher of mind

Guest Bio:

Peter Sjöstedt-H is an Anglo-Scandinavian philosopher of mind and a metaphysician who specialises in the thought of Whitehead, Nietzsche and Schopenhauer, with special regard to panpsychism and altered states of sentience. Peter received a Bachelor’s degree in Philosophy and a Master’s degree in Continental Philosophy from the University of Warwick, where he was awarded a first-class distinction for his dissertation on Kant and Schelling in relation to ‘intellectual intuition’.

He subsequently became a Philosophy Lecturer in London for six years but is now engaged in his PhD at Exeter University where he also teaches philosophy modules and writing skills. Peter is the author of Noumenautics and an inspiration behind the inhuman philosopher Marvel Superhero, Karnak.

In the words of futurist, philosopher and pop star Alexander Bard: ‘One of our favourite contemporary philosophers, Peter Sjöstedt-H…think a psychedelic Nietzsche’.


Personal Website for Peter Sjostedt-H

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Lost Connections: How our Modern Lifestyle is Undermining our Physical & Mental Health

Recently I’ve read two books that have compelled me think to about the idea of “tribalism” is a very different way: Lost Connections: Uncovering the Real Causes of Depression: and the Unexpected Solutions by Johann Hari and Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging by Sebastien Junger

Tribalism is a word that usually carries negative connotations and not without good reason. It conjures up images of religious sectarianism and political rivalries, both of which are all too often accompanied by divisive, dead end discussions at best, and, at worse, horrific violence.

While I think there are many authors out there who have romanticized our hunter gatherer past (nostalgia is a powerful force), I think both of the works by Junger and Hari offer compelling arguments for how the design of our social institutions now mistmatch our evolutionary design. While the benefits of modernity are plentiful, many of these developments are having a detrimental impact on our physical and mental health.

In this post I briefly consider why this might be the case, largely through sharing some of the findings of Junger and Hari.

The Central Problem: Lack of Connections

Both works underscore very similar themes that are worth grappling with, regardless of where you live, for the problems of modernity that these two authors describe affect the vast majority of people alive today. Both authors describe ways in which the modern world exacerbates mental health problems, from addiction to anxiety to depression.

The authors contend that the changes wrought by economic development disrupt connections to each other and to our natural environment that are essential for our mental and physical health. Junger, in particular, makes clear that these problems affect not only those in the developed world, but the vast majority of people on this earth, save for those rare pockets of tribal peoples whose lifestyles mirror those of our hunter gatherer predecessors.

These works follow a similar theme that I’ve mentioned in previous posts about taking the implications of evolutionary biology seriously, for understanding ourselves individually and at the level of society.

Hardwired for Tribalism

Essentially, for nearly our entire existence as a species we have evolved to live in tribal communities. The last 500 years of modernity in the West is a brief blip on the screen of human evolution. Even the last 10,000 years–since civilizations around the world arose through innovations in agriculture, domestication of plants and animals, and when human beings switched from a hunter gatherer lifestyle to a sedentary one– is just a snapshot of the longer timeline of human history.

As Junger notes in Tribe: “Genetic adaptations take around 25,000 years to appear in humans, so the enormous changes that came with agriculture in the last 10,000 years have hardly begun to affect our gene pool.”

In other words, the hunter gatherer lifestyle that characterized most of our existence on this earth has shaped how we are wired to live in this world. A central feature of our design is that we’re hardwired to be part of a tribe. Like chimpanzees and bonobos, we need to be deeply embedded in social networks–physical, not simply virtual ones!–in which each member of the tribe is deeply interdependent with one another. Competition is absolutely part of our nature, but so is cooperation, reciprocity, and trust trust that bind us together.

Disconnect between modern life and evolutionary design:

Both Junger and Harri contend that the more a society develops economically the more atomized and disconnected its inhabitants become. This shift from community to the (isolated) individual accounts for much of the mental health problems today. Consider the following claims and supporting evidence from Junger’s work:

  1. As a nation becomes more affluent and urbanized rates of depression and suicide tend to go up–not down.
  2. According to a global survey by the World Health Organization, people in wealthy countries suffer depression at as much as eight times the rate they do in poor countries
  3. People in countries with large income disparities—like the United States—run a much higher lifelong risk of developing severe mood disorders.
  4. Urban North American women—the most affluent demographic of the study—were the most likely to experience depression.

Notably, other researchers cast doubt on the claim that depression rates rise in proportion to the degree to which a country becomes developed, including the findings of a team at the University of Queensland in Australia, summarized in this article from The Washington Post, which concluded that countries in the Middle East and North Africa suffer the highest rates of depression.

Undoubtedly, complex problems pertaining to mental and physical health defy simplistic reductions to one or two variables.

Yet even if one wishes to doubt Junger’s claims about the association between rising prosperity and rising mental health problems there does seem to be strong evidence to suggest that the way in which virtually all modern societies are organized has hindered our mental and physical health

[Note: by modern in this context I don’t mean “wealthy” or “developed” but societies that are not tribal, hunger gathers].

Junger quotes cultural anthropologist Christopher Boehm who neatly summed up the problem of modern humans this way:

“In effect, humans have dragged a body with a long hominid history into an overfed, malnourished, sedentary, sunlight-deficient, sleep-deprived, competitive, inequitable, and socially-isolating environment with dire consequences.”

In recent years more scientists and social commentators have written about how our modern, urban, sedentary lifestyle has taken a toll on our physical health. A few of the common culprits include:

  • Obesity rates
  • Physical activity (or lack thereof)
  • Sunlight deficiency
  • Poor sleep

Trapped in office buildings we don’t get adequate sunlight. Stuck at desks all day long, and commuting to and from our work, we don’t get enough exercise. Congested in cities we breathe air that is polluted. The list goes on and so many of these problems (light and sleep, diet and obesity) are inseparable.  

Of course, we also know that our mental and physical health are inseparably connected. Exercise, diet, sleep, sunlight: all of these play a significant role in regulating our mood. Yet another crucial variable in shaping our mental health and happiness is the quality of our personal relationships.

Social relationships have a significant impact not only on life expectancy but also on a range of other health outcomes, from cardiovascular disease to cancer to inflammation. This peer reviewed study outlines a number of these findings.

Impact of Income Inequality on Mental Health

Both Junger and Harri talk about how the highly unequal allocation of resources within many countries today has serious implications for mental health.

Regardless of your political philosophy on the role of your government, the effect of income inequality on the mental health of people living in these cities is quite compelling. Notably, I encountered this evidence long before reading the work of Junger and Harri. Studies tend to show that rising levels of inequality (as measured by the gini coefficient) leads to declining levels of mental health overall, and particularly for those at the lower end of the income scale.

Again this is where evolutionary biology and related fields like primatology can be highly instructive. We know from studying our primate ancestors that those animals on the bottom end of a dominance hierarchy experience higher levels of stress. If you’re interested in detailed evidence for the impact of dominance hierarchies on primate mental health, and the implications of this findings for humans, you should check out the work of Frans de Waal, or Robert Sapolsky Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers.

Many reputable, peer reviewed studies such as this one, “Income Inequality and the Prevalence of Mental Illness: a preliminary international analysis,” suggest that this is also evident in humans when we compare societies with varying levels of income inequality. The greater the disparity in income, the greater prevalence in mental health overall.

Moreover, when we look within countries and smaller geographic areas, like states in the US, we can see strong evidence for the argument that those at the bottom end of the income ladder (i.e. the dominance hierarchy) have significantly worse outcomes for mental and physical well being.


People living in modern societies have “lost connections” in many ways: to the natural environment and to each other. The implications for this disconnection span a whole series of issues pertaining to physical, mental and emotional well being: obesity, poor sleep quality, anxiety, depression and substance abuse–to name just a few.

While turning back the clock is clearly not a viable solution, findings ways to re-establish the most basic of connections to life on this planet–to the natural environment and to each other–seems to be the most central challenge of our time, as well as the most reliable way to improve your own physical, mental and emotional health.

Books Referenced in this Article:

Johann Hari. Lost Connections: Uncovering the Real Causes of Depression and the Unexpected Solutions.

Sebastien Junger. Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging

Robert Sapolsky. Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers.


If you purchase the above books through the links that I provided I’ll earn a small commission through Amazon Affiliate Marketing. I do not have a relationship with the authors of these books to market their works. As of the writing of this post I have never met or spoken to any of the above authors. I merely enjoyed these books myself and I want to recommend them to others. They are all books that I would highly recommend. Affiliate marketing is one of the few ways that I attempt to earn an income stream to offset the costs of operating this website.

#026: Psychology of Religion with Jungian Analyst Pittman McGehee

For anyone who is interested in the psychology of religion, especially the work of Carl Jung and Joseph Campbell, today’s guest is a wealth of wisdom and insight. Pittman McGehee shares his interpretation of Christian mythology through a Jungian lens. We also discuss:
  • How to approach the study of religion
  • New Atheist critiques of religion
  • Pathologizing aspects of religion & other ideologies
  • Cultivating a sense of the sacred in your own life
  • Intersection of Christianity with US culture and politics
Guest Bio:
J. Pittman McGehee is an Episcopal priest and Jungian analyst in private practice in Austin, Texas. He is widely known as a lecturer and educator in the field of the psychology of religion, as well as a published poet and essayist.
He is the author of The Invisible Church: Finding Spirituality Where You Are (Praeger Press, 2008), Raising Lazarus: The Science of Healing the Soul (2009), Words Made Flesh, and The Paradox of Love, now available for sale through The Jung Center of Houston’s Bookstore, Amazon.com, and other fine booksellers.
Pittman presented “What Is a Healthy Spirituality” during “Religion, Mental Health, and the Search for Meaning,” a conference held at the University of St. Thomas. Click here to listen to the conference recordings.
Pittman also was interviewed as part of the “In Touch with Carl Jung” Salon through Centerpoint. Click here to view the complete list of recordings and to listen to Pittman’s interview.
0:00-4:00: Opening Remarks
4:00-11:10: Origins of Pittman’s interest in the ideas of Carl Jung
11:10-13:18: Interpreting Christian Mythology through a Jungian Lens
13:18-17:45: Problems with approaching religion through a scientific 
17:45-25:05: Pathological pitfalls of religion & other ideologies
25:05-29:07: Problems with the notion of “i’m spiritual but not religious”
29:07- 31:10: Cultivating a Sense of the Sacred
31:00-39:12: The American Religion: Puritanism, Patriotism, Capitalism
40:25-45:10: Closing Remarks
Books by Pittman McGehee:

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#025: A Talk about The Mythology of Pre Historic Cave Art with Bernie Taylor

In this episode Bernie Taylor shares his insights into the timeless archetypal stories that he has uncovered in pre historic cave art. Bernie’s passion for his subject matter really came across. If you’re interested in mythology and the work of great thinkers in the psychology of religion like Carl Jung and Joseph Campbell you’ll enjoy this conversation.

Guest Bio:

Bernie Taylor is an independent naturalist and author (Before Orion: Finding the Face of the Hero – 2017 & Biological Time – 2004) whose research explores the mythological connections and biological knowledge among prehistoric, indigenous and ancient peoples. He enjoys the great outdoors in his home state of Oregon and the exploration of inner space.


Before Orion

The Morning Routine that Keeps Me Calm & Centered throughout the Day

I’m a big believer in the power of routines, especially a well structured morning routine that’s adapted to your lifestyle and temperament. As someone who’s not naturally high in orderliness routines are particularly important to give structure and coherence to my life: physically and psychologically.

The following morning routine, including breakfast, usually takes 2-3 hours. I’m an early riser, usually up at 6 am, so even if I go for 3 hours I can begin work by 9 am. I appreciate the fact that many people don’t have this kind of time in the morning; it makes a huge difference that I no longer commute to work.

However, even just two or three of these practices could significantly optimize your morning. If you take away one thing it is: you need a morning routine. No, your morning routine is not an oppressive system of rules meant to impinge on your liberty.

Rather, your morning routine is a carefully designed sequence of events that optimizes your capacities for physical, mental and emotional health. It should boost your energize and enhance your productivity. It should set you up to conquer the day.

You will find the right mix through a process of iteration. Everyone is different according to their lifestyle and temperament.

In chronological order, here’s what works for me. I think you’ll find at least some of it useful for you:

Body Scan

Before I hop out of bed I do a quick body scan meditation, noticing the sensations in different parts of my body. This is a way to start training my attention, even before I’ve gotten out of bed.


I start my morning with a cup of tea. Admittedly, I enjoy the caffeine boost, but it’s also a way to start my morning not only by hydrating myself but with a good dose of antioxidants. I rotate the teas that I use but it’s usually one of the following:

-Green Tea

-Pu-erh Tea

-Oolong Tea (preferably with Ginseng)

The process of making tea–and slowly, consciously sipping it–serves to anchor me in a mindfulness practice at the outset of my day.

Neti Pot

Using a neti pot is an excellent way to clean out any dust, pollen or other irritants and pollutants you’ve collected in your nasal passages. It’s also a wonderful precursor to practicing pranayama, or any kind of breathing technique.

You need to use a tiny amount of salt to balance out the PH in the solution. It’s a tricky balance–not enough salt, it burns; too much salt, it really burns. Just a small pinch (about half a tea spoon) goes a long way. Ideally, use pink Himalayan salt.

If you don’t want to use an actual pot, which can be a bit trickier with tilting your head, this bottle does  the trick and is good for travel. It also comes with the appropriate amount of salt to add, for which you can buy refills:

Source: Neil Med.

Morning Journal

Tip of the hat to Tim Ferris for this hack. Tim has spoken at length about the value of journaling for five minutes in the morning. It’s a form of therapy. Get your thoughts out of your head and onto the page. It feels great. If I had a vivid dream I might write it down.

I might start my day with a gratitude exercise: stating three things for which I’m grateful, or by acknowledging what I fear most, how that might be holding me back, and how I imagine myself overcoming that obstacle. Just five minutes of writing, while I’m enjoying my tea, provides an excellent, cathartic start to my morning.

Here is the journal that Tim Ferris recommends, which I’ve been using:

Note: it’s a very nice journal, but if you travel a lot for work consider a smaller notepad. This one is bulky. Your morning journal should be pen and paper–not on any electronic device. Try to not look at a screen for one hour after waking up.


I might practice for an hour or for ten minutes, but I always practice yoga in the morning. It’s so crucial for a number of reasons:

-it increases my alertness and energy levels

-yet at the same time it down regulates my nervous system, increasing feelings of calm and relaxation

-it continues the training of mindful attention I started from brewing my tea

-it just feels really, really good to stretch and to improve the circulation of blood and oxygen throughout my body

Note: I appreciate the fact that many people have to rush in the morning to work. I used to wake up early to beat the traffic and then get into work early to practice yoga, instead of spending that time in traffic.

But even if you just do one downward dog in the morning it can make a world of difference in terms of how you feel. Everyone has one minute for one downward dog.


In Sanskrit “puja” refers to prayer or ritual of devotional offering. Hindus perform a puja to a particular deity, Buddhists make offerings to the Buddha and Jains to Mahavira. So why on earth do you care about this if you don’t think of yourself as a Hindu, a Buddhist or a Jain–or as a theist, at all?

I think of puja as a positive psychology hack. Just as psychologists know that we can increase positive emotions through techniques designed to enhance those emotions–such as gratitude exercises or compassion training through a metta meditation–puja cultivates certainly qualities in yourself and in your life.

I have a meditation room in my house, a specific space that’s reserved for my practice. I took the advice of others to allocate a specific room in my house for my practice and it’s made a huge difference. On the altar in my meditation room, I have an arrangement of statues on my table, such as this iconic statue from Shaivate schools of Hinduism:

This is a statue of Natasja, Lord Shiva in his incarnation as The Dancer. 

Image source: http://awakeningtimes.com/nataraja-the-cosmic-dance/

While the intricacies of puja can be complicated–from the specifics of the rituals to the recitation of mantras–consider this simple principle: religious rituals can play a positive role even for people who may not consider themselves theistic.

Currently, I would consider myself religious, though not necessarily theistic. Perhaps that sounds like a paradox, but only if you assume that religious life is defined solely by adherence to particular belief systems. Religion is about much more than metaphysics or the supernatural.

What do religious rituals cultivate…even for the non believer?

  • a feeling of offering: to something larger than yourself
    • it doesn’t matter if you believe in the divine qualities of the object to which you are offering or not. It need not be an offering to the supernatural, but rather something larger than yourself (“the universe,” or “for the awakening of all beings”)
    • it’s a way to train yourself in the mindset that you offer whatever arises–your attachments, your aversions. It diminishes the sense of an author behind your actions (i.e. the ego)
  • a relationship to an archetype
    • Carl Jung wrote extensively about the pervasiveness of archetypes across human cultures. For Jung archetypes were collectively inherited patterns of behavior or symbols that spoke to timeless characteristics about the human condition: the hero, the trickster, the magician, the lover, the ruler, the rebel, the sage, and so on
    • Religious iconography reflects these primordial archetypes that are an essential part of the human condition. These figures are actors in the drama of life who reflect the roles we  have to play at various points; the mythology around these characters offers insight into how we should act in the world. This is the function of myth.
    • Puja can help us to cultivate a relationship to these primordial archetypes
  • a sense of the sacred
    • While I have plenty of issues with organized religion, I think that in our modern world we have largely lost a sense of the sacred, and not for the better. My trip to India this past winter affirmed the power of religious rituals and symbols to endow people’s lives with a sense of beauty, veneration and meaning.
      • Not only can we derive value from these rituals without committing to particular (theistic) belief systems, perhaps those of us who don’t believe in the supernatural, and who lack the ancient traditions that support these systems, are the most in need of what religious practices like puja can offer

Deliberately developing a sense of the sacred will change the way that you start your day.


After puja concludes, I’ll go into a few minutes of pranayama: yogic breathing exercises. Pranayama is a vast subject matter, which include some advanced techniques. But here are two very simple tips:

  • Emphasizing the inhalation
    • Ex: breathing in for the count of four, breathing out for the count of two
    • this activates your sympathetic nervous system
      • increases feelings of alertness
      • can be ideal for the morning, especially if you feel the need to wake up
  • Emphasising the exhalation
    • Ex: breathing out for the count of four, breathing in for the count of two
    • this activates your parasympathetic nervous system
      • induces feelings of calm and relaxation
      • promotes optimal function of your bodily systems

Pranayama is a huge subject deserving of a series of posts, but if you’re not familiar with these breathing exercises consider looking them up. A great place to start would be studying with a very knowledgeable teacher. Richard Freeman has an online introduction to pranayama course which you can purchase through Sounds True.

Disclosure: Richard Freeman is one of my yoga teachers. I do not, however, receive any commission whatsoever from the promotion of his courses. I suggest them to others only because I highly value what Richard and his wife Mary have to offer.

Pranayama is the bridge that can take you into deeper states of meditation.


Ideally, I’ll do twenty minutes of seated meditation in the morning. However, some days I need to start my day quicker than others. Even sitting for just a few minutes in silence–especially after making a series of offering and the recitation of mantras–makes a massive difference in the rest of my day.

I’m more focused, more centered in the heart, more open to whatever will arise. Nothing is a guarantee against the difficult things in life, but this morning series of practices–puja, pranayama and meditation–makes me far more likely to respond mindfully, rather than reactively, to situations that could trigger me.

It not only helps to buffer me against the negative, it cultivates positive emotions: feelings of reverence, gratitude and serenity.


Now that I’m done with my morning mindfulness practices I’ll take my phone out of airplane mode and listen to a podcast or music as I go for a morning walk. Studies have been shown to demonstrate upticks in creativity from standing and moving, which is one reason I do so shortly before starting my work.

I also prioritize getting some form of cardiovascular exercise before I’m going to be in front of a screen for hours on end.

Cold shower

Tony Robbins jumps in a frigid plunge pool to start his day. Tim Ferris takes an ice bath. I don’t have these luxuries, though I take as cold of a shower as possible.

How cold? So cold that you should be shaking, as one advocate put it. For how long? 5-10 minutes.

Placing the shower head on the top front of your skull (prefrontal cortex area of the brain) or on the chest (near the heart) will increase the impact of the cold shower–assuming you’re not doing the full plunge like Tony or Tim, which undoubtedly is more effective.

Arguments for taking a cold shower:

  • improves mitochrondial function, boosting your immunity
  • drains your lympathic systems, removing cellular waste
  • burns brown fat at increased rate
  • increase your heart rate…and your circulation
  • can help to lower levels of stress in your body
  • increases alertness!
    • at the very least…it will do this!

Make your bed

Growing up, my parents couldn’t get me to make my bed. I didn’t see the point when I was just going to sleep it in again anyways. Funny, I know. Probably a lot of people, especially guys, who are low in orderliness still do this for many years. If you fall into this camp this is the first, small thing that you can and should change.

Finally, I relented to Jordan Peterson’s exhortations to “clean your damn room!” Cultivating orderliness in the physical aspects of your life will help you to develop more orderliness in other facets of your life, and psychologically, as well.

Tidy up anything that you can clean up, or put away, in a minute or less, as well, then move on.

Vitamin D

Vitamin D deficiency is a serious problem for many people, especially people living in urban environments spending all of their day in offices, and/or those living in climates that don’t see much sunlight or suffer from high levels of pollution.

Vitman D is essential for a number of reasons, ranging from calcium absorption to build strong bones to melatonin production that’s vital to a good night’s sleep.

Fortunately, I live in the tropics so there’s no shortage of sunlight. That said, because the sun is so hot I make a point of getting Vitamin D before the sun gets too high and too intense.

Wherever you live I’d highly recommend downloading the app D Minder. This app will notify you when the sun is above 30 degrees elevation–which is what you need in order to get Vitamin D from the sun.

You can select a variety of options that state the amount of skin exposure to the sun then click on a timer that will tell you how much Vitamin D your body is absorbing based on the sun’s elevation in your particular location at that time.

Download the app D Minder to track your Vitamin D levels.

Grounding  (Earthing)

While I’m getting sunlight I stand barefoot on grass. “Grounding” or “Earthing” allegedly helps our bodies to reconnect to the natural, electrical charge of the earth’s energy. While studies on grounding are still seeking to verify the extent of the alleged benefits that advocates claim studies suggest it can decrease cortisol levels and inflammation. It also feels really good, and natural, just to stand in the grass!


As I mentioned at the outset, I totally appreciate the fact that many people don’t have time for such an exhaustive routine, whether it’s because you’re commuting in traffic or getting your kids ready for school. But incorporating just two or three of these routines could make a big difference in enhancing the quality of your morning.

Start small and go from there.

I sincerely hope that some of you will find benefit in these morning routines. They have certainly had a profoundly positive impact on my morning and I hope they prove to be a game changer for you as well.


#024: Integrating Buddhism & Ayahuasca with Spring Washam

If you’re interested in Buddhism and Ayahuasca you’re going to love my conversation this week with Spring Washam.

Guest Bio:

Spring Washam is a well-known meditation teacher, author and visionary leader based in Oakland, California. She is the author of A Fierce Heart: Finding Strength, Courage and Wisdom in Any Moment. Spring is considered a pioneer in bringing mindfulness-based healing practices to diverse communities. She is one of the founders and core teachers at the East Bay Meditation Center, located in downtown Oakland, CA.

Spring is also the co-founder of a new organization called Communities Rizing, which is dedicated to providing yoga and meditation teacher training programs for communities of color. She received extensive training by Jack Kornfield, is a member of the teacher’s council at Spirit Rock Meditation Center in northern California, and has practiced and studied Buddhist philosophy in both the Theravada and Tibetan schools of Buddhism for the last 20 years.

In addition to being a teacher, Spring Washam is also a shamanic practitioner and has studied indigenous healing practices for over a decade. She is the founder of Lotus Vine Journeys, an organization that blends indigenous healing practices with Buddhist  wisdom. Her writing and teachings have appeared in many online journals and publications such as Lions Roar, Tricycle, and Belief.net. She has been a guest on many popular podcasts and radio shows. She currently travels and teaches meditation retreats, workshops and classes worldwide.


Lotus Vine Journeys

Lotus Vine Journeys Facebook Group

Personal Website of Spring Washam

Spring’s Book: A Fierce Heart: Finding Strength, Courage and Wisdom in Any Moment

Please help to make Hacking the Self a sustainable project by:

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What I’ve learned from Maps of Meaning: a course by Dr. Jordan Peterson

Over the last month I’ve been watching a series of lectures entitled “Maps of Meaning,” which is the title of both a book and a university course delivered by psychology Professor Jordan Peterson. These lectures were for a course that Peterson taught at the University of Toronto. I’ll share my thoughts on the lecture I watched today, #6, as it provides a useful introduction to some key ideas to understanding the worldview of Jordan Peterson, as well as some of the debates he has had with scientific materialists like Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins.

Two methods for determining truth: A Newtonian Worldview vs. A Darwinian Worldview

For the last 400 years of Western civilisation has become increasingly preoccupied with one approach to the truth: the scientific method. Thinkers like Renee Descartes and Francis Bacon pioneered a method of rigorous inquiry that developed over time into the scientific method. The revolution in physics, often associated with the discoveries of Isaac Newton, displayed the power of the scientific method to reveal essential truths about the world that we occupy. This is what Peterson refers to as a Newtonian worldview: perceiving the world as a place of objects.

Science and the scientific method are an indispensable form of knowledge. However, Peterson argues, this isn’t the only way to arrive at the truth, which is the mistake that scientific materialists like Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins make.

Seriously considering the implications of Darwin’s theory of evolution gives us a different understanding of how we perceive the world. Given that we’ve evolved to survive, human perception creates a world not of objects, but of tools. Specifically, our minds perceive two things:

  1. tools that facilitate our movement forward towards goals
  2. obstacles that obstruct our progress towards our goals

We perceive the world in relation to us–there is no other, “objective” way to view it. Perception is inseparable from the one perceiving it (an insight that Buddhist philosophy emphasizes as well). Your implicit value structure determines your perceptions. It decides what to focus on, and what to omit, which is the vast majority of things in your field of sight–otherwise you couldn’t function.

Motivation is not a drive or a set of goals. Your underlying motivational system is nested in a value system that literally determine your perceptions.

This is why Jordan Peterson agrees with the philosopher David Hume’s famous assertion that “you can’t derive an “ought: from an “is.” In other words, you can’t derive ethical guidelines from “factual” knowledge because the process of determining these facts is inherently subjective. Which facts are you going to pick? How are you going to select them?

Our attachments to the Newtonian worldview is why secular people struggle to understand religion: they are using a framework to interpret the past which our ancestors did not share. According to Peterson, this is what atheists like Harris and Dawkins ironically share in common with religious fundamentalists: they view these texts as consisting of facts that must be proven or disproven to be correct or false–as we would in a scientific experiment.

The World as a Drama

While this approach to truth is wonderful for understanding physics we need a different way of looking at the world to wrestle with what is arguably the most essential question for a human being to ask: how should I act in the world?

Shakespeare famously captured this worldview in As You Like It:

Image Source: http://izquotes.com/quote/322797

This is how our ancestors viewed themselves: as actors in a drama. The religious narratives they developed reflect the collective wisdom of their culture’s answers to this crucial question: how should I act in the world?

Peterson’s approach to religion–largely inspired by the depth psychologist Carl Jung and the comparative mythologist Joseph Campbell–comes directly out of this Darwinian worldview. Our brains have evolved with certain fundamental patterns of behavior that are reflected in our eternal “archetypes” lodged in our “collective unconscious.”

We need to tell stories so that we can understand how to act–and how not to act–in the melodrama that unfolds in our own lives.

We can get rid of The Bible and replace it with Stars Wars or Games of the Thrones but the power of stories continues to serve its function in our lives: as a map for how to act skilfully in a world fraught with chaos and prone to human error. Religious fundamentalists fail to appreciate the message of these stories when they insist on these texts being a literally true set of “facts;” however, so do many atheists.

Peterson’s Maps of Meaning course seeks to explain how stories across all cultures have a basic meta structure that provide useful answers in response to the most pressing question facing the human condition: how should I act in the world?

One crucial idea: make sacrifices. What is sacrifice? It’s the recognition that you can bargain with the future. Don’t give up what you could be tomorrow for who you are today.

Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his only son, Isaac, is one of the most famous stories from The Bible. Dr. Peterson talked about the significance of this parable, and its lesson about the value of sacrifice, in his series of Biblical Lectures.

Image Source: https://pixabay.com/en/abraham-isaac-bible-sacrifice-1260073/

While I still agree with some important points that atheists like Sam Harris have to make about problems with organized religion, my views on religion have evolved. They had shifted well before I came across Peterson’s work but Peterson has provided me with a renewed appreciation for the Judeo-Christian traditions, which were not religious traditions to which I was naturally drawn.

Myths are tremendously powerful maps of meaning for how to chart one’s journey in life. I’ve come to recognize that just because others make the mistake of taking myths literally doesn’t mean that they have no value to offer. Nor does it preclude me from speaking out against the serious harms that can come from dogmatic interpretations of religion. But I also do not want to smugly, and naively, dismiss the great collective wisdom of the past.

Peterson likes to exhort his listeners to “have some damn respect” for our modern culture, which he emphasizes is the accumulated wisdom of our ancestors. “These people were not stupid. They were seriously not stupid.” He’s right.

We share the same hardware–our brains–as those living in the times when these myths were created. It’s not as if our anatomy is fundamentally different. In many other respects human nature has remained constant: the aspirations that we share for the future and the temptations to which we succumb largely hold true across time and space.

Furthermore, people in the past–even the relatively recent past–lived in conditions that were far more difficult than our own, to put it mildly. They forged their character through enduring hardships that are unimaginable to most people living in the modern world.

For all of these reasons we should listen carefully to, and learn from, the messages and warnings of those who lived before us.

Peterson is also right that we should seriously consider the implications of Darwin’s theory of evolutionary to help us understand knowledge–not just those in the hard sciences, but also in the Humanities. Peterson’s lectures are a portal into what our education system could look like if it could transcend the traditional, rigid boundaries that divide knowledge between disciplines. While this division is not without good reason it has become too limiting to provide insight into some of the most important questions.

What might education look like if we updated it for the 21st century? What if those who were so highly educated, and often secular, developed a deeper appreciation for the wisdom of the past? Perhaps those lessons from the past could provide some clues about how to bring some semblance of order to an age marked by chaos.

Such a discovery would not only yield new knowledge, it might provide us with access to an even more useful artefact: ancient wisdom.


Maps of Meaning Course

Jordan Petersons’ Website

How Jordan Peterson and Bret Weinstein have changed the way that I think about human behavior

Jordan Peterson and Bret Weinstein are two renegade college professors who are making a splash in larger discussions of interest to many modern, Western societies, from challenges to free speech to what evolutionary biology can teach us about human behavior.

This latter point is of direct consequences to the topics that I’d like to explore on this platform: as I’m interested in interdisciplinary approaches to learning that can help people better understand themselves. I enjoy drawing on methods from a range of disciplines, from techniques that touch on the esoteric and the exoteric, and that focus on the individual as well as the role of the individual in relation to the group.

My training is in the Humanities, specifically History. Over the last eight years, since I’ve moved to Asia, I’ve become increasingly fascinated with the study of religion: both practical techniques such as meditation and yoga that allow me to cultivate more self awareness, as well as the study of myths from cultures around the world.

What both Jordan Peterson, a clinical psychologist, and Brett Weinstein, an evolutionary biologist, have helped me to appreciate is how evolutionary biology can provide us with tremendous insight into some of the questions raised by the study of the Humanities. Listening to Jordan Peterson and Bret Weinstein has helped me to realize how viewing many topics strictly through the lens of the social sciences–without any informed view from science–can be very limiting, and even deeply misleading.

One prominent example would be the concept of “dominance hierarchies,” which Jordan Peterson has become well known for popularizing. This idea refers to the universal biological fact that animals that have to compete for territorial space tend to organize themselves into fairly predictable hierarchies. This is true not simply of our primate ancestors but of all animals, extending all the way back to lobsters, 300 million years ago.

The behavior of male chimpanzees within a dominance hierarchy most closely mirrors the behavior of human males in several key respects, according to primatologist Frans De Wall.

Image Source: http://www.evoanth.net/2014/11/23/nice-chimps-finish-last-aggression-correlated-with-reproductive-success-in-chimpanzees/

Some of us mistakenly assume, Jordan Peterson argues, that the assembly of these hierarchies are due to socio-cultural-political forces, when in fact the hierarchies we find in society are the result of deeper biological forces. It’s a fascinating point worthy of deeper consideration.

It seems that we can debate the degree to which our specific cultural hierarchies are the result of socio-cultural-political forces or not–a combination of both seems undeniable in my view–but Peterson has made two basic points which should be beyond controversy:

  1. The organization of human beings along hierarchical lines is inevitable. An appreciation for this irrefutable biological fact helps us to appreciate that political ideologicies that seek to eliminate hierarchies in human societies, such as Marxism, are completely antithetical to human nature and thus destined to fail.

     2. A closer study of our evolutionary ancestors could provide us with much insight into human             behavior at the level of the individual and the group

On The Joe Rogan Experience, Brett Weinstein stated Peterson’s great contribution to the public discourse has been to encourage others to take the implications of evolutionary biology seriously: to really consider what evolution can teach us about human psychology.

As someone who has trained in the Humanities at the undergraduate and the graduate level (specifically, History and the teaching of History), I’m fascinated by many of the points that Peterson has been making. The Humanities always raised certain big questions for me, for which they were unable to provide satisfactory answers. For someone who likes to learn in an interdisciplinary way I have found Jordan Peterson to be a tremendous resource.

Rather than attempt to give some overview of what I’ve learned from Peterson, and Weinstein, I’d like to start by focusing on one big idea and developing it in depth over a series of blog posts.

My first series will be to take up Peterson’s challenge to seriously consider the implications of evolutionary biology for understanding human behavior–a journey that will touch on topics from psychology to sociology to politics.

I’ve started reading the work of Frans de Waal, a professor at Emory University who has dedicated his career to the study of our primate ancestors. De Wall has written a number of books on the behavior of chimpanzees and bonobos, and what they can teach us about ourselves and the way that we interact with each other.

In my next post I’m going to share some of the big ideas that I’m learning from reading de Waal’s work The Bonobo and The Atheist. I’m totally blown away by how fascinating our primate ancestors are and how much they can teach us about ourselves. I look forward to sharing what I learn with you.

If there any big questions on this topic that interest you please feel free to share them. I also enjoy hearing your comments.


Dr. Jordan B. Peterson’s Website

Dr. Peterson’s YouTube Channel

Bret Weinstein’s Website

Joe Rogan Experience Podcast

#023: Sam Harris, Jordan Peterson & Contrasting Approaches to the Study of Religion with Erik Davis

In this episode author and religious studies scholar Erik Davis and I consider the arguments of the New Atheists, particularly the work of Sam Harris. We contrast Harris’ approach to religion with that of Jordan Peterson, as well as Carl Jung and Joseph Campbell. Topics we touch on include:
  • Erik’s background and personal religious views
  • Religion as myth & metaphor vs revelation
  • Religion as a set of practices, rather than a set of beliefs
  • Problems with tribalism, including & beyond religion
Guest bio:
Erik Davis is an author, podcaster, award winning journalist and popular speaker based in San Francisco. Davis was born during the Summer of Love within a stone’s throw of San Francisco. He grew up in North County, Southern California, and spent a decade on the East Coast, where he studied literature and philosophy at Yale and spent six years in the freelance trenches of Brooklyn and Manhattan before moving to San Francisco, where he currently resides. 
He is the author of four books: Nomad Codes: Adventures in Modern Esoterica (Yeti, 2010), The Visionary State: A Journey through California’s Spiritual Landscape (Chronicle, 2006), with photographs by Michael Rauner, and the 33 1/3 volume Led Zeppelin IV (Continuum, 2005). His first and best-known book remains TechGnosis: Myth, Magic, and Mysticism in the Age of Information (Crown, 1998), a cult classic of visionary media studies that has been translated into five languages and recently republished by North Atlantic Press. 
Erik has a PhD in Religious Studies from Rice University. He is the host of the Expanding Mind Podcast. 
Sam Harris, Jordan Peterson, Richard Dawkins, Carl Jung, Joseph Campbell
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