I. Are fear and psi closer neurologically than we realize?
In this blog, we have been trying to understand why neurological injury sometimes leads to a psychic opening; why people sometimes have frightening psychic openings or spiritually transformative experiences; and whether people are sometimes misinterpreting psi, usually in a fearful way.
Could it be that fear and psi are related to each other neurologically, and that’s part of why there is often confusion?
Two disclaimers –
First of all, psi and fear are everywhere in the neuroendocrine system – not to mention being non-local as well! -- but, today we’ll look at just one possible element of the complex set-up – the relationship between the pineal gland and the adrenal glands.
Secondly, as some have said throughout the history of parapsychology, including most recently James Carpenter with his First Sight model, psi is probably best understood as a basic aspect of how we know and act on the world, and it’s operating all the time. But, today, we’ll look mostly at the role of psi as a survival skill, something that makes you more viable.
II. The pineal gland –
i. General info about the pineal
The pineal gland is an endocrine gland the size of a grain of rice in the middle of the brain.
In grad school in psychology in the ‘80s, the 788-page neurophysiology textbook we used had two paragraphs on the pineal gland. Total! And they were just about Descartes saying it was the seat of the soul. Melatonin does not appear in the index.
Now, the pineal is conventionally recognized as a master gland because it regulates other endocrine glands via melatonin. And frontier science is even more interested in the pineal because of its relation to various endogenous chemicals that might be involved in psi and expanded states of consciousness.
ii. Pineal’s psi connection
The pineal gland has a long history of being associated with psi. For one thing, it is located approximately behind the Third Eye (sixth chakra, Ajna). It is light-sensitive – both via the retinas and directly (Elias, 2005).
“A parietal eye…or third-eye…is….present in some animal species [non-mammals]. The eye may be photoreceptive and is usually associated with the pineal gland, regulating circadian rhythmicity and hormone production for thermoregulation.” (Wiki) But, all species have elements of a third eye and it's connected to the pineal gland. (Brainard, 1996)
In many non-mammalian vertebrates, pinealocytes (the main cells of the pineal gland) have a strong resemblance to the photoreceptor cells of the eye. Some evolutionary biologists believe that the vertebrate pineal cells share a common evolutionary ancestor with retinal cells. (Wiki)
The pineal also produces, uses, or is hypothesized to produce several endogenous substances that alter consciousness and may be psi-conducive.
DMT – psychedelic, a key ingredient in Ayahuasca
5-MeO-DMT – psychedelic
pinoline -- chemically almost identical to key ingredients in Ayahuasca (Roney-Dougal, 2000)
bufotenine – shows similar effects to DMT
melatonin – circadian rhythms, sleep induction, dreaming, inversely related to onset of puberty
serotonin – does a million things, including affect perception. Interestingly, it is related to a lot of these endogenous psychedelics and increased by them. The serotonin system is also acted on by exogenous psychedelics like LSD.
III. A brief word about the adrenals
The adrenal glands sit atop the kidneys in the middle of your back, and they do a lot of things, but, for our purposes today, they help the body handle stress by shutting down some functions and ramping up others, making the body more prepared for “fight or flight.” Fear is, in part, a function of adrenal activity.
The adrenals produce many substances, including –
adrenaline (aka epinephrine)
noradrenaline (aka norepinephrine) (both adrenaline and noradrenaline are also produced elsewhere in the body)
glucocorticoids (including cortisol)
IV. Fear is a survival signal that motivates greater psi
As Gavin de Becker says in his book “The Gift of Fear,” he developed the excellent intuition that has made him one of the premier security consultants on the planet because he had to in order to survive the violence in his childhood. Survivors of child abuse often seem to develop great intuition, the ability for voluntary OBEs, and other psi capacities.
So, here we see an example of how fear may act as a survival signal that motivates the development of psi.
Interestingly, it turns out there is a pineal – adrenal connection.
i. Effect of the pineal on the adrenals
The English parapsychologist, Serena Roney-Dougal, Ph.D. has done ground-breaking work on the pineal gland, integrating neuroscience and psi. The pineal has been shown to have many influences on the adrenals (Elias, 2005), including an anti-stress function (Roney-Dougal, 2000).
For one thing, the pineal produces melatonin which regulates circadian and seasonal rhythms (Roney-Dougal, 2000). Melatonin has an influence on the adrenals (Elias, 2005).
Also, pinoline is produced by the pineal. It is chemically nearly identical to active ingredients in Ayahuasca, implicated in dreaming, and thus, implicated in affecting our state of consciousness. “Pinoline has its highest concentrations in the pineal and has been reported to fluctuate in phase with melatonin….Pinoline has also been shown to behave like a hormone (Airaksinen et al 1984) and specific binding sites for pinoline exist in the adrenals as well as the pineal and the brain” (Roney-Dougal, 2000)
ii. Effect of the adrenals / other adrenergic sources on the pineal
The main activation of the pineal is definitely via adrenergic systems (Roney-Dougal, 2000), but there is some debate about how directly the adrenals influence the pineal. Adrenergic systems means sources of adrenaline and noradrenaline, but these two substances are produced both by the adrenal glands and in the nervous system.
The U.S. psychiatrist Rick Strassman, MD did historic research on DMT in the 1990s. In his 2001 book on his research, “DMT: The spirit molecule,” he reports that only adrenaline and noradrenaline produced in the brain near the pineal, are able to reach the pineal (Strassman, 2001, pp. 63-64). However, I have to wonder if this is the whole story, and whether the adrenals might have a direct influence, or whether they have an indirect influence, such as, say, stimulating the central nervous system to innervate the pineal.
Jordanian neurosurgeon Munir A. Elias, MD has written a wonderfully clear summary of the current state of knowledge (not including psi!) about the pineal, and he says information on the pineal is expanding rapidly in recent years, and there is still much to clarify. “From the little structure that seemed to do nothing except give rise to difficult tumors, the pineal has emerged as a central organ in human physiology. Consistent with the evolving holistic picture of the organism, the pineal defies understanding if conceptually relegated to one system or function” (Elias, 2005).
Regarding the relationship between the pineal and the adrenals in particular, “the contradictory nature of the results obtained so far make it difficult to draw any definitive conclusions about the pineal-adrenal axis” (Seijan et al., 2008).
There appears to be some research suggestive of direct adrenal influence on the pineal. Glucocorticoids are substances produced by the adrenals, and there are glucocorticoid receptors in the trout pineal (Benyassi et al., 2001). And, research has also suggested that glucocorticoids modulate pineal activity to relieve stress in goats (Seijan et al., 2008).
But, for sure, we know that adrenergic systems (CNS adrenaline and noradrenaline) do influence the pineal directly.
In a moment, we’ll look more at the possibility that direct adrenal influence on the pineals is made more likely by neuroendocrinological damage caused by, say, antidepressants.
V. We misinterpret psi because it feels like fear and uses similar neuroendocrine pathways to fear
So maybe we’re neurologically designed to respond to fear with greater psi.
Concomitantly, because psi and fear may be closely linked neurologically, we might be more easily confused by psi, and misinterpret it as anxiety signals, because it *feels* similar, and uses similar neuro-endocrinological pathways.
Just as excitement and anxiety share some psychoneurological features, and can be confused one for the other, so it may be with psi and fear.
Another disclaimer – there are many psychological reasons why people fear psi. Today, we’re just looking at one possible neuroendocrinological pathway.
Now, if the psi opening is gradual and the fear is moderate, this can all be sorted out.
But, what happens if the psi opening is big and abrupt, or the fear is great? Physical or psychological trauma – illness, accidents, abuse – can cause abrupt psi openings and / or a lot of fear. What might be happening neurologically in this case?
VI. Trauma (psychological or physical) causes dysfunction
The pineal is a photo-neuroendocrine transducer. Environmental energy – in the form of light, other parts of the electromagnetic spectrum, and geomagnetism -- influence the pineal to produce its substances, which then have widespread influences throughout the body (Elias, 2005, Roney-Dougal, 2000).
Regular, smooth cyclicality in response to zeitgebers (time-givers, environmental cues) is crucial to optimal health. Food is a zeitgeber for another system in the body. Light and EM are the cues for the pineal, retinas, and associated parts of the brain (Roney-Dougal, 2000).
There are all sorts of cycles in the body. Cycles are how we live in the body, and in time and space. Every heart beat is a cycle. There is the Basic Rest Activity Cycle, which lasts 90 minutes, and repeatedly alternates between higher activity and greater rest 24 hours a day. And there are circadian, lunar, seasonal, and lifespan (eg puberty) rhythms.
There is ample evidence that when smooth cyclicality of pineal functioning gets disrupted in any way, it leads to some kind of disorder (Couto-Moraes et al., 2009; Elias, 2005; Groenendijk, 2001; Roney-Dougal, 2000). “…[I]njury disconnects the organism from environmental cycling, while recovery restores the light/dark information to the whole organism” (Couto-Moraes et al., 2009).
Cyclicality can be disrupted by physical or psychological trauma. That trauma can be acute or cumulative. Cyclicality can also be disrupted by the common psychoneurological damage created by lifelong repressive socialization.
These traumas or repressive socialization, and the disruption to the pineal they cause, can lead to an inflexibility of consciousness that is either too shut down or too stuck on one setting.
To further demonstrate that smooth, cyclical, flexible functioning of the pineal appears to be what is desirable, let us also consider the evidence that calcification of the pineal causes disorders.
One study suggested that the normal pineal grows from birth to age 2, with no apparent growth from age 2 – 20. There was also progressive calcification to age 30; then the calcification stops progressing (Sumida et al., 1996).
A summary of one collection of research studies on pineal calcification paints a picture. The research suggests calcification may be associated with melatonin deficiency, circadian timing irregularity, insomnia, gradual onset schizophrenia, tardive dyskinesia, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, stroke, and other disorders. It may be made worse by fluoride, and living in an industrialized society. In gerbils, the pineal may form calcium concretions in response to stress. (greenmedinfo.com)
Several studies suggest that pineal calcification correlates with signs and symptoms of schizophrenia (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8063514?dopt=Abstract, http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/1342008?dopt=Abstract, http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/1979971?dopt=Abstract), but they raised a serious question for me. The studies were done on people with schizophrenia in institutions, and the odds are very high that these people were taking toxic psychiatric medications, or in withdrawal from them. So, at this point, it is an open question how much of pineal calcification is due to schizophrenia and how much is due to toxic drugs.
The fact remains that there is evidence to suggest that calcification of the pineal may be one of the mechanisms that interferes with cyclicality and flexibility.
As just one example of how physical trauma can affect the pineal and the adrenals, psi and fear, let us look briefly at the specific case of antidepressant medication. Cyclicality is definitely affected; calcification is hypothesized.
iii. SSRI Antidepressants
Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitor antidepressants are supposed to work by forcing more serotonin to stay available in the neuronal synapses. However, the human body won’t be pushed around this way, and immediately starts to compensate by removing serotonin receptors. Ha! Take that! Meanwhile, a cascade of myriad neuroendocrinological effects follow from this chemical manipulation (which often goes on for years), causing neuronal pruning, damage, and death in some areas, promoting neurogenesis in others, overwhelming the liver’s capacity, turning up and down endocrine glands, etc., etc.
1. Effects of taking antidepressants
Charly Groenendijk, a Dutch antidepressant survivor and remarkable researcher, has written an excellent article on antidepressants and the pineal (Groenendijk, 2001). He points out how SSRI antidepressants interfere with natural bodily cycles. The medication, which is always taken daily and ongoingly, forces serotonin to be continuously available, and to ignore natural biorhythyms.
Groenendijk also makes a good case for antidepressants causing pineal calcification, based on research linking calcification, tardive dyskinesia, serotonin, melatonin, dopamine, and anti-psychotic medication (Groenendijk, 2001).
The pineal is the richest site of serotonin in the brain (Groenendijk, 2001). “The concentration of serotonin in the pineal is 250 times greater than that in any other region of the brain” (Elias, 2005). There is some research to suggest that antidepressants do increase pineal functioning (Brown et al., 1996).
Serotonergic drugs also have a direct impact on the adrenals. There are serotonergic cells in the adrenals (Delarue et al., 1998). There is widespread clinical anecdotal evidence for some sort of adrenal fatigue that becomes more pronounced the longer the drugs are taken (Groenendijk, 2001).
Serotonin itself is involved in so many functions that it’s mind-boggling. One of them is perception. Also, both melatonin and pinoline are made from serotonin. What happens to consciousness and perception when production of these substances that are related to dreaming and non-waking reality is tampered with? (Groenendijk, 2001)
During prolonged use, people become insidiously disconnected from their feelings, apathetic, sleep and dreaming are affected, consciousness is dulled. Generally speaking, I suspect that psi development become stalled or suppressed.
2. Effects of withdrawing from antidepressants
Now, hard as these drugs are on the body, withdrawal from them is even harder. The body has become dependent on regular doses of the drugs, and many semi-permanent neuroendocrinological changes have been made. When you remove the drug, there is rebound and chaos, until the body slowly makes changes yet again, and reestablishes a new homeostasis.
The pineal processes huge amounts of serotonin. The adrenals become depleted. Serotonin and chemically related endogenous substances are interfered with by the drugs. What happens to consciousness, perception, fear, and psi when you take the drugs for a significant length of time and then stop?
Many people have a severe, prolonged reaction to stopping these drugs, even if they taper off them extremely slowly. They often experience neuroendocrinological chaos, including symptoms of adrenal hyperactivity and astronomical anxiety. The subjective experience has often been compared to a protracted LSD trip – a bad one -- initially intense, and then progressively diluted. Depersonalization / derealization are common, sleep and dreaming are affected, perception and consciousness are very distorted. Some people experience an abrupt psi opening early in the removal of the drugs, followed by a chaos of indistinguishable fear and psi, followed by slowly emerging psi capacities.
As a sidebar, I’m not sure what to make of this, but it may be evidence that exposure to and withdrawal from psychoactive medications has an impact on cyclicality as it relates to fear. I know three people, including myself, who have withdrawn from these medications and who now become anxious or agitated at a particular time of day, every day, predictably – 10:30 am for me, 2 pm and 6 pm for the other two. It’s easier to see that this is probably related to something like a diurnal cortisol cycle (adrenals). But might it also be tied to a pineal cycle (via melatonin for example) and be a time of heightened psi?
VII. How it works when it’s working well or even better than well
Up to this point, we’ve explored the possible neuroendocrinological connection between fear and psi, including the possible nature of the relationship between the pineal and the adrenals. We’ve considered that it may be evolutionarily adaptive for fear to trigger psi, and that this provides a pathway that could also be ripe for misinterpretation, where psi would trigger fear. We’ve speculated that smooth cyclicality and non-calcification are important for pineal health. And we’ve looked at SSRI antidepressants as just one example of how physical or psychological trauma could damage the system and impair our relationship with our own psi.
How is it supposed to work when it’s all systems go? And can we go beyond fear and using psi to survive to using psi to thrive? Does the survival version of psi give us insight into the thriving version of psi?
i. A gateroom of one’s own
Biologist J.V. Wallach has articulated a fascinating theory about endogenous hallucinogens that may help us.
In the words of radical psychiatric survivor d_vyne_madnesss: “[The] 'reality' we take to be 'normal' and 'objective' may in fact be rather a controlled psychedelic experience!…
“Wallach proposes that…waking consciousness can be thought of as a controlled psychedelic experience. When the control of these normal systems of perception becomes loosened and their behavior no longer correlates with the external world, then altered states arise.
“Translated, what this suggests is that consciousness, the waking state we take as a 'given' and that feeds us information about the physical world, is itself a kind of hallucination that is fed to us in a controlled way by the pineal gland. Changing the dosage and timing results in a completely different experience (the aliens, the tunnel of light), raising the question of, which experience is real?” (d_vyne_madness, 2009).
And in Wallach’s own words:
“Researchers have been puzzled over the role of the endogenous hallucinogens for over 50 years. The endogenous hallucinogens have been hypothesized as playing roles in phenomena such as dreaming, near death experiences, psychosis and more recently even UFO abduction experiences. All of these experiences represent altered states of consciousness (ASC). These ASC are conditional on the existence of a standard waking state. Endogenous hallucinogens may be involved in the above ASC as well as others, however I propose that it is the role these chemicals play in ordinary sensory perception that allows them to precipitate in the ASC as well. Dreaming, psychosis and out of body experiences arise when the release of endogenous hallucinogens is not correlated with external events. In this theory waking reality is created in a similar way to altered states except that the normal state correlates with events in the “physical” world. Thus waking reality can be thought of as a tightly regulated psychedelic experience and altered states arise when this regulation is loosened in some fashion” (Wallach, 2009).
Note how this parallels Carpenter’s First Sight model in its implication that psi processes may underlie all of psychological experience, not just the anomalous events. Then, the pineal (and undoubtedly it is a lot more complicated than this) dials the type of consciousness / reality that is called for at any given moment.
If you’ll forgive me a moment of Sci Fi geekiness here, this reminds me of the Stargate movie and TV series. The pineal is analogous to the “Gate Room,” where the Stargate can be dialed to access different wormholes. Most of the time, the wormholes lead to different, faraway places. Occasionally, they lead to different times or different timelines.
Likewise, the pineal may dial different internal states *and* different external realities. In his dramatic DMT research, Strassman started from the position that his subjects were accessing different internal states while on DMT, but eventually became convinced that they were actually accessing different external realities. As one of his subjects commented, “…there is infinite variation on reality. There is the real possibility of adjacent dimensions” (Strassman, 2001, p. 195).
Strassman speculates that DMT may be produced all the time. He suggests that not enough DMT and you'll feel life has no meaning; just the right amount and you'll be tuned into normal reality as we are used to it; more DMT and you will tune into aspects of reality we don't have access to as often (Strassman, 2001).
The body is designed to produce psychedelics and access other realities. This capacity can become distorted, damaged, *and* activated by physical or psychological trauma. When it is stimulated by trauma, you might get a psi opening that is partially distorted, as in the case of psychosis. Or you might get a psi opening that is limited to a focus on danger. For example, abuse survivors sometimes have an advanced ability to detect danger, but it’s harder for them to detect fun.
The problem with big, disjunctive psi openings is that the individual has to catch up psychoneurologically. Until one does, you get the confusion between psi and fear that we’ve been talking about above.
ii. Maturation of the pineal
Ideally, the pineal is supposed to mature slowly. This allows for psychoneurological growth, adjustment, working through of new understandings, new identities, and new capacities.
Psychologist and Kundalini scholar Stuart Sovatsky, Ph.D. proposes that there are, in fact, many different puberties that an individual can go through. This fits nicely with the general idea that a Kundalini awakening is a developmental leap. We know that the pineal, via melatonin, is implicated in puberty. Sovatsky goes further and believes that the pineal, itself, matures over the entire lifespan, and that the more mature the pineal (and the more efficacious its productions of various substances), the more consistent the state of awakened consciousness (Sovatsky, 1998).
The master shaman exhibits a smooth, cyclical, integrated dialing among different realities. This mature, evolved person is able to operate successfully in the workaday world *and* navigate expanded states of consciousness on a regular basis. (Roney-Dougal, 2000). This person is adaptable, flexible, and thriving with psi.
iii. All systems go
What, if anything, does the present theory of survival psi and confusion of fear with psi tell us that is helpful in moving toward thriving with psi? After all, to this point in our evolution, it seems that fear of psi, blocks to psi, being overwhelmed by psi are all more common than smooth maturation of psi.
There are some people who seem to come into this world with their psi capacities starting active and staying active. But, it is still appears to be more common for people to get off the track of natural psi maturation, and to shut down any development of their capacities beyond that which is considered normal by society.
However, the natural developmental thrust is always there waiting. The individual wants to develop, and probably the universe and the collective consciousness need the individual to develop. So, many things can be enlisted to re-activate the dormant development. Ideally, love and empathy can do the job. But, so can trauma.
To paraphrase Dr. Johnson, the threat of death focuses the mind wonderfully. And, in this case, a threat to survival may reveal the heretofore hidden path to thriving with psi. A trauma may activate the hypothesized fear – psi pathway in the body, initially to master the trauma. But, having been activated, this pathway may now be more available for further use and development. We can move even further into our birthright, refining our innate psychic potential – not only for survival, but for joy. We can facilitate the maturation of the fear – psi pathway into something that is also an excitement – psi pathway.
Thanks to Tom Ruffles for pointing me to Serena Roney-Dougal’s work on the pineal.
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