The Spotless Mind

Recently my mind has been plagued with ruminations of negative experiences. In previous weeks, life has actually been quite well. Certain blog posts did well, I was meeting with interesting people to discuss possible collaborations, and coaching has been insightful. On the other hand, certain negative experiences left me with repeating distractions. The timeline of valence was like a rollercoaster. First, many good things happened in a short period of time. Then, everything settled down and a few bad interpersonal experiences occurred. This combination created a tendency to seek stimulation and reward via social media which became a distraction from my other goals. It was as if I replaced the large dose of stimulation that comes with a new blog post with casual social media use, as if to keep the ball rolling.

This led me to consider ketamine as a way to diminish my clinginess to conditioned responses (I am prescribed ketamine for depression). I was looking into the work of Ravi K. Das who studies ketamine as a way to diminish reconsolidation of addiction-related memory processes. So I set out to test this idea and possibly recover and avoid any potential depressive episode that may be looming. Before consuming the ketamine, I journaled about the particular experiences that my mind was obsessed with and even attempted to retrace the feelings I experience when I am compelled to addictively use social media. The hope was to reduce the strong urgency that guides both my ruminations and my social media use. 

The Experience

I created a song based on this trip that you can listen to below.

This experience was particularly insane. It began with sensations of euphoria that came and went. It seemed to depend on whether I attended to such senses or not. This had me wondering if ketamine euphoria highly depends on whether or not you are focusing on the sensation or ignoring it. Then I realized how this ties into my recent exploration of attention and dissociation.

A quick recap on what I suspect dissociatives may do (taken from Attention as the Mechanism of Dissociation):

Dissociative drugs are popularly known to induce dissociative effects. One stranger effect that isn’t often talked about is immersion. Initially, immersion would seem like something that opposes dissociation, though consider that immersion in this cases might be about dropping attention for other stimuli. In the same way that dissociatives allow us to stop feeling our body or sometimes lose touch with external reality, more partial effects may occur at lower doses, such as a detachment from normally distracting stimuli. This sort of effect may actually underlie the sort of dream states described in “k-hole’ experiences.

Consider how very surprising loud noises suddenly draw our attention and force us to immerse into the stimuli while dissociating from whatever we were doing. Surprising and relatively loud stimuli are highly salient (Zarcone et al., 2016Liao et al., 2015). Surprising and relatively quiet noises do not usually have such an effect (at least this seems to be the case). Dissociative drugs may reduce the intensity of stimuli and make it so that loud stimuli are “quieter”. These drugs are known to induce numbness of the body at higher doses and are even used on people during surgery because of these body-numbing qualities. This numbing could be generalized to both internal and external stimuli so that everything is “quieter” to such a degree that immersing into a television show or your imagination becomes easier. This may result in being so immersed into television shows that you forget that you are even watching a screen and begin to believe that your observations are ones of reality. The k-hole dream states are somewhat like how closing our eyes can allow us to immerse into our imagination, potentially because we are no longer distracted by such loud external perceptions.

I decided to stop trying to focus my attention on my senses. Usually, I did focus on my senses, particularly by staring at the black behind my blindfold, as a way to hopefully observe hallucinations, but this time I allowed my senses to leave my mind. This was ultimately the right choice. While this dose was only 80mg, I suspect my strategy to utilize attention with intention factored into how this trip escalated. This strategy is almost the opposite of performing body scans, in which a person focuses on the sensations on their body from head to toe. Instead, I rejected attendance to any sensation that popped up in my conscious experience by directing my attention elsewhere, usually towards thoughts or imaginations.

At this point, I willingly slipped deeper and deeper into what could only be described as the k-hole. I left my body and existed only as some sentient “shape”. This shape did not conform to boring and ordinary geometry but had complexity. It was like a ball that had a tail that curled out into the ethereal space. I still felt aware of my “self” but my body was arbitrary. The realm around me was nonrepresentational, cloudy, black, grey, purple, and touches of red. My sentient place was golden colored. The music I listened to had elements of scratching and bubbling water, which took on a visual synesthetic feeling. The songs guided my interpretation of reality.

The Spotify playlist I made for this trip: DreamingAwake

A state of detachment peaked. The sense that life or sentience is valuable faded. This may have shifted my views on how people approach being alive or wanting to die. I suspect this perspective was the kind that informed various Buddhist ideas. Life seems to have such endless potential and so much of this was squashed by our urgency to protect our status quo. We cling on as if this is all we have and we have already reached our peak existence. Death didn’t matter. Life didn’t matter. But my interests and curiosities somehow did. I wondered how far I could push to the limits of knowledge, but not book knowledge, instead., something deeper, like experiential knowledge as well. I wanted to observe the limits of the mind, my perception, and to know what it even means to exist at all.

I lay blindfolded during midday. Light leaked through the blindfold. I allowed myself to interpret this without the constraints of my knowledge of the situation. I decided to not attend what I knew so that I could better see what else reality could look like. Rooms began to form from the leaking light. Corners were born. Vague object-like presences floated around, though never fully becoming objects. The time of day seemed to change based on the music that played. It would switch between night and a kind of daylight with blue light coming through nonrepresentational windows.

There were elements of egoism that wouldn’t normally appeal to me. It felt as if I could allow myself to be driven towards selfish manipulation of my reality. It isn’t that I would harm others, but it felt as if I backed away from giving power to others. This might actually be important for me to apply in daily life. My sense of low independence may be connected to this. Materialism felt hollow and my interest in understanding what I am came to the center. There were so many ways to process “reality” that I had not allowed myself due to my addiction to human culture.

Results

My goal was to diminish the effect of certain cues on eliciting conditioned responses as a way to become less addicted to social media and less obsessed with the ruminations that my mind attached to. While this didn’t exactly work as I hoped, there were other interesting effects. There was an observed strong reduction in depression, induction of a hypomanic state, and possible changes to the way I think, which seemed to stem from the particular thoughts during the experience.

The reduction in depression was strong enough that I became hyperactive and mildly hypomanic. I started sleeping less, often times waking up at 1 or 2 AM and staying up for an hour or two then falling back asleep. I felt an intense curiosity about what life would be like if I started to chase selfish desires. This actually concerned me. This effect has since faded luckily. This likely came about from pondering about the pursuit of selfish desires during the trip. The hypomania has mostly ceased by about 4-5 days after the ketamine consumption.

The main intention of altering conditioned responses seemed to fade, though, there were changes in my responses to the cues I set out to manipulate with ketamine. It is hard to say, but it appeared that my responses were more flexible, but potentially in the opposite direction than I intended. This makes me wonder if it is the induced plasticity of the post-acute ketamine use. This might work in either direction, overwriting the response to cues or enhancing them, depending on whether you feed the addiction or avoid it. It’s unclear.

. . .

I’ve recently started offering Psychology Coaching if you are interested in having 1 hour sessions to discuss, understand, and attempt to solve the issues you face.

If you found this enjoyable, consider joining the Patreon! I’ve been posting detailed experience reports with my adventures using prescription ketamine. Also. someone sent me an EEG device to collect data on ketamine-induced brainwave changes which I’ve started posting there too. I also post secret mini podcasts. You can find the publicly available podcasts here by the way!

Special thanks to the 15 patrons: Morgan Hough, Buttercup, Libby Rosebaugh, Dan Elton, Idan Solon, David Chang, Jack Wang, Richard Kemp, Alex W, Sarah Gehrke, Melissa Bradley, Morgan Catha, Niklas Kokkola, Riley Fitzpatrick, and Charles Wright! Abhi is also the artist who created the cover image for Most Relevant. Please support him on instagram, he is an amazing artist! I’d also like to thank Alexey Guzey, Annie Vu, Chris Byrd, and Kettner Griswold for your kindness and for making these projects and the podcast possible through your donations.

If you’d like to support these projects like this, check out this page.

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