Cannabis and Meditation | Science and well-being | Hudson Valley
This is an excerpt from Philip H. Farber’s High Magick: A Cannabis Guide to Ritual and Mysticism (Llewellyn, 2020), a guide to using cannabis safely and effectively in spiritual contexts. Farber is a magician, teacher and the author of several books on magic. He lives in the Hudson Valley.
Cannabis and meditation have been closely linked since prehistoric times and through Hinduism, Taoism and other meditative traditions. We have seen Aleister Crowley link samadhi (a state of union which is one of the possible outcomes of meditation) to cannabis. So what exactly makes it such an important and historic connection? Let’s start with some basics.
There are so many different practices labeled “meditation” that it is sometimes difficult to find a simple definition of the practice. For some, meditation simply means thinking about something, as in “meditate on how you ended up here, reading this book.” For others, meditation might follow a guided fantasy or visualization. For the most part, however, meditation is a set of specific practices that help quiet the mind and develop helpful results such as increased calm, relaxation, increased ability to focus, and greater awareness. In many traditions (if not most), meditation can lead to mystical results, including awareness of the unity of existence and the ability to uplift and direct psychic energies.
The catch in most of these practices is that thinking about any of these results distracts and takes the focus away from the meditation. Meditators are generally advised to simply meditate without desiring any particular outcome, which can be a confusing idea for goal-oriented practitioners in the 21st century.
Wherever you are, whatever your thoughts, acknowledge and accept what is happening, then focus your attention on the meditation process. And that’s basically the process: while focusing on the object of a particular meditation – a mantra, a symbol, a chakra, a candle flame, the experience of breathing or sitting – a variety thoughts will arise. Each thought is perceived, acknowledged, and then attention is brought back to meditation.
Distracting thoughts that arise can range from intrusions of minor physical discomfort (“My nose itches!”) to thoughts about the day (“Am I going to finish the project before my boss gets upset?”) to complete sensory daydreams. . In the context of meditation, these are in no way repressed or denied. Each pause in concentration, whatever form it takes, is acknowledged, accepted for what it is, and then attention is returned to meditation.
Observing the ebb and flow of focus and distraction during meditation can be instructive in several ways. First, we observe the interaction between the consciously focused prefrontal cortex and the brain’s default network, the tendency of various parts of the brain to chatter with each other when no conscious focus is applied. The ability to calm the default network enhances the ability to focus which can be applied to many different life tasks. If you learn to focus while meditating, you will also improve your focus for reading, playing, working, or whatever else you need. Regular practice can also decrease the internal dialogue and rumination characteristic of depression and anxiety, which are network-based by default.
Second, the distracting thoughts that arise can give us an indication of the kinds of things lurking beneath ordinary awareness. After a while, we may begin to notice patterns in thought patterns. Are they mostly physical distractions? Money worries? Fantasies of sex, food or vacations in exotic places? Memories of childhood, friends, family, or traumatic or pleasant incidents from the past? No matter how serious or insignificant the thoughts seem, they can hold clues to solving ongoing problems in our lives. Additionally, as each thought arises in awareness, it can be reconsolidated in memory with a bit of calm from the meditative state, subtly altering how we respond to those thoughts in the future. But leave the analysis and the retrospective for later and bring your attention back to the object of your meditation.
If you continue to pursue your meditation, the benefits continue. Daily practice (in fact, regular practice of almost anything) will mirror the same meditative process over time. Are you distracted by other activities and sometimes forget your workout times? Are you ever tempted to take a day off, watch TV instead, hang out with friends, etc. ? Just like with a pause in focus during meditation, these distractions can be recognized and accepted, and then you turn your attention (and behavior) to your practice.
Here are some simple meditation techniques to explore:
Sit in a position with your spine vertical and straight (a chair will do just fine). Let your breathing become relaxed and natural. Let it set its own pace and depth, but it’s comfortable. Focus your attention on your breathing, the movements of your chest and abdomen rather than your nose and mouth. Keep your attention focused on your breathing. For some people, an extra level of focus can be helpful. You can add a simple pronounced counting rhythm in your head as you breathe: “One” on the inhale, “Two” on the exhale, and repeat. Or you can visualize your breath as a swinging door, opening on the inhale and opening on the exhale.
Sit down and pay attention to your posture, your breathing and your surroundings. As thoughts pop up in your mind, write them down, give them a label, and then let them go. Label them without judgment. That is, notice that “it’s a thought about an itch”…then let it go. Or “it’s an emotional thought of love [hate, anxiety, compassion, happiness, etc.]”, then let it go and bring your attention back to your current experience.
basic mantra meditation
Select a short sentence to focus on. It can be something from a spiritual tradition, an affirmation you would like to use, a nonsense phrase (or a phrase in a language you don’t understand) or just a count. Repeat the phrase aloud (if circumstances permit) or in your head. If and when your mind strays from the mantra, accept the distracting thought without trying to suppress it, then, as soon as you are able, bring your full attention back to your mantra.
Alright, so what happens when you combine meditation with cannabis? Again, it depends somewhat on decor and setting, but there are some general trends we can explore. Remember that cannabis has the ability to enable both focused awareness and imagination. Meditation is usually an interaction between these, but when cannabis is involved they can occur simultaneously. In other words, you can have thoughts, visions, hear sounds, experience various feelings, and with practice, stay focused on the object of your meditation at the same time. This allows for a unique type of experience in which one can continue to meditate while ideas and other thoughts that might otherwise be intrusive can also continue to occur.
Meditation, in general, gives us the practice of observing and participating in the normally unconscious action of our mind. Cannabis seems to intensify this process, allowing for more “second attention”, the part of consciousness that can observe itself. Additionally, noticing the contrast between elevated and non-elevated states can reveal even more information about our internal processes.
It is important to become familiar with both technique and cannabis experience before combining them. In other words, practice your meditation regularly without cannabis in order to be able to determine what type of experiences are, in these circumstances, typical of this technique. And familiarize yourself with the particular type of cannabis and route of administration you intend to use. Then mix thoroughly. Start with a small amount, a puff or two if you smoke. If it seems like more would be helpful, end your meditation session and experiment with a larger amount on another occasion.
Almost any type of meditation or ritual will benefit from repeated practice, and it can happen that really interesting, exciting, educational, or mystical experiences occur after you have explored regularly for some time. How long? Everyone is different and times can vary, but the more you practice the better it gets.
watch the smoke
This is a very basic meditation that uses smoke as the center of attention. This can be done with incense, which will burn longer, or with the smoke from the end of a joint. Very simply, take a deep puff, then, while breathing deeply and comfortably, hold the joint or incense in front of you a foot or two away and watch the smoke rise. Keep your head and eyes facing forward and focus on the stream of smoke directly in front of you. Repeat the puff until you have reached an appropriate state, then continue to observe the smoke. Let all other thoughts dissipate and watch them rise. As new thoughts arise, acknowledge them and then bring your attention back to observing.