Meditation as a Technology of Consciousness with Dustin DiPerna

Meditation as a Technology of Consciousness with Dustin DiPerna

In this episode, Dustin DiPerna discusses key stages of human development, and practices we can integrate into our lives to transform consciousness. He shares his framework for understanding the various areas of human growth - “wake up, grow up, clean up, show up.”

In This Episode We Discussed:

  • Stages of human development
  • Relying on external authority vs having direct experience
  • 3 technologies of meditation
  • Esoteric practices that transform consciousness
  • Why our ethics needs to catch up to our technological power
  • 3 ways to begin evolving consciousness
  • 4 ways to understand human growth

Show Notes:

0:00 Intro
2:26 3 categories of meditation
8:24 what happens in the brain during meditation
16:34 key stages of human development
21:21 esoteric practices to transform consciousness
25:33 technologies of self-transcendence
34:50 Sense of self as an emergent property
40:30 why evolving consciousness matters now
49:20 3 onramps to exploring consciousness
55:19 wake up, grow up, clean up, show up

Mentioned in This Episode:

Full Episode Transcript:

Daniel: Welcome to the NeuroHacker Collective podcast, Collective Insights. My name is Daniel Schmachtenberger. I'm with research and development here at the Collective, and we are excited, delighted to have Dustin Diperna joining us today. [00:00:30] Dustin in an expert in the field of world religions and spiritual traditions, in a way bringing them to modern life in a way that is both scientifically commensurate and relevant to the application cases that people care about.

He studied world religion at Cornell and then at Harvard, and then ended up studying with the Buddhist teacher, Dan Brown, integral philosophy with Ken Wilber, and studying with many of the people at the cutting edge [00:01:00] of the topics of human development, spirituality, meditation, et cetera, and has written a number of books in these spaces, and teaches at Stanford School of Medicine in the health and performance department, and is not just first in ancient practices, but also in relevant modern practices that are involving cutting edge technology, neurotechnology mediated meditation.

We're really excited to have Dustin [00:01:30] here to talk with us about what is possible in the space of human development and meditation and why it's relevant, all of that. Dustin, thank you for joining us.

Dustin Diperna: Thank you for having me, Daniel. It's a pleasure to be here.

Daniel: To start, what is interesting in this space? For an audience, some of our audience probably has never meditated, has only a vague idea of what it is. Some may have introductory [00:02:00] familiarity, and some have deep spiritual practices, meditative practices, and for some meditation is a spiritual practice. For others, it's a neurologic feedback process. Why was this an interesting area of study for you? Why is it interesting at a place at like Stanford School of Medicine? Help us understand a little bit of what is this space, what's possible, and what's interesting?

Dustin Diperna: Great. Fantastic question to start off with. [00:02:30] I would say, Daniel, most of the audience is probably familiar with the fact that they can take supplements, and those supplements can have a dramatic effect on their physical well-being. I would say that in a similar way, we can do particular practices. We can explore different aspects of our own mind in such a way that it has a dramatic effect of how we experience reality.

I think from a basic starting point I became interested in these kinds of things because I was suffering. I was in a situation where I felt like my [00:03:00] whole life was chaotic. There was a sense that there was my parents were having affairs. My mother was an alcoholic. I needed to find a refuge. I needed to do that in a way that was commensurate with my understanding of the world.

I wasn't a religious type person, so for me doing something that was belief based was not [inaudible 00:03:20]. Doing something that I could try in my own direct experience, that I could practice was very interesting for me. I got turned on to meditation in my teens [00:03:30] as a method to transform my experience of reality, but also the ways that I could show up in more full and higher potential ways.

I think a good place to frame things out for the audience is just talk about technology a little bit. Talk about technology in an ancient sense, and to talk about technology in a modern sense. I like to take a really broad swath of how I define technology.

For most people to hear the word technology [00:04:00] they automatically think of our smartphones, or they think about social networks and things like this. For me, technology has always existed, and there have always been ways that we as human beings have interacted with our world, and have mediated our experience.

One of the things that I like to point out is that we've been using things like drumming or chanting or meditation techniques for thousands and thousands of years, maybe 40,000 years or more potentially. Technology isn't new, and we've learned things over [00:04:30] the past several thousand years that are still relevant today. Our mind and our human experience can be deconstructed in ways that provide incredible and subtle changes in consciousness.

There are three basic forms of technology when it comes to meditation that I like to point out. I do this as a basic overview, so like people can get a sense of what we're talking about. Most people when they hear the term technology, they hear the term meditation, they're probably going [00:05:00] to think about something like mindfulness. Mindfulness has had a broad positive effect on our culture, but mindfulness is one very small category of meditation.

What mindfulness basically is, is the capacity moment by moment to turn your attention to an intended object. As we begin to unpack that, we start to understand what that means, mindfulness or the basic forms of turning your attention to an object fits into a broader category of meditation called concentration.

[00:05:30] Obviously, there are applications of being able to concentrate and to be able to focus your mind in a way that can have positive effects in performance and many other things. We can go into details about that.

A second important category of meditation is a category that we call generative practice. This means we have the capacity to intentionally affect the ways that we experience our emotional well-being and emotional states. We can generate states of positivity or generosity or kindness or love very intentionally through practices. [00:06:00] That shows up not only for us, but for the people around us.

Finally, in a third category of meditation that I'd just name as a foundational framework, are mediation practices that are called insight practices. These practices begin to show us how we moment by moment construct our own experience of reality, how we create a subject and an object. How we put names, concepts, and forms onto reality. When we begin to do those types of practices, those are the kind that can have the most radical effects on our worldview, [00:06:30] how we interact with each other, how we interact with ourselves.

I would just say all of that as a form of technology that's always existed. Meditative practices are things that can mediate our experience in ways that we may have never dreamed of. They are not something that are belief based. It doesn't matter your model of the world. There some that you can try out in your own experience, and you can see through evidence what works and what happens for you in your own life. I'll hold that as a frame. There are many different directions we can go from that.

Daniel: [00:07:00] If we take a book like "Waking Up" by Sam Harris, where you have a neuroscientist, who is famously atheist and focused on critical thinking, and has a physicalist model of the mind-brain interaction, conscious emerges from brain, he's still saying that meditation, that there are types of meditation that are relevant to increasing the quality of human life human capacity. [00:07:30] That if you think about affecting the brain structurally through exercises that stimulate neurogenesis and create [inaudible 00:07:39] changes [inaudible 00:07:40], if you think about changing the brain chemically through the right types of diet and supplementation and whatever, that you can also think about changing the brain in terms of the software side more.

That might be in terms of what meaning-making we're running, what processes of information processing [00:08:00] and focus that we're running, that these are going to change our experience radically, and that whether we think that that's happening in a field of consciousness or a field of neural networks kind of doesn't matter to the fact that there are things that tangibly do increase of quality of people's subjective experience if they apply them, their exercises for effecting subjective experience.

Dustin Diperna: Yeah, absolutely, Daniel. I think a good build on that is that we know some things about concentration [00:08:30] practice or focusing practice that we didn't know a decade ago. Because we had the capacity of fMRI or functional MRI, we can actually take people who are in the process of focusing their mind, and we can track what aspects of the brain are lighting up.

We know for sure that when people are focused on a task and are deeply concentrated that the ACC, the anterior cingulate cortex, in the brain is lit up. It's activated. We can show this repeatedly over time.

Whether or not someone believes [00:09:00] that meditation works or whether or not someone believes that consciousness is an epiphenomenon of the brain actually doesn't make a difference. We can show that the practice of meditation increases ACC activation, which therefore increase focus and concentration.

Now, the reason this is important is because up until this point we didn't have the neural correlates of what was happening when one was meditating. It was always based on subjective experience. A person could say, "I'm more concentrated," [00:09:30] or, "I'm more focused." We know in our modern scientific paradigm subjective experience isn't always enough.

Now that we have the neural correlates of what's happening in the brain, we can say we know the ACC has to do with concentration. We know that people who potentially have attention deficit disorder have a deactivated ACC, which Adderall is activating the ACC, so therefore there's some connection there.

One of my mentors, Dan Brown, says the brain is an equal opportunity employer. It doesn't care if you take an Adderall [00:10:00] or if you're doing concentration practice by focusing your mind. As long as you're activating the ACC, it's going to work.

In that sense, we take an agnostic perspective. It's not a beliefs based perspective. It's agnostic and wants to see what actually gets results. I think that's new. I think that's something new and available to us now like never before.

Daniel: Given that we have the ability to do neurochemisty and animal trials and fMRIs and during the time that Buddha was [00:10:30] inquiring into these things, we didn't have even microscopes to see that there was microfunction happening in the brain. The brain looks like it's not moving, not like the heart and the intestines. Most people thought it was a cooling device for the blood.

It's almost fascinating that there were relevant insights at all. Yet, what you do end up seeing is that just based on people's own introspection and phenomenology and paying attention to it and multiple people checking the experience, much [00:11:00] of the development practices that came out of those traditions actually are being reified scientifically.

Dustin Diperna: Exactly, Daniel. I think it's sometimes hard for us in our modern scientific paradigm to imagine a scenario that existed in a different place and time that could also be rational. I often like to point out to people that just because we didn't have microscopes didn't mean that we were somehow irrational beings.

In a community of practice that perhaps existed a thousand years ago in Tibet, [00:11:30] for example, I call Tibet the Silicon Valley of the mind. The reason is so much innovation came out of Tibet, and so many practices came out of Tibet that we are still gaining from today. If we just take an example, a group of practitioners in Tibet weren't just doing something that was belief based. They were deeply rational.

They would put a practice to a test. They would try it in their own direct experience. They'd compare it to the scientific literature of the time, which were these meditation manuals. They would then compare it with a community [00:12:00] of the adequate, a community of people who have done similar practices. They would do research over time.

It's not as if before the microscope or before our modern science, it's not as if people were just fumbling around. We had very rational people who have done deep research into the nature of our own experience and the nature of the mind. To me it's not surprising, but I can see how someone from a paradigm that only knows the microscope or only knows our modern paradigm, [00:12:30] and perhaps projects into the past that people were irrational or pre-rational, that would be confusing, but for me it makes perfect sense. Particularly as I experience more and more in these practices and realize these things work, it gives me more and more confidence to look at them in a fuller and more detailed way.

Daniel: In terms of the neural correlates, the third-person what's happening in the brain versus the first-person here's what it feels like to be me and be experiencing [00:13:00] this, the classic example of no amount of understanding the chemistry of the strawberry actually gives you any really sense of what the taste of the strawberry is like. No amount of studying the brainwave patterns of 40-year Buddhist monks of a computational neural scientist actually teaches them how to navigate the way there or what the subjective experience is like.

Even though they're correlated, they really are different types of knowledge. [00:13:30] It's interesting to be able to do the third-person objective science knowledge, and the first-person knowledge. Obviously, eating a strawberry gives you a different insight into how to be a good chef, in terms of you get an intuition for how flavors will combine that you wouldn't get from thinking about the chemistry abstractly of different foods.

If we think about cultures where you had people that had the same types of brains we have today, meaning they had as much IQ intelligence [00:14:00] capacity and classes of them, sometimes priestly classes, they dedicated their whole life to exploring the way we do with scientists, first-person experience. Then sharing that with each other, that they may actually find a lot out about that universe that's novel.

Dustin Diperna: Precisely, and Daniel, it takes a bit of humility for us to sit in our position now and to actually realize there could be ancient wisdom that we have [00:14:30] as yet to unpack in our own direct experience. I think what's happening, this is why it's such an exciting time to be alive right now, is because the scientific literature and research capacities and things like fMRI as we're speaking about, or even things like some of these technologies that do brain-mind interface, via things like think, that there's a transcranial stimulation. We can stimulate different parts of the brain.

We have 16-channel EEGs that people can 3D print to try on at home. [00:15:00] We have all these different capacities that all of the sudden there's a lubrication that allows us to be a bit more humble because our methods are meeting the needs that we have as a rational culture. To then go back and say, "Wow, maybe there's more here than we had otherwise suspected."

I think what you're saying is precisely right. This time is rich is because there is an incredible dialogue that's happening between the ancient and the modern. It's certainly one of my interests, and I know one of your interests as well.

Daniel: Okay, [00:15:30] so when you said that part of what got you into these explorations was a desire to get out of suffering and figure out how to navigate your own subjective experience differently without being able to change the objective reality around you. Your parents were still going through what they were going through. Do you have to feel the same way, or can you become more sovereign in your internal state?

You said it wasn't going to be belief based. You wanted it to be empirical, practice based, but we do see the [00:16:00] exact same story belief based as the story as most people find religion. If they're coming to it, they didn't grow up there. Most of the people were given a pamphlet on any religion that they're proselytizing said, "Hey, I tried everything else. It didn't work. I was suffering, and when I accepted Jesus," Allah, whatever it was, things became better.

It was not necessarily about practice. For them it might have been about belief. How do you put those together? What happens for them? Is it actually [00:16:30] better? Is the belief doing something that ... Talk to us about that.

Dustin Diperna: I know that you had our friend, Zak Stein, on an earlier podcast. Zak's been a dear friend ever since the days we shared at Harvard together, and we often had these conversations about development. What does it mean to develop as a human being? What are the potential unfoldings of stages of adult development?

Some of these are well set. Some of them are controversial. It's an important place for us to start to answer your question, Daniel. [00:17:00] I'm going to use a broad overgeneralized example because I think it would be easier for your audience to understand rather than get too specialized. We as human beings have the potential to move through several key stages of adult development. Not everybody moves through them.

At one of those earlier states, what happens is we source authority outside of ourselves. The person that you're speaking about, the religious based person who is interested in belief often [00:17:30] looks outside of themselves for what's going to work, what does the dominant culture say? What does the paradigm I grew up in say? They take it on without a lot of deep questioning. There's just an inheritance of that particular belief system.

As we develop we gain this capacity to begin objectifying our own belief systems. We begin to operate on our own belief systems like a scientist. When we do that, we no longer source authority outside of ourselves. What we start [00:18:00] to do is we base our own life mission on our own individual authority, on our own inner authority.

We see individuals move through these. We see individuals throughout culture moving through these, and that shift is a really critical one because what it does particularly in the context of religion and spirituality is that if I'm at a stage where I'm now sourcing inner authority, it doesn't matter what anybody else says. I might use it as a reference point. It's like a hypothesis that a scientist gives, but I'm not going to [00:18:30] believe that just because the authority said it's true.

What becomes necessary is actually bringing that to my own experience, putting it into practice and seeing what works. It's true that belief can have a positive effect, but the way in which one is making meaning, whether it's externalized authority or internalized authority [inaudible 00:18:49].

I would guess that most people listening to your podcast or are involved in this audience aren't interested in external authority. These are people who are [inaudible 00:18:58], so they are people who are explorers [00:19:00] of what it means to supplement their realities and find out what actually works. That's my favorite audience to speak to because these are the people who are ready to try things out for themselves.

Daniel: I think this is a great distinction, and it's an interesting way to look at being able to separate the relevant from the irrelevant in religious traditions, where you had an element of religious traditions that were deep, esoteric, [00:19:30] personal development type practices that were based on real insights, real philosophy, real ethics, real development. Then you had the other chunk that was how do you make in-groups cohere together in the face of war and political challenges and economic challenges, where they have a very real need to create in-group, out-group dynamics?

We read most of the religious texts, and there's lot of stories of war. Certain groups willing holy wars against others. You have of course a [00:20:00] lot of stuff that wants to make people believe and defer to authority for an actually evolutionarily necessary reason. If you got a person who was in a bad way, drunk and homeless, and then they accept Jesus, become part of a church, and then all of the sudden they have a community, they might now, and now they have job opportunities, they have safety and security at the bottom of Maslow's hierarchy.

They have belonging. They have more esteem because they are doing better [00:20:30] in their life because they have a support system, and they have some sense of direction. Then you have the placebo effect of belief is good for placebo because just believing that you're on the right path, chilling out the worry, and the self-generated fear dynamics make a big difference.

It's interesting how religions from the point of view of them being in-group dynamics, kind of figured out how to work at every level of Maslow's hierarchy, [00:21:00] where you had that need met if you were part of it, and you would certainly not have it met if you weren't part of it. This is an anti-defection strategy. I think it's easy when one studies that and sees all the dreadful things done in the name of religion to want to throw the whole thing out.

Dustin Diperna: Yeah, absolutely. This is why, Daniel, we make ... Oh, please, if you weren't finished.

Daniel: No, go ahead.

Dustin Diperna: This is precisely why we make this distinction in [inaudible 00:21:26] studies and then the broader consideration between the exoteric and the esoteric. [00:21:30] It's precisely what you're pointing to.

There are in fact exoteric examples that are more belief based, that are used to set particular values and norms within a particular culture to create coherence, and there are esoteric practices that are actually used to transform consciousness. What's been at the core of my work, and the reason that I've been so passionate about this particular topic is because many of those esoteric practices are still alive and [00:22:00] active lineages where the esoteric practices have been passed from teacher to student to teacher to student in unbroken lines of transmission.

When you come in contact with esoteric practices that are an unbroken lines, there's a way in which that wisdom has been kept alive. You're exactly right. It doesn't have anything to do with these more in-group, out-group war based initiatives. This has to do with what's possible as a human being that we can do with our own mind?

Whether it's yoga [00:22:30] practice or whether it's exploring entheogens and psychedelics in the sacred context, or whether it's meditative practices, or ways that we can use our breath in particular ways that open up transformative states. Whatever the technology, there are ways in which we can transform our experience. That's really where I focus.

When we look at Maslow's hierarchy, as you pointed out, as you know at the top there was self-actualization, but then sometimes towards the end of Maslow's life, he also said self-transcendence. What [00:23:00] I'm really interested in are what are the practices and the methods that we know from ancient history and that are emerging now today that can actually give us a sense of self-transcendence, at the top of Maslow's hierarchy?

If in fact we have the other needs met, then what? Then what do we do? What is self-transcendence look like for an individual, and then in groups of people collectively around the world? What happens when self-transcendence begins to happen in group from?

What is the new potential [00:23:30] that emerges when groups of people who have all moved through [inaudible 00:23:33] I think we start to get into some very interesting territory, particularly when we combine it with some of these other technologies. Whether that's neuroscientific technologies, neurohacker technologies, supplements, or brain-mind interface, there are really interesting things that happen when self-transcendence meets modern technology meets groups of people internationally on a world center or a cosmic centric level of development. I think we're getting really [00:24:00] close to that. There are groups that are exploring it as we speak.

Daniel: Okay. I'd like to explore distinction further. Before self-transcendence, all the other Maslow's hierarchy categories are pretty clearly relevant to everybody, day-to-day. They want to feel more secure. They want to be better at doing the actions that generate real security in their life, financial and otherwise, but also being able [00:24:30] to deal with their mind, their anxiety that creates unnecessary insecurity, et cetera. They want to know how to do relationships better and have a better sense of belonging. They want to have a better sense of esteem and so forth, and they want to self-actualize.

Now, there are meditative practices, development practice that are relevant to help all of that. People can do practices that will actually make them psychologically better in ways that matter to them, performance better, et cetera.

[00:25:00] Then there is additional goals that people maybe don't even realize they have, the self-transcendence that is also there. Maybe talk about both. Talk about meditation and other spiritual practice, for lack of a better term, or if you have a better term, that are relevant to increasing the quality of the prosaic. Increasing the quality of all the things that people are already engaged in, and then is there something [00:25:30] else, and what it that?

Dustin Diperna: Great. It's a fun question, Daniel. Let's start with these three categories of meditation. One is focus of concentration. The second is generative practice, and the third is insight. Within the category of focused capacity, we know that activating the ACC can help us enter into flow states. It can help us enter into peak performance states.

Someone who is deeply concentrated [00:26:00] can give the full attention of their mind and presence into one particular task. They can shut everything else out. That's obviously going to lead to higher performance in the work.

Part of our interest is to show up in the world and have higher impact or to be a more influential leader, then obviously developing the capacity for peak performance is going to be more if you're an athlete or [inaudible 00:26:21]. We definitely know that concentration meditations can lead towards those domains, which every individual could benefit from if they wanted to master a particular [00:26:30] area of their life.

The other one, let's say belonging, for example, if you're using Maslow's hierarchy, if I could do meditative practices that help me become a kinder, more generous person, so a lovingkindness meditation, or a meditation around how I can generate generosity of spirit. I know that's going to increase my social value in communities that engage in. People will start interacting, having a better impression of me. They'll do nice things for me. I'll do nice things for them. There's [00:27:00] a sense of belonging that can develop that really has positive repercussions.

This third category of meditation, insight, is where things get really interesting. This is where this definition of self-transcendence comes in. I want to just as clear as I can say to the audience that self-transcendence isn't something that's only for a unique few people. Self-transcendence is a conscious or unconscious aspiration of the heart of every human being.

[00:27:30] The only way that you'll start to unpack that in your own life is by just being open-minded to the possibility that self-transcendence is also for you. This isn't something for people who are far away in some mountains or some caves.

What do we mean by self-transcendence? Self-transcendence, if I just speak really frankly, is that we can begin to understand that our own sense of awareness, our own mind, can actually move beyond an exclusive identification with our relative self. That means the Dustin-ness [00:28:00] or Daniel-ness isn't the end limit to who we consider ourselves to be.

In one particular tradition, say like in a Tibetan tradition for example, self-transcendence might be experienced as no longer understanding yourself to be limited to a physical body. You obviously have a physical body, but the awareness of who you are is no longer limited to the skin, that the body itself is much more open like space without [00:28:30] limitation. We begin to feel and experience the entire world as rising in that sense of self or within that body.

When we start have that experience we move beyond the limitations of just being Daniel or just being Dustin encapsulated in the body. We actually feel a deep sense of interconnectedness and interdependence with all of life in our direct experience. Not just as an idea.

These qualities of self-transcendence can have massive impact in the ways that we design our lives, [00:29:00] design our systems, the products we design, the technology that we design. There are immediate implications once one has this capacity for self-transcendence. There's an impulse to want to share it with others and to create environments where others can benefit from it.

Let me, if I may, Daniel, let me just take an Eastern parallel because sometimes people are really comfortable with things like Maslow's hierarchy and things, but most people don't know that there are parallels that are at least 8,000 to 10,000 years old that come from the Vedic traditions [00:29:30] in India that talk about something very similar to that. Just to show a parallel.

Within the Vedic or the yoga or the Hindu traditions, there is something called the aims of life, where they say that everybody has these ways in which they try to seek happiness. This tradition says that we start by seeking happiness through pleasure. That we try to have as much sex as we can, eat delicious food. We want to create comfortable environments for our bodies, so we're cozy. [00:30:00] At a certain point, once one has achieved to a certain level a satisfaction of that particular [curiosity 00:30:08], they realize that it doesn't bring happiness.

What actually happens is they move on to the next aim of life, which is the natural hierarchy of what emerges. At that stage, people start to pursue money and power. People start to say, "If I just accumulate enough wealth, or if I accumulate enough influence of power, then I'll be happy." As you and I both know, people [00:30:30] who have moved through that and even in our own lives, as we move through certain levels of abundance and capacity, that's also not ultimately satisfying.

Sure, it's nice just like pleasure is nice, but it doesn't create an ultimate satisfaction. Many of us then move on what this Hindu tradition says we start to focus on how we can contribute to the world and make the world the better place through, they call it dharma. Through our contribution and service.

In our modern parlance we look at people who shifted the world like the nonprofit world, the NGO world, [00:31:00] the world of social justice. They want to have that impact. As you and I both know, that also leads out to burnout. There are ways in which that does not ultimate satisfy us because there are so many things in the world that we can work on that the list is unending of all the things we can do.

The Hindu tradition says the only way that we can start to move into this next phase is by starting to focus on what is essential, and they can claim that what's ultimately essential is liberation or self-transcendence. It's only through self-transcendence [00:31:30] we'll find ultimate satisfaction.

I look at it as an ancient parallel example of something like Maslow's hierarchy that your audience may be familiar with just to say we're sometimes reinventing the wheel, and if we learn and study what these ancient traditions have to say, there's a way that they're very relevant to us. If in fact a tradition that's thousands of years old knows that self-transcendence is important, then you know it's also fair to say they probably had a bunch of techniques [00:32:00] and technologies that lead towards self-transcendence. That's precisely why I've given my life to studying those, resurrecting those, and sharing those with others.

Daniel: Both Maslow's hierarchy and those aims are introductorily described as progressive stages. You go through seeking pleasure. Then you go through seeking money and power. Then you go through seeking dharma. Obviously [00:32:30] not everyone goes through them in the same progression at all. Someone who's born into a social justice family might never end up seeking power and money. They might go straight into those areas, et cetera.

In the same way, self-actualization is going to continue forever even after self-transcendence. One's going to continue to evolve as an embodied unique human, and safety is going to keep me relevant forever. There's a continuous development [00:33:00] of all of those in parallel.

One of the things that's interesting to me with regard to the self-transcendence part is as long as I'm doing all the other things for self, I'm going to get happy because I am doing good in the world. I'm going to get happy because I'm learning things, whatever. Then there is this tyranny of conditional happiness where it just sucks too much to suffer.

If I think I have to do specific [00:33:30] things to be happy, I don't really have much choice in that. I'm going to do those thing because I have to do them, whether or not they're the most meaningful things, and so whatever it is there's an inherent narcissism that's built into seeking happiness.

One of the things that's been most meaningful for me in medication practice early to make self-actualizing in all the other parts happen differently is to say can we actually generate a sense of wholeness unconditionally as the foundation, [00:34:00] so that's not what you're seeking everywhere, and then you can have a different basis for choice making? What is actually meaningful to me when I'm trying just not to get out of suffering and get the sense that I'm enough or I'm okay or I feel good?

Dustin Diperna: Daniel, you're a good example of this for your audience. I think you're an exemplar because you've already developed a community of trust, and [inaudible 00:34:22] trust in you. In this conversation, that was this first time that I heard you speak about your own practice and your own experience. [00:34:30] I'd be curious if you'd be willing to share in this particular context a little bit more about how you experience self-transcendence and how you think it's relevant to the people who could be listening to your particular podcast.

Daniel: It's fun to flip the podcast around. Yeah, so I grew up on the sciences and on different philosophic and ancient traditions, also in terms of [00:35:00] giving the benefit of the doubt that people who were thinking and exploring deeply might have interesting insights anywhere. [inaudible 00:35:06] I think we are similar in that.

That did mean getting to learn various traditional practices and practice them for some time. I think some of the things that have been meaningful for me, when you're describing self-transcendence, and you said the sense of [00:35:30] self as more than what's attached to the body, there's a belief system of that, and there's an experience, which are very different. The belief system says, "I'm a soul, and I'll reincarnate when I die," or go to heaven, or whatever it is, or, "I'm a spirit, and I'm an expression of the consciousness of the unified field."

There are a lot of different metaphysical ontologists, all of which are completely irrelevant to having the experience of the interconnectivity of everything. [00:36:00] The way it occurs for me that I can describe that's meaningful is the sense of what I think if as me, that's associated as Daniel, that's associated with a body. This body depends on a lot. It depends on the atmosphere to exist.

If we didn't have this atmosphere, this body in outer space doesn't do anything. It's then simply gone. The atmosphere depends on all the plants and algae [00:36:30] that create it, so I say, "Who am I without all the plants? I don't exist at all."

Any concept of self that doesn't include the plants and the algae is nonsense. Then they don't exist without the bacteria and the fungus that make them possible and the pollinators and gravity itself that makes the whole planet possible, and electromagnetism itself and the nuclear forces and on and on.

I've come to recognize I, my personal sense of self, as a [00:37:00] separate concept, if I don't factor its relationship with the rest of the universe it's a nonsense concept. It doesn't exist at all without the rest of the universe. I become an emergent property of all of universe rather than a separate thing.

That doesn't mean just homogeneous oneness. There's obviously still distinctness, but inseparability. You can't take me out of the biosphere and have me be interesting and have me exist. You can't take me out of the laws of physics [00:37:30] or anything else.

Then you say, all right. Rather than say consciousness in an emergent property of brain, consciousness is actually an emergent property of all of universe interacting in this way. My experience of consciousness is. What that lends itself to, and it's understanding that is actually useful, scientifically understanding that, and also experiencing it. I think a lot of people, not as many people, have meditated enough [00:38:00] to have that experience, but a lot of people will take mushrooms or LSD and have a really quick dive into, "Holy shit, I actually feel a sense of connectivity with everything," which is awesome.

If that inspires them to start a practice where they stabilize that, so that they don't just experience that when they're intoxicated but they can access that at will. It as a tool that can both inspire and guide a practice is something that I love.

[00:38:30] As soon as someone has a sense of self as an emergent property of everything, then the idea that I can advantage myself at the expense of anything else that my life depends on, that I don't exist without, that my conscience depends on becomes nonsense. The nonviolence doesn't just become an ethic, it actually becomes the only rational way of being, and what's best for me, what's best for the whole become the same thing. It's interesting to see how one's basis for choice [00:39:00] radically changes when they're understanding of self changes.

Dustin Diperna: If you look at, Daniel, the ways in which our current systems in the current scenarios that we find ourselves in have been built without that understanding, so in fact they've been built from paradigm of separation and extraction and in total isolation, then we see how certain aspects of those systems are not working. In fact, as you would say they're [00:39:30] moving towards an existential crisis.

There is a way in which this shift into self-transcendence actually becomes necessary for our own survival as a species. Not just something nice for a few people, but mission critical for our survival. I think that's where things get really interesting.

All the sudden we're at this point where it's now becoming more and more available. We have technology that makes it more and more accessible. We have neuroscience to [00:40:00] actually say there's something legitimate going on here. All these things are triangulating in a way that give us the potential to spread this experience for self-transcendence en masse, just at a time that it's absolutely needed. We begin to shift and adjust systems so that they're more aligned with a deeper understanding of reality and a deeper understanding of self than we've had previously en masse. I think that's a really interesting moment that we're in. I know that deeply connects [inaudible 00:40:29].

Daniel: It does. [00:40:30] One way that I think about the exploration of the space of subjectivity and consciousness and first-person experience, most people who haven't studied mathematics very deeply have no concept of how much math exists that they don't know. Maybe they got to trigonometry or calculus, so they know that they don't know integral calculus, but they don't even know that they don't [00:41:00] know quaternions because they've never even fucking heard about quaternions or whatever aspect of higher mathematics that they haven't studied.

As one learns more math, they also learn more new adjacent areas they didn't know about. The unknown unknown grows even faster, and they start to become more knowledgeable and more humbled and fucking awed at the same time. The space is just immense, and so deep and so profound. The beauty [00:41:30] of it, the possibility of it, most people will never even become aware of that they don't know. They'll never become aware that it's a thing at all.

Consciousness is like that, where it's easy if you are just completely unaware that there's even that realm of space to just dismiss it as not real or not interesting. Yet, as someone starts [00:42:00] to explore the practices, and within mindfulness you start to recognize there's some possibility here, and it opens up, where does attention arise from at all? What happens when I put my attention on the source of where attention arises from? Holy shit, a whole new thing just opened up, and again and again.

To explore that universe, and I think part of why it's interesting is because both what it does to increase human capacity and human disposition, like ethics ends up [00:42:30] emerging automatically without a mental construct from a sense of interconnectedness, and from a sense of wholeness that isn't needily grasping for getting stuff from life. Also, even just a sense of fulfillment and joy, the upper level of positive subjective experience most people are touching is just scratching at the surface of the possible.

The areas that they're pursuing more is just not going to happen. You get diminishing returns. Why [00:43:00] I am so grateful you are doing the work that you are and people in the field are doing the work they are is because for that whole universe of possibility to live where it's only really available or known about to a very few people, one is, it's just a bummer. Two, it actually is, as you were mentioning, existential at this point because [00:43:30] this is a narrative that is core to, for me, is that exponential technology is giving us exponentially increasing power to affect the world.

Fisherman, previously for all of human history, didn't have mile-long drift nets that they could just take all of the fish out the ocean. People fighting with spears didn't have nuclear missiles [00:44:00] that were intercontinental that could kill all life.

People thinking about things didn't have AI systems that could be trained to be humans at all, finite games and could get out of our control space. We're just reaching the verticalizing part of the exponential tech curve, and what that really means is in a mytho-poetic sense, we are developing the power of gods.

When you look at Hiroshima, it was a bigger explosion that the descriptions of Zeus' lighting bolt in literature, [00:44:30] and it's a small bomb compared to the ones we have now. Literally, we are developing the power gods, but without the love and the wisdom and the awareness and the prudence of gods, with that power you just self-destruct. We are not on the curve right now as clearly, as imminently, to have the love and the wisdom of gods as the power, but the power forces us to get there or self-destruct.

Dustin Diperna: Right. A few years ago, Daniel, I had [00:45:00] a small private interview with a Tibetan meditation teacher, a rimboche, his name was Rahob Tulku Rinpoche. When I was sitting with this teacher for the first five minutes, we didn't say anything. We just looked at each other.

After about five minutes, he spoke in this beautifully broken Tibetan-English, but he was so crystal clear. He just looked at me and he said, "We've gone through massive technological revolutions, and humanity [00:45:30] understands that technology in a short period of time can massively shift, and it can affect every human being."

We've fallen way behind on consciousness, and the fact that consciousness can go through the same types of evolutions that technology has, and the same types of exponential growth curves. It's the task that we have right now to help consciousness catch up with where technology is.

It's precisely to your point, Daniel. We now have [00:46:00] atomic weapons. We have capacity to destroy millions and millions of people with one particular weapon. The asymmetrical power has never been like this before.

Unless we actually have the consciousness rise and meet us to give us the inherent ethics that you were speaking about, not a prescriptive ethics, but a descriptive ethics that arise from the natural sense of interconnectedness to go with this asymmetrical power of destruction then we're in bad shape as humanity. My hope [00:46:30] with podcasts like this, the work that you're doing, the work that I'm doing is that we can help give people the frameworks that at least let them know what's possible, and at least let them know there are areas of growth and development that perhaps are in the unknown unknown for some of these people.

There are areas of growth that perhaps can become unknown knowns. Now they know that they don't know, which would be amazing. If people could move into the space of now I know I don't know about something, there's potential [00:47:00] to then know about it. If we can help make that shift and have conversations like this and other can make that shift, hopefully we're moving in the right direction.

Daniel: Okay. Talk to me about how something meaningful here is actually viable for people in the modern world and scalable? Just to frame the problem space, most people who are engaged in their own life, and in the process they're [00:47:30] engaged in buying things from supply chains that are externalizing harm across the world, driving climate change, driving species extinction, having trade dynamics that create international tension that increases the chance of war, et cetera.

Even as they are trying to do potentially positive for benefit companies or nonprofits or whatever, just the economic movement that is implicit in it is driving the underlying harm, externalizing dynamics that makes that economic system possible. Then they're [00:48:00] being conditioned by that.

If the other company is outsourcing all of its work to the third world, and they don't, just lose because they can't compete economically. Then they have to do that and they have to rationalize by doing that is appropriate to do the good they want to do, right? We've got that going against them.

Facebook and Google are clickbait-optimizing their mind for pressing the like button, scrolling a lot, and no [00:48:30] focus, and massive dopamine addiction that's starting younger and younger, to where kids growing up with iPads have their whole [inaudible 00:48:38] of their brain being blue light, 2D clickbait-optimized. People are busy as fuck, and they need to work more to make money to have some security in time where economy is as uncertain as it is.

If they had any more time, they don't spend enough time with their family, their kids, whatever, and if they had any more time, they don't exercise enough as [00:49:00] it is or sleep enough, or eat healthy. Now we're saying there's this whole other area of stuff. Like, okay. What is actually possible for people in that context and relevant? What is the triage of where they should start?

Dustin Diperna: Wow. Good question. I think there are different types of people, and there's not going to be one uniform [inaudible 00:49:29] answer [00:49:30] for every single person, but let me name a few places that people could start.

Let's me say a bit about people that I know closely, where they got their start. You mentioned it already. This isn't an endorsement. This is just to say describe the feel of an experience of what's happened. Oftentimes people get introduced to this whole domain through psychedelics or entheogens. They have some sort of initial experience where we have great research that [00:50:00] shows us that psilocybin can potentiate mystical experiences.

We have a massive group of people who are working with medicines that have come from the Amazon, like ayahuasca. We have people who are working with venoms that come from toads, the Sonoran desert toad, work with [inaudible 00:50:20]. We have massive amount of exploration.

What's happening with many of these people is that they have an initial experience that shows them that something is real [00:50:30] beyond what their usual framework or their usual sense of self tells them is real. Those opening experiences are sometimes some of the most powerful gateways or onramps to recognizing this is actually worth my time, attention, energy. Let me just use that as one broad category of how people could, are onramping themselves. Self-initiating.

The second category is through starting a basic meditative practice like mindfulness that you mentioned earlier. We know for sure that [00:51:00] as people begin to download apps like Headspace and others, and they begin to start a meditation practice, they actually start to see reductions in stress and anxiety and all of the usual things.

People who go a little bit further begin to realize, just as you said earlier, you can start to turn attention back on itself and say, "Where the heck is attention even coming from? What is attention? What is awareness?" We start to open up deeper possibilities in our own experience.

Another category would be starting some sort of meditative practice. I always recommend, if possible, [00:51:30] trying to study within a lineage of practice. There was actually a checks and balances amongst teachers, and there's tried and true practices that we know work. That's always my recommendation.

A third category that I think is awesome and very underemphasized is beginning to understand what happens when we're sleeping and dreaming. We spend a third of our lives asleep on average. Maybe more or less given your sleep cycles. Our dreamworld is such an amazing [00:52:00] experience. We literally go to sleep every night. We have these crazy, far out wild experiences, and then we wake up as if it as totally normal because everybody's doing it.

In fact, it is normal, but it's crazy. It's amazing what happens. I would like to just plant the seed that we have great research in the West around lucid dreaming, starting with Stephen LaBerge out of Stanford, and we have great research from [inaudible 00:52:25] traditions about what's possible with sleeping and lucid dreaming.

I would just say it's possible [00:52:30] to be able to wake up in your dreams, to recognize that you're dreaming, and then consciously and intentionally interact in your dream state. One simple way that people can do this is they start a dream journal. Make sure that people are remembering your dreams, and throughout the day just ask yourself, "Am I dreaming?"

Every time you see your hands, ask yourself, "Am I dreaming?" If you do that in a regular way for a week or two, naturally what will happen is that in your dream state you'll see your hands, and you'll say, "Am I dreaming?" You'll say, "Oh, my gosh. I'm dreaming." [00:53:00] You'll wake up in your dream.

For me lucid dreaming, giving people an example of what's possible, it's phenomenal. Everybody's dreaming anyways. Use that as an opportunity to recognize that there's way more than that happening.

If you develop a practice around lucid dreaming, you're not taking anything away from your everyday life. You're already pushed to the max, kids, food, working out, but you're dreaming anyway, so why not use that time in a way that can really be transforming?

I think these are [00:53:30] three major ways I see people onramping, self-initiating through psychedelics, entheogens, some sort of meditative practice, or through actually using the dream state as a way that could be an opening experience. Very accessible, and there are people using all of those.

Daniel: I think that's great. Those are probably the main onramps. Maybe one other one I'd see is retreats because someone can compartmentalize it off from their life, and just have the time where there's a container [00:54:00] that has discipline. That's kind of like psychedelics. There's some really deep state induction, where now they're motivated to continue to explore because rather than just hearing the idea, they experience something really incredible.

Dustin Diperna: We want to turn the [inaudible 00:54:15] down a little bit. The other one I often offer on a front end that's not as extreme as any of those others is to just travel. [inaudible 00:54:22] traveling in their lives, if they're not being exposed to other cultures and places in the world, to whatever degree. It could be a different part [00:54:30] of the US, a different state.

Getting out of your usual conformist view of what's real and getting exposed to another conformist view of what other people think is real, the shared values they experience, that in itself can be really amazing. Traveling, and as virtual reality and augmented reality comes online I think that's going to offer us another vector we'll really want to explore as an onramp as well.

Daniel: Definitely. Okay, so coming to an integral framework [00:55:00] for a second, the wake up, grow up, show up framework, would you speak to that a little bit? There's different practices for each of those and they're all relevant, and none of them are replaceable for each other. I think that may be a valuable framework for people.

Dustin Diperna: I originally started using these four phrases about 10 years ago. It was wake up, grow up, clean up, show up. In this domain, we have a way that we can [00:55:30] begin to understand the various areas of human growth.

When we talk about waking up, we're really talking about this capacity for self-transcendence, this capacity to move beyond the limited or exclusive identification with Daniel or Dustin or our bodies into this more understanding ourselves as an emergent principle of reality, interconnectedness, with a base of wholeness. You start from wholeness, and we act out our uniqueness from wholeness. It's really what this waking up dimension is about.

I want to say just as a side note that you mentioned this earlier [00:56:00] that waking up isn't just the state, an experience that's temporary. Waking up can be something that can be trained and stabilized as a permanent attribute of one's experience. Self-transcendence doesn't have to be a just a peak. It could be something that becomes a persistent experience over time as a view or an experience of reality.

I want to emphasize that we're not just talking about one-off hits. There's a trainable capacity of stabilization that's possible for every single human being. [00:56:30] That's what we mean by waking up. Not just a state experience, but a continued ongoing experience of walking up.

Daniel: A real quick thing to share there that I think is a fun story and people will appreciate and I actually don't know the historical details of this, but it's a nice story nonetheless. When our kids are asking, going through the phase of asking, "What is that? What is that?" They're trying to understand the anatomy of universe. We say, " [00:57:00] That's a dog. That's a mountain. That's a person."

There's a Native American tradition, and I don't remember which one, that said, "That's the one spirit reflected as a dog. That's the one spirit reflected as a mountain. That's the one spirit reflected as your uncle." They got the wholeness and the interconnectedness first in their foundational semantics and their foundational ontology, and then the unique expression second.

They got the expression. They got mountain, dog, human, [00:57:30] but not separate first. You think about just from the point of view of waking up, what waking up is like when you're coming from a place where you've been conditioned in the separateness the whole time firsts, versus what it could be like with a different education system and a different parenting system, where that's just implicit in the process of coming into life.

Dustin Diperna: Exactly. What I think is so beautiful about that point, Daniel, is that waking up is something that is almost [00:58:00] like a pre-existing condition in the sense that it doesn't have to necessarily be earned over time. It's always already the case.

We can begin to point out and build into our language and into our educational systems this principle of waking up or this principle of undivided wholeness from the very beginning. I'm totally in agreement with you.

If I wake up, grow up, clean up, show up, grow up would be the second category. Growing up is probably very similar to what your previous guest, Zak Stein, spoke about, where there are actually very clear [00:58:30] developmental levels that we can move through as human beings. As we move through those levels, we increase our capacity for complexity, for care, for inclusivity.

The example I gave earlier of authority shifting from an outer authority to an inner authority is that one of the ways in which we can grow up, we grow up by beginning to innersource authority rather than outsource it. There are many other models we can use, but just so you understand, that's this domain of growing [00:59:00] up.

One of the best ways to begin to understand how we can grow up together is by simple practices of perspective taking. We can begin to understand how many perspectives am I actually taking? Do I understand what somebody else is experiencing? Do I understand what they're experiencing about someone else's experience?

We can begin to fractalize our capacity for complexity, or can I think about what I'm considering right now, and then take a view on that particular view? Then can I look at the system in which that's embedded. Can I look at all the dynamics [00:59:30] that [inaudible 00:59:30]? There's a way in which we increase our capacity for holding more and more while including all the previous skills that we had. That's just the [inaudible 00:59:38] growing up, and there's great research on that. We can at any point in time go into that deeper. [crosstalk 00:59:43]

Daniel: I'll add a fun note there that I leaned from a mutual friend of ours, Clint over at Integral World. When he was looking at doing his PhD research and looking at higher stages of development, and it had been previously [01:00:00] thought that it largely had to do with perspective taking, the ability to take other people's perspective.

He found an even deeper correlate was perspective seeking, not just the capacity to take another perspective, but the impulse to do so. One is actually oriented to be continuously seeking to look through all perspectives. I thought that was actually a really nice distinction.

Dustin Diperna: Yeah, absolutely. There is even other oversimplified but easier ways for your audience to understand. [01:00:30] We move from more of an egocentric worldview to an ethnocentric worldview, where we just care about our tribe, to a world-centric view where you understand that we're all human, to maybe a cosmocentric worldview, where [inaudible 01:00:41]. There are ways in which we can understand nested hierarchies of growth and all kinds of different ways. That's one example.

Cleaning up is interesting. In both waking up and growing up, things can go wrong. There are ways in which we can experience trauma, and we can experience aspects [inaudible 01:01:00] that aren't welcome [01:01:00] into our life circumstances or into our [inaudible 01:01:03] personality that we push aside. We push into the [inaudible 01:01:05].

There's a whole dimension around healing and integration that in the West the psychotherapeutic traditions are excellent. In indigenous cultures, there are particular medicine work that's really effective at cleaning up and integration and healing. This whole domain is one in which if we leave it out we'll end up with people who maybe have some sense of awakening or some sense of being grown up, but in certain aspects they're broken and have shadow elements [01:01:30] of some aspects of themselves that are acting out in ways that are actually damaging. We have to include that [crosstalk 01:01:37].

Daniel: We're in the post-me too phase right now, where this massive breakthrough is happening where Silicon Valley, VCs, producers in Hollywood, diplomats and politicians in DC, and people who were previously the examples of family values [01:02:00] are all sexual predators or in some form [inaudible 01:02:05] such a great example of these aren't people who didn't have any authentic development.

They obvious developed real capacities, and yet parts were fragmented enough that we see how ubiquitous that is. We have a culture that is pretty much made fragmented people in ways that are dangerously fragmented ubiquitously.

Dustin Diperna: Exactly. Obviously, you see as a culture [01:02:30] the aspects that we as a culture have pushed aside, like sexuality and other things or gender relations, and this gives us a chance to actually liberate those on a cultural level in addition to an individual level. We can do this clean-up work as groups or as individuals. We see that happening with me too, just like you described.

Then the last broad category that would stem from an integral framework would be this category of showing up. Not just walking up, growing up, or cleaning up; those are all important, but how does it actually show up in our lives, and how do we show up in the world to [01:03:00] actually make an impact? If any of these dimensions are left out, then our showing up in the world is going to be, it could be a little bit kinked. It could lack flow. It could lack impact. It could actually affect people in negative ways or unintended ways.

At a minimum, waking up, growing up, and cleaning up, and showing up are the four categories that we'd want to include in any sort of integrated approach to our own lives and our own development. With that framework [01:03:30] in place we can work towards what Ken Wilber and I have called a deliberately developmental civilization that as a civilization, as a whole, we can begin to understand what it means to develop as human beings, and we can include the broadest swath of categories that we have to include at a minimum.

If in fact we were to create a civilization in which we all move towards a non-existential crisis, and instead [inaudible 01:03:56] potential [inaudible 01:03:58] that [01:04:00] we all can [inaudible 01:04:02] possible.

Daniel: Beautiful. This is a good introduction. I'm really happy we got to share this. If people want to get tangible resources, where they can find an integrate approach to wake up, grow up, clean up, show up, or where they can find specific ways of studying lucid dreaming, psychedelic resources, mindfulness, any of the things we mentioned, what are some [01:04:30] resources for people?

Dustin Diperna: Great. Because I spend so much of my work in particular topics, obviously I would recommends some of the books that I've worked on. "Streams of Wisdom" is a [inaudible 01:04:42] that really takes a comprehensive view of all these things, waking up, growing up, cleaning up, psychedelic work, technology, neuroscience [inaudible 01:04:52] these dimensions.

On my website,, Ken Wilber and I have a white paper there. It's free to download, where we speak about a deliberately [01:05:00] developmental civilization. We're tying in some of these key aspects.

I've really been impressed with the work that Mikey Siegel's doing, the consciousness hacking. For those people who are interested in the technology interface with consciousness and meditation, check out his consciousness hacking work. Mikey and I teach a retreat twice a year at Esalen Institute, where we hook 24 people up to technology. We have galvanic [inaudible 01:05:28] response, heart rate variability, [01:05:30] breath sensors.

We create group flow experiences through sound and through light and through using all of these sort of biofeedback elements. We combine ancient traditions with the most cutting edge modern technology. That's a great resource for folks.

Then, Daniel, honestly your podcast, I just know the people you've interviewed, and I would think I would tell your listeners to keep staying up to date with what you're doing. I know that you're at the edge, and you have a great network of people. I just want to thank you for bringing me out to the show and having the dialogue. [01:06:00] Thank you very much.

Daniel: It was such a delight. This was a really fun initial conversation, and I just want to invite the listeners that if there is anything that is particularly interesting that you would like to go deeper into with these topics, send us messages to customer service. Whether it's shadow work or the clean up stuff around how do we actually deal with what makes sexual [01:06:30] predation on a cultural level and how would we fix that, or whether it's around psychedelics or technological tools for modern tech tools for meditation or anything, Dustin might be willing to go deeper into those areas if we had specific questions.

Dustin Diperna: I'm glad to go deeper. Sometimes it's a little bit of a tease to just stay on the surface here, but [01:07:00] any of those things, it would be an honor to go deeper with you on, and if the audience is interested. Thank you.

Daniel: Awesome. Thank you so much for being here and for the work that you do and looking forward to connecting more soon.

Dustin Diperna: Great. Thank you.

Daniel: Take care.

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