#775: The Four Styles of NeuroMeditation: Focus, Mindfulness, Quiet Mind, & Open Heart

jeff-tarrantDr. Jeff Tarrant founded the NeuroMeditation Institute in order to research the neuroscience principles of different meditation states. He came up with a taxonomy of four different types of NeuroMeditation that include Focus, Mindfulness, Quiet Mind, and Open Heart. Tarrant has been collaborating with VR companies like HealiumXR in order to help to create real-time biofeedback immersive experiences based upon his models of brainwave activities in a variety of different meditative states. The NeuroMeditation Institute also investigates how other technologies can help cultivate meditative states, which includes EEG, audiovisual entrainment, heartrate variability, transcranial direct current, repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation, photobiomodulation, vibroacoustic therapies using a Subpac, and Non-Ordinary State Psychotherapy.

I talked with Tarrant at the Consciousness Hacking Awakened Futures Summit covering the neuroscience signatures of the different states of meditation, his journey into using biofeedback as a therapeutic tool, the potential of creating customized exercises for meditators based upon real-time biofeedback, and how he’s working within VR to help provide feedback in order to create immersive environments to help cultivate specific meditative states of consciousness.


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Music: Fatality

Rough Transcript

[00:00:05.452] Kent Bye: The Voices of VR Podcast. Hello, my name is Kent Bye, and welcome to The Voices of VR Podcast. So I'm back here with another episode from the Awaken Futures Summit, this time with Dr. Jeff Tarrant. He's from the Neuromeditation Institute in Eugene, Oregon. So he's somebody who was trained as a clinical psychologist and from the very beginning of his career for over 20 years now He's been very interested in biofeedback and using these different technologies to do like real-time feedback and insights into what's happening with people in these clinical contexts and So he's really been focusing on looking at meditation through the lens of what's happening in your brain and doing this synthesis of all this neuroscience research, but also doing his own neuroscience research and created this whole taxonomy of these different meditative states. So I guess before we dive in here, there's a theme that I saw at this wake and future summit is how the thing that psychedelics meditation and immersive technologies all have in common is that it's all at the forefront and the cutting edge of neuroscience research. People going into these different psychedelic experiences and seeing what happens to the brain when you go into these altered states of consciousness. People have trained their brains for decades being able to achieve these very refined states of consciousness. Again, being able to then see what's happening in the side of the brain to be able to understand the mechanics of the brain when you get into these extreme altered states of consciousness. And with VR and AR and these other immersive technologies, we're just at the very beginning of the blending of neuroscience research within virtual reality. I went to a Canadian Institute for Advanced Research workshop just a few days after going to this gathering. And that was all about bringing these neuroscientists from around the world who were looking at virtual reality technologies in order to do specific research into neuroscience, you know, putting people into these immersive experiences and to be able to look what's happening inside their brains and their brainwave states and to be able to correlate that to what's happening in these immersive experiences. And so because of that, we have psychedelics, meditation, and immersive technologies are all giving us distinct insights into the nature of the mind and how the mind works. And so that's where we're coming on today's episode of the Voices of VR podcast. So this interview with Jeff happened on Saturday, May 18th, 2019 at the Awaken Future Summit in San Francisco, California. So with that, let's go ahead and dive right in.

[00:02:38.773] Jeff Tarrant: So my name is Jeff Tarrant and I'm the director of the Neuromeditation Institute in Eugene, Oregon. And really what we're about is creating sort of a taxonomy of understanding meditative states based on how you're using your attention, what your intention is, which brain waves are involved, and in which brain regions. And so when you look at those four things, you can really identify that there are four kind of primary states of meditation. And so, you know, meditation, they're not all the same. Not all meditations do the same thing, which makes sense when you think about it. But we, you know, largely in our culture, we still treat meditation or mindfulness as if it's one thing. And it's not. And so the more we can kind of understand those differentiations, then we can start to identify and figure out which styles might be best for which individuals. So it's really about individualizing the process for people based on what they're trying to accomplish. You know, what their own nervous system is like and what it is they're trying to do. Why are they meditating in the first place?

[00:03:42.411] Kent Bye: Can you talk a bit about your background and your journey into looking at these specific questions?

[00:03:47.857] Jeff Tarrant: Yeah, so I'm a psychologist and so my PhD is in counseling psychology. But pretty much as soon as I got out of school, I got involved in neurofeedback. And so it's been about 20 years of working with EEG brain imaging and directly with clinical concerns. So, you know, in a traditional kind of a way of using neurofeedback. So with ADHD and anxiety and depression and things like that. But then simultaneously, I also got involved with meditation and traditional methods. I worked with a Zen monk for years and was in a Vipassana school for quite a while. But then I dabbled in a lot of other things and was heavy in Qigong and Tai Chi. And so I've got these different kinds of pieces of meditation background. And so for a long time, those two things existed in kind of parallel paths. They didn't really cross. And, you know, I would dabble with trying to figure out, like, well, how can I use, you know, neurofeedback to facilitate these meditative states? But again, a lot of this was in the early days when they kind of acted like increasing alpha was meditation. Like, that was it. And I tried that, and it was kind of like, eh, you know, it's not really doing much for me. And then about five years ago, I was invited to write a book chapter for a neurofeedback book. And the editor said, you know, you can pretty much write about whatever you want. And it just came out of my mouth without thinking. I just said, well, what about neuromeditation? And he said, great. And put me down. And then, of course, my next thought was like, holy crap. OK. What am I going to do? And so it really forced me to get into all of the brain imaging research on meditation and do a deep dive and really look and see what we know about meditation. And when I did that, it actually became really clear. I mean, I can take some credit. I'm really just taking credit for organizing all of the information that's out there. There's a ton of information. And it became very obvious. It's like, oh, researchers have already identified these four different states. And so, you know, how can we take this information and then move it forward into an applied way of engaging? So for me, it all started with the neurofeedback part of this. How can I create neurofeedback protocols to facilitate certain states of consciousness? And then from there, you know, really understanding pretty quickly that, well, you know, we can teach about this and have other ways to work with this information outside of neurofeedback. And so the whole process has just kind of expanded. And, you know, now we have an institute and wrote a book and do workshops and all kinds of things, you know, for a variety of audiences, just depending on how far they want to go with this.

[00:06:27.582] Kent Bye: Well, you say that you've got a taxonomy for these different brainwave states in meditation, so how do you describe those states of meditation and consciousness?

[00:06:36.395] Jeff Tarrant: Yeah, so what's the breakdown? So the four that we use, the names that we use are focus, mindfulness, open heart, and quiet mind. So we tried to pick names that are relatively intuitive. So, you know, when you hear some of those, you kind of get a sense of what it's about just by hearing the name. And so a focus meditation is pretty obvious. Anybody who's meditated has probably done a focus meditation or tried to do a focus meditation. And so those are going to be any practice where you're choosing a single target and holding your attention on that target and then of course the mind wanders and you recognize that the mind wanders and you bring it back. And so what we know from the research is that it kind of doesn't matter if your focus is the breath or a mantra or an image of the Buddha. It's the process that matters, of sustaining your attention on one thing and not letting it get distracted. And so the brainwave patterns that accompany that include increased fast brainwave activity in the frontal lobes, in the anterior cingulate in particular, because you're sustaining your attention, which is an active process. But then at the same time, you have to keep the default mode network quiet. Because if the default mode network's active, then you're thinking about yourself, which is mind-wandering. So if we can monitor those two things, active frontal lobe, anterior cingulate, focusing, quiet default mode network, it's actually a really simple but pretty elegant indication of being in that focused meditative state. Mindfulness is a little trickier. Actually, mindfulness is the trickiest of the four, not in terms of what it is. Well, actually, that's kind of tricky, too, because in our culture right now, we're using the term mindfulness to mean just about everything. And so we have been very careful to define what we're talking about when we say mindfulness. And we're really talking about a state of being kind of in an observer role, of watching your own thoughts and your feelings and your body sensations. without attachment, without grasping for something, without pushing anything away, accepting what is and letting it go. And so even in the description you can hear that that's different than focus. So it makes sense that the brain is going to do something a bit different. Now what we found is that there's actually two different subtypes of mindfulness. And this was helpful for us to figure out. This is recent because we would look at the research literature and we would see opposing things. Like some mindfulness research would say it increases gamma and some would say it decreases gamma. And it's like, okay, this is a problem. And what we finally figured out is that there's really two different subtypes. what we're calling them now, one of them we're calling thoughtless awareness and one we're calling thoughtful awareness. And so, just to give a simple example, you know, the thoughtless awareness would be like the image that's used frequently with mindfulness, like clouds floating across the sky, where you notice there's a thought or a body sensation and you notice it and you don't attach to it, you just observe it and it floats out and you let it go. So you're not really directing your attention. You're just noticing whatever floats through the screen of your awareness. So that's more of a thoughtless awareness. A thoughtful awareness would be more like a body scan, where you're actually directing your attention. You're saying, OK, now I'm paying attention to my toes. Now I'm paying attention to my foot. Now I'm paying attention to my ankle. So you're directing it. And so because of that, there's some different brain patterns. One's more active. One's more passive. And so the only thing that they have in common is that both of them tend to relax the frontal lobe. So that same region that we talked about with focus, the anterior cingulate, actually becomes much more relaxed. And you actually see an increase of something called frontal midline theta. So theta is a slow brain wave. But again, it kind of matches the task. It's a gentle awareness. You're still paying attention, but it's a very gentle way of paying attention as opposed to that laser focus. Okay, next. Next is open heart. And open heart is kind of an umbrella term that we're using to incorporate and encompass things like loving kindness and compassion, but also other practices like gratitude or forgiveness or things like that. And so really what they all have in common is activating a positive emotional state and then doing something with it. So, you know, tuning into those feelings of loving kindness or care or appreciation. And then, you know, usually we're sending those feelings out to somebody else. So whether it's a family member or, you know, a friend, we're sending it to ourselves. So you're doing something with the feeling. So that's what distinguishes this from some of the others, is that you're intentionally activating a feeling. The other ones, a feeling might come up, but it's a byproduct. And so this one, there's a couple of things that happen in the brain. One is probably the most important, because we don't need to get into all of them, but the most important and interesting for me is that the right insula lights up with gamma. and gamma is a fast brain wave but it's also associated with more like a flow state and you know the insula is deeper in the temporal lobes and is involved in things like emotional processing but also empathy. And so the right insula is the one that we tend to be most interested in because it is more of a felt sense of these emotional states. So when you're feeling it in the body, that's when the right insula really lights up. Whereas the left insula is more like a cognitive kind of like you're thinking about your feelings. And so people will get caught in that a lot. You know, you invite them into this kind of a meditative state and you're watching the brain and the left side is all lit up and the right side is totally quiet. And, you know, it's very easy to see and, you know, of course we interrupt them and go, hey, what's going on? And they describe it as like, yeah, okay, you're in your head. You're thinking about it instead of feeling it. And so what we want is that sensation of when your heart opens, you know, you feel it physically in your heart. And like that's kind of what we're looking for with this pattern. And when people can find that and then learn to sustain it, it's really powerful. And so that's one of the advantages, I think, of using a tool like this is because, you know, you can learn to hold on to the state instead of it being a fleeting thing that kind of, you know, shows up for a moment and then goes away. And when people can hold on to it, you know, you can just see them, they just melt. And then the last one is quiet mind. And this is the stereotype of meditation. This is what everybody thinks of. They think meditation is like, oh, your mind's quiet. It's empty. It's like, well, you know, guess what? That's only one of, in this case, four different states. Certainly, that is a place that we like to learn to navigate. But it's not the only state. And so quiet mind is connected to certain Zen practices, but also like transcendental meditation. They kind of have that state in common. And it's characterized by a big increase of alpha one. So alpha goes from 8 to 12 hertz. And if you just take the bottom part of that frequency band, the 8 to 10 hertz, that's alpha one. So you just see this huge increase kind of globally. That's kind of the whole brain gets quiet. The low alpha is a quiet state. And so kind of the whole doggone thing just lights up. Now, we can target that, you know, with certain things like we want the default mode network, obviously, to be quiet. So we can target that. We can also target a lot of the left-sided language areas, because when the mind is busy, we tend to talk to ourselves in words. And so we can target those to quiet those down. So if you're not talking to yourselves in words, well then what's left? It's pretty quiet. So there's ways that we can kind of get really specific with that one as well.

[00:14:09.913] Kent Bye: Yeah, it's fascinating to hear both the different, I guess, phenomenological experience of each of these different meditative states, but also how there's reflected in that different neurological correlates that you can start to discern these different states and the success to which someone is achieving these different meditative states. But also just being here at the Awakened Futures Summit, people talking about all of these technologies, whether it's a virtual augmented reality or just the tools and techniques of invoking these different meditative states, which are thousands and thousands of years old, to be able to give the guidance and direction for people to achieve these different states. So to me, it's striking to see how you're able to now create this taxonomy. But I guess the question is, if you've been able to just use the existing protocols that have been developed for thousands of years to invoke these meditative states, or if you've gained different insights by doing this neural feedback into maybe some best practices for how to get into these meditative states that may have gone beyond what these traditions that have been evolving for thousands of years have been able to come up with on their own.

[00:15:15.988] Jeff Tarrant: Yeah. And, well, how do I want to answer that? Because, you know, I certainly don't want to sound like we've kind of created something brand new. Because, you know, as you pointed out, these are ancient practices and, you know, the techniques have been around for a long time. You know, one of the things that I think about sometimes is that in traditional methods, there would be the head monk or a guru or somebody, and they would very often design specific exercises for their particular students. And I think about that and that we really don't have that now, that individualized ability for somebody to really understand how we work and create exercises or meditative practices for us individually. It's kind of treated as a one-size-fits-all thing right now. And so I feel like that's what we're trying to do is to help people individualize the practice and figure out, well, what works for me? And also to do that from sort of a developmental perspective. And what I mean by that is, you know, for somebody who, for example, let's say they have ADHD or struggle with attention, and to ask them to go straight into a focus meditation is pretty much just like torture. It's not going to work to sit and focus on your breath. But so we've developed and we've kind of experimented with a whole range of tips and tools and strategies and techniques to kind of help people figure out how to get into that state at a beginning point and then how to develop it. So to stick with that example, so if somebody has trouble paying attention, well, guess what? Instead of sitting with your eyes closed, you can stand and have your eyes open. Even that very simple adjustment is much more activating to the brain and it's going to help the brain do its job. You can bring in a little bit of movement. So you can simply raise the arms and drop the arms with the breath while you're standing. So kind of like a qigong kind of a movement. And so you're still following the breath, but now you're bringing movement in. And so this is gonna be much more engaging and possible for somebody with ADHD, again, than sitting with your eyes closed watching your belly move. So again, I'm giving simple examples, but this is kind of what, aside from using the technology, we also want to figure out like, well, what kinds of tips and techniques can we give people so that they can be successful? Because what we see is that everybody, more or less, understands that meditation is good for you, but most people don't do it. And I think there's a lot of reasons for that. And so what we're trying to do is figure out like, well, how can we help people feel more confident in their ability to do this? Figure out what they need and then figure out how to help them move into that space so that they can be successful and over time strengthen their ability so that it can be a little bit more challenging.

[00:17:56.207] Kent Bye: Yeah, I'm really getting the sense of like that there's different types of meditation and that for some people there may be some flavor of these different types of meditation that may be easier for them based upon their own temperament or their own predispositions or character or personality. So in looking at virtual reality, presence is something that comes up a lot, different flavors of presence. And the way that I personally think about it is there's a sense of embodied presence, of really feeling like you can pay attention to your body, what's happening for your body, paying attention to all the sensory input. And then there's a sense of emotional presence, so being emotionally engaged with either a narrative. And then there's the mental and social presence, so activating the mind and working in the realms of abstractions and all the things that the mind is good at. And then there's a sense of active presence, of actually taking action and expressing your will in some ways. And there seems like there's kind of rough correlates to some of these, whether it could be the compassion meditations very much connected to the emotions and the feelings, and that sense of emotional presence. And embodiment, I think, is consistent throughout all of them, but doing a body scan and the sense of active presence, of focusing on specific things, or focusing on walking meditation, or trying to actually stop the mind from thinking. in some ways. So it feels like that looking at these qualities of presence, but yet there's still like these different ways of talking about either the flavors or qualities of consciousness. And it seems like consciousness is a bit of an open question in terms of how to even actually define it. But it seems like by looking at it through the lens of these different meditative practices, you're at least starting to have some sort of cartography of these different categories of brainwave states that are in some ways correlated to these phenomenal experiences.

[00:19:34.575] Jeff Tarrant: Yeah, you know, I've not heard the way that you broke down some of the different aspects of presence in VR. But yeah, I mean, I think that makes a lot of sense, you know, that some of these states of consciousness that we're looking at, you know, with the neuromeditation taxonomy, you know, it does sound like they correlate really nicely with some of the ways you're talking about presence in VR. And that's one of the reasons I think, you know, that we are really liking working with some of these styles in VR is because, again, like from a developmental perspective, if somebody is having a hard time moving into one of these spaces, well, if you can put them in something where you have that sense of presence, where you can't almost not be in that space. I mean, so if you're trying to put somebody in a loving kindness space or help them to find that, and you put them in something where everything they see and hear essentially facilitates that, It's going to make it way easier to move into that type of space. Or even the quiet mind. We've experimented with things like making a virtual reality fractal or space imagery. Again, to kind of give that sense of openness and spaciousness and volume that really facilitates a quiet mind state. You know, I think the virtual reality is going to be a really powerful tool to help people learn how to quickly shift into some of these states and learn what that feels like. Now, is this a substitute for traditional meditation? You know, probably not. But I think it's a great tool and it's a great way to quickly get people to shift, which, you know, most people, you know, you sit down to meditate for five minutes and that may or may not do much. But we know that with the virtual reality, five minutes can make a huge difference. you can completely shift your state in five minutes. And again, I think it's because of what you were just pointing out, you know, that that presence, you know, I mean, I feel like I say this a lot with virtual reality, but, you know, the brain believes whatever it sees, whether it's internal or external, and it responds accordingly. And so when you put somebody in an environment that, let's say it's nature, you put them in nature and you have soft music and you have a woman's voice guiding you through a mindfulness meditation, your brain almost doesn't have a choice except to quiet down. And so, you know, I think it's a powerful mechanism to facilitate this. And so, you know, I'm excited about that. I'm excited about that application and seeing so many different companies who are really kind of moving into that territory.

[00:21:56.397] Kent Bye: Well, yeah, and the potential to be able to do the visual synchrony of what's happening in your body in real time. And I know that with Helium XR, there's been a lot of starting to do that real-time biofeedback and different ways of visualizing that. But to potentially have something that's visually representing what's happening inside of your body and to have that multimodal input that your brain can synthesize and synchronize and be able to maybe learn faster so that you're able to correlate what's happening inside of you with this visual representation, but that eventually you kind of like build up the muscles so that you just blaze these new neural pathways to be able to maybe drop in and invoke these different states faster.

[00:22:32.218] Jeff Tarrant: Yeah, it's interesting because, you know, the main protocol that we've developed with helium is, you know, it would fit more in the open heart set of practices. And it's funny because in some of the research we've done, you know, certainly we've been able to show that the brain shifts pretty quickly and that it does show this, you know, frontal asymmetry that suggests a more positive emotional state and people report a more positive emotional state. We expected all of that. But what we didn't necessarily expect was that in some of our pilot studies where we took people through a six-week curriculum using this positivity virtual reality experience was that people started reporting spontaneously increased mindfulness in their daily life. And so it's exactly what you're saying, you know, kind of this ability to kind of recognize internally what's happening and how their feeling states affect their behavior and how that moves out into the real world and the feedback you get from the real world. And so, for me, that was really exciting to see, you know, that it's like, oh, this is actually having a bigger effect. It's not just a five-minute shift. People who are using this on a consistent basis, it is having a ripple effect. And it's influencing not just their positivity, but their mindfulness. So, yeah, I think you're exactly right, you know, that these things kind of overlap and kind of feed each other.

[00:23:49.904] Kent Bye: Yeah, and when you were talking about the different types of meditation, I was really struck by the ones that were more maybe passive or receptive, and the ones that were more active and more expressing your will in some sort of focused way. And for me, I'm very inspired by Chinese philosophy and looking at the yang and the yin that talks about that. energy going outward and the more receptive and how there's kind of a balance there. I'm wondering if you could talk a bit about, you know, what's happening from a biological perspective, if there's a connection there between the sympathetic and parasympathetic system or if there's other ways in which our body is doing this kind of yang-yan or more active or passive and receptive polarity point there.

[00:24:32.915] Jeff Tarrant: Maybe, I'll try. So, you know, the first thing that popped up when you were talking about that was when I'm trying to explain kind of what we're doing with this system to people, a way that I can simplify it is that two of the meditation styles quiet the brain and two of them actually activate the brain. And so, you know, maybe that's a little bit of a yin-yang kind of a split, but that's a really easy way to kind of look and go like, oh, okay, do I need more calming or do I need more activation? And, you know, sort of find that balance because, you know, for me, I think that's what it's all about is learning to recognize what your internal state is and learn to develop a flexibility so that you can shift into whatever state of consciousness you need to be in at will. And what we know about the nervous system, however you want to think about it, is that it tends to get stuck in certain patterns. So whether we talk about it from a Chinese medicine perspective or we talk about it from brain waves, the brain, the nervous system, it gets fixated in certain ways. And that's usually what causes problems, is the inflexibility, the rigidity. And so we can do some qigong, you know, or we can meditate. But again, it's like, doesn't it make sense to sort of figure out, like, where am I imbalanced? So again, kind of using the Chinese medicine perspective, you know, if you go to an acupuncturist, they're not just gonna start sticking needles in randomly. You know, first they're gonna do an assessment to figure out what's out of balance. You know, whether they're using five elements or whatever kind of system they're using, they're gonna figure out what's out of balance and then how can I help correct that? How can I help rebalance the system? And so that's what, we're just using brainwaves to do the exact same thing. Like what's out of balance? What do we need more or less of? And how can I intentionally shift that?

[00:26:17.744] Kent Bye: And are there any other like physiological correlates to those either more quieting or active brainwave states? Are you able to detect other aspects of parts of the body that are either more calm or more active between those two of each?

[00:26:34.018] Jeff Tarrant: You know, we haven't really looked at that and the literature really hasn't gotten into that too much either. Or if it has, I'm not aware of it. There's a researcher in, I want to say Denmark. I could be getting that wrong. Her name's Danielle. I'm forgetting her last name. Anyway, she's created this meditation suit. It's like a big cloak and it's got like nine different kinds of sensors built into it. It measures everything. So she's totally like getting into all of that kind of stuff, like looking at skin temperature and looking at movement and looking at heart rate variability and, you know, anything you can measure. Respiration, you know, she's got it built into this kind of cloak and using it intentionally to look at meditative states. So I think that kind of information is coming. It's just I don't think we're there yet.

[00:27:20.098] Kent Bye: I know that people like Ken Wilber and some other researchers at the University of Wisconsin have been looking at master monks that have been meditating and be able to achieve these states of consciousness and awareness that maybe go way beyond for what people that may have only been meditating for a number of years, but people have dedicated entire lifetimes and decades of being able to cultivate these very specific States of consciousness and you know, there's in the mystical literature talking about Samadhi states and kind of more enlightened non-dual awareness States of consciousness and with your system. Are you looking at a progression towards those more non-dual states of awareness as well?

[00:27:56.670] Jeff Tarrant: Um, not really, you know, so we have semi-intentionally kind of focused on, again, partially I think it's my background as a psychologist, you know, like looking at like, you know, how can we help people identify which meditative states are going to help them for mental wellness in general, right? So we know we're kind of not getting into the more deeper mystical or spiritual kinds of states. Now, we have started moving into like altered states of consciousness and kind of mimicking some of the psychedelic medicine research, you know, with neurofeedback techniques and seeing if people can shift into those states and what happens. And so I think the Neuromeditation Institute is heading in that direction, but we're not really quite there yet. The other thing that's tricky is that, you know, people who have been doing this for a gazillion years and maybe they've got a very specific state of consciousness that they're able to get into, Some of that I think is very individualized, that whatever Ken Wilber's thing is may be different than somebody else who is getting into a non-dual state. It may not necessarily look exactly the same. And so another thing that we've done with people is a very individualized approach where we hook them up, invite them into whatever their meditation is. We don't have to put a label on it. We don't have to call it anything. And this happens a lot with experienced meditators. They come in and they go like, well, I don't care about your taxonomy. I want to do my thing. Okay, cool. We'll do your thing and let's measure your thing. And so we measure them doing their thing and then do an analysis and then set up the feedback to where can we encourage them toward their ideal brainwave state. So it doesn't have to fit in the taxonomy. It's a useful way to think about it for a broad audience and to start to understand what meditation is and how it works. But when you start working with advanced folks, you almost have to do an individualized approach. Otherwise, it doesn't make any sense. Because they're getting into states that don't necessarily fit into these categories.

[00:29:52.477] Kent Bye: Well, what other type of technology applications have you seen within meditation, since you're kind of looking at this cross-section of meditation and technology?

[00:30:00.567] Jeff Tarrant: Yeah, and actually we use a variety of other tech as well. We're not just stuck with EEG, that's our favorite probably, but we use audiovisual entrainment. We actually use heart rate variability biofeedback for many of these states, which is a much simpler approach. We use transcranial direct current. We use repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation at a very low power. We use photobiomodulation, so using near-infrared light being pulsed at specific frequencies. Vibro-acoustic therapies where you're sort of pumping certain frequencies and sound through a sub-pack or a massage table that's got speakers built into it so that you feel in your body those frequencies. So there's a whole bunch of tech out there that can be used to facilitate these states. The one thing that I've been talking a lot about at this conference today, just been today, is for me it feels important that if you're using technology that is going to stimulate the brain as opposed to providing feedback, so for instance transcranial direct current, you're putting energy into the brain directly. And that's fine, that's great. But for me, what is kind of important is that if you're using that with meditation, is to use it with meditation. Like, don't just pump energy into the brain and think somehow it's going to create some sort of a mystical state. Now, in some cases, we can do that. In some cases, you know, there's folks who are doing that, and some of them are here, you know. But for me, it's like, well, you know, there's some volition involved, you know, that you have to learn how to navigate these states yourself. And the other things are tools. they can help nudge you in the right direction, but you still have to learn how to move there. And so that's my emphasis is, yes, using the tools, but also teaching people. It's like, well, how do you do this yourself? You know, you don't want to rely on an external tool to sort of drive this. And so, again, I just think people need to be thoughtful. I see this happening a lot with Gamma. Everybody's excited about Gamma brainwaves because they're associated with flow states and insight and Richie Davidson's work with the Tibetan monks. They've got three times more Gamma than the control group and all this good stuff. But, you know, what I've noticed is that there's a big rush to kind of pump gamma into the brain. And just because you're pumping gamma into the brain does not make you a Tibetan monk. You know, it's like you have to actually practice the skills at the same time. Because, for example, we know that Alzheimer's is associated with excessive gamma. So just because you have a bunch of gamma does not necessarily mean it's a great thing. You know, it has to be connected to a specific state of consciousness.

[00:32:36.613] Kent Bye: Great. And so for you, what are some of the either biggest open questions you're trying to answer or problems you're trying to solve?

[00:32:44.799] Jeff Tarrant: Oh, boy. I think the biggest obstacles, I think that was one of the options, was is how to make this accessible. because you know we've got all this tech and we've got all this information and you know pretty much everywhere I go people seem really interested in it you know and it makes sense to them and they're like oh this is so helpful I can understand but yet it's kind of hard to like how do you get this out how do you get this out to people where they can actually use it and that it's very pragmatic. And the tech as well, even though some of this tech is very cost-efficient, you know, it's not that expensive, it's still too expensive for a lot of folks. I'm excited about, as technology becomes more developed, that the prices come down, it becomes more accessible, you know, just like computers, you know, things are getting faster, they're getting smaller, they're getting more efficient, they're getting better. And so for me, more integrated, that's what I want, is I want everything built into one system. so that I can stick it on my head and I can do anything I want. And I don't have to have five devices that all work independently and they don't talk to each other. You know, that's a problem. So I've got all these tools, but I can't use them all. I have to kind of pick, well, which one or two can I use at a time because they don't work together. So I think that's what I'm looking forward to.

[00:34:01.758] Kent Bye: Yeah, I'm curious to hear your thoughts on this movement of consciousness hacking, the blending of technologies with meditation and, you know, at this conference, we're talking about psychedelics as well. And so the blending of all these things together, I'm just, from your perspective, I'm just curious to hear, as you've been involved in this field, what you're seeing from your perspective, how things are changing and growing and evolving there.

[00:34:23.958] Jeff Tarrant: Yeah, I mean, I'm really excited about the combination of these things, you know, technology, meditation and psychedelics and that kind of work. You know, psychedelics is another area of interest of mine and in a different role that I play that, you know, I have some involvement with that. And even beyond just those three things, I think what people are starting to figure out is how can we use all of the different resources that we have to affect consciousness in particular ways and use them together. So exactly what I was just talking about just with tech, but now expanding that. It's like, oh, it's not just tech, it's tech plus certain kinds of meditation technologies plus certain kinds of medicines. And in fact, it doesn't have to even be psychedelics. There's folks I'm working with right now who have developed different tincture blends of different herbal combinations using Ayurvedic and Chinese medicine with CBD and with other things to facilitate, again, moving into particular kinds of states. We're doing that with cannabis, you know, looking at how different chemotypes of cannabis have different effects on the EEG and affect consciousness in different ways. And so different types of breathing techniques, you know, pranayama, affect your consciousness in different ways, different kinds of light, different kinds of sound. So we have all of these things. Some of them are old technologies. Like breathing, I mean that's a technology. Using supplements and herbs, that's a technology. But we know so much now that we can use it very intentionally. And so we can start to see and go like, oh, you know what, if I breathe this way, and I use this combination of herbs, and I'm doing this kind of meditation, they all work together. It's like a synergistic influence that's bigger than just one at a time. you know, that's what I feel like this whole thing is about is really kind of starting to explore that territory and develop it, you know, and I feel like we're just kind of like we're adolescents in this field, you know, like we're probably beyond childhood, but we're still adolescents, you know, it's like, oh, this is cool. And we're experimenting and we're trying stuff out, but we sort of barely know what we're doing. So it'll be fun when we kind of move into at least young adulthood.

[00:36:31.895] Kent Bye: Great. And finally, what do you think the ultimate potential of immersive technologies are and what they might be able to enable?

[00:36:42.188] Jeff Tarrant: Hmm, that's a good question. You know, I think immersive technologies, if used, how do I say this? If used sort of appropriately, if used for good. And the reason I'm just making that distinction is just because obviously a lot of immersive technologies are just being used for distraction or for, to increase a more realistic first person shooter game, you know, kind of a thing. And I'm not sure that's a great idea. I'm not sure we need more of that. Like I said before, you know, the brain believes whatever it sees. And so, well, what do you want to see? What do you want to put in your brain? You know, it's not a computer, but it is a computer. I mean, and there's software in there and you can program it. So how do you want to program your system? And so in that regard, if you think about it, the positive piece of that, man, if we put the right stuff in there, you can reprogram your nervous system. Again, that's what the early psychedelic research was all about. Timothy Leary, that's what his whole gig was. How do you use LSD to reprogram your nervous system? And so I was like, I think we can use technologies to do that. So we just have to be thoughtful about what we're putting in. How do you want your nervous system to be? What kinds of information do you want to be in your software? But I have a lot of hope that we can use this to help people become more empathic and more compassionate and more connected, actually. Even though technology can be disconnecting, I think it can actually be used to connect people. So that's my hope, and that's why I'm still playing in the field.

[00:38:08.042] Kent Bye: OK, great. Well, thank you so much for joining me today. So thank you.

[00:38:10.503] Jeff Tarrant: Cool. Thank you very much.

[00:38:12.484] Kent Bye: So that was Dr. Jeff Tarrant. He's the director of the Neuromeditation Institute in Eugene, Oregon. So I have a number of different takeaways about this interview is that, first of all, Well, the taxonomy system that Dr. Jeff Tarrant has come up with seems to be the type of taxonomy system to people who are just getting into meditation for the first time, in that there's these four major different types of meditation that he identifies as focus, mindfulness, open heart, and quiet mind. where the focus, you're choosing on a single target, you're holding your attention on that, and if your mind wanders, you bring it back, you're focusing on the breath, you're focusing on a mantra, and he says there's an increase of the fast frontal lobes, the right angular cingulate, as well as the quieting of the default mode network. And to me, I think of that as directing your attention onto the very specific thing. And so you're trying to choose a target and focus your attention on that target. And then the mindfulness is this state of observable role without attachment and accepting what it is. And he identified that there's a two major subtypes of the thoughtless awareness, as well as the thoughtful awareness. And this is the one where he says that you could be doing different body scans where you're really paying attention to your body and what's happening in your body. And this one in particular has like a combination of either active or passive mode that would determine whether or not you have an increase or decrease of camera. But in the essence, you have the relaxation of the frontal lobe and the frontal midline theta. And then the third one was the open heart. This is the more emotional presence where you're bringing all the loving kindness and compassion, gratefulness, appreciation. You're specifically activating an emotional state and you're doing something with it. You're directing it and tuning into it and maybe sending it to somebody, but you're essentially evoking an emotion and a feeling. And that was the right insula lights up with gamma, not the left side. That's the more language center, but it's more of the right side of the brain. That is that direct feeling of the experience where you feel into it and you're not just thinking about it, but you feel it physically in your heart. And then finally, the quiet mind, which I think is more of the mental and social presence in the sense where you're actually trying to quiet the mind completely and empty the mind and that it's more about these Zen practice and transcendental practices where there's an increase of alpha one, which is the brainwave state from eight to 10 hertz. It's a quiet state and there is a quieting of the default mode network and it's targeting the left-sided area of language. So these four different areas, like he said, those are kind of like a rough taxonomy in that whenever he started to work with people who are a little bit more advanced in their meditative practices, then you kind of have to do some sort of blend or combinations of these. So not sure how robust of a taxonomy this is to be able to account for every single state of. meditation that people are able to achieve, especially if you've been meditating for 40 or 50 years and able to achieve these variety of different non dual states of awareness, these more mystical states that he talks about, but could be that all these people that reach these states that people are able to achieve specific configurations with their mind, they're completely unique to them. And so I'm not sure how useful it is to create a master taxonomy to be able to categorize all the variety of different states of consciousness. But what was striking to me is for him to come up with at least this rough taxonomy of the focus, mindfulness, open heart, and quiet mind, and the differences in the brain activity that were able to differentiate some of these things from each other. And I think that's interesting because it's like when you start to refine and focus your mind in a very specific way, then you're able to achieve these different brain states that have a variety of different positive impacts on your sense of well-being and health. So being that it is the Neuromeditation Institute there in Eugene, Oregon, he's looking at all sorts of other things like EEG, audiovisual entrainment, heart rate variability, transcranial direct current, repetitive transcranium magnetic stimulation, photobiomodulation, vibroacoustic therapies using a sub-pack, and he also does a variety of different non-ordinary state psychotherapy. So looking at psychedelics and other ways of invoking people into these non-ordinary states of consciousness. So he's doing a whole wide range of interesting explorations of looking at what's possible of how you start to modulate and tune your consciousness with these different technologies. And he's also collaborating with HeliumXR or also StoryUpVR with Sarah Hill. doing these different applications using VR technologies to be able to help invoke and give this real-time biofeedback where you're taking this information from your body and then feeding it back into the experience that then impact your visual experience but also have this cross modal input to be able to translate what's happening inside of your body and put it into an immersive experience that could help tune and refine and get you into these specific states of consciousness. And he said that the Helium XR was really focusing on a lot of the open heart, the building and cultivation of compassion, but yet they were starting to see how there was some unintended consequences, which was people reporting a general increase of these levels of mindfulness by doing these different practices. So again, going back to the fact that it may be difficult to clearly separate the connections between a lot of these different things or to categorize what type of meditative state are you in right now, but that there seems to be some general increase of competencies and experience when you start to tuning one of these specific meditative practices. It could be that there's a general increase of these other ones as well. The other thing that was interesting was just to hear that he's also been working with other people that are here in Oregon, looking at all sorts of other things like herbalism, Ayurveda, or Chinese medicine, looking at this combination of these different herbs to give to people, and then combining that to different things like these variety of different breathing techniques, and then combining that also with these different meditative practices. And so starting to blend together all these variety of different things to see what kind of ways could you set in setting and create a context for people to enter into these different meditative states. And the other thing is that there's a certain amount of humility in seeing that, you know, he's not reinventing the wheel here. There's plenty of different corpus of different practices that he's drawing upon, but it does seem like they're able to potentially get people in and do a little bit of an assessment to see like, okay, you do whatever you do and we'll tell you what kind of meditation practices you're doing and maybe this is some ways to help to specialize and give specific feedback to an individual. Because it sounds like that in the past there used to be meditation teachers who would be able to talk indirectly with their students and to be able to either intuit or get enough feedback to be able to cultivate these individual practices. And I feel like in some ways, this is where all this technology and trends are going is to see whatever capabilities and temperament that you have as an individual, to see where your strengths and weaknesses might be. If you're able to be really good at the active focus or quiet mind, or maybe the more passive and receptive mindfulness and open heart, And depending on your situation, being able to have a full range of different tools to allow you to take whatever state of consciousness you're at and be able to use these different techniques to be able to change and shift and move into a different state of consciousness based upon the plurality of all the different tools that are available for you. And that the hope and the dream of a lot of these different psychedelic or immersive technology experiences is that you'd be able to potentially reprogram your nervous system and be able to create a context that could help people become more compassionate and more connected to each other. And I feel like that's what Dr. Jeff Tarrant is wanting to do with his Neuromeditation Institute there in Eugene, Oregon, but also in his work with these various different VR companies like HealingMXR, as well as a lot of the research that he's doing there at the Neuromeditation Institute in order to give people the frameworks and the tools and techniques to help them understand where they're at and to be able to help cultivate the tools that they need to be able to grow within their own contemplative practice. So that's all that I have for today, and I just wanted to thank you for listening to the Voices of VR podcast. And if you enjoyed the podcast, then please do spread the word, tell your friends, and consider becoming a member of the Patreon. This is a list of supported podcasts, and so I do rely upon your donations in order to continue to bring you this coverage. So you can become a member and donate today at patreon.com slash Voices of VR. Thanks for listening.

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