You go from meditating in the forest, to jumping out of airplanes, to taking non-prescribed pharmaceuticals, to partying at an EDM show
Hey everybody, you’re here to improve your life and your business through books with us and this week’s book is:
Stealing Fire: How Silicon Valley, the Navy SEALs, and Maverick Scientists Are Revolutionizing the Way We Live and Work by Steven Kotler and Jamie Wheal.
What did you think of the book Maddi?
Maddi: “Very interesting, esoteric and entertaining. A look at an uncommonly thought about aspect of the human experience. Delving into the catacombs of what they call ecstasis, from the flow state to the contemplative to the psychedelic, describing, explaining and proposing ideas about brain chemistry throughout.”
Luke: “Yeah… I thought it was a… good book.”
So, what are three things we can use from this book?
3 Things You Can Use
Why are military officers going on month-long meditation retreats? Wall street traders zapping their brains with electrodes? Trial lawyers stacking off-prescription pharmaceuticals? Famous tech founders visiting transformational festivals? and teams of engineers microdosing with psychedelics?
They are altering their mental states in an attempt to increase performance.
They are pursuing ecstasis.
Ecstasis is a very specific range of non-ordinary states of consciousness.
There are three states, that you may have heard of before, that qualify as ecstasis:
The flow state.
The contemplative state.
The psychedelic state.
When you think flow state think group flow, like when you and your team seem to be connected and can’t miss a beat. Or think of when you’re playing your favorite sport and time seems to disappear while your abilities skyrocket.
For the contemplative state, think of the meditation and mindfulness boom describing how impactful and life enhancing meditation and mindfulness has been as it has become popular.
And for the psychedelic state think of the eye opening times of the 60’s along with the recommendation of Steve Jobs and other figures to do LSD and other hallucinogens, claiming that they had a lasting positive impact on the way they saw the world.
In each of these states, there is a particular set of conditions which the brain settles into.
Instead of widespread activity in the prefrontal cortex, specific parts light up or power down, changing the way we perceive ourselves. And instead of our brains producing agitated beta waves, they produce dreamy alpha or deep theta waves. And stress chemicals like norepinephrine and cortisol are replaced by performance enhancing, pleasure inducing compounds like dopamine, endorphins, anandamide, serotonin and oxytocin.
And most importantly, each of these states shut off the nagging, pestering, anxious and non-stop self talk and sense of self, shifting your mental bandwidth from worrying about yourself and all of your problems, to taking in, using, experiencing and enjoying all the information you have available.
There are four signature characteristics to an ecstatic state.
Selflessness, timelessness, effortlessness and richness.
has to do with that re-wiring of the prefrontal cortex. Depression, anxiety, anger, jealousy, etc… are all made possible because of the self.
And when we forget ourselves, we detach from the subjective and recognize the objective. Meaning most traits, behaviors and characteristics detach from our approximations of ourselves. They are realized as momentary and situational and we aren’t strictly associated with this glued up piecing together of ourselves.
We see that we have access to all of these different pieces, even the extra ones, that we can use whenever we want.
We discover a more confident and clear version of ourselves through our fresh eyes, at least while it lasts.
Free of the time leash. Existing without the concept of time. Anxiety disintegrates and we experience an elongated present, what researchers call, “the deep now.”
We become so focused on the present because energy formerly used for temporal processing gets reallocated for focus and attention. We take in more data per second and process it more quickly. And when we process more information faster, the moment seems to last longer.
Stanford psychologist Philip Zimbardo, one of the pioneers in the field of time perception, says, “when you are fully aware of your surroundings and of yourself in the present, this increases the time that you swim with your head above water, when you can see both potential dangers and pleasures, you are aware of both your position and direction.”
No longer a slog of a todo list. The intrinsically rewarding nature of the experience compels us.
It’s an enjoyable drive. It’s why action and adventure athletes routinely risk life and limb for their sports and it’s why you hear of people quitting their jobs to pursue meditation and awakening, travelling miles away to meet shamans and yogis.
Psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi writes in his book, Flow, “The experience lifts the course of life to another level, alienation gives way to involvement, enjoyment replaces boredom and helplessness turns into a feeling of control. When experience is intrinsically rewarding, life is justified.” End quote.
A raised heart rate and a tightened focus.
Amped up pattern recognition abilities and boosted lateral thinking, helps you to find new links between ideas.
Brainwaves slow from agitated beta to calmer alpha making you relaxed and alert, able to shift from idea to idea.
You experience selflessness, timelessness and effortlessness, knocking out your common filters and opening up new ways of seeing things.
And in sum we gain access to the information we can’t usually access, hidden away from us, usually delegated to unconscious processing.
W.B. Yeats sums it up when he says, “The world is full of magic things, patiently waiting for our senses to grow sharper.”
These are the reasons to pursue ecstasis. Selflessness, timelessness, effortlessness and richness.
But apart from that, are there any practical benefits?
Well, yes, that’s actually the point of this whole book.
Consider this quote:
“It doesn’t seem to matter which technique we deploy, mindfulness training, technological stimulation, or pharmacological priming, the end results are substantial. Consider the gains: a 200% boost in creativity, a 490% boost in learning and a 500% boost in productivity.
Creativity, learning and productivity are essential skills and those percentage gains are big numbers.
If they were merely the result of a few studies done by a couple of labs, they could be easier to dismiss — but there is now several decades of research conducted by 100s of scientists on 1000s of participants showing that that when it comes to complex problem solving, ecstasis can be the (wicked) solution we’ve been looking for.”
Okay so you want to get some ecstasis going now, eh?
First, the how to, then the warnings and caution tape.
The flow state.
To get to this, think action sports involving weightedness, weightlessness and/or rotation.
Diving, gliding, surfing, etc… you can think of plenty, but also good group dynamics get you into group flow or transcranial magnetic stimulation gets you there quick, using a magnetic field.
The contemplative state
is achieved through meditation and mindfulness, breathwork, yoga, sensory deprivation, and/or using biofeedback to learn to change your state.
Biofeedback is when you have a heart monitor that beeps when your heart beats. Over time you can learn to control when the monitor beeps, controlling the rate of your heart beat.
The psychedelic state
is attained through the obvious ways and since most of it is still illegal, I cannot recommend this one. More info on that in the book.
Now, before you dive in, ready to unlock all that ecstasis offers, there are some things to consider. First, you must make sure that it’s worth it to you.
There is usually risk involved.
You must rate your capacity for the risk, as well as the magnitude of reward you want and your amount of time you are willing to commit.
The equation they have come up with is Value = Time x Reward/Risk
Meditation takes a long time, though there is very little risk and diving out of airplanes might get you there quick but it’s obviously high risk.
There are also other things to worry about,
You could end up as a bliss junkie or as someone whose ego has become inflated to the degree that they think they are a supreme being who is the only one who can experience these states, it’s happened before, or worse, you can pursue it so far that you can’t come back.
For resources on how best to pursue ecstasis, check out both of their websites, as well as a calendar tool they recommend, which I have all linked up.
There are non-ordinary states of consciousness that unlock a new world and a new potential.
These states give rise to selflessness, timelessness, effortlessness and information richness.
And there are many different ways to pursue ecstasis, just be careful.
This is a well-researched book that delves into a realm where making you uncomfortable is par for the course. By that I mean you will probably be uncomfortable a few times while reading this book.
But this book was all of my favorite things, interesting, esoteric and thought provoking.
You go from laughing, to crying, to cringing, but it can be a great book for the subset of people who want more.
Thanks Atticus Dickson for suggesting this book!
If you’re not subscribed to Average Optimized, make sure to subscribe so you don’t miss next week’s video, thanks for watching with us and–
we’ll see you next week!
Want to Read it?
(These links give me a little bump if you decide to use them. Thank you!)
- Punching Sounds by: Mike Koenig
- Music from Audiohero.com
- Elevator music: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9v9-Nw4nAZg
- Recap music: Podington Bear – Now Son
- Wah wah sound: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3EJE49hOjyw