Mind State Management: the Software of the Mind
by Frank Young, Ph.D.
This article first appeared in the Voyager XL User Guide © Copyright
2008 Theta Technologies.
People who learn to control inner experience will be able to determine
the quality of their lives, which is as close as any of us can come to
being happy. (Csikszentmihalyi, 1990, p.2)
In his book, Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience, one of the foremost authors on the phenomena of peak experiences, Csikszentmihalyi, outlines the state of unity between subject and object, the observer and the observed, a total blend of process and outcome. This state of complete focus can also be described as the result of a learned skill or habit. Mind state management (MSM), the skill of matching activation state and mental focus to the task at hand, is now available to virtually anyone who is willing to learn it. Once the cherished domain of a few yogis and supreme meditators, this ability can now be learned through the recent advances in the new field of neurotechnology.
Describing the consciousness continuum
Mind State Management involves many specific skills and strategies for effecting positive changes to human consciousness. Consciousness, the subjective state of awareness of one's mind state, can be viewed as a continuum of brain activation levels from hyperactivation to virtual coma. While this description does not take into account the structure and function of the brain, it does provide a useful framework upon which to map the general states of arousal which are associated to processing certain types of information and performing certain kinds of tasks. It is an oversimplification to describe all parts of the brain as if they resonate uniformly to one vibration; the brain is far more complex than that. Nor is it accurate to describe left brain functions only as primarily linear and logical, and right brain functions only as intuitive, unconscious, and spatial. The metaphor of a continuum, though, allows us a convenient way to understand the fairly consistent patterns of brain functioning common to most people.
The brain operates like a computer which is not surprising since computers were designed to emulate brain functions in the first place. There are input devices (data from our senses), coding systems (categorizations and cognitive appraisals of our perceptions based on previous experiences) and a central processing unit. There is also a power source (motivation) that pre-selects certain information for processing and ignores data considered irrelevant. There are also output devices in which data is categorized (cross-referenced in both the conscious and unconscious long-term memory systems). If the encoding is sloppy or the data has relatively low importance to functioning, it tends to be lost (forgotten). It is eventually overwritten or erased by subsequent information (new experiences).
While most of the information is stored, it is almost virtually unretrievable unless properly tagged to a retrieval path. For example, with no external cueing, try to remember who you had lunch with three Tuesdays ago. For most people this is not an easy assignment, yet the memory is there.
Imagine the distress of taking an examination and temporarily blocking the correct answers due to the stress of having to produce on demand. Imagine the difficulty in trying to fall asleep when your sleep cycle has been disrupted by jet lag. Or trying to read a chapter of a textbook when you are tired. Each of these activities require certain levels of brain state activation in order to be carried out effectively. The importance of this principle is far from insignificant. Disruptions to brain functioning can affect cognition, emotion, attitude and ultimately behavior. What is needed then is the ability to access the brain wave state that is optimal to the task at hand.
What are brainwaves? Essentially, our brain is a neurochemical information processor that gives off electrical signals as electrochemical circuits close and open a million each second. If this is so, why can't we detect these signals? Primarily because our skulls are too thick and the signals too weak for them to resonate outside our heads. With the exception of perhaps the most clairvoyant and telepathic among us, brain wave patterns are impossible to detect without the aid of a special amplifier called an electroencephalograph or EEG, which detects and records the changes in the voltage emanating from the brain. These electrical patterns tend to be similar in their general rhythm or rate of pulsation, and can be placed along the consciousness continuum.
The first pattern is described as beta waves, of short amplitude and very rapid pulsations of 30-14 cycles per second (Hertz or Hz). This pattern is optimal for intense mental activities such as calculations, linear logical analyses, and other highly structured functions.
The second pattern is described as alpha waves, characterized by a slightly larger amplitude of 13-9 Hz. This pattern typically occurs in daydreaming, relaxed awareness, guided or focused imagery and smoothly rhythmic athletic activity. There is often a euphoric, effortless feeling of "flow" as the doer is absorbed in activity, and subject and object are felt to be united.
The third pattern is described as theta waves, pulsations that are more ragged and irregular, in the 8-4 Hz range. While this range is rather small, a difference of 1 or 2 Hz in this zone is very noticeable, as it is proportionately much larger than it would be in the beta or alpha range. This pattern is associated with deep unconscious imagery, and thus creativity, as the person drops into a state of drowsiness and near-sleep.
The last main pattern is that of delta waves, pulsations that range between 3-1 Hz. In this range of profound relaxation, images and dreams have largely subsided, as the person slides into a state of slow wave restorative sleep. Meditators who remain aware during this state of near unconsciousness report tranquillity and peace.
Obviously, being able to control a mind state (the subjective mental state that typically accompanies a brainwave pattern) would be helpful in optimizing human functioning in contexts that required specific kinds of concentration and relaxation. While there have always been brainwaves, only recently have we become aware of them and been able to effect their change. This accessibility with demonstrable, rapid results has great potential for the relief of suffering and the evolution of the social mind of our society.
Thus, in this next section the intent is not merely to present a history of neurotechnology (the field of mind-machine interface), for others have done a more thorough job of documenting that history (Hutchison, 1986, 1990, 1992; Budzynski, 1991). My intent is to put mind state management in a context that allows you to see the rich human tradition from which it springs, and the way these independent sources form interdependent streams of consciousness. You can get a sense of the expansive direction in which this energy can flow, not only in your own development, but in the development of all human consciousness.
Mind state management in an historical context
Meditation and Prayer. Throughout history, in virtually every culture and religion, there has been a tradition of some kind of meditation or chanting prayer. Prayer is typically used to focus and calm the mind, promote healing, or invoke the blessing of a deity. Usually the prayer takes about 15-20 minutes. It may involve the repetition of a simple phrase or series of actions and rhythmic sounds-jumping, swaying, dancing or chanting. The participant continues repeating the action or mantra long past the point of boredom, until a higher state or spiritual awareness occurs. If distracting thoughts occur, the participant is told not to resist them; let them pass through the mind and exit by themselves, allowing the mind to return to the mantra. These rituals have been successful in invoking a relaxation response, but only to dedicated devotees who practiced religiously. The required discipline often had to be maintained externally through social constraints against leaving the place of meditation or the
Nevertheless, over the centuries and across cultures, a general principle of the mind-body unity seems to operate:
Stimulate the mind-body with rapid movement and loud sounds.
Soothe and settle the mind-body with slower and quieter movement and sound.
Transport the mind-body to altered states of consciousness through very slow pulsing of movement and sound.
The principles of mind state management are similar:
Repeated rhythmic stimulation reduces the distraction imposed by the external world.
Attention gradually and consistently turns to internal experiences.
If slower rhythms are better for inducing deeper states of consciousness, then it would seem that the ultimate meditation would be to cultivate total stillness and quietness-a slowing of all movement in a total focus of concentration. In fact, many forms of yogic meditation attempt to do just this. However, they flourish in cultures where patience, acceptance and the concept of "no-thing-ness" are taught from an early age. The effort required to focus the wandering and impatient mind is unbearably demanding and tedious to the undisciplined Western mind. Some would argue that this lack of patience and discipline is the very attitude that the practice of meditation is designed to over-come, the antidote to Western thinking. However, such an argument is actually a taunting tautology, describing a condition that prevents its own remedy. After we watch the dog chasing its own tail, we know he is merely playing with his dilemma. Not so with meditation. For whatever reason, most people in our Western culture will no t meditate in a consistent way long enough for thorough learning of the skills of MSM.
Hypnosis: The advent of formal hypnosis in the past two centuries provided a new and perhaps more readily acquired method of learning MSM. In hypnosis, a state of focus is generated by the use of language, with words, phrases, and ideas using the contradictions provided in the language itself. Words can twist and reflect upon themselves, leaving the listener confused and detached.
Hypnosis as a path to MSM was limited by two popular perceptions:
Hypnotic suggestibility was thought to be an inherent, almost fixed, capacity rather than a learned skill which some people acquire more easily than others.
Hypnosis was thought of as a weird state in which the hypnotist somehow took control of a subject with a weak or suggestible mind.
As a result of these misconceptions, hypnosis held a relatively narrow path for learning MSM skills. Nevertheless, a dedicated person can usually learn hypnosis and ultimately self-hypnosis with the help of an instructor, or from books and tapes. However, for this individual the results are often hit-or-miss. Practice is abandoned before the MSM skills are properly learned and integrated.
Mind alteration: North American consciousness explorers in the 70s and 80s began experimenting with the mind-altering properties of hallucinogenic drugs. These did indeed alter the user's state of consciousness, but in largely uncontrolled, and some times dangerous ways. What's more, many of these drugs were not only illegal, but toxic, which required the body to metabolize the substance before returning to a normal state of consciousness. What people really wanted was a quick, effective, natural process for mind-state alteration.
Meanwhile, some researchers were experimenting with sensory deprivation. In float tanks, one floated in large, dark, quiet tanks of water at body temperature. The buoyancy provided by a high level of Epsom salt allowed the user to float effortlessly. All sensory input -sight, sound, smell, taste, kinesthetic feeling was denied. This was effective in inducing relaxation, euphoria, accelerated learning, and various mind state phenomena (Hutchison, 1984, The Book of Floating); however, the tanks were cumbersome and not very practical.
Ritual practices: The 1970s brought an increasing awareness of the value rituals practiced by other cultures might offer to our secular consumer-oriented society. Besides Eastern religions and philosophies, there was a growing appreciation for North American aboriginal people and the reverence they held for nature. This resonated with the dawn of the ecology movement. The idea of using natural rituals somehow seemed to make more sense. The idea of social and mind altering ceremonies-bathing in the warmth and flicker of firelight, chanting, drumming and dancing-invoked a curiosity and earned a place in the North American cultural mosaic.
Mind entrainment devices: Another significant trend arose from the neuroscience experimentation of W. Gray Walter and his colleagues in a series of studies on the effects of photic stimulation. They found that when exposed to strobe-like photic stimulation, the brain's electrical wave activity began to synchronize with and track the frequency of the stimulation pattern (Walter, 1957). Other pioneer researchers followed a similar tradition, noting the effects of the frequency-following response to photic stimulation, the so-called "driving" or entrainment effect. The addition of sound patterns to augment photic driving led to the proliferation of mind-entrainment devices, most of which were still expensive and cumbersome. By the early 1980s, however, advances in computerization, miniaturization, and microchip technology allowed for the mass manufacture of light and sound devices (research reviewed in Hutchison, 1986, 1990-92; Budzynski, 1991, and other sources). Not long after, researchers and neurotech nology engineers closed the gap in mind state management by developing portable, inexpensive machines, which I like to call Sound and Light Entrainment Devices or SLEDs*. At last, those who wished to learn how to gain mastery over their mind states now had an appropriate technology:
It would generate noticeable results almost from the outset of training (instant gratification and demonstration of effect).
It was essentially passive in nature, requiring no active direction from the user.
It was relatively inexpensive and portable.
It was a safe, natural, and drug-free alternative.
It could be used in private and be programmed to meet the user's needs.
It could be adapted for use in social or group contexts.
SLEDs were being promoted as alpha-generating mind-machines, the ultimate replacement for therapists, counselors, and stress management consultants. They were destined to become a panacea for virtually all modern difficulties and ailments. People on both the West and East coasts began to flock to "Mental Fitness Centers" to tune in and drop out for a mental health break.
But the fad died as quickly as it flourished. What happened? Over excitement likely created unrealistic expectations. Consumers thought that all they had to do was turn on the devices and everything in their stressful lives would be resolved. This notion is as realistic as thinking you will become a great writer as soon as you purchase a typewriter. Another barrier was lack of portability. Mental fitness centers required the consumer to leave their home or work environment to gain access to the technology, instead of the technology coming to the consumer. Those who ran the centers, while technically adept and effective marketers, often did not have the psychological expertise to adapt the SLED technology to specific and complex needs of the user. Consumers had hardware, but without adequate guidance as to how to use it.
What was needed was the "software of the mind" to translate SLED potential into reality. A leading publication in the field of neurotechnology called for the need to develop a support system of training, instructional tools and programs—a guided hands-on approach to help the user go beyond a few novelty sessions (Hutchison, Megabrain Report, 1992). The real secret lay in enticing the participant to stay with the training long enough for a beneficial effect to be realized. What is often required is gentle encouragement, enthusiasm, and a set of focusing instructions that are easy to follow. Rather than having a few programs meant to meet everyone's needs, it made sense to develop customized programs for specialized purposes. And finally, since guided imagery used to meet those needs can be enhanced with SLEDs, then why not offer audiotapes? The listener could absorb the process of change in an effortless manner, allowing the ideas to be absorbed in receptive alpha and theta consciousness. The resources of a pool of professionals experienced with using and customizing the skills of mind state management was needed, experts who could design and program sessions and produce the audiotape to accompany the sessions.
In 1992, Theta Technologies began the process of developing a device that would offer all these advantages. The result was the Voyager XL, with the collected knowledge of 17 specialists in the field of neurotechnology. Many of the session authors are experienced psychotherapists, neurolinguistic programmers, hypnotherapists, and researchers with direct experience using SLEDs in their clinical and research practice over the past five to ten years. They feature complex light and sound combinations, binaural beats, overlapping sounds, and other special audio-effects. Associated audio tapes incorporate trance and guided imagery to achieve health and expanded consciousness.
Frank D. Young, Ph.D.
Dr. Frank Young is a chartered psychologist in private practice in Calgary, Alberta. He was formerly senior clinical psychologist at Holy Cross Hospital in Calgary, Alberta. He serves on the faculty of the Family Therapy Institute, HCH, and as an instructor in the Canadian Society of Clinical Hypnosis. He practices sport psychology for the National Coaching Certification Program and Team Canada Judo and Team Canada Luge. Dr. Young is also on the Editorial Advisor Board of the Journal of Strategic And Systemic Therapies. He is an Approved Supervisor for the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy. He has published articles and presented numerous workshops on such topics as Ericksonian hypnosis and therapy, humorous approaches in strategic therapy, anorexia and bulimia, imagery training, lucid dreaming, creativity, and performance enhancement using imagery.
Dr. Young has used light and sound entrainment devices extensively in his practice over the past five years with consistently favorable results. He has also received training with Dr. Stephen LaBerge, and is a clinical consultant to the training programs of the Lucidity Institute in Stanford, California. He is currently developing programs and custom tapes for lucidity training and other applications of light and sound devices for Synetic Systems Inc. and Theta Technologies Inc. of Seattle, WA. He has also produced commercial tapes for stress management, creativity using mind state management, and the hypnotic induction of lucid dreaming.