My arrival at the Museum of Happiness (it’s just past the Market of Extreme Bliss and round the corner tucked away by the Bodhisattva’s Last Stand pub… ), occurred with me walking initially straight past the door and then sliding back in reverse and peaking my head round the window like Rowan Atkinson as Mr Bean…
“Hi! Here for Minded Yoga.. ?” proclaimed Rachel. I’d forgotten my name at this point and most other things. “Yes, for sure!” I answered and allowed myself to be directed to said Museum.
And there we have it – I installed myself on the somewhat psychedelic surroundings and awaited instruction… proclaiming myself entirely tabula rasa.
It’s amazing when you do start something new how being entirely a blank slate comes naturally. Let me interrupt this blankness with a small introduction.
My ‘day job’ revolves around computer science, research and teaching, as well as my ventures into yoga teaching during the evenings. Before you exclaim these fields hardly coincide, I’d declare “oh yes, but they do!”. You see, my research looks at how the consciousness can be changed, sometimes subtly and sometimes more dramatically. So, how do I do this with a computer? Things have moved on since punched cards! You can now create a complete virtual environment and place a human within it. I’m sure you may have encountered this, you know, with the headsets? Or even, just strapping a mobile phone to your bonce? Okay, so before you get the gaffer tape out on that shiny new iPhone X… let me explain.
I create a virtual environment which replicates a suitable place for meditation, with all the tools you may need. Less cats to interfere, for example. Not only is the 3d visual environment under control but so is audio. I’m reminded of that 60’s series, you know, where it says:
There is nothing wrong with your television set. Do not attempt to adjust the picture. We are controlling transmission. If we wish to make it louder, we will bring up the volume. If we wish to make it softer, we will tune it to a whisper. We will control the horizontal. We will control the vertical. We can roll the image, make it flutter. We can change the focus to a soft blur or sharpen it to crystal clarity. For the next hour, sit quietly and we will control all that you see and hear. We repeat: there is nothing wrong with your television set. You are about to participate in a great adventure. You are about to experience the awe and mystery which reaches from the inner mind to – The Outer Limits.
Okay, I cheated. Google is my best friend. And no, I’m not simply not that old. I remember re-runs from blurry eyed late-night TV watching. It explains a lot. Now, we have Netflix for blurry eyes, at ANY time of day. It’s called… progress?
So, having got great control of someone’s senses and a whole bunch of Buddhist and Yogic sutras at my disposal, throw in a healthy dose of science, some old and some bang up to date. Voila! Tune-in, drop-out (but don’t forget to pay the electric bill, we need that).
The headset, in this case, includes a rather hacked EEG (Electroencephalograph) sensor. Not only does the system control your immersive environment but it needs a way of knowing how that person is reacting to what is being given to them via their senses… and from knowing this, the system can change that environment and see what works and what doesn’t to bring them into a particular mental state.
Besides the fact that we have a great sense of embodiment in virtual reality, there are some other tricks that can be used to bring a person to a particular state.
The brain has some intriguing visual and auditory ‘back doors’. Have you ever been on a train where the sun is passing behind trees or railings and you become hypnotised by the rhythm? Or likewise, sat by a fire within a similar soporific trance? You’re ‘there’ but somehow removed? That’s an example of your brain being entranced or induced into another state.
The other effect is an auditory one, play a tone in either ear of someone and you get an entrainment – the brainwave patterns attempt to lock on to the difference of the two. That is, play a tone of 300Hz in one ear and 310Hz in the other you will get a beat tone or ‘binaural’ beat of 10Hz… which produces a ‘frequency following response’.. your brain attempts to produce a similar waveform dominating frequency.
Match the two together, audio and visual and you can induce whatever state you like.
So, yogi’s, the complete virtual meditation lab is composed of many mechanisms. Think of it like the training space in the Matrix, you know ‘The Construct’, you can load into it a meditation system based on Buddhist techniques, Taoist ontology or a more yogic environment. And all the while the system learns and adapts that system to you and what you encounter.
So, back to the Museum of Divine Bliss, I mean Happiness.
It’s funny how there is such synchronicity in life, there I am crossing over science and yoga and here I find that exact marriage in a yoga therapy course! But any yogi (and I do mean, yogi and yogini’s here) knows, after some time of study, that yoga is as much a science as anything – the practitioners of the past studied in much the same ways the nature of reality with the tools they had at their disposal. Okay, so they didn’t have Google, MRI and super-duper fast laptop but they did have curiosity and persistence… and no phones to disturb them!
The many lectures ranged from neuroscience through to the Kosha’s. Offset these with wanderings round the rather colourful backdrop of Camden and you have the perfect learning opportunity…