Monthly Archives: August 2014

South African travel obsession

I have been so fortunate to have parents who encourage curiosity and adventure! We rarely went to a holiday spot twice, and though we had our favourite spots to go eat out every now and again, we also had a lot of fun trying new things. A decade or so (*cough) later this drive still hasn’t left me. In the last 5 years I’ve spent more time outside my home country than in it, to the distress of family members and confusion of friends who are much more settled than me. I don’t blame them – as many times as I hear ‘I wish I could see other places in the world’, I think to myself ‘I wish I have a secure job, friends around me and I could attend my sister’s 21st birthday’.

Hmm, I digress… The point is, even when I go back home, to South Africa, I won’t stop looking around and discovering beautiful, new places. The next couple of posts will be all about the travels I want to engage in, in South Africa. The planning will take the shape of a road trip, with spots and stops along the way. 🙂

The first steps will be from Pretoria, to the Northeastern border of SA, across Mozambique to Ponta Malongane, back down to South Africa along the East coast; Durban, via Lesotho and Swaziland, down to Port Elizabeth… all along the coast to Cape Town, up the Western Cape, to Namibia, and back to SA via Botswana.

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Guns, Germs and Steel (author Jared Diamond)

As a person living in the modern age, we look back at preceding societies and judge them or have expectations of them according to what we understand of the world today, forgetting that people of 10 000 or even 5 000 years ago saw and experienced the world very differently. In the same way we measure their progress and development by our current understanding of world resources. With such a shallow understanding of what it took to reach the point technological, medical or cultural evolution at which we are at right now, we may fault people for not “advancing” themselves the way other societies have. Jared Diamond’s curiosity about this has gifted the world with an extraordinary account of human history, looking through the microscope of cultural and societal evolution and what it took for man to become what we call “civilized” or “advanced” today.

A mere 20 pages into this book I was completely captivated! Diamond finds myriad explanations for specific trends in our prehistorical development, but doesn’t stop there. He imparts not a knowledge of developments, but an understanding of growth and transformation.
I’m amazed at what it took for food production and agriculture to take hold and how big of a snowball effect that creates in terms of technology, society and later, political organization! Similarly, animal domestication had a major impact on disease and our adapting immune systems. And that’s in societies that had access to domesticable, agriculturally viable plant & animal species.

From these building blocks Diamond continues to paint the picture of all the things we hold dear or take for granted in our own societies and shows how silly it is to seperate peoples based on our preconceived notions of “us vs them”.

This is an incredible book, absolutely worth it’s Pulitzer prize and other awards.
A good book to read in conjunction with Guns, Germs and Steel is Daniel Quinn’s Ishmael.

by Jared Diamond

by Jared Diamond

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There is just not enough time

I have an unquenchable thirst… I want to do everything, I want to go everywhere, see every corner of the world / a city / a neighborhood. I want to know about everything, silly things and useful things equally, I want to build on my knowledge consistently; I want to speak as many languages as possible… How do I do these things in conjunction with ‘making a living’? How would I ever have enough time to research even half of what interests me? How could I even put all of it into practice?

I guess if I’m really passionate about this I would set out to climb this mountain of mine regardless of obstacles, and having a focused outlet helps to organise my thoughts (yay for blogs!). But I despair at all the things I will never have time for, because of the limit of a human lifetime and the restrictions of necessary economic self-sufficiency. In no way does this despair convince me to give up, but I’m worried that it may spur me to a panicked frenzy, to start with as many projects as I think I can handle, then having too much on my plate and not giving individual missions appropriate attention.


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OSP: Altered States of Consciousness

Float tanks are a fairly recent introduction to the ongoing and dynamic domain of altering our consciousness. In fact, people have been experimenting with altering consciousness as far back as “the great leap forward”, (to use Jared Diamond’s term for the jump in our evolution). That is, according to Terence McKenna, as we’ll see a bit later in this post. However, first I want to discuss where ASC comes from, and perhaps even probe the answers to why people keep venturing into manipulating consciousness (this is where Terence McKenna comes in). I’ll take a specific look at sensory deprivation as a way of playing around with consciousness and brain function, as well as the more modern approaches to ASC, including the dark side of how it has been used in the past. Finally I’ll come full circle in this Obsessive’s Starter Pack post-series and talk about the introduction of modern floating as a positive means to alter consciousness and how it has become more accessible to us today.

Altered States of Consciousness goes WAY back
One of the most obvious and most radical ways to manipulate how your brain works, even for a short time, is using drugs: sugar, coffee, alcohol, hallucinogens etc., some of which are more socially accepted or less stigmatised, but nevertheless have the desired outcome. Pamela Watson is a retired anthropologist and pharmacist, and retired though she may be, she still actively runs her blog Prehistoric Drugs on WordPress where she discusses (among other really interesting things!) psychoactive drug use in human society through history. She writes in her abstract, published on her blog:

“Psychoactive drug use has great antiquity, and not only because taking drugs makes individuals feel good. In the distant past, as now, people also used drugs as tools for social bonding; for contacting the sacred/spiritual; for expressing identity; for manipulating others; and as aids in confronting culture-specific problems. In short, for millennia, drug consumption occupied a central place in the economic, political, religious and social life of human beings.”

Similarly, this ‘spiritual journey’ with drugs is not solely a human phenomenon either. Michael Pollan writes in his book “The Botany of Desire”[1] that while there were Native American groups that used to keep an eye on which plants animals were using to “get high” (like jaguars with Ayahuasca vines or plants containing DMT) and use it themselves, there are also wild animals that would consume psychoactive plants to their own absolute detriment: “bighorn sheep will grind their teeth to useless nubs scraping a hallucinogenic lichen off ledge rock”. Continue reading

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OSP: Float Innovators and Advocates

Original image by adrigu on flickr under Creative Commons license Quote by Seth Stevenson [1]

Original image by adrigu on flickr under Creative Commons license
Quote by Seth Stevenson [1]

Innovators and advocates

Ashkahn Jahromi, Graham Talley, Quinn Zepeda and Christopher Messer are the founders of Float On in Portland, Oregon, they made a Youtube video for first-time floaters which provides excellent info and really shows their enthusiasm. In fact, their passion has driven them to promoting other creative projects surrounding floating (check out the results of their artist, musician and dancer programs). The artist program really caught my imagination – they invited local artists to go for a float, and produce something artistic inspired by their experience. (As I’m writing this post, they as well as about 350 people are at the annual Float Conference in Portland. Lucky bums!)

Artwork from the Void, cover image is Copyright of Float On

Artwork from the Void, cover image is Copyright of Float On

Another eloquent speaker on the subject is UFC host, stand-up comedian and podcast host Joe Rogan; he talks about his own experiences on his podcast The Joe Rogan Experience and encourages friends, guests (and incidentally listeners as well) to try floating. He’s got a couple of great videos about floating and other states of consciousness. Unlike the fortunate Mr. Rogan who has a tank at home, usually a person would find a center or spa where you prefer to float. I am in the inconsistent, ever-changing situation of having to find a float center close to wherever my travels have brought me. In Taiwan I could jump on the bullet train and two hours later be at Dream Waters, where Damien would meet me/us with the happy smile I’ve seen on every person involved in REST. The Where to Float website has amazing resources for finding float centers, reading all about others’ experiences, and getting acquainted with related horizon-broadening philosophies and advocates.

Enter Zen Float Company… William Hill, Shane Stott and Sean Stott launched a super successful Kickstarter campaign (the people have spoken!) and are now manufacturing float tents which are considerably cheaper than other float tanks. US$ 1700 is not bad for having access to your own float tent at any time.

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OSP: Floating (REST)

A state of mind
[2]

The quick-fire description of floating is something along the lines of ‘voluntarily spending an hour or more in a tank where all your senses are stripped away’. Sensory deprivation, also called REST (restricted environmental stimulation therapy). Before I ever did my first float this sounded incredibly intimidating – I’d never spent that much time in the company of my own mind, with nothing to distract me… And that’s the point. Wait, I’m getting ahead of myself :).

What is this and why do you call it ‘floating’?
You climb into a pod/tank and lie down in 25cm of body temperature water, saturated with about 360kg of Epsom salt – this combination means you float on the water, not touching the ground below, neither do you feel where the water makes contact with your skin, once your skin has acclimated to the water’s exact temperature. As long as you don’t stir the water, all tactile sense is effectively neutralised. Another strange thing happens: as you relax into the water and find that your head relaxes completely (don’t worry, you won’t go under) it finds a completely natural position; your neck suddenly doesn’t need to support your head’s weight and this relaxation & “letting go” softly drifts throughout your entire body, seeps out of every limb, every muscle, every joint. The natural tension that keeps your body upright and balanced melts away until it feels like you are suspended in space, weightless and free even from gravity…
Sight and sound are done away with when the pod’s lid seals you in; fresh air is circulated through the tank and the lid/door is pretty easy to open from both inside and outside. Now you are deprived of your major senses and left with your mind, unhindered by interruptions, even of your own body. (*use the WC before you get in;)

Image Copyright of Dream Waters

Image Copyright of Dream Waters

But… why?
On the one hand people float for the physical benefits of total relaxation achieved in the tank, relief of chronic pain [3], lowered blood pressure [4] and as a treatment for insomnia [5]. On the other hand, rich opportunities exist to turn your attention inward: a meditative state comes more easily, self-awareness and self-exploration can be very intense; some people even achieve states of altered consciousness with relative ease. “Altered state of consciousness” (ASC) simply means there’s a temporary change in normal brain activity while not unconscious; dreams are a temporary change, but you’re unconscious, so it doesn’t fall into the category of ASC. Unintended examples of altered consciousness is when you are delirious with fever, in fight-or-flight panic mode or in a state of sleep deprivation [6]. These are not the most exciting ways to experience ASC! Thank goodness there are better ways to get there (in this post I only consider Floatation therapy, but in my next posts I’ll discuss other ways to have fun inducing ASC as well). In the case of floatation therapy, something special happens in the brain… Our normal state of consciousness happens on beta frequency brain waves (as is explained expertly and concisely in this Youtube video by BrainWaveCollege), but while in the float tank, it’s easier for the brain to switch to theta frequency [7], which is associated with creativity, problem-solving and more intuitive thinking. ‘So… I should do a float when I’m stuck on a problem / studying for exams / designing / creating content…?’ Absolutely!

The experience of floating is different for everyone, though, and ASC can manifest in many different ways, from subtle brain wave frequency changes, to auditory or visual hallucinations. In fact, if you stay awake and keep yourself aware, you can have a different experience every time & learn to drive your time in the tank in new directions. In the case of my first couple of floats at Dream Waters in Taipei, Taiwan, the first was purely a come-what-may experiment, after which I took more care to be aware and use the time actively and constructively.

Now that you’ve dipped your toes into floating, check out what the experts are saying in the next post and where technology is going. 🙂

Image Copyright of Where to Float

Image Copyright of Where to Float

Original image by adrigu on flickr under Creative Commons license Quote by Seth Stevenson [1]

Original image by adrigu on flickr under Creative Commons license
Quote by Seth Stevenson [1]

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Indecisive Obsessive

Riveting references

[1] Stevenson, S. (2013) Embracing the Void Retrieved 8 August 2014 from Slate online magazine
[2] Zen Float (2013) Entering the Floating Zone. Retrieved on August 9 2014 from Zen Float Co blog
[3] Kjellgren, A. (2003) The experience of flotation REST: Consciousness, Creativity, Subjective Stress and Pain. Retrieved 9 August from Academic Archive Online
[4] Turner, J., Gerard, W., et al (1993) Clinical and Experimental Restricted Environment Stimulation. DOI: 10.1007/978-1-4684-8583-7_25
[5] Suedfeld, P., Bow, R. A. (1999) Health and therapeutic applications of chamber and flotation restricted environmental stimulation therapy (REST) DOI: DOI: 10.1080/08870449908407346
[6] Lavoie, S. Altered States of Consciousness. Retrieved 5 August from Education Portal
[7] Brain Waves Retrieved 5 August from Where to Float

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Obsessive’s Starter Pack: Floating!

If you’ve done some floating before, you know exactly what I’m talking about and are most likely longing for the next one (I know I am!) If you haven’t… 🙂 you’re about to be obsessed!

This Obsessive’s Starter Pack is divided in two posts:

I explore what it is, and why people do it; there are many awesome info videos, and research projects i’ll point you to.

So many exciting things are happening, because people believe in what they’re doing! These people know so much more than I can impart in a post, but I hope I can share with you their passion and where float technology is going.

  • Sensory deprivation

The origin of floatation therapy and its wider context; I’ll ferret out how and why it started and then dig into the more esoterical side of altered states of consciousness related to floating.
(Post some time after Aug 9)

 

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Why The Death Of The Office Can’t Come Too Soon

A perspective I haven’t come across before; exciting!

Paul Taylor

“We literally followed people around all day and timed every event [that happened in the office], to the second.

That meant telephone calls, working on documents, typing e-mails, or interacting with someone.

What we found is that the average amount of time that people spent on any single event before being interrupted

was about three minutes.” – Gloria Mark, Professor in the Department of Informatics at the University of California

waste-in-the-office_5227601e47658_w587

If you are working in an office today you will be interrupted – or you will interrupt yourself – every 3 minutes.

And what’s worse is it will take many of you up to 23 minutes to recover from that distraction.

If your boss lets you – go home. It’s the most productive decision you’ll make this year.

Here are four reasons why the office should have died by now:

  1. UK workers spend a year of their lives in meetings…

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OSP: Tea! #4 Tea Time Travel Bug

Destination: Darjeeling

As much as I would love to plan out a trip for each and every special spot where amazing tea is grown and produced, I want to build a realistic, in-depth itinerary and post it within a week of starting this OSP! 🙂 I have decided to build a travel plan around a place that I don’t know at all and which, until recently, has not been super high up on my travel wishlist: India. More specifically Darjeeling, in West Bengal. India is a daunting destination that calls up intense images of mass poverty, almost aggressive begging and overwhelming crowds. Granted, this is not at all based on personal experience and really, from here my expectations can only be pleasantly surpassed. Of course I’ve come to distrust popular media, especially after what I’ve heard other people believe about gorgeous, sunny South Africa. However, it is still a fact that the population of India in 2012 was 1 236 686 700 (yeah, you read that right, 1,23 billion!) and 32,7% of the country is firmly below the poverty line.[1]

My itinerary will consist of a two week travel plan, with day trips, a vague plan of places to see with some detailed info about the places or how to get there… Basically this is exactly how I plan when I travel; transportation and admin stuff very prepared and more of a loose framework of things I want to fit into a spread of days, while still leaving enough time to meander, smell the city (as per Rudyard Kipling’s travel musings) and get lost in the streets. My itinerary is planned around going at the end of March, before monsoon season starts.

Darjeeling train station, Copyrighted to Atomicbre under Creative Commons license

Darjeeling train station, Copyrighted to Atomicbre under Creative Commons license

Day 1: Arrive in Kolkata, India
I will land in Kolkata, because I can get less transfers than landing in Bagdogra (the closest airport), and getting to Darjeeling overland is quicker than from Delhi. Also, I get to spend time in two cities! 🙂
In case of delays or tight scheduling and just to decompress from a super long flight, I’ll spend one night in Kolkata before zooming in on Darjeeling. Hostels are roughly ₹800 (Indian rupees) per night (i.e. US$14); I would try to stay in the area of Howrah Train Station, which is where I’m catching a train the next day. The Howrah station is in the North Kolkata area, which is known for it’s old Zamindar buildings and narrow alleyways. Though I might not go looking for these little alleyways quite yet on the first day I arrive, there is another place I would make a beeline for: College Street Bookmarket. A whole street with bookshop after bookshop, in a variety of different language on myriad topics (is what I’ve heard/read); after which I would go to the College Street Coffe House and pore over my purchases (not even kidding, I know I’ll walk away with something).
The first day of ‘take it easy and just take it in’ works well for me, so after College street, I’ll stroll aimlessly for a bit, probably keep an eye out for some sherbet, since late March already sees temperatures as high as 30 Celsius[2] as well as some street food to keep me going. On Scoop Whoop Srishti posted some amazing suggestions of Kolkatan street food to try – those samosas and phuchkas look dangerously delicious! Phuchka: “…In fact, the filling of spiced mashed potatoes dipped in tamarind water or meethe paani (mishti jol) is simply put an explosion of spicy tart, crunch and softness from the potatoes that account for a milieu of happy memories.”[3] I am so ready!

Copyrighted to Mjanich under Creative Commons license

Copyrighted to Mjanich under Creative Commons license


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