Ep8 – Meditation, Mindfulness, and Psychology of Anxiety with Dr. Lobsang Rapgay

Dr. Lobsang Rapay joins Dr Hill to discuss his early experience as a Tibetan monk and how it lead to a life in clinical psychology. Dr Rapgay talks about distancing yourself from your emotions in order to not be controlled by them. He speaks about techniques for extinguishing learned fear responses after the fact, as well as using mindfulness to conquer fear and anxiety.

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Dr. Lobsang Rapay joins Dr. Hill to explore his early journey as a Tibetan monk and its profound influence on his path towards a career in clinical psychology. Dr. Rapgay delves into the concept of detaching oneself from emotions to prevent their control. He shares insights on methods to eliminate acquired fear responses retroactively and emphasizes the role of mindfulness in overcoming fear and anxiety.

The podcast with Lobsang Rapay covers:

-Fear reconsolidation with Dr. Lobsang Rapgay.
-Personal journey from Tibet to monastic life to clinical psychology.
-Monastic life in Tibetan Buddhism.
-Buddhist traditions and practices.
-Anxiety and mindfulness in psychology.
-Mindfulness, emotions, and pain management.
-Mindfulness and meditation techniques.
-Using neuroscience to treat trauma and anxiety.
-Meditation and Tibetan Buddhism with Dr. Lobsang Rapgay.

Speaker 1 0:07
So welcome to another episode of headfirst with Dr. Hill. Today’s guest is Dr. Lobsang rap gay. Dr. Rob gay is an adjunct assistant professor research and clinical psychologist and the Department of Psychiatry at UCLA. He was the Director of Behavioral Medicine Clinic and the program and assistant clinical professor at UCLA Semel Institute UCLA for over six years. He’s currently studying the behavioral and neural correlates of fear reconsolidation. So thank you, Dr. Gottman for being here with us today.

Unknown Speaker 0:35
Thank you for having me. Thank you.

Speaker 1 0:37
So I’ve known you for a few years I was a grad student at UCLA and got to sit down and over many a meal and discuss neuroscience and different aspects of things were that were our interest overlap. But I’m sure to many of our listeners, they don’t know you. So if you could please give us a sense of who you are, where you came from. What What brought you to this point in your life today?

Speaker 2 1:02
Well, you know, I was born in Lhasa, which is the capital city of Tibet. And actually I was born in New the very near the st. Central Temple, which is regarded as the most holiest the holiest site in Tibet, actually. So it’s considered a privilege to be born near that site.

Unknown Speaker 1:27
Did you plan that?

Speaker 2 1:29
Not quite. So, you know, I, I was raised that in house till I was about six years ago. And by that time when I was born, and around that time, the Chinese Communist had already come into Lhasa. The key came in from eastern Tibet, and then they will already in Lhasa, but they will not at that point. Occupational force they had come to under the guise of helping the Tibetans, but they’re already simmering tensions brewing in the air. So it was in that environment I was born. And my parents were already thinking of like, what should we do, should we stay or leave. And finally, then I left, then I escaped into India, where luckily I was able to go to a boarding Catholic school, actually a Jesuit Catholic school, I received most of my high school, high schooling, and then eventually I went to university in India. And then finally, at around that same time, my father passed away. And I used to be very much reflective person by nature. So I already always was drawn to the inner experience in the world. And so that, coupled with the passing away of my way of my father, when I was very young, kind of somehow drew me to the monastic community, which I remained for about 18 years. And while I was a monk, I eventually decided to complement my monastic training with looking into Western psychology. I already had a PhD from an Indian University, where I studied western and eastern psychology and philosophy. So I had some exposure then finally decided to come to the United States to pursue a degree in clinical psychology. And then, and I was done with that round in 2000 i Oh, I began to work at UCLA as a staff psychologist,

Speaker 1 4:04
and that’s a research position or clinical work that

Speaker 2 4:07
was predominantly a clinical position. I used to be a consult station and liaison services under psychiatry. And that was a service that psychiatry provided psychiatry and psychology to interface with the medical doctors from various disciplines and provide complimentary services to psychiatric and Psychological Services to MediCal patients who required maybe psychiatric health, primary medication but secondarily psychotherapeutic short term psychotherapy

Speaker 1 4:55
and of course you remain involved in both the therapeutic the Delivering therapy one on one as well as researching into some of these neuroscience and psychology topics, right?

Speaker 2 5:06
Well, actually after that, as I, I became an assistant clinical professor, I directed outpatient clinic, we started the Behavioral Medicine Clinic, which provided training in behavioral medicine, such as in hypnosis, Parafield biofeedback and cognitive behavioral therapy, to help work with patients who had predominantly a medical condition but will require who was sick, they had secondary anxiety or depression, which we tried to help them with, including being interesting.

Speaker 1 5:49
I want to ask you more about that. But before I do, could we go back to your early life? I’m really curious about what the experience of joining the monastic community taking vows, but what was that like for you? How old were you in that process? Really, when you committed to that?

Unknown Speaker 6:03
I was about 20 years old. Okay.

Speaker 1 6:05
So not a child, but still not totally formed? And no, absolutely

Speaker 2 6:08
I it was kind of, in a place where I was thinking of going abroad to pursue my Western academic interest in studies. And I had to make a choice and so I for good, for good, went that and decided to pursue a monastic training. And what happens is, first you have to take a vow as a novice, which is commitment of 36 different vows, okay. And then, as a novice, you kind of evolve into the monastic life, which is, there are a lot of prohibitions, you know, it’s a celibate lifestyle. And also on a day to day basis, you have to observe a lot of rules and regulations. And I went primary into monastic School, which was very academic, it’s very much like the Jesuit schools are very philosophically oriented. And dialect dialectics was the means through which you pursued the philosophical understanding of English inquiry dial, you know, the Tibetans use the derive their dialectics from Aristotle alien, ah, yes, it was derivative from that tradition. So they use very much a syllogisms. Like, if they smoke on the hill, right? Or a mountaintop is their fire. Right. And you debate that endlessly. And that’s exactly a example of what we used to debate on in our early grades. That was the focus of the debate, where you learn that electrical, Elon basics, and then it evolved into a pursuit where you will look at more Buddhistic themes and concepts and theories. But But along with, so it was a very rigorous schedule, very disciplined, we used to get up around five o’clock. And we had a service where it was a confessional service where we did prostrations and prayers, as a form of cross confessing any, any over oversight in one’s behavior the day before, and that would go on for about one hour or so. And in between breakfast was served during that prayer session. And then there would be, you know, you had to do your homework, which involves a lot of memorization of texts, along with learning dialectical skills, and then there would be classes. And the afternoon, two to three hours would be spent in individual debate classes. And then there would be another period of time where you would do your homework and practice individual practices. And then late night, there would be a late night prayer, followed by long hours or debate, sometimes lasting till 1112 o’clock in the night. So that was on a daily basis, and then every month there would be a night long debate. That means it starts around six o’clock in the evening. And it goes till four o’clock in the morning for the entire night, which

Speaker 1 9:47
is about when you’re getting up and that’s interesting. And this is all in preparation for sort of becoming a monk

Speaker 2 9:53
or this is more academic training, but also, in the meantime, you’re learning to familiarize yourself and pick up, becoming habituated to being a monk and what its life is. And if you feel it, that that’s what you want, then you will become a fully ordained monk, which involves taking 253 Different vows. That’s a lifelong and it’s in our tradition of Tibetan Buddhism. It’s a lifelong commitment.

Speaker 1 10:27
And so once you were you clearly embrace those vows and committed to that, what was your life? Like? At that point? Were you? I mean, I have no sense really, of what a Tibetan Buddhist monk does with his or her time, beyond meditate, study. What else do you do?

Speaker 2 10:46
Not much. I mean, it’s not a dominantly. Very, in our school. Yeah, it is very academically driven. And then in between, every, you know, every two weeks, they are public confessions that you attend to. And actually, while we say a lot of prayers and do a lot of memorization, the bulk of the time is spent on academic dialectical learning and debating. And meditation is something that comes much later actually, in our tradition, the idea is that you learn the theory of mind, the different components of your mind, and you define them, and learn to discriminate one mind from the other, and learn things like discrimination skills, learn the difference between categories, as well as a specific item that belongs to a category learn to learn of learn all these different basic cognitive and abroad theory of mind, and then debate them out. So that you really integrate at least the analytical understanding of them. And then after 1015 years, you’ll begin to meditate. That’s the structure in our school.

Speaker 1 12:15
Yeah, certainly. I mean, I have some understanding of Buddhism, I practice meditation, but really no understanding of that traditional cultural inflection. One thing that I’ve always noticed in general sort of Buddhism is there seems to be a bit of a difference between the the lay person who’s engaging with the world and practicing ways to reduce their own suffering, suffering of those around them through meditation through not being attached. How is the more rigorous practice of the monastic community different than the lay community in Tibet? Is it dramatically different is are there?

Speaker 2 12:50
Yes, it is. It is. Different practice of Buddhism, and different way of integrating Buddhism in the lay community. It’s devoid of all of the academic depth understanding of the mind. So it’s more devotional and belief oriented. So the layperson might see the, the Buddha is a divine figure.

Speaker 1 13:20
So more cosmology and less trike less technique

Speaker 2 13:23
and expression of their practice would be in the form of prayer offerings that they would make to the modern monasteries, or the monastic communities. And then they might do practices themselves like not only prayers, but they will do prostrations or those who are more deeply involved as a layperson, then they might do long retreats into the more esoteric form of Buddhism, interesting. practices, such as mindfulness shamatha, is something that in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition, both in the lay and monastic community, you don’t find that many practitioners, they tend to do the more esoteric practices of deities and, and make data what we call deity practices.

Speaker 1 14:22
Now the sort of visualizing different deities and specific chants or specific mantras or mandalas, you’re visualizing what does?

Speaker 2 14:28
That’s right. You know, in Buddhism, there are like, three different views. It’s good to think about three types of Buddhism, the one that the Buddha taught, we would be the Theravada type, which focus which is based on the concept that there is only one Buddha and that’s the historical Buddha. He was human who practice to Shemitah first, which he learned from the Hindus, and then on his own, he decided to that was not enough, and then he began to die. To integrate Vipassana to Shama as an extension of shamatha. And that through that he became enlightened,

Speaker 1 15:07
does this Katara Siddhartha Gautama Buddha, right. Okay. That’s yeah,

Speaker 2 15:11
the only acknowledge one Buddha now, and then the day and therefore, they focus more their objective or their approach to Buddhist practice which all the Buddhist traditions except like shamatha practice or concentration practice and insight practice is uniformly accepted by all Buddhism, forms of Buddhist schools, but what the repulsion or how I mean, the Theravada Ian’s approach is different they focus on individual liberation first, before you can help others you have to, and they do it through Shama, shamatha, practice, leading to a V passionate, and then complementing that with loving kindness and compassion. That’s wonderful. That’s how it’s done. However, the second school of Buddhism it’s called the great vehicle or the great school, the MaHA Jana, that that takes a different approach. They accept all the basic teachings of the Buddha, like the Four Noble Truths, the eightfold path of practice, but they say, their approaches, that one should delay one’s own liberation, in the interest of helping others become liberated. And so full, the approach is very, very different. And so they focus a lot on using ethical basis is the foundation ethical life is the basis of then developing wisdom, which is about understanding the nature of your mind, and the reality and reality as such, and complementing that very heavily with compassion practices. However, the third school, which is exclusive OR predominantly dominated by the Tibetan Buddhist tradition, is the vegetariana. School vegetariana Yes, it means diamond like vehicle, it’s like immutable.

Unknown Speaker 17:21
Crystalline, hard, hard. Yes. And

Speaker 2 17:24
that’s where, instead of you know that to earlier schools, they tend to see a negative thoughts as the source of all suffering, like desire. Grasp Jackson, these are considered poisons, which you have to regulate, and eventually overcome in order to develop positive thoughts, etc. That’s basically the approach, the virginiana is quite different. It’s quite the opposite. In some sense, they say, don’t overcome your anger, but learn to embrace it and transform it into a path into your spiritual path. So so too, with desire and the way they do that is basically to put it in a nutshell, you mobilize the physiological energy associated with anger and desire and strip away the cognitive defier negative thoughts associated with disassociated to maintain the physiological energy generated by desire and anger, trapped them, and localize them systematically in different parts of the body called chakras, which are simply networks of nerves, no nerve systems, at critical points in the body, trapped that energy and through breathing and yoga training, you learn to channelize that intense energy up the chakras one up like like at the navel, for instance. And then use that to gradually transfer that energy systematically, depending on the state of mind, or inner realizations you have achieved through the different chakras, eventually, and the idea is that will unify the masculine and the feminine energy that we all are embodied. And when those to unite, they give birth just like when a male and a female unite they give birth. Similarly, psychic energies when they unite. Then they give birth to creative what is called the creative mind. Which which allows you to visually to become the deity itself. You yourself become the Buddha, so to speak,

Speaker 1 19:57
instead of leaning away from things that might be 10 Eating or grasping? Or that’s a mental, you lean into the things learn from them, and they transform you.

Speaker 2 20:06
Absolutely. It’s great. Yeah,

Speaker 1 20:09
it sounds very different than very much. That’s wonderful. So at some point, your path changed you, because you’re clearly here in the US now you’re a faculty member and a psychologist at UCLA. What was that change about? Why did you decide that you no longer wanted to remain a monk?

Speaker 2 20:28
Well, that was because as I begin, went to school and then decided to work in the United States, I began to feel like I couldn’t really sustain my vows, for you know, and without a monastic support system. And also, for the number of years I’d been away from the monastic structure and order, are kind of, I think, played a big role in my changing perception of, you know, because of my personal psychotherapy, and own evolution as a person in a more modern and lay context, I think, without fully being conscious of how much they were impacting me, I suddenly found myself like deciding to leave the order.

Speaker 1 21:24
So let’s dig a tiny bit into your some of your interests. I know you’re, of course, a research and a clinical psychologist, and I believe you have a lot of focus on anxiety. That’s right, and also some fear and some other things. How does anxiety fit into this framework of these passions that are potentially things we learn from our transform us? Is anxiety a stuck place in your perspective of these of suffering? Or is it something that is a process that we are working through to transform

Speaker 2 21:57
from the virginiana perspective, you could kind of taking the broad premise of how to work with emotions, particularly negative emotions and transform them into positive ones, you could say, though, it hasn’t been specifically done with anxiety or fear, you could apply that principle, you could find a way to disassociate the negative cognitive and affective state associated with fear and retain the intense physiological energy, an arousal, basically the arousal associated with fear. And then you’ll learn yoga and breathing techniques to interfere with the flow of that energy. And use it strategically strategically, to enter into the desired chakra points. There are seven chakras on the body. So and that could lead to the chakras being activated in into a harmonious and synchronistic way, which leads the brain to so to speak, to kind of synchronize and produce insights and perceptions in a very different way than the way we’re experiencing a month before.

Speaker 1 23:32
It’s very interesting. So I mean, I, of course, you know, I work with people’s brains. Many people have anxiety, and I sort of feel that anxiety is, to some extent, a healthy phenomena. If you’re B, I tell my clients if you’re being chased by a tiger be anxious, exactly the right response. But humans are, you know, we can tend to catastrophize and think of what could go wrong. And so from my perspective, when anxiety is a problem, it’s when it doesn’t ramp back down when the environment is no longer threatening or stressful. So when you work with clinical clients, who are who have a lot of persistent or triggered anxiety, is this a is your clinical approach, one that helps them lean into these experiences and learn from the to transform or is it more getting control of your mind? Where’s where’s the clinical sort of path that reconciles this approach?

Speaker 2 24:25
The in clinical use, it seems to be much better to use the mindfulness model okay and work primarily to using the technique of how to be fully present in a non judgmental, accepting way, as well as in a nonreactive way, your anxious thoughts and fearful feelings. And to do that, you know, what I do is first try To teach clients to first learn to create mental this, what we call mindful, distancing from your thoughts, and feelings. And that really involves teaching them how to get a sense of spatial distance of you yourself as the observer, from yours thoughts or the sensations, let’s say, in an anxious patient, you might have a sense of knowing, tightness in the stomach. So we teach them to get a sense that you are the observer, the experience of sensation is, there’s a spatial distance between yourself as the observer, and what’s being observed. And we train in that. And then that’s a way to learn people, teach people to watch their thoughts. And through pausing, we teach a lot of pausing when you watch and if it’s getting too much, just pause for a while, connect back to your abdominal breathing, regulate your breathing, come back to the watching again. And the more you can watch your thoughts unfold, that’s one of the key elements I notice, when a patient hits that ability. That is where the transformation of mindfulness occurs, even though mindfulness provides other things as being non judgmental and accepting, but clinically, in a measurable way, I think that’s a key element.

Speaker 1 26:33
So this essentially sounds like you’re teaching people how to not identify with their processes quite so much like AI is not tied into the anxiety. Absolutely.

Speaker 2 26:43
As you know, with anxiety, when you have a fearful thought or a feeling, there is no differentiation at all, or the eye and the observer and observed and dis identified, they are seen as one, there’s no like when a person has been, for instance, the pain, they don’t say, My foot hurts, they say I, I hurt. So the Buddhists say that the first thing is to decide and to learn how to just identify the two. And then you can bring to bear the full potential of being non evaluative. And being nonreactive becomes much easier. But if you don’t learn that initial skill of watching, from a distance, just like watching a video of yourself on a screen, if you don’t learn that skill, then trying to be non judgmental, and non reactive are become really kind of a forced or induced attitudinal state, which has benefits for sure if they

Speaker 1 27:53
get me Yeah, right. So it sounds like, and again, I’m not the Buddhist scholar in the room, so please correct me if I’m wrong, it sounds like this dis identification, would lead to essentially equanimity being okay with how things are, even if they are not appetitive even or uncomfortable, is that somewhat accurate?

Speaker 2 28:15
That’s accurate in the sense that once you just identify, and then you can fully be, accept the anxiety after watching it, then you can accept while being fully present, to the anxious thought or feeling, and you can accept it and then that turns into tolerance of it. At that time, then equanimity, the first elements of equanimity begins to unfold after you can tolerate the suffering. Yeah. And then it becomes leans towards becoming a positive, you know, experience. Because then you can say like, Okay, this pain is on a scale of 10, it’s seven, and yesterday, it was five. And you can tell you can be genuinely equanimity about that information. Whereas now, it feels like Oh, yesterday was five today seven, it’s getting worse. So there’s this technique is not working. There’s a negative spiral that happens. Equanimity helps to check the

Speaker 1 29:26
interesting, and you know, from a clinical psychology perspective, things like depression and anxiety. They seem to have this quality that robs you of foresight. Yeah. How you’re feeling now is how you think you are feeling forever. That’s right. And it’s very difficult to go okay, shift does actually happen the moment how I’m feeling right now, is not how I’m gonna feel tomorrow the next day. That seems to be an easily lost perspective, when there’s mood disorders or stress disorders, right? Sounds like this would be a way to sort of re educate the brain about the fact that there is you know, that things do change

Speaker 2 29:59
very much So and you know, there’s like studies which show that when people who have had depression, and they, they recovered to a certain degree, and to prevent relapse, if you take those subjects and train them in being fully present to the sensory experience in their body, what they notice is the right anterior insula, you can activate, and the insula is associated with awareness of your sensory experiences. If you were in the control group, what they found was that it didn’t activate interesting, and therefore, they were more likely to recall negative past negative experiences associated with their depression, which in turn, showed that you’re much higher, more likely to relapse.

Speaker 1 31:01
Interesting. There’s some research on the right insula. In aging medicine. Older older adults that meditate are spared a loss of the right insulated the cortex course thins as we age. I also seem to remember that if you do TMS, on the right insula, people spontaneously stopped smoking cigarettes, or at least temporarily. So it’s the right bounce the body sort of feeding the body and aware of that thing.

Speaker 2 31:25
Yeah, I think is, you know, it is the ability to regulate your aversion to unpleasant sensations. Versus is also appears to be very critical here, if you develop, and that is research with the people who have meditated five years or more. And what they found was that when pain was induced in them, the part of the reported much less pain than the control. However, when they looked at the brain, they found that the pain areas were very active as a control interesting. And what they found was, however, the anterior cingulate cortex, which kind of just, you know, regulates your reaction and responses to sensations, what they found, that was, you know, that was well controlled. So what they were doing was they were able to regulate the aversion

Speaker 1 32:35
to pain. Interesting, even though that pain was still physiologic, logically,

Speaker 2 32:39
was being activated in the body, the affective and cognitive interpretation of the pain that was struggling.

Speaker 1 32:50
Oh, that’s such a great finding. Of course, also, colleagues at UCLA, Naomi Eisenberger and Matt Lieberman found that the right frontal areas that perceive physical pain are also the same areas that perceive emotional pain. So heartbreak and loss actually does produce pain in a really physiologic way. Which seems like it dovetails pretty well with clinical work of treating.

Speaker 2 33:11
So like to tap on what you said earlier, I think was is very critical. There’s something about if you learn to sense your bodily sensation. There’s something about that, that has an impact on our mood, you know, because there’s some preliminary research which shows for instance, that the gut, the stomach contains, like over 100 million neurons. And these neurons appear to be having some impact on the mood directly,

Speaker 1 33:52
these are serotonergic neurons to your right, right 90 95% of the serotonin in the gut, not not the brain, right.

Speaker 2 33:57
So again, if you have annoying sensation, which most anxious people do, like, if you take most anxious people on a Sunday night, just before going to work, even though they busy themselves with laundry, or getting on a late night show, etc. They will all many of them report being annoying sensation in this chest or stomach, because they it’s an anticipatory or, you know, response to D. So learning to use, like mindfulness, to regulate and be aware of sensory experiences such as that could play a big role, I think in better health, helping anxious people who could do not anticipate or not expect that Monday is awful, etc. Yeah,

Speaker 1 34:53
it seems very, very crucial. So by that same token, it’s I would guess that people that are habitually anxious, anxious or tend to become anxious, may not have as much of a sense of their fluctuating physical sensations, they might not be as checked in very

Speaker 2 35:08
much. So I think because they are locked into ones that are just uncomfortable, and immediately seek to avoid it by distracting themselves. So, so they are probably not more not attuned to other bodily sensations, because even when they are attuned to the distressing sensations, they don’t have a mind narrows the attentional field Narrows and they are not able to pick up other sensations which might be quite pleasant, such as the fact that they feel the upper body feels more relaxed, etc. Or they feel feels more relaxed. They’re not able to pick that up because they lack broadened, they can broaden their field of attention, which is very critical skill, and which anxiety tends to completely shut down.

Speaker 1 36:05
Sure. Interesting. So is this mindfulness is this meditation we actually ask you to maybe unpack for me the difference? Our mindfulness and meditation, the same thing? Are they subtly different to the overlap?

Speaker 2 36:18
Well, they are different in the sense that, you know, there are only two broad categories of mindful meditation. One is the concentration meditation, samatha chamada Singh, and the other is the insight. Vipassana Vipassana. Yes, that’s the broad category. Okay, everything else fits into that. Now, what’s happened is, when the Buddha taught mindfulness, he taught it primarily as Shemitah. We don’t hear in the original politics, much of insight as being associated with mindfulness. It did

Speaker 1 36:53
not know that yeah, you would not know that we’re going to incite tradition said right in West LA certain, right?

Speaker 2 36:57
If you look at the original, you know, suitors, you will find that that’s the case. And that’s a more like an evolution, I think, later disciples begin to one for one, the latest disciples begin to like, interpret what the Buddha men, and there was a lot of confusion among themselves. So they began to define things. more clearly, then the Buddha did, and as a result of numerous schools begin to evolve within the order. And what you find is that even in the Theravada tradition of mindfulness, when they they began to take it more towards they became more enamored with the passionate aspect of it because it was more easy to do the shamatha single pointed concentration on the breath for hours and was just to demand. And all Buddha’s school kind of began to shy away from including the Tibetans, including the Theravada and stew to a certain extent, and the Mayans to a certain extent. They began to shy away and they felt more enameled the idea of just labeling your thoughts? Yeah, dis identifying the cell from them. And then letting thoughts come up watching them arise. And that was much more appealing to them.

Speaker 1 38:29
It’s certainly more enjoyable. It can be I have my own training is sort of in Insight tradition against the stream Dharma punks, which is my understanding is that sort of descending from the Tera Vaada. And way of doing things, it’s, it’s a little more of a pasta based. And then of course, a lot of that came out of the late 70s Jon Kabat Zinn Joseph Goldstein, Jack Kornfield, that was essentially bringing the Insight tradition to the to this country was not to not to denigrate it, but sort of watering down a little bit, the Tera Vaada techniques. That’s right. And now modern, you know, mindfulness MBSR, mindfulness based stress reduction, which of course came out of Jon Kabat Zinn work at UMass Medical, that seems to be even a little more separated from the roots of Theravada, Mahayana, etc. Do you think anything is lost today and how mindfulness is taught to Westerners, and especially in this country? Are we are we missing something? When we do directed attention and just watching things and right,

Speaker 2 39:33
I think it’s a very good start, you know, the way you know, the clinicians and researchers have kind of, you know, fine tuned the original teachings of mindfulness into a form that is, you know, patient friendly, it’s culturally relevant and appealing. And the danger is of course, then to, to not go beyond, as. And, you know, in Buddhist meditation we have this concept or you know, you need to learn how to not under apply a technique, but also you need to be very conscious of over applying technique. So, let’s take the concept of non judgmental, it’s a great way for an anxious person who feels a lot of guilt and has a lot of negativistic thoughts about himself and others, to kind of learn to use nonjudgmental to overcome that. But after that, he has to also learn to make judgments. Because in real life, he has to make choices like Which school do I send my child to? Right? Who are what our friends what type of friends should I cultivate? So

Speaker 1 40:57
non judgment is not apathy or favoritism, it’s it’s skillful judgment,

Speaker 2 41:03
right? It’s a skillful non judgment. But for clinically, you know, people who have a clinical patience, it’s good to teach nangia I found that it’s very good strategies to teach them to reduce the excessive negativistic thinking. But once you’ve done that, the idea is then how to help them to make constructive beneficial judgments, in their relationships, in their lifestyles, in the type of thoughts or decision making processes. So here I think, is always a danger for people who do MBSR to over apply non judgment, or over apply being accepting.

Speaker 1 41:48
Perhaps on the other side, too, I have um, you know, we do Neurofeedback a lot at my center, and we teach mindfulness. And it’s generally this sort of insight, you know, low key technique based thing. I have one client who has been doing a lot of Neurofeedback and getting very deep in his in his meditation. And he about six months ago, found absorption techniques, he’s been mostly so. But he’s getting essentially the jhanas. He’s getting these incredibly profound, seeing light shaking body having absorptive experiences, and he’s not somebody who’s been meditating for 2030 years, it’s more like a couple of years. And as we start to exercise his brain with the biofeedback, suddenly his meditation practice just took off. And now he’s getting almost stuck in these jhanas. Where I wonder if going towards the strong absorption, the strong single point awareness can also potentially be a trap, a little bit of data can get you stuck in the experience of that, is that?

Speaker 2 42:45
Absolutely, that’s one of the main arguments, Tibetan Buddhists would make. Okay, we’re passionate. And they would say that, you know, you should, that’s one the reason that we when I say to the Tibetan practitioners, why don’t you practice Shemitah? That’s exactly what they’ll say, Well, shamatha is, you know, you get into this very blissful Ghana state, and you become seduced by it, that everything else seems, you know, you tend to devalue every other practice. And that’s a stuck point, there’s actually a story where the gods in the Buddhist mythology, they are in a state of this blissful state of single pointed concentration. So the Buddhist Bodhisattva, who is the, you know, the Buddha, who’s out of compassion comes before the God who’s in that state and snaps his fingers and wakes him out of the garden and exposes him to the reality of his world. And that serves as a cue for that. God to then begin to, like, overcome his desire for this blissful state. Hmm. And so he’s even helping the deities and go into a very passionate state. Yeah,

Speaker 1 44:06
interesting. It’s good because that’s like there’s something that’s a teaching story, I think, I wonder. Yeah. So tell us about what you’re doing with research these days fear reconsolidation. So from my limited understanding of trauma and fear the sounds like you’re working with people who have experienced profoundly traumatic or anxiety learning events. That’s right. And then the reconsolidation for folks that aren’t psychologists in the room are listening consolidation. The act of storing memory reconsolidation appears to be something that happens when you when you experience an old memory, you take it down off the shelf, look at it from any directions and then put it back into storage after you’re done, which is probably life therapy works in general for things like stressful and traumatic experiences because you can re experience something in a safe environment and put it back with less triggerable stuff. What is it you’re, you’re you’re exploring, I mean, research is always very very, very narrow. So what aspects of that are you really digging into?

Speaker 2 45:02
Well, there’s, you know, over the last couple of decades, they begin to fall find that when you recall, information such as a fear information from long term memory, which has been consolidated. In your long term memory, when you recall it, there’s a short window of time, like, right after the recall of that memory. So whether it’s traumatic or any other anxiety related issue, there’s about two to four hours window of time where that information has to be reconsolidated because it becomes unstable when you’re recalling it, you don’t. And if you look at a person who has trauma, when you ask them, you can see how they have difficulty recalling the entire spectrum of the trauma. Now within that two hours or two, four hours, if you can, if you can intervene with the appropriate novel intervention. Because the original memory after trauma is unstable. If you put in interjected with appropriate, the key word is your appropriate novel treatment such as let’s say, standard extinction at that time, it’s been shown that the fear is raised. So they actually have tried out cases where, let’s say someone has a automobile accident, and is rushed to the emergency, they’ve actually in injected, you know, protein synthesis inhibitors, which during that short period of window of before four hours, and they found that the person pretty much a lot of the fears raised they don’t, it doesn’t turn into a disorder or. And so based on those studies, what I’ve been looking at is, can we use standard extinction, as the novel intervention to see if fear is raised, which there’s good evidence that it does raise fear, unfortunately, with just standard extinction, the fear returns under various conditions. So what I did was, then create a primary experimental group where they in addition to standard extinction, they would get a 90 minute training and mindful reappraisal training and hypothesis, we’ll see if that ensures erasure of fear.

Speaker 1 47:56
That is saying some early results that would suggest just building the status. Yeah, that sounds very promising. It’s very exciting.

Unknown Speaker 48:03
Right? It is.

Speaker 1 48:04
So what else have you been doing with with your life in the past few years? I think you’ve written some books where you’d like to tell us about this. Yeah, I’ve

Speaker 2 48:10
written some books. And I’ve written published. Some are peer reviewed in peer reviewed journals as well. And then a couple of research. I’ve written a book or in terms of the book, I’ve written a book on meditation.

Unknown Speaker 48:24
Ah, wonderful. I didn’t know that. Yeah. What What’s the title? Tell us?

Speaker 2 48:27
It’s on meditation. introduction to meditation. Great. Yeah. Great. I

Speaker 1 48:33
will, I will pick up a copy. Okay. Thank you. Yeah. Wonderful. So Dr. Rocca, it’s so lovely to have you here. It’s been a year or two, since I’ve actually seen you face to face. I feel like I’m poor for it. So it’s nice to get a nice catch up on you certainly on air. If folks are looking into these clinical areas, research areas, they’re interested in Tibetan Buddhism, they’re interested in you personally, where can we find your work? Can we track you down and see what kind of work you’re doing? What kind of research you’re doing?

Speaker 2 48:59
Oh, well, I’ve just started developing a website so they can go to that and it’s www. Integrated mind. Science is all one word.org

Speaker 1 49:11
integrated mind. science.org. Yes. Great. Wonderful. And you’ll have some of your publications, some of your right philosophy, actually, I’ll put Yes, great. Well, we will we will go there and look for that. So, again, thank you so much for being a guest on our show today. Our headfirst listeners, I’m sure are having their minds blown by just a few of the very wise and subtle things you’ve said. So it’s very much a treat. Nice to see you and folks take care. This has been another episode of headfirst to Dr. Hill. Our guest today was Dr. Lobsang rock guy. So I take care of those brains and we’ll talk to you soon. Thank you


Dr. Lobsang Rapgay

Dr. Lobsang Rapgay, Ph.D., serves as an Adjunct Assistant Professor and Research and Clinical Psychologist in the Department of Psychiatry at UCLA. With over six years of experience, he previously held positions as the Director of the Behavioral Medicine Clinic and Program, as well as an Assistant Clinical Professor at the UCLA Semel Institute. Presently, he is actively involved in researching the behavioral and neural aspects of fear re-consolidation.