The Room of Lives

by Neel

I am Neel (abhranil.net), physics and neuroscience PhD (India/USA). I explore people's life stories and visions across many topics, but frequent interests are science, spirituality, mind and mystery.

Podcast episodes

  • 63 · Enemy of the State

    63 · Enemy of the State

    ‘I saw dead bodies, rotting and smelling in the heat. I realized that they had not been collected because there were mines planted all around, and I was walking through them. ‘The military found out that I was involved in secret anti-regime propaganda, and sent me to the war front. One night a rocket dropped on us. The shrapnel chopped the head off a running boy, but he kept on running without his head. ‘I was setting fire to a shop as a political protest, but the petrol got on my shoes and I caught fire as well. They arrested us and gave us 75 lashes with a hard rubber radiator tube. They took us prisoners to a big public prayer by a mullah, where I saw my father. I stood up and started challenging the mullah. They beat us and took us to a bigger prison where the in-charge molested the younger prisoners, and insects from the rubbish crawled over us all the time. They made us watch as they hanged our friends. As I was leaving after my year-long sentence, a guy at the prison entrance happened to see me and sent me back for one more year. ‘This girl and I were stopped and searched while driving with anti-regime leaflets. I was arrested again and given a death sentence.’ Hussein shares with me the stories of his rough childhood in Iran, fighting in the Iran-Iraq war, being imprisoned and sentenced to death for his anti-regime activities, and his harrowing odyssey to flee Iran through four countries with fake documents.

  • 62 · Psychedelic Retreat Director · Blindsight on Ibogaine

    62 · Psychedelic Retreat Director · Blindsight on Ibogaine

    ‘The traditional ibogaine ceremony of eating the ground root bark is a rite of passage for all males in the Bwiti tribe. They use it as an oracle. We have adapted it as a treatment for the diseases of the western developed world, like PTSD, trauma and depression. When an 18 year-old enlists in the military and conducts sanctioned violence for 20 years, they sometimes can’t get out and live a normal life without these psychedelic interventions. ‘On ibogaine, the participant often perceives that they can see through their closed eyelids and the eyeshade. I see them starting to peek through the eyeshade, and wave their hands in front of them to verify, and there’s disbelief at first. It can feel like a superpower, but also terrifying, because you can no longer hide from your visions. You can also see beings you know, or humanoid creatures. The ibogaine can also take on a voice and an entity that can be in dialogue and answer questions. And you can experience a life review, like a projected home movie, with your life memories and trauma. ‘I myself experienced being able to see the room through closed eyes and eyeshades, then I saw a six-foot-tall humanoid with a goat head. I could walk around and look away and look back, and it was exactly where and how it should be in 3D. These beings will often tend to you for the entire visionary experience. ‘The ibogaine asked me if I wanted to know how I would die. I am a death doula and comfortable around my own death. I said no, because I don’t want it to take away the surprise. It said, good answer, and moved on.’ Colm Walker is a veteran and the executive director of The Mission Within psychedelic retreat, where the patients we are studying at our Center for Psychedelic Research and Therapy (at the University of Texas at Austin) go for their ibogaine and psilocybin treatment. He shares his background and a description of their program, and what a typical ibogaine experience is like. Then we talk about a strange phenomenon that is allegedly common on ibogaine: being able to see through closed eyes and an eye mask, and we discuss the prospect of seriously scientifically studying it.

  • 61 · Dr SQUID · Life & Psychology

    61 · Dr SQUID · Life & Psychology

    ‘1985, first year, second semester: Professor Ed Diener walks into the lecture hall and asks, “what do people want in life?” “Love, sex, money, happiness, a new boat, rock and roll, drugs”, the chalkboard fills up. He circles “happiness” and says, “I believe that all the other wants are about this one. I am studying the nature of happiness, and here’s my research.” I learned something life-changing in his class. He’d found two variables that mattered most in the pursuit of happiness: the quality of your relationship with others, and with yourself. SQUID is such a simple but powerful concept that improves quality of life so quickly. So it has become the focus of my life to put on a costume and teach it full-time in the streets, instead of being a traditional professor.' For years, Dr Mel Ganus, doctorate in education with a focus on applied psychology, has put on street shows in a squid costume to teach kids how to not get triggered by situations, and has co-authored a book about it with Dr Philip Zimbardo who conducted the famous Stanford Prison Experiment. Dr Mel starts by asking who I am, why I’m here, where am I going and what do I want. Then she shares her life story and her experience of attention deficit disorder and neurodivergence, about how she was introduced to positive psychology, and the origins of her lifelong work on Quality of Life Experiments. We end with talking about psychedelic mushrooms and the connectedness of mycelium.

  • 60 · Navy SEAL · Mental Health, Eye-Tracking & the Self

    60 · Navy SEAL · Mental Health, Eye-Tracking & the Self

    ‘I have really suffered mentally, and from mysterious chronic illnesses, which I believe are all an illness of the interface between body and mind: the nervous system. ‘As a kid, I had panic moments of fixating on my death, and would actually kick, punch and scream. On ketamine, my self disappeared, and I was left puzzled: what is awareness without a vantage point that it’s emanating from?’ Former Navy SEAL Chris Irwin was the first subject of my eye-tracking experiments at the new Psychedelics Research and Therapy Center at UT Austin. He has created the Rare Sense podcast and blog that shares his mental health journey. We talk about mysterious chronic illnesses, then I explain my eye-tracking experiments, and we discuss EMDR therapy. We then talk about our fears of death, and the self disappearing with psychedelics or spiritual practice. Video version of this on Chris's podcast.

  • 59.2 · Israeli Military Reporter · Travel and its Lessons

    59.2 · Israeli Military Reporter · Travel and its Lessons

    'India was an intense and diverse chaos. I learned to say no to people in a way I never thought I would. But I also had the best time with the locals than any other country. As a Jew, we have the first monotheistic religion. Your polytheistic perspective is so different. In Judaism we read interpretations of religion a lot. But India is the birthplace of direct yoga and meditation. 'I once told a friend that I would feel lonely while traveling. He said, there’s being alone and experiencing your true self because you are not compromising. Then there’s loneliness, when your constant high expectations of experiences and socialization are not met. Being alone is the default, and if you learn to be comfortable with it, anything else is extra.' Idan Yarom shares his experiences of backpacking through southeast Asia, including India, and the life lessons on communication, perspective, challenges and loneliness that these journeys have taught him.