A Sensory Adept

David Verdesi is the subject of a developing Eleanor Coppola documentary.

Posted Jun 29, 2018

David Verdesi by Mark Rogers.
Source: David Verdesi by Mark Rogers.

Twenty-five years ago, David Verdesi set out from his native Italy in search of superhumans.

His anthropological quest to find people with extraordinary gifts was so exhaustive, and his methods to understand them so deeply immersive, that he became an epic figure himself, adept in the martial arts and at least six yoga traditions.

Verdesi’s journey is now the subject of a documentary being developed by superb octogenarian filmmaker Eleanor Coppola (wife of Francis Ford and mother of Sofia, Roman and Gian-Carlo). Mrs. Coppola is a student and intimate of Verdesi. The gorgeous sizzle reel for the project can be seen here in a clip I am honored to have been granted in a world exclusive, by entering the password "super": https://app.frame.io/v/NmIQNzyy. And for the first time, people can take courses he is offering here: www.superhumanmovie.com.

Verdesi is so sensory-fluid that in his meditations, he tells me, he experiences synesthesia in which sounds become colorful forms with textures or he can sense the temperature of trees and flowers.

This heightened state, a situational synesthesia noted by pioneering researcher Dr. Roger Walsh, http://drrogerwalsh.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/06/Can-Synaethesia-Be-Cultivated_Walsh.pdf, actually occurs with more frequency the more one meditates. Synesthesia is a key to “enlightenment,” Verdesi explains as the yantra or form becomes the mantra or sound and vice versa. When one can see the form in the emptiness and the emptiness in the form, Verdesi elaborates, that is the ultimate synesthesia. (This is not to say that all synesthetes are naturally enlightened. One would have to do significant work to achieve that state. However, synesthesia does accompany peak experiences according to the literature of many traditions.)

“The proper cultivation and education of our minds can lead to an amplification of our sensorium,” the soft-spoken man with the hypnotic lingering accent of his homeland recently states on the phone from a conference he is attending in Spain. Now based in Moscow, Verdesi is often on the road in a continuation of his studies.

I ask leading MIT-affiliated anthropologist William C. Bushell, Ph.D., director of research and academic liason for ISHAR, the Integrative Studies Historical Archive and Repository, http://isharonline.org/profiles/bushell, for context. Bushell has spent significant time with Verdesi in the United States, both at the Coppola estate and at Menla Retreat Center, https://menla.us. "There's no culture that he hasn't studied, up close and in a participatory manner,” says Bushell, who is the world’s leading authority on adepts with more than forty years on the field, including work with His Holiness The Dalai Lama. "He’s one of the most amazing people that I’ve ever known about and his knowledge is extraordinary. He is so deep in his research and so disciplined and so wide-ranging. I don’t know anyone else who has studied as many traditions in as much depth as him for 25 years.

"There’s practically nothing that he didn’t study. It’s like a Herculean effort. I think he’s a major figure in history, frankly."

Bushell says that Verdesi is not only a self-taught, profoundly talented anthropologist and practitioner, “he is both a great respecter and innovator of the ancient traditions.” He gives an example where Verdesi demonstrated a brilliant innovation in breathwork based on his comparative studies of this important component of yoga. “He has distilled practices from around the world into a new algorithm of practices,” Bushell explains.

Bushell adds that recent research has shown that the senses are capable of operating on atomic, photonic, and quantum levels under certain circumstances. “This was not dreamed of before,” he says. Some of his work on the topic appears here: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19735255 and here: https://www.cosmosandhistory.org/index.php/journal/article/view/571.

“The human senses are so much more profound and precise than was ever imagined by science and I think David has had some very profound and powerful experiences of that.” Bushell has been developing a scientific model which he believes can provide support for the accounts of some advanced meditators who report perceiving on such microscopic levels.

“This can only be approached as an East-West integrative science to really understand these senses. And this integrative science is in its infancy. And it needs to include the field of psychophysics.

"One of the masters Verdesi studied under reportedly sees his visual field as millions of bits. Space or space time is now believed by quantum loop gravity theory to be particulate."

Verdesi, left, and a shaman, from "Superhuman" by Eleanor Coppola.
Source: Verdesi, left, and a shaman, from "Superhuman" by Eleanor Coppola.

Here is my Q & A with Verdesi:

MS: As a former practitioner of qi gong, do you feel your basic five senses are enhanced? Can you give examples, if so?

DV: I used to practice qi gong when I was younger but I quit over ten years ago and yes it made the senses - chiefly the sense of feeling and sensing - quite developed. It developed to a point which made it complicated to lead a carefree life. 

Let me explain: the feeling sense that you are called to develop in order to become ever more in touch and attuned to the internal sensation of the three keys of energy practices : flow, stillness and transformation of bodily feelings labeled as "energy” grew to a point when I started to feel which phase the moon was and how it affected my mood  emotions energy levels and desires ,  weather changes or sun phases or seasons or cold and heat and the feelings that certain food would create, feelings generated after sex or feelings generated by strong emotions became nearly overwhelming.

Why? Simply because the more often you bring yourself to " feel" and expand that feeling to connect with larger feelings of nature rhythms to become part of it, the stronger that feelings become, to a point that is become so real that it hinders your ability to live unfettered and carefree.

I see this a lot in the western community of practitioners and seekers == the unfortunate result of a partial education and thwarted ideal of "spirituality"  chiefly obsessed with feeling and sensation, created a new society of hypochondriacs, sick and weak and over-sensitive where every gush of wind or moon phases or disturbance in the force field or bad aura or bad vibe of any sort become overwhelming and unbearable. I must say this tendency I see it also at large in an ever more allergic and reactive inflamed society.

It can result in leading oneself deeper in to a neurotic retreat and isolation in to those "oh-so-distracting pleasurable safe feelings" which one comes to cherish, finding solace in a perceived to be real yet still illusory sensation and feeling of "energy " which is then equated with being spiritual or feeling good, without realizing that the momentary high leads nowhere concretely in term of actual mental and emotional growth, not to mention nowhere in term of genuine development.

It took me many years to understand the limitations of this approach and to break the seeming addiction to it proved to be the hardest part of realizing what a  feelings and sensations junkie I was.

Nowadays my daily practice is dharma the way the Buddha intended it to be before sectarianism and distortions, meaning without being properly a Buddhist of any sort -- simply using the amazing tools of dharma (the teachings) like a microscope to look truly behind appearances and outer forms of feelings, thoughts, belief, concepts, volitions and emotions and like a telescope to truly see the large picture of interdependency, co-emergent arising and dependent origination of phenomena, the sum of the two leading to actual self-evidence of both non-self and emptiness. Now this I call a complete and beyond average sense education leading truly to investigation of the heart of the matter.

The practice of dharma puts the mind in the chief position of scrutiny and to an extend the senses become the tool kit of scrutiny.

Let me give you an example of the implications of what I mentioned above.  It is the mind observing itself through mind senses, therefore leading to an appreciation and scrutiny of the very sense of mind arising within the mind senses, which are themselves to be found within the mind itself! 

Now this is worth my time! The rabbit hole just gets deeper way beyond what I could ever imagine and beyond what I thought the definition and boundaries of senses, feelings and perceptions were.

Verdesi, left, in "Superhuman."
Source: Verdesi, left, in "Superhuman."

MS: What are some of the most extraordinary things you are able to do as an adept yogi?

DV: I'm just an amateur dabbling in dharma, not a yogi by far and definitely not a monk, yet. There's nothing extraordinary about me. I’m extra- ordinary.

MS: Can you tell us more about the beautiful documentary Eleanor Coppola is doing about you?

DV: Here is my version of it: the director and creator of "The Secret" law of attraction film and the books  was looking to make another hit -- sort of the next the secret 10 years later. Something as impactful -and controversial- as that. 

Given the rise of "Harry Potter," "Doctor Strange," "X-Men" and the superhero genre he thought the idea for the next hit would be found in the genre of all that is superhuman.

The production contacted my good friend partner and student,  Lee Holden, asking for an expert in all superhuman things, and he suggested I would fit the role.

That’s how I got the part. Shortly after it became evident that the movie was the paraphrase of my life and it became a sort of biopic. 

The production then changed hands as the original crew wanted something extremely focused on the sexiness of superhuman powers and super humans wielding such powers which i invested 2 decades hunting down but it proved to be very difficult to convince many of the more interesting ones to appear on screen and with a rather sobering realization that without visual effects most superhuman powers however real and impressive when witnessed first-hand don't look like much on camera and leave plenty of space for doubts and skepticism no matter what.

I also realized that I didn't want my past to be immortalized and I rather was interested in talking about the present and the future,  and the wife of Francis, Eleanor Coppola, who's also a student, took the symbolic helm.

We are now fund-raising to finish the final scenes and are seeking partners. Anyone out there who believes in the idea is welcome to join in!

MS: What from your childhood led you to this place of great ability?

DV: A truly excellent blend of traumas and suffering sprinkled with some genuine and unfiltered and rather blissful experience, vision and knowledge of what lies beyond appearances.

MS: Of all the many places you have traveled in the world to seek knowledge and training, which had the most to teach?

DV: I've always been a people person. I don't hold places in high esteem. Energy vortexes and such are not my kink, most true yogi and great saints and monks I met never lived nor live at present in such places they all lived and live in very boring, normal but specially "vortexed" places, strengthening my conviction, reiterated by the Buddha as well that those external wow factors have nothing to do with the success of an adept in the journey of self-liberation or other liberation leading eventually to awakening. To add an unrequested provocative element to it neither strictly speaking being vegetarian is of any actual relevance, correlation is not causation and the two elements need be properly understood, the buddha spoke of correct view, the clarification of correlation and causation is part of it, without it you can spend a lifetime establishing non-existent causation whereas at best there are only correlation, wasting time and energy to create conceptual models of what is of relevance in the journey to liberation and what is not to then find yourself twenty years later with nothing to show for yet still hanging around energy vortexes holy mountains and fad diets supposed to make you spiritual and happy.

Mountains are mountains, forests are forests, temples are temples and I don't believe in the power of pyramids, but I do believe in the power of the  mind to make all these things real enough and determining if one adds belief to such things.

So coming back to your question is each and every person I met in those places was what made the difference, so I'm indebted to many ordinary and extraordinary individuals who deliberately and more often than not unconsciously and undeliberatly helped me to shed layers of projections hope distortions and delusions of "spiritual searching " and helped me to shape and healthier identity and identification of what is to be left behind and what is to be looked for and held onto.

MS: Is qi gong a sort of super sense? How so?

DV: I think I elaborated on this above. Qi gong is just a Chinese word that imply a methodical approach to develop qi, but when actually investigating what is it we clearly see that qi is yet another words for the feeling and sensation base of ordinary appearances and of the gross ordinary mind, if followed through at the highest level it can move to more refined level of experience and insight but hardly can be considered an effective tool of self-inquiry or liberation and enlightenment nor in anyway a tool to comprehend and resolve karmas and deep seated mental tendencies.

MS: Do you believe the topic of synesthesia should be taught more?

DV: Those who experience synesthesia in their daily lives, apart from situational synesthesia in meditation, would benefit from learning how synesthesia fits into the wisdom traditions. I do believe a child born this way even moreso should be educated from a very early age. I would personally make it part of primary school education for all children.

More about Verdesi’s work can be found at www.davidverdesi.com, www.mindofliberation.com and www.superhumanmovie.com.