Tags: Body & Mind, psychology, Spirituality
By Dr. Frank Lipman, http://www.drfranklipman.com
Nearly twenty years ago, I did a workshop with Jon Kabat-Zinn, Ph.D., whose first book “Full Catastrophe Living” and overall teachings have had a lasting influence on me. This book is a classic on the topic of mindfulness and it has played a spiritual role in both bringing this practice into the Integrative Medicine World as well as in developing the method we teach our patients on how to deal with stress.
I would like to share with you the Seven Essentials of Mindfulness Practice, adapted from this great book.
Be an impartial witness to your experience. Observing without judging helps you see what is on your mind without editing or intellectualizing it, or getting lost in your thoughts.
No goal other than to be yourself. It is not about achieving bliss, relaxation or anything else.
A willingness to see things the way they are. By fully accepting what each moment offers, you are able to experience life much more completely.
Of thoughts, ideas, things, events, desires, views, hopes and experiences, both pleasant and unpleasant. Allowing things to be as they are, without getting caught up in our attachment to or rejection of them. It means to give up resisting or struggling and allowing things to be as they are. Watching your breath as it goes in and out is an excellent starting place for this practice of letting go.
Free of expectations from past experience. Remove the attachment of the past and just be. Watch the moments unfold, with no agenda other than to be fully present. Use the breath as an anchor to tether your attention to the present moment.
Remembering that things must unfold in their own time. An alternative to the mind’s restlessness and impatience. Not letting our anxieties and desire for certain results dominate the quality of the moment.
In yourself and your feelings. A feeling of confidence that things can unfold within a dependable framework that embodies order and integrity.
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Tags: Bach, classical music, Culture, Music, Spirituality, thoughts of the day
The opening of this cantata is really Bach, I think. Swinging and beautiful :-) It also suits well at Christmas time, translated it means “Wake up, the voices calling us“.
I’m then thinking of that Christmas is a time of message, that Jesus was the messenger of that time bringing a message of love, peace and serenity. A message that still this very day applies, considering everything bad that happens in the world.
If only humanity could wake up and see the reality of love and kindness that the higher spiritual world of enlightened beings convey, if humanity just could take it to heart and incarnate this higher reality into itself…
Fortunately, we have spiritual messengers continually coming to Earth to remind us of how we should actually live and be: True good people who do good deeds. They come to remind us of the love, peace and serenity that a higher self-realization leads to; in ourselves and in our surroundings.
We can choose out of free will how we want to create our reality. By choosing good thoughts and good deeds, for ourselves and for all life on this planet, our reality will become a much more positive one.
Truthfulness, Compassion and Forbearance are important and good guidelines on the path of life. By following these three principles in everyday life, a lot of positive things can come about.
I’m wishing you all a Happy and a Merry Christmas! :-)
Bach – Cantata 140: Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme, BWV 140 (1731)
Tags: Body & Mind, health, psychology, Spirituality
By David Tucker, L.A.c. LMP, thezenofhealing.com/blog/
The Autumn season and Metal element in the body is governed by our Lung and Colon meridians. They have a reciprocal relationship of receiving or inhaling the very highest quality of life, of Spirit, and then a release of what is no longer useful for us. And if we are not letting go, then we are not making room for new “inspiration”. This is true on all levels – physiological, mental, emotional, spiritual.
So I’d like to focus on the letting go aspect. Much of the world’s suffering exists today because of grasping, clinging, attachment. Holding on to a particular idea, thought, emotion, experience. We say all the time, “I wish this moment could last forever”. And people try and try with all their might to create a reality in which that feeling endures. Our expectations and preconceived notions really get us into trouble – what a friend should be, a partner, a son, a teacher, what a parent SHOULD be. Why trouble?? Well, most of the times our ideas of what people SHOULD be very rarely coincides with how we they actually express themselves in the moment. Then can we watch our reaction… can we observe without judging, criticizing, blaming or labeling? This takes a lot of practice, luckily, we never seem short on opportunities!
As my Grand Zen Master used to say…”Put it all down!”. Not that its a terrible thing to have desires, opinions, preferences, etc., but we must watch how we cling to them. If we are holding on so tight, then we allow for a sort of mental constipation which is NO FUN! There is no mental constipation that won’t find its way to manifest physically. That may be in our actual Colon, but it can manifest as any sort of stuckness – bloating, pain, insomnia, depression, etc. An important thing to remember is that the Colon meridian is not only charge of disposing of its own trash but all the garbage from the other meridians as well. So if there is a back-up, we can see “symptoms” coming from any of the meridians… which is a reminder that symptoms do not always point you to the root cause.
So what we can do? Well, on a physiological level… keep your Lungs and Colon healthy. Keep your lungs filled with pure, clear air and that they get plenty opportunity to “breathe” – yoga, meditation, aerobic exercise. For the Colon, we certainly want to encourage the physiological releases! Good dietary sources of fiber, omega-3 fish oils, aloe vera juice/gel, and plenty of water to name a few. On the deeper layers, many alternative therapies are wonderful for encouraging our processes of inspiration and letting go – of course, acupuncture and massage… but how about dance, drumming, martial arts, music. Utilizing rhythm and/or the voice… really powerful! On a more quieter note… journaling or a creative art project.
What’s most important is that we are checking in with ourselves internally. It would make a wonderful daily practice, ask yourself, “What am I holding on to?” or “What can I let go of today?”. Watch how it can not only ease your suffering, but those around you as well!
Jennifer Dubowsky, LAc, is a licensed acupuncturist with a practice in downtown Chicago, Illinois, since 2002. Dubowsky earned her Bachelor of Science degree in Kinesiology from University of Illinois in Chicago and her Master of Science degree in Oriental Medicine from Southwest Acupuncture College in Boulder, Colorado. During her studies, she completed an internship at the Sino-Japanese Friendship Hospital in Beijing, China. Dubowsky has researched and written articles on Chinese medicine and has given talks on the topic. She maintains a popular blog about health and Chinese medicine at Acupuncture Blog Chicago. Adventures in Chinese Medicine is her first book. You can find her at www.tcm007.com.
Scientific Proof for Karma? York U Study Finds Small Acts of Kindness Have Big Impact on Emotional Well-Being16 September, 2014 at 10:04 | Posted in Body & Mind, Science, Spirituality | Leave a comment
Tags: Body & Mind, psychology, relationships, Science, Spirituality
TORONTO, May 17, 2011 – Practicing small acts of kindness will make you a happier person, and the boost in mood stays with you for months, according to research out of York University.
More than 700 people took part in a study which charted the effects of being nice to others, in small doses, over the course of a week. Researchers asked participants to act compassionately towards someone for 5-15 minutes a day, by actively helping or interacting with them in a supportive and considerate manner. Six months later, participants reported increased happiness and self-esteem.
“The concept of compassion and kindness resonates with so many religious traditions, yet it has received little empirical evidence until recently,” says lead author Myriam Mongrain, associate professor of psychology in York’s Faculty of Health. “What’s amazing is that the time investment required for these changes to occur is so small. We’re talking about mere minutes a day,” she says.
Participants’ levels of depression, happiness, and self-esteem were assessed at the study’s onset, and at four subsequent points over the following six months; those in the compassionate condition reported significantly greater increases in self-esteem and happiness at six months compared to those in the control group.
So why does doing good for others make us feel good about ourselves?
Tags: Body & Mind, psychology, relationships, Society, Spirituality
By Susanne W. Lamm
Epoch Times Staff
GOTHENBURG, Sweden—A Swedish prison, specialized in treating drug offenders, offered the inmates meditation – under the label of “mindfulness” – as an addition to their regular treatment program. The idea was that prisoners would be able to cope better with everyday life after their release. The method is called “The Path of Freedom”, and has received high praise from inmates and prison staff alike.
Ulrika Lilljegren, former manager of the Högsbo prison facility, says that inmates seem to be more responsive to the other treatment programs if they are combined with yoga or meditation, for instance.
According to Lilljegren, many inmates most likely suffer from neuropsychiatric disorders, like ADHD, or are damaged from long-term drug abuse. They often find it difficult to focus and concentrate.
“We had a guy like that [in the “Path of Freedom”-project],” she says. “Watching him sit still for half an hour, was a completely new experience. He was always very active, just bouncing around the ward, but he had found something in this meditation practice that allowed him to sit still.
Meditation provides new tools for the participants, helping them to perhaps stop and think before they act. They discover ways to adjust their behavior in a way that helps them not get into trouble all the time.
“Of course, different people had different reactions, but for a couple of them, it had a huge impact, and a great influence,” Lilljegren says.
Pake Hall from the Gothenburg Zen Center led the classes. He thinks the prison is a great environment for meditation.
“It’s such a difficult environment,” he mentions. “But you become aware of the fact that you need to face your own dark sides. They emerge when you’re locked up like that, and have nowhere to go. There is also plenty of time for practice. In many ways, it’s like a monastery.”
Hall feels a connection to society’s less fortunate. He often ended up with people that have social problems, with individuals whose behavior is on the borderline between what is and isn’t functional in society. He worked at treatment centers, and also with children with different kinds of difficulties.
When he began to meditate earnestly, he felt there was something in it he wanted to pass on to others. He thought about all the people who were locked up, who might be interested in meditation, but who don’t have a chance to learn it.
He joined an American network called Prison Dharma Network. Here he became the mentor of a young American man, serving a double-life sentence for gang-related murders, and who had become interested in practising Buddhism. Their exchange was limited to letters, but the Prison Dharma Network later held a class that would allow Hall to hold Path of Freedom-classes at Swedish criminal facilities.
“The Path of Freedom is based on a very simple idea,” he says. “It’s all about helping people who are locked up.
“It’s about questioning whether these walls really are what’s keeping us from being free, or if there is something else standing in our way,” Hall explains. “Maybe we’re stuck in our own prisons, no matter if we’re sitting in our home in Gothenburg, with unlimited freedom, or locked up in a high-security prison? Maybe we’re all trapped by desire and aversion? This is a way to work with these issues, regardless of your surroundings.”
But shouldn’t society’s resources be used for helping people who fall prey to criminals and their actions, rather than the criminals themselves? Hall has a different perspective.
“I see nothing but victims here,” he says. “As soon as we commit an act that leads to another person’s suffering, that person suffers, but we suffer too, because we have to live with the consequences of that action. There are two victims, not one.”
He adds that the prison is in fact a great place for breaking the patterns of human existence. Many people in prison have deeply rooted patterns of hurting themselves and others. If you can somehow help them get out of these ruts, suffering may be reduced, both for them and for those around them.
The class consisted of 12 sessions. In order to motivate the inmates, they were scheduled in the middle of the week, which meant they could attend mindfulness classes instead of working. Each session lasted between 1 and 1,5 hours, and consisted of both theory and practice, one-on-one talks, and sharing experiences with the group.
Subjects like compassion, love, forgiveness, acceptance, and conflict resolution were at the center of the curriculum. Between the sessions, inmates would have “cell practice”, where they put into practice what they had learned.
“You don’t know how these people are going to take what you’re teaching them,” Hall says. “You sow little seeds during these short sessions. It’s a very, very dull environment. We’re in a locked room, with guards present at all times, for security reasons. New people join all the time, and many participants are having major problems with restlessness and anxiety.”
The “us and them”-culture of the prison was also an obstacle. To inmates, it’s important to not appear vulnerable, to be tough and to maintain their status.
“A mindfulness class is very much about just letting go and opening up,” Hall explains. “It’s about looking at what you’ve got, so of course the group can get sensitive at times. Once you’ve done a few sessions, though, something happens. It becomes a safe place, a ‘container’ for sharing things, or just listening to the teacher without making smart remarks to your neighbor. But as soon as new people enter the group, their masks are put on again, more or less.”
Being a neutral, third party in between prisoners, management and staff was also tricky, according to Hall.
“Everyone wants you to be their ally,” he explains. “The guards want to influence the inmates in a certain direction. Some thoughts and ideas are supposed to be ‘wrong’ from their perspective. And during the sharing with the inmates after the meditation, they would vent their anger with the guards. Not agreeing with them, yet not contradicting them, being there with them and not making them feel like you’re distancing yourself or disrespecting how they feel… It was very interesting, the way that game was always on.”
Overall, the project was a success. The response from the participants was positive. One of them wrote:
“My head is like a (…) ping pong game all the time, with balls flying all over the place, and now I’ve realized I don’t need to return all those balls.”
Another participant described how, when another inmate was “eyeballing him” in the cafeteria line, he remembered what he had learned in class, and just moved his attention down to his feet, instead of resorting to violence.
“That’s great, of course,” Hall says. “Those little seeds you sow, and when they tell you that they really liked it, and wanted more of it. It was worth the time I spent there.”
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Tags: beyond science, Body & Mind, funny things, psychology, Science, Spirituality
By Tara MacIsaac
The universe is full of mysteries that challenge our current knowledge. In “Beyond Science” Epoch Times collects stories about these strange phenomena to stimulate the imagination and open up previously undreamed of possibilities. Are they true? You decide.
David Paladin’s true story is one so full of hardship, perseverance, and metaphysical mystery, that it has captured the imagination of many over the past 70 years.
“Have you ever heard a story so powerful that it reverberated loudly through your interior landscape? Or it stopped you cold in your tracks and made you think—hard—about your life? I did in 1994, and it’s still with me today,” wrote Adele Ryan McDowell, Ph.D., in a Selfgrowth.com post, referring to Paladin’s story told to her by author Caroline Myss. “For weeks and weeks after attending a professional conference where I first heard this story, I told everyone I encountered this tale. And I mean everyone.”
In 1985, Paladin told Myss about his days as a childhood alcoholic on a Navajo reservation, his time serving in WWII, a strange coincidence that saved his life, and the torture he endured as a prisoner of war. The most mysterious part of Paladin’s story is the part in which the deceased Russian painter Vassily Kandinsky (1866–1944) may have entered his body and stayed there. That’s where reincarnation researcher Dr. H.N. Banerjee comes in. Banerjee wrote about Paladin’s case in his book “The Once and Future Life.”
The following account of Paladin’s life draws from Myss’s book, “Anatomy of the Spirit,” the story as she told it to Dr. McDowell, and Banerjee’s reports.
Philosophers have wondered for ages how mind and matter relate to each other, and modern physics is chiming in on the debate. Here’s a look at a few theories about where or in what way our thoughts physically exist.
Noosphere, Related to the Internet
Teilhard de Chardin, a Jesuit priest and paleontologist, wrote of a conceptual “noosphere” in the first half of the 20th century. He predicted that at a future stage of humanity’s development a membrane containing our collective thoughts and experiences would envelope the world.
In “The Phenomenon of Man,” he wrote: “Is this not like some great body which is being born—with its limbs, its nervous system, its perceptive organs, its memory—the body in fact of that great living Thing which had to come to fulfill the ambitions aroused in the reflective being by the newly acquired consciousness?”
Many have made a connection between De Chardin’s noosphere and the Internet. Could the Internet be considered a realm in which our collective consciousness exists?
Thoughts Exist in Other Physical Dimensions
Bernard Carr, a professor of mathematics and astronomy at Queen Mary University of London, says our consciousness interacts with another dimension. Albert Einstein stated that there are at least four dimensions. The fourth dimension is time, or spacetime, since Einstein said space and time cannot be separated.
Carr reasons that our physical sensors only show us a 3-dimensional universe, though there are actually at least four dimensions. What exists in the higher dimensions are entities we cannot touch with our physical sensors. He said that such entities must still have a type of space in which to exist.
“The only non-physical entities in the universe of which we have any experience are mental ones, and … the existence of paranormal phenomena suggests that mental entities have to exist in some sort of space,” Carr wrote.
Read more about Carr’s theories: “Astronomer Says Spiritual Phenomena Exist in Other Dimensions”
Our Thoughts Transcend Time?
Dean Radin, PhD, has done studies to show our thoughts may have an effect on physical reality, but it may not be in the present or future as we expect. It is possible that our thoughts in the future affect our past reality, he says.
Radin is the chief scientist at the Institute of Noetic Sciences, a non-profit organization founded by Apollo 14 astronaut Edgar Mitchell and dedicated to consciousness research. Radin is also adjunct faculty in the department of psychology at Sonoma State University and he has held appointments at Princeton University and several Silicon Valley think-tanks among other institutions.
He has tested the ability of human intention to affect physical reality using a random number generator (RNG). He is not the only scientist who has used an RNG to test mind-matter interaction, but he is unique in his focus on the ability of future intentions to affect the past.
Most RNG tests focus on a forward-in-time, standard cause-effect model. A person has an intention and it is expected to affect the future result, or number generated. Radin opened his experiment to the idea that a future intention may affect past results and found “the observed results may be better modeled as a process running backwards in time from a future ‘target,’ rather than as a more complex process running forward in time trying to hit that target,” according to his study published in the Journal of Scientific Exploration in 2006.
“Some forms of apparent MMI [mind-matter interaction] may involve processes that are more consistent with retrocausal ‘pulls’ from the future than with causal ‘pushes’ from the present.”
Vast Realm Between Particles
Stanford University Professor Emeritus William A. Tiller hypothesizes that our thoughts have a physical effect on a “new level of substance … which appears to function in the physical vacuum (the empty space between the fundamental electric particles that make up our normal electric atoms and molecules).”
He says he has been able to measure this hitherto invisible substance, but only when it interacts with the substances we can conventionally measure. This interaction seems to occur when spurred by human intention, suggesting our thoughts physically exist in this realm.
Read more about Tiller’s theories: “Stanford Physicist: Vast, Powerful Realm Between Particles Influenced by Human Consciousness”
More in Beyond Science
Astronomer and mathematician Bernard Carr theorizes that many of the phenomena we experience but cannot explain within the physical laws of this dimension actually occur in other dimensions.
Albert Einstein stated that there are at least four dimensions. The fourth dimension is time, or spacetime, since Einstein said space and time cannot be separated. In modern physics, theories about the existence of up to 11 dimensions and the possibility of more have gained traction.
Carr, a professor of mathematics and astronomy at Queen Mary University of London, says our consciousness interacts with another dimension. Furthermore, the multi-dimensional universe he envisions has a hierarchical structure. We are at the lowest-level dimension.
“The model resolves well-known philosophical problems concerning the relationship between matter and mind, elucidates the nature of time, and provides an ontological framework for the interpretation of phenomena such as apparitions, OBEs [out-of-body experiences], NDEs [near-death-experiences], and dreams,” he wrote in a conference abstract.
Carr reasons that our physical sensors only show us a 3-dimensional universe, though there are actually at least four dimensions. What exists in the higher dimensions are entities we cannot touch with our physical sensors. He said that such entities must still have a type of space to exist in.
“The only non-physical entities in the universe of which we have any experience are mental ones, and … the existence of paranormal phenomena suggests that mental entities have to exist in some sort of space,” Carr wrote.
The other-dimensional space we enter in dreams overlaps with the space where memory exists. Carr says telepathy signals a communal mental space and clairvoyance also contains a physical space. “Non-physical percepts have attributes of externality,” he wrote in his book “Matter, Mind, and Higher Dimensions.”
He builds on previous theories, including the Kaluza–Klein theory, which unifies the fundamental forces of gravitation and electromagnetism. The Kaluza–Klein theory also envisions a 5-dimensional space.
In “M-theory,” there are 11 dimensions. In superstring theory, there are 10. Carr understands this as a 4-dimensional “external” space—meaning these are the four dimensions in Einstein’s relativity theory—and a 6- or 7-dimensional “internal” space—meaning these dimensions relate to psychic and other “intangible” phenomena.
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The incredible story of how leopard Diabolo became Spirit – Anna Breytenbach, “animal communicator”.
This is a very touching story about an angry and sad black panther who had been badly treated in the zoo where he previously had been. See the heartwarming story of a miraculous transformation to a much more healthy black panther and hear his story.
Romantic love tends to light up the same reward areas of the brain that are activated by cocaine. But new research shows that selfless love—a deep and genuine wish for the happiness of others—actually turns off the brain’s reward centers.
“When we truly, selflessly wish for the well-being of others, we’re not getting that same rush of excitement that comes with, say, a tweet from our romantic love interest, because it’s not about us at all,” says Judson Brewer, adjunct professor of psychiatry at Yale University now at the University of Massachusetts.
As reported in the journal Brain and Behavior, the neurological boundaries between these two types of love become clear in fMRI scans of experienced meditators.
The reward centers of the brain that are strongly activated by a lover’s face (or a picture of cocaine) are almost completely turned off when a meditator is instructed to silently repeat sayings such as “May all beings be happy.”
Such mindfulness meditations are a staple of Buddhism and are now commonly practiced in Western stress reduction programs.
The tranquility of this selfless love for others—exemplified in such religious figures such as Mother Teresa or the Dalai Llama—is diametrically opposed to the anxiety caused by a lovers’ quarrel or extended separation. And it carries its own rewards.
“The intent of this practice is to specifically foster selfless love—just putting it out there and not looking for or wanting anything in return,” Brewer says.
“If you’re wondering where the reward is in being selfless, just reflect on how it feels when you see people out there helping others, or even when you hold the door for somebody the next time you are at Starbucks.”
Source: Yale University
Originally published on www.futurity.org
I have moved in their footsteps as in a waking dream where the fragrance from a full-blown
peony is no longer a fragrance but a shimmer; where the deep red color of a maple leaf
in autumn is not a color but a privilege; where a country is no longer a place but a
lullaby. And where an outstretched hand is no longer just a gesture, but
a moment of love that continues into sleep,
into awakening, into everyday life.
~ Kim Thuy
(This is my translation, I’ve read her book Ru and these lines are just so beautiful. I guess that if you want the exact translation you have to read her book. And that is not a waste of time…) :-)
Teaching schoolchildren happiness, empathy, altruism and compassion has proven beneficial results for classroom learning as a whole, says Vinciane Rycroft.
As educators, we have a genuine wish to contribute to a happier society. And yet, we sometimes wonder how we can keep this intention alive and make it a reality.
Do you remember this letter written by a Holocaust survivor? It said: “My eyes saw what no person should witness: gas chambers built by learned engineers. Children poisoned by educated physicians. Infants killed by trained nurses. Women and babies shot by high school and college graduates. So, I am suspicious of education. My request is: Help your children become human.”
A few of us like-minded educators met in the late-90s during mindfulness retreats that we attended regularly in France and in the UK. We were young and looking to live by values of peace and compassion, in a way that was neither cranky nor hairy fairy. What are the qualities that make the Nelson Mandelas and the Dalai Lamas of this world? Could we cultivate such qualities in ourselves and impact the young people around us?
By Tara MacIsaac
The pineal gland in the human brain has the structure of an eye. It has cells that act as light receptors, as the retina does. It has a structure comparable to the vitreous—a gel-like substance between the retina and lens of the eye. It has a structure similar to a lens.
Scientists are still learning much about the pineal body, known in both Eastern spiritualism and Western philosophy as the seat of human consciousness. Eastern beliefs also hold that, on other plains of existence, eyes may be seen all over the body. Western science is slowly coming to understand the pineal body as a third eye.
For many years, scientists have recognized the similarities between the pineal body and the eyes. In 1919, Frederick Tilney and Luther Fiske Warren wrote that the similarities listed above prove the pineal gland was formed to be light-sensitive and possibly to have other visual capabilities.
More recently, in 1995, Dr. Cheryl Craft, chair of the department of cell and neurobiology at the University of Southern California, wrote about what she called the “mind’s eye.”
“Under the skin in the skull of a lizard lies a light-responsive ‘third eye’ which is the … equivalent of the bone-encased, hormone-secreting pineal gland in the human brain. The human pineal is denied access to light directly, but like the lizard’s ‘third eye,’ it shows enhanced release of its hormone, melatonin, during the night,” she wrote. “The pineal gland is the ‘mind’s eye.’”
A bundle of nerve fibers connects it to the posterior commissure, another part of the brain that is not well-understood.
In the 1950s, researchers discovered the pineal body’s ability to detect light, and to produce melatonin according to the amount of light it detects. In this way, it essentially controls important rhythms in the body. It affects the reproduction and immune systems. The pineal body was previously thought to be vestigial, but this discovery showed it actually has an important function.
In May 2013, another discovery was made that could change the way the pineal body is viewed.
It was found that a rat’s pineal body produces N,N-Dimethyltryptamine (DMT). DMT has a widespread presence in organic beings that is not well-understood. Some people ingest DMT to induce psychedelic experiences often characterized as intensely spiritual.
Dr. Rick Strassman conducted U.S. government-approved clinical research at the University of New Mexico in the 1990s, injecting human volunteers with DMT. He calls DMT the “spirit molecule.”
The study that confirmed the presence of DMT in the pineal glands of rats was conducted at the University of Michigan by Dr. Jimo Borjigin and at Louisiana State University by Dr. Steven Barker. It was partially funded by the Cottonwood Research Foundation, which is headed by Dr. Strassman and which supports scientific research into the nature of consciousness. It was published in the journal Biomedical Chromatography.
In quantum physics, one of the most enduring mysteries is known as the double-slit experiment, which renowned physicist Richard Feynman described as containing “the only mystery.”
So what’s so mysterious about it?
This requires a bit of setup: If you take a light-tight box, and inside shoot photons (basically units of light) through one slit onto photographic paper, you’ll see a pattern where it’s darkest right in the middle, and gets fainter as you move toward the edges. Basically, it’s what you would expect: most of the light hits the middle, and the rest of the photons get deflected to various degrees and stray from the middle in predictable ways.
If you change your apparatus and introduce a second slit, and shoot photons through it, you’ll now get an interference pattern—alternating bands of dark and light. What’s happening is the light is acting like a wave on its way to the photographic plate, and the two beams of light are interfering with each other. Sometimes they reinforce each other, and sometimes they cancel each other out.
Now here’s where it gets really interesting: if you shoot one photon at a time through the device, but don’t know which slit the photon goes through, you still get the interference pattern!
But if you shoot one at a time, and you know which slit it goes through, you’ll just get two clusters, like when there’s only one slit open, but in two places.
Numerous theoretical explanations have been offered to explain this mystery, some of which propose that the act of observation by a conscious entity—a mind—plays a crucial role. The act of observation, in effect, alters the state of matter at the quantum level.
This is controversial, probably because it doesn’t fit with the prevailing scientific worldview that matter and energy are primary, and consciousness is more or less something extra, and has nothing to do with the most basic constituents of the universe. If mind isn’t just as fundamental as matter, how could it affect matter at a quantum level?
There are problems with the view that matter is primary and consciousness comes later, but the best way to demonstrate that is probably with experiments, rather than philosophical arguments. (After all, such philosophical arguments have been going on for a long, long time.)
What if it could be shown experimentally that consciousness can affect the results of the double-slit experiment?
The Experimental Evidence
Enter Dean Radin and colleagues, who carried out a series of six experiments demonstrating just this.
Participants were first familiarized with the double-slit experiment by watching a 5-minute animation, then they were brought into an electrically shielded steel room, sat down a few meters from the double-slit apparatus, and were given instructions to try to influence the beam when told to do so.
During randomly assigned periods lasting from 15 to 30 seconds, participants were cued to relax or to try to influence the apparatus. Each session lasted about 15 minutes, not including instruction.
Radin and colleagues found that during those periods when participants were attending to the device, the interference pattern was significantly reduced, compared to when the device was active but no one was present. That means it looked more like when there’s knowledge of which slot the light passed through.
They controlled for various factors, such as electrical shielding, temperature, and vibration, but none of these could explain away the results: focused attention influenced the pattern of light.
And how good one is at focusing turns out to be an especially important factor. Participants’ amount of meditation experience made all the difference as to whether they could affect the pattern or not—those who did not practice meditation on average failed to show a statistically significant effect.
Somehow, those who regularly practice focusing their attention can have more of an effect on this quantum phenomenon.
This brings up a host of new questions: how does focused attention affect this or other phenomena? Are these meditation practitioners different than other people, or is it the meditation itself that produces the effects? If it is amount of practice, what exactly is it about meditation that produces this capability?
Regardless of the answers to those questions, these six experiments present strong statistical evidence that meditators are capable of influencing quantum events. To get these results by chance, you’d have to run the same set of experiments 150,000 times. In contrast, for most psychology studies, if you would arrive at a particular result by chance one out of 20 times, it is considered a valid effect.
Radin and colleagues also examined whether fluctuations in the Earth’s geomagnetic field might be responsible for the results, because previous studies have shown that these magnetic variations are linked to various phenomena related to human behavior, such as stock market activity, suicides, and cardiac health, as well as differences in performance on extra-sensory perception (ESP) tasks.
They found that the results of these experiments are not explained by these variations, but the variations contributed to how strong the effects were, thus further validating that both these geomagnetic influences and the effect on the double-slit experiment are real.
The study was published in Physics Essays, June 2012.
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Near death experiences NDEs have been reported through the ages by those who were near death—or thought they were—and then return.
Though these experiences are not all the same, they have many distinctive hallmarks: seeing a tunnel of light; seeing loved ones who have passed away; feeling bliss or euphoria; having a heightened sense of cognition; feeling a sense of great love; reviewing one’s whole life, often in a very short period of time; and feeling as if the soul has left the body. NDEs also tend to transform the lives of those who experience them—leading them to try to become better people.
These rich, interesting experiences have provoked the question of whether we truly do have souls, or if our consciousness is only a product of the brain. As brain science advances, there are an increasing number of claims that NDEs can be explained by neuroscience alone, thus obviating any need for an explanation based on the soul.
But how well do these explanations from neuroscience hold up?
One very important piece of information is that about half of NDEs occur when individuals think they are going to die, but are not actually medically close to death. So for example, if someone fell off a building, and thought they were going to die, but only sustained minor injuries. This means that if we’re looking to the brain to explain all the different elements of NDEs, we need an explanation that accounts situations where the person is actually dying, and those where there is no real threat of death, in terms of one’s medical condition.
A common explanation that has been advanced by some scientists is that when the brain is deprived of oxygen, you can expect various patterns of response, particularly a sense of bright light in your center of vision. This kind of experience can indeed be induced by a lack of oxygen, but the problem is, not all NDEs involve anoxia, yet many still have the sense of a tunnel of light.
Furthermore, when the brain is out of oxygen, it starts firing rapidly in a disorganized fashion—it’s not working properly. From our knowledge of the brain, we would not expect organized experience in this state, but a jumble perhaps akin to what one might find in seizures or in mental illness—other examples of the brain not working correctly.
But what we get are vivid, organized, transformational experiences—people report that their NDEs feel “more real than real,” they feel free, that they understand the universe at a deep level, and have never been happier. This can happen both when the brain is not in immediate danger, and when it’s under severe duress because of a life-threatening situation.
Interestingly, when the brain is close to death, there is a higher incidence of cognitive enhancement—the mind feels unfettered and able to process more thoughts than usual. That we would find enhanced cognition under deprived conditions for the brain does not square with our understanding of brain function.
Another brain-based explanation is that the out-of-body experience (OBE) portion of NDEs is caused by a misfiring at the temporal-parietal junction, a region of the brain thought to be responsible for forming one’s body concept.
The evidence that this region is responsible for the feeling of people leaving their bodies and perceiving the nearby surroundings—sometimes nearby rooms and areas—is surprisingly weak. The most-often mentioned study, by Blanke and colleagues, is based on one patient, and the patient’s explanations indicated that though she felt like she was not in her body, she only saw her legs and her trunk—which she would have been able to see anyway.
The study only demonstrated that electrically stimulating this part of the brain can make people feel like they’re not in their body, but doesn’t produce any of the other perceptual qualities of an OBE, like seeing their entire body, floating around the room, and seeing the surrounding environment. In short, it failed to elicit anything qualitatively close to the out-of-body component of an NDE.
Explanations for the life review—a phenomenon where the person’s life is reviewed, sometimes in great detail, and they feel remorse for selfish acts and satisfied with their “good” actions—are also particularly lacking.
One explanation, in a Scientific American article by Charles Choi, suggests that the brain region responsible for the life review is likely the locus coeruleus, an area that is involved in stress and is connected to areas that process emotion and memory. However, why would this area evoke an entire life’s worth of memories during death—or when death is thought imminent—and not elicit any memories during other extreme stress? And how does it explain the new moral insights that often accompany this aspect of an NDE?
Another article, by Mobbs and Watt, appearing in Trends in Cognitive Sciences, attempts to explain the life review by citing a single patient who exhibited REM (a characteristic state during dreaming) during an NDE. They conclude that the life review is probably related to REM because it happened during the NDE and is also associated with consolidation of memory.
One critical flaw with this argument is that REM has only been shown to be involved with the consolidation of procedural memories—things like learning a new skill such as riding a bike—and not for episodic memories that constitute the memories of one’s lifetime, as revisited in a life review.
Another major problem with the explanation, just like with the out-of-body example, is that it relies on only one patient. Relying on one example to make a generalization in a case like this is simply bad science, because you can’t know if it’s an exceptional situation.
Mobbs and Watt also try to explain the presence of loved ones who have passed away, giving the example that people with extreme Parkinson’s disease will sometimes hallucinate headless corpses, monsters, and ghosts, as well as dead relatives. Parkinson’s involves a problem with areas of the brain that produce the neurotransmitter dopamine, and the authors suggest that these hallucinations arise from a dopamine imbalance.
The problem with this is that almost all NDE cases report positive experiences, and feelings of love and bliss—not headless corpses. While there are some cases where people apparently experience something like hell and demons, the majority of cases are not this way.
A more significant problem is that in Parkinson’s disease cases, there is an awareness that these are hallucinations, whereas those with NDEs feel that it is real. This would, at the very least, suggest a different neural pathway.
A good explanation from neuroscience needs to not only actually account for each individual phenomenon, but do so in a way that combines them and explains how they happen together.
Another explanation offered for NDEs is confabulation—that these experiences are concocted by the mind as a way of explaining a gap in consciousness. This has been offered by biologist P.Z. Myers, a noted skeptic.
Myers says that when people come back from clinical death and recount a story it doesn’t mean they were aware during the time of clinical death, it could just be the brain’s way of accounting for the lost time. In fact, he claims that this is the “the default understanding by neuroscientists of how the brain works,” in an article posted on Slate.
This explanation suffers from the same major problem as the other neuroscience explanations: about half of NDEs don’t happen in truly life-threatening situations, meaning these people didn’t go unconscious at all, and thus there’s no gap to account for.
The other problem is that confabulation sounds plausible at first, but in the scientific literature, confabulation of fantastic or extraordinary events—which an NDE would be considered—only happens in people with severe memory problems.
People who have recently had some sort of brain trauma and have trouble both learning new information and remembering old information will sometimes confabulate stories to explain things. These are occasionally quite fantastic, such as being a space pirate, but share little in common with NDE-type experiences.
The explanation suffers other weaknesses, as well. For one, this kind of confabulation goes away over time. Two, the stories often change. And three, they don’t have any qualities of ineffability, a hallmark of NDEs—that is, people try to explain what they went through, but acknowledge that words really aren’t adequate for describing the experience.
So confabulation is a kind of cheap explanation—it might sound good at first, but doesn’t fit with what’s known about confabulation, and completely fails to account for half of NDEs.
It is important to try to explain these phenomena through known mechanisms, because we don’t want to falsely believe in things, but we also have to acknowledge weaknesses or when an argument entirely fails.
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