Saturday, March 31, 2007

New Poem: Unconventional Love Sonnet #7

Unconventional Love Sonnet #7

The desert speaks in riddles. Muted grays
and greens hide some secret further obscured
by searing sun. Any syntax of meaning crumbles
until all that remains is the naked moment,

unabashed in its revelation of nothing and
everything. The mind groans under the ambiguity
of now, demanding context more concrete
than the coyote's howl, the willowy breeze, or

the hummingbird's erratic flight. This landscape,
this impenetrable mystery, is not our home.
We are trespassers amid red rock, strangers

who have solved a single variable. In the quiet
solace of touch, the riddles become a prophecy
transforming confusion into a fertile presence.

Daily Dharma: Citta

Today's Daily Dharma from Tricycle:

In Pali, heart and mind are one word (citta), but in English we have to differentiate between the two to make the meaning clear. When we attend to the mind, we are concerned with the thinking process and the intellectual understanding that derives from knowledge, and with our ability to retain knowledge and make use of it. When we speak of the "heart" we think of feelings and emotions, our ability to respond with our fundamental being. Although we may believe that we are leading our lives according to our thinking process, that is not the case. If we examine this more closely, we will find that we are leading our lives according to our feelings and that our thinking is dependent upon our feelings. The emotional aspect of ourselves is of such great importance that its purification is the basis for a harmonious and peaceful life, and also for good meditation.

~ Ayya Khema, When the Iron Eagle Flies

Daily Om: Finding Unqualified Happiness

This was yesterday's Daily Om:
Finding Unqualified Happiness
If Only

Since most of our experiences are rooted in cause and effect, we naturally want to justify our contentment. We envision grand circumstances, stating that if only we could achieve this goal or obtain that possession, we would finally be in a position to attain happiness. As a result, satisfaction is always just out of reach and the very notion of grabbing hold of it seems like nothing more than a pipe dream. But the truth is that sincere contentment and fulfillment are never wholly the result of external events or situations. Though life's joyful moments can ignite the spark of contentment within us, that spark is fueled by serenity long established in our souls. When we forget this, it is easy to become stuck in "if only" patterns of thought. If we concentrate on the natural serenity that exists within us, however, we can move forward unimpeded by disappointment.

The circumstances you live through each day have the potential to bring both joy and despair into your life. Relying on the reactions they awaken within you to create an emotional foundation means living on a roller coaster of feeling whose course is determined by chance. Though you may yearn for the object of your desire-be it a new job, financial health, a spouse, or some other symbol of success-you have within you the power to be happy without it. Letting go of your "if only" thinking patterns can be as easy as recognizing that inward emptiness cannot be dispelled with outer world solutions. Try creating a list of your "if only"s. Then literally and figuratively let go of the items on the list by tearing it up or burning it. This simple action can help set in motion the intention to set you free, enabling you to make a fresh and balanced start in the present, unencumbered by regrets and unfulfilled desires.

There will likely be periods in your life in which you find yourself tempted to seek a magic formula for fulfillment that is centered upon a single goal or achievement. But the ingredients that come together to form the seeds of happiness that can sustain your spirit throughout the triumphs and trials of existence come from within rather than from without. When your search for satisfaction is focused on your soul, you will never fail to find the joy you seek.
I used to engage in a lot of if-only thinking. If only I had more money. If only I had a different job. If only I had a different partner. If only I had a different car. If only Bush would resign. If only . . . If only . . . If only . . . . I was trying to fill an unconscious need for inner peace by seeking outer things.

All of those things are worth striving for, but they are not worth putting my current life on hold to attain. When I decided to live in the present and do those things that make me a happier and better person (inner work, meditation, and so on), and let the future take care of itself, things started to fall into place.

For the first time in my life, I have the jobs I have always wanted (writer, trainer), I have a new partner I love and who loves me, and I just bought a better car than any I have owned before.

But I never spent a lot of time waiting for those things (well, OK, I struggled with the job thing for a couple of years before the pieces fell into place), or longing for those things. When I stopped grasping for what I didn't have, I created the space to do what was necessary to achieve those things.

It's one thing to create intention and then do what is needed, all from a place of feeling whole in who I am in the moment; but it's another thing to live with the "If only" mentality. And just to be clear, I don't see any of this as "the power of attraction" or whatever that "The Secret" nonsense claims.

I'm not saying I have all of this down and that I never grasp at a better future. But I am learning more and more each day to be present to who I am now and what I am about -- the more I do that, the easier it is to turn intention into reality.

Friday, March 30, 2007

New Poem: Unconventional Love Sonnet #6

Unconventional Love Sonnet #6

In perfect Eden, self awareness -- the painful
recognition of I and Thou -- forever destroyed
the innocent bliss, set man and woman
on a path from the oceanic to something other.

So many thorns, so many more serpents
tempting us with greater knowledge, offering
us eternity in the DNA of flesh, each step
taking us farther from that distant home.

How do we navigate the sorrows we have known?
What talismans do we finger to protect us
from pain, from separation, from ourselves?

If I promise her forever, will she understand
that I will one day die? If our bodies dissolve
the illusion of time, can we stay there?

Gratitude 3/30/07 -- Five Years in Tucson

As of yesterday, I have been in Tucson for five long, hot, sweaty years. I often haven't been happy to be here during that time -- I do not like heat or the lack of rain. But something has shifted during that time as well, making me grateful that I made the move.

I moved down here for a relationship that was most likely doomed from the start. Despite that, I learned a lot from that time and I no longer regret leaving Seattle, as much as I often miss the Emerald City.

When I moved down here, I thought about coming to Tucson as my metaphorical 40 Days in the desert -- an opportunity to discover who I really am aside from all the expectations I had placed on myself in trying to conform, at least a little, to what society expects of a "man."

But I am not a conformist, and I have always struggle to accept that truth and reject all the outer ideals of who I should be. I have a subpersonality who wants nothing more than to be accepted and liked by others -- and, consequently, he is willing to sell the rest of who I am down the river to get what he wants. Learning to integrate him into my sense of self and still be true to who I really am has been a part of the learning experience for me.

More importantly, moving down here -- to an awful and underpaid job market -- forced me to get serious about doing work I love. I became a personal trainer, and I began to write children's books for educational publishers. The training job is great and I have never been happier in my work. I just finished (last night) a book for McGraw-Hill on a topic that I am passionate about. Things are good.

The best part, however, is that while the relationship that brought me down here failed -- predictably, it would seem in retrospect -- I have since met someone else with whom I am much more compatible. Things are still new between us and we are moving slowly, but it feels right in ways no other relationship ever has.

So, five years into my 40 Days in the desert, I am grateful for the life I have created here. I have wonderful clients, an opportunity to write, and a relationship that makes me happier than I can ever remember feeling. I never would have guessed that this would be my life when I left Seattle on a rainy March night and began the long drive to Tucson.


Mandelbrot Fractals

The Wikipedia page on Mandelbrot Fractals has some cool pictures. Below are five images from the fourteen image sequence presented there.

I'm not quite sure why I have always been fascinated by fractals. In some ways, to a mathematically challenged person such as myself, it feels that the enormity of the images allows for an infinite expansion of possibilities into the tiniest details -- a metaphor for the depth and complexity of life.

Or it could be that they remind me of some of my experiences with entheogens -- which also seemed to turn the ordinary into an endlessly complex and evolving tapestry of possibilities.

Wikipedia also has a page on fractal art for those who are interested.

PBS: Novel Reflections on the American Dream

PBS is launching a new series on the American Novel, with the requisite website to go with it.
How has the American Novel evolved and in what ways does it reflect an experience that is uniquely American? This site offers a comprehensive exploration of 200 years of the American novel, including in-depth information on more than 50 American novels and authors, along with the literary movements they inspired.

NOVEL REFLECTIONS ON THE AMERICAN DREAM explores the characters, plots, and themes of seven novels that deal with wealth, poverty, and the nature of success and failure in America. In an exploration that moves from the turn of the 20th century into progressively more contemporary surroundings, passages from each book are dramatized through haunting still photography that is inventively animated and coupled with original and archival footage.
The site includes some nice features, including a literary timeline, elements of the novel, and lists of best novels. This should be an excellent series for those of us who love literature.

Check times for your area.

Newton's First Law of Motion Explained

What Color Is Your Psyche?

Your Psyche is Green

You radiate love, empathy, and acceptance.
You are able to relax almost everyone you meet. You are naturally comforting.
Balanced and flexible, you only seem perfect!

When you are too green: you are jealous, manipulative, and deceptive

When you don't have enough green: you feel sluggish and out of sorts

Speedlinking 3/30/07

Quote of the day:

"Liberty means responsibility. That is why most men dread it."
~ George Bernard Shaw

Image of the day:

~ 7 Simple Analogies -- "Eric Cressey is like a Swiss cheese in a sea of Gorgonzola... oh, forget it. We were trying to come up with an analogy that was at least half as good as the training analogies Eric uses in this article, but we failed. Luckily, Eric was spot on."
~ Organic Is Healthier: Kiwis Prove That Green Is Good -- "In one of the most comprehensive and definitive studies of its kind to date, a team of researchers at the University of California, Davis have proven that organically grown kiwifruit contain more health-promoting factors than those grown under conventional conditions."
~ Cancer-Fighting Foods, Supplements Explored In Day-Long Symposium -- "Researchers worldwide are discovering a cornucopia of compounds in foods and dietary supplements that show promise for preventing cancer. More than a dozen research papers on this topic was presented during a one-day symposium, "Natural Products, Diets and Cancer Prevention," at the 233rd national meeting of the American Chemical Society."
~ Low-Carb Love -- "If you're hubby's getting tubby or you want your bf to buff up, check out our tips on getting your man to work out more."
~ Green Tea May Prevent HIV Infection -- "A US and UK joint study suggests that drinking green tea may help to prevent HIV infection."
~ FDA Advisers OK Prostate Cancer Vaccine -- "Federal health advisers have endorsed an experimental vaccine to treat advanced prostate cancer as safe and effective...."
~ Activity protects against repetitive strain injury -- "Being physically active outside of work may protect against work-related repetitive strain injury, researchers from Canada report." Also good advice for the weekend athlete.
~ Low-cal ketogenic diet slows brain cancer in mice -- "A calorically restricted ketogenic diet decreases the growth of malignant brain tumors in laboratory mice, according to an online report in the journal Nutrition & Metabolism." Ketogenic means no carbs (less 25 grams a day), a fast way to lose weight if you have the will-power. The diet probably staved the tumor.

~ Cherishing Differences -- "How similar do we have to be to have a successful relationship? What should I do if my partner is completely different than am I?"
~ Do Women Enjoy Chocolate More Than Sex? -- This AlterNet article rips Joan Sewell, who would rather eat chocolate than have sex (I'd Rather Eat Chocolate: Learning to Love My Low Libido) a much needed new one.
~ Study May Help Develop ADD Treatments -- "New Brain Study May Help Scientists Develop Better Treatments for Attention Deficit Disorder."
~ Brain Pays Attention in Two Ways -- "Different brain parts are used while concentrating and when noting distractions."
~ Erotic art goes for the groin -- "More Americans seem to appreciate a painting that may look like fresh cherries but when you stare long enough, becomes an image of kinky sex." Now that's the kind of study we need more of.
~ Blogging on the Brain: 3/29 [Developing Intelligence] -- A collection of links.
~ New Book Presents Neurobiology From An Evolutionary Perspective -- "A new book, An Introduction to Nervous Systems, recently released by Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Press, presents the fundamental principles of neurobiology from an evolutionary perspective."
~ Touchy feely new age bullshit -- "This type of new age crap bothers me a whole lot. There's always a whole lot of words and ideas but no content or real evidence. It bothers me even more when evidence is used that is so very distal to the actual point. Physics and vibrations?! you've got to be kidding me!"
~ The Mating IQ Quiz -- "How well do you read the opposite sex?"
~ The Biology of Attraction -- "Courtship and mating is choreographed by nature."
~ The Truth About Compatibility -- "When it comes to love and compatibility, experts tell it like it is."

~ Afraid of Aging: 20-Somethings Flock to Plastic Surgeons -- "More and More Young Women Are Using Surgery to Preserve Their Faces."
~ House hearing addresses missing oil and gas royalties -- "The steamiest soap opera in D.C. continues this week with a House hearing on $1 billion in uncollected oil and gas royalties. A cast of star-crossed witnesses testified to the Natural Resources Committee about the forbidden love between the Minerals Management Service and Big Oil."
~ Separate White House Email Accounts Draw New Criticism -- "News that administration officials are buying separate private email accounts to avoid using the internal system, coupled with reports that aides have often used GOP email accounts, is drawing heat from public interest groups. One, the Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, or CREW, claims the practice could be illegal."
~ Gonzales' Fall Guy Fires Back -- "Even as he denied claims of partisan meddling in the U.S. Attorney firings, Kyle Sampson cast new suspicion on the roles of his former boss, the attorney general, and Karl Rove."
~ Hirsh: Iran and America, At the Brink -- "America and Iran are barreling toward a collision. It doesn't have to be this way."
~ Oprah's new Book Club pick, reviewed -- "Oprah announced her Book Club's new selection yesterday: Cormac McCarthy's The Road. A brutally violent End Times narrative doesn't seem like typical Oprah fare: The book follows a father and son's journey across a scorched earth in winter, battling cannibal slavers and looting abandoned buildings to survive. But in a Slate essay published last year, and reproduced below, Jennifer Egan glimpsed the novel's tender side." Wow! Oprah chose a "hard" book for the club -- and rumor is that the elusive McCarthy will make an appearance.
~ Some Athletes Don't Want to Be Role Models -- "Student-athletes should not be asked to be role models, a pair of University of Michigan alumni told a panel last night. "Current student-athletes have enough pressures around them," a former football player said. Others accepted the extra role-model pressure as a duty."

~ Confessions of an Economic Hit Man - John Perkins -- Video -- "John Perkins, as a former 'economic hit man', explains the exploitation of third world countries using government endorsed lucrative loans that go straight to corporate interests and the raping of precious resources instead of development purposes."
~ Microsoft Unveils New Mobile Web Browser -- "Microsoft Corp. has unveiled an early version of a new Web browser for mobile devices that it said will make browsing full-sized Web pages faster and easier on small smart-phone screens."
~ MIT's ocean model precisely mimics microbes' life cycles -- "Scientists at MIT have created an ocean model so realistic that the virtual forests of diverse microscopic plants they "sowed" have grown in population patterns that precisely mimic their real-world counterparts."
~ Chandra Sheds Light on Galaxy Collision -- "Astronomers think that there are enormous black holes at the centers of most, if not all, galaxies. These black holes, which can be millions or even billions of times more massive than the Sun, can greatly affect the galaxy and the environments around them."
~ Endangered Wolves Cloned--Can Cloning Save Others From Extinction? -- "Scientists have created two clones of an endangered gray wolf, raising the question of whether cloning could be the conservation tool of the future."
~ Video: Grand Canyon Skywalk's 4,000-Foot View -- "See what it's like to stand on a glass walkway 400 stories above the canyon floor—video taken on opening day, Wednesday, March 28."
~ Environmental Group Calls on EU To Halve Catches of Threatened Bluefin Tuna -- "The WWF environment group called on the EU Thursday to cut catches of bluefin tuna in the Mediterranean by half in an attempt to secure the commercial survival of the species."
~ Boeing working on Fuel Cell Airplane -- "Boeing researchers and industry partners throughout Europe are planning to conduct experimental flight tests this year of a manned airplane powered only by a fuel cell and lightweight batteries...."

~ Alternative Views on the Radical Transformation of an Integral Salon -- "Joe Perez, one of my integral blogging heroes, and someone I consider to be a good friend even though I don't get to see him enough, has offered some feedback on my post about The Radical Transformation of Integral Salons Into First Tier (read it, and the other comments, here)."
~ Passover - Beyond the Suffering -- From Dharmashanti's Blog -- "Passover is a special time for me. It is an opportunity to connect with my Jewish heritage. At the same time, it bothers me that so much of the symbolism around the holiday centers around suffering."
~ One Mind Village -- "Stuart Davis Interview on, as well as Ken Wilber and Paul Lonely! Check it out, fresh out of the hopper."
~ BLOG: Integral Politics on YouTube -- "An extraordinary 18-minute video of Ken describing an Integral approach to politics has been uploaded to the Integral Naked YouTube channel. Click here to check it out!"
~ Continuing the Relationship Conversation with Bill -- "My first round of theorizing (and again, I can easily be wrong) is that Bill is wrong here. . . ." Ebuddha responds to my post from yesterday on relationships. Nice points he makes. I'll have a response later today or Saturday.
~ At The Woodshed: The attention economy: where artists shall reign -- From Matthew Dallman -- check it out.
~ At Integrative Spirituality: What is Ecospirituality and Why is it Important to ALL Spiritual Individuals?
~ Alan Kazlev at Open Integral on AQAL Journal.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

An Evolutionary View of Human Violence -- Steven Pinker

Steven Pinker rocks. He is far and away my favorite contemporary scientist writing for the public. In an article at Edge, based on his recent TED Talk (and originally published in The New Republic), Pinker dispels the myth of the noble savage.

The basic premise of the noble savage theory is that humans are basically good and that it is civilization, technology, and society that have corrupted us and made us violent. But anyone who has read much of human history, especially anthropology, will know that this is horribly false. We have not been inherently good. Primal societies are far from peaceful and loving. In fact, most primal societies are violent and barbaric by our modern standards.

In the article at Edge, A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE, Pinker argues the points I have just raised, only much more authoritatively and elegantly.

Ken Wilber has made exactly the same arguments at various times in his work. The integral developmental model of human evolution is partly founded on the notion that humans have progressively become less violent, less egoic, and more compassionate as we have evolved. Certainly, as even Pinker points out, we have a long way to go.

Here is a little of Pinker's article to whet your appetite -- and one of the interesting elements of this argument, mentioned in this passage, in the indictment of post-modern relativist historians:
In sixteenth-century Paris, a popular form of entertainment was cat-burning, in which a cat was hoisted in a sling on a stage and slowly lowered into a fire. According to historian Norman Davies, "[T]he spectators, including kings and queens, shrieked with laughter as the animals, howling with pain, were singed, roasted, and finally carbonized." Today, such sadism would be unthinkable in most of the world. This change in sensibilities is just one example of perhaps the most important and most underappreciated trend in the human saga: Violence has been in decline over long stretches of history, and today we are probably living in the most peaceful moment of our species' time on earth.

In the decade of Darfur and Iraq, and shortly after the century of Stalin, Hitler, and Mao, the claim that violence has been diminishing may seem somewhere between hallucinatory and obscene. Yet recent studies that seek to quantify the historical ebb and flow of violence point to exactly that conclusion.

Some of the evidence has been under our nose all along. Conventional history has long shown that, in many ways, we have been getting kinder and gentler. Cruelty as entertainment, human sacrifice to indulge superstition, slavery as a labor-saving device, conquest as the mission statement of government, genocide as a means of acquiring real estate, torture and mutilation as routine punishment, the death penalty for misdemeanors and differences of opinion, assassination as the mechanism of political succession, rape as the spoils of war, pogroms as outlets for frustration, homicide as the major form of conflict resolution—all were unexceptionable features of life for most of human history. But, today, they are rare to nonexistent in the West, far less common elsewhere than they used to be, concealed when they do occur, and widely condemned when they are brought to light.

At one time, these facts were widely appreciated. They were the source of notions like progress, civilization, and man's rise from savagery and barbarism. Recently, however, those ideas have come to sound corny, even dangerous. They seem to demonize people in other times and places, license colonial conquest and other foreign adventures, and conceal the crimes of our own societies. The doctrine of the noble savage—the idea that humans are peaceable by nature and corrupted by modern institutions—pops up frequently in the writing of public intellectuals like José Ortega y Gasset ("War is not an instinct but an invention"), Stephen Jay Gould ("Homo sapiens is not an evil or destructive species"), and Ashley Montagu ("Biological studies lend support to the ethic of universal brotherhood"). But, now that social scientists have started to count bodies in different historical periods, they have discovered that the romantic theory gets it backward: Far from causing us to become more violent, something in modernity and its cultural institutions has made us nobler.

Read the rest of the article.

Amazing Photography -- Nick Brandt

I found this cool page through a social networking site last night -- some amazing animal photography from Nick Brandt.

Here are a few of my favorite images -- there are many more at the site.

Lioness Looking Over Plains, Maasai Mara 2004

Giraffe Looking Out over Plains, Serengeti 2002

Elephant Mother with Baby Holding Leg, Serengeti 2002

Cheetah in Tree, Maasai Mara 2003

See more of Brandt's photography.

Adam Curtis -- The Trap -- All Three Parts

A week ago I posted the first two parts of Adam Curtis' The Trap, a look at how the certain perspectives from the past still dominate our cultural psyche, specifically the Cold War mentality.

Part three was not available at Google's video site (as of last night), but you can find it at a blog that features all three episodes.

Daily Om: Finding Time For You

Yesterday's Daily Om was a good one. It's a good reminder for all of us that we need to take some time to relax, get centered, and be more in touch with our deeper sense of self. Most of us get so caught up in doing things that we can forget to just be still and allow ourselves to be present, doing nothing productive (although, as the post points out, doing nothing for a little while can make us more productive in the rest of our lives).
Your Most Vital Commitment
Finding Time For You

Within each of there is a well of energy that must be regularly replenished. When we act as if this well is bottomless, scheduling a long list of activities that fit like puzzle pieces into every minute of every day, it becomes depleted and we feel exhausted, disconnected, and weak. Refilling this well is a matter of finding time to focus on, nurture, and care for ourselves, or "you time." Most of us are, at different times throughout the day, a spouse, a friend, a relative, an employee, a parent, or a volunteer, which means that down time, however relaxing in nature, is not necessarily "you time." Though some people will inevitably look upon "you time" as being selfish, it is actually the polar opposite of selfishness. We can only excel where our outer world affairs are concerned when our own spiritual, physical, and intellectual needs are fulfilled.

Recognizing the importance of "you time" is far easier than finding a place for it in an active, multifaceted lifestyle, however. Even if you find a spot for it in your agenda, you may be dismayed to discover that your thoughts continuously stray into worldly territory. To make the most of "you time," give yourself enough time on either side of the block of time you plan to spend on yourself to ensure that you do not feel rushed. Consider how you would like to pass the time, forgetting for the moment your obligations and embracing the notion of renewal. You may discover that you are energized by creative pursuits, guided meditation, relaxing activities during which your mind can wander, or modes of expression such as writing.

Even if you have achieved a functioning work-life balance, you may still be neglecting the most important part of that equation: you. "You time" prepares you for the next round of daily life, whether you are poised to immerse yourself in a professional project or chores around the home. It also affords you a unique opportunity to learn about yourself, your needs, and your tolerances in a concrete way. As unimportant as "you time" can sometimes seem, it truly is crucial to your wellbeing because it ensures that you are never left without the energy to give of yourself.
Good advice.

More on Happiness

Over at Lee's Things, there is an entry on a lecture he attended, given by Marc Fournier (University of Toronto) discussing findings by psychologist Edward Deci.

He provides the following quotes and comments:

One of the foremost researchers in the area of motivation is psychologist Edward Deci at the University of Rochester. Deci's model suggests that students will be more motivated to learn when particular needs have been met. Deci articulates three such needs:

(a) to feel a sense of belonging and connectedness to the school (I would add the words "to feel welcome"),
(b) to feel a sense of autonomy and self-determination, and
(c) to feel competent (skillset and level of challenge must be appropriately matched).

In his lecture, Fournier suggested that these are three universal psychological needs (to be choiceful, connected to others, to feel capable) shared by all people and that all three are of equal importance. If these needs are not met, it will impact:
  • our ability to meet our full potential
  • our capacity to grow
  • our ability to flourish and thrive
  • our ability to experience happiness
The coolest part, however, is this doodle Lee created based on that information:

I think that this echoes something I remember from reading Flow by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. But then the book could have been using this research as part of its thesis -- I don't really remember.

Anyway, I think this is a useful image for understanding the primary components that go into happiness.

Speedlinking 3/29/07

Quote of the day:

"I once wanted to become an atheist, but I gave up - they have no holidays."
~ Henny Youngman

Image of the day (Tristan Campbell):

~ The 50-Yard Dash: Sprinting Your Way to Total Leg Development -- "A well-developed hamstring/glute junction is smooth. In other words, the hamstring flows uninterrupted into the glute. Now be honest, does that describe you, or do you have a pronounced gluteal fold? If it's the latter, here's how to fix it and develop the ass of your dreams."
~ Muscle Training Do's And Don'ts - Safe And Effective Resistance Training Is Key To Overall Fitness -- "Resistance training is crucial to holistic fitness, said Len Kravitz, Ph.D., in a presentation today at the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) 11th-annual Health & Fitness Summit & Exposition in Dallas, Texas. Kravitz, a national fitness expert, explained muscle training and its contribution to overall health and performance."
~ Bottled Or Tap Water - Which Is Best? -- "Although bottled water is perceived as a healthier, safer choice over tap water in consumer surveys, that is not necessarily always true, says sports nutritionist Cynthia Sass, R.D., C.S.S.D."
~ Dispelling The Top 10 Nutrition Myths -- "Don't drink alcohol. Take vitamins. Avoid eating eggs. We've heard these pieces of nutritional advice for years - but are they accurate? Not necessarily, say two exercise physiologists presenting at the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) 11th-annual Health & Fitness Summit & Exposition in Dallas, Texas."
~ Proof at last that organic apples can be better for you -- "Evidence that organic crops contain higher levels of important nutrients has been published by scientists. They said analysis of organic tomatoes, apples and peaches revealed greater concentrations of vitamin C, polyphenols, betacarotene and flavonoids ..."
~ Diabetes-Parkinson's Link Grows Stronger (HealthDay) -- "As people with obesity-linked type 2 diabetes age, their risk of getting Parkinson's disease also climbs, a new study warns."
~ Stem Cell Treatment Could Save Patients With Heart Failure -- "In Study, Leg Cells Injected Into Dead Heart Muscle Dramatically Improved Organ's Performance."
~ Calcium, vitamin D may ward off colorectal cancer -- "People who consume relatively high levels of calcium and dairy products and take vitamin D supplements seem to be protected to some degree against colorectal cancer, researchers have found."
~ Sedentary behavior linked to high blood sugar -- "People who tend to be sedentary -- as indicated by the amount of time they spend watching television -- are likely to have high levels of glucose in their blood, even though they may not be diabetic."

~ How Exercise Makes You Feel, Rather Than Look, Is What Matters -- "Shifting the focus from how exercise may make you look to how it makes you feel may help people start, maintain or even appreciate an exercise program, said Michael R. Bracko, Ed.D., FACSM."
~ Antidepressants May Not Help Fight Bipolar Disorder -- "Patients with bipolar disorder will gain no treatment benefit by adding an antidepressant to a standard mood stabilizer such as lithium, a new study finds."
~ Worries grow over mental health of soldiers -- "While much attention has been on physical wounds like traumatic brain injuries, as well as squalid living conditions for recovering soldiers, doctors, families and lawmakers are expressing growing concerns that veterans are not be getting the right mental health help."
~ Brain's "Default Mode" Awry In Schizophrenia -- "The "default mode," or baseline condition when the brain is idling, is not properly coordinated in patients with schizophrenia and this aberrant activity may be caused by poor connectivity between brain networks, a Yale School of Medicine researcher reports."
~ SciAm on happiness and moral decision-making -- "April's issue of Scientific American has a couple of concise articles that are freely available online: one on the neuroscience of moral decisions, and the second on the science of lasting happiness."
~ Long Term Depression Eased By Phone-Based Therapy -- "When people receive brief telephone-based psychotherapy soon after starting on antidepressant medication, strong positive effects may continue 18 months after their first session."
~ Psychology: Time Only Heals Some Wounds -- "Human beings are remarkably resilient, but new research shows that it's not always possible to 'get over it' when something bad happens."
~ Brain tissue reveals possible genetic trigger for schizophrenia -- "A study led by scientists from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill may have identified a molecular mechanism involved in the development of schizophrenia."

~ Study finds children deluged by food ads -- "U.S. children are being deluged by a tidal wave of TV ads for foods like candy, snacks, sugary cereals and fatty fast food, according to a study that exhaustively tallied the number and type of ads kids see."
~ Single people subject to negative stereotypes -- "A recent Time magazine article on why marriage is viewed so positively despite the divorce statistics, suggested that single people are the subject of negative stereotyping and discrimination."
~ The Book of Job: Why God needs Satan -- "While not reading Job, I apparently developed a gross misconception about what it was. Like everyone with a pulse, I knew the basic outlines: God bets Satan—a gentleman's bet, no cash at stake—that His most upright servant, Job, will remain faithful even in the face of catastrophe. God and Satan afflict Job, and he endures patiently. "
~ A New Wrinkle in Rove's Role in DOJ Scandal -- "Did Karl Rove have a hand in replacing the fired U.S. attorney in New Mexico? An overlooked e-mail may provide a clue."
~ Inside the human growth hormone boom -- "The dead starlet's autopsy revealed that she was injecting human growth hormone to counter the effects of aging and promote weight loss. Does that work? Inside the HGH boom—and the backlash."
~ Why Everyone's Talking about Twitter -- "Yes, it's silly and shallow. But that's why the service that lets regular people blog about their regular lives is suddenly so popular."
~ From Dream Home to Foreclosure: One Family's Journey -- "As adjustable mortgage rates click upward, a Kentucky family is one of thousands forced from their dream homes and into the nightmare of foreclosure."
~ The Meta Screw-Up -- "Eve Fairbanks writes today about the problem of keeping track of Bush administration scandals:In the last couple of weeks, even in the minds of the lawmakers tasked with oversight, the administration's scandals and screw-ups have started to blur... "
~ Peter Sacks: Being Honest About the Class Divide -- "When it comes to the class divide in America, we can pretend that it doesn't exist. We can pretend that we can become whoever we'd like to be in life, regardless of the family we were were born to, what neighborhoods we grew up in, and what sort of schools we attended. We can believe our opportunities are born from personal choices, cultural values, and our wits."
~ Scientists Discover Key to Fashion Trends -- "There's no grand conspiracy to decide what you'll buy. Rather, a few innovations and a lot of copycats create phenomena merely by chance. And you can bet whatever it is, it'll change."

~ Giant Meteorite Hit Ancient California, Crater Study Suggests -- "A space rock the size of three football fields may have slammed into California more than 35 million years ago, leaving a crater more than 3 miles (5 kilometers) wide."
~ TV box out of the loop as videos stream to Internet -- "The traditional television box may lose its place of honor in the sitting room to a crop of new devices that send films and shows straight to screens and telephones via the Internet, analysts say."
~ Deadly Nut Tapped as Biofuel Source -- "A poisonous plant could help solve Southeast Asia's energy woes."
~ San Francisco Passes Plastic-Bag Ban -- "City leaders approved a ban on plastic grocery bags after weeks of lobbying on both sides from environmentalists and a supermarket trade group. San Francisco would be the first U.S. city to adopt such a rule if Mayor Gavin Newsom signs the ban as expected."
~ Bacteria That Degrades PCBs Identified -- "Researchers have identified a group of bacteria that can detoxify a common type of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), which have contaminated more than 250 U.S. sites, including river and lake sediments."
~ Researchers reveal the tangle under turbulence -- "Picture the flow of water over a rock. At very low speeds, the water looks like a smooth sheet skimming the rock's surface. As the water rushes faster, the flow turns into turbulent, roiling whitewater that can overturn your raft."
~ Light Seems to Pass through Solid Metal -- "Researchers directing a special type of light at metal poked with holes found all the light behaved like a liquid and strangely escaped through the holes."

~ The First Enlightenment : Zazen (3) The Practical Side -- "A concrete explanation of Zazen practice itself."
~ Skepticism and Truth -- From Sean at Deep Surface -- "The most recent show on Philosophy Talk is about Skepticism. Although it’s not yet streaming from the website, there are some interesting blog posts related to the show on the Philosophy Talk blog."
~ Conceptuality in Buddhist Practice: Which Rug Are You Standing On? -- From Ryan at Buddhist Geeks.
~ Genocide -- From The Buddha Diaries -- "All of which inspired a particularly uncomfortable meditation this morning, since I wanted to focus my mind on the reality of genocide, and on the stain it leaves on the consciousness of the human race. The effort led me on a three-step journey, unplanned in advance, but nonetheless powerful for that."
~ If your God is homophobic, then homophobia is your God -- From Joe Perez -- "That's a quote from the latest installment of my new bi-weekly column, "In the Spirit," (Vol. 1, No. 2)"
~ Groundlessness -- "I've found this idea through Pema Chodron and from some of Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoches works. Groundlessness and ego are linked. The ground that I'm talking about is the kind that we provide ourselves by establishing concepts in the real world so that it doesn't seem as scary as it is."
~ The Quickening -- A great poem from Dave at Via Negativa.
~ As orangies go green, greenies go teal -- More from Joe Perez at Until -- "If the right is going postmodern (read: orange going green), then the postmodernists are going integral (read: green going teal/turquoise)."
~ Integral Relationship Post 2 from ebuddha at Integral Practice.
~ Generation Me = Narcissism Squared from ~C4Chaos.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

The Science of Lasting Happiness

There is an interesting Scientific American article up this morning that looks at the science of happiness. Happiness research is all the rage of late, with Martin Seligman's Positive Psychology leading the charge (building, of course, on the work of Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, who made the idea of "Flow" part of our vernacular).

The article proposes that 50% of our happiness is determined at birth, a kind of genetic set-point for happiness. It has also been determined through years of research that life circumstances only account for about 10% of our happiness. That leaves 40% of our happiness unaccounted for -- and the article proposes that this 40% comes down to "intentional activity."
So what is the remaining 40 percent? "Because nobody had put it together before, that's unexplained," Lyubomirsky says. But she believes that when you take away genes and circumstances, what is left besides error must be "intentional activity," mental and behavioral strategies to counteract adaptation's downward pull.

Lyubomirsky has been studying these activities in hopes of finding out whether and how people can stay above their set point. In theory, that is possible in much the same way regular diet and exercise can keep athletes' weight below their genetic set points. But before Lyubomirsky began, there was "a huge vacuum of research on how to increase happiness," she says. The lottery study in particular "made people shy away from interventions," explains eminent University of Pennsylvania psychologist Martin E. P. Seligman, the father of positive psychology and a mentor to Lyubomirsky. When science had scrutinized happiness at all, it was mainly through correlational studies, which cannot tell what came first--the happiness or what it is linked to--let alone determine the cause and effect. Finding out that individuals with strong social ties are more satisfied with their lives than loners, for example, begs the question of whether friends make us happier or whether happy people are simply likelier to seek and attract friends.
And . . .
Investigators have no shortage of possible strategies to test, with happiness advice coming "from the Buddha to Tony Robbins," as Seligman puts it. So Lyubomirsky started with three promising strategies: kindness, gratitude and optimism--all of which past research had linked with happiness. Her aim is not merely to confirm the strategies' effectiveness but to gain insights into how happiness works. For example, conventional wisdom suggests keeping a daily gratitude journal. But one study revealed that those who had been assigned to do that ended up less happy than those who had to count their blessings only once a week. Lyubomirsky therefore confirmed her hunch that timing is important. So is variety, it turned out: a kindness intervention found that participants told to vary their good deeds ended up happier than those forced into a kindness rut. Lyubomirsky is also asking about mediators: Why, for example, does acting kind make you happier? "I'm a basic researcher, not an applied researcher, so I'm interested not so much in the strategies but in how they work and what goes on behind the scenes," she explains.

Initial results with the interventions have been promising, but sustaining them is tough. Months after a study is over, the people who have stopped the exercises show a drop in happiness. Like a drug or a diet, the exercises work only if you stick with them. Instilling habits is crucial. Another key: "fit," or how well the exercise matches the person. If sitting down to imagine your best possible self (an optimism exercise) feels contrived, you will be less likely to do it.

The biggest factor may be getting over the idea that happiness is fixed--and realizing that sustained effort can boost it. "A lot of people don't apply the notion of effort to their emotional lives," Lyubomirsky declares, "but the effort it takes is enormous."

I'm a huge fan of any approach that can increase happiness. The issue I have had with positive psychology in the past is its unwillingness to look into the shadow of emotional distress, seeking rather to accent the positive. But if positive psychology and happiness research can be used in a more integral approach (using the right tool for the job at hand, which is determined by each individual client) then I think they are valuable contributions.

I like the idea that we have to work at happiness the same way we have to work at staying fit (the athlete and trainer in me). Last year I undertook a gratitude experiment based on one of Martin Seligman's exercises (a daily inventory of just a few things for which I was grateful, anything from a partner to a good meal to a conversation with a friend).

I enjoyed the experiment. For the first month or so I noticed a huge shift in my happiness, which persisted (aside from rough times that summer and fall) to the present. Since beginning that experiment, I am a much happier person. I still do periodic gratitude inventories.

So I can see the value in cultivating happiness and not simply waiting for it to find us. This feels like a healthy approach to life.

Three Relationship Articles from Psychology Today, With Commentary

Psychology Today posted three different articles on relationships, each of which has a little wisdom to offer. I'll post some key sections from each one and offer a little commentary where it seems a different perspective might be helpful.

~ The Power of Love -- A look at depression and relationships, specifically, how the depressed can create healthier relationships. This is perhaps the best article of the three.

It is not only possible but necessary to change one's approach to love to ward off depression. Follow these action strategies to get more of what you want out of life—to love and be loved.

  • Recognize the difference between limerance and love. Limerance is the psychological state of deep infatuation. It feels good but rarely lasts. Limerance is that first stage of mad attraction whereby all the hormones are flowing and things feel so right. Limerance lasts, on average, six months. It can progress to love. Love mostly starts out as limerance, but limerance doesn't always evolve into love.
  • Know that love is a learned skill, not something that comes from hormones or emotion particularly. Erich Fromm called it "an act of will." If you don't learn the skills of love you virtually guarantee that you will be depressed, not only because you will not be connected enough but because you will have many failure experiences.
  • Learn good communication skills. They are a means by which you develop trust and intensify connection. The more you can communicate the less depressed you will be because you will feel known and understood.

There are always core differences between two people, no matter how good or close you are, and if the relationship is going right those differences surface. The issue then is to identify the differences and negotiate them so that they don't distance you or kill the relationship.

You do that by understanding where the other person is coming from, who that person is, and by being able to represent yourself. When the differences are known you must be able to negotiate and compromise on them until you find a common ground that works for both.

  • Focus on the other person. Rather than focus on what you are getting and how you are being treated, read your partner's need. What does this person really need for his/her own well-being? This is a very tough skill for people to learn in our narcissistic culture. Of course, you don't lose yourself in the process; you make sure you're also doing enough self-care.
  • Help someone else. Depression keeps people so focused on themselves they don't get outside themselves enough to be able to learn to love. The more you can focus on others and learn to respond and meet their needs, the better you are going to do in love.
  • Develop the ability to accommodate simultaneous reality. The loved one's reality is as important as your own, and you need to be as aware of it as of your own. What are they really saying, what are they really needing? Depressed people think the only reality is their own depressed reality.
  • Actively dispute your internal messages of inadequacy. Sensitivity to rejection is a cardinal feature of depression. As a consequence of low self-esteem, every relationship blip is interpreted far too personally as evidence of inadequacy. Quick to feel rejected by a partner, you then believe it is the treatment you fundamentally deserve. But the rejection really originates in you, and the feelings of inadequacy are the depression speaking.

Recognize that the internal voice is strong but it's not real. Talk back to it. "I'm not really being rejected, this isn't really evidence of inadequacy. I made a mistake." Or "this isn't about me, this is something I just didn't know how to do and now I'll learn." When you reframe the situation to something more adequate, you can act again in an effective way and you can find and keep the love that you need.

~ Love's Loopy Logic -- While the first article looks at some of the ways depression might inhibit dating and successful relationships, this article looks at the ways we using "mating intelligence" to determine who is or is not a good option for a relationship. It's a rather reductionist viewpoint, but it most likely factors into the equation whether we think we are "above" biology or not.

Martie Haselton of UCLA and David Buss of the University of Texas, Austin, have empirically demonstrated the existence of these error-management strategies in men and women. Haselton likens a biased decision pathway to a smoke alarm that can make one of two errors. It can go off in the absence of fire—a false positive: irritating, but far from lethal. The more dangerous error is the false negative, which fails to signal a real fire. "Engineers can't minimize both errors, because there's a trade-off," explains Haselton. "If you lower the threshold for noting fires, you're going to have more false alarms. Natural selection created decision-making adaptations not to maximize accuracy but to minimize the more costly error." Faced with uncertainty about people and predators throughout human history, we again and again took the safe road.

Seeing the world through our own warped force field is standard operating procedure. "Biased mechanisms are not design defects of the human mind, but rather design features," says Haselton. We don't commit them just in mating mode. They're present in our everyday perceptions, protecting our egos and all types of relationships. We imbue the powerful and beautiful with personal and intellectual qualities that they likely don't possess, overestimate our own abilities, and downgrade the importance of skills that elude us. We're also paranoiacally primed to detect threats to our status, to our children—any domain in which the stakes are high. This is why women are fiercely protective of their newborns, why we agonize if the boss idly snaps at us.

Biases are human universals: A Park Avenue socialite may be as guarded around her suitors, or as worried about her husband's fidelity, as a Chinese field hand, though each woman will filter the concern through her own cultural prism. But the intensity of a bias may vary from person to person. Geher found that smart men are more likely to exhibit the "She Wants Me" bias. To discern this, Geher asked male subjects how they thought women would respond to personal ads in which men sought a short-term partner. He found that the most intelligent men grossly overestimated women's interest in ads offering explicit no-strings-attached sex. (Geher quips that among his research findings, this is the gem that his wife likes the least.)

And . . .

Men and women selectively tune into the noisy channel of opposite-sex interest depending on their own gender-specific needs: Men scan for sexiness and availability; women scavenge for clues to personality and commitment readiness. The errors of engagement we make in the early stages of courtship, before we're certain of opposite-sex intentions, might appear to set men and women on a permanent collision course. But each one of us is evidence that men and women do in fact connect. The sexes actually have overlapping, if not identical, goals: Men and women both want stable relationships in which to raise children. Women just tend to rally for an earlier commitment. The result: When our tracks finally converge in commitment, our biases overlap as well, because we now share important goals. The most important of these is preserving the relationship.

There is much more to this article, and I did find it pretty interesting in its own way. While many of us are trying to create and maintain more evolved relationships, there are still hard-wired patterns that influence how we act or feel. If we can recognize these biases -- becoming conscious of the ways they may be impacting our decisions or feelings -- we stand a better chance of rising above these generally unconscious motivations.

Still, this article, like the one that follows, offers a lower level look at people in relationships. Some of us are evolving beyond these simplistic views and biases. Yet, we are often not aware of them, so in that sense this is a useful discussion.

~ Great Expectations -- A look at how we have moved away from functional relationships, such as marriage for the sake of having a home and raising kids, and instead now look for the ideal partner, our "soul mate."

The pragmatic benefits of partnership used to be foremost in our minds. The idea of marriage as a vehicle for self-fulfillment and happiness is relatively new, says Paul Amato, professor of sociology, demography and family studies at Penn State University. Surveys of high school and college students 50 or 60 years ago found that most wanted to get married in order to have children or own a home. Now, most report that they plan to get married for love. This increased emphasis on emotional fulfillment within marriage leaves couples ill-prepared for the realities they will probably face.

Because the early phase of a relationship is marked by excitement and idealization, "many romantic, passionate couples expect to have that excitement forever," says Barry McCarthy, a clinical psychologist and coauthor—with his wife, Emily McCarthy—of Getting It Right the First Time: How to Build a Healthy Marriage. Longing for the charged energy of the early days, people look elsewhere or split up.

Flagging passion is often interpreted as the death knell of a relationship. You begin to wonder whether you're really right for each other after all. You're comfortable together, but you don't really connect the way you used to. Wouldn't it be more honest—and braver—to just admit that it's not working and call it off? "People are made to feel that remaining in a marriage that doesn't make you blissfully happy is an act of existential cowardice," says Joshua Coleman, a San Francisco psychologist.

Coleman says that the constant cultural pressure to have it all—a great sex life, a wonderful family—has made people ashamed of their less-than-perfect relationships and question whether such unions are worth hanging on to. Feelings of dissatisfaction or disappointment are natural, but they can seem intolerable when standards are sky-high. "It's a recent historical event that people expect to get so much from individual partners," says Coleman, author of Imperfect Harmony, in which he advises couples in lackluster marriages to stick it out—especially if they have kids. "There's an enormous amount of pressure on marriages to live up to an unrealistic ideal."

And . . .

In fact, argue psychologists and marital advocates, there's no such thing as true compatibility. "Marriage is a disagreement machine," says Diane Sollee, founder of the Coalition for Marriage, Family and Couples Education. "All couples disagree about all the same things. We have a highly romanticized notion that if we were with the right person, we wouldn't fight." Discord springs eternal over money, kids, sex and leisure time, but psychologist John Gottman has shown that long-term, happily married couples disagree about these things just as much as couples who divorce.

"There is a mythology of 'the wrong person,'" agrees Pittman. "All marriages are incompatible. All marriages are between people from different families, people who have a different view of things. The magic is to develop binocular vision, to see life through your partner's eyes as well as through your own."

The realization that we're not going to get everything we want from a partner is not just sobering, it's downright miserable. But it is also a necessary step in building a mature relationship, according to Real, who has written about the subject in How Can I Get Through to You: Closing the Intimacy Gap Between Men and Women. "The paradox of intimacy is that our ability to stay close rests on our ability to tolerate solitude inside a relationship," he says. "A central aspect of grown-up love is grief. All of us long for—and think we deserve—perfection." We can hardly be blamed for striving for bliss and self-fulfillment in our romantic lives—our inalienable right to the pursuit of happiness is guaranteed in the first blueprint of American society.

I think this article is a little dangerous in its tone and stance. There are a lot of couples who marry for the wrong reasons and do not discover that fact for many years. From the point of view of this article, these couples might be encouraged to stick it out when the best thing would be to move on in a new direction.

I think we need to factor in the soul's need for deeper connection. We want to be "in love" with our partner now, in five years, and in 25 years. We don't want only comfort and convenience, as much as those things are nice. We want it all -- and there is no reason we should settle for anything less.

From an integral perspective, these articles are all looking at relationships from a lower developmental level. The last one admits that we are seeking "something more" from relationships than previous generations sought (the emergence of the sensitive self), but it also dismisses this need for more meaningful relationship as a search for an illusive ideal.

As human beings continue to evolve -- and yes, we are still evolving -- our relationship needs are changing. While functional relationships with adequate affection used to be acceptable, for many of us this is no longer sufficient. We want more open, emotionally deeper, egalitarian relationships -- we want partners who are complete in and of themselves and who still care deeply for our own needs and happiness.

I'm guessing these articles would be useful for a lot of people. But some of us want more -- and wanting more out of life is not a bad thing. We are not seeking an unobtainable illusion -- we are creating a new pattern that future generations can inhabit and expand upon.