Saturday, November 08, 2008

Beyond Belief: Candles in the Dark - V.S. Ramachandran

Cool video - one of many.

V.S. Ramachandran

Human Flourishing, continued

October 4, 2008

V.S. Ramachandran is Director of the Center for Brain and Cognition and Professor with the Psychology Department and the Neurosciences Program at UC San Diego. A former BBC Reith Lecturer, he co-authored Phantoms in the Brain: Probing the Mysteries of the Human Mind, with Sandra Blakeslee, and is the author of A Brief Tour of Human Consciousness and a forthcoming book on human uniqueness

Arvö Pärt - "Agnus Dei"

Thanks to Hokai for pointing this out -- I'm a big Arvö Pärt fan, especially Te Deum and Kanon Pokajanen.
The Agnus Dei was introduced in the Mass by Pope Sergius (687-701), which may have been a defiant act against the Byzantine empire (Constantinople), who ruled that Christ shall not be depicted as an animal. The Agnus Dei, like the Credo, was one of the last things to be added to the Mass Ordinary.

Chris Dierkes - Obama and The Fourth American Republic

Chris over at Indistinct Union posted a very interesting article the other day. Some thoughts below.

Obama and The Fourth American Republic

Michael Lind comes out and says what I hypothesized back in April–namely that Obama might be a harbinger of the fourth republic in America.


As I see it, to date there have been three American republics, each lasting 72 years (give or take a few years). The First Republic of the United States, assembled following the American Revolution, lasted from 1788 to 1860. The Second Republic, assembled following the Civil War and Reconstruction (that is, the Second American Revolution) lasted from 1860 to 1932. And the Third American Republic, assembled during the New Deal and the civil rights eras (the Third American Revolution), lasted from 1932 until 2004.

In Philip Bobbitt’s terminology, the shift from Republic I to Republic II was the shift from state-nation status to nation-state status. The shift from Republic II to Republic III was the shift from the early nation-state to the full flowering of the nation-state. Republic III to Republic IV is the move from the nation-state to the market state.

Lind again:

The first three American republics display a remarkably similar pattern. Their 72-year life span is divided into two 36-year periods (again, give or take a year — this is not astrology). During the first 36-year period of a republic, ambitious nation-builders in the tradition of Alexander Hamilton strengthen the powers of the federal government and promote economic modernization. During the second 36-year phase of a republic, there is a Jeffersonian backlash, in favor of small government, small business and an older way of life. During the backlash era, Jeffersonians manage to modify, but never undo, the structure created by the Hamiltonians in the previous era.

And on Bush a point I’ve made repeatedly, calling Bush the Right’s Carter (or perhaps LBJ, the president who presided over the end of the first half of the 3rd Republic):

The final president of a republic tends to be a failed, despised figure.

Buchanan, Hoover, Bush. Ouch.

Read the rest.

I think this is an interesting concept, contra what my POLYSEMY pal MD says in the comments. Thinking in meta-patterns might not offer better ways to raise one's family, relate to friends, or whatever other concrete thing you want to offer, but human beings seek patterns whether they are there or not.

And sometimes, looking for larger patterns helps us make sense of our moment in history -- we are right now living through one of the great moment of American history. Why not seek to contextualize these momentous events?

We Hold These Truths . . .

Maya Angelou On Barack Obama: "We All Rise"

Beautiful . . . found at Jerzebel.

Maya Angelou On Barack Obama: "We All Rise"

I double dog dare you to watch this Maya Angelou interview from today's CBS Early Show without tearing up. "I am so filled with pride for my country," Angelou tells anchor Harry Smith. "We are growing up! My God, I'm so grateful." Of Barack Obama, Angelou says, "He's intelligent. I don't mean intellectually clever. I mean intelligent. What used to be called mother wit. He has common sense, which is most uncommon." Her words are so incredibly inspiring, and she wraps up her CBS appearance by reciting from her classic poem, "Still I Rise." "My lord," Angelou exclaims, "I'm an American, baby!"

Daniel Goleman in Dialogues on Social intelligence (More Than Sound Productions)

Integral Leadership Review takes a look at the new 7 CD set from Daniel Goleman in which he discusses Emotional Intelligence and Social Intelligence with a variety of very interesting people.


Paul Ekman and Daniel Goleman, Knowing our Emotions, Improving Our World

Naomi Wolf and Daniel Goleman, The Inner Compass for Ethics & Excellence

Richard Davidson and Daniel Goleman, Cultivating Emotional Intelligence

Daniel J. Siegel and Daniel Goleman, Better Parents, Better Spouses, Better People

George Lucas and Daniel Goleman, Rethinking Education

Howard Gardner and Daniel Goleman, Good Work: Aligning Skills and Values

Clay Shirkey and Daniel Goleman, Socially Intelligent Computing (available only as a download from )

Looks like an outstanding collection, featuring some of my favorite people. Go read the reviews to learn more about each CD.

Spirituality and Sexuality

An interesting article from Integrative Spirituality. Nothing profoundly new, but a good reminder that sexuality is (or can be) about more than two bodies.
Spirituality and Sexuality


Spirituality is all-inclusive, expanding into every aspect of life, because spirituality is the infusion of spirit into living life. Spirit is always there for us and a part of us, so how can anything be separate from that? It is only our minds that create the separation, from the Infinite. Given this perspective, love and sexuality is the perfect topic to relate to the development of relationships and spiritual connection. We at Integrative Spirituality feel it is important to openly discuss and support the healthy integration of spirituality and sexuality.

The value of sexual expression in relation to spiritual laws has been controversial for eons. However, we have been provided with the gifts of biologically designed bodies that can not only procreate life, but experience immense delight, enjoyment and energy in the process. There are many spiritually focused groups who do not recommend wasting life force energy in sexual activity, because if not practiced properly can drain the body of power and distract the mind, creating suffering and confusion. There are also many teachings, such as the Kama Sutra and Tantric traditions, who highly value sexuality and the practices of spiritual energy flow to increase the sacred connection with another person and the Infinite. From these traditions, sexuality is a spiritual path of transformation, as powerful a tool as any.

It is the intention of Integrative Spirituality to provide you with the information, tools and resources to make the best decisions in your life, to enhance your relationships and experience of spiritual fulfillment. This information on sexuality is part of that offering, giving you the opportunity to integrate what feels true to you that supports your highest intentions.

1. The capacity to give and receive Love is a divine bestowal. It is a gift.

To Love, one has to be "open" to receiving that love. Receiving Love is an experience of happiness, because it is what our soul knows best. We came from love, and are continuously (consciously or unconsciously) in search of that experience. The process begins with having love for our self. When we have unconditional love for our self, receiving and giving love come naturally and without effort. This is what creates an opening. One cannot express freely or give openly when one is closed to the world, to other people, to one's true self, and to the divine.

Being open makes us vulnerable to receiving both the things that bring us joy and the things that make us sad. This can be frightening. The possibility of being hurt while one is expressing Love, in all its forms, is why people so often avoid relationships that are truly loving, whether this relationship is with other people, the world around them, or with God/Buddha.

Some people would describe this "openness" as empathy, humility, awe, absence of ego, the true self, innocence or wonderment. It is often all of these things. To cultivate any of these in our life, will begin the process of "opening" the heart to love for ourselves and everyone in our life.

2. Love is an energy. Think of a Loving relationship as an energy circuit.

One can have love for the self, but it is difficult for Love to be experienced in isolation. The expression is giving it and receiving it with others. Love flows energetically between people. Love flows between people and God and/or Buddha. When we give freely, openly and unconditionally of oneself it is considered love. This is also manifest in God and/or Buddha’s relationship to us. It is the purest gift we can give another person. It is also the purest expression of ourselves that we can have towards the world and radiate out in all of our brilliance and glory of spiritual beings.

We can activate this within ourselves. We can activate this in other people by loving them. We thus actualize this benevolent "energy circuit" in the world around us, for the benefit of all and can access it anytime. This energy has a viral and cumulative effect. The more one Loves, the more one can - and will - receive Love from others.

Become conscious of the love you have to give to all and how much love there is in your relationships and life. By realizing the abundance of love you already have, it attracts more. Give your Love to all. Receive all Love from all.

The act of Loving is "paying forward" that which has been gifted to us, making the kind of difference we all strive for at the level of the soul.

Read the rest of the article.

The article highly recommends reading on spirituality and sexuality, Transcendent Sex by Jenny Wade -- I can ditto that -- very cool book.

TED Talks - Al Seckel: Your Brain Is Badly Wired -- Enjoy It!

A great TED Talk from a year and half or so ago.
Al Seckel, a cognitive neuroscientist, explores the perceptual illusions that fool our brains. Loads of eye tricks help him prove that not only are we easily fooled, we kind of like it.

Seckel takes great delight in visual illusions and the brain mechanics that they reveal. A cognitive neuroscientist who until 2005 was at the California Institute of Technology, he is the author of many books and articles and has compiled several eye tricks calendars. Seckel has designed interactive museum exhibits around the world that allow visitors to play with illusions and understand how they work.

He is a noted lecturer, a member of the Edge Foundation, a founder of the Southern California Skeptics, a campaigner against the teaching of creationism in public schools -- and co-creator of the Darwin Fish. Since leaving Caltech in 2005 to pursue writing and his own research, he has continued his work in spatial imagery with psychology researchers at Harvard.

Revelle Forum at the Neurosciences Institute: Joan Didion

Very cool.
Join us for a public conversation with author Joan Didion regarding her latest work, Political Fictions, a collection of essays exploring the growing "disconnect" between America's "permanent professional political class"—politicians, pollsters, reporters, campaign advisers, fundraisers, major donors—and an electorate increasing alienated from the political process.

Friday, November 07, 2008

Silverton, Oregon elects nations first transgender mayor

Very cool - a step forward in gender identity issues.
Silverton, Oregon elects nations first transgender mayor

Barack Obama being elected America’s first African-American President wasn’t the only first this year, as Silveron, Oregon has now entered the record books as the first place in America to ever elect a transgender mayor.

Stu Rasmussen was elected mayor of Silverton, Oregon by a handsome margin of 13%. Rasmussen had previously had 2 terms as mayor in the 1990’s, but as a man, before he had breast implants and wore high heels.

“I indentify mostly as a heterosexual male,” Rasmussen said. “But I just like to look like a female.”

He attributes his victory to his knowledge of the issues. “The first 30 seconds they think, am I in a freak show? Is there a camera behind me? What’s going on here?” said Rasmussen. “And then we get down to discussing whatever the issue is — city business or whatever — and they figure out this guy’s different, but he knows what he’s talking about.”

Satire - Failure to Blow Election Stuns Democrats

Heh . . . . From Andy Borowitz.

Failure to Blow Election Stuns Democrats

Party Faithful Mourn End to Losing Tradition

Just minutes after their party's longstanding losing tradition lay in tatters on the ground, millions of shell-shocked Democrats stared at their television screens in disbelief, asking themselves what went right.

For Democrats, who have become accustomed to their party blowing an election even when it seemed like a sure thing, Tuesday night's results were a bitter pill to swallow.

The head-shaking and finger-pointing over the demise of the Democrats' losing streak, which many of the party faithful had worn like a badge of honor, reached all the way to the upper echelons of the Democratic National Committee.

"Believe me, I'm as shocked by these results as anybody," said DNC chief Howard Dean, who indicated he has received hundreds of calls from incredulous party members. "We did everything in our power to screw this thing up."

Dean pointed to several key elements the Democrats put in place to ensure defeat, ranging from "a rancorous primary campaign" to "the appointment of me."

"Somehow, despite our best efforts to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory, we won," he said. "I came in here with a mandate to blow this thing and I didn't get it done."

Carol Foyler, a lifelong Democrat who owns a loom supply store in Portland, Maine, said she has been "nearly catatonic" since the election results were announced.

"For the past eight years, I've fixed myself some herbal tea, turned on NPR, and ranted about the Republicans," she said. "All that has been taken from me."

Elsewhere, Sen. John McCain offered this comment on Sen. Barack Obama's victory: "My friends, I've got him just where I want him."

Ego and Self

From Twitter today:
moritherapy: question to my buddhist friends: fear of connecting deeply with dharma/the divine = fear of ego death?

me: yes, with some qualifications

and the qualifications are ... ?
I promised a reply of some sort, so here I go (please note that these are only my views and my understanding of Buddhist ideas and Western psychology).

In general, the answer to the question is YES. Ego fears its own dissolution and doesn't realize that any experience of deep connection with the divine is only temporary and will not result in the annihilation of the ego.

But ego is not a singular thing, but rather a collection of smaller selves (subpersonalities) -- ego is the attempt by the brain to make some kind of continuity out of the smaller selves.

Confused yet?

Now here is the kicker -- behind all of this is the Self that doesn't fear anything, least of all a connection with the divine. Higher self, authentic self, anterior self, true self, Self (even Buddhanature?) -- it goes by many names, but this is the self that is always already enlightened (to an extent). This is also the self that seeks that union, the nondual experience -- it's already plugged into that reality in a way ego never can be.

The ego (that fragile collection of small selves) eventually learns through meditation practice that it does not die if it is transcended for moments or minutes. As it begins to learn this, it lessens its hold over the psyche and we become less constrained by its limits. The more we meditate and practice various forms of mindfulness, the less it -- the ego -- feels a need to hold on, knowing that we always come back to the body and its collection of smaller selves we call "me."

Don Beck on Resilience and Emergence: Beyond Polarization and Blame

BlogTalkRadio recently talked with Don Beck, co-founder of Spiral Dynamics. Very interesting conversation.

Resilience and Emergence: Beyond Polarization and Blame

Guest: Don Beck.

Don Edward Beck, Ph.D., has inspired thousands of people toward a new experience of organizational and personal empowerment through Spiral Dynamics™, his unique values-based model that charts the evolution and emergence of human nature and society. Dr. Beck has very practically applied this model in a number of global hot spots, including South Africa and the Middle East. In this special post-election conversation, we will explore what "sustainable culture" might look like. In particular, we'll be talking about the American political system, and the need to move beyond our current political stereotypes in order to deal with our many environmental and economic problems.

Atheists Are Nice People Too

Many of the religious claims against atheism (other than that they believe in God and so should you) center on the notion that religion -- and belief in God -- is necessary for a moral society. Some research supports this, but more recent anthropological research does not. Paul Bloom, writing at Slate, has a look at the issue.

Does Religion Make You Nice? Does atheism make you mean?

Many Americans doubt the morality of atheists. According to a 2007 Gallup poll, a majority of Americans say that they would not vote for an otherwise qualified atheist as president, meaning a nonbeliever would have a harder time getting elected than a Muslim, a homosexual, or a Jew. Many would go further and agree with conservative commentator Laura Schlessinger that morality requires a belief in God—otherwise, all we have is our selfish desires. In The Ten Commandments, she approvingly quotes Dostoyevsky: "Where there is no God, all is permitted." The opposing view, held by a small minority of secularists, such as Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, Sam Harris, and Christopher Hitchens, is that belief in God makes us worse. As Hitchens puts it, "Religion poisons everything."

Arguments about the merits of religions are often battled out with reference to history, by comparing the sins of theists and atheists. (I see your Crusades and raise you Stalin!) But a more promising approach is to look at empirical research that directly addresses the effects of religion on how people behave.

In a review published in Science last month, psychologists Ara Norenzayan and Azim Shariff discuss several experiments that lean pro-Schlessinger. In one of their own studies, they primed half the participants with a spirituality-themed word jumble (including the words divine and God) and gave the other half the same task with nonspiritual words. Then, they gave all the participants $10 each and told them that they could either keep it or share their cash reward with another (anonymous) subject. Ultimately, the spiritual-jumble group parted with more than twice as much money as the control. Norenzayan and Shariff suggest that this lopsided outcome is the result of an evolutionary imperative to care about one's reputation. If you think about God, you believe someone is watching. This argument is bolstered by other research that they review showing that people are more generous and less likely to cheat when others are around. More surprisingly, people also behave better when exposed to posters with eyes on them.

Maybe, then, religious people are nicer because they believe that they are never alone. If so, you would expect to find the positive influence of religion outside the laboratory. And, indeed, there is evidence within the United States for a correlation between religion and what might broadly be called "niceness." In Gross National Happiness, Arthur Brooks notes that atheists are less charitable than their God-fearing counterparts: They donate less blood, for example, and are less likely to offer change to homeless people on the street. Since giving to charity makes one happy, Brooks speculates that this could be one reason why atheists are so miserable. In a 2004 study, twice as many religious people say that they are very happy with their lives, while the secular are twice as likely to say that they feel like failures.

Since the United States is more religious than other Western countries, this research suggests that Fox talk-show host Sean Hannity was on to something when he asserted that the United States is "the greatest, best country God has ever given man on the face of the Earth." In general, you might expect people in less God-fearing countries to be a lot less kind to one another than Americans are.

It is at this point that the "We need God to be good" case falls apart. Countries worthy of consideration aren't those like North Korea and China, where religion is savagely repressed, but those in which people freely choose atheism. In his new book, Society Without God, Phil Zuckerman looks at the Danes and the Swedes—probably the most godless people on Earth. They don't go to church or pray in the privacy of their own homes; they don't believe in God or heaven or hell. But, by any reasonable standard, they're nice to one another. They have a famously expansive welfare and health care service. They have a strong commitment to social equality. And—even without belief in a God looming over them—they murder and rape one another significantly less frequently than Americans do.

Denmark and Sweden aren't exceptions. A 2005 study by Gregory Paul looking at 18 democracies found that the more atheist societies tended to have relatively low murder and suicide rates and relatively low incidence of abortion and teen pregnancy.

So, this is a puzzle. If you look within the United States, religion seems to make you a better person. Yet atheist societies do very well—better, in many ways, than devout ones.
Read the conclusion of this article.

Discussing the Global Brain and the Future of the Web (Video)

Cool discussion with some brilliant people, including my personal favorite, Howard Bloom.

At the DemoFall08 conference, back in September 9th there was a discussion titled "Where the Web is Going." After introductions and an overview of the participants, the panel discussion starts at 5:40 with the following people:

The Seven Blunders of the World

The Social Reformer took Gandhi's Seven Blunders of the World and tried to revise them for our current era. Personally, I prefer Gandhi's list, but I admire the effort and thought that went into the revised list, even if I disagree. More to the point, I admire their desire for a nonviolent world.

Here is the list Gandhi created:

The Seven Blunders of the World is a list that Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi gave to his grandson Arun Gandhi, written on a piece of paper, on their final day together, not too long before his assassination.[1] The seven blunders are:

  • Wealth without work
  • Pleasure without conscience
  • Knowledge without character
  • Commerce without morality
  • Science without humanity
  • Worship without sacrifice
  • Politics without principle

This list grew from Gandhi's search for the roots of violence. He called these acts of passive violence. Preventing these is the best way to prevent oneself or one's society from reaching a point of violence.

To this list, Arun Gandhi added an eighth blunder, rights without responsibilities.[2]

Here is the list The Social Reformer created:
This list was a result of Gandhi's search for the roots of violence. He called these acts of passive violence (greed, selfishness, hate, anger, etc.). Acts of passive violence generate anger in the victim, and since the victim has not learned how to use anger positively, the victim abuses anger and generates physical violence. He said that preventing these (blunders) is the best way to prevent oneself or one's society from reaching a point of violence.

These writings inspired us to write our own list of improprieties.

The Seven Blunders Of The World (our version)

1. words without thought
2. music without meaning
3. logic without emotion
4. religion without faith
5. family without unity
6. children without morals
7. wisdom without virtue

This list grew from our search for the roots of violence. We believe that preventing these (blunders) is a good way to prevent oneself or one's society from reaching a point of violence.
I think Gandhi created the more universal list, and certainly the list that best conforms to Buddhist ideals. If we all could practice these ideals, the world would be a much better place.

The Extended Mind: Recent Experimental Evidence

Rupert Sheldrake is often considered to be a fringe scientist. He is the only serious author I know of whose books have been deemed worthy of burning by the prestigious science journal, Nature.

In recent years he has following various lines of research that all have something to do with the notion of Extended Mind. I saw him here in Tucson last spring, and while he seems a little caught up in the Woo, he is still very interesting.

This video almost makes me wish I worked at Google.

We have been brought up to believe that the mind is located inside the head. But there are good reasons for thinking that this view is too limited. Recent experimental results show that people can influence others at a distance just by looking at them, even if they look from behind and if all sensory clues are eliminated. And people's intentions can be detected by animals from miles away. The commonest kind of non-local interaction mental influence occurs in connection with telephone calls, where most people have had the experience of thinking of someone shortly before they ring. Controlled, randomized tests on telephone telepathy have given highly significant positive results. Research techniques have now been automated and experiments on telepathy are now being conducted through the internet and cell phones, enabling widespread participation.

Rupert Sheldrake, Ph.D. is a biologist and author of more than 75 technical papers and ten books, the most recent being The Sense of Being Stared At. He studied at Cambridge and Harvard Universities, was a Fellow of Clare College, Cambridge and a Research Fellow of the Royal Society. He is currently Director of the Perrott-Warrick project, funded from Trinity College Cambridge.

Ecopsychology - Nature Heals the Modern Soul

A cool article from Scientific American Mind on ecopsychology. The article's title is about consumerism, which is a symptom of our being plugged into technology too much, but the article is more about how nature can heal the modern soul.

As an aside, addressing the title: According to the Buddha, what we call consumerism is greed, grasping, and attachment, fueled by hungry ghosts. So, yeah, it will make us crazy.

Does Consumerism Make Us Crazy?

Our emotional well-being may be affected by our addiction to technology and the great amount of time we spend indoors

Dear EarthTalk: I caught the tail end of a discussion about “ecopsychology” recently on the radio, something about the negative impacts of people not communing with nature enough, spending too much time watching TV, sitting at computers, etc... Can you enlighten?

-- Bridget W., Seattle, WA

The term ecopsychology, first coined by writer and theorist Theodore Roszak in his 1992 book, Voice of the Earth, is loosely defined as the connection between ecology and human psychology. Roszak argues that humans can heal what he calls their “psychological alienation” from nature and build a more sustainable society if they recognize that we all have an innate emotional bond with the natural world.

The basic premise is that we operate under an illusion that people are separate from nature, and that humans are more apt to derive comfort and even inspiration from contact with the natural world—with which they evolved over the millennia—than with the relatively recent construct of modern urban society. Distancing ourselves from nature, Roszak maintains, has negative psychological consequences for people and also leads to ecological devastation at the hands of a society that, as a result, lacks empathy for nature.

In a more recent essay called “Ecopsychology: Eight Principles,” Roszak, who went on to start the non-profit Ecopsychology Institute, states that the core of the mind is the ecological unconscious, which, if repressed, can lead to an “insane” treatment of nature. “For ecopsychology, repression of the ecological unconscious is the deepest root of collusive madness in industrial society,” he writes, adding that “open access to the ecological unconscious is the path to sanity.”

While many psychotherapists have adopted aspects of ecopsychology in treating various mental illnesses and psychological disorders, the teachings of Roszak and other contributors to the still-evolving field can be helpful even for those not in need of a therapist’s care. John V. Davis, a Naropa University professor who teaches and writes about ecopsychology, for example, says that meditating in the outdoors, participating in wilderness retreats, involving oneself in nature-based festivals or celebrations of the seasons or other natural phenomena, joining in Earth-nurturing activities such as environmental restoration or advocacy work, and spending time around animals (including pets, which have been shown to have healing effects with the elderly and with people with psychological disabilities) are just a few ways in which the discipline can be used by everyday people to the benefit of their psychological health.

Getting kids involved with nature and the outdoors is viewed by ecopsychology fans as key to their development, especially in the technological age we occupy now. Richard Louv, author of the book, Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature Deficit Disorder, argues that kids are so plugged into television and video games that they’ve lost their connection to the natural world. This disconnect, Louv maintains, has led not only to poor physical fitness among our youth (including obesity), but also long-term mental and spiritual health problems. His work has sparked a worldwide movement to introduce more kids to the wonders of nature through various planned and spontaneous activities.

CONTACTS: Ecopsychology Institute,; John V. Davis,; Richard Louv,; International Institute for Ecopsychology,; Project NatureConnect,

Thursday, November 06, 2008

What is Yoga All About?

Urban Monk posted this a few days back -- I think it's a great introduction to yoga, which is much more than a stretching class you do at the gym.
What is Yoga All About?

Editor’s Note: This is a guest post by Kara-Leah Grant of Prana Flow NZ.

“Yoga to me is still a gym class thing for chicks to lose weight, although I know it is so much more than that.” – Albert, Urban Monk

Oh Albert… all jokes aside, you are so right! Yoga IS so much more than that, and it is with great pleasure that I will do my best to open your eyes and your mind to what yoga is and what yoga could be.

Perhaps you’ll even be inspired to go and try a class or ten?

And if you’re inspired to open your eyes and your mind to yoga, perhaps many of your readers will be too.

Yoga at sunrise

Many thousands of years ago in India, a complete science of life was discovered. This science, called yoga, is the oldest personal development system in the world and encompasses the entire body, mind and spirit. Ultimately it leads to an awareness of the union between a person’s own consciousness and the universal consciousness. This is not an intellectual idea, but something that one will actually experience with regular yoga practice.

There are many ways to come to yoga, but the one path I wish to discuss today is the path of Asana. This is the entrance of most Westerners to the practice of yoga – postures.

So what is the Practice of Asana?

So what is the Practice of Asana?

It is the practice of bringing one’s awareness out of the mind and into the body. This is done via attention to the breath. The breath becomes the link, or the bridge that allows awareness to move from its usual location in the mind, to the body.

When one looks at a photo of someone practicing Asana, usually the first thought is something like “Wow! Look at what they can do with their body.” Yet what is being done to the body is irrelevant – a gymnast can do these things with ease, yet a gymnast is merely contorting the body, they are not practicing yoga. (Which is not to say that a gymnast may not practice yoga… perhaps some do.) No, the difference between a yogi and a gymnast is that the gymnast imposes the posture on her body from without, using her will to determine the position of her body. However a yogi is allowing their breath to take them into the posture, so that the posture is expressed from the inside out.

Read the rest of this great article.

Alice Walker’s Letter to President-elect Obama

Found this at Elephant Journal, a cool blog if you haven't seen it before (originally from In These Times).

An Open Letter to Barack Obama

By Alice Walker

Dear Brother Obama,

You have no idea, really, of how profound this moment is for us. Us being the black people of the Southern United States. You think you know, because you are thoughtful, and you have studied our history. But seeing you deliver the torch so many others before you carried, year after year, decade after decade, century after century, only to be struck down before igniting the flame of justice and of law, is almost more than the heart can bear.

And yet, this observation is not intended to burden you, for you are of a different time, and, indeed, because of all the relay runners before you, North America is a different place. It is really only to say: Well done. We knew, through all the generations, that you were with us, in us, the best of the spirit of Africa and of the Americas. Knowing this, that you would actually appear, someday, was part of our strength. Seeing you take your rightful place, based solely on your wisdom, stamina and character, is a balm for the weary warriors of hope, previously only sung about.

I would advise you to remember that you did not create the disaster that the world is experiencing, and you alone are not responsible for bringing the world back to balance. A primary responsibility that you do have, however, is to cultivate happiness in your own life. To make a schedule that permits sufficient time of rest and play with your gorgeous wife and lovely daughters. And so on. One gathers that your family is large. We are used to seeing men in the White House soon become juiceless and as white-haired as the building; we notice their wives and children looking strained and stressed. They soon have smiles so lacking in joy that they remind us of scissors. This is no way to lead. Nor does your family deserve this fate.

One way of thinking about all this is: It is so bad now that there is no excuse not to relax. From your happy, relaxed state, you can model real success, which is all that so many people in the world really want. They may buy endless cars and houses and furs and gobble up all the attention and space they can manage, or barely manage, but this is because it is not yet clear to them that success is truly an inside job. That it is within the reach of almost everyone.

I would further advise you not to take on other people’s enemies. Most damage that others do to us is out of fear, humiliation and pain. Those feelings occur in all of us, not just in those of us who profess a certain religious or racial devotion. We must learn actually not to have enemies, but only confused adversaries who are ourselves in disguise. It is understood by all that you are commander-in-chief of the United States and are sworn to protect our beloved country; this we understand, completely. However, as my mother used to say, quoting a Bible with which I often fought, “hate the sin, but love the sinner.”

There must be no more crushing of whole communities, no more torture, no more dehumanizing as a means of ruling a people’s spirit. This has already happened to people of color, poor people, women, children. We see where this leads, where it has led.

A good model of how to “work with the enemy” internally is presented by the Dalai Lama, in his endless care-taking of his soul as he confronts the Chinese government that invaded Tibet. Because, finally, it is the soul that must be preserved, if one is to remain a credible leader. All else might be lost; but when the soul dies, the connection to earth, to peoples, to animals, to rivers, to mountain ranges, purple and majestic, also dies. And your smile, with which we watch you do gracious battle with unjust characterizations, distortions and lies, is that expression of healthy self-worth, spirit and soul, that, kept happy and free and relaxed, can find an answering smile in all of us, lighting our way, and brightening the world.

We are the ones we have been waiting for.

In Peace and Joy,

Alice Walker

Beyond Rahm Emanuel

Rahm Emanuel has been named and (finally) accepted the job of being Obama's chief of staff.

Thinking out loud, I would like to see a fairly bipartisan cabinet. Here are a couple of thoughts:

Colin Powell - Secretary of Defense
Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. - Head of the EPA
Janet Napolitano - Attorney General
Bill Richardson - Secretary of State
Condoleezza Rice - National Security Adviser

What think you? Who would you like to see in the various cabinet positions?

America - 24 Hours Later

I am thrilled that Obama was elected president, and I am thrilled that he was elected as the best candidate, not as the black candidate.

Many of us who rejoiced in this election win now look to what lies ahead.

Obama has been given the toughest, most thankless job in the nation. He faces a nation struggling with economic depression, tremendous disparity between rich and poor, broken educational and health care systems, and two "wars" that are looking more and more impossible to "win." Add to this a social security system and medicare system facing bankrupcy, infrastructure that is literally falling apart beneath our feet and cars, and eight years of Bush administration "signing orders" that violate the constitution and need to be undone.

Obama was a better choice than McCain, but he is no magician -- and he is NOT the savior that the right parodied him as (or that the left want him to be - no man can live up to that burden).

In all reality, he will have 24 months in which to get something done. Healthcare reform, the economic crisis, and the money pit (and blood bath) that is Iraq must be the top priorities. More to the point, however, Obama must build a bipartisan team with which to tackle these problems.

We all know that the conservative approach has not worked (although Bush was the least conservative Republican in many years), and most of us know the liberal approach will not work any better -- there needs to be a third way, neither conservative nor liberal, just effective.

As a nation, we need to seek solutions that are free from politics, free from bickering, and free from hatred and discrimination. This will not be easy, and it probably will not happen, but that is what we need.

For a more detailed look at where Obama and his team should put their energies, check out How to Save the World - Obama's Top Ten Tasks.

Pure Silliness

A writer at the Wall Street Journal thinks Bush has been treated unfairly. Say what?

The treatment President Bush has received from this country is nothing less than a disgrace. The attacks launched against him have been cruel and slanderous, proving to the world what little character and resolve we have. The president is not to blame for all these problems. He never lost faith in America or her people, and has tried his hardest to continue leading our nation during a very difficult time.

Our failure to stand by the one person who continued to stand by us has not gone unnoticed by our enemies. It has shown to the world how disloyal we can be when our president needed loyalty -- a shameful display of arrogance and weakness that will haunt this nation long after Mr. Bush has left the White House.

Let's see: he used a terrorist attack that had the world rallying behind us to launch a foolish war; he systematically gutted the Constitution, he concentrated power in the executive branch, again gutting the separation of powers; he authorized torture; a took a surplus and created the greatest deficits in history; he created bigger social programs (which failed) than any president since Johnson; he refused to allow himself or his staff to testify before Congress on possibly impeachable offenses; and the list could go on.

Unfair? Pure silliness. Sure, the left has made fun of him, but he is an easy target, as are all presidents.

He abandoned this nation and it's ideals, not the other way around.

Connectomics - Tracing the Wires of the Brain

A cool article on the brain from the Dana Foundation. It's fascinating to watch the explosion in knowledge about the brain. We are at a time comparable to the great explorers when it comes to brain research. It'll be decades, I think, before anyone really begins to understand what they are looking at, but that's cool, too.


Tracing the Wires of the Brain

By Sebastian Seung, Ph.D.
About Sebastian Seung, Ph.D.
November 03, 2008

Scientists working with rapidly advancing computer technology and electron microscopes hope one day to map the billions of neuronal connections in the brain. The resulting map, or “connectome,” could help us understand memory, intelligence and mental disorders, Dr. Sebastian Seung writes.

Suppose that someone gave you a radio and asked you to figure out how it works. You could try measuring electrical signals inside it, but the measurements might not be sufficient. You might be more successful if you were also given a circuit diagram illustrating all the components of the radio and how they are connected to each other.

Now imagine that your goal is to discover how a brain works. A map of brain connections would be helpful for interpreting measurements of the signals transmitted between neurons. In the human brain, these signals travel in a complex network of 100 billion or so neurons, each of which is connected to 10,000 others.

Such a map of a brain, human or otherwise, does not yet exist. But as technology advances, researchers are setting their sights on the “connectome,” a word coined in a 2005 study by Olaf Sporns and colleagues to describe a complete map of connections in a brain or a piece of a brain.

Genome and Connectome

“Connectome” was coined in analogy with the “genome”—the entirety of an organism’s hereditary information—studied by biologists. To imagine how the story of the connectome will unfold over the next few decades, it’s helpful to recall the history of the genome.

In 1953 James Watson and Francis Crick proposed the double helix structure for DNA. The double helix consists of a long chain of repeated units called nucleotides, of which there are four types: A, C, G, and T. Hereditary information is written in DNA using this alphabet of four letters. In the human genome, the sequence of nucleotides is about one billion letters long. The reading of this sequence was finally completed by the Human Genome Project in 2003.

The story of the connectome began when scientists first realized that the brain comprises a network of neurons. This happened around 1900, well before the double helix of Watson and Crick. But the connectome story is still in the future, and I believe the discoveries that compose this saga will be among the great prizes of 21st-century neuroscience.

Revealing connectomes will be much more difficult than identifying genomes. But I and others are now optimistic that the connectome will eventually be transformed from dream into reality. A new field of neuroscience will be created: “connectomics.” This new field will be driven by new technologies, as we will see. It will take shape alongside other research approaches, and these multiple methods will provide better insight into the brain’s complex structure than any individual method can.

Three-Dimensional Nanoscale Imaging

Connectomics is more challenging than genomics; the structure of the brain is extraordinarily complex. You have probably seen images of neurons before. A single neuron has a fantastic shape, forking out many branches to form a tree-like structure. But if you have only seen pictures of neurons in isolation, you may not fully appreciate the complexity of brain structure.

Before researchers study a single neuron under a microscope, they inject it with a stain. The neurons around it remain invisible because without the stain they are transparent. This technique is valuable for seeing the shape of a single neuron clearly. However, it does not give an accurate impression of what the brain is really like, because neurons are not islands in the brain. Instead, their forking branches are tightly entangled with each other. The brain can be compared to a giant bowl of spaghetti, in which each strand has been replaced by a complex, branched noodle.

Because their branches are so tightly entangled, neurons are locked in a multi-way embrace. At a point of contact between a pair of neurons, they can form a synapse, a junction at which one neuron sends chemical messages to another. When a synapse exists, the pair of neurons is said to be “connected.” The term should not be taken too literally, as there is still a narrow gap separating the two neurons, and the molecules in chemical messages have to float across this gap. The term is used in the metaphorical sense of communication, just as two people talking on cell phones are said to be connected. The efficacy of communication between a pair of connected neurons is known as the “strength” of the connection. If two neurons are strongly connected, the messages between them come in loud and clear, but if they are weakly connected, the messages are faint. Entanglement increases contact points between neurons, providing more potential locations for synapses, which allow neurons to communicate, or be “connected.”

Although entanglement is a crucial aspect of brain structure, it’s impossible to see with an ordinary light microscope. According to the laws of physics, structures smaller than the wavelength of light cannot be seen clearly using such a microscope.* The thinnest branches of neurons are less than a tenth of a micron in diameter, which is less than the wavelength of visible light. Luckily, another kind of microscope uses electrons rather than light, and yields images with much higher spatial resolution. With an electron microscope, the branches of neurons can be seen clearly, even when they are tightly packed together in the brain.

By itself, a microscope cannot be used to see the interior of the brain, which is essential for observing brain structure. So, to see every location in the brain, scientists slice brain tissue into thin sections with a knife. By the combined use of the knife and the microscope, a sequence of two-dimensional images is acquired. Together these images show the entire three-dimensional brain structure.

Read the whole article.

Integral Leadership Review - October 2008

The new issue of Integral Leadership Review is up and has been for a few days already (I'm a little behind in non-election posting this week).

Table of Contents, October 2008

  • Leadership Quote: Dee Hock
  • Leading Comments: This Issue
  • Integral Theory and Integral Action, Part 12: Mark Edwards and Russ Volckmann
  • Leadership Coaching Tip: Amiel Handleman, Brutal Facts Plus Positive Emotion
  • A Fresh Perspective: Integral Futures: A Conversation with Christopher Cooke
  • Review in Depth: Jordan McLeod, Marilyn Hamilton’s Integral City, including a discussion with the author
  • Article: Zachary Stein, Myth Busting and Metric Making: Refashioning the Discourse about Development
  • Article: Sunil Ahuja, Jon Ebersole, Otto Laske, Pia Neiwert, Mirna Perez and Ron Stewart, Business Leadership for an Evolving Planet: The Need for Transformational Thinking in Intercultural and International Environments
  • Integral for the Masses: Keith Bellamy, Holding Leaders to Account or Letting Them Squirm
  • Article: Bruce Lloyd, Power, Responsibility & Wisdom: Exploring the Issues at the Core of Ethical Decision-making
  • Article: Mark Walsh, Learning Integral the Hard Way—An Autobiographical Account of Martial Arts, Peace and the Pieces of the Puzzle
  • Article: Raquel Torrent, The Leadership of the Heart: Eagle’s Flight through Life Experiences in the Awakening of Integral Spain
  • Leadership Cartoon: Bill Bates Update
  • Leadership Cartoon: Guest Cartoonist, Mark Hill
  • Article: Debbe Kennedy, Open Invitations: Engaging People One Dialogue at a Time
  • Article: Janet E. Rechtman, Towards an Ideal of Global Leadership
  • Global Values Update: Alan Tonkin, Developing a Sustainable Democracy in South Africa? How Understanding Different Values Can Shape Our Democracy
  • Article: John Renesch, Conscious Leadership: Transformational Approaches to a Sustainable Future

  • Notes from the Field
  • David V. Day, Michelle M. Harrison and Stanley M. Halpin. An Integrative Approach to Leader Development: Connecting Adult Development, Identity, and Expertise.
  • Ann Howard, Ph.D. and Richard S. Wellins, Ph.D., Confidence in GLOBAL LEADERSHIP FORECAST 2008|2009: Overcoming the Shortfalls in Developing Leaders.
  • Richard John Hatala and Lillas Marie Hatala, “The Business Case for Leadership Development”.
  • Lillas Marie Hatala and Cheryl Dougan, Integrative Leadership: Let Spirit Be the Lead of Your Life, Study Guide.
  • Coda: Daniel Goleman and friends, Knowing our Emotions, Improving Our World

Obama's Conspiracy of Hope: Now that he is President, the Hard Work Begins

Another article on the day after, this one from Ovi.

Obama's Conspiracy of Hope: Now that he is President, the Hard Work Begins
by Emanuel L. Paparella

A few years ago a movie came out titled Head of State whose protagonist was the African-American comedian Chris Rock playing Mays Giliam, an ordinary community organizer and politician (a mere councilman) who regularly and magnanimously comes to people’s aid. A twist of fate (due to a presidential candidate dying suddenly) makes some political campaigners scheme to make Mays the presidential candidate, with the certainty that the idealist Giliam, lacking the necessary Machiavellian instincts, could not possibly win.

However, Giliam gets wind of the scheme in mid-campaign, stands up for what he believes by addressing issues that are central to the hearts of the majority of Americans, such as taxes and health care, and clinches the country's top political office by appealing to the apathetic middle and lower class voters and educating them on their plight. It is this population of the unseen, constituting the backbone of America, that ultimately gets Mays Giliam into the White House.

At the time (around 2003) when the film appeared, most viewers, including myself, interpreted it as pure fantasy; a spirited comedy for pure enjoyment and entertainment, not reflecting the real world of “real politik.” Such a naïve strategy, most of us mused, would never impress the people and win the American presidency. In retrospect Obama proved us wrong, for the film can now be seen as a sort of prophetic precursor to Obama’s winning campaign. Like Jiliam, he was thrust in the limelight by a speech he gave at the 2004 DNC and the unexpected withdrawal from of a strong Republican candidate from the US Senate race because of a personal scandal. Synchronicity or providential? Be that as it may, we viewers of the above mentioned film were unable to muster enough imagination, or to put it in Obama’s own words, the audacity to hope to dream such a scenario. We feared being disappointed and so opted for the safety of our tried and true political cynicism; this film was a mere fantasy and would never come true. In other words we continued contemplating things as they are existentially and not things as they could or ought to be. Here too Obama proved us wrong. Five short years after the movie he showed us that what appeared dreamy fantasy could become a reality, for to merely contemplate things as they are is to be stuck in a pathetically pessimistic world, a sort of deterministic trap wherein the human being far from being endowed with freedom is seen as a mere Hobbesian social cog in the big mechanistic machinery that is the universe. It is difficult to extricate oneself from such a trap and that is why we need wise leaders to show us how.

Let us now analyze the post-election political environment and hazard a few final comments, for in the final analysis, history will render the final judgment and that may take some time. In my opinion, Obama’s victory signals what the American middle class desperately needs at the moment: hope, despite the odds. The last time African-Americans had this hope was in the 60's, during the movements for social change led by Malcolm X and Martin Luther King in the US, and the independence movements in Africa and Asia. Africa in particular revolted because it could no longer stomach the exploitation and suffering of Western Capitalism and Imperialism. But something was lacking: in order for the emancipation to last, people also needed a vision of what they wanted to be, and to commit their "brains and muscles" - as Fanon would say - to making that vision a reality. More than that, the people needed an ongoing political education to understand why, within the dynamics of western capitalism and imperialism, the empowerment of ordinary people would continue to be fiercely opposed. Frantz Fanon did indeed spell out one such vision in his last book, The Wretched of the Earth, but even his vision underestimates the importance of one essential ingredient, the one that Obama's victory offers us today: HOPE. Indeed, Obama's victory affirms two things: hope as the passion that drives humanity in a quest for a better life and a better destiny transcending even time and space, and the crucial role of ordinary people - rather than the elite intelligentsia - as the essential driving force for change.

All of the above is another way of saying that much work remains to be done. Winning the election was only the first modest step of a long arduous journey; important symbolically but still the first step. Hopefully, now that he has been elected, Obama will continue reminding people of that important fact. The changes he wants to implement in the fields of education and health-care can only come about through the hard work of the citizens themselves, rather than solely through policy. A crucial element of this work will necessarily have to be a fundamental shift in America's basic attitudes. We Americans will need to be encouraged by our President to abandon the myth of pulling oneself by one’s own bootstraps, so dear to right wing protofascists and social darwinists such as of Ayn Rand of Atlas Shrugged fame; we will have to disabuse ourselves of the utilitarian delusion that the common good requires that we all pay as little taxes as possible, or the illusion that a society can long last without subsidizing the vulnerable and less privileged sections of that society such as the poor, the single mothers, the sick, the historically disenfranchised minorities, the native Americans, the Latino populations. As the African proverb, well popularized by Hillary Clinton, has it: “it takes a village to raise a child.” Obama’s charisma can perhaps lead Americans to this understanding but there is a caveat: he has to accompany his considerable eloquence with political education via concrete policies that are so demystified as to be comprehensible to the population at large, thus disabusing them of the mere veneration of grand ideas such as freedom, democracy and, in this case, hope, without an accompanying discussion of what concrete pragmatic measures will establish those values. Which is to say, theory and a thorough education in that theory comes before a mindless praxis. It takes more than mere political slogans. For indeed, liberation movements, when examined closely, reveal that they have always begun with theory and afterwards have matched rhetoric and theory with concrete action carried out by the people under the leadership of visionary wise leaders. Martin Luther King, for example, led bus boycotts and strikes and Malcolm X instilled discipline in young men, advocated for self defense by black Americans. Gandhi led people not with armies but with soul power and non-violent opposition.

Obama's historic achievement can in some way be compared to that of Nelson Mandela's release from prison and South Africa's first multi-racial elections. In both the United States and South Africa, events were accompanied by great excitement and hope, and marked a significant milestone which African peoples had worked hard, for centuries, to achieve. But in South Africa, as in other African countries, the leaders failed to impress upon their people that the change they expected would not come easy, that it required hard work from the citizens themselves and not a mere change in government leadership. They failed to demand reparation from those who had benefited from racism, or to implement a process of healing and reconciliation among the disenfranchised, something of which Bishop Tutu alone was very much aware. This is the failure that led to the high rates of crime and rape, and most recently, of the xenophobic attacks in South Africa from a population unable to see that their destiny is in their own hands, rather than in receiving a slice of the national cake presumably baked during apartheid.

I submit that the same disillusionment could occur during Obama's presidency unless he is able to mobilize the same energy he has used for the campaign to change America and its relationship with its oppressed minorities and the world at large. Obama needs to educate the people to an awareness that they, more than their leaders, have to implement the changes in their own homes and communities; those changes that he says we can all believe in. Paradoxically, President Obama will have to transform himself again into a community educator and organizer; the only difference being that this time around the community is the whole country and indeed the whole world. One of his most important tasks will be that or restoring the respect and admiration of the rest of the world (especially the Europeans) for the United States; a reputation which, after eight years of Bush policies is now in shambles. In other words, he has to educate the rest of the world to the true ideals and inalienable rights on which this country was built. To accomplish that particular task he has to move beyond rhetoric and lead by example.

It is indeed up to us, in our classrooms, offices, farms, places of worship and homes to take concrete measures that begin to redirect humanity from the current insane direction of a savage, uncaring, greedy and dehumanizing capitalism, towards human values, compassion, sharing, solidarity, the common good, caring and working for the benefit of each other. That is a vision which Ignazio Silone dubbed “the conspiracy of hope.” It is a vision which transcends the mere sharing of material possessions which only serves to confirm a materialistically oriented mind-set. What we urgently need to share is our very humanity. Only thus we can hope to envision what lies beyond mere material prosperity, as important as that might be, to a vision of a society with a genuine understanding of the concept of distributive justice (unfortunately trivialized and caricaturized by McCain and Palin as mere “distribution of wealth,” a la Santa Claus), conscious of a great spiritual truth: that it profits a human being nothing if he gains the whole world and loses his integrity, his humanity, and his very soul.