Saturday, May 16, 2009

Listening to the Right

By most standards, I'm a flaming commie liberal. I support equal rights for all human beings, oppose the death penalty, oppose war, support a woman's right to choose (even while disliking abortion - yes, I can live with the ambiguity), favor banning guns, believe in decriminalizing drugs, and a whole mess of other liberal and libertarian stances. But I am not a Democrat.

I believe in the most freedom for the most people, in the most compassionate way possible. That means universal health care, lower taxes on the poor and higher taxes on the rich, free education, and clean quality food for all people.

All these things tend to be "liberal" values, but the Democrats are not liberals, at least not the politicians. The Republicans are even worse. But there are things they hold as truths that I also value.

I believe in personal responsibility, the community as the foundation of values, that we cannot legislate equality any more than we can legislate morality (they seem to forget the second part of that), that freedom of speech applies equally in all areas not just to speech we agree with, and that sometimes (very rarely, one hopes) we must use violence to protect the weak.

When one favors one position more than another (such as liberalism), it's east to simply read those sites that support ones own beliefs - The Nation, The Progressive, In These Times, Huffington Post, and so on.

But to be well-rounded, it helps to read the other side, the conservative blogs and magazines. Here are a few that I find useful, even though I tend to disagree more often than not:

Big Hollywood (conservative forays into the culture wars)
Taki’s Top Drawer, edited by Taki Theodoracopulos (libertarian)
Weekly Standard Blog
Reason Magazine (libertarian)
No Left Turns
National Review Online
American Thinker (not always conservative, but mostly)

Anyway, for anybody who is interested, these sites are a good start to what the right thinks - and I have avoided the painfully wingnut bloggers such as Michelle Malkin, Little Green Footballs, and the rest - they are not so much conservative as ignorant.

FitBits - Fitness News You Can Use

A collection of current research from Exercise ETC.

I have a couple of thoughts on this first article. First, this was only a 4-week study, so we don't how this might work over the long term (but the findings are concerning). More importantly, however, there are antioxidants that both protect against cellular damage and increase insulin sensitivity, including cinnamon and alpha lipoic acid.

While we want to increase insulin sensitivity, we also want to avoid getting cancer and keep our immune systems strong

And on the last study, static stretching BEFORE an event or even a training session is almost never a good idea. Warm up before and then stretch after.
Antioxidants Inhibit Improvements in Insulin Sensitivity

Reactive Oxygen Species (ROS), more commonly known as Free Radicals (FR) are believed to be partly responsible for the cellular damage that accelerates aging. Thus, controlling FR activity is at the forefront of longevity research. Antioxidant supplements, which have been studied extensively in this area, have been linked to reduced FR activity, potentially reducing the progression of age-associated diseases and disorders.

Interestingly, although controlling FR activity is perceived to be helpful in most circumstances, there is one instance where it may not be…with exercise. Exercise increases FR activity, however, in this situation FR's appear to be responsible for many of the benefits achieved via exercise by inhibiting cellular damage. Therefore, inhibiting FR activity through antioxidant supplementation may not be advisable for people who exercise.

In a study published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, researchers concluded that antioxidant supplementation inhibits improvements in insulin sensitivity with exercise. A group of 39 young men were exercised for a 4-week period, approximately half of whom used a combination of 1000mg Vitamin C and 400IU Vitamin E daily. Baseline and post-exercise measures of insulin sensitivity were collected.

Participants who used antioxidant supplements experienced no improvement in insulin sensitivity with exercise, whereas the non-antioxidant group improved significantly. Fortunately, a month after ceasing Vitamin supplementation insulin sensitivity returned to normal in the latter group.

The increasing prevalence of insulin resistance is quickly leading to an epidemic of Type II Diabetes around the world. As exercise is believed to be the most effective natural treatment for insulin resistance, both diabetics and pre-diabetic individuals should be wary of taking antioxidants if they are beginning an exercise program. Instead, the researchers recommend advocating for diets high in fruits and vegetables so that optimal antioxidant intake can be achieved without supplementation.

Kahn, C.R., et al (2009) Antioxidants prevent health-promoting effects of physical exercise in humans. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. ePub online.

* * *

Weighing-In Enhances Weight Maintenance

The biggest challenge for individuals who have lost a considerable amount of weight is often not the initial weight loss, but the maintenance of weight loss. Previous research has identified exercise to be the primary factor in whether or not someone regains weight. However, continued support is also recognized as important for successful weight maintenance. In a recent study published in the Journal of the Canadian Medical Association, researchers determined that a simply bi-weekly weigh-in along with regular phone calls is sufficient to optimize consistency with exercise and diet and prevent weight regain.

Two hundred women who had recently lost more than 5% of their original bodyweight were assigned to one of two groups. The first group received nutrition education and supervised exercise by nutritionists and exercise physiologists, while the second group received phone support from nurses along with a bi-weekly weigh-in. Some participants were educated in the use of high-carbohydrate eating, while others were encouraged to eat a diet high in mono-unsaturated fats.

Following the two-year intervention, it was determined that both groups had maintained an equivalent amount of weight. Interestingly, participants were more compliant for weigh-ins than for regular supervised exercise. Type of diet did not affect weight loss or regain.

Given the increased costs of the extensive intervention, the researchers concluded that less expensive monitoring and support could be as beneficial in weight maintenance. This could be essential for hospital and government-based programs that develop interventions for low-income populations. The practical lesson for exercise professionals is that people who lose weight may benefit from regular weigh-ins, and frequent contact may further facilitate successful long-term weight management and compliance.

Dale, K.S., et al (2009) Determining optimal approaches for weight maintenance: a randomized controlled trial. CMAJ.

* * *

Many Running Injuries Attributed to Weak Hips

Statistics indicate that between 65% and 80% of all recreational and competitive runners experience some type of overuse injury annually. Such injuries include patellofemoral knee pain, illiotibial band syndrome, shin splints, Achilles tendinopathy, plantar fasciitis, and stress fractures. The vast majority of such injuries, ~80% affect the lower-leg, with nearly 40% occurring at the knee. Unfortunately, science and medicine have yet to truly understand the mechanisms behind such injuries.

Researchers recently reviewed the literature over a 28 year span from 1980 to 2008 and concluded that two mechanisms appear to underlie all lower-leg injuries. First, a small number of studies implicated "atypical foot pronation mechanics." Pronation, which occurs during the stance phase of gait as the foot flattens causing internal rotation of the tibia and femur, is essential to generating energy for the next stride. However, excessive or insufficient pronation leads to poor energy production and consequently to excessive motion about the foot and knee.

Second, and more prominent, researchers uncovered a growing number of studies that suggest "inadequate hip muscle stabilization" leads to a majority of overuse injuries. Because the hip muscles, specifically the gluteus medius, minimus and maximus stabilize the leg during gait, poor strength or conditioning of these muscles results in excessive stress at and below the knee.

Recent studies have shown that improving hip muscle strength reduces the incidence of knee pain in runners. With running season in full-swing throughout the country along with races every weekend there's not a better time to encourage runners to maintain their strength training programs.

Ferber, R., et al (2009) Suspected Mechanisms in the Cause of Overuse Running Injuries: A Clinical Review. Sports Health. May/June

* * *

Static Stretching Before Golf Impairs Performance

The benefits of pre-exercise stretching have been questioned in recent years. The controversy stems from findings that static stretching temporarily impairs a muscles capacity to produce force rapidly. Although this might not be problematic for low intensity exercise, individuals participating in vigorous athletics may experience an increased risk of injury following a static stretching warm-up.

Golf is not often perceived as a vigorous sport. However, the golf swing is considered one of the most vigorous movements performed in all athletics, generating extraordinarily high amounts of force. Because the golf swing requires an optimal range of motion through the shoulders, hips, and spine many golfers have taken to stretching before competition to "loosen-up." Unfortunately, this may be placing them at high risk of injury, and now researchers suggest it might impair performance as well.

Researchers at Austin State University compared the effects of static and dynamic warm-up on a variety of golf measures: club-head speed, drive distance, drive accuracy, and consistency of ball contact. Fifteen young male golfers with a handicap of 5 or lower performed a dynamic warm-up, and static stretching followed by a dynamic warm-up. The dynamic warm-up consisted of 10 swings with a Momentus training club, followed by 15 full-swings with a golf club progressing from lighter to heavier clubs. The static stretching protocol included 20-minutes of golf-specific stretches held for 10 seconds each, repeated 3 times bilaterally.

Following the warm-ups participants hit 10 balls with a driver at a driving range, with 1 minute recoveries between shots. Following the static stretching protocol, participants had reduced club-head speed and consequently hit for shorter distances. In addition, accuracy was reduced by >30%, and ball contact consistency was down >15%.

This study supports the progressive philosophy of a dynamic warm-up protocol. However, the researcher suggests that static stretching may remain useful away from the range or golf course to improve golf-specific flexibility.

Gergley, Jeffrey C. (2009) Acute Effects of Passive Stretching During Warm-up on Driver Clubhead Speed, Distance, Accuracy, and Consistent Ball Contact in Young Male Competitive Golfers. JSCR. 23(3): 863-867.

Barry Boyce’s Mindful Society Pages — “Improvi-satori”

Barry Boyce, Senior Editor of the Shambhala Sun, has a new column called The Mindful Society Pages - here is his first column.

Barry Boyce’s Mindful Society Pages — “Improvi-satori”


By Barry Boyce
Senior Editor of the Shambhala Sun

Welcome to The Mindful Society Pages, the online counterpart to my new column in the Shambhhala Sun, “The Mindful Society.” It’s a chance to talk about interesting people who are doing groundbreaking work in bringing mindfulness and other contemplative disciplines into all areas of society.


A prime example of the sort of person I’ll feature in the Pages is Nancy Bardacke, a midwife who developed Mindfulness-Based Birthing and Parenting, which married her experience of being a midwife with the training she later received in Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction from Jon Kabat-Zinn and others. We talked together for about an hour the other day, and it became clear that Nancy is a lively and lovely talker who would clearly be great to have around if you’re planning to engage in the birth process. (I’ll be featuring her work in The Mindful Society column in the August/September issue of the Shambhala Sun.)

Nancy understands birth, not just physiologically and psychologically, but also from the point of view of what a vital moment it is in the lives of a network of human beings. The parents, the extended family, the community, the child. The time leading up to the birth, the birth itself, and the aftermath — parenthood! — are life-changing. So often, sadly, the whole process is inordinately painful, and very bad results can ensue.

Parents don’t necessarily allow this primal process to bring their attention to what’s truly important in life. It’s easy to see it as something to get through, and perhaps mindfulness will help you get through it better. But what Nancy and the people she is training to do this kind of work offer, and what parents discover, is an opportunity to be transformed by getting intimately in touch with what’s going on in the bodies and minds of all concerned. It’s a ensemble. Not a solo performance.

That’s what The Mindful Society is about. It’s not about how if we pay closer attention and increase our focus, we’ll get better and better at what we do and become better and better with each passing day until we become truly, awesomely, mindful. Perhaps from a certain perspective that is true. But what is much more true — and what the pioneers in the field of bringing mindfulness into all walks of life emphasize — is that paying attention is transformative. The attention-payer finds him or herself being born into a new world that is also the same old world.


Mindfulness practice is not the nanny state of the mind, the idea that if we watch ourselves incredibly closely, we’ll get it right. (I’m reminded of all those signs that can end up cluttering retreat centers, such as “Be Mindful of Shower Curtains.” I get the point but we won’t break free from an overemphasis on ourselves by watching ourselves like hawks.) By paying real attention and more and more comprehensively, we begin to notice how the world is coming into being all the time.

Many teachers I’ve talked to lately have emphasized that as we begin to become more and more accustomed to paying attention, it becomes less of what John Tarrant calls “a peak performance kind of thing” and much more about being open to discovery. We become less concerned about being mindful of X, Y, or Z (shower curtain, raisin, the smell of a shirt that needs to be washed) and rather just let ourselves be mindful. Full stop.

In chatting with Joan Sutherland about the development of an attitude of feeling your way along arising from meditation practice-which helps us with uncertainty, chaos, and loss, since we don’t have any idea of what is “out there” to be mindful of-she called it “improvisatory mind.” I said “What?” She repeated it, and I tried to pronounce it, and failed several times, until I noticed it ended in “satori.” Then it came out beautifully: improvi-satori. We had a real big laugh.

* * *


When I had a coffee with Frank Ostatseski, the founder of Zen Hospice and the Metta Institute, recently in San Francisco, he talked about the quality of having to feel your way when spending time with the dying. You need to be able to improvise, even to play, in the space surrounding death (a friend’s hospital room, for example), rather than enter it with a preconceived notion of what death is and how you can help someone deal with it.

We talked about an improvisatory jazz concert I had heard several nights before, when the group Oregon played at Yoshi’s. Ralph Towner and Paul McCandless, principals in that group (who have played together for almost 40 years) both taught improvisation at the Naropa Institute. The thing that rang true for Frank about the seemingly strange similarity between the space swirling around with a jazz quartet and the space around a dying person is that good players listen very deeply, with trust that something will be born out of the mutual space. They do not spend their time thinking about what they can contribute next, what they can do next. Real mindfulness allows us to be comfortable with the pregnant quality of open, uncertain space (what is known in Tibetan Buddhism as a bardo), knowing that birth will surely follow-no matter what we try to do about it.

* * *


To top it all off, the week after talking to Frank, I ended up interviewing Ed Sarath, who founded the now flourishing Bachelor of Fine Arts in Jazz and Contemplative Studies at the University of Michigan. It is one of the most successful programs in contemplative studies in higher education in the nation. Sarath started it because he had long felt there was a very close relationship between improvisation and meditation practice, in that “both are grounded in a heightened sense of the present moment and they complement each other quite nicely.” We ended the conversation talking not about working together, but about playing together. That gets it, I think. Mindfulness may start out as work but it ends up as play.

If you know of any areas of life that mindfulness is infiltrating, where mindfulness can help us be more creative and playful, please let me know. If you know of any people or groups of people who are doing interesting work, I’d love to hear about them and feature them in the Pages.

This entry was created by Barry Boyce, posted on May 15, 2009 at 4:40 pm and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post.

Brain chemical reduces anxiety, increases survival of new cells

Interesting study.

Brain chemical reduces anxiety, increases survival of new cells

Animal study suggests potential new treatment for anxiety disorders and depression

New research on a brain chemical involved in development sheds light on why some individuals may be predisposed to anxiety. It also strengthens understanding of cellular processes that may be common to anxiety and depression, and suggests how lifestyle changes may help overcome both.

The animal study, in the May 13 issue of The Journal of Neuroscience, shows an important role for fibroblast growth factor 2 (FGF2), a chemical important in brain development, in anxiety. The findings advance understanding of cellular mechanisms involved in anxiety and illuminate the role of neurogenesis, or cell birth and integration in the adult brain, in this process. Together, these findings may offer new drug targets for the treatment of anxiety and potentially for depression as well.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, approximately 40 million Americans adults have anxiety disorders, and 14.8 million suffer from major depression. These disorders often co-occur: people with anxiety frequently also have depression, and research suggests that the two disorders may share common causes. Previous human studies led by the senior author, Huda Akil, PhD, at the University of Michigan and her collaborators in the Pritzker Consortium, showed that people with severe depression had low levels of FGF2 and other related chemicals. However, it was unclear whether reductions in FGF2 were the cause or effect of the disease.

This new study, led by Javier Perez, PhD, also at the University of Michigan, examined FGF2 levels in rats selectively bred for high or low anxiety for over 19 generations. Consistent with the human depression studies, the researchers found lower FGF2 levels in rats bred for high anxiety compared to those bred for low anxiety.

The study also suggests that environmental enrichment reduces anxiety by altering FGF2. Other researchers have shown that anxiety behaviors in rats can be modified by making changes to their environment, perhaps akin to lifestyle changes for people. Perez and colleagues found that giving the high-anxiety rats a series of new toys reduced anxiety behaviors and increased their levels of FGF2. Furthermore, they found that FGF2 treatment alone reduced anxiety behaviors in the high-anxiety rats.

"We have discovered that FGF2 has two important new roles: it's a genetic vulnerability factor for anxiety and a mediator for how the environment affects different individuals. This is surprising, as FGF2 and related molecules are known primarily for organizing the brain during development and repairing it after injury," Perez said.

Finally, the findings suggest that part of FGF2's role in reducing anxiety may be due to its ability to increase the survival of new cells in a brain region called the hippocampus. Previous research has suggested that depression decreases the production and incorporation of new brain cells, a process called neurogenesis. Although the researchers found that high-anxiety rats produced the same number of new brain cells as low-anxiety rats, they found decreased survival of new brain cells in high-anxiety rats compared to low-anxiety rats. However, FGF2 treatment and environmental enrichment each restored brain cell survival.

"This discovery may pave the way for new, more specific treatments for anxiety that will not be based on sedation — like currently prescribed drugs — but will instead fight the real cause of the disease," said Pier Vincenzo Piazza, MD, PhD, Director of the Neurocentre Magendie an INSERM/University of Bordeaux institution in France, an expert on the role of neurogenesis in addiction and anxiety who was not involved in the current study.


The research was supported by the National Institute of Mental Health, National Institute on Drug Abuse, Office of Naval Research, and The Pritzker Neuropsychiatric Disorders Research Fund.

The Journal of Neuroscience is published by the Society for Neuroscience, an organization of more than 38,000 basic scientists and clinicians who study the brain and nervous system. Perez can be reached at

Friday, May 15, 2009

New Poem - Untitled


the walls are clay and ivy
windswept and red, the clay
a reminder that we are not first
to this land, this now dry place
where rivers once flowed

I came to the desert seven years
ago, seeking my proverbial
forty days - phow time flies

in this time three women,
three jobs, and a new direction
that wind cannot follow, only ravens
can intuit with their wisdom

I seek the dry heart, empty veins
flowing where rivers gave life
to prickly pears pushing yellow
flowers from their limbs

in those dark hours between dusk
and dawn we know the dryness,
the hollow arteries so dry,
so empty of hope, of soothing rain

soon the monsoons will come,
lightning and torrential storms, but
nothing that nurtures, nothing
that offers compassion and softness

so that is what I seek, learning words
that will never heal a heart the way
listening will, the way love will,
the way the heart heals when someone
sees into the desert night
and calls forth the owl, the coyote,
the rattlesnake

for yes, even venom heals
when applied correctly - we must
know pain to know love,
must lose the self to gain
so much more

The Ten Commandments in the World of Star Trek

This was in my in-box today, from Belief Net. You can thank me later for weeding through all the damned pop-up ads to post this for you.

As an aside: they mention religious rites in this post, and talk about Commander Chakotay of "Star Trek: Voyager" as an example of a spiritual character. But in that same series, there is a GREAT episode where Captain Janeway undergoes an initiation of sorts, in a womb-like cave - very shamanic.

The Ten Commandments in the Worlds of 'Star Trek'

J.J. Abrams Star Trek
By Paul Asay

When Gene Roddenberry created "Star Trek," he pictured a future dominated by science and human ingenuity--without a lot of religion to muddy things up. Oh, sure, Federation crew members met scads of religious sentient beings around the galaxy, but it turns out most were worshipping computers, power generators, or toga-wearing aliens. Roddenberry didn't place a lot of faith in faith.

"Religions vary in their degree of idiocy, but I reject them all," Roddenberry once said. "For most people, religion is nothing more than a substitute for a malfunctioning brain."

So why does "Star Trek" seem to have such a yen for the Ten Commandments?

In giddy anticipation for the new "Star Trek" movie, here are 10 examples of how God's prime directives have found their way into the "Star Trek" franchise.

You Shall Not Have Any Other Gods Before Me

Vaal in Star Trek The Apple

Starship captains gun down false religions with more vigor than Old Testament prophets. Rarely do they travel more than a few light years before they come across a civilization that worships…well, almost anything, from heavy-duty mainframes to light and frothy drinks.

In "The Apple" from the original "Star Trek" series, Captain James Kirk and his crew encounter an idyllic world whose ageless inhabitants feed a computer named Vaal. It seems like a dandy setup to Mr. Spock, but Dr. McCoy argues that it can't be healthy to have all your needs met by a "hunk of tin" (perhaps shortly after polishing off a meal created by the Enterprise's replicator). Eventually, the Enterprise is forced to zap Vaal with its phasers, sending the binary being to an ignoble, smoky end.

The natives are seriously bummed, but Kirk cheers them up by telling them they can now work and struggle and get sick and die just like everyone else. Yay!

You Shall Not Make For Yourself a Carved Image

Star Trek: The Next Generation Who Watches the Watchers

God is definitely not a fan of idol worship, and the folks from the Enterprise take a very dim view of the practice, too—particularly when they're the ones being idolized.

In "Star Trek: The Next Generation"'s "Who Watches the Watchers," Captain Jean-Luc Picard is mistaken for a god by a culture just a step removed from the Stone Age. He tries to correct the matter by giving one of the inhabitants a grand tour of the ship, patiently explaining the technology behind it all as he goes. The visiting inhabitant's convinced, but the village leader? Not so much. So Picard goes down to the planet in person and nearly dies—just to prove his own mortality. It might've been easier had he just pointed to his cranium and hollered, "Don't you think if I was a god I would've given myself hair?"

Picard doesn't do faith any favors in this episode, telling the settlers they'd be better off without religion at all. Still, better that than worshipping a starship captain, right?

You Shall Not Take the Name of the Lord Your God in Vain

Deep Space Nine In the Hands of the Prophets

"Star Trek" crews tend to eschew profanity: They're far too urbane to curse every time they run across a Romulan cruiser—unlike, say, their sci-fi brethren from "Battlestar Galactica," who let loose any "frakking" time they want. But this commandment goes beyond the concept of cursing and suggests that we should treat God respectfully. And, in "Star Trek"'s ethos, that goes for other people's gods, too.

Teen Jake Sisko learns all this during "Deep Space Nine"'s "In the Hands of the Prophets." The space station boasts a large contingent of Bajorans, folks who have built a religion around all-knowing entities they call Prophets. Starfleet considers these Prophets just another breed of alien, but when Jake pooh-poohs the Prophets, his father, Commander Ben Sisko, tells him to chill.

"My point is it's a matter of interpretation," the commander says. "It may not be what you believe, but that doesn't make it wrong." Ben eventually understands this first hand when he "converts" to the Bajoran faith in a big way, becoming a mysterious prophet himself.

Remember the Sabbath Day, to Keep it Holy

Commander Chakotay of Star Trek: Voyager

It's a rare day indeed when Starfleet personnel attend, en masse, church or synagogue. But throughout "Star Trek"'s long, long run, we do see many Federation officials engage in religious rituals.

In "Star Trek: The Motion Picture," Spock breaks free from a mysterious emotion-cleansing rite to sign up for the Enterprise's newest voyage. Worf, the Klingon chief of security in "Star Trek: The Next Generation," engages in a prolonged, deeply spiritual ritual in "Rightful Heir."

But few characters are as observant in their spiritual rites as Commander Chakotay of "Star Trek: Voyager." It doesn't hurt that Chakotay's Native American beliefs are both practical and flashy: He appears to pray, goes on vision quests, and even helps Captain Kathryn Janeway find her spiritual animal guide.

Honor Your Father and Mother

Sarek in Star Trek Journey to Babel

Kids these days. When Spock decided to join Starfleet instead of going into Vulcan science, it ticked off his dad, Sarek, something awful. Not that he showed it much. Still, when Sarek arrives on the Enterprise as an ambassador in "Star Trek"'s "Journey to Babel," Kirk can't help but notice the father-son reunion is rather chilly—even by Vulcan standards.

But when things go awry and Sarek has the Vulcan equivalent of a heart attack, it's up to Spock to save his dear old dad. He does, of course—with a big assist from Dr. McCoy—but does he get a word of thanks?

"Spock acted in the only logical manner open to him," Sarek says. "One does not thank logic." Which, when you think about it, is Sarek's way of saying, "Atta boy, son! I'm proud of you!"

You Shall Not Murder

Star Trek The Ultimate Computer

"Star Trek" has seen its share of casualties, and Enterprise personnel do occasionally set their phasers to "kill." But murder…well, that's another thing entirely.

In "The Ultimate Computer," Kirk's Enterprise is fitted with a nifty gadget that will supposedly perform most of the ship's tasks, including those critical in battle. But when the computer starts destroying friendly ships in a mock military exercise, Kirk figures something's amiss. Turns out, the sentient machine made a mistake and is now trying to save its own skin, refusing all efforts to unplug it. Kirk eventually has to reason with the machine, arguing that in gunning down the ships and killing a crewman, the computer has committed murder—the punishment for which is death. Swayed by Kirk's logic, the machine shuts itself down and the Enterprise is saved. Again.

Too bad the HAL 9000 from "2001: A Space Odyssey" internalized this episode in its own circuits…

You Shall Not Commit Adultery

Nancy from Star Trek's The Man Trap

We all know the folks in "Star Trek" enjoy the occasional romantic dalliance. But the "comely alien in every spaceport" way of doing things doesn't fly as well when a potential conquest is married—or appears to be.

Consider "The Man Trap" from the original "Star Trek." Kirk, McCoy, and an expendable henchman beam down to visit Professor Crater and his wife, Nancy—a woman who was once an old flame of the good doctor's. But when McCoy sees Nancy, he's amazed that she hasn't aged a day, and moreover, she's making googly eyes at him.

Turns out, though, there's more going on with Nancy than botox injections. Seems she's actually a salt-hungry alien who can shape shift at will and is flirting with everyone—lusting, as it were, after their salt. Enterprise officials only discover her true identity after several crew members have been seduced to death.

Harsh? Definitely. Still, if there were more shape-shifting, salt-sucking creatures masquerading as married people on earth, infidelity might take a dip downward.

You Shall Not Steal

Klingon in Star Trek III: The Search for Spock

In most of the galaxy's more advanced cultures, stealing is considered bad. And in the straight-laced ethos of Starfleet, shoplifting a pack of gum would be enough to earn you some serious brig time.

But let's not kid ourselves: Thievery's the name of the game in "Star Trek III: The Search for Spock"—even for the good guys. Kirk steals two (count 'em) spaceships—first the Enterprise, then a Klingon "bird of prey"—in order to save his good buddy (Spock). This barely counteracts the burglary the Klingons have in mind, namely stealing a massive doomsday weapon from the Federation.

If Gene Roddenberry had been involved in the film, Starfleet personnel would've surely wrestled more with some of the script's ethics: Do the needs of the one really outweigh the needs of the many? Is it really OK to swipe a starship, even with the best of intentions? But Roddenberry didn't have much to do with this "Trek," so Kirk et al blast by these moral conundrums at warp speed.

You Shall Not Lie

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan

Starfleet personnel are loath to lie, and some galactic residents (Vulcans, for instance) are practically incapable of it. Oh, sure, a Starfleet captain will fib occasionally…but only if he really, really needs to.

All bets are off, though, if Starfleet officials are infected with gruesome, mind-gnawing Ceti eels, as were Captain Clark Terrell and First Officer Pavel Chekov in "Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan." Once these evil eels crawled into their ears and wrapped themselves around their brainstems, they suddenly found themselves fibbing more than Pinocchio (or, perhaps, Rod Blagojevich) and, in so doing, gave Khan a really serious bomb and Kirk a really serious ulcer. Terrell and Chekov hated to do it, of course: It was hard to tell what was causing them more pain—the eels or the lies.

You Shall Not Covet

Dr. Ann Mulhall in Star Trek Return to Tomorrow

Having your brain stuffed in a big, glowing orb for 600,000 years is bound to make anyone a little stir crazy. So was the case with Sargon, Thalassa, and Hanoch, the wise aliens du jour of the "Star Trek" episode "Return to Tomorrow." Sargon asks Kirk, Spock, and pretty Dr. Ann Mulhall if they can take over their bodies—just for a bit—so they can stretch their existential legs and construct permanent robots in which their brains can reside.

All goes well enough, until Hanoch, who's loitering inside Spock's uber-strong, green-blooded body, decides he'd much rather keep it. He tries to kill off Sargon, nearly convinces Thalassa to keep hers to, and performs all manner of dastardly deeds before his plans finally crumble. The moral: Coveters never prosper.

Mindful Thought Builds Brains

More evidence that mindfulness and meditation can rewire and grow the brain. More and more evidence is showing the plasticity of the brain and the benefits of meditation.

Mindful thought builds brains

By Melissa Evans, Staff Writer

A new UCLA study confirms what meditators say they have known for years: Sitting quietly and focusing the mind on a regular basis beefs up the brain's muscles.

In a study published today in the journal Neurolmage, researchers found that areas of the brain controlling emotion - the hippocampus, the orbito-frontal cortex, the thalamus and the inferior temporal gyrus - were larger among meditators than those in a control group.

Eileen Luders, lead author of the study, said looking at specific areas of the brain using an MRI gives researchers clues as to why meditators seem to cultivate positive emotions, maintain emotional stability and engage in more mindful behavior than others.

Because certain areas of the brain are closely linked to emotion, "these might be the neuronal underpinnings that give meditators the outstanding ability to regulate their emotions and allow for well-adjusted responses to whatever life throws their way," Luders said.

Turiya Moore, founder and director of Ananda Meditation Center in Torrance, said he wasn't surprised by the results of the study.

"Modern science is validating things that we have already known in ancient traditions," he said. "It's not news to us at all."

The study examined 44 people. Half of the participants practiced various forms of meditation, including zazen, samatha and vipassana. The amount of time they had been meditating varied, but the average was 24 years.

Deep concentration was a central focus of their practice, and most meditated 10 to 90 minutes every day.

Using a high-resolution, three-dimensional form of MRI, researchers divided the brain into several regions of interest and tissue types as a basis for comparison. They found significantly larger measurements in the brains of meditators; there were no areas of the brain in which the control group participants had larger measurements.

There were some limitations to the study, researchers noted. It is not known whether the meditators had larger neurons, or whether the particular "wiring" pattern was different among meditators.

The study also was not longitudinal, meaning it didn't track brain size before the meditators began their daily practice. It is possible that they had larger brains to begin with, Luders said.

She noted, however, that previous studies have mapped the brain's plasticity, looking at how other environmental factors can improve its performance.

Moore said practitioners typically report feeling less moody, less attached to material things and less negative after meditating regularly.

"You can feel that happening," he said. "You're taking energy away from certain parts of the brain and redirecting it to other parts. It's like watering the good plants." - Za Rinpoche on The Backdoor To Enlightenment

Great discussion, from the folks at

Za Rinpoche shows us The Backdoor To Enlightenment.

Za Rinpoche, a Tibetan monk, first came to the world's attention when his life story was chronicled in the first chapter of Po Bronson's bestseller, What Should I Do with My Life?

While growing up in a refugee camp in Southern India, Za Rinpoche was recognized by the Dalai Lama as the sixth reincarnation of the Za Choeje Rinpoche.

Now, in The Backdoor To Enlightenment, he shares with us the keys to immediate, profound realization and lasting peace, revealing the secrets to enlightenment that have remained hidden in the distant reaches of the Himalayas for more than a thousand years.

This revolutionary work stands out as a smart, clear guide, showing step-by-step how you can use these deep truths to transform every aspect of your life.

Za Rinpoche is the founder of the Emaho Foundation, a nonprofit organization based in Scottsdale, Arizona, dedicated to sharing Tibetan culture with the West, supporting humanitarian projects, and assisting with personal spiritual development
- Cody's Books

PsyBlog - The Psychology of Attention

Great article - nice collection of links to interesting articles. Be sure to check out their site for other cool articles.

The Psychology of Attention


How attention works, what happens when it fails and how it can be improved.

Every day we we are bombarded with perceptions, ideas and emotions and what we choose to pay attention to shapes our lives, it makes us who we are.

Attention is one of the most fascinating and highly researched areas in psychology. Psychologists have found that with training we can perform impressive feats of multitasking, we can divide our visual attention (without moving our eyes) and we are surprisingly effective at picking out just one voice from a multitude.

This series of posts looks at how attention works, how it fails and what we can do to improve it.

[Click the titles to read the full articles]


1. The Cocktail Party Effect
For psychologists the 'cocktail party effect' is our impressive and under-appreciated ability to tune our attention to just one voice from a multitude. It's a great example of just how selective our attention can be.


2. The Attentional Spotlight
Our attention moves around the visual field, often remarkably independent of our actual gaze direction. Psychologists have been forced to come up with ingenious methods for probing the abilities of our 'mind's eye'.


3. Learning to Multitask: Simultaneous Reading and Writing
Research that hints at our potential to carry out two sophisticated tasks which require conscious deliberation at the same time. Perhaps there really is no limit to our general cognitive capacity.


4. Can Visual Attention Truly Be Divided?
Measuring the electrical activity in the brain suggests people can successfully divide their attention between two different locations for several seconds.


5. 18 Ways Attention Goes Wrong
18 ways attention can go wrong, some very common, some extremely unusual, a few downright weird; each giving us an insight into how our minds work.


6. Attentional Blink and the Stream of Consciousness
We are caught in a world of metaphorical attentional blinks which, like literal eye-blinks, we usually don't notice because consciousness papers over the cracks. Consciousness is less of a smooth stream and more of a bumpy ride.


7. How Meditation Improves Attention
William James wrote that controlling attention is at "the very root of judgement, character and will". He also noted that controlling attention is much easier said than done.

→ If you enjoyed this series on attention, you might also enjoy: 7 sins of memory and the hidden workings of the mind.

Will Designer Brains Divide Humanity?

As technology continues to advance, making the agenda of the transhumanist folks a little more plausible, questions arise about how these developments might impact our sense of self, and also about the social divide that might be created between the haves (who can transform their brains) and the have-nots (who cannot afford the technology).

Would tweaking human brains widen the gulf between the world's haves and have-nots? (Image: Norbert Millauer/AFP/Getty)

Would tweaking human brains widen the gulf between the world's haves and have-nots?

(Image: Norbert Millauer/AFP/Getty)

Will designer brains divide humanity?

WE ARE on the brink of technological breakthroughs that could augment our mental powers beyond recognition. It will soon be possible to boost human brainpower with electronic "plug-ins" or even by genetic enhancement. What will this mean for the future of humanity?

This was the theme of a recent Neuroscience in Context meeting in Berlin, Germany, where anthropologists, technologists, neurologists, archaeologists and philosophers met to consider the implications of this next stage of human brain development. Would it widen the gulf between the world's haves and have-nots - and perhaps even lead to a distinct and dominant species with unmatchable powers of intellect?

One view is that this is merely the next phase in a process that has been taking place throughout human history. Humans have always played an active role in improving their own brainpower, says Lambros Malafouris of the McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research in Cambridge, UK, who was one of the organisers of the Berlin meeting. It began with inherited gene mutations that gave us uniquely "plastic" brains, capable of changing physically to meet hitherto unassailable intellectual and practical challenges.

More recent changes have been moulded through our interactions with the physical environment, and by the socially created "memes" passed down through culture. Milestones in human brain improvements over the past 2 million years have included the invention of gestures and language to describe our thoughts to others, as well as the written word and our ability to commit everything to permanent records.

These all act as extensions of our own brains, forming what Malafouris describes as a "metaplastic" system - a feedback loop between our brain's own neurology and the cultural and material demands on it. "Part of the reason Homo became sapiens lies in its unique ability to alter, modify and change what for other species remained fixed and stable," he says.

The evidence for this plasticity continues to grow. Andreas Roepstorff of Aarhus University in Denmark presented brain scans at the Berlin meeting showing that in people who meditate, the areas of the brain that control breathing are larger than the corresponding areas in people who do not (NeuroReport, DOI: 10.1097/wnr.0b013e328320012a).

Today, our minds are even more fluid and open to enhancement due to what Merlin Donald of Queens University in Kingston, Ontario, Canada, calls "superplasticity", the ability of each mind to plug into the minds and experiences of countless others through culture or technology. "I'm not saying it's a 'group mind', as each mind is sealed," he says. "But cognition can be distributed, embedded in a huge cultural system, and technology has produced a huge multiplier effect." In other words, humans already have minds evolving beyond anything seen before in history.

The next stage of brainpower enhancement could be technological - through genetic engineering or brain prostheses. Because the gene variants pivotal to intellectual brilliance have yet to be discovered, boosting brainpower by altering genes may still be some way off, or even impossible. Prostheses are much closer, especially as the technology for wiring brains into computers is already being tested (see "Dawn of the cyborgs"). Indeed, futurist and inventor Ray Kurzweil believes the time when humans merge with machines will arrive as early as 2045 (New Scientist, 9 May, p 26).

It won't be long before "clip-on" computer aids become available for everybody, says Andy Clark, a pro-enhancement philosopher at the University of Edinburgh in the UK. These could be anything from memory aids to the ability to "search" for information stored in your brain. "We'll get a flowering of brain augmentations, some seeping through from the disabled community," he says. "I see them becoming fashion items, a bit like choosing clothing." Clark says that even today, devices such as head-up displays on spectacles or simply being adept at using computer programs like Photoshop come close to being physical extensions of people's minds.

Malafouris also believes such augmentation is the next logical stage in human development. "If we accept that tool use was part of the reason we came to develop language, then why should we perceive neuro-engineering as a threat rather than as the new stone industry of the 21st century?"

Not everyone thinks this is a good idea, however. Dieter Birnbacher, a philosopher at the University of Düsseldorf in Germany, says there are risks in technological self-improvement that could jeopardise human dignity. One potential problem arises from altering what we consider to be "normal": the dangers are similar to the social pressure to conform to idealised forms of beauty, physique or sporting ability that we see today.

People without enhancement could come to see themselves as failures, have lower self-esteem or even be discriminated against by those whose brains have been enhanced, Birnbacher says. He stops short of saying that enhancement could "split" the human race, pointing out that society already tolerates huge inequity in access to existing enhancement tools such as books and education.

The perception that some people are giving themselves an unfair advantage over everyone else by "enhancing" their brains would be socially divisive, says John Dupré at the University of Exeter, UK. "Anyone can read to their kids or play them music, but put a piece of software in their heads, and that's seen as unfair," he says. As Dupré sees it, the possibility of two completely different human species eventually developing is "a legitimate worry".

Can these potential pitfalls be avoided? The guiding principle, perhaps, could be to make sure the technology is cheap enough to be open to all, much as books, computers and cellphones are today, at least in richer countries. "If this stuff can be produced cheaply and resonates with what people want to do anyway, it could take off," says Chris Gosden, an archaeologist at the University of Oxford.

There are, however, simple alternatives to technological enhancement that would achieve many of the same goals, says Dupré: education and child-rearing. Moreover, he thinks such changes can be heritable via epigenetics - the reprogramming of gene expression in offspring by exposure to cultural, maternal and environmental influences. Dupré points to a study in rats showing that good maternal care was passed on largely because it permanently altered gene activity in the brains of the pups.

The upshot is that drastic changes are not the only way for our brain to evolve. "There will be a lot of evolution, but it won't be classic neo-Darwinist changes in the genome," says Dupré. "It will be changes in the environment, in technology and in the availability of good education." We should not tweak our genes, he adds. "I don't think souping up people's genomes is the way to go."

Whether we choose implants or not, our minds are destined to carry on evolving. "Given the right environment, most humans have an amazing potential to develop exciting mental capabilities," says Dupré.

Gosden agrees. "We're part of one long experiment and have no idea of the outcome, and being a Luddite is as much a leap into the unknown as adopting new technology," he says. "There's such a huge input from the material world that we're only partly in control of what happens."

Dawn of the cyborgs

Brain implants are already on their way. Four severely disabled people have already been fitted with hardware enabling them to interface with computers. Pioneered by neuroscientist John Donoghue at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island, the BrainGate technology allows paralysed people to move a cursor on a computer screen, open emails, and operate lights or the TV.

Some researchers have gone even further. Andrew Schwartz and colleagues at the University of Pittsburgh in Pennsylvania have inserted computer chips into macaque brains that enable them to guide a prosthetic arm to feed themselvesMovie Camera.

Schwartz and other researchers are also contemplating implants that allow people to "speak" through computer systems, possibly by using wireless communication.

The US military is getting involved, with the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency developing a prosthetic arm controlled by the brain through its "revolutionising prosthetics" programme, backed by $50 million over six years.

Women and Sex - Two Articles

Two interesting and almost contradictory articles on women and sex. One article suggests that women who are more emotionally intelligent have better sex, and the other suggests that depressed women have more sex.

Hmmm . . . emotionally intelligent sounds better than depressed.

Woman and her partner
Being in touch with your emotions helps in the bedroom

Women who are more "emotionally intelligent" get greater pleasure from sex, research on twins suggests.

A study of more than 2,000 female twins showed that those with greater emotional intelligence had larger numbers of orgasms.

These women were better able to monitor their own and others' feelings and emotions, which is key, say the King's College London investigators.

Their findings appear in The Journal of Sexual Medicine.

Most women, and men for that matter, will have this problem at some stage in their life

Paula Hall, a sexual psychotherapist for Relate

All of the 2,035 participants completed questionnaires giving details of their sexual behaviour and performance and also answered questions designed to test their emotional intelligence.

The research found a significant association between emotional intelligence and the frequency of orgasm during masturbation and intercourse.

Professor Tim Spector, director of the Twin Research Department at King's College London and co-author of the study, said: "These findings show that emotional intelligence is an advantage in many aspects of your life including the bedroom.

"This study will help enormously in the development of behavioural and cognitive therapies to improve women's sexual lives."

In tune

Up to a third of women find it difficult or impossible to reach a climax during sex.

Lead author Andrea Burri said: "Emotional intelligence seems to have a direct impact on women's sexual functioning by influencing her ability to communicate her sexual expectations and desires to her partner."

She added that there was a possible connection with a woman's ability to fantasise during sex or her feeling of control over the act.

Paula Hall, a sexual psychotherapist for Relate, said: "Emotional intelligence is most important in terms of overcoming problems.

"Most women, and men for that matter, will have this problem at some stage in their life. It's often situational - you are tired or stressed or having relationship problems, for example.

"It's not just about technique and the environment being right.

"If you are aware of your own emotions and can identify the issues and communicate them, you are more likely to be able to resolve the difficulty."
This all sounds like good stuff. Being more emotionally intelligent tends to make us more aware of our own feelings, as well as those of the person we are with. This can only make sex better.

The next article, however, is a little less positive.

RESOLVED: Depressed Women Have More Sex

By The Stimulist | May 13th, 2009

resolved a copy RESOLVED: Depressed Women Have More Sex

Debbie Downer’s been putting in work. According to a study of single Australian women, depressed women have a third more sex than happy ones. A THIRD. Happy women reported having sex once a week on average—while women suffering from mild to moderate depression had “more of everything.” Quote: “It was more sex and more of everything from kissing to petting, foreplay and intercourse. We knew this anecdotally from clinical samples but this is the first time it’s been shown in research.” Remarkable.

Dr. Sabura Allen says depressed women tend to have more casual sex, and use sex to make themselves feel more secure. OK. Fair enough. But we wondered: could it be that depressed women are drawn to sex because their bodies “know” that sex alleviates depression (sort of the way the body craves salt when it’s dehydrated, because it “knows” that salt prompts liquid retention)? Is sex the new Prozac? (No, wait. Sarafem is the new Prozac. But you know what we mean.)

It was a good thought. Sex, it seems, does not cure depression—at least, not in the long term. At least, not if you use condoms. See, this is where it gets complicated with sex and depression. No one seems to know for sure what’s up. Some researchers claim that unprotected sex can help reduce depression for women. Our first question, reading this, was: were those researchers men? But apparently they’re on to something. There’s a hormone called prostoglandin, found only in semen, that when absorbed in a woman’s body can modulate her hormones. We love it. Risk of STDs and unwanted pregnancy aside, unprotected sex (with men) might calm a woman down. Of course, others suggest that in both men and women, sex can actually cause depression. Our first question, reading this, was: WTF? We’ve always found the lack of sex depressing, not sex itself. But those in the know call this post-coital blues, the come-down after the hormonal high induced by coming. Meanwhile, everyone seems to agree that anti-depressants can depress the libido for both the sexes—except for the people who say “except for Wellbutrin.” And the people who treat depressed sex drive in women with anti-depressants.

So what’s the story? If you’re already feeling down, should you not have sex for fear of post-coital blues? If you want to have sex, should you not take anti-depressants for fear of diminished sex drive? If you’re experiencing diminished sex drive, should you take anti-depressants, even if you’re not already feeling down? The Stimulist has no hard answers for you. Unless, of course, you’re down under.

Interesting, and confusing. What do you think on this topic - have an informed opinion?

Thursday, May 14, 2009

George Lakoff - Moral Politics

George Lakoff, a liberal, describes something that the conservatives have known for decades - American voters are not rational, they make emotional decisions, so if you want to connect with them and get their support, you need to get them emotional involved. That means addressing values questions, not policy issues.

Found this video at American Buddhist Net.

Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche - Cultivating Peace to Conquer Aggression

This is a great bit of dharma teaching from Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche on how to work with aggression, a hot topic for some of us.

Cultivating Peace to Conquer Aggression

People often ask me how we can apply meditation in dealing with forces bent on aggression. Without using aggression ourselves, how do we stop somebody determined to harm others?

As practitioners, we try to use whatever we encounter to open up our minds. When the whole world comes to a point of intense aggression, can we go beyond our own anger into openness? Aggression only invites more aggression, and produces further pain. We have no choice but to cultivate peace, which means developing tolerance and understanding.

Cultivating peace is a long and difficult process. The challenge begins with practicing peace on the meditation cushion even while we’re having aggressive thoughts. Meditation is the best preparation for working in a world where we are increasingly pressed into each other’s faces. By engaging our mind on the cushion, we learn to work with our own reactivity.

In shamatha meditation, we use the breath as the object of meditation. Instead of reacting to thoughts, we recognize, acknowledge and release them, and bring our mind back to the breath. Stabilizing, strengthening and clarifying our mind this way is called peaceful abiding. Once we’ve achieved a sense of stability and strength, we can shift the technique by using thoughts themselves as the object of meditation. This is a form of contemplative practice. In particular, I encourage contemplation on the principles of compassion and love. But anger is another useful subject. How can we deal with aggression in the world if we don’t first work with our own?

Contemplating anger helps us see it clearly, and it also adds an element that is usually missing when we’re in the throes of intense feeling: reason. One of the most painful things about any negative emotion is that it feels so solid. Yet there are always at least three separate components: a subject, an object, and an action. For example, when you’re angry about being stuck in traffic, the subject is “me,” the object is the car just in front of you, and the action is being stuck behind it. Your pain is also the object. You’re angry with yourself for being stuck, you’re angry at the car in front of you for being slow, and you’re angry at being angry. These are the elements that have come together to create the emotion.

In contemplating anger we can begin to dismantle it. We start by looking into the feeling itself: “Why am I angry? What has made me feel this way?” When our mind strays, instead of bringing it back to the breath, we use these thoughts as the anchor of our meditation. Soon we see the components of our emotion: what someone did or said, some disappointed expectation, the simple fact that we’re tired. In contemplating how our negative emotions have come together—and how they create pain, suffering, and anxiety—we see that they are not as solid as we thought. By dismantling the emotion and looking at the components, we dilute the strength of our attachment.

Practicing like this is not about being judgmental. It’s not about whether someone is right or wrong. We’re trying to take the anger a few stages back and work with it in the privacy of our own mind so that we’re not as susceptible to the grip of high emotion. We start to see that the situation or person we would like to blame is not the reason for our anger. The reason is that we’ve rolled subject, object, and action into a reaction and a response, and solidified that thought into a feeling as big as a house.

With determination and motivation, we may eventually be able to let go of our anger and return to abiding in peace. But even in the context of meditation, we can usually do it only bit by bit. Off the cushion, it’s very difficult to jump into that peaceful mind when we’re already mad at someone. By the time we’re really angry, we’re already caught in a reaction. In that case the solution may be to derail the intensity of the emotion by going for a walk or taking a bath. We can contemplate it later.

Contemplating anger offers the space to become aware that we have a choice: we can try to keep the emotion together by continuing to fester and blame, or we can let it fall apart in the inherent openness of our being. We can allow that angry individual or that difficult situation to plant seeds of aggression and then water the seeds with angry thoughts—or not. One of the benefits of training our mind in meditation is that it gives us more control in how we use it. At some point we might be able to use it to extend love and compassion toward that angry person.

That’s why contemplating love and compassion is so useful in working with aggression. In this practice, we wish that others might have happiness, that they not suffer. We start by extending this wish for happiness in a small way—that the cut on our friend’s finger might heal. We build in increments until we can hope for it in a big way—that all beings may become Buddha, that all may achieve enlightenment. Contemplating the welfare of others is the quick path to peace, because in wishing for the happiness of others, we rise above our own attachment and aggression.

Extending love and compassion toward others in contemplative practice is a rehearsal for stepping beyond stinginess and self-centeredness in daily life. Eventually our training will give us the power to flip the mind instantly by letting go of the “me plan” and considering the happiness of somebody else, whatever we’re experiencing, wherever we are.

In that moment, we are cultivating peace. When we live like this, we feel happier. The reason is simple: because love and compassion are the basis of our consciousness, we thrive when we let them come to the forefront.

Is sitting by ourselves, doing these funny contemplations, going to counter aggression in the world? Not all at once, but it’s a step in that direction. In meditation practice our mind is no longer pinned against the glass of our life. By contemplating anger, we become familiar with the rigid mind of attachment and aggression. By contemplating compassion and love, we become familiar with the pliable mind of peace. The practice of meditation creates the psychological space in which to choose our responses off the cushion.

Through practice we grow as individuals, as opposed to just surviving our life. We learn that by working with our mind—the consciousness we’re walking around with every day—we can discover our love and compassion and use it, instead of being used by negative elements that bring us down. At the end of the day, we’re different from the day before. That’s why we call meditation a “path.” It may look as if we’re doing nothing on the cushion, but in fact we’re engaging our mind in a proactive way. We’re cultivating peace. From that point of view, the practice of meditation is a very courageous activity.