Saturday, August 01, 2009

Dalai Lama Quote of the Week - Perceptions

by H.H. the Dalai Lama
translated, edited and annotated by
B. Alan Wallace

Dalai Lama Quote of the Week

Whatever good or bad things appear to us seem to exist from the side of those objects. How do they exist? If they exist from the side of the object, then...we should see whether it is the object in question or not. Let us take for example a physical object and examine its shape, color and so on to see if that object is to be found anywhere among those attributes. If we do so, we find nothing that is the object in question. If we take a person as an example, and inspect the individual aggregates that are the bases of designation of a person, we find that none of them is the person. In that way we recognize that the imputed object is not to be found upon investigation.

Then if we contemplate how things appear to the mind, we see that they seem to exist from the side of the object, without dependence upon anything else. But when they are sought analytically, they are not found. They do exist, for they can help or harm us. But when pondering the manner in which they exist, we find no basis for the assumption that they exist from the side of the object. Thus, they exist by the power of subjective convention, by the power of designation.

When pondering the nature of existence, we find that entities are not found upon seeking them analytically. So they exist by means of conventional, conceptual designation. They do undeniably exist. But as long as they do not exist independently, from their own side, they must exist by the power of subjective convention. There is no alternative. An entity exists due to its being designated upon something that is not it.

~ From Transcendent Wisdom by H.H. the Dalai Lama, translated, edited and annotated by B. Alan Wallace, published by Snow Lion Publications

How might meditation provide positive benefits?

Nice article from the Meditation Research blog.

Dr Ramesh Manocha discusses the mechanisms by which meditation may provide positive benefits.

“The mechanisms by which sahaja yoga meditation (SYM), or in fact any meditation technique, exerts its claimed effects are unclear. One very popular view, which has become more or less the default explanation of meditation effects is in terms of the physiological changes that characterise the Relaxation Response — that is, reductions in heart rate, blood pressure and respiratory rate and increases in skin temperature, skin resistance and alpha wave activity in the brain. All of these are brought about by reducing activity of the sympathetic component of the autonomic nervous system (ANS) and increasing activity of the parasympathetic components of the ANS. Psychophysiological studies in India certainly appear to confirm that SYM does reduce many parameters of sympathetic activation.

“More recently scholars have proposed that since Mindfulness and similar styles of meditation necessarily allow participants to become “more aware of thoughts and feelings and to change their relationship to them”, therefore somehow “that greater awareness will provide more veridical perception, reduced negative affect and improve vitality and coping”. Then it seems logical that by completely eliminating background mental noise, the meditator would necessarily increase internal and external awareness, possibly to a greater degree than in Mindfulness. Perhaps SYM acts via both the autonomic and cognitive pathways. Aftanas’ brain studies of SYM meditators also suggest that the effect of SYM on the central nervous system may also offer some explanation.”

Interesting, but I am more in tune with Dan Siegel's perspective. This is a lecture called, "Neuroscience of Buddhist Contemplative Practices" by Daniel Siegel, Neurosciences and Spirituality Conference, Claremont School of Theology. The video is from Sunday, October 12, 2008. Sorry the audio quality sucks so bad.

Jeffrey Hopkins - How We Relate to Others

Here is this week's dharma quote from Snow Lion Publications.

Buddhist Practices
for Connecting with Others
by Jeffrey Hopkins
foreword by His Holiness the Dalai Lama


Dharma Quote of the Week

It's interesting how we freeze our view of particular people. We exaggerate certain aspects we see in others, thereby freezing them into narrow, unproductive categories of relationships and limiting our ability to feel close and act out of a sense of intimacy. We lock them into certain patterns of behavior, and then, because we see these attitudes as solid, influence others to stay in those patterns: "This person is just..." But when you think and feel, "Two lifetimes ago this person was my best friend," the possibilities with that person now in this life open up. Consider a coworker, a colleague, a fellow student; you don't have to think about her in just the limited way that you have been. "She was a great friend in the past. I doubt she's going to be my best friend in this lifetime, but there's no reason to have frozen her into the particular mind-set I found myself in yesterday." All sorts of possibilities open up.

Here in this meditation of recognizing others as having been our best friend, we are loosening that process by superimposing the "best friend" feeling on lesser ones. We're becoming much more flexible. The practice reveals a plenitude of possibilities with others. What would it be like for these people if we acted this way with them, not externally but internally? If, when we saw them, we had an internal feeling of such strong intimacy--if we had an internal feeling of, "Oh, I'm meeting with my best of friends"--how do you think this would affect others? What would happen if we inwardly treated strangers in stores as best of friends? There would be a greater warmth and a considerable amount of extra, flexible energy available both to us and the world.

~ From A Truthful Heart: Buddhist Practices for Connecting with Others by Jeffrey Hopkins, foreword by His Holiness the Dalai Lama, published by Snow Lion Publications

Friday, July 31, 2009

TED Talks - Elaine Morgan says we evolved from aquatic apes

I remember reading Morgan more than ten years ago - didn't know she was still around. To the best of my knowledge, the aquatic ape hypothesis had been disproved or at least had failed to offer any real evidence. Maybe things have changed. Seems people are allowing for the possibility if not the reality.
Elaine Morgan is a tenacious proponent of the aquatic ape hypothesis: the idea that humans evolved from primate ancestors who dwelt in watery habitats. Hear her spirited defense of the idea -- and her theory on why mainstream science doesn't take it seriously.

The Sun - Across The Universe: Stanislav Grof On Nonordinary States Of Consciousness

Excellent - this is why I miss The Sun. Stan Grof was the first transpersonal psychologist I ever read, mostly in relationship to his LSD research. Don't always agree with him, but he always makes me think about things in bigger, more complex ways.

Across The Universe

Stanislav Grof On Nonordinary States Of Consciousness

by Angela Winter

I never intended to interview Stanislav Grof. I had ordered some books from Colorado-based publisher Sounds True, and when the package arrived, I found the company’s senior publicist had also enclosed a copy of Grof’s memoir, When the Impossible Happens: Adventures in Non-Ordinary Realities, which she said was one of her favorites. I recognized Grof’s name from my university studies. He is one of the founders and principal theoreticians of transpersonal psychology, a discipline that integrates traditional Western psychology with spiritual principles.

Grof was born in 1931 in Prague, Czechoslovakia, where he went on to receive an md from Charles University and a PhD in philosophy of medicine from the Czechoslovakian Academy of Sciences. While he was a psychiatric resident, his research lab received a box of lsd ampules from Sandoz Laboratories in Switzerland. Grof was fascinated by the possibilities the new substance offered for psychiatry and psychology, and psychedelics and nonordinary states of consciousness soon became the focus of his work. From 1960 to 1967 Grof served as principal investigator in a psychedelic-research program at the Psychiatric Research Institute in Prague. He then moved to Baltimore, Maryland, to serve as a clinical and research fellow at Johns Hopkins University. Later he became chief of psychiatric research at the Maryland Psychiatric Research Center, where he headed one of the last official psychedelic studies in the United States.

By the early 1970s, funding and permission for psychedelic research had largely ceased, for administrative and political reasons, and Grof shifted his focus to writing. In 1973 he was invited to serve as scholar-in-residence at the Esalen Institute in Big Sur, California, where he conducted seminars and wrote until 1987. During this time he and his wife, Christina, developed “holotropic breathwork,” a drug-free method of exploring nonordinary states of consciousness. The technique uses a combination of accelerated breathing and evocative music to help participants enter nonordinary states, which, Grof asserts, activate their natural healing intelligence. Holotropic breathwork is typically done in groups, and participants work in pairs, alternating between the roles of the “breather” and the “sitter,” who assists the breather. The Grofs have conducted sessions using this technique with more than thirty-five thousand people in the U.S., Asia, Europe, South America, and Australia and have trained and certified more than a thousand breathwork facilitators.

Grof currently lives in Mill Valley, California, and serves as distinguished adjunct professor of psychology at the California Institute of Integral Studies in San Francisco. He has published more than 150 academic papers and is the author of twenty books, including Beyond the Brain: Birth, Death, and Transcendence in Psychotherapy; Psychology of the Future: Lessons from Modern Consciousness Research; The Cosmic Game: Exploration of the Frontiers of Human Consciousness (all State University of New York Press); and LSD: Doorway to the Numinous (Park Street Press). He is also the founder and president of the International Transpersonal Association.

After reading When the Impossible Happens, Grof’s personal account of his fifty years of exploring nonordinary realms, I contacted him to request an interview, and we arranged to meet at a hotel near the San Francisco airport, where he was leading an introductory holotropic-breathwork workshop. We found a small table in an alcove of the lobby, and the indefatigable Grof spoke with me for nearly three hours, his voice melodious and measured. At the end of the conversation, I told him that I’d decided to participate in the workshop the next day.

I arrived for the morning workshop unsure of what to expect — and, frankly, a little apprehensive. Would the experience be akin to tripping on lsd, and if so, why would I want to do that in an airport-hotel ballroom with strangers watching? I made my way to the spot my friend and breathing partner, Bruno, had staked out for us, and he and I made a nest of the sleeping bag, blankets, and pillows we’d brought. My partner wanted to breathe first, and I was glad to ease my way into the experience by being the sitter. Bruno reclined on the sleeping bag, eyes closed, as Grof led the breathers through a brief relaxation exercise and then instructed them to find their own natural breathing rhythm, let it deepen, and connect the inhalation with the exhalation, creating a “circle of breath.” As Grof spoke, one of the twenty trained facilitators assisting him started some recorded music. After the breathing instruction had ended, they cranked the volume to rock-concert level. (Grof had explained that the music would be loud, both to encourage an emotional response and to mask the sounds made by other breathers.)

As the music’s tempo increased and the beats became tribal, some of the breathers entered what seemed to be a trance state. A woman beside us began to make intricate arm movements, her eyes rolled back in her head. Bruno was sweating profusely, his hands curled into hard, tight fists. I heard groans, screams, and what sounded like the wail of an infant coming from a nearby woman in her sixties. Grof sat alone at the head of the room as the facilitators supported the pairs of partners. Every now and then he’d tour the room, like a psychiatrist emeritus making rounds. I became accustomed to seeing his champagne-colored dress socks in my peripheral vision whenever he walked by.

Near the end of the breathing session, Bruno reported feeling tension in the area around his sacrum, where the spinal column meets the pelvis. Grof offered to help release it, and Bruno accepted. When Bruno began to experience nausea, Grof motioned for me to make ready the plastic bag given to sitters. (We’d been told that vomiting is one of the possible outcomes of a breathwork session.) And my partner did throw up as Grof pressed on his sacrum, back, and diaphragm. Though I was distressed, Grof showed no revulsion or hesitation. When the session was over, I helped my partner rise; his muscles had cramped so intensely that he could barely walk. We went outside and sat in the sun, and he told me he was glad he’d had the experience, despite the muscle pain and vomiting, because he’d been able to release difficult emotions that he’d held in for some time.

Next it was my turn as breather. I was nervous lying on the sleeping bag as Grof led us through the relaxation exercise and breathing instruction. My breathing felt artificial and forced at first, but I tried to relax and focus instead on sensations in my body, the first of which was a prickly, buzzing feeling in my hands. My fingers soon clenched into tight, painful fists. Worried this would continue for hours, I breathed through the pain until I felt an unusual rippling sensation under my arms. Then I felt as if my body were being tugged upward off the floor and through the air, and suddenly my consciousness inhabited the body of a red-tailed hawk soaring over the ocean. With each beat of my wings I felt my sinew and bone moving delicately and powerfully. I saw minute details at a vast distance. At the same time I could still feel my body on the floor of the hotel ballroom, where my breathing had shifted into an easy rhythm and my hands had relaxed. I reveled in the freedom of flight at the beginning of my journey into the nonordinary.

Winter: What led you to study medicine and psychiatry?

Grof: I didn’t discover my interests until my late teens. My original plan was to be involved in animated movies, and as I was finishing high school, I already had an interview at the film studios in Prague. Just before I made the final commitment, however, a friend came to visit me holding a book he was excited about. It was Freud’s Introductory Lectures on Psychoanalysis.

Freud was not well-known in Czechoslovakia at that time. During the Nazi era all psychoanalytic books had been banned. After the war the nation experienced three years of freedom, during which the books slowly came back to the libraries, but then the Communists came, and Freud was again on the blacklist. All I knew about Freud was what they’d told us in philosophy classes: that he was a “pansexualist” who tried to explain everything people do as repressed sexuality. I took the book and started reading it that evening. I was so fascinated that I couldn’t go to sleep. I read through the night, and within two days I had decided to become a psychoanalyst.

So I enrolled in medical school and joined a small group headed by the only Czech psycho­analyst who’d survived the war. (Most of the psychoanalysts were Jewish, and they’d either ended up in concentration camps or managed to escape to the West.) We read psychoanalytic books and discussed case histories. I also was in analysis three times a week for seven years, for training purposes.

Winter: What led you away from orthodox Freudian analysis?

Grof: The first problem was that in Communist Czechoslovakia it was dangerous to be labeled an analyst. My own sessions had to be arranged in secret. Then, when I became a psychiatric resident and got more acquainted with actual case histories, I started having second thoughts. I was still excited by psychoanalytic theory, but I also realized its practical limitations. A patient had to meet very specific criteria to be considered a good candidate for psychoanalysis, the treatment lasted years, and the results were not exactly breathtaking. An analyst could expect to treat only eighty or so patients in a lifetime. I started to think I should have stayed with animated movies.

And then an amazing thing happened: We had just finished a study of Mellaril, one of the early tranquilizers. Sandoz, the Swiss pharmaceutical company that produced Mellaril, sent us a box full of ampules. The letter that came with it said the substance was lsd-25, and it had extremely powerful “psychoactive” properties, which later became known as “psychedelic.” The psychedelic effect was already familiar to researchers through substances such as mescaline, the alkaloid of the peyote plant, which is a sacrament in the Native American Church and has been used for centuries in Mesoamerica. It was the incredible efficacy of lsd that was exciting: you had to take maybe a hundred milligrams of mescaline to have a decent experience, but with lsd you had to take only a hundred micrograms — a thousand times less. If such a small dose could so greatly affect the consciousness, perhaps what we called mental “diseases” were really aberrations of body chemistry. And if we could somehow identify the chemical culprit and neutralize it, we would have a cure for psychosis, particularly schizophrenia. This, of course, would be the Holy Grail of psychiatry.

LSD could be used to produce experimental psychosis, allowing us to administer it to “normal” people and study the biochemical changes in their bodies and the electrical activity in their brains using eegs — before, during, and after the experience — to see what was happening biologically while the mental function was so deeply affected. We wanted to see if lsd, psilocybin (the pure alkaloid from hallucinogenic mushrooms), and mescaline produced, by and large, the same effect, and then compare this with what was happening in schizophrenic or psychotic patients.

The manufacturers at Sandoz also suggested that we could take lsd ourselves to experience the world in which our patients lived and perhaps understand them better, which might help us to be more successful in treating them. This suggestion became my destiny, or karma, if you will. I was already in crisis over psychoanalysis, and this seemed like an interesting new avenue. I became one of the early volunteers, and I had an extremely powerful experience that changed me profoundly, both professionally and personally.

The research protocol was a combination of lsd and exposure to a powerful stroboscopic light of various frequencies to study the effects of lsd on what is called “driving” or “entraining” the brain waves. When my experience was culminating, the research assistant took me to a small room for my eeg and put the electrodes on my scalp. I lay down and closed my eyes, and then she turned on a strobe. There was an incredible light, more powerful than anything I had ever seen in my life. At the time I thought it must have been what it was like to see the atomic bomb fall on Hiroshima. Today I think it was more like the “primary clear light,” or dharmakaya, which the Tibetan Book of the Dead says we are supposed to see at the time of our death.

What happened next was my consciousness catapulted out of my body. I lost the research assistant, I lost the clinic, I lost Prague, I lost the planet. I had the feeling that my consciousness had no boundaries anymore, and I had become the totality of existence. A little later I returned to the physical universe, but in some strange way I did not just see it; I actually became the universe. Then the research assistant turned off the strobe, and my consciousness shrank again. I connected with the planet, I found Prague, I found the clinic, and I found my body, although for quite a while my body and my consciousness were separate, and I had difficulty aligning them, bringing them together. It became clear to me that consciousness is not a product of the neurophysiological processes in the brain, as I had been taught at the university, but something much higher, possibly superordinate to matter. The idea that consciousness somehow mysteriously emerges from matter didn’t make sense to me anymore. It was easier to imagine that consciousness could create the experience of the material universe by an infinitely complex orchestration. I was suddenly in the realm of the Eastern philosophies, where consciousness is a primary attribute of existence and cannot be reduced to anything else.

Winter: Your upbringing wasn’t particularly religious. Was that realization a difficult shift for you at the time?

Grof: Well, there was a complex history with religion in my family. When my parents fell in love and wanted to get married, there was a problem, because my father’s family had no church affiliation and my mother’s family was strictly Catholic. The Catholic church in the small Czech town where they lived refused to marry them because my father was a “pagan.” It wasn’t until my grandparents made a major financial donation to the church that they were willing to relax their rules. My parents were so disenchanted by the whole affair that they didn’t commit my brother and me to any religion. They said we should make our own choice when we came of age.

From this background I went to medical school, which certainly does not cultivate mystical awareness. And Czechoslovakia had at that time a Marxist regime, so we were fed the purest materialist doctrine you can get. The message was “There is nothing mysterious about the universe; see how much we have discovered already. And, if we persist, we will even­tually understand it all and control it all.” We were taught that in the universe matter is primary, and life, consciousness, and intelligence are its byproducts, epiphenomena. So I’m a strange example of somebody who was brought to spirituality and mysticism through laboratory and clinical work.

Winter: What were the results of that initial lsd study?

Grof: We found that when we gave lsd or another psychedelic substance in the same dosage under the same circumstances to a number of people, each of them had a completely different experience. Even if the same person took the same substance multiple times, each of the sessions would be different. So we were not dealing with a predictable pharmacological effect. If you have no idea what might happen when you give someone a substance, that is the end of its use as a traditional pharmacological agent.

But in the course of this research it became clear that lsd was opening access to deep levels of the unconscious. So I dropped the experimental-psychosis approach and took lsd into clinical studies.

The complete text of this selection is available in our print edition.

Party Animals: Early Human Culture Thrived in Crowds

Humans are very social animals. More and more evolutionary researchers are discovering that humans always have been living in groups, and evolving because of it. This article was publiched back in June, and I likely posted some other version of the research here or on my FriendFeed, but this is still interesting.

Party Animals: Early Human Culture Thrived in Crowds

By Jeanna Bryner, Senior Writer

Party planners know that scrunching a bunch of people into a small space will result in plenty of mingling and discourse.

A new study suggests this was as true for our ancestors as it is for us today, and that ancient social networking led to a renaissance of new ideas that helped make us human.

The research, which is published in the June 5 issue of the journal Science, suggests that tens of thousands of years ago, as human population density increased so did the transmission of ideas and skills. The result: the emergence of more and more clever innovations.

"Our paper proposes a new model for why modern human behavior started at different times in different regions of the world, why it disappeared in some places before coming back, and why in all cases it occurred more than 100,000 years after modern humans first appeared," said study researcher Adam Powell of the Arts and Humanities Research Council Centre for the Evolution of Cultural Diversity at University College London.

The idea that demography is linked to modern human behavior has been around for decades, but this is the first time scientists have run computer models and actually tested out different hypotheses, said Richard Potts, an anthropologist and director of the Human Origins Program at the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C.

Potts, who was not involved in the current study, applauded the team for not relying solely on computer models but also including genetic and archaeological data to make their argument.

Modern humans

Scientists have known that anatomically modern humans, or Home sapiens, (characterized by big brains and other features we sport today), were around at least 160,000 to 200,000 years ago. Some thought boosts in brain power or advances in language led to modern human behavior, which includes the crafting of abstract and realistic art, body decoration, musical instruments and hunting and trapping technologies.

But our big brains didn't seem to bear any cultural fruit until much later. In fact, archaeological evidence of art and technology beyond basic stone tools doesn't appear until about 90,000 years ago in sub-Saharan Africa. There, remnants of modern human behavior disappeared around 65,000 years ago and then re-emerged about 40,000 years ago.

"In Europe and western Asia this advanced technology and behavior explodes around 45,000 years ago when humans arrive there, but doesn't appear in eastern and southern Asia and Australia until much later, despite a human presence," said study team member Stephen Shennan of the University College London's Institute of Archaeology.

Sharing ideas

The researchers ran computer simulations of different population densities, grouping humans into subpopulations that migrated. The model revealed that at a certain subpopulation density there was an accumulation of ideas and skills. To figure out whether this phenomenon of skill-sharing was real, the team used genetic data to estimate population sizes in different regions at different times. Sure enough, when the critical population density was reached or there was a certain degree of migration between subgroups there was also archaeological evidence of modern human behavior.

"As population density increases, people migrate between groups more," Thomas said during a telephone interview. "That increases the probability that any skill that's difficult to learn doesn’t get lost or decay."

For instance, population density was similar in sub-Saharan Africa, Europe and the Middle East when modern behavior first appeared in these regions. Results also showed that population density would have dropped due to climate changes at the time when modern human behavior temporarily disappeared in sub-Saharan Africa.

"The basic idea conceptually is you can have individuals who are really great at inventing ideas and concepts and ways of approaching the world, but you need a certain population density to be able to have that stuff catch hold and spread," Potts told LiveScience.

He added, "You could imagine that there may have been very innovative individuals on occasion, but with very small population sizes and mobile foragers who didn’t run into other groups very often, those innovations were probably very short-lived and almost invisible in the archaeological record."

The research was supported by the AHRC Centre for the Evolution of Cultural Diversity and the Wissenschaftskolleg zu Berlin.

SciAm Mind - Think Crying Is Cathartic? Not Always

Cool article - a lot of therapists go for the cathartic cry at some point in therapy - and it may not be necessary.

Think Crying Is Cathartic? Not Always

Psychologists take a closer look at the folk wisdom that "it's good to get it out of your system"

By Jesse Bering

I can’t remember the last time I had a good, long cry. Well, that’s not entirely true. I was bawling my eyes out just the other night at the inevitable climax to the movie Marley & Me. But with the possible exception of my eggshell-fragile Achilles’ heel for old and dying dogs, I’ve never been much of a weeper. I’ve always wanted to be, though. At times I’ve even felt a little guilty when tears seemed appropriate but I couldn’t muster any up. Even onions let me down when I once tried to use them to jumpstart a liquid catharsis.

But perhaps crying isn’t all it’s cracked up to be anyway. University of South Florida psychologist Jonathan Rottenberg and his colleagues Lauren Bylsma and Ad J.J.M. Vingerhoets have argued that, contrary to popular belief, there’s actually a surprising absence of empirical data to support the view that crying is beneficial. In fact, there’s even some evidence that--for some people at least--crying could do more harm than good. In a 2008 issue of Current Directions in Psychological Science, the authors review all the available evidence to date on crying-based research. They begin by questioning the rather dubious claims made by psychodynamic-minded theorists over the years. These are typically of the “it’s good to get it out of your system” variety, with “it” being those dark, repressive thoughts that clog up your brain or ravage your healthy psychological functioning. In her book Seeing Through Tears: Crying and Attachment (Routledge, 2005), Judith Kay Nelson reports that without any science on the subject to back up their prescriptions for shedding liberal amounts of tears, over two-thirds of mental health practitioners actively promote crying as a therapy tool.

This general sentiment about the salubrious qualities of sobbing are echoed in our common-sense views too. In survey reports where researchers asked people whether having a good cry made them feel better, respondents overwhelmingly say it has. But the curious thing, Rottenberg and coauthors point out, is that in laboratory-based psychology experiments where crying is elicited by a sad stimulus (such as a clip from Marley & Me, which will do nicely if you have a sliver of a heart), participants who cry actually report feeling worse than those who watch the same scene without crying.

There are obvious reasons why the retrospective self-reports of crying episodes fail to line up neatly with findings from controlled experiments on crying. For one, crying in response to a tearjerker in a sterile laboratory environment after some stranger attaches physiological equipment to you and then takes notes in the other room isn’t exactly the same as crying into a pillow in your own bedroom. Negative social emotions such as embarrassment might cancel out any possible positive feelings.

It’s a classic dilemma in emotion research--how does one produce genuine, unadulterated affect in a rigorously controlled laboratory setting so that the findings are “ecologically valid” (that is to say, true to life)? Experimental psychologists can’t very well go around making their participants cry by being mean to them or telling them that their dog just died. Well not ethically, anyway. So any tears conjured up in the lab are probably going to be somewhat contrived, sort of like a doctor striking your knee with a rubber mallet rather than you giving a genuine kick. There’s also the issue of individual differences. What’s painfully sad for one person isn’t necessarily so for another; thus the comparative benefits of crying versus not crying aren’t necessarily equivalent across the participant sample.

Wary of the limitations of experimental design in researching crying behavior, the authors describe a recent study in which they analyzed over 3000 detailed reports of natural sobs. Consistent with the earlier survey findings, participants overall reported positive mood changes after crying. When they looked at the data more closely, however, the authors discovered that a third of the respondents reported no mood changes at all, and a tenth of them reported feeling even worse after crying. “Importantly,” Rottenberg and his colleagues write, “variation in social-environmental factors tracked the mood benefits of crying.” Specifically:

Criers who received social support during their crying episode were more likely to report mood benefits than were criers who did not report receiving social support. Likewise, mood benefits were more likely when the precipitating events of a crying episode had been resolved than they were when events were unresolved. Finally, criers who reported experiencing negative social emotions like shame and embarrassment were less likely to report mood benefits.
To me, the social aspects of crying--including how such behavior often serves a solicitous role in prompting responses by onlookers--are incredibly fascinating. And the social dynamic starts early. According to evolutionary psychologist Nick Thompson from Clark University, the acoustic characteristics of distress cries in infants are specially designed to goad caregivers into responding quickly. The proposed adaptation involves a rapid, gasping inhalation between bursts of loud crying. Thompson belives that this ‘pitch-to-cry' ratio deceives parents into thinking that the baby might be suffering from some sort of respiratory distress, which in turn triggers a prompt caregiving response. The baby of course, certainly isn’t manipulating the parent consciously; nor is the parent always fooled. But the idea is that natural selection favored those babies whose cries mimicked choking sounds because adults were generally more vigilant to those babies’ needs. As a consequence, these babies (who were our ancestors) would have been less likely to find themselves left alone or with strangers for long periods of time--and therefore less likely to befall genuine harm.

There appears to be a typology of adult crying, too--say, the lonely, subdued weeping where your shoulders go up and down; the occasions where your eyes silently brim over with giant teardrops that race down your cheeks; histrionic, paroxysmal sobs that aren’t altogether unlike the respiratory distress patterns of infants’ cries. Tears generated by physical pain seem different altogether. As far as I know, evolutionary psychologists haven’t looked at these adult crying types in any formal theoretical way, although Nelson does describe a few possible functional differences in her book.

Rottenberg and his coauthors also point out that nearly all of the research on crying to date has centered on negative events. But sadness isn’t the only thing that provokes tears. One of the things I remember vividly about my mother’s face was how her eyes would always fill up with tears whenever she felt genuinely loved. (Needless to say, this sort of thing would always make me want to hug her.) Such “tears of joy”--the ones that flow liberally at events such as weddings and births--betray deep, genuine emotions. Since our ancestors were vulnerable to deception, I suspect that crying probably evolved as a sort of hard-to-fake communicative signal. Comparative psychologists have long suspected that, compared to other social species, human beings are uniquely skilled at manipulation. The fact that we are the only ones who actually shed tears from emotions may shed some important light on our Machiavellian past. Tears would have been a reliable indication that the other party actually felt as sincerely as they said they did.

So as the authors wisely sum up in their review, the question of whether crying is beneficial must be asked in a new way: “Under what conditions and for whom is crying likely to be beneficial?” Now go on, say something to make me cry, I challenge you. Maybe it’ll be good for me, maybe it won’t. But go easy on me--I’m very sensitive. And for God’s sake, leave my dogs out of it.

In this column presented by Scientific American Mind magazine, research psychologist Jesse Bering of Queen's University Belfast ponders some of the more obscure aspects of everyday human behavior. Ever wonder why yawning is contagious, why we point with our index fingers instead of our thumbs or whether being breastfed as an infant influences your sexual preferences as an adult? Get a closer look at the latest data as “Bering in Mind” tackles these and other quirky questions about human nature. Sign up for the RSS feed or friend Dr. Bering on Facebook and never miss an installment again.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Opening the Heart - Ayya Khema

Ayya Khema (1923-1997) on Opening the Heart.

The Neurobiology of Relational Spirituality

Here is a nice little passage from Dan Siegel's The Mindful Brain:
An interpersonal neurobiology approach to the ways our social lives help promote well-being views neural integration as the outcome of attuned relationships. Neural integration, the coordination and balance of the brain as separate areas are linked together to form a functional whole, seems to be promoted with the attunement of secure attachments. The proposal here is that perhaps we are gathering some preliminary data to point in the direction that mindful awareness may also promote such neural integration, through a form of intrapersonal attunement. (Kindle location 723-37)
Siegel's point is actually that mindfulness can have the same beneficial impact on the brain as healthy attachment relationships. But I like the evidence that healthy attachment and attunement reshapes the brain into a more wholistic entity, making it a more functionally interconnected whole.

This has a direct connection to how our relationships with others, especially our closest most intimate relationships, can rewire our brains and make them more integrated. That is the point of relational spirituality.

I'll be posting more on this in the future.

SciAm Mind - A Patchwork Mind: How Your Parents' Genes Shape Your Brain

Cool article that adds to our knowledge and nature vs nurture debate. The contribution of our parents is more complex than we might imagine when considering how their genetics impact out brain, mind, and consciousness.

A Patchwork Mind: How Your Parents' Genes Shape Your Brain

We each have two parents, but their genetic contributions to what makes us us are uneven. New research shows we are an amalgam of influences from mom and dad

By Melinda Wenner

Key Concepts

  • When passing on DNA to their offspring, mothers silence certain genes, and fathers silence others. These imprinted genes usually result in a balanced, healthy brain, but when the process goes awry, neurological disorders can result.
  • Imprinting errors are responsible for rare disorders such as Angelman and Prader-Willi syndromes, and some scientists are beginning to think imprinting might be implicated in more common illnesses such as autism and schizophrenia.
  • Even typical brains are the result of asymmetric contributions from Mom and Dad. Higher cognitive function seems to be disproportionately controlled by Mom’s genes, whereas the drive to eat and mate is influenced by Dad’s.

Your memories of high school biology class may be a bit hazy nowadays, but there are probably a few things you haven’t forgotten. Like the fact that you are a composite of your parents—your mother and father each provided you with half your genes, and each parent’s contribution was equal. Gregor Mendel, often called the father of modern genetics, came up with this concept in the late 19th century, and it has been the basis for our understanding of genetics ever since.

But in the past couple of decades, scientists have learned that Mendel’s understanding was incomplete. It is true that children inherit 23 chromosomes from their mother and 23 complementary chromosomes from their father. But it turns out that genes from Mom and Dad do not always exert the same level of influence on the developing fetus. Sometimes it matters which parent you inherit a gene from—the genes in these cases, called imprinted genes because they carry an extra molecule like a stamp, add a whole new level of complexity to Mendelian inheritance. These molecular imprints silence genes; certain imprinted genes are silenced by the mother, whereas others are silenced by the father, and the result is the delicate balance of gene activation that usually produces a healthy baby.

When that balance is upset, however, big problems can arise. Because most of these stamped genes influence the brain, major imprinting errors can manifest themselves as rare developmental disorders, such as Prader-Willi syndrome, which is characterized by mild mental retardation and hormonal imbalances that lead to obesity. And recently scientists have started to suspect that more subtle imprinting errors could lead to common mental illnesses such as autism, schizophrenia and Alzheimer’s disease. A better understanding of how imprinting goes awry could provide doctors with new ways to treat or perhaps even prevent some of these disorders.

Through the study of imprinted genes, researchers are also uncovering clues about how our parents’ genes influence our brain—it seems that maternal genes play a more important role in the formation of some brain areas, such as those for language and complex thought, and paternal genes have more influence in regions involved in growing, eating and mating. “You need both Mom and Dad in order to get a normal brain,” says Janine LaSalle, a medical microbiologist at the University of California, Davis, whose lab focuses on imprinting. “We’re really at the beginning of understanding what that means.”

To understand the implications of imprinting, it helps to know a few basics. Imprinting is an epigenetic (meaning “beyond genetic”) mechanism, a molecular change that can happen within a cell that affects the degree to which genes are activated, without changing the underlying genetic code. The type of imprinting that happens in egg and sperm cells is known as “genomic imprinting,” a reference to its fundamental heritable nature. Other types of imprinting can happen as a result of environmental influences, such as parental nurturing or abuse. [For more on epigenetics, see “The New Genetics of Mental Illness,” by Edmund S. Higgins; Scientific American Mind, June/July 2008.]

As recently as a few decades ago, very few people imagined that heritable genetic influences existed beyond the basic genetic code in our DNA. Then, in 1984, biologists at the University of Cambridge and at the Wistar Institute in Philadelphia separately tried to breed mice that had either two copies of a father’s chromosomes or two copies of a mother’s chromosomes, instead of one copy from each parent. According to Mendelian theory, the baby mice should have been fine—after all, they had the correct number of genes and chromosomes. All the fetuses died, however, suggesting that simply having two of each chromosome is not sufficient—each pair must be made up of one chromosome from Mom and one from Dad. But the researchers did not yet know why.

Stamps of Silence
The answer is genomic imprinting, as biologists discovered in the early 1990s. In a series of papers published in Nature and Genes and Development, researchers identified the first imprinted genes in mice, all related to a protein called insulinlike growth factor 2 (IGF-2), which plays a role in regulating the size of the pups. Mouse mothers silenced this gene, resulting in smaller, easier-to-carry fetal pups, whereas mouse fathers suppressed a gene that codes for the receptor for IGF-2’s protein—blocking the receptor’s suppressive action so that the pups could grow larger. Since that discovery, scientists have found more than 60 human genes that are typically imprinted by one parent or the other.

Genes are imprinted by the addition of molecules called methyl groups to the gene’s DNA. For reasons that are not totally understood, this methylation prevents the gene’s information from being expressed, or transcribed into RNA and proteins, the basic building blocks of the body. It is as if the imprinting “stamp” blocks the gene’s code from being read by the cell. A woman’s egg carries only the genomic imprints that her mother passed on to her; her father’s imprints are wiped away. Likewise, the genes that a man passes on in his sperm are imprinted in the same way that his father’s genes were.

Normally, a mother’s copy of a particular gene and a father’s copy of the same gene are both expressed. When the genes differ (for instance, if Mom has blue eyes and Dad has brown), both genes are translated into proteins, and the end result is a combination of each gene’s effects (the brown protein obscures the blue—although in reality several genes contribute to eye color). When a mother’s gene is imprinted with a methyl group, however, it effectively becomes silenced—the mother’s gene is then never expressed. Because only the father’s gene product is being made, there is, in effect, half as much of that particular RNA or protein available to the body. Likewise, when a father’s copy of a gene is imprinted, that gene is silenced, and only the mother’s gene is used to make its RNA or protein.

Finding evidence of imprinting is tricky. If the two copies of a person’s gene differ slightly in sequence, geneticists can analyze the RNA made from the gene to see if it, too, has two variants. If they find only one, then the gene may be imprinted, because one of the gene’s copies was not expressed. If the researchers have access to the parents’ DNA, they can verify which parent’s gene was silenced. Because the discovery process is complex and time-consuming, scientists believe they have identified only a small fraction of the genes that are genomically imprinted. Nevertheless, many of the currently known imprinted genes influence the brain—explaining why, when imprinting goes wrong, it can cause profound effects on neurodevelopment.

Balance Skewed
Among the rare disorders that result from imprinting errors is Angelman syndrome, which affects one out of 12,000 to 20,000 children in the world. Children with the syndrome are hyperactive and often smiling and laughing. In addition, studies suggest that more than 40 percent of affected kids suffer from autism spectrum disorders as well—experiencing great difficulty with language and social skills. The syndrome is marked by a reduction of maternally expressed proteins in a small section of chromosome 15, which is also usually paternally imprinted. In other words, genes from Dad are silenced as usual, but Mom’s genes are also imprinted by mistake—they are not as active as they should be to balance Dad’s imprinting effects. The brains of these children develop abnormally: their cerebral cortex is slightly smaller than usual, and a 2008 study in mice showed that cells in the cerebellum are also atypical.

Read the rest of the article.

Change Model 4: Change Is A Journey On Which You Embark by Holger Nauheimer

Another cool article from the Change Management Blog.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Change Model 4: Change Is A Journey On Which You Embark


This model was developed by Vesa Purokuru. It is the base of a book that we are writing.

The Change Journey is a metaphor for the change process:

You choose a destination (India), set the direction, find a team, a sponsor, a vessel, food and things you might need on the way. You prepare and you set up sails to departure. On the way you constantly monitor the weather, the sea, the motivation of the crew and the environment. When needed you adjust sails and check the direction. In the course, you make new discoveries (America), find new people, and may change your direction, if that is right to get to the destination. In the end, the change journey is for the good of the organization, may be not for the good of all stakeholders.

What is the Change Journey?

  • It helps me (& you) to understand constant changes and the complexity of today's work environment.
  • It gives me (& you) confidence and "step by step" framework even it is impossible to predict what happens on the way.
  • It will be my approach and attitude to face something new and unpredictable
  • It gives me trust: I know where to start from.
Why do we think that change is a journey? In this complex and constantly changing world, we cannot manage, mandate or program changes the way we would like to. Neither can we sell new things or new thoughts successfully.

Most of today's work is not mechanistic and repeatable any more. Instead, most of nowadays work is based on thinking kind and fueled by enthusiasm, passion & dialogue.

What we can do is to invite people to co-create their futures. The more people you are able to invite, the more successful you will be in reaching your preferred destination.

By doing so it is difficult to predict precisely what will happen but it is sure that there are a lot of committed experts thinking the best possible solutions and innovations to create a sustainable future.

This journey is mainly about attitudes, and the belief in the power of self organization, passion and responsibility and that the most powerful processes of change happen at the micro level where relationships, interactions, small experiments and simple rules shape emergent patterns. The change journey leads and encourages us to trust in two things that are essential for change: people and processes.

In the journey we leave the concept of "change management" behind. Instead, we talk about "change facilitation". Although we do appreciate that their are actually a lot of tasks to be managed and planned in a change process, we would like to focus on the term "getting ready" for the change.

So, the Change Journey is about new attitudes and paradigms towards change but additionally it gives you suggestions what to do and how to do it if you have set your sails. There are advices how to create a roadmap for involvement, participation and first and foremost - how you can get ready for the journey yourself.


1. Preparation:
-Getting prepared for change journey: known and unknown
-Exploring & understanding reasons and alternatives
-finding common mind set: balance between top-down & bottom-up
-Choosing change models
-Finding right partners
-Agreeing the rules and principles
-Making first plans
-Discovering change forums

2. Starting the change journey:
-Getting everybody involved and engaged by joint planning,
-Understanding A to B journey
-First moves & actions towards the goal

3. Living the change journey:
-Living the new reality
-Using strengths
-Solving problems measuring and changing the change
-Becoming aware what works and what doesn’t

4. Creating skills for working in constant change:
-Learning from the experience,
-Developing new skills,
-Being prepared for future changes,
-Being able to change things fast


The Change Journey is applicable for highly complex change projects and for organizations that are aware that change has no end. It helps to identify those skills that are essential in situations of high uncertainty.

Does the model relate to complexity theory?

Yes. The model is based on the notion of complexibility. Change is perceived as a process of constant reevaluation.

  • The model does depart from the illusion of planability of change processes
  • It is highly participatory
  • It supports multiple leadership
  • no roles are defined
  • the model might be perceived as exclusive - what about the people who are left out
  • it does not give any guidance and therefore requires an organizational culture of risk taking

Suns of God: The Orion Revelation - John Jay Harper

Strangely interesting article from Reality Sandwich. There is a big dose of WOO here, deserving of the capital letters, but I still found this interesting for some reason - probably the reference to shamanism.

Suns of God: The Orion Revelation

John Jay Harper

The following article is based on the author's new book Tranceformers: Shamans of the 21st Century.

"Man is the Measure of all Things." -- Protagoras of Abdera (c .480-410 B.C.)

"The workings of the human body are an analogy for the workings of the universe." -- Leonardo da Vinci (1452 - 1519)


Once upon a time in the outskirts of the Milky Way Galaxy, creatures calling themselves homo sapiens, a Latin term meaning "wise or knowing man," lived in one of its smaller solar systems on a very small planet they nicknamed "dirt" or Earth.

Ironically, they were not wise, knowing -- or unique.

They had simply forgotten their birth origins and destiny as celestial beings of the Orion Nebula, the birthplace of stars, the Suns of God on Earth.

So over the course of centuries, as they gazed into the night sky sitting around campfires yearning for clues, a sign from on high, they told each other creation stories, myths, and performed acts, rituals, to explain why they were in this predicament.

Some religionists said they sinned against a god, in one form or another, a being that had returned to the sky. That they were now quarantined on Earth until a "savior," in one form or another, returned as promised at the end-of-time.

Others of these so-called "wise men" known as scientists taught humans were accidents of a blind and dumb gene-generating universe; freaks of nature, that gods and saviors did not even exist.

But then these myths and rituals, especially the ancient symbols used in astrology began to make sense, add-up, with the modern observations of astronomy. One of these homo sapiens named Carl Sagan even mused:"Some 25 million years ago, a Galactic survey ship on a routine visit to the third planet of a relatively common G dwarf star, our Sun, may have noted an interesting and promising evolutionary development: Proconsul, the ancestor of homo sapiens, or modern man."

Archaeologist, historian, and mythologist also known as D. M. Murdock, conclusively documents that major world religions are in fact founded upon an astro-theology: the story of stars as gods sent down from heaven to earth to save men from ignorance.

The larger realization based upon the overwhelming evidence suggests these humans represented the gods as action heroes on the ground to the people, as she catalogues in her book Suns of God: Krishna, Buddha, and Christ Unveiled. Of course, we have Jesus himself saying: "I have said, you are gods; and all of you are children of the most High."

Nonetheless, once we saw the creation story focused through the lens of Galileo and later Hubble and Herschel telescopes, the lights came on to full-star power again across the entire spectrum of science and religion theories of origins.

And a whole new way of seeing ourselves not as freaks of nature but as a planned family of genetically engineered, star seeded, celestial beings emerged. Clearly, the occult, or hidden, records collected by esoteric societies were beginning to pay rich dividends too with respect to our relationship to stars.

One of these pioneers, Alice Bailey, reported: "In the secret of the Sun Sirius are hidden the facts of our cosmic evolution, and incidentally, therefore, of our solar system. The Sirius System is always beaming helpful rays to the poor people of Earth who wallow in appalling ignorance, violence, and oppression."

Suddenly the musings of mystics, shamans, and prophets of every culture made more sense, fit a pattern mirrored by stone structures at sacred sites worldwide; in particular Asia, Egypt, Mexico, England as well as the Hopi Nation in North America and Inca Empire in South America.

Egyptologist Wallis Budge, and others, linked the stars in Sirius, Orion, and Pleiades with emitting spiritual rays of light that "vivify gods, men, cattle, and creeping things ... out of the seed of the soul." Budge even declared, "The mention of Orion and Sothis (Sirius) is interesting, for it shows that at one time the Egyptians believed that these stars were the homes of departed souls."

This rediscovered truth is straight-forward: We humans were designed to operate on a cosmic larger-than-life scale, as a "superman" mystics called Adam Kadmon, and artist Leonardo Da Vinci portrayed as perfection personified in The Vitruvian Man. That is, our human body was the mathematical mirror-image of the Phi ratio Fibonacci series spiral, the golden mean of the Cosmos.

Overall, we see our self-image in a new light as that of a "superstar," the Sun of God, in fact, what theologian Matthew Fox calls The Cosmic Christ.

Plato was very clear in his treatise, Timaeus, that God made "souls in equal number with the stars and distributed them, each soul to its several star, and he who should live well for his due span of time should journey back to the habitation of his consort star."

"Consciousness is King," proclaimed philosopher of Rome, Plotinus, in the 3rd century A.D.

This then is true hidden knowledge: Stars are conscious beings of light and co-create planets for the development of infinite Christs-in-potential!

Gregory Sams, co-founder of the Harmony/Whole Earth Foods outlets in the United Kingdom, chaos theory expert, and now bestselling author of Sun of God: Consciousness and the Self-Organizing Force that Underlies Everything has it spot on: "This is the greatest cover-up in history!"

In other words, human beings are created to live eternally as physical beings made of sunlight. We are Children of the Sun, and the Sun behind the Sun, the Mother Star Clusters in the Orion Nebula of our Milky Way Galaxy.

The Orion Nebula is the birthplace of our Sun's solar system and its lifecycle known as World Sun Ages. The Maya, for example, saw the rebirth of Earth as beginning the Fifth Sun Age on December 22, 2012.

Ancients saw how species are seeded and mutated by starbursts, supernova explosions, solar flares, and Coronal Mass Ejections, or CMEs, as well as advanced civilizations. They saw cross-breeding between gods and men potentially helped evolve new cosmic creatures in an infinite loop of creation, destruction, and recreation: the life, death, and rebirth cycle of Suns of God.

This was hinted in the Holy Bible that such was the case as in Genesis 6:4: "There were giants in the earth in those days; and also after that, when the sons of God came in unto the daughters of men, and they bare children to them, the same became mighty men which were of old, men of renown."

Now scientists agree: we are Star Children:

"In a very real sense," says University of Illinois astrophysicist Larry Smarr, "we are the grandchildren of supernovas."

Harvard professor of astronomy, Robert Kirshner, says, "Generations of supernovas created the elements we take for granted-the oxygen we breathe, the calcium in our bones, and the iron in your blood are products of the stars."

Fascinatingly enough, these sacred site ruins that we have turned into tourist traps can now become star map repositories of invaluable star seed information to reclaim our origins and destiny according to many scholars of them today.

And as we dug deeper into the forensic evidence of sacred sites, examined the blood, bone, and stones, so to speak; we decoded the meaning of the 12 signs of the times: the houses, mansions, or constellations the Greeks named Zodiac, or Circle of Animals. Again, it was Jesus who said: "In my Father's house are many mansions, I go and prepare a place for you."

So Zodiac signs were used to assign specific energy signatures to stars in the night sky with stones carefully crafted on-the- ground to create a mirror-image of their consciousness traits. This maps the 12 characteristics of constellations. Our own star's lifecycle through time and eternity in what we know now as a 26,000 year precession of the equinox of The Great Year.

Naturopathic health practitioner Amalia Camateros, proclaimed in her book Spirit of the Stones: A Revival of Earth Wisdom, based upon insights into the Anasazi of the American Southwest: "This knowledge was stored in the rocks as living libraries and kept safe within until a future time."

Stones are in effect sponges: they absorb and store consciousness that is carried by 12-rays of sunlight. Our human brain has 12 cranial nerves and earth 12 major tectonic plates to process light energy through them too. Needless to say, 12 is a key number to life, death, and rebirth as it defines, partitions, or sectors space itself into 12 signs of the Zodiac.

Perhaps, that is the greatest insights of so-called pagan cultures; they saw space is alive, conscious, with the ebb and flow of subtle solar radiation energy pulsations permeating everything forever. There isn't anything new under the Sun other than a cosmic recycling program of celestial beings through a mixing and matching of star systems within galaxies.

Pyramids are The Word of God written in Stars and Stone

Distinguished writer Adrian Gilbert, stated this much in his book 2012: Mayan Year of Destiny: "By building a gigantic scale model of Heaven on Earth, they were establishing a psychic link to the stars of Orion/Osiris. Then, by carrying out certain funerary rituals, such as the ‘Opening of the Mouth' and ‘Weighing of the Heart,' within the confines of the pyramids, they could assist the pharaoh's soul in its journey to the land of Osiris: the stars of Orion."

Alan F. Alford of Walsall, England declares: "Ancient sages believed that the future destiny of mankind lay in a return to the Source, i.e. to God and Heaven. The death of the body, they said, did not mark an end but rather a critical mid-point in the human existence. Those who had the secret knowledge could retrace the path to the Heavenly Source and enter the gates to the lost paradise. The knowing soul would then unite with its primeval body-double and materialize in a remarkably Earth-like world."

Ultimately we have rediscovered the secrets to reincarnation that were embedded in The Great Pyramid stones at Giza and the tombs in the Valley of the Kings. They and other related sacred site structures all seek to help us recapture our roots in the stars and point us back home to our Twin Earth in the "star nursery" of the Orion Nebula.

What we've learned is pyramids were not burial tombs, but time bombs! They speak to the end-time of the Earth's Shift on its polar axis realigning us with our home among the stars in the 21st Century now.

Indeed, our "god fathers" or Higher Selves are alive in a twin binary star earthlike system of planets defined by star clusters in the vicinity of the Orion, Sirius, and Pleiades constellations.

Robert Temple, the highly-acclaimed investigator of the Dogon tribe cultural myths in Africa, and also a member of the Royal Astronomical Society in England stated forthrightly in his classic text The Sirius Mystery: New Scientific Evidence of Alien Contact 5,000 Years Ago:

"Sirius was, astronomically, the foundation of the entire Egyptian religious system. Its celestial movements determined the Egyptian Calendar, which is even known as the Sothic Calendar."

Sirius, the Dog Star, is the prime candidate for our Sun's binary, double, or twin star system.

This insight is shared by archaeo-astronomer Walter Cruttenden, the Executive Director of the Binary Research Institute in Southern California in his book titled Lost Star of Myth and Time and DVD The Great Year.

Read the whole article.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Swiss Psychiatrist Fights Fear with LSD - Samiha Shafy

So glad to see this happening. My girlfriend is moving from trauma work to chronic pain in the in-patient facility where she works. Her pain patients could seriously use something like this - not to end the pain, because that won't happen, but to learn how to see it in a new way.

Swiss Psychiatrist Fights Fear with LSD

By Samiha Shafy

A Swiss psychiatrist is treating severely ill patients with LSD to alleviate their fear of pain and death. Other psychedelic drugs are being tested on patients in the United States, Britain and Israel. Are psychotropic substances about to make a comeback in therapy?

Nothing's happening, Udo Schulz thought to himself with quiet regret. I must have been given the placebo. He was lying on a mattress in a brightly lit room, waiting for the first real drug experience of his life.

Schulz, 44, is German and suffers from cancer. He is also the first person in more than three decades who has been allowed to consume LSD legally in the context of a scientific study. The goal of the study is to determine whether lysergic acid diethylamide, the notorious drug of the hippy era, could be useful in the treatment of certain emotional disorders.

It was May 13, 2008, and it was quiet, as it usually is, in Solothurn, a small, picturesque Baroque town at the foot of the Jura Mountains in Switzerland. The Aare River, a tributary of the Rhine, flows at a more leisurely pace here than it does in the Swiss capital Bern, past Roman walls, the Krummer Turm ("Crooked Tower") and the imposing Cathedral of St. Ursus. There could hardly be a better spot for a study with such a potentially explosive impact on society than this inconspicuous little Swiss town.

The wall of the treatment room was decorated with a red tapestry, a gong, a drum and a portrait of a smiling Buddha. Peter Gasser, a psychiatrist, and fellow therapist Barbara Speich crouched next to the patient on thin foam rubber mats.

They sat there for at least half an hour, waiting. "Then I finally sensed that something was changing in my psyche," recalls Schulz. "Wow, it was fantastic!"

Transported to a Different World

Swiss chemist Albert Hofmann synthesized, ingested and discovered the effects of LSD in a laboratory at the pharmaceutical company Sandoz in Basel on April 19, 1943. Hofmann had originally intended to develop a circulatory stimulant derived from ergot, a fungus. Instead, he synthesized a highly potent hallucinogen. A single gram of LSD is sufficient to get 20,000 people high for hours.

Of course, the young scientist couldn't have known this on the day of his discovery. As a result, the first LSD trip in history began with a drastic overdose, when Hofmann swallowed 0.25 milligrams of the substance. "I was filled with an overwhelming fear that I would go crazy," he later wrote, describing his experience. "I was transported to a different world, a different time." Hours passed before he gradually became calm again. "Now I gradually began to enjoy the unimaginable play of colors and shapes," he wrote. The next day, he wrote, he was filled with "a feeling of well-being and new life."

Hofmann couldn't have dreamed that LSD would soon become the catalyst of a mass movement, glorified by artists like the Beatles, the Doors, Pink Floyd, the actor Cary Grant and the author Aldous Huxley. Little did he suspect that the CIA would secretly use it in interrogations or that the hallucinogen would send millions of people on spiritual and creative adventures but also drive some to madness and suicide. Nevertheless, he was convinced from the start that LSD had to be suitable for providing "mental relaxation."

Many psychiatrists shared Hofmann's hope that the substance he had discovered could help them gain insights into suppressed memories and trauma. Until the 1970s, LSD was frequently used to treat depression, anxiety and addiction and, less commonly, migraines, arthritis, paralysis and skin complaints. Thousands of scientific studies were published during that time, most of which were of dubious quality. A famous case was that of Auschwitz survivor Yehiel De-Nur, who, in six LSD sessions in 1976, relived his memories of the death camp. He later published a poetic and deeply disturbing book entitled "Shivitti: A Vision" about the experience.

Albert Hofmann's Problem Child

LSD discoverer Albert Hofmann died at the age of 102 on April 29, 2008 -- just two weeks before Udo Schulz was to travel by train from Murnau in Bavaria to Solothurn to take LSD as the first subject in the study. Schulz hoped that the substance could help him face the fears that had tormented him ever since he was diagnosed with cancer.

Hofmann had always warned against the dangers posed by his "problem child," and yet he continued to believe in the drug's healing powers up until his death. For the old man, the fact that research into the medical uses of LSD was now continuing after a 35-year hiatus represented the fulfillment of his "greatest wish in life."

Study director Gasser carries a heavy burden of responsibility. It isn't just a question of doing justice to Albert Hofmann's legacy. Many scientists from the United States and Europe, who have been fighting for years to be allowed to continue research into LSD and other psychedelic substances, are now pinning their hopes on the Solothurn-based psychiatrist.

"I would welcome it if it were easier to use psychoactive substances in therapy," says Rolf Verres, medical director of the Department of Medical Psychology at the University of Heidelberg Hospital. "In Germany, there is simply a deficit in this respect."

Elsewhere, however, a comeback of hallucinogens in psychotherapy seems possible. In the United States, Britain, Israel and Switzerland, a number of studies have been recently approved involving the use of Ecstasy and psilocybin, an agent derived from hallucinogenic mushrooms. The goal of the research is to determine whether these substances can help in the treatment of traumatized war veterans and patients with anxiety disorders. Some of the researchers involved in the studies say that initial results are consistently encouraging.

But before Peter Gasser embarked on his study, no researcher had dared to use LSD, the strongest and most notorious of the hallucinogenic drugs. The outcome of his study will play a key role in determining how authorities handle similar applications in the future.

'I Am Not a Messiah'

Gasser, 49, ignored media inquiries from around the world for almost one-and-a-half years, so as not to jeopardize his sensitive experiment. Today, as he invites SPIEGEL to visit his practice for the first time, the first thing he does is to make one thing clear: "I am not a messiah, nor am I someone who aims to change society." He is interested exclusively in research, not creeping legalization of the drug, says Gasser, and he wants to demonstrate that LSD can play a positive role in psychotherapy.

Gasser is the president of the small Swiss Medical Society for Psycholytic Therapy, which advocates the therapeutic use of hallucinogens. The organization has about 50 members, of which about one-third are based in Germany. In the early 1990s, Gasser completed supplementary therapeutic training with psychedelic drugs, when it was still possible to do so in Switzerland with a special permit. He also tried LSD as part of the training.

The drug's effect has a lot to do with the setting in which it is taken, says Gasser. "We create a relaxed atmosphere here, which is why the patients remain calm." Music is sometimes played in the background during a session, and Gasser occasionally plays the drum which is hanging on the wall. So far, none of the subjects has had a bad trip, he says, and the sedative that is kept on hand for emergencies has never been used. "If you handle LSD with care," the psychiatrist claims, "it isn't any more dangerous than other therapies."

The drug is chemically related to serotonin, a neurotransmitter produced naturally in the body. It affects the same regions of the brain, particularly the limbic system, where sensory input is filtered, processed and evaluated emotionally. LSD essentially disables the filtering function, so that the brain is flooded with information. It also elevates the release of the neurotransmitter dopamine in the so-called corpus striatum, further amplifying sensory overload.

As a result, the drug influences sensory perception, thought and moods. The sense of space and time changes, and the boundary between the self and the environment becomes blurred. This can be perceived as an exhilarating feeling of becoming one with the environment, or as a frightening loss of control over one's body and thoughts. Experts are unanimous in the view that LSD is not physically or emotionally addictive, however.

Part 2: 'A Feeling of Mystical Oneness'

But can the high truly help people to overcome their fears? Borwin Bandelow, a psychiatry professor at the University of Göttingen and Germany's most prominent expert on anxiety, is skeptical. "For every therapy in the world, you will find someone who tells you this sort of thing," he says. Nevertheless, says Bandelow, he would like to see the effects of psychoactive substances for the treatment of anxiety examined in well-controlled studies. "It's an extremely interesting subject," he says.

Altered sensory perception, objects that suddenly seem alive and the feeling of floating in mid-air are all spectacular, of course, says Gasser -- but they are merely secondary phenomena. More important, he says, is the deep self-awareness and the trusting relationship the patient can quickly develop with the therapist. "It can only be achieved at this intensity using LSD," he says.

Within the framework of the study, Gasser is permitted to treat 12 patients suffering from anxiety disorders as a result of a severe physical illness. Eight of them receive a capsule of 200 micrograms of LSD each, in two full-day sessions spaced several weeks apart. The remaining four patients, the control group, receive a dose of 20 micrograms, which is too small to have much of an effect. "With a substance like LSD, a placebo-controlled procedure is, of course, questionable," Gasser admits, noting that the patient quickly realizes what he or she has swallowed. But that is just the way things are done in medicament research, he says.

The three patients who have received the effective dose to date have all benefited from the treatment, says Gasser, but the study is still underway. Besides, he adds, a study group of only 12 patients is much too small to be able to make statistically valid statements. "What we hope to demonstrate in the end is that no serious incidents occurred, and that the results suggest that this is an effective treatment method."

'The Entire Room Suddenly Came Alive'

Udo Schulz finds it difficult to articulate his drug experience. He hesitates as he begins his account. "The potted plant, the tapestry, the entire room suddenly came alive," he says, interlacing his fingers and gazing meditatively out the window. And then, after a pause, he says: "You could say it was a feeling of mystical oneness."

Schulz's problems began in the spring of 2006. He had just started a new job as an orderly in a nursing home. At first, he attributed a growing loss of appetite to the stresses of the job. Then he noticed a feeling of pressure in his stomach after meals. He ate less and lost weight. Finally, a doctor sent him to the nearest hospital. After being hospitalized for several days, he was handed his file and sent to a final examination. "On the way there, I read the file, and I saw that the diagnosis was stomach cancer."

How does one react to this kind of information? "Well, at first I thought: This isn't my file. It's impossible. I've always lived a healthy life," says Schulz, twisting his mouth into a thin smile.

But he realized that he had to undergo surgery. One-third of his esophagus and a large part of his stomach were removed. The doctors did not find any signs that the cancer had spread and so Schulz did not need to do chemotherapy.

After that, however, fear began to dominate his life. He was tormented by the thought of never being productive again, of never regaining his strength, of losing his job and having to give up. He exhausted himself with his efforts to return to work and he suffered from insomnia. Conversational therapy with a psychologist did not help very much.

When Schulz happened upon an article on the Internet about the LSD study in Switzerland, it immediately appealed to him. "The preliminary tests showed that I'm apparently a person who suffers from these symptoms of anxiety," he says.

It has been a year since the LSD therapy, and Schulz is now working full-time again. Several months ago, he began working in outpatient geriatric care, which allows him to schedule his time more flexibly and take breaks. He hopes that the changes will enable him to cope with full-time work. He keeps himself physically fit by riding his bicycle and playing table tennis several times a week.

Schulz is convinced that the LSD helped him. The drug, he says, gave him a gentle push, an energy boost at a time when he felt miserable and listless. During the trip, he says, he felt for the first time his entire sadness and anger at the cancer. "All of a sudden, I was able to cry like a baby," he says, smiling again.

There is only one thing he regrets, says Schulz: The two sessions were much too short. "I would like to continue the LSD therapy," says Schulz, staring out the window. "But not if it's illegal."

Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan