Saturday, August 15, 2009

WZEN - Abbot’s Discourse: Daido Roshi – Changsha's Returning to the Mountains Rivers and the Great Earth

Abbot’s Discourse: Daido Roshi – Changsha's Returning to the Mountains Rivers and the Great Earth

This talk was given by John Daido Loori, Roshi, the abbot and founder of Zen Mountain Monastery. It was recorded live at Zen Mountain Monastery. (c) 2005 Dharma Communications. This talk and others are available for purchase online at the Monastery Store, .

# 2009-08-15 by radio |

Dalai Lama Quote of the Week - Infinite Altruism

Here is this week's Dalai Lama Quote of the Week from Snow Lion Publications.

Many Ways to Nirvana
Reflections and Advice on Right Living
by His Holiness the Dalai Lama,
edited by Renuka Singh

Dalai Lama Quote of the Week

...we all have a feeling of closeness to ourselves. Even in cases of apparent self-hatred, some kind of self-cherishing attitude lies deep within us.

It is from cherishing oneself that one can gradually extend a similar attitude to others. Even animals have...altruism, particularly those whose offspring depend on them for a period. Naturally, there would be a bond of special love. So this love, this natural feeling of appreciation, comes from a biological need because the structure, the formation of the body, is such that you are compelled to depend on love. In order to survive, we need to care for one another. We already have the seed of love or compassion or affection for others because we have affection for ourselves. That is the seed.

The question arises, how to develop infinite altruism? It seems that it is possible to develop infinite altruism through wisdom and intelligence. Normally, when one talks about the need to cultivate love and compassion for others, one feels that this will be of benefit and help to others, but of no help to oneself, or irrelevant to oneself. This is a mistaken viewpoint because when you develop love and compassion for others, you are able to mentally develop profound satisfaction and courage. As a result you, the practitioner, benefit. You will have less fear, more willpower, more self-confidence. Automatically, one mentally becomes calmer.

~ From Many Ways to Nirvana: Reflections and Advice on Right Living by His Holiness the Dalai Lama, edited by Renuka Singh

Dharma Quote of the Week - Madhyamika theory of ultimate truth

Here is this week's Dharma Quote of the Week from Snow Lion Publications.

Vasubhandu's Summary
of the Five Heaps with
Commentary by Sthiramati
intro. and trans. by Artemus B. Engle
a Tsadra Foundation Series book

Dharma Quote of the Week

In short, the Madhyamika theory of ultimate truth is not one that completely discards such teachings as the five heaps, the Four Noble Truths, the Three Jewels, or virtuous and nonvirtuous karma and their results; rather, it assigns them the status of relative truth. The task of identifying the precise nature of ultimate truth and of explaining the degree of falsity present in conventional truth lies at the heart of Mahayana Buddhist philosophy. Moreover, one cannot rely only on canonical scripture to resolve these issues, as Je Tsongkapa notes in the opening passage from his Essence of Eloquence:

As a verse from the Sutra of Questions Posed by Rastrapala declares:

The world is forced to wander by failing to know
This empty, tranquil, and unoriginated nature.
The Compassionate One enables beings to understand it
Through hundreds of expedient means and reasons.

Seeing that the suchness of entities is extremely difficult to realize and that one cannot become liberated from samsara without realizing it, the Compassionate Master [Buddha Sakyamuni] caused it to be understood using many different forms of reasoning and expedient means. Therefore, those who possess intelligence must apply themselves to the methods by which the nature of that reality can be understood. Moreover, that depends upon being able to distinguish between the Conqueror's scriptures whose meaning requires interpretation and those that are of definitive meaning.

~ From The Inner Science of Buddhist Practice: Vasubhandu's Summary of the Five Heaps with Commentary by Sthiramati intro. and trans. by Artemus B. Engle, a Tsadra Foundation Series book, published by Snow Lion Publications

Friday, August 14, 2009

An Ethical Code for Spiritual Teachers

Why does this not exist? Here are some preliminary thoughts on the matter.

[An aside: I can hear the pseudo-integral folks complaining that doing so would be a manifestation of the Mean Green Meme, but I call bullshit on any such claims. The Green Meme has brought us ecological reform, feminism, racial equality laws, and so on - this is a long overdue and necessary development.]

The should be an international board of ethics for spiritual teachers. There are ethics groups for therapists, social workers, life coaches, psychiatrists, nurses, doctors, and so on. Yet spiritual teachers, who commit all variety of ethical violations on a regular basis without sanction, are not governed by any ethics codes.

I would propose an initial statement similar to the American Counseling Association's Code of Ethics:

Counselors encourage client growth and development in ways that foster the interest and welfare of clients and promote formation of healthy relationships. Counselors actively attempt to understand the diverse cultural backgrounds of the clients they serve. Counselors also explore their own cultural identities and howthese affect their values and beliefs about the counseling process. Counselors are encouraged to contribute to society by devoting a portion of their professional activity to services for which there is little or no financial return (pro bono publico).

A.1. Welfare of Those Served by Counselors

A.1.a. Primary Responsibility

The primary responsibility of counselors is to respect the dignity and to promote the welfare of clients.
More to the point, or at least my point, is this:
A.4. Avoiding Harm and Imposing Values

A.4.a. Avoiding Harm

Counselors act to avoid harming their clients, trainees, and research participants and to minimize or to remedy unavoidable or unanticipated harm.

A.4.b. Personal Values

Counselors are aware of their own values, attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors and avoid imposing values that goals. Counselors respect the diversity of clients, trainees, and research participants.

A.5. Roles and Relationships With Clients
(See F.3., F.10., G.3.)

A.5.a. Current Clients

Sexual or romantic counselor–client interactions or relationships with current clients, their romantic partners, or their family members are prohibited.

A.5.b. Former Clients

Sexual or romantic counselor–client interactions or relationships with former clients, their romantic partners, or their family members are prohibited for a period of 5 years following the last professional contact. Counselors, before engaging in sexual or romantic interactions or relationships with clients, their romantic partners, or client family members after 5 years following the last professional contact, demonstrate forethought and document (in written form) whether the interactions or relationship can be viewed as exploitive in some way and/or whether there is still potential to harm the former client; in cases of potential exploitation and/or harm, the counselor avoids entering such an interaction or relationship.

A.5.c. Nonprofessional Interactions or Relationships (Other Than Sexual or RomanticInteractions or Relationships)

Counselor–client nonprofessional relationships with clients, former clients, their romantic partners, or their family members should be avoided, except when the interaction is potentially beneficial to the client. (See A.5.d.)
All of these are areas that apply equally well to spiritual teachers as well as therapists. And in many ways, the relationship between a teacher and student might even be more prone to violations than a therapist-client relationship.

When someone gives themselves over to to a teacher or guru, one expects to be held in a spirit of growth, not taken advantage of sexually or financially. Yet many teachers use this relationship to have sexual relations with students, or get financial assistance from students. I am not going to name names here, but two very prominent members of the integral inner circle are guilty of these violations and have not been sanctioned in any way.

A teacher should NEVER, under any circumstances, be in a sexual or romantic relationship with students. It is not illegal (although it is for therapists), but it is incredibly unethical and irresponsible.

Someone who violates the ethical code would be fined and suspended from teaching - and a database would be kept of those who commit violations so that future students will be able to check on the ethical record of prospective teachers.

This blind eye needs to be made to see - for the benefit of all spiritual teachers and the safety and best interest of students.

Evan Thompson - Empathy and Consciousness

Great article from Evan Thompson, one of the leading researchers in embodied consciousness d intersubjectivity. This is a very long and geeky article, but it's good stuff.

Evan Thompson
Empathy and Consciousness

This article makes five main points. (1) Individual human consciousness is formed in the dynamic interrelation of self and other, and therefore is inherently intersubjective. (2) The concrete encounter of self and other fundamentally involves empathy, understood as a unique and irreducible kind of intentionality. (3) Empathy is the precondition (the condition of possibility) of the science of consciousness. (4) Human empathy is inherently developmental: open to it are pathways to non-egocentric or self-transcendent modes of intersubjectivity. (5) Real progress in the understanding of intersubjectivity requires integrating the methods and findings of cognitive science, phenomenology, and contemplative and meditative psychologies of human transformation.

I: Preamble

My aim in this article is to set forth a context for the following essays and a framework for future research on the topic of intersubjectivity in the science of consciousness. To this end, I will present, in broad strokes, an overview of this topic, drawing from three main sources—cognitive science and the philosophy of mind, continental European phenomenology, and the psychology of contemplative or meditative experience. Since my aim is integrative and constructive, I will not offer detailed conceptual and empirical arguments for each step, though I will try to give a taste of some of these arguments along the way.

II: Introduction

The theme of this article is that the individual human mind is not confined within the head, but extends throughout the living body and includes the world beyond the biological membrane of the organism, especially the interpersonal, social world of self and other. This theme, long central to the tradition of continental European phenomenology, derived from Edmund Husserl (1859–1938), has lately begun to be heard in cognitive science. Indeed, there is a remarkable convergence between these two traditions, not simply on the topic of intersubjectivity, but on virtually every area of research within cognitive science, as a growing number of scientists and philosophers have discussed (Varela, 1996; Gallagher, 1997; Petitot et al., 1999). In the case of intersubjectivity, much of the convergence centres on the realization that one’s consciousness of oneself as an embodied individual in the world is founded on empathy—on one’s empathic cognition of others, and others’ empathic cognition of oneself. Yet despite this convergence, to be explored in this article, many questions remain about how to understand the relationship between the cognitive scientific and the phenomenological treatments of consciousness. In the end, these questions all come back to the question of what kind of science the science of consciousness is or can be. Put another way, if we are to have a cognitively and ethically satisfying understanding of consciousness, what form should this understanding take?

To frame my discussion here, let me propose two key points that go to the heart of the matter. I call these points the Core Dyad:

* Empathy is the precondition (the condition of possibility) for the science of consciousness.
* Empathy is an evolved, biological capacity of the human species, and probably of other mammalian species, such as the apes.
Read the whole article.

MAPS - Salvia with Meditation Study

I would love to try this - should probably do it now before the government decides to criminalize it. This was from 1999,

Salvia with Meditation Study

Ian Soutar

A group of us are in the planning stages of an experiment to establish the effectiveness of Salvia divinorum in very low doses. The idea is to discover whether or not this herb will enhance a group meditation experience and individual meditation.

The experiment started with a core group of six Quakers who were experienced with meditation and who had experimented with psychedelic drugs before. In discussion we all felt that very low doses of these substances might very well enhance a meditation group. Another six people from the community at large joined us who are Buddhist, Sufi or other experienced meditators. The general Quaker community, as well as the Sufi and Buddhist communities are not particularly sympathetic with this type of experiment, but we are not discouraged by this. We have decided, with the help of MAPS, to be scientific in our methods and will use a modified form of Rick Strassman's Hallucinogen Rating Scale system to evaluate the herb + meditation state. We will use a placebo herbal mixture along with two concentrations of Salvia divinorum. MAPS is funding the chemical analysis of the material to be used.

Administration of the herb will be through the use of the dried leaves held under the tongue at the beginning of the meditation. Experimentation by a few members of the group has shown that 1 or 2 (15 cm, weighing about 1/4 gram each) leaves have a subtle but noticeable effect that seems perfect for meditation:

1) Thoughts become much more focused and clear.
2) Distracting thoughts and worries almost completely vanish.
3) The effects begin in about 15 minutes and last for slightly under one hour.
4) The herb has a calming effect.

Other than these effects, at this dosage there are no visions or other pronounced effects. The experience is similar in strength to a strong cup of coffee. We found that when we did meditate under the influence of the herb at this level, meditation was extremely easy and effective.

This research is being done by dedicated amateur researchers under the guidance of professional researchers who have kindly offered advice on the design and evaluation methods to be used. The fully legal status of the herb has made the organization of the experiment very easy.

We are in the planning stages and would be interested in hearing any anecdotal knowledge that people may have on sublingual (under the tongue) Salvia divinorum use. Of course we would be particularly interested in knowing if anyone has used Salvia divinorum for meditation.

Here is the study update:

Meditation with Salvia Divinorum/Salvinorin A

Investigators: Ian Soutar, Rick Strassman, M.D.
Sponsor: MAPS


This project evaluates Salvia divinorum as a tool for enhancing meditation work. Buddhist, Quaker, Sufi and other meditation techniques are used by participants in this double blind evaluation of group meditation combined with low doses of Salvia divinorum. One third of the subjects will receive a placebo, one third will receive a very low dose and one third will receive a low dose.

January 15, 2000

We are starting in the new year with a meeting to taste test the placebo vs. the real thing. We have someone in the group who is a nurse. She has experience with statistics and drug testing ... so she will be a great resource.

We decided that 1.5 grams chewed is the maximum because some people experience gagging with 2 grams. So we are setting the very low dose at 0.5 grams and the low dose as 1.5 grams.

We decided to do a group meditation only ... no individual studies of private meditation. The reason was organizational. In the group session we fill out the questions after the session.

The placebo was hard to establish after all because some subjects could detect the bitterness of the herb even with washed samples. So we moved back to using comfrey as a placebo... looks perfect but it lacks the bitterness. We are adding some quinine sulphate to create the bitterness. That is the same flavoring as in the italian soft drink Brio or in german bitters. Herbal double blind studies sure are hard to do because it is hard to duplicate a plant material.

November 3, 1999

An additional detail that has required rewriting the schedule of the double blind study is that we found a way to remove the bitterness. This eliminates our need to add quinine to duplicate the bitterness. The double blind study has not started yet.

In the dose establishment phase of this study we have tested subjects on 1/2 gram, 1 gram, 1.5 grams and 2.0 grams of dried and crumbled Salvia divinorum leaves. We had a hard time coming up with a placebo. Dried Comfrey leaves are a very close duplicate, but they lack the bitterness of Salvia divinorum We had a breakthrough in July when we found that if you wash dried and crumbled Salvia divinorum leaves in two changes of water‹2 full glasses of water per gram‹the bitterness of the Salvia is gone. The active ingredient Salvinorin-A is insoluble in water. When treated in this way you cannot tell Salvia divinorum from comfrey leaves prepared in the same way.

Salvia Almost everyone liked the 1.0 gram level for meditation. The half-gram dose was rarely detected by anyone. The 2.0 gram dose was too strong for meditation. Effects from the dried Salvia leaves soaked and washed in water and then placed under the tongue were as follows. The actual technique is to chew the leaves every five minutes or so and return them to under the tongue.

0.5 grams... half of the subjects noticed a slight effect... a clearer than normal mind that is free from distractions. The other half noticed nothing at all.
1.0 grams...everyone noticed it when they were in a quiet room with no distractions. Mind is clear and meditation is unusually easy with few distracting thoughts. This dose was only detected by anyone when they were trying to meditate. The effect made it easier tc oncentrate without thoughts... a definite plus for meditation. If they, however, listened to music or did some activity they could not notice any effect at all.
1.5 grams... half of subjects notice a trance like state beginning to happen. Effect is slight but it inhibits meditation for some.
2.0 grams produced a slightly trance like effect for some people with time distortion. Generally people found that level too strong for meditation. The effect was enjoyable however... a bit dream like and time seemed to slow down.

So those are the casual results from the dose establishment phase of the study. The next step will be the double blind study.

May 1, 1999

These dosage levels are being established through a set of non-blind dose establishment sessions. The herb is administered sublingually in dried leaf form. Dosages range from 1/4 gram to 1 gram of dried leaf. This quantity is about 1/5 to 1/10th of the amount normally used to induce psychedelic states. Preliminary sessions have shown that the effects at this dosage level cannot be detected except when the subject sits quietly with eyes closed. These effects include alertness, unusual clarity of mind and an enhanced ability to concentrate. Some subjects are reporting space and time distortion effects. One unusual result that has been observed is headache relief. Data on this effect will be collected in an informal manner during the experiment. One subject who suffers from migraine found his headache completely eliminated over 30 minutes. Another observed the same effect with a minor headache. If informal results look promising we may do a follow up study to see if Salvia divinorum might have some merit for headache treatment. We have been contacted by another researcher who wants to start his own project to evaluate S.D. for headache relief.

The double blind phase of the experiment will begin in early June 1999. During each session they will meditate as a group while holding a small quantity of the herb (or placebo) under the tongue. After the session each person will answer a questionnaire to evaluate the effects of the herb and to determine whether or not the herb enhanced their ability to meditate. The questionnaire is a modified version of the HRS (Hallucinogen Rating Scale) developed by Rick Strassman.

This amateur research project has progressed quite smoothly without the usual beaurocratic and approval delays that are the rule with professional studies. With proper guidance a project such as this can be carried out in a scientific and methodical way and deliver valuable data to other researchers.

MAPS has purchased the materials and paid for the chemical analysis. Continuing assistance is being offered at no charge, in the spirit of amateur research, by MAPS (professional) members. Thanks to all who are currently contributing their knowledge to this project.

September 18, 2000

The Salvia Study is very slow but we have made significant progress. 8 of us have met several times for meditation without the placebo. Many of us have meditated for 10 to 20 years and more.

The remarkable thing is that every time we sit...right from the first time...the mediation group was very harmonious and it was a great meditation.

We have worked together on several Saturdays tasting different herbs and have found the placebo that works. Washed dried nettles is slightly lighter in weight than Salvia Divinorum, but when it is wet you almost cannot tell the difference.

To compensate for the very slight difference we add an unpredictably strong pinch (1/16 gram) of mint. The taste of the mint is so strong it masks any difference.

Finally we have something that fools everyone.

On we go into the testing phase....

- Ian Soutar


Nice article from Resurgence Magazine on building a bottom-up system to survive the transition away from fossil fuels.


by Brian Goodwin

Illustration: Matt Kenyon

The core component of the Transition movement is to develop a bottom-up, participatory process in order to build resilient communities in response to climate change and peak oil.

The Transition movementis one of those unexpected phenomena in human culture, capturing and mobilising an energy that rarely emerges but is deeply significant for social, political and economic change. This radical movement is grounded in the stark realisation that dramatic transformations are occurring in the Earth’s climate due to humanity’s use of fossil fuels and the release of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, causing global warming, and that the supply of these cheap fuels, particularly oil, has reached or soon will reach its peak and decline (the ‘peak oil’ phenomenon), potentially creating an economic and social crisis compared with which the present ‘credit crunch’ is a gentle warning.

Awareness of the inevitability of a transition in our culture to alternative, resilient ways of living that are not dependent on the economic growth paradigm led Rob Hopkins to explore ways of facilitating this move when he was living in Kinsale, Ireland, in 2005. His vision was for communities to “go local” in food and energy production and housing and that they should initiate this transformation themselves. It is the positive sense of empowerment this gives to people that overcomes the challenges of such fundamental change. Hopkins then moved to Totnes, South Devon, where he started the local initiative called Transition Town Totnes in 2006. This began with public talks on fossil-fuel dependence and how to find alternatives through collective action in the community.

From this modest beginning, the Transition movement has exploded in the most remarkable way, not simply within the UK but worldwide. The seed planted in Kinsale and then in Totnes has produced a plant that has grown like Jack’s beanstalk with a network of Transition initiatives of different types and sizes. The latest count is 150 in fourteen countries and the number increases weekly. This represents a phenomenal rate of growth in less than three years. The Transition movement could indeed make a fundamental difference to the planet.

Co-ordinating these and ensuring some uniformity of process has been the job of the Transition Network Ltd, a legally constituted charity that oversees with a light touch the different forms of transition that seem appropriate to different scales of action: towns, cities, counties, countries. Its stated intention is to “inspire, encourage, support, network and train communities as they adopt the Transition model in response to peak oil and climate change, building resilience and happiness”.

In 2008 The Transition Handbook, written by Hopkins, was published by Green Books, and it has become the guide for communities seeking to participate in the transition to sustainability.

BECAUSE OUR DEPENDENCE on cheap, plentiful energy has become not simply a habit but an addiction, the Transition movement recognises that some deep work has to be done for people to face the difficult choices confronting them. This takes the form of group engagement in a change of consciousness from focus on the individual, a primary characteristic of Western culture, to opening ourselves to interdependent relationships and community. The first stage of transition is for interested people from a community to form an initiating group that will then go through the steps of awareness-raising and laying the foundation with other existing groups in the community.

The recognition of interdependence engendered is not simply with other people but with the natural world, acknowledging that we are all embedded in the creative web of life that has emerged on Earth through 4 billion years of evolution, giving us the miracle of our living planet. Our co-dependence with the other species with whom we share the Earth is the foundation on which the Transition movement is biologically grounded, and it is the source of the basic concepts that shape the vision.

One of the remarkable features of the Transition movement is that, despite the gravity of our situation, there is a sense of empowerment and excitement that results from inviting people to discover their own solutions to the problems we face. They are not being told what to do. Threat and blame do not liberate people; invitation to participate in designs for radical transformation does. This is a truly bottom-up movement of deep change which people recognise is increasingly necessary.

At the very core of the Transition message about cultivating new, sustainable lifestyles is the belief that human cultures must develop patterns of relationship in community that have the properties of natural ecosystems: they must become resilient, capable of responding adaptively and creatively to shocks and changes such that flexible responses lead to the emergence of new sustainable patterns of living.

Basic to this vision of resilient communities is the localisation of food production, renewable energy, transport and housing. Each community is encouraged to design its own Energy Descent Action Plan whereby it decreases dependence on fossil fuels over a period of fifteen to twenty years. To facilitate this localisation process, local currencies and banks can be developed that transform the economic system from debt-dependence and continuous, unsustainable growth to resilient local trading networks that are creative and adaptable. Local currencies already exist and serve community cohesion and stability in countries around the world, including Switzerland, Sweden and the US, while Totnes and Lewes in the UK have issued their own currencies to facilitate local trading. Local currencies typically flourish in times of economic hardship – for example in America’s last Great Depression – and, given the state of the world economy, there’s every chance we’ll see their ascendance again.

Accompanying these localisation initiatives is the development of local governance, education and health care and the integration of practical skills, arts and crafts into the learning process so that children acquire directly the know-how for living a sustainable life in community that is harmonious with the rhythms and patterns of the natural world. Implementing these changes does not depend on instructions from some central authority but on local decision-making that is self-organising and participatory rather than top-down and hierarchical in its authority structure.

HOW CAN SUCH radical change in the organisation of contemporary society come about? This is another core component of the Transition movement: developing a bottom-up, participatory process for all major decisions in the community. The Transition Network suggests a list of seven principles of transition that enable a diversified response grounded in the local context. These are:

• Positive Visioning: Transition initiatives are based on a dedication to the creation of tangible, clearly expressed and practical visions of community life beyond dependence on fossil fuels.• Trust and Empowerment: Transition initiatives are based on telling people the closest version of the truth that we know in times when the information available is deeply contradictory, and then empowering appropriate responses.• Inclusion and Openness: Successful Transition initiatives depend on the unprecedented coming together of diverse sections of society.• Sharing and Networking: Information sharing and learning are key principles of resilient ecologies that are central to transition.• Building Resilience: How communities respond to shocks is critical to the transitional path beyond fossil-fuel dependency. The movement is explicit in its intention to build resilience across key economic sectors (including food, energy and transport) and across a range of appropriate scales – from local to national.• Inner and outer transition: Transition is a catalyst to shifting values and unleashing the energy and creativity of people to do what they are passionate about.• Subsidiarity: Self-organisation and decision making at the appropriate scale are key principles drawn from resilient ecological systems.

Many attribute the success of the Transition movement to its emerging holographic structure, which mimics cell growth within living organisms. The network aspires to simultaneously maximise local autonomy and maximise coherence at the macro-level through shared learning and purpose.

IT HAS BECOME clear in recent years that the economic system is intrinsically unsustainable and inequitable. It is destructive of ecosystems and cultures alike in its homogenising impulse, destroying the diversity that is the foundation of resilient natural and cultural systems. However, the structure and properties of trading and exchange systems are ours to choose. Our recent experience with the toxic properties of unregulated capitalism has made it clear that we need to find other ways of carrying out exchange and trade that are more in line with the properties of natural ecosystems.

A primary source of instability in our current economic system is continuous growth, which uses up the Earth’s resources inefficiently and is driven by the monetary policy of lending with interest. This makes growth necessary to recover debt. However, there is no reason why community banks should not provide loans to savers without interest, which is a principle used by a number of successful banking schemes in Sweden, Switzerland and other countries. An economy that does not enslave people to debt is one in which they retain their freedom and empowerment.

Since natural ecosystems remain in balance with the resources available to them and with one another, we can ask if there is some regulatory principle that is natural to human communities so that they could likewise maintain an equitable harmony with their bioregions. It appears that there is indeed such a principle, which could balance quantity of goods traded with quality of life. The basic idea is that as trading activity increases, facilitated by money, people’s basic needs become satisfied and there is an opportunity for them to find lives of meaning in relation to one another in community and with the natural world.

However, if trading activity becomes dominant, people spend more time working than experiencing wellbeing in family and community. Then the quality of their lives decreases and this is experienced as a loss of meaning and quality of lived experience, which people are encouraged to compensate for with more quantity of goods and money. This is the retail therapy that is notorious in our culture: a desperate attempt to fill the quality gap with quantities of consumer items. Because community has been destroyed, people often fail to notice this because of an absence of the relationships required to evaluate quality of life.

This positive feedback loop leads to the disintegration of society as people search desperately for ways of finding meaning, usually through the accumulation of money. This inevitably fails. The first step in restoring the natural balance between freedom and responsibility, between people and Nature, is to recover community, which is precisely what the Transition movement focuses on. It is people’s hunger for meaning and quality in relationship that seems to be driving the Transition movement along a path to social, political, economic and ecological transformation.

AS WE MOVE into the unknown territory of post-peak-oil economies, how can we be sure that transition ideas will create more sustainable and resilient ways of living? The answer is that we can’t, and we need to recognise that Transition is a social exploration somewhat along the lines of Nature’s evolutionary experiments, which continue all around us. Transition’s playful seriousness encapsulates this experimentation and lack of certainty with this “cheerful disclaimer”from the Transition Towns website: “We truly don’t know if this will work. Transition is a social experiment on a massive scale. What we are convinced of is this: if we wait for the governments, it’ll be too little, too late; if we act as individuals, it’ll be too little; but if we act as communities, it might just be enough, just in time.” Brian Goodwin teaches at Schumacher College in Devon, UK. He has written a number of books, including Nature’s Due.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Upaya Dharma Podcats - Waking, Dreaming, Being

A fabulous podcast from neuroscientist Evan Thompson, who co-wrote several books with Francisco Varella, from the Upaya Zen Center.

Much gratitude to Roshi Joan Halifax for bringing such amazing people to her Zen center and making the discussions available to all of us!

Waking, Dreaming, Being

July 15th, 2009

Speaker: Evan Thompson

“What is the self?” To the ancient East Indians, it is “the light of consciousness.” How can we as Westerners study the self, including such tantalizing questions as posed by H.H. the Dalai Lama, “is there a physical basis necessary for consciousness to be present?” Meditators have studied various aspects of the self from the first-person perspective for thousands of years. The more objective perspective used by modern science is comparatively new, yet it offers helpful tools to investigate the great question of the self. Evan calls on both methods of study, since both grow out of an ethical concern to alleviate suffering in the world.

icon for podpress [Play] Waking, Dreaming, Being [45:18m]: Hide Player | Play in Popup | Download [Play]

AK's Rambling Thoughts - A New Integrative Theory for Cortical Pyramidal Neurons

Very interesting and geeky research review article.

A New Integrative Theory for Cortical Pyramidal Neurons
A discovery reported in last Friday's Science Magazine offers a new unifying principle for how pyramidal cells perform their function in the neocortex, as well as other cortical areas: Synaptic Integration in Tuft Dendrites of Layer 5 Pyramidal Neurons: A New Unifying Principle (by Matthew E. Larkum, Thomas Nevian, Maya Sandler, Alon Polsky, and Jackie Schiller), unfortunately behind a paywall. What this paper does is demonstrate that a type of neural activity called an NMDA spike (see below), already known to occur in the basal branches of the dendrites of pyramidal cells, also occur in the branches in the apical tuft, the arborization that occurs at the top of the apical dendrite, the main dendrite that reaches from the soma (body) up to the top layer (Layer I) where the majority of synaptic connections are made between incoming axons (from other brain regions) and pyramidal cells (which produce outgoing axons to other brain regions).[1]

As of late 2007, "NMDA spikes have been observed in basal dendrites but not apical dendrites",[4] but now:
We report the existence of N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA) spikes in the fine distal tuft dendrites that otherwise did not support the initiation of calcium spikes. Both direct measurements and computer simulations showed that NMDA spikes are the dominant mechanism by which distal synaptic input leads to firing of the neuron and provide the substrate for complex parallel processing of top-down input arriving at the tuft.[1]
Before we look at what these NMDA spikes are, let's look briefly at the implications of this discovery:

Integrative Calculations in Pyramidal Neurons

Figure 1: Structures of selected pyramidal neurons from different cortical areas. Click on image to see full image and original caption. (From Reference 4, figure 1..)

Figure 2: Simplified (!) diagram of the calculating modules according to the "New Unifying Principle" in Reference 1. Each box represents an integrative calculating unit, capable of performing a large variety of calculations with its inputs. The circles represent input information coming via synapses. Note that the logical organization here doesn't map exactly to the physical organization of the neuron: the non-linear voltage responses of the synapses, the locations of the synapses on the local branches, and the non-linear voltage responses of the dendritic membrane of the local branches should all be considered part of the calculation box. The input, then, consists of the flow of neurotransmitters across the synapse. The timing of the arrival of the action potential, and any calculations that take place in the pre-synaptic neuron, aren't included in this diagram. Click on image to see larger version. (Original. You may link to, copy, and/or modify this image, as long as you give credit with a link to this post.)

Looking at Figure 2, we can see that there are a number of modules, potentially nested, which perform semi-independent calculations. They feed their results to modules progressively closer (and ultimately identical) to the soma, which (along with the axon hillock and the first 50-100 microns of the axon) performs the final calculation regarding whether, and when, to fire an action potential. Prior to this research, the modules in the apical tuft (those feeding the proximate apical dendrite, see also figure 1) were regarded as different in kind from those in the basal branches.[4] What this research has (tentatively) demonstrated is that the integrating modules called "Fine Dendrite Branches" in Figure 2 appear to act in very similar fashions, although they provide their outputs to different places.[1]

The outputs of from the tuft branches feed the integrating/calculating module represented by the proximate apical dendrite, which performs a calculation that involves a process called a "calcium spike" (see below), which had been thought to be caused in the tuft branches,[4] but with this research are (tentatively) shown not to be caused in the branches, but only in the proximate apical dendrite.[1] This permits the "New Unifying Principle":
The thin distal tuft and basal dendrites of pyramidal neurons, which receive the overwhelming majority of synaptic inputs ([ref]), appear to constitute a class of dendrite in which NMDA spikes are the predominant regenerative events summing synaptic inputs in semi-independent compartments. The output of each subunit in this class of dendrite is passed on to the major sites of integration at the axon and apical calcium initiation zones, which can all interact via actively propagated signals ([ref]), enabling the interactions between top-down and bottom-up information.[1]
This represents a major change to how pyramidal cells should be viewed, offering different pictures of their modular breakdown and evolution. ... We can reasonably suppose that the evolution of the neocortex involved, among other things, some improvements and refinements to the integrating calculation process of the apical calcium initiation zones in the proximate apical dendrite. Pyramidal neurons "are abundant in the cerebral cortex of virtually every mammal that has ever been studied, as well as in those of birds, fish and reptiles, but not amphibians."[4] They are:
found in most mammalian forebrain structures, including the cerebral cortex, the hippocampus and the amygdala, but not the olfactory bulb, the striatum, the midbrain, the hindbrain or the spinal cord. Thus, they are found primarily in structures that are associated with advanced cognitive functions[.][4]
We can reasonably suppose that the original version, developed either by early amniotes (and independently by fish), or much earlier in vertebrate evolution (and lost by ancestral amphibians), was only capable of supporting the three-layer cortical structure of reptiles and the allocortex of mammals.
Go read the rest of the article.

Village Voice - The Complete Cosmicomics, a Holy Grail for Italo Calvino Fans

I loved the original Cosmicomics book, and now all the stories are collected in the same place, at last. For now, the book is only available in Britain, but we can pay extra shipping to get it here.

The Complete Cosmicomics, a Holy Grail for Italo Calvino Fans

By Julie Phillips

Monday, July 20th 2009 at 5:46pm

In the beginning, before the Big Bang, all the matter in the universe was concentrated in a single point. Qfwfq can tell you about it: He was there. "Naturally, we were all there—where else could we have been? Nobody knew then that there could be space. Or time, either: What use did we have for time, packed in there like sardines?"

Qfwfq has been a mammoth, a dinosaur, and a single cell. He made the first sign in space, and analyzed it, too, getting the drop on Roland Barthes by a few billion years. He remembers the Earth when it had no atmosphere, the sun when it was a cold, dark nebula. He recalls how good it felt to be a mollusk, with all of evolution still before him; and what happened to old U(h) and the first bird; and how his sister G'd(w)n got lost when the sun formed and turned up in Canberra in 1912.

With their avuncular narrator and their wild leaps of semi-scientific fantasy, Italo Calvino's Cosmicomics are some of the most dazzling and joyous literary fiction of the 20th century. Calvino (1923–1985) began writing the Cosmicomics in the 1960s under the influence of Oulipo, the endearingly goofy, mostly French experimental literary group that included Harry Mathews and Georges Perec. One of the Oulipians' tenets was that, in order to represent its time, fiction should address physics and mathematics, though their approach to science was more imaginative than analytic. (Embracing mathematical restrictions, Perec famously wrote a novel without using the letter "e.") Calvino drew inspiration from astronomy and evolution on one hand and Italian folk tales, comic books, myth, and movies on the other. The combination yields stories full of poetry and wonder, in prose that swoops like some rainbow-feathered prehistoric bird between the colloquial and the sublime. Through the eyes of Qfwfq and his family, we see space and time on a human scale, while human emotion—playful, boisterous, wistful—expands to fill the universe.

The new Penguin Classics Complete Cosmicomics collects in one volume almost all of Calvino's Cosmicomic stories: the original Cosmicomics, published in Italy in 1965 (in English, 1968); a second volume, t zero (1967; in English, 1969); and 11 other stories, seven of which had never been translated into English. (Three were published in the U.S. earlier this year, two in Harper's and one in The New Yorker.) Cosmicomics and t zero are in gorgeous English versions by William Weaver; the other translations, almost as good, are by Tim Parks and Martin McLaughlin. For now, because of rights issues, the complete version is available only in the U.K., but it's easily ordered from, and the beautiful cover alone is worth the extra postage.

There's nothing dated about the Cosmicomic stories, and nothing unexamined. Calvino did not take much in his writing for granted. The son of leftist botanists, he went to agricultural school, joined a Communist partisan group during World War II, but then abandoned agriculture for literature (his thesis was on Joseph Conrad). In 1947, he published a socialist-realist war novel called The Path to the Nest of Spiders, only to conclude that realism suited him no better than agriculture. In the 1950s, he translated his rebellion against convention into the Enlightenment yarns The Cloven Viscount and The Baron in the Trees. He also assembled an edition of Italian folk tales, joining other experimental writers (Robert Coover, Angela Carter) who have used folk tales as a jumping-off place.

But it was science that answered his need for a large philosophical canvas. In his later collection Mr. Palomar, Calvino wrote, "The discrepancy between human behavior and the rest of the universe has always been a source of anguish." To resolve his dread, the autobiographical Mr. Palomar "tries in vain to escape subjectivity by taking refuge among the celestial bodies." In the Cosmicomics, Calvino instead transforms anguish into comedy, and dread into a gentle, funny awe. Calvino's literary descendants are writers excited rather than frightened by the world's possibilities—writers like Carter, Salman Rushdie, Jeanette Winterson, Michael Chabon, and David Mitchell, who take their fantasy seriously and put formal experiment at the service of pleasure.

Over the course of the Complete Cosmicomics, you can see Calvino playing with the form, trying to see what it can do. The stories "t zero" and "The Night Driver" are abstract mathematical games, and too dry (though "The Night Driver" is apparently an homage to Godard's Weekend). The newly translated stories are more accessible and show an even greater range of styles. "The Mushroom Moon" is inspired by comic books. "World Memory" is a philosophical murder mystery. "Solar Storm" is an odd literary pastiche, referencing Conrad, Jane Austen, and Mary Shelley. There are three different tales based on the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice; he kept retouching it, adding more layers of paint, though I'm not sure he managed to improve it.

Many of these later Cosmicomics are more melancholy, like the conservationist parable "The Daughters of the Moon," in which objects on Earth are constantly being discarded and replaced with newer models, so that Manhattan's skyscrapers gleam "like the nylon bristles of a brand-new toothbrush." Meanwhile, the moon, NASA's grail—and, in the Cosmicomic stories, always a mirror image of our own planet—is now thought to be used-up and is thrown on the scrap heap.

Human emotion is the one constant in the Cosmicomics: jealousy, irritation, pride, generosity, and love. The most beautiful of all the stories may be that one quoted at the start, "All at One Point," in which people are "packed in like sardines," along with their furniture, their laundry, "all the material that was to serve afterwards to form the universe." They are stuck there until one of them, Mrs. Ph(i)nk0, exclaims, "Oh, if I only had some room, how I'd like to make some tagliatelle for you boys!" At that moment, Qfwfq and the others begin to picture "the space that her round arms would occupy," the space for the dough, the flour, the wheat for the flour, the sun on the wheat, the galaxy to harbor the sun . . .

In the act of making pasta, the universe can be imagined—and, in that moment of generosity, imagination, and love, Calvino says, our world and all of us were born.

Is Pete Singer's Call for Global Compassion Realistic?

I like Singer, and I agree with his call for global compassion - it's the only thing that may save our species and our planet - but not everyone thinks it's a realistic goal. The Guardian UK asked several thinkers to respond to his call.

What's wrong with Peter Singer?

Is his call for global compassion realistic? Why don't we feel the compelling compassion he says we should?

The question

The philosopher Peter Singer is controversial for a lot of reasons, but there is one thing he says that almost everyone agrees ought to be true: we should care more about strangers. In his most recent book, he says:

We all spend money on things we don't really need, whether on drinks, meals out, clothing, movies, concerts, vacations, new cars, or house renovation. Is it possible that by choosing to spend your money on such things rather than contributing to an aid agency, you are leaving a child to die, a child you could have saved?

And his point seems hard to argue against, respectably. Yet two questions arise. If he's right, what is the point of an ethical standard that's so impossible to live up to, and so much, apparently, out of sympathy with our emotional constitution? Or is he, perhaps wrong: is there any reason I am obliged to care for the starving in Africa as much as I might if I saw someone dying in front of me?

Tuesday's response

HE Baber: All that keeps us from caring practically for the poor is the paradox of choice

Wednesday's response

Razib Khan: Unlike Singer, Confucius recognised the natural impulse to impose a heirarchy on the value of human life – and his ideas endured

Thursday's response

Sue Blackmore: Giving money to help save lives abroad is fraught with complexities and unintended side-effects – and that's why I no longer do it

Friday's response

Jonathan Bartley: The challenge to care about those we don't know is something we should aspire to, even though we're likely to fail at it

Psychodynamic Therapy vs CBT Smackdown for Anxiety

Interesting article from John Grohol at Psych Central on a recent study that shows psychodynamic therapy to be equally as effective as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) for generalized anxiety disorder. Good study and nice review of the study.

Psychodynamic Therapy vs CBT Smackdown for Anxiety

By John M Grohol PsyD
August 9, 2009

Psychodynamic Therapy vs CBT Smackdown

I have a soft spot in my heart for psychodynamic psychotherapy. While its science generally lags behind its more modern cousin, cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), it’s the “old timey” therapy based upon theories that are similar to psychoanalytic thinking and good ole Freud himself. One of my friends in graduate school was a big believer and proponent of it as well, and my respect for her and her ability to affect change with her clients at the time is largely all the proof a practitioner really needs.

Of course, the field of psychology demands more these days, as does an increasingly educated public. It’s all fine and well to have hundreds of published case studies supporting a certain type of psychotherapy, but science wants to see randomized controlled clinical trials. That’s what makes the headlines, and that’s what gives you some respect amongst other researchers.

The American Journal of Psychiatry provided just such evidence in last month’s issue, with the publication of a psychodynamic therapy versus CBT smackdown — which is best for generalized anxiety disorder (GAD)? GAD is the garden-variety type of anxiety that most people get diagnosed for when they feel chronic, pervasive, and uncontrollable worry, often accompanied by somatic (physical) complaints, for no particular reason. So much so, it starts to affect their ability to go to work, concentrate on their job or school, and keep up with their friends and significant others.

The smackdown was a simple design — two treatment groups, one who received psychodynamic psychotherapy, and the other who received cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). Although it wasn’t a huge, multi-center study (sorry, no pharmaceutical funding here, so you have to rely on resources normally available to most researchers), it did 57 subjects, roughly divided equally between the two groups. Each treatment group had up to 30 once-weekly treatment sessions — the way most psychotherapy is normally delivered in the real world. Yes, the study lacked a placebo arm, but this is often the case in psychotherapy studies where wait-list control groups have been criticized for not being an adequate placebo. So one could still make the argument that neither treatment approach is any better than talking to someone untrained in psychotherapy, once weekly.

CBT has already been shown in previous research to be an effective treatment options for people with generalized anxiety disorder. However, prior to the current study, no study has directly compared the effectiveness of psychodynamic therapy with CBT in a controlled clinical trial like this.

The results should not surprise you. Psychodynamic psychotherapy was shown to be just as effective as CBT in the treatment of generalized anxiety disorder, on the primary measures the researchers used:

For the primary outcome measure (HAM-A) and two other measures of anxiety (the Beck Anxiety Inventory and the Hospital Anxiety and Depression Scale anxiety scale) and for interpersonal problems (Inventory of Interpersonal Problems), no significant differences in outcome between the two treatments were found.

CBT was found to be superior than psychodynamic psychotherapy, however, on a few other, secondary measures the researchers used, specifically those that measured trait anxiety (State-Trait Anxiety Inventory), worrying (Penn State Worry Questionnaire), and depression (BDI).

One of the interesting characteristics of psychotherapy studies versus those typically carried out for psychiatric drugs is the sheer number of psychological measures researchers use to measure the effectiveness of the treatment. For instance, it’s not uncommon in a clinical drug trial for researchers to use such measures as number of people who “relapse” during treatment, or a single psychological measure (like a measure of depression, such as the Beck Depression Inventory or the Hamilton-D).

This study used seven different measures, not only at the end of treatment, but at a 6-month followup (something else many drug studies fail to do). Virtually of the measures employed showed significant improvement on anxiety and depression measures, not only at the end of treatment, but also virtually unchanged at the 6-month followup (e.g., the treatment was long-lasting).

This study demonstrates that psychodynamic psychotherapy is an effective alternative for the treatment of generalized anxiety disorder, when compared to the more commonly-used CBT. The researchers encourage more studies like this one, and I couldn’t agree more. It’s a timely reminder of the value of the different types of psychotherapies available, not just the kind that might be in vogue at the moment.


Leichsenring F, Salzer S, Jaeger U, Kächele H, Kreische R, Leweke F, Rüger U, Winkelbach C, Leibing E. (2009). Short-term psychodynamic psychotherapy and cognitive-behavioral therapy in generalized anxiety disorder: a randomized, controlled trial. Am J Psychiatry, 166(8), 875-81.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Narcissism Epidemic: Why There Are So Many Narcissists Now

US News & World Report has gotten on the "we are so narcissistic" bandwagon with this article.

Narcissism Epidemic: Why There Are So Many Narcissists Now

An author of The Narcissism Epidemic explores why today's kids—and adults—feel so entitled

Posted April 21, 2009

Narcissism, or excessive self-love, is marked by bloated confidence, vanity, materialism, and a lack of consideration for others. Yet narcissistic personality traits have become so pervasive in American culture that they threaten to transform us into a nation of egomaniacs, research psychologists Jean Twenge and W. Keith Campbell say in their new book The Narcissism Epidemic: Living in the Age of Entitlement.

Twenge and her team at San Diego State University also report today in a new study that narcissism continues to spread quickly among college students, especially young women. Considering how cultural influences on girls have changed in the past decade, that's not surprising, says Twenge. Plastic surgery rates have jumped since the 1990s, and materialism is increasingly being emphasized in song lyrics, for example, she says.

U.S. News caught up with Twenge to discuss the trend. Edited excerpts of the interview:

We're constantly being told by talk shows and pop psychology that we need to love ourselves. Is that advice wrong?
Having a basic sense of self-worth is a good thing. But when those feelings cross over into narcissism, it becomes toxic for other people, for the society, and for the individual in the long run.

The world seems increasingly cutthroat and competitive. Don't we have to be narcissistic in order to succeed?
Sure, the world is competitive, no argument there, but narcissism isn't going to help you succeed. Narcissists aren't any more successful than anybody else. Narcissism helps you succeed in the short-term—it's great for trying out on American Idolbut in most professions and in the long run, nobody likes a jerk.

When things are going well, [for example, during] the boom market, narcissists do pretty well. When things don't go so well, narcissists crash even more spectacularly than anybody else. That's actually a really good metaphor for our economy in the last two years.

What's an example of how narcissism can have that result?
Narcissism contributed to the economic crisis. Many people had narcissistic overconfidence [when they said], "Yeah, I can afford that million-dollar house," and lenders said, "Sure, I know you'll pay off that loan," and, well, fantasy collided with reality, and the consequences have been worse for the economy than anything since the Great Depression. Obviously, there were lots of causes for that, but I think an unrecognized cause is that narcissistic overconfidence.

Narcissistic overconfidence?
There are these great studies where you bring people into the lab and ask them questions, then ask them how confident they are in their answers. Then, they bet a certain amount of money based on how confident they are. Well, narcissists are always very, very confident, so in those situations, they end up losing a lot of money because they think they're smarter than they actually are. A twist on that study is to ask them made-up questions, like, "Have you ever heard of..." and make up the name of somebody. Narcissists will say, "Yeah. Of course I've heard of him."

Your book title calls narcissism an "epidemic." That's a strong word. Is narcissism really on the rise to that degree?
This all started when we did a study a couple years ago finding that narcissism was increasing substantially among a nationwide sample of college students. We compared that effect to the obesity epidemic, and we found that the rise in narcissism was just as big as the rise in obesity in adults. That got us thinking: If obesity is an epidemic, then we may have an epidemic of narcissism on our hands.

This past summer [a study of] a nationally representative sample of 35,000 Americans found that 6 percent of Americans, or 1 out of 16, had experienced [clinical narcissistic personality disorder (NPD)] at some point in their lives. And there was a big generational effect. You'd expect that people who are older would have a higher percentage of having experienced this because they've lived so many more years. But only 3 percent of people over 65 had had any experience with NPD, compared with almost 10 percent of people in their 20s. Given that you can only diagnose this when someone is 18, that's a pretty short number of years in which to have this experience. That was another pretty big indication that this was an out-of-control epidemic.

What's fueling the rise in narcissism?
The four causes that we identify in the book are parenting, celebrity culture, media and the Internet, and easy credit. For example, with parenting, in an attempt to raise kids with self-esteem, many parents will tell their kid they're the best ever and they'll treat them like royalty, placing the child at the center of the household. In a limited way, that's fine, but it's often taken too far. When you put a kid on a pedestal, that type of parenting, it's been shown, leads to narcissism.

With celebrities, you watch the Real Housewives of New York City [or] My Super Sweet 16, and the narcissistic traits are just obvious in every episode. Reality TV shows in general are highly narcissistic, and [reality TV stars] are the most narcissistic of all celebrities, in the study that Dr. Drew Pinsky did. What concerns me about that is that those are the shows that are really popular among young people. They're supposed to show real life; they're not supposed to be scripted or fictionalized. What they really are is a showcase for narcissistic people and behavior that makes narcissism seem normal.

What about the Internet and easy credit?
MySpace and Facebook often encourage people to highlight only narcissistic parts of their personality. People rarely talk about how much they like reading War and Peace on MySpace. Instead, it's that picture that makes me look hot, it's that cool party I went to, it's the cool friends that I have, it's here's my cool music. With young teens, I wonder if that will shape their identities so that in real life they'll start emphasizing those parts of their personalities more.

Finally, easy credit allows people to look better off than they actually are. It fuels their sense of entitlement because they can get something without having to pay for it [immediately]. We're now seeing the consequences of that because, guess what, you do have to pay for it.

Are other cultures as narcissistic as ours?
If you look around the world, narcissism does seem to be spreading. In China, there's Little Emperor syndrome—there's a lot of talk about the new generation being very self-centered. In Scandinavia, there's this great study showing that in newspapers, individualistic words are going way up and communal words are going way down. But the U.S. is pretty high in narcissism. I like to say that we're not necessarily No. 1 in terms of performance, but we're No. 1 in thinking that we're No. 1.

What's at risk if we don't slow this narcissism epidemic?
We're in danger of becoming a nation of people who are just focused on themselves and don't care if they harm other people in the process of their own success.

What's the cure? To promote self-hatred?
People ask us that sometimes. Parents will say, "Oh, do you mean we should start insulting kids?" No. But it's really common for parents to tell children, "You're special." That [promotes] narcissism. That's not [building] self-esteem because being special is being unique and better than other people, and it connotes things like special treatment. I think what parents mean is, "You're special to me." You don't need to tell your kid that they're the best ever, but you can say, "I love you." It's probably what you mean anyway, and it also promotes connection rather than difference and standing out.

In general with kids, place more focus on empathy. While most parents do try to teach their kids to be nice, the overall cultural push is to teach them to succeed and to believe in themselves, instead of teaching empathy for others. We really need to shift that. Ironically, empathy for others will actually help you succeed more than believing in yourself.

You're a parent of a young child, with one on the way. Any advice for parents who want to steer clear of raising a little Narcissus?
With young kids, be careful how much you ask them what they want. Give limited choices instead of having them direct the whole situation. With 2- and 3-year-olds, it's not a good idea to ask, "What do you want for dinner?" because the answer is, "Cookies." And it's not a good idea to ask, "Do you want to go to bed now?" because the answer is, "No." When you do that, you put the situation in the control of the child and you feel like you have to go along with what they've expressed. That type of parenting does seem to lead to more narcissism later on.

You're better off giving limited choices: "Do you want to eat chicken or fish?" Kids love that. It's a win-win. They love having control, but then as a parent, you're not letting the 2-year-old run the household.