Saturday, November 26, 2011

The Science of Self-Compassion, Dr. Kristin Neff

Self-compassion is often one of the central focuses of my work with clients - when they can learn to be gentle with themselves, to accept their pain and confusion about where they are in their lives, the anxiety lessens, the depression lessens, and their equanimity increases. It's not easy, and it is always a process more than a destination, but it is important work.

Dr. Neff is the author of Self-Compassion: Stop Beating Yourself Up and Leave Insecurity Behind.

The Science of Self-Compassion, Dr. Kristin Neff

by Emiliana Simon-Thomas

Kristin studied communications as an undergraduate at the University of California at Los Angeles (B.A., 1988). She did her graduate work at University of California at Berkeley (Ph.D., 1997), studying moral development with Dr. Elliot Turiel. Her dissertation research was conducted in Mysore, India, where she examined children’s moral reasoning. (She also met her husband Rupert Isaacson while there, who was writing a guidebook to South India.) She then spent two years of post-doctoral study with Dr. Susan Harter at Denver University, studying issues of authenticity and self- concept development. Her current position at the University of Texas at Austin started in 1999, and she was promoted to Associate Professor in 2006.

During Kristin’s last year of graduate school in 1997 she became interested in Buddhism, and has been practicing meditation in the Insight Meditation tradition ever since. While doing her post-doctoral work she decided to conduct research on self-compassion – a central construct in Buddhist psychology and one that had not yet been examined empirically.

In addition to her pioneering research into self-compassion, she has developed an 8-week program to teach self-compassion skills. The program, co-created with her colleague Chris Germer at Harvard University, is called Mindful Self-Compassion. She has a new book titled "Self-Compassion" that will be published by William Morrow on April 19, 2011.

Kristin lives in the countryside in Elgin, Texas with her husband Rupert Isaacson – an author and human rights activist – and with her young son Rowan. She and her family were recently featured in the documentary and book called The Horse Boy –

IONS: "Science of Meditation" with Roger Walsh

IONS (Institute of Noetic Sciences) offers the "Essentials of Noetic Sciences" Teleseminar Series, conversations on important issues or topics in the noetic sciences. This one features Roger Walsh, one of the leaders in the integral community, although because he is not a charismatic personality (he is wise and quiet), he is lesser known than the in-your-face gurus (Wilber, Cohen, Gafni). That's a shame.

"Science of Meditation" with Roger Walsh

Visionary: Roger Walsh, MD, PhD

"Science of Meditation" with Roger WalshWhat happens when two major intellectual and practical disciplines from separate cultures and contexts—both of which seek to understand, heal, and enhance the human mind—first come into contact after centuries of separate development? This is one of the questions of our time, a question which is increasingly pressing as the meditative and Western psychological disciplines now meet, challenge, and enrich one another in ways that are only beginning to be understood. 
Contemplatives often still view Western psychology and psychotherapy as limited adjuncts to meditation practice, and psychologists usually regard meditation as just another therapeutic technique to be applied and investigated in conventional ways.
Roger Walsh discusses how the meeting of meditative and Western psychological disciplines holds major theoretical and practical implications for each, as well as the promise of mutual enrichment and potential integrations. If handled skillfully, this meeting may enable them to become partners in one of the greatest of human quests—the exploration, understanding, healing, and enhancement of the human mind.
Related Sets
"Essentials of Noetic Sciences" Teleseminar Series

Download as mp3
Publication Date:

Mind and Life XXIII (2011) - "Ecology, Ethics and Interdependence"

The individual sessions from the Mind and Life XXIII conference (2011) are slowly being added online - there are ten sessions in all, as noted below:
Session 1: Human Impact on Global Systems for Sustaining Life
Session 2: Interdependence Between the Environment and Our Health: Risk and Opportunities
Session 3: Industrial Ecology - Connecting Everyday Activity to Planetary Crisis
Session 4: Environmental Ethics - What is at Stake?
Session 5: A Role for Theology - Models of God, the World, and the Self
Session 6: A Buddhist Perspective and Open Discussion
Session 7: The Psychology of Action and Behavior Change
Session 8: A Buddhist Perspective on the Psychology of Action and Behavior Change
Session 9: The Skillful Means of Activism
Session 10, October 21st: To Be Determined
This is session one of "Ecology, Ethics and Interdependence," with His Holiness the Dalai Lama in dialogue with contemplative scholars, activists, and ecological scientists who discuss the interconnection between individual choices and environmental consequences. The conference was held at His Holiness's office in Dharamsala, India, from October 17-21, 2011. Produced by the Mind and Life Institute ( and the Office of His Holiness the Dalai Lama (

Philosopher's Zone - Daniel Dennett on human consciousness and free will

I am not a huge fan of Dennett, but he is always an interesting listening experience. He is one of the older generation who still believes that mind and consciousness are by-products of brain activity. But he also honors the magic and beauty of such a thing as consciousness.

Daniel Dennett on human consciousness and free will

Daniel C. Dennett      (image - Kevin.Reed) (Flickr - Kevin.Reed)
Daniel C. Dennett (image - Kevin.Reed)
This week on The Philosopher's Zone, we meet one of the foremost thinkers of our time. Daniel Dennett is Professor of Philosophy at Tufts University. Described as the great de-mystifier of consciousness, Dennett has been quoted as saying he developed a deep distrust of the methods he saw other philosophers employing and decided that before he could trust his intuitions about the mind, he had to figure out how the brain could possibly accomplish the mind's work.


Daniel C. Dennett
Co-Director Center for Cognitive Studies
& Austin B. Fletcher Professor of Philosophy
Deaprtment of Philosophy
Tufts University
Massachusetts, United States

Further Information
Daniel C. Dennett - homepage

Presenter: Alan Saunders

Friday, November 25, 2011

The Extended Mind: Recent Experimental Evidence

This is an older video (2008) from Google Tech Talks featuring Rupert Sheldrake talking about experimental evidence for the extended mind. He is little too into the woo for me, at least in recent years, but he is also pushing rigorous research into new realms.

The Extended Mind: Recent Experimental Evidence


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

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

Brain Mind and Behavior: Defining the Mind

A cool talk by Dr. Sophia Vinogradov of the San Francisco Veterans Affairs Medical Center on our current understanding of the human mind. I think I have posted this before, but here it is again.

Brain Mind and Behavior - Defining the Mind

Take a look into our current understanding of the function of the human brain and some of the important diseases that cause nervous system dysfunction. On this edition, Dr. Sophia Vinogradov of the San Francisco Veterans Affairs Medical Center explores the mixing of visual perception, emotion, and memory and the interplay of the different functions of the brain. Series: "UCSF Mini Medical School for the Public" [10/2007]

Thursday, November 24, 2011

William S. Burroughs’ “The Thanksgiving Prayer,” Shot by Gus Van Sant

William Burroughs was not someone to pull his punches - he always said what he was thinking, especially in his novels and other writing.

William S. Burroughs’ “The Thanksgiving Prayer,” Shot by Gus Van Sant

November 24th, 2011

Thanksgiving Day, Nov. 28, 1986” first appeared in print in Tornado Alley, a chapbook published by William S. Burroughs in 1989. Two years later, Gus Van Sant (Good Will Hunting, My Own Private Idaho, Milk) shot a montage that brought the poem to film, making it at least the second time the director adapted the beat writer to film.

If you’ve seen Burroughs use Shakepseare’s face for target practice, or if you’ve watched The Junky’s Christmas, you’ll know that he wasn’t kind to convention or tradition. And there are no prisoners taken here, as you’ll see above. This clip will be added to our Cultural Icons collection. Now time for a little Thanksgiving dinner….

h/t BoingBoing

Related Content:
Gus Van Sant Adapts William S. Burroughs: An Early 16mm Short
William S. Burroughs Reads His First Novel, Junky

PLoS Biology Podcast Episode 01 : Ramachandran, synesthesia, and phantom limbs

Good stuff.

PLoS Biology Podcast Episode 01 : Ramachandran, synesthesia, and phantom limbs

Welcome to the PLoS Podcast.  For the first episode,  PLoS Biology Editor Ruchir Shah interviews VS Ramachandran, who is the Director of the Center for Brain and Cognition at the University of California San Diego.  Dr.  Ramachandran has written a number of books, including “Phantoms in the Brain” and “The Tell-Tale Brain”,  about many of the neurological conditions his lab has been studying,  which include phantom limbs and synesthesia.

Along with his graduate student David Brang,  Dr.  Ramachandran has written a new article for PLoS Biology called “Survival of the Synesthesia Gene: Why do people hear colors and taste words“.

During the interview,  Dr.  Ramachandran (or “Rama”) and David Brang discuss the potential neural basis of some common and rare forms of synesthesia,  and why this strange condition might have survived evolution.  They then discuss their exploration of some other (rather bizarre) neurological conditions,  and they finish by contemplating how their research into synesthesia might fit into the larger context of the history of science.  Enjoy!

(You can listen here by clicking the Play button,  or to download,  you can visit the Soundcloud page by clicking the link below)

PLoS Biology Podcast Episode 01 - VS Ramachandran by Public Library of Science

Rick Hanson, Ph.D. - Say Thanks!

The world is going to hell in more ways than I can count, and there is so much to be grateful for - Happy Thanksgiving!
Rick Hanson, Ph.D. - Say Thanks!
Post image for Say Thanks
Each Thanksgiving holiday, we are reminded to be thankful. When times are tough, finding reasons to be thankful may be challenging or even seem inappropriate or impossible. This year, before we sit around the dinner table, let’s think about the myriad benefits to saying thanks, and how to truly savor the opportunity, no matter what.

* * *

What do others give you?
The Practice:
Say thanks.

What do you feel when someone thanks you for something? For a comment in a meeting, a task done at home, an extra step taken, an encouraging word.

You probably feel seen, appreciated, that you matter to the other person. Maybe a little startled, maybe wondering if you really deserve it, but also glad. Personally, this is how it is for me.

Turning it around, when you say “thank you” to someone, it’s a small moment with big ripples: a confirmation of a deep and wonderful truth, that we all depend on each other, that we are all joined – across dinner tables and across the world – in a web whose threads are innumerable acts of giving.

For example, often when I eat a meal I’ll take a moment to imagine the details of how that tomato or rice was grown and then transported onto my plate, including the people who walked the fields to plant and eventually pick it, and the man or woman who drove the truck that carried it to the store where I bought it. Those folks do not know me, but they’re real people, working hard, hoping for a good life, worrying about the people they love, extending themselves in their jobs, giving me something extra, all this woven into the food that’s entering my blood, my bones: thank you.

You can’t possibly say thank you to everything you’re given. No one can. So when you do say thanks, it’s a token of your appreciation for the larger whole, joining you with that whole. It will make you happy to open to the giving coming your way each day.

And in giving thanks to the people in your life, you open the door to receiving their thanks in turn. In your home or company, a nice circle, a step toward a culture of gratitude.


For starters, it’s hard to give thanks if you’re uncomfortable acknowledging that you have received something. Perhaps you don’t want to feel indebted, or don’t want to look needy. Maybe it’s simply embarrassing. These feelings are normal – but they can sure get in the way of being thankful.

To deal with them, begin by naming them to yourself: squirmy . . . embarrassed . . . resentful . . . awkward . . . don’t want to owe anyone anything . . . Hold them in a big open space of awareness, like dark clouds in a vast sky. Don’t fight them, but gently move your attention away from them, back to your breathing and to a basic sense of being alright as a body . . . bringing to mind a sense of being cared about by someone . . . recognizing some of your good intentions in life . . . knowing one or more benefits to you of saying thanks . . . knowing what the other person has given you . . . feeling a simple sense of appreciation . . . feeling that it’s alright to be thankful . . . making it OK in your mind to express thanks.

And then be straightforward and simple, and say “Thank you” in whatever way is natural.

Many thank you’s involve little things in the flow of life, like thanking someone for passing the salt at dinner. Let these small moments matter to you. Feel your thanks in your chest and throat. When you say your thanks, try to let them show in your eyes. Life is made up of moments, beads on a golden chain; what are you stringing together? As they say in Tibet: “If you take care of the minutes, the years will take care of themselves.”

Also consider where you might have a backlog of thanks, perhaps for some big things. Like saying thanks to your parents or other relatives, to old friends and new ones, to teachers and coaches of all kinds. Thanks to lovers and mates, children, pets, neighbors – even people you’ve never met, even the whole natural world. A wonderful and powerful practice is to make a list of people you want to thank directly, and then gradually move through the list. You can also certainly offer thanks in your imagination, such as to people who are no longer living, to people far away, to groups of people, to specific animals or to nature in general, or to spiritual beings or forces if that is meaningful to you.

Throughout, it is very sweet to be thankful for the opportunity to give thanks.

* * *

Rick Hanson, Ph.D., is a neuropsychologist and author of the bestselling Buddha’s Brain: The Practical Neuroscience of Happiness, Love, and Wisdom (in 21 languages) – and Just One Thing: Developing a Buddha Brain One Simple Practice at a Time. Founder of the Wellspring Institute for Neuroscience and Contemplative Wisdom and Affiliate of the Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley, he’s taught at Oxford, Stanford, and Harvard, and in meditation centers worldwide. His work has been featured on the BBC, NPR, Consumer Reports Health, and U.S. News and World Report and he has several audio programs. His blog – Just One Thing – has nearly 30,000 subscribers and suggests a simple practice each week that will bring you more joy, more fulfilling relationships, and more peace of mind and heart. If you wish, you can subscribe to Just One Thing here.


It's that time of year again - a day of mindless gluttony and familial discord followed by a day of even more mindless mass consumerism. But we need not succumb to the nonsense - we have a choice.

For the last 20 years or so, Adbusters Magazine has sponsored international Buy Nothing Day - an alternative to Black Friday.


You’ve been sleeping on the streets for two months pleading peacefully for a new spirit in economics. And just as your camps are raided, your eyes pepper sprayed and your head’s knocked in, another group of people are preparing to camp-out. Only these people aren’t here to support occupy Wall Street, they’re here to secure their spot in line for a Black Friday bargain at Super Target and Macy’s.

Occupy gave the world a new way of thinking about the fat cats and financial pirates on Wall Street. Now lets give them a new way of thinking about the holidays, about our own consumption habits. Lets’ use the coming 20th annual Buy Nothing Day to launch an all-out offensive to unseat the corporate kings on the holiday throne.

This year’s Black Friday will be the first campaign of the holiday season where we set the tone for a new type of holiday culminating with #OCCUPYXMAS. As the global protests of the 99% against corporate greed and casino capitalism continues, lets take the opportunity to hit the empire where it really hurts…the wallet.

On Nov 25/26th we escape the mayhem and unease of the biggest shopping day in North America and put the breaks on rabid consumerism for 24 hours. Flash mobs, consumer fasts, mall sit-ins, community events, credit card-ups, whirly-marts and jams, jams, jams! We don’t camp on the sidewalk for a reduced price tag on a flat screen TV or psycho-killer video game. Instead, we occupy the very paradigm that is fueling our eco, social and political decline.

Historically, Buy Nothing Day has been about fasting from hyper consumerism – a break from the cash register and reflecting on how dependent we really are on conspicuous consumption. On this 20th anniversary of Buy Nothing Day, we take it to the next level, marrying it with the message of #occupy…

Shenanigans begin November 25!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Elucidations - Episode 29: Peter Kail discusses the legacy of David Hume

Elucidations is the University of Chicago philosophy podcast. At the beginning of the month, Alex Langlinais posted this episode in celebration of David Hume's 300th birthday, featuring Peter Kail, University Lecturer in the History of Modern Philosophy at St. Peter’s College, University of Oxford.

Many people I respect have mentioned Hume as their favorite philosopher, so I thought I'd try to learn more - and share some of what I am reading/listening to with you.

Episode 29: Peter Kail discusses the legacy of David Hume

Peter Kail is University Lecturer in the History of Modern Philosophy at St. Peter’s College, University of Oxford.   For our belated celebration of David Hume’s 300th birthday, Prof. Kail joins us to discuss Hume’s life and philosophical legacy.

You can listen to our interview with Prof. Kail by clicking here.

Hume’s work has had an enormous impact on contemporary thought about induction and moral psychology, to name just two.  In our interview, Prof. Kail discusses the ways in which Hume’s influence in these areas rests on some significant misunderstandings of his own views.

Take the case of induction.  An inductive inference draws a conclusion about the way the future will be (or would be) based on the way things have been in the past.  We make inductive inferences all the time. For example, I believe that the cup in my hand will fall to the ground when I release it.  In fact, I’m quite certain that this will happen, because every time I’ve dropped a cup in the past it has fallen to the ground.  Hume is often thought to be a skeptic about induction, meaning that he thinks we are not justified in inferring things about the future from facts about the past.  This way of reading Hume is understandable.  After all, Hume does say that we don’t derive an idea of causal regularities from observation or from anything we know a priori. But those seem to be the only options—how else could we be justified in believing in these regularities?  And if I’m not justified in believing in these regularities, how can I be justified in inferring things about the future from facts about the past?

(NOTE: what we can know a priori is, roughly, what we can know without first having to observe (or remember, or be told about, or infer from) the way the world is.  The same idea is sometimes expressed as the thought that what we can know a priori is what we can know through reason alone.  Mathematical, logical, and (some) conceptual truths are the standard cases of things we can know a priori.  For example, I know that 2 + 2 = 4 without having to make any observations or gather any other information about the way the world happens to be.  But I cannot know, say, whether you are now wearing a red shirt except by looking to see whether you are, or by being told whether you are, or by inferring that you are from something else I know about the world.  As such, that 2 + 2 = 4 is an a priori truth, but that you are now wearing a red shirt is not.)

For generations after Hume, philosophers have tried to come up with an account of causal regularities and our knowledge of them that would defeat Hume’s skepticism.  Prof. Kail claims that while these efforts are philosophically important, it is a mistake to think that these are really responses to Hume himself.   Hume thinks that we make inductive inferences because we are habituated to expect certain events to follow others, not because we are responding to anything we’ve directly observed or to a piece of sound a priori reasoning.  But that doesn’t mean we’re not justified in making these inferences, or that there is no good reason for us to do so.  It just means that the fact that there is a good reason to make inductive inferences does not explain why we in fact make them.

Hume thinks we’re perfectly justified in inferring things about the future from facts about the past, because our inductive inferences do in fact track regularities in the world.  His point is just that our ability to track these regularities is just a feature of the way our brains and sensory faculties are wired, and so is really no different from the way non-human animals track regularities through perception, instinct, and conditioning.

Hume is also credited with a particular view about what it takes to motivate us to act, commonly known as the Humean Theory of Motivation.  The basic claim of the Humean Theory is that desires and similar states are necessary to motivate us to act, while beliefs are not sufficient. For example, my belief that the apple on the table is a tasty treat cannot motivate me to walk over and eat it all by itself. Beliefs just don’t have the right kind of causal oomph to make me do anything.  To be motivated to go eat the apple, I need to have a desire as well, say a desire to eat a tasty treat.  While it might be the case that I have to have certain beliefs about the world in order to be motivated anything in particular, our actions are always at least partly caused by our desires and similar states.

The Humean Theory raises important problems in moral psychology and metaethics, and Prof. Kail notes again that while Humeanism about motivation is certainly important and interesting, it would be a mistake to think that Hume himself is a Humean about motivation.  The mistaken attribution is due to a misidentification of belief and what Hume refers to as “reason.”  Hume thinks that reason cannot motivate us to act all by itself, but that is because Hume thinks reason is just a faculty of comparing things.  His claim that reason cannot motivate is not meant to apply to beliefs.  In fact, Hume thinks that beliefs can motivate us to act. In particular, he thinks we can be motivated to act on the basis of beliefs about pleasure and pain.  Humeanism about motivation, then, differs significantly from Hume’s own views on the subject.

Our interview with Prof. Kail closes with a discussion of Hume’s critique of religious belief and his legacy as a naturalist.  Hume serves as an inspiration to many contemporary philosophers because of his unrepentantly naturalistic approach to philosophical questions, and his commitment to understanding human beings and human phenomena as part of the natural world.  This commitment comes through in his attempt to explain the emergence of religious belief in a way that doesn’t assume that any supernatural phenomena exist.   This way of approaching philosophical problems is now commonplace, but it is a testament to Hume’s brilliance and intellectual courage that he was already doing this in the 18th century.

Alex Langlinais

TEDxNewEngland | John Hunter, Unknowing Can be the Beginning of Wisdom

An open mind is beginner's mind - unknowing is an opening.
TEDxNewEngland - John Hunter, Unknowing Can be the Beginning of Wisdom

Acceptance of reality is often a beginning step in mastering one's self. How does one live in this vast sea of uncertainty without fear, and with ease and happiness? John Hunter helps school children reveal these secrets to carry through their whole lives. He will show how we can learn from children that, unknowing is the beginning of wisdom, and that our most glaring weakness may be the pointer to our greatest strengths.

Michael Shermer: The Believing Brain (Lecture)

I have not had a chance to read Michael Shermer's The Believing Brain: From Ghosts and Gods to Politics and Conspiracies - How We Construct Beliefs and Reinforce Them as Truths, so here is Shermer lecturing on the book. It was posted at Top Documentary Films.

Michael Shermer: The Believing Brain (Lecture)

The Center for Inquiry-New York City and NYC Skeptics hosted noted skeptic and bestselling author Michael Shermer for a talk about his new book, The Believing Brain: From Ghosts and Gods to Politics and Conspiracies – How We Construct Beliefs and Reinforce Them as Truths.

His thesis is straightforward: We form our beliefs for a variety of subjective, personal, emotional, and psychological reasons in the context of environments created by family, friends, colleagues, culture, and society at large; after forming our beliefs we then defend, justify, and rationalize them with a host of intellectual reasons, cogent arguments, and rational explanations. Beliefs come first, explanations for beliefs follow.

Dr. Shermer also provides the neuroscience behind our beliefs. The brain is a belief engine. From sensory data flowing in through the senses the brain naturally begins to look for and find patterns, and then infuses those patterns with meaning.

The first process Dr. Shermer calls patternicity: the tendency to find meaningful patterns in both meaningful and meaningless data. The second process he calls agenticity: the tendency to infuse patterns with meaning, intention, and agency.

We can’t help believing. Our brains evolved to connect the dots of our world into meaningful patterns that explain why things happen. These meaningful patterns become beliefs.

Once beliefs are formed the brain begins to look for and find confirmatory evidence in support of those beliefs, which adds an emotional boost of further confidence in the beliefs and thereby accelerates the process of reinforcing them, and round and round the process goes in a positive feedback loop of belief confirmation.

Dr. Shermer outlines the numerous cognitive tools our brains engage to reinforce our beliefs as truths and to insure that we are always right.
Watch the full lecture now.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Athena Staik, Ph.D. - The Neuroscience of Changing Toxic Thinking Patterns

Athena Staik, Ph.D. posted this cool - 2-part series on the neuroscience behind changing our dysfunctional thinking patterns - it's sort of CBT, but CBT can be a very good tool.


Your brain is wired to produce change, a constant in the brain, as it is in life.

Change involves learning, and all learning generates change in the brain. When you seek to replace a behavior, such as a toxic thinking pattern, your actions produce neurochemical and molecular changes in cells known as neurons.

As messengers, neurons communicate by transmitting electrical signals between them, and these signals are activated by the exchange of chemicals in the synapses.

Your brain and body is a sophisticated communication network. Your subconscious mind, the mind of your body, manages all of the systemic processes that you do not have to think about – as well as all of your personal requests, wants or commands – both conscious and subconscious.

This vast and complex network manages the flow of information that, quite literally, shapes your behaviors and in many ways your life. These electrical impulses, you may say, consist of molecules of emotion that are designed to “control” the overall direction of your life, arguably, to produce optimal outcomes in the highest interest of your health and wellbeing.

Who or what controls this flow of information is a fascinating question to explore, do you think? In this post and the next, we’ll explore a few possibilities … conscious and subconscious.

What sparks these electrical-chemical processes?

Here’s some “truth with a capital T”: Thoughts spark emotion-driven action.

Your thoughts create inner standards or rules that spark neurochemical dynamic processes, which selectively govern your choices and actions with precision.

It takes a thought to spark an emotion, or drive a decision to take an action or to take no action at all. And emotions give meaning to thoughts; they are the spark. In the words of neuroscientist Antonio Damasio, are “a telltale sign of consciousness.”

Toxic thinking is self-perpetuating. It not only stimulates the body’s reward or learning centers with pseudo feel-good feelings, it also activates the body’s fear response, which further increases the likelihood that the defensive behaviors it triggers will be repeated.

Unless you set an intention to make conscious changes, more often, change that occurs at subconscious levels tends to be self-perpetuating.

In other words, if you do not have the life and relationships that you want, you likely do not have the thinking patterns you need to create the optimal emotional states, and thus actions, that would sustain your momentum in the overall direction of your aspirations.
Read the rest of Part One.


It’s quite amazing when you think of it. You and your body are wired to work together to spark neurochemical changes in your brain in the direction of your highest good and happiness. Certain learned neural patterns of thinking, however, interfere with these natural impulses.

Toxic thinking is a protective strategy that unnecessarily activates the body’s survival response. Though well-meaning, essentially, it’s an ineffective way of dealing with painful feelings, such as not feeling “good enough,” deserving enough” or “having enough” in relation to others, all of which are a natural part of dealing with life or relationship issues, and other stress situations.

Based on recent decades of neuroscience findings, it appears, to the extent you become a conscious participant in these processes, you can more effectively direct the changes and parts of you involved in change. In other words, your success in changing any interfering behavior or thought patterns depends on … conscious you.

As suggested in Part 1, your brain and body are a complex communication network, and what influences change is a flow of information from a combination of sources, both conscious and subconscious, hard- and soft-wired.
  • Information that is soft-wired has been learned, and thus can be unlearned or changed. Your thoughts and beliefs fall in this category; you have learned them, either consciously or subconsciously, from the time you were first exposed to language.
  • In contrast, information that is hard-wired consists of unalterable laws that govern the operation and life of your body, such as inborn drives to survive (physical and psychologicalself) and thrive (self in meaningful connection).
This means you can change your soft-wiring (thoughts, beliefs, etc), however, any change must necessarily occur within a framework of unchangeable laws that govern how your brain adapts to change and certain aspects of your nature as a human being.

Read the rest of Part Two.

Eric Maisel, Ph.D. - Why noimetic psychology may one day replace previous psychologies

I have never heard of noimetic psychology until I read this post. I have an aversion to not knowing things, so I looked it up. Eric Maisel has a website . . . and a whole section is devoted to noimetic psychology - he also is teaching on the topic through the en*theos Acad­emy for Opti­mal Liv­ing.

Being the skeptic that I am, I see little here that is new to me, or that could be possibly be useful in working with a survivor of sexual assault. Maybe I'm judging too quickly, but it feels like coaching to me.
Why noimetic psychology may one day replace previous psychologies

I am proposing a new psychology, noimetic psychology. It is more accurate about our human experience than previous psychologies and is desperately needed. It differs from previous psychologies, from Freudian psychology, Jungian psychology, cognitive-behavioral psychology, existential psychology, positive psychology, and so on (and the occult noetic psychology, which it sounds a lot like) in the following five ways:

1. It begins by asking the question, "What do human beings construe as mattering?" This is only the most important question that can be asked yet all previous psychologies have started from a different place.

2. It asserts that "meaning," the shorthand word for "what matters to us," is primarily a subjective psychological experience; and that any sensible psychology must investigate the consequences of meaning being "merely" a subjective psychological experience.

3. It argues that, since meaning is a subjective psychological experience, you are in a position, as with any other subjective psychological experience, to participate in influencing it, manipulating it, and creating it. Likewise, as with any other subjective psychological experience, it can arise for all sorts of reasons, some unbidden and some calculated. Dealing with unbidden meaning and making calculated meaning are among our species' most important tasks.

4. It affirms that a new relationship can be envisioned between value and meaning, one captured by the phrase value-based meaning-making; and that value-based meaning-making, once you understand it and embrace it, may strike you as precisely the right organizing principle for your life.

5. It likewise affirms that once you grasp and accept that meaning is "merely" a subjective psychological experience, you are suddenly in the position of never running out of meaning again: it is a wellspring, a renewable resource, and in a sense that is more real than metaphoric, infinite. Once you understand how to influence it, manipulate it, and create it, meaning becomes infinite.
Let me present a few examples of core human experiences that psychology has shown little desire to investigate.

You are eight years old. You sit in your living room reading a book. You are mesmerized by some author's beautiful story. Fifteen years later you decide to become a novelist and you organize everything in your life around that desire. Your impulse to write feels like nothing less than the single most important impulse in your being. No extant psychology can even remotely address your desire to write, even though that desire defines you and even though you are turning your whole life over to the pursuit of writing.

Or take the following. You remember a moment vividly. Say it's those few hours on May 8, 1945 when, as a child in Prague, you experienced the Germans leaving your city. The Russians would not arrive for another few hours. You felt an "incredible lightness of being," which ended the very next day as the Soviet occupation replaced the Nazi occupation. No extant psychology has a way of addressing what those hours meant to you or how they are still influencing your life.

Or, as a third example, picture a person who prides himself on his "values" but who can't walk away from his high-paying job as a tobacco executive, even though he knows all about the health risks of smoking cigarettes. How is he really construing what matters in his life? Do his values carry any internal weight or operate in any real sense in his being? What is his psychological experience of meaning like? Since he is not reporting any difficulties and since he is perhaps a hard-working, upstanding member of his community, current psychology must look upon him as not only normal but even as a paragon of normalcy. But noimetic psychology is willing to look at the matter differently and wonder aloud about his construction of meaning. 

Think of any psychology you can name and you will discover that a certain absence is so powerfully present that its absence renders that psychology absurdly inhuman. That absence is an absence of attention paid not only to the question of human meaning but to its nature and location. Even existential psychology, with its explicit focus on meaning, has not been willing to ask these hard questions. It is easy to posit the question "What is the meaning of life?" and to end up at a spiritual place, an occult place, or at the void. It is harder but smarter to ask "What is the nature of meaning and where is its location?" and to proceed from there.

How can we talk about the creature that we are without noticing that one parent finds his child's existence meaningful and another finds that existence inconvenient, that one person cares about justice and that another person hates the very idea of freedom, that nations can be roused to war by slogans, or that one person will buy a house because it has gold faucets and another person will burn that house down for the same reason? Psychology must investigate how people construe what matters to them and how they arrive at those conclusions, since what matters to them determines everything else.

Noimetic psychology starts there. Its conclusions are actually breathtaking and have the power to change how we think about human life. Just imagine a restaurant that did not serve food. That is the current state of psychology: it is a field that has avoided our food, meaning. It will not serve it up; it has a complete hands-off policy and has spent far too much of its time in the land of "normal" and "abnormal" and with the cataloguing of putative "mental disorders." A new psychology is needed; noimetic psychology, whose central focus is on the subjective psychological experience of meaning, is that psychology.

There is a lot more to say about noimetic psychology, including how it differs from existentialism, Logotherapy, structuralism, constructivism and other psychologies that take an interest in meaning, and I will be sharing my thoughts in future columns. If noimetic psychology has piqued your interest, please leave a comment, drop me an email at, or take a look at the class I'm teaching on the subject:


Eric Maisel, Ph.D., is a psychotherapist, bestselling author of 40 books, and widely regarded as America's foremost creativity coach. His latest book is Rethinking Depression: How to Shed Mental Health Labels and Create Personal Meaning (New World Library, February, 2012). He is the founder of noimetic psychology, the new psychology of meaning. Please visit Dr. Maisel at or contact him at You can learn more about noimetic psychology at

This is the beginning of an article he posted at Huffington Post - it offers a slightly different way in to what he is proposing.

Noimetics: Your New Philosophy

Eric Maisel, Ph.D. Author, Teacher of Noimetics with Academy for Optimal Living

Noimetics is a complete naturalistic philosophy that takes our understanding of our place in the universe into account and that spells out how an individual who is interested in manifesting her potential, making herself proud, and creating daily meaning can do so. Since few people look to be interested in manifesting their potential, making themselves proud, and creating daily meaning noimetics is not likely to interest the vast majority of people. If, however, you are someone in the former category, it may interest you enormously.

Noimetics starts with certain observations and assumptions. The first observation and assumption is that we are creatures provided with naturally occurring consciousness who exist in an indifferent universe. The second observation and assumption is that this indifferent universe is not designed to care about us or care for us and that either we create a life we deem worth living or else we reel back in a too-keen awareness of our mortality and our insignificance. The third observation and assumption is that it is possible to create exactly such a life, even given the obdurate nature of the facts of existence (including the obdurate nature of our own formed personality), by, first, painting a clear picture of what "value" means and what "meaning" means and, second, by marrying the two concepts into an action-oriented philosophy of value-based meaning-making.

Central to noimetics is an updated, more accurate understanding of what "meaning" is. Meaning is primarily (and "merely") a psychological experience. It is a psychological experience that feels poignantly important and special but, that poignancy aside, it is simply one in our repertoire of psychological experiences. Because it is just that, a psychological experience, we do not have to take it quite as seriously as we have tended to and we can think through (and implement, if we like it) the idea that "value trumps meaning." That is, we can decide that the life we choose to create for ourselves is one where we act on our values and principles and if meaning follows, excellent, and if it doesn't, we will at least have made ourselves proud by our efforts.
Read the whole article.

Upaya Dharma Podcasts - Henry Shukman: 11-16-2011: What Koans Are and Are Not

Nice talk on the nature of the koan. The image above is by Angelo Kerelov.

Henry Shukman: 11-16-2011: What Koans Are and Are Not

Speaker: Henry Shukman

Recorded: Wednesday Nov 16, 2011

Very broadly speaking, a koan is a type of teaching story used in Zen training.  In this Dharma talk, Henry Shukman explains in more detail what koans are and how they may be used.  ”Koans want to blast us from one angle to another,” Henry says, “to keep us free.”

Henry Shukman has worked as a trombonist, a trawlerman and a travel writer.  His fiction has won an Arts Council Award and has been a finalist for the O. Henry Award.  His first poetry collection, In Dr. No’s Garden, won the Aldeburgh First Collection Prize and was a Book of the Year in The Times (London) and The Guardian.  He lives in New Mexico and has recently been appointed an Assistant Zen Teacher of the Sanbo Kyodan lineage.