Saturday, March 07, 2009

Mindfulness, Love, and Relationship: Polly Young-Eisendrath on “The Training of Love”

A great article from Shambhala Sun. I have been a fan of Polly Young-Eisendrath ever since I read The Psychology of Mature Spirituality, which she edited and provided some articles. Here she talks about the "training of love," and it's worth noting that she is a student of Shinzen Young.

This article is partly a promotion for an upcoming seminar in New York (which I would love to attend), but it is definitely worth the read.

Mindfulness, Love, and Relationship: Polly Young-Eisendrath on “The Training of Love”

As we gear up for this year’s “Mindfulness, Love, and Relationship: What the Buddhists Teach” program in NYC, we thought we’re sharing some of the great teachings on the subject, from the authors who’ll be there. In this case, we present Polly Young-Eisendrath’s “The Training of Love.”


The Buddhist lay precepts can be translated as, “I vow, I set my intention, to take the training not to kill, not to harm, etc.” The precepts ask us to commit to a training of the mind. If you enter the path of relationships, you are vowing to take the training of love. It is a training to break your heart. If you’re willing to break your heart, you’re willing to take the training of love. It is a training of the highest level, requiring an enormous amount of development, because it’s not something immediately present at birth. The potential for love is present, but the requirements are actually quite demanding.

Love requires knowledge. One must know, really know, the beloved. Sometimes we wonder whether the people who supposedly love us, such as our parents, really know us. We wonder whether we really know the people we supposedly love. You have to have a knowledge of the beloved to actually love. The other requirement is equanimity, a friendly, gentle, matter-of-fact awareness that you return to again and again. Combining knowledge of the beloved and the equanimity to accept what is presented by them with a friendly, appreciative attitude is the very stuff of love.

Why would Buddhists have anything particularly special to say about love and relationship? At a basic level, the buddhadharma is about being taught by reality. As long as you can love reality, it will teach you. You will learn that loving is training for a broken heart. How could it be otherwise?

When you feel an enormous connection with someone, when you get to really know someone, which is the first requirement for love, then you know that they’re going to get ill, you know that they’re going to grow old, and you know that they’re going to die. You know that everything is going to change. Of course you don’t really like that, but love requires that you continue to cherish them even while those things are taking place. That’s the equanimity part.

Broken hearts happen because of impermanence, which in Buddhist teaching is one of the three marks of existence. When we idealize, as we so often do in love, we try to overlook the ups and downs of life, but that means we’re avoiding the training that’s offered, the training of the broken heart.

My current teacher, Shinzen Young, first trained in Rinzai Zen but then decided that Vipassana was the best way to teach Americans. Vipassana teaches us the awareness of ever-present expansion and contraction, and having no preference between them. There are good feelings and bad feelings, good days and bad days, expansion and contraction. This is the way it is for all of us. Nobody gets anything better than that.

But we so often make a steady state our ideal, especially in relationships. When you pick someone, you think you’re going to escape suffering, get out of the expansion and contraction. Your ideals for relationship might be so high that you never get into one, because every time you put your toe in, you say, “Ahh! This doesn’t work. This is falling short.” You never even get on the path of love, because you’re holding on to your ideal.

Or perhaps you get on the path of love, and then you are looking for those highs within the ups and downs of life. You put great store in them. Occasionally you have a really good day, or even a peak experience, and there is this wonderful opening. You recognize that you and the other person are absolutely in tune, totally accepting of each other. You think to yourself, “OK, now I’ve got it. In the future I will do exactly this, and I’ll get these results again.” But of course, it doesn’t work, because the waves go up and down, up and down.

Here’s the secret: get a surfboard. As the waves go up and down, the surfboard allows you to maintain your balance. When things are going well, you maintain your balance and don’t go whole hog into it. And when things are going badly, you can see that painful as it is, it’s interesting and even fascinating to observe. By surfing the waves and maintaining your balance, it starts to feel less like bouncing up and down all the time.

Meditation practice, mindfulness, psychotherapy, clear observation of your experience—all these will give you this capacity to surf. However, everybody falls off the surfboard at some point, so you need one of those little ankle bracelets that keeps you and the surfboard together. Whether it’s psychotherapy or meditation, you need to stay with it long enough to get the bracelet that connects you. If you don’t, then one day you will fall off hard and you might say, “I worked hard on that surfboard and it didn’t work, so screw it. I won’t work on one of those again.” That is the worst outcome. The things that could help you have been tossed away.

When the shit hits the fan in your life―and it will―you will need your surfboard and the bracelet that ties you to it. You will need your training and you will need a bigger view of love, one that encompasses and accepts a broken heart. You will need something that reminds you of your vow to “take the training” to love.

Polly Young-Eisendrath, Ph.D., is a Jungian psychoanalyst and clinical associate professor of psychiatry at the University of Vermont. A longtime practitioner of Zen and Vipassana meditation, she is author of fourteen books, including The Self-Esteem Trap: Raising Confident and Compassionate Kids in an Age of Self-Importance.

To join Polly Young-Eisendrath, along with John Tarrant, Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche, and Sylvia Boorstein at this year’s Mindfulness, Love, and Relationship weekend in New York City from April 3rd to April 5th, click here.

Dalai Lama - The Four Noble Truths (Video)

Here is a great 4 part video series on the Four Noble Truths, featuring the Dalai Lama and introduced by Robert Thurman.
When the great universal teacher Shakyamuni Buddha first spoke about the Dharma in the noble land of India, he taught the four noble truths: the truths of suffering, the cause of suffering, the cessation of suffering and the path to the cessation of suffering.
This is very long, each of the four videos is about 90 minutes. But it is the fundamental dharma of Buddhism, and a great teaching by His Holiness the Dalai Lama.

Part One:

Part Two:

Part Three:

Part Four:

To purchase this video (

Buddhism, Psychotherapy, and Medications

The current issue of Buddhadharma has a fantastic article called Medicate or Meditate? that looks at Buddhism, psychotherapy, and the use of medications - all in the context of how this may or may not impact our practice and our lives. The authors are physicians and long-term meditators: Roger Walsh, Robin Bitner, Bruce Victor, and Lorena Hillman.

Here is a cool piece from the article, from the section Psychotherapy and Meditation:

When Buddhism first came to the West, many teachers and practitioners initially dismissed psychotherapy as superficial, unnecessary, and possibly counterproductive. As time went on, more and more students faced crises or simply felt their spiritual practice was not dealing with deeper problems that were hindering their development. Psychotherapy’s relationship to spiritual practice started to undergo a reevaluation, and the two disciplines began to intermingle a bit more. Among the first to bridge the divide between therapy and spiritual practice was Jack Kornfield, who is both a meditation teacher and psychologist. In 1993, he wrote an article called “Even the Best Meditators Have Old Wounds to Heal: Combining Meditation and Psychotherapy,” which was published in the book Paths Beyond Ego: The Transpersonal Vision. In it he argued:

For most people, meditation practice doesn’t “do it all.” At best, it’s one important piece of a complex path of opening and awakening….There are many areas of growth (grief and other unfinished business, communication and maturing of relationships, sexuality and intimacy, career and work issues, certain fears and phobias, early wounds, and more) where good Western therapy is on the whole much quicker and more successful than meditation….Does this mean we should trade meditation for psychotherapy? Not at all….What is required is the courage to face the totality of what arises. Only then can we find the deep healing we seek—for ourselves and for our planet.

Controversial in their time, Kornfield’s ideas have now gained wide acceptance. In fact, meditation and psychotherapy are being integrated in many different contexts, as therapy clients and patients are offered meditation and meditators are offered therapy. Research has convinced therapists of the value of meditation for a host of psychological and psychosomatic difficulties. In fact, many therapists and meditation teachers now agree that meditation and psychotherapy can be mutually facilitating. Meditators seem to progress more quickly in therapy, while psychotherapy can improve the effectiveness of their meditation.

In addition, combination therapies that integrate meditation and psychotherapy are proliferating, and often prove more effective than either application alone. The original inspiration was Jon Kabat-Zinn’s widely used “mindfulness-based stress reduction” (MBSR). Originally designed to treat chronic pain, MBSR has since proved helpful with a diverse array of psychological and psychosomatic difficulties. Examples of disorders that have responded well to MBSR range from anxiety, aggression, stress, and eating disorders on the psychological side to asthma, angina, and high blood pressure on the somatic side.

Several recent combinations merge Buddhist mindfulness with specific psychotherapies. These include, for example, “mindfulness-based cognitive therapy” for depression, “mindfulness-based sleep management” for insomnia, and “mindfulness-based relationship therapy” for enhancing relationships. Research affirms the effectiveness of each of these approaches. More broad-based combination treatments—such as transpersonal and integral therapies—incorporate multiple psychological, spiritual, and somatic strategies. In short, the integration of contemplative and conventional therapies is proceeding rapidly, and the results are promising.

Combining meditation and psychotherapy makes sense if we appreciate how they work in complementary ways. For the most part, meditation focuses primarily on developing capacities such as concentration and awareness, whereas psychotherapy focuses primarily on changing the objects of awareness, such as emotions and beliefs. Of course, there are also significant overlaps, but this complementarity suggests why combining both approaches can be very helpful. Meditative qualities can facilitate psychotherapeutic healing of painful patterns, while the psychotherapeutic healing of these painful patterns can reduce their disruption of spiritual practice.

What are the practical implications of this conjunction of psychotherapy and spiritual practice? It seems clear that the question of whether meditation and psychotherapy can enhance one another has been decided: many people benefit from combining them, and this has been observed by clinicians and demonstrated by research. When old traumas, pains, and patterns recycle endlessly, or make spiritual practice seem overwhelming and hopeless, the best answer may not be simply the classic one of more practice. Instead, psychotherapy may be called for.

While many Buddhists, especially those from traditional Buddhist backgrounds (Tibetan, Bhutanese, Japanese) tend to argue that all you need is Buddhist practice, and that Western psychology is not a necessary part of the path, I disagree completely. Having done both, and having done them together, the synergy is amazing.

I'm glad to see Buddhadharma publishing what is described in the article as a pragmatist approach to this issue - there is too much dogma on either side most times. Taking the middle way through this tough issue is the best path as far as I can tell.

In addition to the issue of combining therapy and practice, the authors also tackle the stickier topic of using medications for Buddhists.

Spiritual purists argue that if mental suffering is fundamentally spiritual and karmic, spiritual practice alone is appropriate to treat it. A standard response to difficulties is therefore “more practice.” Moreover, they are concerned that medication may dull or derail spiritual practice. They worry that if suffering is merely dissolved with a pill, the motivation to practice may dissolve with it. They also worry that medications may reduce or distort awareness, and thereby make practice more difficult. In this view, medications such as antidepressant or antianxiety agents can be novel forms of the “mind-clouding intoxicants” prohibited by the lay precepts to which many Buddhist practitioners adhere. Therefore, taking these modern pharmacological agents is tantamount to violating this precept. Another worry is that potentially valuable spiritual challenges such as the classic “dark night of the soul” may be misdiagnosed as psychopathology, and then be suppressed with drugs rather than explored and mined.

By contrast, pragmatists hold that spiritual practice alone is simply insufficient, or at least not optimal, for healing all mental suffering. While not denying the validity of some purist concerns, pragmatists argue that certain problems and pathologies respond best to other therapies, and one of these therapies can be medication. Stan and Christina Grof—who have written extensively about spiritual emergencies and founded the Spiritual Emergence Network to offer support to people who find themselves in such emergencies—encourage this pragmatic perspective. They certainly agree that some spiritual emergencies are best treated not with medical suppression, but with time-honored spiritual and psychological principles. These principles include providing a supportive relationship with a spiritual guide, reframing (where appropriate) the emergency as a spiritual process and opportunity, and setting positive expectations. However, they also recognize that some emergencies are so overwhelming that they require medical intervention.

As for the idea that there is something inherently unspiritual about taking drugs to modify neurotransmitters such as serotonin, we might consider how John Tarrant Roshi, who is also a Ph.D. psychologist, demystifies the brain’s chemistry. “What is serotonin?” he asks. “It, too, is a piece of the original light. For some people it comes in the form of serotonin; for others in the form of a smile. There is more than one way to move neurotransmitters around—meditation can do it; having someone hug you does it, too.”

The purist-pragmatist debate is curiously reminiscent of one that rocked psychiatry decades ago. At that time, the psychiatric world was ruled by psychoanalysts who believed that virtually all psychological problems and pathologies could be traced to earlier psychological causes. They threw up their hands in horror when antidepressants and antipsychotic medications first appeared, claiming that the drugs merely relieved surface symptoms, while leaving the deeper causes untouched. Eventually they changed their minds as pharmacological successes multiplied, and especially when some long-analyzed but little-helped patients responded well to antidepressants, and subsequently sued their psychoanalysts for having withheld medication. It’s not that psychoanalysis is useless, but rather that by itself, it may be insufficient to treat severe psychological disorders. Likewise, meditation and spiritual practice may also be insufficient by themselves to address severe psychological difficulties.

This is of special interest to me. I do not suffer from depression, at least not today, but I do suffer from generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) and social anxiety disorder (SAD).

When I was young and dumb, I tried to self-medicate with weed. Then, when that got me into trouble, I switched to alcohol. That didn't work out so well, so I quit drinking and tried kava and St. John's Wort. Those had some benefit, especially since I was also meditating regularly at that point (this was around the time I had started reading Tricycle and Shambhala Sun). The combination gave me some relief, but in social situations I was still looking for a door, sweating, and feeling like I was about to be jumped by a tiger.

I stuck with the meditation. But it didn't help. I got myself into therapy, but it didn't solve the problem, either. Finally, I did some research online and decided that paxil was a viable option. About two years ago I started taking paxil at 20 mg a day, then 30, and now 40 mg daily. My social anxiety is markedly better, though not gone. The generalized anxiety is mostly a bad memory.

More importantly, I didn't suffer the 15-25 lb weight gain many people report - in fact, I lost weight. I did not suffer a loss in sexual interest or performance, as so many others do. And I haven't had any of the other side effects. I'm NOT telling anyone that they should try this approach - I'm just saying it worked for me.

Here is a key quote from the article:

Again, this is not to say that spiritual practice or psychotherapy won’t help, but rather that, by themselves, they may be insufficient. Even very long-term practice may be insufficient. In fact, we have seen and consulted with not only practitioners, but also several teachers whose long, dedicated practice was simply not enough to fully override genetic forces and major traumas, and who benefited from medication. Optimal healing may require multiple therapies, one of which is pharmacotherapy.

In general, I think we are all concerned with optimal healing - what is best overall. For some of us, that includes medication. I am happier, more effective in my job, and healthier than I was before trying medication. Practice is important, therapy helped, but it wasn't until I added the chemical approach that it all came together.

Books on Mindfulness, Buddhism, and Psychotherapy

In recent years, the number of books - especially neuroscience books - looking at the intersection of mindfulness and psychotherapy has sky-rocketed. This is both good and bad. Good in that Buddhist practices are being more widely disseminated, and bad that a lot of the subjective element is being dismissed in favor of how these practices alter the brain.

One of the newest models that it seems everyone is in love with is mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT). This is the brief Wikipedia definition:

Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT) is a method of psychotherapy which blends features of cognitive therapy with mindfulness techniques. MBCT involves accepting thoughts and feelings without judgement rather than trying to push them out of consciousness, with a goal of correcting cognitive distortions. MBCT's main technique is based on mindfulness-based stress reduction, which was adapted for use with major depressive disorder. Relaxation and happiness are not the aims of MBCT, but rather a "freedom from the tendency to get drawn into automatic reactions to thoughts, feelings, and events".[1] MBCT programs usually consist of eight-weekly two hour classes with weekly assignments to be done outside of session. The aim of the program is to enhance awareness so clients are able to respond to things instead of react to them.[2]

With that in mind, here are a few of the most recent books (links take you to the title at Amazon) on combining mindfulness and psychotherapy.

The Mindful Way through Depression: Freeing Yourself from Chronic Unhappiness
by Mark Williams

Mindfulness-Bas​ed Cognitive Therapy for Depression: A New Approach to Preventing Relapse
by Zindel V. Segal

Ordinary Mind: Exploring the Common Ground of Zen & Psychotherapy
by Barry Magid

Awakening and Insight: Zen Buddhism and Psychotherapy

by Polly Young-EisEndrat

Mindfulness and Psychotherapy
by Christopher K. Germer, Ronald D. Siegel, and Paul R. Fulton

Clinical Handbook of Mindfulness
by Jon Kabat-Zinn and Fabrizio Didonna

Mindfulness-Based Treatment Approaches: Clinician's Guide to Evidence Base and Applications (Practical Resources for the Mental Health Professional)
by Ruth A. Baer (Editor)

Mindfulness and Acceptance: Expanding the Cognitive-Behavioral Tradition
by Steven C. Hayes

Mindfulness and the Therapeutic Relationship

by Zindel V. Segal, Steven F. Hick, and Thomas Bien

Emotional Healing through Mindfulness Meditation: Stories and Meditations for Women Seeking Wholeness
by Barbara Miller Fishman and Shinzen Young

Psychotherapy and Buddhism: Toward an Integration (Issues in the Practice of Psychology)
by Jeffrey B. Rubin
(this one is older)

Thoughts Without A Thinker: Psychotherapy From A Buddhist Perspective
by Mark Epstein and The Dalai Lama (I'm not a fan of Epstein, but he seems to have started much of the current trend with this book, at least for those in the psychoanalytic tradition.)

Minding What Matters: Psychotherapy and the Buddha Within
by Robert Langan

The Wise Heart: A Guide to the Universal Teachings of Buddhist Psychology
by Jack Kornfield

The Sanity We Are Born With: A Buddhist Approach to Psychology
by Chogyam Trungpa (the original classic in this topic)

OK, that's a good beginning for anyone to learn more about this topic.

Friday, March 06, 2009

Chris Hedges - America the Illiterate

Interesting article. Scary, too. The sad thing is that this is so true. When a nation functions at a sixth grade level in its politics, there is little hope for the future. My guess is that the Obama/McCain debates had a slightly higher verbal level that what they give for Bush/Gore, but probably not noticeably.

This really isn't a liberal vs. conservative issue, although it sometimes seems that way. In general, Dems have more education than their GOP peers, but the rhetoric doesn't demonstrate much difference.

The saddest part is that those who operate at that lower verbal and intellectual level distrust the few who are literate, who can deal with complex ideas. When ignorance and illiteracy is held up as an ideal, we're metaphorically f*cked.

America the Illiterate

Posted on Nov 10, 2008
AP photo / Tina Fineberg

By Chris Hedges

We live in two Americas. One America, now the minority, functions in a print-based, literate world. It can cope with complexity and has the intellectual tools to separate illusion from truth. The other America, which constitutes the majority, exists in a non-reality-based belief system. This America, dependent on skillfully manipulated images for information, has severed itself from the literate, print-based culture. It cannot differentiate between lies and truth. It is informed by simplistic, childish narratives and clichés. It is thrown into confusion by ambiguity, nuance and self-reflection. This divide, more than race, class or gender, more than rural or urban, believer or nonbeliever, red state or blue state, has split the country into radically distinct, unbridgeable and antagonistic entities.

There are over 42 million American adults, 20 percent of whom hold high school diplomas, who cannot read, as well as the 50 million who read at a fourth- or fifth-grade level. Nearly a third of the nation’s population is illiterate or barely literate. And their numbers are growing by an estimated 2 million a year. But even those who are supposedly literate retreat in huge numbers into this image-based existence. A third of high school graduates, along with 42 percent of college graduates, never read a book after they finish school. Eighty percent of the families in the United States last year did not buy a book.

The illiterate rarely vote, and when they do vote they do so without the ability to make decisions based on textual information. American political campaigns, which have learned to speak in the comforting epistemology of images, eschew real ideas and policy for cheap slogans and reassuring personal narratives. Political propaganda now masquerades as ideology. Political campaigns have become an experience. They do not require cognitive or self-critical skills. They are designed to ignite pseudo-religious feelings of euphoria, empowerment and collective salvation. Campaigns that succeed are carefully constructed psychological instruments that manipulate fickle public moods, emotions and impulses, many of which are subliminal. They create a public ecstasy that annuls individuality and fosters a state of mindlessness. They thrust us into an eternal present. They cater to a nation that now lives in a state of permanent amnesia. It is style and story, not content or history or reality, which inform our politics and our lives. We prefer happy illusions. And it works because so much of the American electorate, including those who should know better, blindly cast ballots for slogans, smiles, the cheerful family tableaux, narratives and the perceived sincerity and the attractiveness of candidates. We confuse how we feel with knowledge.

The illiterate and semi-literate, once the campaigns are over, remain powerless. They still cannot protect their children from dysfunctional public schools. They still cannot understand predatory loan deals, the intricacies of mortgage papers, credit card agreements and equity lines of credit that drive them into foreclosures and bankruptcies. They still struggle with the most basic chores of daily life from reading instructions on medicine bottles to filling out bank forms, car loan documents and unemployment benefit and insurance papers. They watch helplessly and without comprehension as hundreds of thousands of jobs are shed. They are hostages to brands. Brands come with images and slogans. Images and slogans are all they understand. Many eat at fast food restaurants not only because it is cheap but because they can order from pictures rather than menus. And those who serve them, also semi-literate or illiterate, punch in orders on cash registers whose keys are marked with symbols and pictures. This is our brave new world.

Political leaders in our post-literate society no longer need to be competent, sincere or honest. They only need to appear to have these qualities. Most of all they need a story, a narrative. The reality of the narrative is irrelevant. It can be completely at odds with the facts. The consistency and emotional appeal of the story are paramount. The most essential skill in political theater and the consumer culture is artifice. Those who are best at artifice succeed. Those who have not mastered the art of artifice fail. In an age of images and entertainment, in an age of instant emotional gratification, we do not seek or want honesty. We ask to be indulged and entertained by clichés, stereotypes and mythic narratives that tell us we can be whomever we want to be, that we live in the greatest country on Earth, that we are endowed with superior moral and physical qualities and that our glorious future is preordained, either because of our attributes as Americans or because we are blessed by God or both.

The ability to magnify these simple and childish lies, to repeat them and have surrogates repeat them in endless loops of news cycles, gives these lies the aura of an uncontested truth. We are repeatedly fed words or phrases like yes we can, maverick, change, pro-life, hope or war on terror. It feels good not to think. All we have to do is visualize what we want, believe in ourselves and summon those hidden inner resources, whether divine or national, that make the world conform to our desires. Reality is never an impediment to our advancement.

The Princeton Review analyzed the transcripts of the Gore-Bush debates, the Clinton-Bush-Perot debates of 1992, the Kennedy-Nixon debates of 1960 and the Lincoln-Douglas debates of 1858. It reviewed these transcripts using a standard vocabulary test that indicates the minimum educational standard needed for a reader to grasp the text. During the 2000 debates, George W. Bush spoke at a sixth-grade level (6.7) and Al Gore at a seventh-grade level (7.6). In the 1992 debates, Bill Clinton spoke at a seventh-grade level (7.6), while George H.W. Bush spoke at a sixth-grade level (6.8), as did H. Ross Perot (6.3). In the debates between John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon, the candidates spoke in language used by 10th-graders. In the debates of Abraham Lincoln and Stephen A. Douglas the scores were respectively 11.2 and 12.0. In short, today’s political rhetoric is designed to be comprehensible to a 10-year-old child or an adult with a sixth-grade reading level. It is fitted to this level of comprehension because most Americans speak, think and are entertained at this level. This is why serious film and theater and other serious artistic expression, as well as newspapers and books, are being pushed to the margins of American society. Voltaire was the most famous man of the 18th century. Today the most famous “person” is Mickey Mouse.

In our post-literate world, because ideas are inaccessible, there is a need for constant stimulus. News, political debate, theater, art and books are judged not on the power of their ideas but on their ability to entertain. Cultural products that force us to examine ourselves and our society are condemned as elitist and impenetrable. Hannah Arendt warned that the marketization of culture leads to its degradation, that this marketization creates a new celebrity class of intellectuals who, although well read and informed themselves, see their role in society as persuading the masses that “Hamlet” can be as entertaining as “The Lion King” and perhaps as educational. “Culture,” she wrote, “is being destroyed in order to yield entertainment.”

“There are many great authors of the past who have survived centuries of oblivion and neglect,” Arendt wrote, “but it is still an open question whether they will be able to survive an entertaining version of what they have to say.”

The change from a print-based to an image-based society has transformed our nation. Huge segments of our population, especially those who live in the embrace of the Christian right and the consumer culture, are completely unmoored from reality. They lack the capacity to search for truth and cope rationally with our mounting social and economic ills. They seek clarity, entertainment and order. They are willing to use force to impose this clarity on others, especially those who do not speak as they speak and think as they think. All the traditional tools of democracies, including dispassionate scientific and historical truth, facts, news and rational debate, are useless instruments in a world that lacks the capacity to use them.

As we descend into a devastating economic crisis, one that Barack Obama cannot halt, there will be tens of millions of Americans who will be ruthlessly thrust aside. As their houses are foreclosed, as their jobs are lost, as they are forced to declare bankruptcy and watch their communities collapse, they will retreat even further into irrational fantasy. They will be led toward glittering and self-destructive illusions by our modern Pied Pipers—our corporate advertisers, our charlatan preachers, our television news celebrities, our self-help gurus, our entertainment industry and our political demagogues—who will offer increasingly absurd forms of escapism.

The core values of our open society, the ability to think for oneself, to draw independent conclusions, to express dissent when judgment and common sense indicate something is wrong, to be self-critical, to challenge authority, to understand historical facts, to separate truth from lies, to advocate for change and to acknowledge that there are other views, different ways of being, that are morally and socially acceptable, are dying. Obama used hundreds of millions of dollars in campaign funds to appeal to and manipulate this illiteracy and irrationalism to his advantage, but these forces will prove to be his most deadly nemesis once they collide with the awful reality that awaits us.

Integral Leadership Review - An Interview with Don Beck

The Integral Leadership Review interviews Don Beck, co-founder of Spiral Dynamics, about the current global financial situation, among other things. Great stuff!

Spiral Around the World and the Global Financial Crisis: A Conversation with Dr. Don Beck

Note: This interview begins with music by Cal Tjader.

Don Beck has been developing, implementing, and teaching the evolutionary theory of Spiral Dynamics for more than three decades. Beck has elaborated upon the work of his mentor, Clare Graves, to develop a multidimensional model for understanding the evolutionary transformation of human values and cultures. As cofounder of the National Values Center in Denton, Texas, and CEO of the Spiral Dynamics Group, Inc., Beck is employing the Spiral Dynamics model to effect large-scale systems change in and among various sectors and societies of the world. He is the author of Spiral Dynamics: Mastering Values, Leadership & Change, written with Christopher Cowan in 1996.

Beck's long consulting career has taken him to such diverse settings as 10 Downing Street to consult with Tony Blair's Policy Unit; the south side of Chicago to address the problems faced by inner-city schools; the World Bank to consider the future of Afghanistan; and the boardrooms of major banks, energy companies, airlines, and government agencies. In his 63 trips to South Africa between 1981 and 1988, he had significant impact on political leaders, the business sector, religious leadership, and the general public in order to help bring about the peaceful transition from apartheid to democracy. Out of his experiences there, Beck wrote The Crucible: Forging South Africa's Future (1991) with Graham Linscott.

Before his work in South Africa, Beck taught for twenty years at the University of North Texas. There he was named Outstanding Professor in 1978, named Honor Professor in 1979, and listed as an “Outstanding Educator in America” in 1980. Beck has also been the team psychologist for The South African Springboks, winners of the 1995 Rugby World Cup, and has been associated with the Dallas Cowboys, New Orleans Saints, the Texas Rangers (baseball), and the U.S. Olympic Committee for Men's Track and Field. He writes a “sports values” column for the Dallas Morning News. He makes his home in Denton, Texas.

Perspective Testing - Who Killed John Doe?

Read this scenario then follow the directions at the bottom. We did this as an exercise in class (on coming to a group consensus), but it seems to me that it also offers a glimpse into how people view their world.
Who Killed John Doe?

Read the information below and then complete the sentence at the end.

John Doe, age 54, was dead on arrival. His wife drove him to the Emergency Room at 2 a.m., but even before she pulled into the driveway, his tortured breathing had stopped. Successive attempts by the hospital staff to revive him failed.

John’s doctor said he was sorry. He could not make house calls, because there is a shortage of doctors, and he is putting in an 80-hour week as it is. Besides, Mrs. Doe had called at 1 a.m. on Christmas morning. The doctor told her to rush John to the hospital.

The hospital administrator was sorry. When the patient had asked to be admitted earlier that morning, his condition was not acute. The patient had used up his insurance benefits for the year and had no other resources. The hospital had exhausted its charitable reserve funds and was required to limit admissions to paying patients or those whose conditions required acute and emergency care.

The caseworker from the Department of Health and Social Services was sorry. She had explained to the patient that the State health program would cover him only after he had incurred one hundred dollars in medical bills. If he entered the hospital before incurring that amount in medical bills, the entire hospital stay would be disallowed for coverage by her office by law.

The legislators who made the law said they were sorry. They had to balance the state’s budget at a time when highway costs and educational expenses were going up. Originally the bill to establish health benefits would have cost the taxpayers an estimated eighty million dollars a year. By strategic amendments, such as the one that discouraged John Doe’s admission, they saved the taxpayers three-fourths of the cost of the original bill—nearly $6 million.

The people who elected the lawmakers were sorry. They had not wanted their taxes raised, so they voted for the candidates who promised to contain expenses and reduce waste in government spending. When a few political leaders announced that taxes would have to be increased to continue human services, the voters wrote letters and sent telegrams to their representatives protesting such tax increases.

Mrs. Doe was sorry. She was sorry that her husband died on Christmas morning, and she was also sorry that they had not saved more for their old age or joined the more expensive comprehensive insurance plan offered by the union. She especially regretted: (You complete the sentence)
(Charles A. Hart, University Associates, Annual for Facilitators, Trainers, and Consultants)
OK, so that was the easy part. Now, considering what you have read, rank the following list from most responsible (1) to least responsible. Post your answers in the comments (copy and paste) and we'll discuss the decisions you make. There is no right or wrong, so please be as honest as possible.

__ Caseworker
__ Hospital Administrator
__ John's Doctor
__ John Doe
__ John's wife
__ Legislator
__ People who elected the lawmaker

The Daily Show - A Party in Limbaugh

Tagged: "Michael Steele falls into the liberal media trap by criticizing Rush Limbaugh." The "Jabba the Rush" image is great. Limbaugh is a hypocrite on his best days . . .

The Iceman in zoomable Hi-Def

This is for the geeky science folks, like me.

The Iceman in zoomable Hi-Def


Back some 5,000 years ago Otzi, well at least that’s what we call him now, decided that it would be a great day to head out and get some hunting done. Unfortunately for him he never made it home that day as he ended up in a frozen tomb only to be discovered by some German tourists out hiking around the Alpine mountains in 1991. Since that time the remains of Otzi have resided in as specially built museum in Bolzano, Italy. Visitors can only view the remains through portholes into a specially refrigerated room.

That was until the Iceman photoscan project came into being and now some 150,000 high definition images later we can all enjoy the experience of seeing up close what this stone age warrior looks like.

The Iceman photoscan project took 150,000 high definition images of the perfectly preserved mummy from 12 different angles, which the researchers loaded onto the new website

This allows users to zoom into details that are just millimetres wide from the comfort of their living room. They can also view the mummy in 3D and see its distinctive tattoos in both white and UV light.

Source: Daily Mail



And of course the 3D view but you’ll have to supply your own glasses to see it right.


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How The Brain Responds To Stress: New And Unexpected Mechanism Identified

Interesting study. Chronic stress does some nasty things to the brain, especially in the hypothalamus, a center for a lot of neural functions, including memory.
How The Brain Responds To Stress: New And Unexpected Mechanism Identified

Switching off a protein causes the brakes to fail in our natural ability to respond to stress.

Chronic stress takes a physical and emotional toll on our bodies and scientists are working on piecing together a medical puzzle to understand how we respond to stress at the cellular level in the brain. Being able to quickly and successfully respond to stress is essential for survival.

Using a rat model, Jaideep Bains, PhD, a University of Calgary scientist and his team of researchers at the Hotchkiss Brain Institute have discovered that neurons in the hypothalamus, the brain's command centre for stress responses, interpret 'off' chemical signals as 'on' chemical signals when stress is perceived. "It's as if the brakes in your car are now acting to speed up the vehicle, rather than slow it down." says Bains.

This unexpected finding is being published in the March 1st online edition of Nature Neuroscience.

Normally, neurons receive different chemical signals that tell them to either switch on or switch off. The off signal or brake only works if the levels of chloride ion in the cells are maintained at a low level.

This is accomplished by a protein, known as KCC2. What Bains and colleagues have shown is that stress turns down the activity of KCC2, thus removing the ability of the brake, a chemical known as GABA, to work properly. A loss of the brain's ability to slow down may explain some of the harmful, emotional consequences of stress.

While the findings provide a new mechanistic explanation of how the brain interprets stress signals, "there is still much work needed in the basic science of this phenomenon before there are any new advances in the medical treatment of stress," says Bains.

"This opens entirely new and quite unexpected avenues for controlling stress responses" says Yves De Koninck, PhD, president-elect of the Canadian Association for Neuroscience and professor of Psychiatry at Laval University.

"I was fascinated when I learned of this work. It has not been clear till now how the neuroendocrine stress response was activated by external stressors. Bains' work shows a complex, yet elegant solution, involving a switch from inhibition to excitation." says Jane Stewart, PhD a behavioural neuroscientist from Concordia University, "these findings may lead to a better understanding of the changes in sensitivity to stress that result from chronic exposure."


The research was supported by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research. Bains is an Alberta Heritage Foundation for Medical Research scholar, an associate professor in the Department of Physiology and Biophysics and a member of the Hotchkiss Brain Institute in the Faculty of Medicine at the University of Calgary.

Download a PDF of the study here

About the Faculty of Medicine at the University of Calgary

UCalgary's Faculty of Medicine is a national leader in health research with an international reputation for excellence and innovation in health care research, education and delivery. We train the next generation of health practitioners and move new treatments and diagnostic techniques from the laboratory bench to the hospital bedside, improving patient care. For more information visit or follow us on twitter at UofCMedicine on

About the Hotchkiss Brain Institute

The Hotchkiss Brain Institute at UCalgary, consists of more than 100 physicians and scientists who are dedicated to advancing neurological and mental health research and education. The Institute's research strengths in foundational neuroscience (axon biology and regeneration, cerebral blood flow and metabolism, synaptic transmission and neural systems) are leading to new treatments for neurological and psychiatric disorders, aimed at improving quality of life and patient care. More information on the Hotchkiss Brain Institute can be found at

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Steven Wright on Comedy Central

Until I discovered Eddie Izzard, Steven Wright was my favorite comedian. I still think he is brilliant in a way no other stand up artist can touch. These clips are from a show that was on Comedy Central a while back.

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What If God Disappeared?

Heh! Good stuff from Edward Current. I'm sure the atheists will love this one, if they haven't already. Essentially this is the perfect explication of the authoritarian Christian (Blue) meme.

Quantum Paradox Directly Observed

Pretty cool - love the geeky science stuff.

Quantum paradox directly observed -- a milestone in quantum mechanics

In quantum mechanics, a vanguard of physics where science often merges into philosophy, much of our understanding is based on conjecture and probabilities, but a group of researchers in Japan has moved one of the fundamental paradoxes in quantum mechanics into the lab for experimentation and observed some of the 'spooky action of quantum mechanics' directly.

Hardy's Paradox, the axiom that we cannot make inferences about past events that haven't been directly observed while also acknowledging that the very act of observation affects the reality we seek to unearth, poses a conundrum that quantum physicists have sought to overcome for decades. How do you observe quantum mechanics, atomic and sub-atomic systems that are so small-scale they cannot be described in classical terms, when the act of looking at them changes them permanently?

In a journal paper published in the New Journal of Physics, 'Direct observation of Hardy's paradox by joint weak measurement with an entangled photon pair', today, Wednesday, 4 March, authored by Kazuhiro Yokota, Takashi Yamamoto, Masato Koashi and Nobuyuki Imoto from the Graduate School of Engineering Science at Osaka University and the CREST Photonic Quantum Information Project in Kawaguchi City, the research group explains how they used a measurement technique that has an almost imperceptible impact on the experiment which allows the researchers to compile objectively provable results at sub-atomic scales.

The experiment, based on Lucien Hardy's thought experiment, which follows the paths of two photons using interferometers, instruments that can be used to interfere photons together, is believed to throw up contradictory results that do not conform to our classical understanding of reality. Although Hardy's Paradox is rarely refuted, it was only a thought experiment until recently.

Using an entangled pair of photons and an original but complicated method of weak measurement that does not interfere with the path of the photons, a significant step towards harnessing the reality of quantum mechanics has been taken by these researchers in Japan.

As the researchers write, "Unlike Hardy's original argument, our demonstration reveals the paradox by observation, rather than inference. We believe the demonstrated joint weak measurement is useful not only for exploiting fundamental quantum physics, but also for various applications such as quantum metrology and quantum information technology."

Daniel Everett - Don’t Sleep There are Snakes

The Freethinker picked up the story of Daniel Everett, author of Don’t Sleep There are Snakes, from the BBC Radio 4 book of the week. This is an old entry, but it's cool and includes an audio link to Everett reading an excerpt from the book.

This is a great book both for the story of the author and the interesting lifestyle of the people, but also for the curious anomaly to the "rule" that ALL cultures have a mythology and creation story - they don't. There are also some interesting aspects to their language (no distant past or future - if it didn't occur within the period of a lifetime, it didn't happen). They are a very utilitarian people.

Anyway, the Freethinker folks are excited that he gave up his missionary faith.

How an Amazonian tribe turned a missionary into an atheist

A RIVETING and hugely satisfying report on BBC Radio 4 today tells the story of a missionary who was charged by an American missionary group with taking the Gospel to the little understood Pirahãs tribe in the Amazon – only to realise how ridiculous his faith in Christianity was.

Daniel Everett, 57, a linguist in the Departmental Chair of Languages, Literatures and Cultures at Illinois State University, told presenter John McCarthy on the Excess Baggage programme, that he had travelled to the Amazon in the 70s to bring the tribe “the joy of faith” only to discover that they were a deeply contented people. In fact they seemed far better contented than he was.

Tribe members asked the missionary whether he had seen or experienced any of the things he was telling them about. He had to admit that he hadn’t; that he was simply passing things onto them that were told to him by people who hadn’t seen or experienced them either.

The Pirahãs, he said, “believed that the world was as it had always been, and that there was no supreme deity”. Furthermore they had no creation myths in their culture. In short, here was a people who were more than happy to live their lives “without God, religion or any political authority”.

Despite Everett translating the Book of Luke into Pirahã and reading it to tribe members, the Pirahãs sensibly resisted all his attempts to convert them.

According to a report in the New Yorker:

His zeal soon dissipated … Convinced that the Pirahã assigned no spiritual meaning to the Bible, Everett finally admitted that he did not, either. He declared himself an atheist …

According to Wikipedia, Everett “was having serious doubts by 1982, and had lost all faith by 1985 after having spent a year at MIT. He would not tell anyone about his atheism for another 19 years; when he finally did, his marriage ended in divorce and two of his three children broke off all contact.”

Everett’s account of his life among the Pirahãs is told in his book Don’t Sleep There are Snakes. BBC Radio 4 has chosen it as its Book of The Week, and it will be broadcast from Monday, November 17, 2008 ( weekdays 9.45am -10.00am, repeated 00.30-00.45am.)

The book concludes with Everett saying:

The Pirahãs have shown me that there is dignity and deep satisfaction in facing life and death without the comforts of heaven or the fear of hell, and of sailing towards the great abyss with a smile.

And they have shown me that for years I held many of my beliefs without warrant. I have learned these things from the Pirahãs, and I will be grateful to them for as long as I live.

You can hear the relevant extract, in MP3 format, here.

UPDATE – Nov 10: The Guardian has now picked up the story, which you can see here.

Derek Ball - The New New Mysterianism

This is an excellent presentation from The Cyber Consciousness Conference. Here is a brief definition of what is meant by "new mysterianism," for those who do not follow philosophy or consciousness studies:

New Mysterianism is often characterized as a presupposition that some problems cannot be solved. Critics of this view argue that it is arrogant to assume that a problem cannot be solved just because we have not solved it yet. On the other hand, New Mysterians would say that it is just as absurd to assume that every problem can be solved. Crucially, New Mysterians would argue that they did not start with any supposition as to the solvability of the question, and instead reached their conclusion through logical reasoning. Their argument goes as follows: Subjective experiences by their very nature cannot be shared or compared. Therefore it is impossible to know what subjective experiences a system (other than ourselves) is having. This will always be the case, no matter what clever scientific tests we invent. Therefore, there are some questions about consciousness that will never be answered.

Noam Chomsky distinguishes between problems, which seem solvable, at least in principle, through scientific methods, and mysteries, which do not, even in principle. He notes that the cognitive capabilities of all organisms are limited by biology, e.g. a mouse will never speak like a human. In the same way, certain problems may be beyond our understanding. For example, in the mind-body problem, emergent materialism claims that humans are not smart enough to determine "the relationship between mind and matter." [4] Strong agnosticism is a religious application of this position.

With that background, here is the presentation from the conference:

The New New Mysterianism

Chair: Richard Brown

Presenter: Derek Ball, Arche; The University of St Andrew

Derek’s paper or a larger version of the video

Commentator 1: David Papinaeu, Kings College –London

Commentator 2: James Dow, The Graduate Center, CUNY

Jame’s paper or a larger version of his video

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

David Lynch Foundation's "Change Begins Within" Benefit Concert

Sweet! The David Lynch Foundation, along with Paul McCartney, are organizing a "Change Begins Within" Benefit Concert. The guests include Ringo Starr, Donovan, Eddie Vedder, Ben Harper, Moby, Paul Horn, Bettye LaVette, and Sharyl Crow. A very good cause.

Studied have shown that children taught TM are much more likely to be well-behaved in class, get better grades, and have better self-awareness and self-esteem. That's a worthy goal.

About the David Lynch Foundation:
Message from David Lynch E-mail
David Lynch
David Lynch, founder and chairman of the Board of Trustees of the David Lynch Foundation or Consciousness-Based Education and World Peace, is an award-
winning director, writer, and producer. His work includes Eraserhead, Elephant Man, Wild at Heart, Twin Peaks, Blue Velvet, Lost Highway, Straight Story, Mulhol-
land Drive, and INLAND EMPIRE.

In today’s world of fear and uncertainty, every child should have one class period a day to dive within himself and experience the field of silence—bliss—the enormous reservoir of energy and intelligence that is deep within all of us. This is the way to save the coming generation.

I have been “diving within” through the Transcendental Meditation technique for over 30 years. It has changed my life, my world. I am not alone. Millions of other people of all ages, religions, and walks of life practice the technique and enjoy incredible benefits.

Someday, hopefully very soon, “diving within” as a preparation for learning and as a tool for developing the creative potential of the mind will be a standard part of every school’s curriculum. The stresses of today’s world are taking an enormous toll on our children right now. There are hundreds of schools, with thousands of students, who are eager to relieve this stress and bring out the full potential of every student by providing this Consciousness-Based education today.

Our Foundation was established to ensure that any child in America who wants to learn and practice the Transcendental Meditation program can do so. The TM program is the most thoroughly researched and widely practiced program in the world for developing the full creative potential of the brain and mind, improving health, reducing stress, and improving academic outcomes. We provide scholarships for students to learn the technique and to receive the complete follow-up program of instruction throughout their student years to ensure they receive the maximum benefits. We also provide scholarships for students who want to attend the growing number of highly successful schools, colleges, and universities founded on this Consciousness-Based approach to education.

I have had the pleasure of meeting many students who are “diving within” and experiencing Consciousness-Based education. These students are all unique individuals, very much themselves. They are amazing, self-sufficient, wide-awake, energetic, blissful, creative, powerfully intelligent and peaceful human beings. Meeting these students, for me, was the proof that Consciousness-Based education is a profoundly good thing for our schools and for our world.

Research and experience document the profound benefits to society as a whole when our children dive within. Individual peace is the unit of world peace. By offering Consciousness-Based education to the coming generation, we can promote a strong foundation for a healthy, harmonious, and peaceful world. For this, the Foundation also supports the establishment of Universities of World Peace that will train the coming generation in a new profession: that of professional peacemaker.

Thank you very much for your interest. And please remember that Consciousness-Based education is not a luxury. For our children who are growing up in a stressful, often frightening, crisis-ridden world, it is a necessity.