Becoming Stillness – Richard Rohr

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Beauty Is Not a Property of Objects ~ Rupert Spira


Published on Dec 29, 2017

Defines the true experience of Beauty and illustrates the power of art.

Hoplesssness Versus Joy This Holiday Season – Marianne Williamson

Posted on December 27, 2017

Marianne Williamson: It would be easy to slip into hopelessness now, to resign ourselves to the idea that the concentrated assaults on everything from the planet to our democracy have succeeded to such a degree that it’s no longer possible to stop them.
Yet it is exactly that hopelessness we must resist now, even more than we must resist the forces that seem so intent on bringing us down. Our hopelessness is only called for if in fact miracles are not possible, and because they are, there is no cause for hopelessness.

THAT is the meaning of Christmas. (And Hannukah too!)

Hope springs eternal because life springs eternal, and life abounds with possibility. We have within us the capacity to change things, but only if we are willing to change ourselves. We have written the human story that now unfolds in front of us, and the only way we can change the story is if we are willing to rewrite it.

Are we willing to go from ego to Spirit, from faithlessness to faith, from body delusion to the Christ within?

As this year falls away, let’s begin the process of dissolving a worn-out story. Humanity is so weary now. All of us, to some degree, have been co-creators of the story we are living in now now, and all of us are needed to rewrite it. We need to atone for our heartlessness and arrogance, treat with mercy those who have trespassed against us, and get to work on cleaning up the mess and re-creating the world.

This new world cannot be forced, any more than it can be rationally calculated; it can only be invoked into expression by the deepest kind of reverance. Invocation is the priest and priestess’ task, and that is what all of us are being called to be right now.

When I was a little girl, I used to ask God what I was supposed to be when I grew up. I would always see the word “priest” in my mind but I thought it was weird…obviously impossible, because Jews don’t have priests. When I grew I realized that in the Old Testament indeed they did, and even more importantly, metaphysically a priest is anyone who invokes into expression the unlimited possibilities that emerge from the field of ultimate Reality. All of us are recruits for the new priesthood, no matter what we do, needed to invoke into expression the unlimited possibilities inherent in the Mind of God. These possibilities remain un-manifest until we have the courage to invoke them.

Like ancient priestesses at Delphi, let us summon all our powers of multi-dimensional knowing, emerge from the narrow and shallow casing of a mechanistic worldview, throw off the chains of a rationalistic approach to life, and remember we are co-creators of our future. We are not victims here; we’re merely reaping what we’ve sowed. And we can sow anew. We are here to create the good, the true, and the beautiful, and anything less than that is short of our purpose and our mission in this life.

Each of us endowed with an internal guidance system, and if we ask within what we’re to do, we’ll be guided. We will be told what to do and we will be told how to do it. We will be led to each other and we will collaborate in miraculous ways. We will dwell within the golden Light of a higher kind of knowing. We will know, and we will do. Let this be the realization that lights our way this holiday season.

Like the Maccabee’s who miraculously found that they had enough oil to keep the lights burning for eight nights and nine days, and Mary giving birth to a newborn child who has the power within Him to bring forth a new world, may all of us this holiday season find in ourselves, and in our God, unlimited possibilities to redeem ourselves and recreate the world.

Source: Marianne Williamson

Decoding The Power of Now

Dec 26, 2017

Eckhart explains what he means by the “power of now” and how tapping into the underlying consciousness of the universe is a way we can experience that power.

John Samsen – Buddha at the Gas Pump Interview


When John Samsen first contacted us several months ago, he said, “I’m 90 years old, I’ve had both my feet amputated, and I’ve never been happier”. We soon learned that John designed the Ford Thunderbird, Plymouth Barracuda, and other “muscle cars”, and later had a profound and abiding spiritual awakening.

Over a course of many decades, John Samsen followed a quest to understand the “big questions” of Life; why are we here, what is Life all about, and who am I, really? Along with careers in Aerospace Engineering and car designing, John studied the sciences, mythologies, religions, philosophies, and psychologies, to expand his understandings. A pattern of paranormal experiences opened his mind to areas of experience beyond the paradigms of Science. In 1970, he embarked on a quest of Self Discovery, participating in hundreds of hours of intensive consciousness exploration with such noted researchers as Drs. Jean Houston and Robert Masters, Dr. Lawrence LeShan, Robert Monroe, and others involved in the “human potentials” movements of the 1970’s.

After a series of traumatic events in his life, John experienced a “metanoia”, what some call a transformation or “awakening”. John’s quest ended, and in the years since, he has been enjoying Life, knowing peace of mind, “unconditional love” of self and world, and freedom from fear and anxiety. John has been working on a verbal description of his experiences that does not rely on traditional metaphysical or religious ideas, but is consistent with modern scientific concepts of space, time, matter, and energy. He believes that a dramatic experience of “awakening”, which is rare and very difficult to achieve, is not necessary for enlightened living; that with proper guidance and consistent effort, most people can achieve that state of being.

Adyashanti – Your Inner Solitude (Beautiful Talk)


Published on Dec 25, 2017

Adyashanti – Your Inner Solitude (Beautiful Talk)

Searching for Happiness? [updated Dec 26, 2017]


Eckhart advises giving up the search for happiness and instead focusing on the present moment and your own deepening Presence.

The Christian Meaning Of Enlightenment, Father Richard Rohr,


Father Richard Rorh

The Christian Meaning of Enlightenment

Richard presents the similarities, the differences, and the complementarities between the Eastern and Western understandings of transformation. Some have called the goal enlightenment, some salvation, some ecstasy, nirvana, or heaven. What is the goal of the spiritual journey according to the main line Christian tradition? What Christian spirituality called the unitive way was often described as non-dual consciousness by Hinduism, Buddhism and Taoism. Are we often seeking the same thing? How can we honor and respect each of these spiritual traditions?

Cosmic Christ ~ Richard Rohr

1. The Bible – The Problem and the Solution: Richard Rohr 2. How Buddha helps to be a better Christian


Father Richard Rohr, Franciscan priest and founder of the Center for Action and Contemplation, answers a question about The Bible and nonduality. He suggests that the violence of some Old Testament texts can be seen as a way of including the problem in the solution.

How Buddha helps to be a better Christian: Richard Rohr

Richard Rohr, O.F.M. is an American Franciscan friar ordained to the priesthood in the Roman Catholic Church in 1970. He is a known inspirational speaker and has published numerous recorded talks and books, including The Divine Dance: The Trinity and Your Transformation, Yes, And…: Daily Meditations, Immortal Diamond: The Search for Our True Self, Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life, The Naked Now: Learning to See as the Mystics See, and Eager to Love: The Alternative Way of Francis of Assisi.

Why Your Brain Needs to Dream by Matthew Walker


Research shows that dreaming is not just a byproduct of sleep, but serves its own important functions in our well-being.

We often hear stories of people who’ve learned from their dreams or been inspired by them. Think of Paul McCartney’s story of how his hit song “Yesterday” came to him in a dream or of Mendeleev’s dream-inspired construction of the periodic table of elements.

But, while many of us may feel that our dreams have special meaning or a useful purpose, science has been more skeptical of that claim. Instead of being harbingers of creativity or some kind of message from our unconscious, some scientists have considered dreaming to be an unintended consequence of sleep—a byproduct of evolution without benefit.

Sleep itself is a different story. Scientists have known for a while now that shorter sleep is tied to dangerous diseases, like heart disease and stroke. There is mounting evidence that sleep deprivation leads to a higher risk of obesity and Alzheimer’s disease. Large population studies reflect a saddening truth—the shorter your sleep, the shorter your life. Not only that, sleep helps us to hold onto our memories and to learn facts and skills faster, making it important for everyone including infants, students, athletes, pilots, and doctors.

Much of this I outline in my new book, Why We Sleep: Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams, which summarizes the many findings we have about sleep and its function in our lives.

But what about dreaming? Does it also have a purpose?

Recent work in my neuroscience lab and the work of other scientists has shown that dreams may have a very particular function important to our well-being. Here are the two main ways dreams help us.

Dreaming is like overnight therapy

It’s said that time heals all wounds, but my research suggests that time spent in dream sleep is what heals. REM-sleep dreaming appears to take the painful sting out of difficult, even traumatic, emotional episodes experienced during the day, offering emotional resolution when you awake the next morning.

REM sleep is the only time when our brain is completely devoid of the anxiety-triggering molecule noradrenaline. At the same time, key emotional and memory-related structures of the brain are reactivated during REM sleep as we dream. This means that emotional memory reactivation is occurring in a brain free of a key stress chemical, which allows us to re-process upsetting memories in a safer, calmer environment.

How do we know this is so? In one study in my sleep center, healthy young adult participants were divided into two groups to watch a set of emotion-inducing images while inside an MRI scanner. Twelve hours later, they were shown the same emotional images—but for half the participants, the twelve hours were in the same day, while for the other half the twelve hours were separated by an evening of sleep.

Those who slept in between the two sessions reported a significant decrease in how emotional they felt in response to seeing those images again, and their MRI scans showed a significant reduction in reactivity in the amygdala, the emotional center of the brain that creates painful feelings. Moreover, there was a reengagement of the rational prefrontal cortex of the brain after sleep that helped maintain a dampening influence on emotional reactivity. In contrast, those who remained awake across the day showed no such dissolving of emotional reactivity over time.

That in itself doesn’t say anything about the role of dreaming. But we had recorded each participant’s sleep during the intervening night between the two test sessions, and we found that specific brain activity that reflected a drop in stress-related brain chemistry during the dream state determined the success of overnight therapy from one individual to the next.

Dreaming has the potential to help people de-escalate emotional reactivity, probably because the emotional content of dreams is paired with a decrease in brain noradrenaline. Support for this idea came from a stud done by Murray Raskind on vets with PTSD, who often suffer debilitating nightmares. When given the drug Prazosin—a medication that lowers blood pressure and also acts as a blocker of the brain stress chemical noradrenaline—the vets in his study had fewer nightmares and fewer PTSD symptoms than those given a placebo. Newer studies suggest this effect can be shown in children and adolescents with nightmares, as well, though the research on this is still in its infancy.

The evidence points toward an important function of dreams: to help us take the sting out of our painful emotional experiences during the hours we are asleep, so that we can learn from them and carry on with our lives.

Dreaming enhances creativity and problem-solving

It’s been shown that deep non-REM sleep strengthens individual memories. But REM sleep is when those memories can be fused and blended together in abstract and highly novel ways. During the dreaming state, your brain will cogitate vast swaths of acquired knowledge and then extract overarching rules and commonalties, creating a mindset that can help us divine solutions to previously impenetrable problems.

How do we know dreaming and not just sleep is important to this process?

In one study, we tested this by waking up participants during the night—during both non-REM sleep and dreaming sleep—and gave them very short tests: solving anagram puzzles, where you try to unscramble letters to form a word (e.g., OSEOG = GOOSE). First, participants were tested beforehand, just to familiarize them with the test. Then, we monitored their sleep and woke them up at different points of the night to perform the test. When woken during non-REM sleep, they were not particularly creative—they could solve very few puzzles. But, when we woke up participants during REM sleep, they were able to solve 15-35 percent more puzzles than when they were awake. Not only that, participants woken while dreaming reported that the solution just “popped” into their heads, as if it were effortless.

In another study, I and my colleagues taught participants a series of relational facts—such as, A>B, B>C, C>D, and so on—and tested their understanding by asking them questions (e.g., Is B>D or not?). Afterwards, we compared their performance on this test before and after a full night’s sleep, and also after they’d had a 60- to 90-minute nap that included REM sleep. Those who’d slept or had a long nap performed much better on this test than when they were awake, as if they’d put together disparate pieces of a jigsaw puzzle in their sleep.

Some may consider this trivial, but it is one of the key operations differentiating your brain from your computer. It also underlies the difference between knowledge (retention of individual facts) and wisdom (knowing what they all mean when you fit them together). The latter seems to be the work of REM-sleep dreaming.

“It’s said that time heals all wounds, but my research suggests that time spent in dream sleep is what heals” ―Dr. Matthew Walker
Dreaming improves creative problem solving, too, according to another study. Participants learned to navigate a virtual maze using trial and error and aided by the placement of unique objects—like Christmas trees—at certain junctions in the maze. After this learning session, the group was split in two, with half napping and half watching a video for 90 minutes. Nappers were occasionally awoken to ask about the content of their dreams; those watching a video were also asked about thoughts going through their minds.

Afterwards, the participants again tried to solve the maze, and those who napped were significantly better at it than those who didn’t, as expected. But the nappers who reported dreaming about the maze were 10 times better at the task than those who napped and didn’t dream about the maze. There’s a reason you’ve never been told to stay awake on a problem.

Looking at the content of these dreams, it was clear that the participants didn’t dream a precise replay of the learning experience while awake. Instead, they were cherry-picking salient fragments of the learning experience and attempting to place them within the catalog of preexisting knowledge. This is how dreaming helps us be more creative.

While the benefits of dreaming are real, too many of us have problems getting a full eight hours of sleep and lose out on these advantages. Alternatively, we may think we’re the exception to the rule—that we’re one of those people who doesn’t happen to need a lot of sleep. But nothing could be further from the truth. Research clearly shows that people who overestimate their ability to get by on less sleep are sadly wrong.

Five ways to enhance your sleep
So how can we be sure to get enough sleep and experience a dream state? While we may be tempted to use sleeping pills to get to sleep, this has been shown to be detrimental to dreaming. Instead of taking pills, here are some simple ways to enhance your sleep:

1 Make sure your room is dark and that you are not looking at bright light sources—i.e., computer screens and cell phones—in the last hour or two before going to bed. You may even want to start dimming lights in your house in the earlier parts of the evening, which helps to stimulate sleepiness.

2. Go to bed and wake up at approximately the same time every day. This helps signal to your body a regular time for sleeping. It’s no use trying to sleep in a lot on weekends. There is no way to make up for regular sleep loss during the week.

3. Keep the temperature in your house cool at night—maybe even cooler than you think it should be, like around 65 degrees. Your body temperature needs to drop at night for sleep, and a lower room temperature helps signal your brain that it’s time to sleep.

4. If you have trouble falling asleep, or wake in the night feeling restless, don’t stay in bed awake. That trains the brain that your bed is not a place for sleeping. Instead, get up and read a book under dim light in a different room. Don’t look at your computer or cell phone. When sleepiness returns, then go back to bed. Or if you don’t want to get out of bed, try meditating. Studies suggest it helps individuals fall asleep faster, and also improves sleep quality.

5. Don’t have caffeine late in the day or an alcohol-infused nightcap. Both of these interfere with sleep—either keeping you awake or stimulating frequent wake-ups during the night.
Sleep is the single most effective thing we can do to rest our brain and physical health each day. Atop of sleep, dreaming provides essential emotional first aid and a unique form of informational alchemy. If we wish to be as healthy, happy, and creative as possible, these are facts well worth waking up to.

This essay was adapted from Matthew Walker’s new book, Why We Sleep: Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams (Scribner, 2017).

This article was first published on Greater Good Magazine.

This Video will Change the Way you Think about SUFFERING! | 

Published on Dec 23, 2017

Why am I suffering? Why do we suffer so much in life? This video will change the way you think about suffering and after watching this video you’ll probably stop complaining about your pain and suffering! Simple and life changing advice from the great enlightened saint Sri Anandamayi Ma.

Eckhart Tolle – Push your limits, compete with yourself

Published on Dec 5, 2017

Eckhart Tolle:  Push your limits, compete with yourself.

The True Nature of the Mind – Rupert Spira 

Published on Dec 22, 2017

Describes the process of inquiring into the true nature of the mind and the subsequent realignment of all aspects of experience.

Neuroscience Has A Lot To Learn From Buddhism – Matthieu Ricard

Posted on December 18, 2017
by Matthieu Ricard and Wolf Singer: A scientist and a monk compare notes on meditation, therapy, and their effects on the brain…
Can training the mind make us more attentive, altruistic, and serene? Can we learn to manage our disturbing emotions in an optimal way? What are the transformations that occur in the brain when we practice meditation? In a new book titled Beyond the Self, two friends—Matthieu Ricard, who left a career as a molecular biologist to become a Buddhist monk in Nepal, and Wolf Singer, a distinguished neuroscientist—engage in an unusually well-matched conversation about meditation and the brain.

Below is a condensed and edited excerpt.

Matthieu Ricard: Although one finds in the Buddhist literature many treatises on “traditional sciences”—medicine, cosmology, botanic, logic, and so on—Tibetan Buddhism has not endeavored to the same extent as Western civilizations to expand its knowledge of the world through the natural sciences. Rather it has pursued an exhaustive investigation of the mind for 2,500 years and has accumulated, in an empirical way, a wealth of experiential findings over the centuries. A great number of people have dedicated their whole lives to this contemplative science.

Modern Western psychology began with William James just over a century ago. I can’t help remembering the remark made by Stephen Kosslyn, then chair of the psychology department at Harvard, at the Mind and Life meeting on “Investigating the Mind,” which took place at MIT in 2003. He started his presentation by saying, “I want to begin with a declaration of humility in the face of the sheer amount of data that the contemplatives are bringing to modern psychology.”It does not suffice to ponder how the human psyche works and elaborate complex theories about it, as, for instance, Freud did. Such intellectual constructs cannot replace two millennia of direct investigation of the workings of mind through penetrating introspection conducted with trained minds that have become both stable and clear.

Wolf Singer: Can you be more specific with this rather bold claim? Why should what nature gave us be fundamentally negative, requiring special mental practice for its elimination, and why should this approach be superior to conventional education or, if conflicts arise, to psychotherapy in its various forms, including psychoanalysis?

Ricard: What nature gave us is by no means entirely negative; it is just a baseline. Few people would honestly argue that there is nothing worth improving about the way they live and the way they experience the world. Some people regard their own particular weaknesses and conflicting emotions as a valuable and distinct part of their “personality,” as something that contributes to the fullness of their lives. They believe that this is what makes them unique and argue that they should accept themselves as they are. But isn’t this an easy way to giving up on the idea of improving the quality of their lives, which would cost only some reasoning and effort?

Modern conventional education does not focus on transforming the mind and cultivating basic human qualities such as lovingkindness and mindfulness. As we will see later, Buddhist contemplative science has many things in common with cognitive therapies, in particular with those using mindfulness as a foundation for remedying mental imbalance. As for psychoanalysis, it seems to encourage rumination and explore endlessly the details and intricacies of the clouds of mental confusion and self-centeredness that mask the most fundamental aspect of mind: luminous awareness.

Singer: So rumination would be the opposite of what you do during meditation?

Ricard: Totally opposite. It is also well known that constant rumination is one of the main symptoms of depression. What we need is to gain freedom from the mental chain reactions that rumination endlessly perpetuates. One should learn to let thoughts arise and be freed to go as soon as they arise, instead of letting them invade one’s mind. In the freshness of the present moment, the past is gone, the future is not yet born, and if one remains in pure mindfulness and freedom, potentially disturbing thoughts arise and go without leaving a trace.

Singer
: What you have to learn then is to adopt a much more subtle approach to your internal emotional theater, to learn to identify with much higher resolution the various connotations of your feelings.

Ricard: That’s right. In the beginning, it is difficult to do it as soon as an emotion arises, but if you become increasingly familiar with such an approach, it becomes quite natural. Whenever anger is just showing its face, we recognize it right away and deal with it before it becomes too strong.

Singer: It is not unlike a scientific endeavor except that the analytical effort is directed toward the inner rather than the outer world. Science also attempts to understand reality by increasing the resolving power of instruments, training the mind to grasp complex relations, and decomposing systems into ever-smaller components.

Ricard: It is said in the Buddhist teachings that there is no task so difficult that it cannot be broken down into a series of small, easy tasks.

Singer: Your object of inquiry appears to be the mental apparatus and your analytical tool, introspection. This is an interesting self-referential approach that differs from the Western science of mind because it emphasizes the first-person perspective and collapses, in a sense, the instrument of investigation with its object. The Western approach, while using the first-person perspective for the definition of mental phenomena, clearly favors the third-person perspective for its investigation.

I am curious to find out whether the results of analytical introspection match those obtained by cognitive neuroscience. Both approaches obviously try to develop a differentiated and realistic view of cognitive processes.

What guarantees that the introspective technique for the dissection of mental phenomena is reliable? If it is the consensus among those who consider themselves experts, how can you compare and validate subjective mental states? There is nothing another person can look at and judge as valid; the observers can only rely on the verbal testimony of subjective states.

Ricard: It is the same with scientific knowledge. You first have to rely on the credible testimony of a number of scientists, but later you can train in the subject and verify the findings firsthand. This is quite similar to contemplative science. You first need to refine the telescope of your mind and the methods of investigations for years to find out for yourself what other contemplatives have found and all agreed on. The state of pure consciousness without content, which might seem puzzling at first sight, is something that all contemplatives have experienced. So it is not just some sort of Buddhist dogmatic theory. Anyone who takes the trouble to stabilize and clarify his or her mind will be able to experience it.Regarding cross-checking interpersonal experience, both contemplatives and the texts dealing with the various experiences a meditator might encounter are quite precise in their descriptions. When a student reports on his inner states of mind to an experienced meditation master, the descriptions are not just vague and poetic. The master will ask precise questions and the student replies, and it is quite clear that they are speaking about something that is well defined and mutually understood.

However, in the end, what really matters is the way the person gradually changes. If, over months and years, someone becomes less impatient, less prone to anger, and less torn apart by hopes and fears, then the method he or she has been using is a valid one.An ongoing study seems to indicate that while they are engaged in meditation, practitioners can clearly distinguish, like everyone who is not distracted, between pleasant and aversive stimuli, but they react much less emotionally than control subjects. While retaining the capacity of being fully aware of something, they succeed in not being carried away by their emotional responses.

Singer: How do you do this? What are the tools?

Ricard: This process requires perseverance. You need to train again and again. You can’t learn to play tennis by holding a racket for a few minutes every few months. With meditation, the effort is aimed at developing not a physical skill but an inner enrichment.In extreme cases, you could be in a simple hermitage in which nothing changes or sitting alone always facing the same scene day after day. So the outer enrichment is almost nil, but the inner enrichment is maximal. You are training your mind all day long with little outer stimulation. Furthermore, such enrichment is not passive, but voluntary, and methodically directed. When you engage for eight or more hours a day in cultivating certain mental states that you have decided to cultivate and that you have learned to cultivate, you reprogram the brain.

Singer: In a sense, you make your brain the object of a sophisticated cognitive process that is turned inward rather than outward toward the world around you. You apply the cognitive abilities of the brain to studying its own organization and functioning, and you do so in an intentional and focused way, similar to when you attend to events in the outer world and when you organize sensory signals into coherent percepts. You assign value to certain states and you try to increase their prevalence, which probably goes along with a change in synaptic connectivity in much the same way as it occurs with learning processes resulting from interactions with the outer world.Let us perhaps briefly recapitulate how the human brain adapts to the environment because this developmental process can also be seen as a modification or reprogramming of brain functions. Brain development is characterized by a massive proliferation of connections and is paralleled by a shaping process through which the connections being formed are either stabilized or deleted according to functional criteria, using experience and interaction with the environment as the validation criterion. This developmental reorganization continues until the age of about 20. The early stages serve the adjustment of sensory and motor functions, and the later phases primarily involve brain systems responsible for social abilities. Once these developmental processes come to an end, the connectivity of the brain becomes fixed, and large-scale modifications are no longer possible.

Ricard: To some extent.

Singer: To some extent, yes. The existing synaptic connections remain modifiable, but you can’t grow new long-range connections. In a few distinct regions of the brain, such as the hippocampus and olfactory bulb, new neurons are generated throughout life and inserted into the existing circuits, but this process is not large-scale, at least not in the neocortex, where higher cognitive functions are supposed to be realized.

Ricard: A study of people who have practiced meditation for a long time demonstrates that structural connectivity among the different areas of the brain is higher in meditators than in a control group. Hence, there must be another kind of change allowed by the brain.

Singer: I have no difficulty in accepting that a learning process can change behavioral dispositions, even in adults. There is ample evidence of this from reeducation programs, where practice leads to small but incremental behavior modifications. There is also evidence for quite dramatic and sudden changes in cognition, emotional states, and coping strategies. In this case, the same mechanisms that support learning—distributed changes in the efficiency of synaptic connections—lead to drastic alterations of global brain states.

Ricard: You could also change the flow of neuron activity, as when the traffic on a road increases significantly

Singer: Yes. What changes with learning and training in the adult is the flow of activity. The fixed hardware of anatomical connections is rather stable after age 20, but it is still possible to route activity flexibly from A to B or from A to C by adding certain signatures to the activity that ensure that a given activation pattern is not broadcast in a diffuse way to all connected brain regions but sent only to selected target areas.

Ricard: So far, the results of the studies conducted with trained meditators indicate that they have the faculty to generate clean, powerful, well-defined states of mind, and this faculty is associated with some specific brain patterns. Mental training enables one to generate those states at will and to modulate their intensity, even when confronted with disturbing circumstances, such as strong positive or negative emotional stimuli. Thus, one acquires the faculty to maintain an overall emotional balance that favors inner strength and peace.

Singer: So you have to use your cognitive abilities to identify more clearly and delineate more sharply the various emotional states, and to train your control systems, probably located in the frontal lobe, to increase or decrease selectively the activity of subsystems responsible for the generation of the various emotions.An analogy for this process of refinement could be the improved differentiation of objects of perception, which is known to depend on learning. With just a little experience, you are able to recognize an animal as a dog. With more experience, you can sharpen your eye and become able to distinguish with greater and greater precision dogs that look similar. Likewise, mental training might allow you to sharpen your inner eye for the distinction of emotional states.In the naïve state, you are able to distinguish good and bad feelings only in a global way. With practice, these distinctions would become increasingly refined until you could distinguish more and more nuances. The taxonomy of mental states should thus become more differentiated. If this is the case, then cultures exploiting mental training as a source of knowledge should have a richer vocabulary for mental states than cultures that are more interested in investigating phenomena of the outer world.

Ricard: Buddhist taxonomy describes 58 main mental events and various subdivisions thereof. It is quite true that by conducting an in-depth investigation of mental events, one becomes able to distinguish increasingly more subtle nuances.Take anger, for instance. Often anger can have a malevolent component, but it can also be rightful indignation in the face of injustice. Anger can be a reaction that allows us to rapidly overcome an obstacle preventing us from achieving something worthwhile or remove an obstacle threatening us. However, it could also reflect a tendency to be short-tempered. If you look carefully at anger, you will see that it contains aspects of clarity, focus, and effectiveness that are not harmful in and of themselves. So if you are able to recognize those aspects that are not yet negative and let your mind remain in them, without drifting into the destructive aspects, then you will not be troubled and confused by these emotions.Another result of cultivating mental skills is that, after a while, you will no longer need to apply contrived efforts. You can deal with the arising of mental perturbations like the eagles I see from the window of my hermitage in the Himalayas. The crows often attack them, even though they are much smaller. They dive at the eagles from above trying to hit them with their beaks. However, instead of getting alarmed and moving around to avoid the crow, the eagle simply retracts one wing at the last moment, letting the diving crow pass by, and extends its wing back out. The whole thing requires minimal effort and is perfectly efficient. Being experienced in dealing with the sudden arising of emotions in the mind works in a similar way. When you are able to preserve a clear state of awareness, you see thoughts arise; you let them pass through your mind, without trying to block or encourage them; and they vanish without creating many waves.

Singer: That reminds me of what we do when we encounter severe difficulties that require fast solutions, such as a complicated traffic situation. We immediately call on a large repertoire of escape strategies that we have learned and practiced, and then we choose among them without much reasoning, relying mainly on subconscious heuristics. Apparently, if we are not experienced with contemplative practice, we haven’t gone through the driving school for the management of emotional conflicts. Would you say this is a valid analogy?

Ricard: Yes, complex situations become greatly simplified through training and the cultivation of effortless awareness. When you learn to ride a horse, as a beginner you are constantly preoccupied, trying not to fall at every movement the horse makes. Especially when the horse starts galloping, it puts you on high alert. But when you become an expert rider, everything becomes easier. Riders in eastern Tibet, for instance, can do all kinds of acrobatics, such as shooting arrows at a target or catching something on the ground while galloping at full speed, and they do all that with ease and a big smile on their face.One study with meditators showed that they can maintain their attention at an optimal level for extended periods of time. When performing what is called a continuous performance task, even after 45 minutes, they did not become tense and were not distracted even for a moment. When I did this task myself, I noticed that the first few minutes were challenging and required some effort, but once I entered a state of “attentional flow,” it became easier.

Singer: This resembles a general strategy that the brain applies when acquiring new skills. In the naïve state, one uses conscious control to perform a task. The task is broken down into a series of subtasks that are sequentially executed. This requires attention, takes time, and is effortful. Later, after practice, the performance becomes automatized. Usually, the execution of the skilled behavior is then accomplished by different brain structures than those involved in the initial learning and execution of the task. Once this shift has occurred, performance becomes automatic, fast, and effortless and no longer requires cognitive control. This type of learning is called procedural learning and requires practice. Such automatized skills often save you in difficult situations because you can access them quickly. They can also often cope with more variables simultaneously due to parallel processing. Conscious processing is more serialized and therefore takes more time.Do you think you can apply the same learning strategy to your emotions by learning to pay attention to them, differentiate them, and thereby familiarize yourself with their dynamics so as to later become able to rely on automatized routines for their management in case of conflict?

Ricard: You seem to be describing the meditation process. In the teachings, it says that when one begins to meditate, on compassion, for instance, one experiences a contrived, artificial form of compassion. However, by generating compassion over and over again, it becomes second nature and spontaneously arises, even in the midst of a complex and challenging situation.

Singer: It would be really interesting to look with neurobiological tools at whether you have the same shift of function that you observe in other cases where familiarization through learning and training leads to the automation of processes. In brain scans, one observes that different brain structures take over when skills that are initially acquired under the control of consciousness become automatic.

Ricard: That is what a study conducted by Julie Brefczynski and Antoine Lutz at Richard Davidson’s lab seems to indicate. Brefczynski and Lutz studied the brain activity of novice, relatively experienced, and very experienced meditators when they engage in focused attention. Different patterns of activity were observed depending on the practitioners’ level of experience.Relatively experienced meditators (with an average of 19,000 hours of practice) showed more activity in attention-related brain regions compared with novices. Paradoxically, the most experienced meditators (with an average of 44,000 hours of practice) demonstrated less activation than the ones without as much experience. These highly advanced meditators appear to acquire a level of skill that enables them to achieve a focused state of mind with less effort. These effects resemble the skill of expert musicians and athletes capable of immersing themselves in the “flow” of their performances with a minimal sense of effortful control. This observation accords with other studies demonstrating that when someone has mastered a task, the cerebral structures put into play during the execution of this task are generally less active than they were when the brain was still in the learning phase.

Singer: This suggests that the neuronal codes become sparser, perhaps involving fewer but more specialized neurons, once skills become highly familiar and are executed with great expertise. To become a real expert seems to require then at least as much training as is required to become a world-class violin or piano player. With four hours of practice a day, it would take you 30 years of daily meditation to attain 44,000 hours. Remarkable!

This article has been adapted from Matthieu Ricard and Wolf Singer’s book, Beyond the Self: Conversations Between Buddhism and Neuroscience.

Source: The Atlantic

Peace On Earth – December 2017 – Leonard Jacobson

Each of us makes up the collective. Whatever is happening at the collective level is a reflection of who we are as individuals…If you want peace on earth, by all means march in peace rallies, write letters, become politically active. Empower yourself and others as much as possible. But first, confront the dark within yourself. When you are in denial of the darkness, it manifests unconsciously in many ways, not only in your life but also in the world. When you own and acknowledge the darkness within yourself, without judgment, you transform it. You transcend it.

As you transcend the dualities of good and evil, and right and wrong, you awaken into Oneness. It is the only way to really make a difference and bring lasting peace into our world.

If you see yourself as being on the side of good, and your opponents on the side of evil, you are a part of a battle that can never end. There is no good without evil. They define each other. They perpetuate each other. It is a cosmic play that will continue forever. It is the very nature of duality.

When you are too involved and identified with your cause or issue, you are lost in a dream. It is far better to awaken out of the dream, than to play a good role within the dream. Your enemy is just as convinced as you as to his or her righteousness. Who is right? Who is wrong? It is all determined by our conditioning.

There is no right or wrong. There is only consciousness or unconsciousness. It will take many individuals to transcend duality and awaken into Oneness for it to have an effect at the collective level. There is a critical mass that must be reached. Until that critical mass is reached, do whatever you can to end cruelty, injustice, inequality and abuse in our world, but always act from love and awakened consciousness, not from fear, hatred or anger.

If you want to change this world, you will have to change yourself. If you want to bring an end to pain, suffering and conflict, you will have to bring all that is dark and painful within you into the full light of consciousness.

At the very least, your own life will be transformed as you bring awareness to your ego and confess every aspect of pain and darkness hidden within you. It will lead to a deepening into Presence and your life will be transformed.

If enough of us awaken, then the world will be redeemed.

(Excerpt from Journey Into Now by Leonard Jacobson pp. 217-218)

Leonard Jacobson is an author, teacher and mystic, who is deeply committed to helping others break through to the joyous experience of living in the NOW. For more than 35 years, Leonard has been teaching people how to become fundamentally present and arise in mastery of the mind and ego. Find more of Leonard’s work at Leonard Jacobson.com

Source: AWAKEN

The Reality of Nonduality talk by David Buckland at SAND 2017

David Buckland spoke at the Science and Nonduality conference on Friday, October 20, 2017. 

He clarifies the distinction between concepts, experiences, and actual lived nonduality from the perspective of the 7 stages of enlightenment in the Ramayana.

Christopher J. Smith ‘Discovering My Secret Self’ Interview by Iain McNay” 

Published on Dec 19, 2017

Author of ‘The Secret Self – A Practical Guide to Spiritual Awakening and Inner Freedom.’ From an early age Chris had a sense that society didn’t feel right and felt strange how people believed and identified with things which were not real. As a child he had subtle experiences of ‘no identity.’ He left school and joined the army where he learnt the true meaning of conditioning, he felt it was like a prison within a prison. A Corporal said to him. ‘we want to break you down and rebuild you as we want you.’

After leaving he started to have paranormal experiences and then his first real breakthrough occurred when he was 21 after being hospitalised with food poisoning. It looked like he wasn’t going to recover so he completely let go of the struggle and allowing death to happen and then a great sense of peace, calm and clarity came which allowed his mind began to rest for the first time.

Life was up and down for a time until he found the following online: ’As you look at a tree, see the tree and not the thoughts about the tree. When you look at it observe the shape, colour and presence of it without thinking about the shape, colour and presence of it. Just look quietly and then you will see the reality of this thing called the ‘tree’, as you will see the reality of any object’.

Contemplating on this shifted him into an experience of complete oneness with the tree and everything else; any filter dropped away. There was no longer a watching or watched, just one in the same.
‘I could not say what was me and what was not me. It was like floating in an ocean.’

Eckhart Tolle 2017 – The Light Behind The Unheard And The Unseen

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