The Ego, the Now, Evolution and Madness: An Interview with Eckhart Tolle ~ Ray Hemachandra

With Eckhart Tolle in Vancouver, British Columbia

I already respected and had personally benefited from Eckart Tolle’s teachings when my friend Jess and I sat down with Eckhart at his publisher’s home in Vancouver, British Columbia.

I have interviewed a pretty fair number of impressive spiritual teachers over many years. Nonetheless, I remember being truly affected by Eckhart’s very presence. Because that’s just what it was: presence. His presence was as much a teaching as the words.

What I have to offer you are just the words, I’m afraid. But I assure you: they’re good, too.

Here’s an excerpt from that Vancouver interview. Learn more about Eckhart, his best-selling books The Power of Now and A New Earth, and his teachings at

Ray Hemachandra: Eckhart, why is stress so common? And what are the consequences of people living stress-based lives?

Eckhart Tolle: The whole world accepts that being stressed is the normal way to live. In fact, people think you have to be stressed to be successful. They think if you are not stressed, something is wrong with you.

But any action that arises out of stress is of low quality, and it contributes to human suffering. You are making yourself and others suffer.

Stress is a form of suffering. Look at your body and see what stress does to the body and its functions — what it does to the heart, the circulation, the immune system, the digestive function, the liver. Stress is extremely harmful to the body. Even mainstream medicine now is recognizing how many diseases stress causes.

Stress is a form of suffering, but it is accepted as normal. And it is normal in our world.

But it is not natural.

Ray: When people realize they are stressed, what is the best response?

Eckhart Tolle: First, you can be very much aware that when you are stressed, it always is a sign you have lost the present moment. So, you can choose to re-enter the present moment.

Even in a moment of stress, you can say, “OK, can I enjoy the doing itself? Can I enjoy the flow of energy of this moment?”

And of course you can.

Then the future recedes. It becomes peripheral. You know it’s there. You need to get there, yes. But you can enjoy the present moment, and you can be aligned with the doing.

A different state of consciousness, then, is the foundation for what you do. Presence flows into what you do. Even though what you do may be the same, there is a fundamental difference: The energy that flows into what you do, although it may be high energy, is very peaceful energy. It is not out of alignment with life.

So, that is for people to learn: You can be effective in this world without stress. It is not necessary to do things in a state of anxiety or anguish. That is not the way to be aligned with life.

Ray: How do you begin to align yourself?

Eckhart: Work to recognize the primary importance of the present moment. A good little pointer toward that is to ask yourself, “What is my relationship with the present moment? How am I relating to it?” These are temporary questions, because the deepest truth is you and the present moment are one at the deepest level.

But intermediate questions are, “What is my relationship to the present moment? Am I treating it only as a means toward an end, or is the present moment an end in itself? Is the doing an end in itself? Am I enjoying what I am doing at this moment?”

These are important questions that can bring you back to realizing the now is all you ever have. There never is anything else. So, you might as well make the now your friend. Otherwise, you are out of alignment with life itself.

When you live as a friend of the now, many changes come into your life. When you are not making the present moment into a means to an end, you also are not making every human being you meet — in your business and even at home, in your family — into a means to an end.

When you always want the next thing, every human being becomes a means to an end. Even when people deal with their children: “Have you done this? Come on, do this, you must get this done.” If you go into some households, their whole lives consist of, “What’s the next thing we have to do? Come on, let’s go.”

That is not the way to live.

Ray: So, living in the now improves the quality of all human relationships.

Eckhart: Yes, of course. For example, if you are a businessperson, you meet customers in your business. Are they means to an end? If the present only is a means to an end, the people you are meeting also become part of that, because you want something from them. You want the business. You want the information they are going to give you. You want their money. Whatever you want, they become means to an end.

That reduces the quality of human interactions tremendously. Human interactions become egoic, because the other people also then make you into a means to an end.

When you meet another human being while living in the present moment, then the primary event is as the book A Course in Miracles describes: Whenever you meet anybody, it is a holy encounter. The primary event is the energy field of presence between you and the other human being that arises. You enjoy it. There is deep joy in the meeting.

Then, whatever you want to achieve is secondary: the business, the exchange of information, whatever it may be. Yes, you do that also, but there is a deeper foundation — meeting that human being in a state of shared presence.

Even if the other person is not present, it doesn’t matter. You can’t say, “Wait! For him, I only am a means to an end, so what do I do?” It doesn’t matter. You honor that moment — the only moment there is.

If you honor that moment, you also honor that human being, because it is in that moment the human being appears in front of you. So, honoring the moment is honoring every human being you meet. The only place where you can meet them is in the moment.

And that brings a totally different quality into human interactions. You enjoy the present moment. You enjoy the other person’s presence. The other person’s presence ultimately is the same as your presence, because it is in presence that there is true meeting.

Whatever happens is secondary. In the example of a businessperson, if you get the business, fine. If you do not get the business, that’s fine, too. It seems to me those people who already live like that, because some do, are actually very much more successful than those for whom every person they meet is a means to an end.

Ray: Would you give an example of such a person in the business world from your own experience?

Eckhart: When I bought a car some years ago, the salesman totally was in a place of joy. I could see he didn’t care whether I bought the car or not. He was enjoying showing me the car and taking me for a test drive. And it was for me to finally say to him, “Yes, I’m taking your car.” But I know very well if I had said, “I don’t think I’ll take it,” he would have remained just the same. And, perhaps, three years from now if I buy another car, I will go back to him and buy.

Let’s say you also are going to buy a car. If the salesman sees you as a means to an end, then if you don’t buy his car after he talks to you for an hour, shows you cars, and goes for test drives, he is going to be upset. So all he ever wanted from you was for you to pay your money and buy that car. He was not interested in you as a human being. He was not interested in the present moment. He was interested in the future moment.

Even if they don’t know it consciously, people can feel when you are making them into a means to an end only. And people are much less likely to do what you want them to do — for example, to buy the car — when they feel you are reducing them into a means to an end.

Everything flows with much greater ease when people live as one with the present moment. Then you are one with every human being you meet, and that’s the only way the world really can change.

Ray: What are the global implications for such a shift?

Eckhart: The world is in such a mess because of the continuous conflict that arises between human beings — not only between individuals but between tribes and nations and this group and that group and so on. But change can come in only when people start with themselves.

Nations consist of individuals. It is for every individual to bring in a different quality — the quality of awakened consciousness — into their lives.

Then, everything will change. When enough humans do that, the relationships between nations will change. The whole madness we still experience, which is the old consciousness, will come to an end.

Ray: That brings me to two questions — one on the collective level and one on the individual level — that seem to tie together now.

You have written that human beings had to develop a state of insanity, or madness, as a collective to then be able, evolutionarily, to transform and awaken. That parallels what seems to happen on the individual level, doesn’t it? As a child, a person builds up an egoic sense — the child has a name, has an “I,” has a mind. But then, to awaken, a person needs to completely transcend that sense of ego.

Why was it necessary for humanity to go through insanity to get to the point now of potential awakening, and then, on an individual level, do all people really have to build up an ego just to tear it down upon awakening?

Eckhart: On an individual level, you can see how the ego develops even in a small child. For example, when one child says to another, “I can do this, I bet you can’t”; “My dad has a bigger car than yours”; or, “My dad is stronger than yours.” Children identify with this or that, trying to build up a sense of self — a mentally defined sense of self.

So far for humans it has been the case that ego develops and then humans are stuck with it for the rest of their lives. On the new Earth, as the awakened consciousness comes in, I would say the ego would develop in children and quickly become outgrown when they reach adulthood. So, the egoic stage will be much more short-lived, and it will be associated with growing up.

When humans reach their early 20s or mid 20s, they quickly will go beyond ego. Ego is an immature stage of development for humans, and that’s what it will be recognized as when the consciousness changes on the planet. Children will develop an ego and quickly outgrow it. That’s very different from developing an ego and being stuck with it for the rest of your life.

Ray: And collectively?

Eckhart: On the collective level, was what has happened necessary? Yes, because it happened. It happened, so it was part of the larger totality of what is.

Humanity, it seems, had to go through that developmental stage. You can say it is an immature stage. Like in an individual with a mentally defined sense of self that identifies with this or that, it is not knowing who you are.

Humanity had to go through it. It started with the arising of the ability to think, which I believe is described in the beginning of the Bible as the fall. It is the telling of good and evil.

Suddenly, you can differentiate mentally, “This is good, and this is bad.” Humans eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and bad. Suddenly, they start cutting reality up into bits and pieces, which is what the thinking mind does.

At first, it wasn’t a problem. In fact, it was an enormous step forward in the evolution of humanity. Although they were not physically stronger than many animals, quickly through thinking — which became their most powerful weapon — humans were able to outwit animals.

Then, thinking grew and grew. For a long time humans probably were in touch on a deeper level with the depths of their being, unconsciously so, the same way an animal or a tree is. Gradually, though, more and more of their identity went into the movement of thought. They identified more and more with the movement of thinking.

So, they got cut off from the depths of their being. Their identity moved into the head. They were defined mentally, and then they became egoic entities — me — scoped more and more separate, because the thinking man cuts reality into, “This is me, this is the other, this is us, this is them.” He cuts everything. So, the egoic entity arose.

Then, after thousands of years, they were trapped in the mind. So, their greatest weapon had become their greatest trap. It’s an old mythological motif: The thing that gives you power also traps you.

Ray: Why is now the time for humanity to escape the trap?

Eckhart: We are in the final stages of egoic madness. Almost the whole world is fighting each other. We witnessed the final stages of egoic madness in the 20th century, and even now it still is playing itself out. It has not quite come to an end yet. Humanity had to go through egoic madness, it seems, and then outgrow it.

Although that still is the predominant energy on the planet, there are now many — more and more — humans who are outgrowing that stage of development. Humanity is reaching the end of the evolutionary stage of ego. The closer we get to the end, the more dysfunctional humanity becomes.

I sometimes give the example of a caterpillar metamorphosing into a butterfly. For a while, the caterpillar’s life works quite well. And then, suddenly, something goes wrong with the caterpillar. It cannot move very well anymore. It becomes more and more dysfunctional as a caterpillar just before the metamorphosis into a butterfly happens.

That is what is happening to humans now. We had to go through an evolutionary stage. We are getting very close to the end of that stage. In fact, for many humans the end already has come. And, so, the dysfunction becomes more apparent.

Ray: Do you see the awakening happening equally around the globe, or does it vary globally?

Eckhart: It varies enormously. Some groups and individuals still are immersed totally in the egoic consciousness. Others already are free or in the process of stepping out of ego. The arising of the new consciousness already has started for many people. They are not yet recognizable as groups, but they are here and there.

I come into contact with people like that all the time because of the work I do. So, I sometimes get a distorted view of how quickly humans are evolving, because I meet many people who are evolving beyond ego. Then I have to switch on the TV to realize, “Oh, no, it is not happening to everybody yet.” But it is happening.

I cannot make predictions. There are many things that are still uncertain and that probably nobody knows, because so many factors determine what form the transformation of consciousness on our planet takes.

For example, there is the possibility of very major upheavals — geographic, climatic upheavals. There are some indications this is happening already. They are part of the upheaval that is happening inside human beings: the shift of one state of consciousness — the breakdown of one state of consciousness — and the arising of a new state of consciousness. It is an enormous evolutionary event.

It seems we are witnessing more and more catastrophic natural events on the planet: hurricanes, earthquakes, tidal waves, and so on. To me, inner and outer are so strongly linked that any collective change that happens within human beings, within the human psyche, inevitably will be reflected externally in what happens on the whole planet.

So, the upheavals are reflecting the inner upheavals and the breaking down of the old egoic consciousness, which also manifests as increasing madness in what the egoically possessed humans do. There are governments and nations that still are egoically possessed. What they do becomes more and more mad.

Terrorism is an example of that extreme madness. People blow themselves up just to kill others. Unconscious reaction to terrorism is equal madness.

Ray: In your book A New Earth, you write, “Evolve or die.” What makes this time in human history so fertile and foreboding?

Eckhart: With the egoic consciousness having become so dysfunctional, and now having at our disposal all these enormous technologies and scientific advances, if nothing changes the ego will use those things — as it already has been doing — and will amplify the technology that we now have. The scientific advances, to a large extent, will be used in the service of the ego, and they will become more and more destructive.

So, the egoic madness, or dysfunction, becomes enormously amplified by the science and technology we all have developed. We would destroy ourselves and the planet now if no change happens, because of the amplification of the egoic state through science and technology.

It first happened with the First World War of the 20th century. For the first time, humans had all these weapons that didn’t exist before. They had submarines. They had machine guns. They had poison gas. They had flamethrowers. Now, we have developed infinitely more sophisticated weapons of destruction, but that was the first time it happened. The destructiveness of that war was unimaginable. Ten million killed.

No one could actually remember why it all started. One person got assassinated by some madman in Yugoslavia or somewhere, and then 10 million humans killed each other. I don’t know whether to laugh or to weep. It’s tragic.

Already, in that war, we can see the destructiveness of the egoic consciousness with advanced technology. Humans were totally horrified: “What have we done?” But, of course, it continued. Soon, the next world war came with mass exterminations and so on.

That is why it has to change now. If we don’t change, if the egoic consciousness continues, I don’t believe that humanity as a species can survive, or at least human civilization can survive, for another hundred years.

It is quite possible even that the planet would no longer be able to sustain human life. Probably, the planet eventually would regenerate and produce some other life form. Consciousness would flow into some other life form and express itself through that, whatever that would be.

So, in the end, it’s all fine, no matter what happens. But I believe from what I can see there is a good chance the shift will happen in humanity before it is too late.

Ray: You are a German and lived your first formative 13 or so years in Germany. Germany, of course, perpetrated one of history’s most terrible acts of egoic madness: the Holocaust. How has that impacted the evolution of the German nation and people?

Eckhart: Germany is a nation that created an enormous amount of suffering on the planet. The German people also themselves have suffered, because it always goes together. The more suffering you create, the more suffering comes to you.

Perhaps they are evolving quickly now because of it. In Germany, there was complete identification with the collective — the nation and so on — and now all that has gone away completely. Since the Second World War, the German people have disidentified from identification with their nation, because the nation was recognized as insane. It was so apparent.

So, Germans now have far less identification with their own nation than, for example, Americans have. Some disidentification with the collective, as I call it — us and them — started to appear slowly in the States during the Vietnam War, when millions of people suddenly saw, “This is insane.” Many people actually left. Huge numbers of young men who did not want to be part of the madness came to live in Canada.

In the 1950s, most Americans were very conformist. Then, in the ’60s, something happened: a disidentification. Now, we may have another stage: again, many people are seeing the madness of it clearly, and there is a further disidentification.

But the disidentification has been much more complete in Germany and probably Japan after the Second World War, because those countries were the places where the egoic madness came through most strongly.

The fact that they were highly cultured, highly evolved countries didn’t help, because the ego also was highly evolved. In both countries, the ego in every human being was very highly evolved, and that is one of the reasons why such acts of madness were perpetrated by those two countries, which in turn is why they disidentified from identification with the collective after the Second World War.

This is very fascinating! I could talk about this for hours. (Laughs.)

Ray: Eckhart, how can groups come to reflect enlightened consciousness without ego? By definition a group is brought together by a sense of identity and therefore by a shared egoic understanding and agreement.

Eckhart: Enlightened groups can exist, as long as the individuals’ sense of identity is not derived from a mentally defined image of us. Every individual is in touch with the deeper level of being, the aware consciousness. If these humans form groups, they do not derive their sense of self from the group, which does not mean there cannot be a sense of being part of this group. But the group itself does not become an egoic entity.

Otherwise, if the individuals who make up a group have personal egos, and their identities lie in these egos, then their egoic identities will shift to the group. It might look as if they are losing their personal egos, but the ego simply shifts to the group. This happens in sects, in political parties, in religions, and so on, if you derive your sense of self from them. Also, a group needs enemies, because without enemies its identity cannot continue to be defined.

But there can be other associations — enlightened businesses, for example — that do not work on the basis of us against them or wanting profit as the main motivating force behind what they do.

So, yes, there can be enlightened groups of people. They enjoy being together, and they form a kind of collective entity, but not an egoic collective entity. The group does not need enemies.

Consciousness very much can come through these groups. This happens sometimes when I do retreats. People come together — let’s say 200 or 300 people, 400 or 500 people — and they join me for a few days for a retreat. There is a temporary sense of a group, a sense of belonging. But these groups are not egoic entities. These are groups through which consciousness can come through. The group becomes almost like a vortex for the arising of the new consciousness, and it is very beautiful.

You do not need the group. You can join a group and then step out again if you have to. Even giving a talk for two hours to a small audience, there is a temporary energy field there that is the group. It’s not egoic, and it can be very helpful.

In fact, the collective energy field of presence can be very helpful when people come together. It can give you an enormous boost. The arising consciousness comes through very strongly. So, that is all to the good.

Ray: In A New Earth, you write that some religions may have generated originally from an awakened consciousness, and then the egoic part creeped in.

Eckhart: Yes, that can happen.

Ray: I wonder for individuals, then: When you awaken, does the ego always lie in the background, ready to creep back in unless you maintain your awareness? In your own life, Eckhart — in your personal partnership, business relationships, or daily interactions — does the ego sometimes rise up a bit?

Eckhart: The ego potentially always can be there, because it is no more than a collective mind pattern. I have seen cases where people seemed to become totally free of ego, and at some point in their lives the ego came back. It has happened, for example, to some spiritual teachers. At some point in their lives, they began to identify again with form.

Vigilance in oneself is very important. Vigilance means to be alert to what happens inside, so you can catch an old, collective habit pattern. For spiritual teachers, it is important not to identify with the image people inevitably have of them.

People always form images of who others are, and they can be inflated images. People may not realize that the enormous energy and spiritual power that comes through a teacher, especially in a teaching situation, has nothing to do with that person.

Ray: How do you explain that to someone convincingly?

Eckhart: I sometimes say to people, “I am a window frame — no more. The window frame is not that important. What is important is the light that comes through the window.

“Do not confuse the window frame for the light that comes through the window.”

If you confuse the two, you elevate the spiritual teacher into some special being. Form comes back here. You equate the light with the form of the teacher, the person of the teacher.

Then you project the image that has been created — and many do it together in a group — you project its specialness onto that human being. In some cases, people even believe that this or that human being is divine. And that implies, of course, that the others are not! Or, “He is the only one” — this is another good one — “He is the only one on the planet right now.” These are all indications that you have been led astray, because you equate the formless spirit with form.

That is the challenge of a spiritual teacher: not to take on board the projections of specialness people have. This is especially dangerous for spiritual teachers who only have contact with disciples or followers, who may live in an ashram. The teachers continuously are bombarded with projections of specialness. After a few years, they succumb. They buy into it. And the ego returns in that way.

Source: Ray Hemachandra

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As a global leader and pioneer in the field of mind-body medicine, Deepak Chopra transforms the way the world views physical, mental, emotional, spiritual, and social wellness. Known as a prolific author of over sixty-five books with twenty New York Times best sellers in both the fiction and non fiction categories.

Your Inner GPS: Follow Your Internal Guidance to Optimal Health, Happiness, and Satisfaction by Zen Cryar DeBrucke (Author), Sonia Choquette (Foreword)

Just as cars have a GPS that helps us get where we want to go, so do our bodies and souls. Too often, we ignore the life-directional system we were each born with, what Zen Cryar DeBrucke calls our Internal Guidance System (IGS). This book simply and easily teaches you how to tune in to this guidance, a system that wants you to be happy, successful, and stress-free. You’ll discover how you can leave painful memories behind, abandon destructive relationship patterns, follow the best course of action in every situation, and learn to experience the life-changing guidance you were born to follow.

Entrepreneur and teacher Zen Cryar DeBrucke is a coach to a wide variety of enterprises and individuals. She lives in the San Francisco Bay Area. Sonia Choquette is a spiritual teacher and the New York Times–bestselling author of Walking Home and other books. She lives in Chicago.


The Secret of IGS for Spiritual Growth Issues for more. There you will find free audio links, book, courses and the ability to ask questions about your Internal Guidance System and more.

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Your IGS (sometimes called God, Spirit, or the Divine) has all the information you need to guide your thoughts regarding life decisions, large and small. Learning to use this new consciousness technology will enable you to know what you truly desire and what you are here to learn.

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Visit her online at:

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Dan Harris is a correspondent for ABC News and the co-anchor for the weekend edition of Good Morning America. Before that, he was the anchor of the Sunday edition of World News. He regularly contributes stories for such shows as Nightline, 20/20, World News with Diane Sawyer and GMA. Harris has reported from all over the planet, covering wars in Afghanistan, Israel/Palestine and Iraq, and producing investigative reports in Haiti, Cambodia, and the Congo. He has also spent many years covering America’s faith scene, with a focus on evangelicals — who have treated him kindly despite the fact that he is openly agnostic. He has been at ABC News for 13 years. Before that, he was in local news in Boston and Maine. He grew up outside of Boston and currently lives with his wife, Bianca, in New York City.

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He was named co-anchor of ABC News’ “Nightline” in October 2013. He is also co-anchor of the weekend edition of “Good Morning America,” a position he has held since October 2010. As well, Harris files reports for “World News with Diane Sawyer,” “Good Morning America,” ABC News Digital and ABC News Radio. For four years, he anchored “World News Sunday.”

Harris joined ABC News in March 2000 and has covered many of the biggest stories in recent years. He reported on the mass shootings in Newtown, Connecticut, Aurora, Colorado and Tucson, Arizona, and natural disasters from Haiti to Myanmar to New Orleans. He has also covered combat in Afghanistan, Israel, Gaza and the West Bank, and has made six visits to Iraq.

He has traveled around the globe for ABC News, embedding with an isolated Amazonian Indian tribe, questioning drug lords in the lawless slums of Rio, and confronting the head of Philip Morris International over the sale of cigarettes to Indonesian minors. Harris has made it a priority to shine a light on the world’s most vulnerable populations, producing stories about child slaves in Haiti, youths accused of witchcraft in the Congo and predatory pedophiles who travel from the U.S. to Cambodia. He has also covered endangered animals from such diverse datelines as Namibia, Madagascar, Papua New Guinea and Nepal.

Domestically, Harris has led ABC News’ coverage of faith, with a particular focus on the evangelical movement. He scored one of the first interviews with former pastor Ted Haggard after his sex and drugs scandal. He has also interviewed Mormon apostles, Roman Catholic cardinals, self-help gurus, and atheists.

In other domestic coverage, Harris has reported on politics, business and criminal justice, including once spending 48 hours locked up in solitary confinement for a story about whether this form of incarceration is inhumane. In 2012 he anchored ABC News Digital’s Election Night debate and inauguration coverage.

Harris has been honored several times for his journalistic contributions. He received an Edward R. Murrow Award for his reporting on a young Iraqi man who received the help he needed in order to move to America, and in 2009 won an Emmy Award for his “Nightline” report, “How to Buy a Child in Ten Hours.” In 2013, he received the ASPCA’s Presidential Service Award for Media Excellence.

A graduate of Colby College in Waterville, Maine, Harris also holds honorary doctorate degrees from Colby and Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts. He was raised in Newton, Massachusetts, a suburb of Boston, and currently lives in New York City.

Interview conducted 8/3/2014

Google+ Hangout with Sri Sri Ravi Shankar (Full Video)

Streamed live on Jan 26, 2013

Google+ Hangout with Sri Sri Ravi Shankar (Founder The Art of Living)
To view questions or any of the moment in this G+ Hangout click on the timing shown in next to the details in description of this video.

Welcome To the Event 0:20:00
Voice of Peace Video 0:21:20
Welcoming Sri Sri Ravi Shankar by MC´s 0:23:48
Invocation by Bhanumathi Narasimhan 0:24:01
Words from Sri Sri Ravi Shankar 0:27:10
Audience Question India (Bastar) 0:29:08
Audience Question Taiwan 0:30:51
Sandra : Mother of a child in Connecticut (USA) 0:03:14

Deepak Chopra : Spiritual Guru (USA) 0:36:28
Civil Society Australia Audience Question Australia 0:41:13
Arnab Goswami : Tv Anchor (India) 0:42:48
Bothaina Kamel : First woman Presidential Candidate (Egypt) 0:46:22
Sanjay Pradhan : Vice President Word Bank Institute (USA) 0:50:07
Kumara Sangakkara : Cricketer (Sri Lanka) 0:56:05
Elizabeth Fayt : Writer and International Speaker Writer (Canada) 0:58:20
Mia Gundersen : Actress & Singer (Norway) 1:01:32
Dhamma Master (Taiwan) 1:06:48
Deo : Youth Icon & Singer (Bulgaria) 1:10:13
Civil Society Zimbabwe Audience 1:15:53
Jo Leinen : Hon. Member of European Parliament (Germany) 1:17:09
Annika Dopping : Film Maker (Sweden) 1:21:02
Fiorella Migliore : Actress (Paraguay) 1:26:42
Natalie Becker : Actor & Spiritual Film Anchor (South Africa) 1:29:54
Shaggy : Singer (Jamaica) 1:33:38
Juliana Paes : Actrees (Brazil) 1:39:05
Sequoa Trueblood 1:41:25
Blossom Taiton Lindquist : Singer (Sweden) 1:44:50
Strings Band (Pakistan) 1:47:30
Guided Meditation with Sri Sri Ravi Shankar 1:49:33
Patricia Sosa : Singer (Argentina) 1:58:19

Slovenia Audience (Slovenia) 2:00:12
Myron Scholes : Nobel Laureate, Economics (USA) 2:03:17
Israel audience (Israel) 2:07:55
Dr. Kiran Bedi : Ex-police officer (India) 2:12:39
Lex Mellink : Former Dir. Of Police (Holland) 2:17:12
RajKumar Hirani : Film Director (India) 2:22:20
Youth Oman Audience Question (Oman) 2:27:05
Alberto Simone : Film Director (Italy) 2:35:12
Germany Audience (Germany) 2:39:35
Sri Sri University Students (India) 2:42:09
Victor : Singer (Russia) 2:43:28
Ahmed Katrada : Political Reformer (South Africa) 2:45:52

Rapid fire Qs from audience 2:51:51
Call to Action by Sri Sri 2:56:00
Bhavini and Jony – Amazing Grace Performers (UK) 2:59:00
Vote of Thanks 3:02:00

Transcending Human Madness ~ Steve Taylor [updated Feb 4, 2013]

The Roots of Human Insanity and How Spirituality can make us Sane: Originally published in Green Spirit, Winter 2007

To an impartial observer – say, an alien zoologist from another planet – there must be very compelling evidence that human beings suffer from a serious mental disorder, and are perhaps even insane.

The last few thousand years have been an endless catalogue of insane behaviour. Recorded history is an endless catalogue of wars, and the story of the brutal oppression of the great mass of human beings by a tiny privileged minority. The terrible oppression of women which runs through history – and which still exists in many parts of the world – is another sign of this insanity, as is the hostile, repressive attitude to sex and the body which most cultures have shared.

In addition to this insane collective behaviour, an alien zoologist might see signs of mental disorder in the way that many of us behave as individuals. He or she would be puzzled by the fact that human beings seems to find it so difficult to be happy. Why do so many people suffer from different kinds of psychological malaise – for example, depression, drug abuse, eating disorders, self-mutilation – or else spend so much time oppressed by anxieties, worries and feelings of guilt or regret, and negative emotions like jealousy and bitterness? And why do so many people seem to have an insatiable lust to possess things? Why are we prepared to go to such lengths to obtain material goods which we don’t actually need and which bring no real benefits to us?

In the same way, many people have a very strong craving for status and success; they dream of being famous pop or TV stars, and try to gain respect from others by wearing particular clothes, possessing status symbols or going to certain places or behaving in a certain way. ‘Why aren’t human beings content just to be as they are?’ the observer might ask himself. ‘Why are they so driven to gain wealth and status instead of accepting their situation and living in the present moment?’

Primal and Prehistoric Peoples

However, there are many groups of people in the world who don’t seem to be touched by this insanity – or at least, who weren’t until recent times. ‘Primal’ peoples like the Australian Aborigines, the tribal peoples of Siberia, Lapland, Oceania and other isolated areas, generally had a very low level of warfare, if any at all. They also have high status for women, and are strikingly egalitarian and democratic. Almost uniformly, anthropologists have been struck by how naturally content and carefree these peoples seem, as if they are free of the psychological malaise which afflicts us.

Even more strikingly, archaeological records indicate that prehistoric human beings were free from this insanity too. Archaeological studies throughout the world have found almost no evidence of warfare during the whole of the hunter-gatherer phase of history – that is, right from the beginnings of the human race until 8000 BCE. Archaeologists have discovered over 300 prehistoric caves around the world, dating from 40,000 to 10,000 BCE, not one of which contains any images of weapons or fighting.

Prehistoric peoples have no signs of male domination either. On the contrary, they seem to have worshipped the female form. Their major art form was small statuettes of naked women, often with exaggerated breasts and hips. Literally tens of thousands of these have been found across Europe, the Middle East and Asia. These societies apparently had no different classes or castes either. For archaeologists, one of the most obvious signs of inequality are grave differences. Later societies have larger, more central graves for more ‘important’ people, which also have a lot more possessions inside them. Men generally have more ‘important’ graves than women. But the graves of prehistoric peoples are strikingly uniform, with little or no size differences and little or no wealth.

The Over-Developed Ego
This suggests that there is a fundamental difference between us and primal or prehistoric peoples, a difference which gives rise to the collective and individual insanity which plagues us. Why should they be free of the insanity of warfare, oppression and materialism? I believe that this fundamental difference is what might be described as our ‘over-developed ego.’

We appear to have a more pronounced sense of individuality – or ego – than primal peoples. According to the anthropologist Lucien Levy-Bruhl, for example, the essential characteristic of primal peoples was their less ‘sharpened’ sense of individuality. In his words, ‘the limits of their individuality are variable and ill-defined.’ He notes that, rather than existing as self-sufficient individual entities – as we experience ourselves – their sense of identity is bound up with their community and their land. He cites reports of peoples who use the word ‘I’ when speaking of their group and others who see their land as an extension of their self, so that being forced away from their land would be tantamount to death. (This is why primal peoples are often prepared to commit suicide rather than leave their lands.)

The naming practices of certain peoples suggest this too. For us, a name is a permanent label which defines our individuality and autonomy. But Australian Aborigines, for example, do not have fixed names which they keep throughout their lives. Their names regularly change, and include those of other members of their tribe. Other native peoples use tekonyms – terms which describe the relationship between two people – instead of personal or kinship names. On the other hand, our sense of ego is so defined and strong that many of us experience a basic sense of separation to nature, other human beings and even our own bodies. We are self-sufficient individuals who can exist apart from the natural world, our communities and even each other.

I believe this over-developed ego is the fundamental madness from which we suffer from, and the root cause of our insane behaviour. Intense ego-consciousness is a state of suffering. It brings a basic sense of isolation, of being separate from other people and the rest of reality. We experience ourselves as fragile entities trapped inside our own heads with the rest of the world ‘out there,’ on the other side. And our egos send a constant stream of ‘thought-chatter’ through our minds, a chaos of memories, daydreams, worries and fears which disturbs our being and creates a constant state of anxiety.

In addition, because we live in our thoughts so much, we find it very difficult to live in the present, and to appreciate the reality and beauty of the world in which we live. The world becomes a dreary, half-real place, perceived through a fog of thought. As a result of this, most people feel a basic sense of incompleteness and discontent. And this negative state is the basic source of the cravings for possessions and power and status, which are a way of trying to complete ourselves and compensate for our inner discord. We try to complete ourselves – and make ourselves significant – by gaining power over other people or by collecting wealth and possessions.

And in turn, this desire for wealth and power is at the heart of warfare and oppression. But just as importantly, our strong sense of ego means that it’s difficult for us to empathise with other people. We become ‘walled off’ from them, unable to ‘feel with’ them and to experience the world from their perspective or to sense the suffering we might be causing them. We become able to oppress and exploit other people in the service of our own desires.

Perhaps the desire for wealth and power, minus the ability to empathise, is the root of warfare and the oppression of women and other social groups. Maybe it’s also the root cause of our abuse of the environment. It means that we experience a sense of ‘otherness’ to nature, and that we can’t sense its aliveness, and as a result we don’t feel any qualms about exploiting and abusing it.

Beyond the Ego

However, there is a method of healing our inner discord and transcending our insanity: through ‘transpersonal’ – or spiritual – development. The whole purpose of transpersonal development is to transcend our intensified sense of ego, to blunt its walls of separateness and quieten its chaotic thought-chatter so that we can begin to experience a new sense of inner content and a new sense of connection to the cosmos and to other beings.

This is what the practice of meditation aims to do: to generate a state of inner quietness in which the ego fades away. And this is what happens when we dedicate our lives to serving others rather than following our own selfish desires: separateness begins to fall away as we develop a heightened sense of compassion, a shared sense of being with other people and other creatures.

As we transcend the intensified sense of ego, we begin to see the world as a meaningful and harmonious place. We become able to live in the moment and accept ourselves and our lives as they are, without wanting. And we also move beyond the social insanity of warfare and oppression. Since there is no discord inside us, we no longer crave for wealth and power, and now that we are no longer separate, we have the ability to empathise with other beings, and so become incapable of abusing or exploiting them. When the ego is transcended, all of the madness of human behaviour fades away, like the symptoms of a disease which has now been cured. That is the only true sanity, and perhaps the only way in which we can hope to live in peace and harmony on this planet.

Brain Power: Improve Your Mind as You Age ~ A Talk with authors Michael J. Gelb and Kelly Howell

Who are your role models for aging? What are your expectations and attitudes about the progress of your mind as you get older? Do you expect your memory to be better or worse in ten or twenty years? How about your sex life? What are your fears, concerns, and worries about getting older? Are you hoping that someone will develop the mental equivalent of Viagra?

In the last thirty years, the scientific evidence supporting the notion that your mind can improve through the years has become overwhelming. Clearly, the question is no longer whether your mind can improve with age but, rather, how you can optimize your mental powers as you get older.

This book presents practical, evidence-based wisdom to help you answer this question. You’ll learn new skills to increase memory, intelligence, creativity, and concentration. And you’ll cultivate greater confidence and healthy optimism as you discover how to improve your mind as you age.

Michael Gelb

Is it really possible to improve your mind as you age? Doesn’t memory deteriorate as we grow older?

Yes, it’s possible to improve your mind as you age. Memory can, of course, deteriorate as we grow older, if we neglect it. The good news is that there are simple practices that the average person can do to prevent deterioration and actually improve with age. Brain Power is a guide to these simple practices.

You share that the paradigm has shifted in relation to age and the mind. Please explain.

Most of us were raised with faulty ideas about our mental capacity — such as the notion that IQ is fixed at age five, that brain cells degrade yearly after age thirty, and that memory and learning ability inevitably decline with age. These notions, based on the scientific understanding that was prevalent in the 1950s, are myths — dangerous myths that can stifle our ability to flourish in the second half of life.

Just as Copernicus overturned the myth that the earth was at the center of the universe, so contemporary neuroscience has revolutionized our understanding of the potential to improve mental functioning as we age. We now know that mental abilities, including memory, are designed to improve throughout life. Neuroscientists call this neuroplasticity.

The brain is not, as was once thought, a compartmentalized, hardwired, static machine whose parts eventually wear out. Instead, it is a highly adaptable and dynamic organ, capable of generating new neurons and improving as we get older. People of average intelligence can, with appropriate training, raise their IQ, enhance their memory, and sharpen their intelligence throughout life.

What role does optimism play in longevity? Do cultural and environmental stimuli influence brain function?

According to a long-term study by Dr. Becca Levy people with an optimistic attitude toward aging outlive those with a pessimistic attitude by an average of more than 7 years. It’s easier to be an optimist when you know that the brain is designed to improve with use!

Our brain function is influenced by cultural, environmental and, of course, genetic factors. And, we can, by cultivating a positive, intelligent attitude toward aging, make the most of our genetic, cultural and environmental circumstances.

What are the most powerful techniques to improve memory as we age?

Maintaining a positive attitude about your memory
is the first step. When people believe that their memory is fading, they don’t bother trying to concentrate on registering new information, thus fulfilling their negative expectation. All memory techniques (aka mnemonics) are based on strengthening associations, so focus on connecting new information to something you already know. I also strongly recommend “Mind Mapping” (developed by Tony Buzan, author of the foreword to Brain Power) a technique for strengthening memory and creativity simultaneously.

What are the worst mental habits to eliminate immediately?

The worst mental habits are those that create and reinforce patterns of anxiety, fear and stress. That’s why, in addition to the chapter on how to cultivate freedom from stress, this book comes with a free download of the remarkable Brain Sync audio program that effortlessly guides you to experience brain wave states associated with deep rest and relaxation.

What are the most detrimental phrases to eliminate from internal and external conversations?

The way you speak can reinforce or transform negative attitudes and stereotypes about aging. Be wary of conversations that focus on commiseration (literally “to be miserable together”). If you find yourself indulging in discussions that focus on how “things ain’t what they used to be,” shift to an emphasis on gratitude and appreciation.

Here are ten phrases to eliminate:
• I’m having a senior moment.
• I’m not what I used to be.
• I’m too old.
• I can’t remember anything anymore.
• My memory is going.
• Getting older stinks.
• Everything was easier when I was younger.
• I’m over the hill.
• My best days are behind me.
• Things keep getting worse as I get older.

There are so many brain boosting supplements on the market, if you were only to take a few, which ones are the most essential?

A high quality multivitamin/mineral supplement is the most important daily brain-booster along with fish oil and Acetyl-L-carnitine (ALC).

What’s True, and Not, About Stress (Part 3) ~ Deepak Chopra

In two earlier posts (which I hope you will go back and read) we found that stress is a complicated matter that intertwines body and mind. Mechanical stress is simple. If you put pressure on a car engine or airplane wing long enough, it will weaken and eventually break down. But human beings are set up differently. The more we use our muscles, for example, the stronger they become, and if we fail to use the heart or brain enough, they atrophy. The damage caused by stress requires a deeper look than any mechanistic model can provide.

I proposed that the world’s wisdom traditions fill the gap. This doesn’t mean that ancient views of karma, although they have a lot to say about how stress works, should be adopted wholesale. Spirituality evolves along with everything else, and it’s up to us to find our own path. In the ancient world most people were ground down by excessive physical demands, and their lives brought primal suffering in the form of starvation, exposure to the elements, lack of basic sanitation and so on. By comparison, the stress we face today is different but not milder, since every life still contains pain, suffering, anxiety, doubt, insecurity and the other woes that were confronted by the great spiritual guides of the past. At the very least, spirituality contends that human existence is meant to be free of such suffering.

Karmic impressions (vasanas in Sanskrit) are basically the same as stress. Something sticks to us — a memory, a fear, a trauma — and keeps coming back in repetitive ways. Long-term depression and anxiety are repetitive; so are stress disorders, addictions and obsessive-compulsive behavior. The reason that modern therapies have not solved these maladies is that they don’t easily fit a medical model. No one is infected with an addiction; there is no vaccine or surgery for depression. Attempts are made to squeeze stress-related symptoms into a manageable scheme so that a patient can be handed the right pill after a fifteen-minute consultation. I won’t discount that some relief is offered, but for the most part drug therapy only masks the symptom without touching the cause of distress.

How do we get stress to stop sticking to us? How do we erase karmic impressions? How can we let go of past pain? These are profound questions, and they give ordinary people a strong reason to look into spirituality (and into therapies where the medical model has merged with the findings of wisdom). Personally, I don’t find that the kind of spiritual answers involved in prayer, faith, patience, hope and reliance on God work very well, much less those beliefs that deem suffering to be spiritually valuable for its own sake. Far more workable, I think, is the kind of spirituality that focuses directly on consciousness. Meditation, mindfulness, self-reflection, focused intention, energy work, hands-on healing and yoga all have their part to play. Karma or stress — call it what you will — is rooted in consciousness. We know this because karma and stress are unique with each person, forming patterns that no two people exactly duplicate.

If there is a state of consciousness that frees us from stress and the repetitive behavior that keeps us bound to the past, it should be a first priority to seek such a state. In the Indian tradition suffering is born of duality; healing is the end result of attaining unity. Duality comes down to the divided self, caught up in desires, thoughts, drives and impulses that form a confused and conflicting inner landscape. Unity is a self that is intact, clear, without contradictory impulses and present in the moment. Unity consciousness may be much more than this — it could be a state of grace that brings a person into intimacy with God — but without the basics, higher consciousness does us no good, in terms of freeing us from distress.

I’ve laid out a worldview rather than going into details, even though people always want how-to advice. The reason for being so general is that accepting a new worldview is the most important thing you can do. What is more basic than the decision to leave the battlefield rather than continuing to fight? Internal conflict is the problem, and doing more of the same, warring against yourself, judging against your bad impulses, suffering over your mistakes, projecting blame on others, finding that your highest expectations keep falling short — these are all forms of inner conflict. If you keep repeating them, you will persist in duality and the suffering it brings.

I almost never refer readers to my own writings, but two books, “How to Know God” and “The Book of Secrets,” lay out the big picture of how higher consciousness works, while a practical manual, “Reinventing the Body, Resurrecting the Soul,” gives the details.

Here, in three posts, I’ve tried to show that stress is, in fact, a spiritual issue. Materialism with its mechanistic explanations and conventional medicine are not complete enough to solve this huge problem, and in many ways they point in the wrong direction. It takes a shift in consciousness to end suffering. Such a shift is possible. The way to accomplish it is known and has been laid out in the world’s wisdom traditions. With that knowledge in hand, we can direct our lives in an evolutionary direction that was all but unknown a few decades ago. The solution to stress is inside each of us, waiting to be discovered.

Deepak Chopra – What’s True, and Not, About Stress (Part Two)

In my first post I began to talk about the spiritual side of stress. It’s such an unusual approach that it might be good to review stress more conventionally first. Stress is made complicated because both mind and body are involved. The so-called stress response is a temporary event with physical markers, such as a rise in certain hormones.

Once the event that caused the response is over, the stress itself isn’t gone. Soldiers come home from battle with post-traumatic stress disorder, for example, a lingering memory bringing back their stress even more powerfully and repeatedly than when it was first felt. Closer to home, sitting in a traffic snarl while commuting to and from work can create a low-level kind of stress that is constant and nagging.

In other words, physical signs aren’t enough to explain what stress is doing to us every day. You can’t simply “lower your stress” by avoiding pressured situations. A completely easy life, without pressure of any kind (if such a hypothetical life existed), needs only one deeply disturbing event, such as the death of a baby, to be scarred for years and change the course of a person’s existence. At the opposite extreme, stress can act like high blood pressure, which damages the body through a slight increase in stress on the cell walls, seemingly innocuous at first glance. The cell performs all of its functions without seeming distressed, and yet years later, a huge array of problems can arise.

So where does that leave us? Is life meant to be stressful by its very nature, full of events that send us into the stress response no matter what we do? Modern medical research has arrived at many partial answers that go part way to a complete answer. For example, three factors make stress more severe: repetition, unpredictability and lack of control.

These markers are observed in a classic experiment with laboratory mice in which a mouse is placed on a pad that delivers a mild electrical shock, not enough to hurt it but simply to startle. If these small shocks are measured individually, the stress they cause is not significant. However, if the shocks come randomly and the mouse cannot escape them, something remarkable happens. The overloaded stress response in the mouse causes severe damage in a short period of time, leading to illness and a quick death.

Humans are more complex than mice, and even though repetition will break down anyone’s resistance to stress (given enough time at the front lines under artillery bombardment, all soldiers suffer shell shock, for example), we are affected more severely if stresses arrive unpredictably and in a way that is out of our control. This helps explain why a child coming from a situation of abuse, with an unpredictable alcoholic parent, for example, can be feel the harm of this experience for life. When you can find no escape, and bad things happen out of the blue, stress takes a heavy toll.

So where does spirituality help us in this tangle of confusing facts?

In the Indian tradition there’s a term for events that make an impression: karma. Literally the word means “action” in Sanskrit, but karmas are actions that change us, for good or ill, by leaving a memory that causes action to change in the future. For the moment we won’t talk about the Law of Karma, which says that actions are balanced in the cosmos between good and evil, or as the New Testament states it, “as you sow so shall you reap.” Here, I’m only concerned with the stressful side of karma, by which certain life events make a deep impression while others don’t.

At first glance karma is far more complicated that stress. There’s the whole mystery of how a good action is rewarded by the universe and a bad action punished. There’s the personal side of karma, where two people go through the same event — a car crash, winning the lottery, getting married — but wind up with completely different results. This tangle of riddles and complexity cannot simply be wished away. Nor is it adequate to lump everything under the same simple rubric like the stress response. The ancient seers of India, the Vedic rishis, embraced the entire issue, but so did Jesus, Buddha, and other great spiritual guides.

Their diagnosis was surprisingly similar to the one accepted by stress researchers: Life delivers stress in very complicated ways and is inescapable. Memory stores deep impressions, and the body responds to these memories as strongly as it does to the original stressor. We can easily insert “karma” in the slots where the word “stress” appears. But here the world’s wisdom traditions sharply diverge from modern medicine by saying flatly that suffering is inescapable as long as karma exists.

In Buddhism and Vedanta there are no half measures. A person isn’t asked to increase the good experiences in his life and reduce the bad ones. The entire pursuit of pleasure is considered unworkable. This is bad news for anyone who tries to use stress reduction, yet I am not suggesting that embracing stress or increasing the pressure in your life is advisable. It was assumed in the Bible, the Vedas, and other scriptures that we all try to lead good moral lives by following the rules of decent behavior. Yet, this basic moral existence isn’t the same as solving karma, or stress, once and for all.

After offering such a dire diagnosis, the astonishing thing about the ancient spiritual teachings is that they offer a complete solution. They suggest that the world of karma, even though it surrounds us and ensnares us at every moment, is not fully real. Beyond it lies actual reality, which is reached by cultivating the subtler side of the human nervous system.

I’ve found it helpful to divide awareness into two kinds of attention: first attention and second attention. First attention keeps us attuned to the affairs of everyday life; second attention keeps us attuned to higher reality. If you remain fixated on first attention, karma and stress are unavoidable. Your focus will be tied to changes in the external world and your inner response to the ups and downs of existence.

Second attention, however, is rooted in the changeless, and thus it protects you from the impressions made by stress and karma. This isn’t the same as zoning out. In modern terminology, second attention is like being centered instead of scattered, calm instead of restless, at peace instead of agitated. Yet, these are secondary to the deeper realization that you are not what you seem to be. You seem to be a body and mind tossed about by the winds of change. In reality, you are a soul undergoing physical experiences for the purpose of evolving until you fully know who you are.

I realize that this conclusion seems like folly, hokum or nonsense to committed materialists; it fits into the skeptical scheme of those who ridicule all things spiritual. But this isn’t an issue that can be settled by arguing over it. Each person must go through the process of experiencing second attention and finding out personally if higher reality exists. The proof lies in many areas, but the most crucial is the area we’ve been discussing. If stress ceases to create illness, damage, anxiety and pressure, if impressions no longer haunt us, if memory loosens its grip, then we can say that the world’s wisdom traditions had something valid to say.

In the next post I’ll cover the practical side of shifting into second attention as the true solution to stress and therefore the solution to the baffling riddle of karma.

What’s True, and Not, About Stress ~ Deepak Chopra

This is one of those posts where it’s tempting to add “keep reading” to the title. Stress is the gray little monster in the corner that keeps out of sight. Everyone promises themselves to reduce the stress in their lives, yet “I’m stressed out” is said every day, and the pressures of modern life mount. Banks undergo stress tests, as do our hearts when the doctor wants to test for cardiac disease. What more is there to say about a subject that has become so well worn?

Actually, it’s worthwhile to go back and revisit the basic facts about stress, and then look at the deeper, more mysterious issues that are involved, some of which lead us into unexpected territory. The term stress was coined by the Hungarian researcher Hans Selye, who injected irritating substances into mice and discovered, to his surprise, that all of them produced the same symptoms (swelling of the adrenal cortex, atrophy of the thymus gland, gastric and duodenal ulcers). Selye observed that sick patients with various illnesses exhibited much the same symptoms.

It was due to Selye’s medical approach that stress is seen as a physical response rooted in the endocrine system. In fact, the term “stress hormones” is still applied, and blood levels of cortisol are a key indicator of someone being under stress. In the grand scheme, stress hormones were incredibly useful ways to explain such diverse things as battle fatigue, the fight-or-flight response, and the death of salmon after they swim upstream to spawn. People were taught to think of stress as being the equivalent of pressure being put on the body, which then gets stressed out.

In this scheme, more pressure equals more stress, less pressure equals less stress. Therefore, it must be good to live with less pressure. However, the picture isn’t nearly so simple. Selye recognized two types of stress. The first, which he called distress, occurs from bad events like being in battle or losing your job. The second, which he called eustress, occurs from happy events, such as a surprise birthday party or going on vacation — the latter is considered one of everyday life’s biggest stressors, even though the purpose of a vacation is supposedly to relax. The body reacts the same to eustress and distress so far as raising its levels of stress hormones, and this poses a dilemma.

Human beings are not jellyfish, passively floating through a uniform medium like the ocean. We live in a constantly changing environment, to which the body responds by going out of balance and then back into balance. Its natural set point is balanced, and the complex way that this balance is maintained — known as homeostasis — crosses all boundaries. A physical event can throw the body out of balance, but so can a mental event. Thus, being afraid that you might lose your job is just as stressful as actually losing it.

If everything is potentially a stress, and if the body is so well adapted to restoring balance, then the concept of stress becomes vague and perhaps useless. There are people who claim to thrive on pressure. Is this possible, or are they ignoring signs of stress that will catch up with them one day? Is running a marathon, which puts enormous stress on the body physically, a hidden health risk despite the satisfaction gained by the runner? A hundred similar questions can be asked, and the medical answer, though very complex and detailed, amounts to a shrug of the shoulders. To understand stress completely, one would have to understand the whole of life, it seems.

What if we step outside the medical model, or better yet, incorporate it into a larger perspective? That is what the world’s wisdom traditions have done, without using our modern terminology. Contrary to popular belief, which would label spirituality as other-worldly, the purpose of wisdom is to adapt better to this world. The same issues that lead to stress in the modern world — how to be happy, how to calm the restless mind, how to escape nervous anxiety and so on — confronted human beings at the time of Buddha and Christ. So let’s step back and rethink stress in spiritual terms first, rather than setting the soul aside as something to pay attention to much further down the road.

Here, I must speak very generally. In spirituality of every kind, the non-physical domain contains our source. We are the products of consciousness, whether you call it the mind of God or universal Brahman. This consciousness was responsible for creating the body and mind we experience every day. The good life therefore depends upon the following:

1. Being at peace with yourself.

2. Connecting to your source in consciousness.

3. Growing in self-awareness.

4. Feeling loved and worthy.

5. Experiencing the presence of God or the soul.

People struggle simply to attain the first thing on this list and yet much more is implied by the other items. An entire worldview is based on which allegiance you hold, to the physical first and foremost or to the spiritual first and foremost. This isn’t an intellectual or emotional decision made according to various beliefs, it is a conception of reality itself. In our time, which is dominated by materialism, stress is the enemy that impairs health. In the spiritual worldview, stress is the distraction that keeps you from knowing God or the soul.

The two sound radically different, and they are. But again speaking in vast generalities, the body is crucial in both cases. Homeostasis, the body’s ability to balance itself, has both a gross level and a subtle level. The gross level is needed for physical survival. When you run a mile and raise your blood pressure and heart rate, it’s vital for these to come back down again or you will die. The subtle level of homeostasis is far more mystifying. But we might say that true balance is a state of clear, calm self-awareness in which you return to the higher self. Thus, a moment of excitement that throws your awareness out of balance, whether for pleasure or pain, shouldn’t be sustained, because if you lose the connection with your soul your true self, life will be harmed.

Stress, it turns out, does spiritual damage before it does physical damage. Selye didn’t talk in those terms, naturally, but quickly upon the spread of his research findings in the 60s and 70s, it was widely reported that meditation reduces stress. That’s not a casual observation. Meditation’s ability to reduce blood pressure, for example, is secondary to the fact that the whole person is being rebalanced, not just the body. Yet the body is crucial in the process. No more profound finding has emerged in modern spirituality. One famous guru was asked what was necessary in order to reach enlightenment, and he replied, “Relax.”

Behind this simple and seemingly frivolous answer lies a wealth of knowledge about health, wisdom, well-being and the purpose of life. In the next post I’d like to explore those avenues. Stress will be our constant companion, the little gray monster trying to be overlooked, until we root out its effects as deeply as possible.

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