contemplativeinquiry

This blog is about contemplative inquiry

Tag: contemplative science

FORGIVENESS

Wisdom from Peter Russell, consciousness researcher. meditation teacher, and author.

“The conventional understanding of forgiveness is of an absolution or pardon: ‘I know you did wrong, but I’ll overlook it this time’. But the original meaning of forgiveness is very different. The ancient Greek word for forgiveness is aphesis, meaning ‘to let go’. When we forgive others, we let go of the judgements we may have projected on to them. We release them from all our interpretations and evaluations, all our thoughts of right or wrong, friend or foe.

“Instead we see that they are human beings caught up in their own illusions about themselves and the world around them. Like us, they feel the need for security, control, recognition, approval or stimulus. They too probably feel threatened by people and things that prevent them finding fulfillment. And, like us, they sometimes make mistakes. Yet, behind all these errors, there is another conscious being simply looking for peace of mind.

“Even those we regard as evil are seeking the same goal. It is just that for one reason or another – who knows what pain they may have endured in their childhood, or what beliefs they may have adopted – they seek that fulfillment in ways that are uncaring, perhaps even cruel. Deep inside, however, they are all sparks of the divine light struggling to find some salvation in this world.

“Forgiveness is not something we do for the other person so much as something we do for ourselves. When we let go of our judgements of others, we let go of the source of much of our anger and many of our grievances.

“Our bad feelings may feel justified at the time, but they don’t serve us – in fact, they usually cause more damage to ourselves than they do to the other person. The freer we are of our judgements, the more at peace we can be in ourselves.

“This change of perception is the essence of a change in consciousness. When I first heard of higher states of consciousness, I imagined they would bring awareness of subtler dimensions, possibly new energies, or some other aspect of reality that was beyond my everyday perception. Over the years, I have gradually realized that enlightenment is seeing the same world, but in a different light. It is not so much seeing different things so much as seeing things differently”.

Peter Russell From Science to God: A Physicist’s Journey into the Mystery of Consciousness Novato, CA: New World Library, 2002

Peter Russell had an early involvement in Transcendental Meditation (TM). To this day he says that the Beatles’ greatest contribution to culture was in showing the door to TM and other eastern contemplative systems. He took a degree in physics and experimental psychology at Cambridge University followed by a Master’s in Computer Science (and an early interest in graphics). On presenting a doctoral proposal on meditation to the psychology department he was laughed out of Cambridge, this being the 1970s. But soon afterwards he was offered a place, complete with his own ‘stress laboratory’, at Bristol. Before long he was invited by IBM to offer stress reduction programmes based on TM and his findings about what it could do. More corporate work followed. A pioneer in the field subsequently given its Theravadin Buddhist name ‘mindfulness’, Peter Russell is still active, with an involvement in Science and Non-Duality – https://www.scienceandnonduality.com – and his own Spirit of Now website at  – www.peterrussell.com -.

 

CONTEMPLATING TIME

“The most widely accepted notions about the universe are central to how we view reality. One striking example links birth and death. In the age of faith, religion existed to reassure believers about a higher plane of reality. On this plane, the everyday experience of birth and death was negated. Souls were immortal aspects of being human. Depending on your religion, the soul either went to Heaven, if one were good, after death or existed perpetually in a cycle of birth, death, and rebirth.

“Ironically, science has stuck to these possible scenarios with the universe, even though what science is supposedly famous for is its defeat of religion, or to be more specific, its defeat of metaphysics and the whole notion of a higher plane. If you look closely, the way the universe was born in the big bang and will one day, presumably die, is pure metaphysics. In fact, the big bang and expansion of the universe was first proposed by Georges Lemaitre, a Catholic priest, who was an astronomer and professor of physics at the Catholic University of Leuven. Many have pointed to the agreement of the big bang view with Biblical accounts in the book of Genesis. Unwittingly, the public that accepts a casual idea about the universe being born and dying is adopting a metaphysical position about human birth and death, not simple, unvarnished, provable facts.

 

…..

“If you drop every model, something surprising happens. They are not needed. For example, you can view your daily life as occurring entirely in the present moment. The present moment is not a clock phenomenon. Clocks measure intervals–seconds, minutes, hours–while the present moment has no interval. It’s always here, endlessly renewing itself, unmeasurable, and fleeting. Because the instant you try to capture it, it’s gone. This implies that the ‘now’ is outside time. It can be defined either as instantaneous or eternal. Both are valid as verbal descriptions but in the end invalid, since the vocabulary of time doesn’t apply to the timeless.

…..

Without settling the vexing questions of “What came before the big bang?” “Where did time originate?” and “What is the timeless like?” we only want to point out that time has no meaning outside a specific frame of reference. There is no “real” time, only models of time constructed in human awareness. Once we realize this simple fact, the capacity to move beyond all models, to truly lose our fear of death, comes alive. The spiritual concept that we were never born and will never die then becomes viable, too.”

Deepak Chopra & Menas Kafatos, discussing their new book in a recent Science and Non-Duality newsletter

 

  • Deepak Chopra and Menas Kafatos You are the universe: discovering your cosmic self and why it matters Globnet, 2017

 

STROKE OF INSIGHT

On a December morning in 1996, Jill Bolte Taylor – a neuroscientist at Harvard Medical School – experienced a stroke in the left side of her brain. “Within four brief hours, I watched my mind completely deteriorate in its ability to process information. By the end of that morning, I could not walk, talk, read, write or recall any of my life. Curled up into a little fetal ball, I felt my spirit surrender to my death, and it certainly never dawned on me that I would ever be capable of sharing my story with anyone”.

Her book, My stroke of insight is a product of this experience. Bolte Taylor describes it as “a weaving of my academic training with personal experience and insight. As far as I am aware, this is the first documented account of a neuroanatomist who has completely recovered from a severe brain hemorrhage”. Much of the book, which moves elegantly between first and third person perspectives, is focused on stroke, stroke survival, recovery and health advocacy. I am not here reviewing the book as a whole. I am focusing on the spiritual journey at its heart, which I see as having major contemplative interest.

Early in her stroke experience Bolte Taylor tried to work out what was going on. What was happening in her brain? “The harder I tried to concentrate, the more fleeting my ideas seemed to be. Instead of finding answers and information, I met a growing sense of peace. In place of that constant chatter that had attached me to the details of my life, I felt enfolded in a blanket of tranquil euphoria. How fortunate I was that the portion of my brain that registered fear, the amygdala, had not reacted with alarm to these unusual circumstances and shifted me into a state of panic. As the language centers in my left hemisphere grew increasingly silent and I became detached from the memories of my life, I was comforted by an expanding sense of grace. In this void of higher cognition and details pertaining to my normal life, my consciousness soared into an all-knowingness, a ‘being at one’ with the universe, if you will. In a compelling sort of way, it felt like the good road home and I liked it”.

She was ready to lie down on her waterbed and simply drift away, but it was not to be. “Resounding like thunder from deep within my being, a commanding voice spoke clearly to me: If you lie down now you will never get up.” Just in time, Bolte Taylor found the will and capacity to dial a phone number and mumble into the ears of a close work colleague, who immediately drove to her house. Her slow journey back into the linguistic and social world – at times a reluctant one – was about to begin. It was clear that that this would not be a simple return to life before the stroke. It would have to be something new.

“My escape into bliss was a magnificent alternative to the daunting sense of mourning and devastation I felt every time I was coaxed back into some type of interaction with the percolating world outside of me. … It was clear that the ‘I’ whom I had grown up to be had not survived this neurological catastrophe. I understood that Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor died that morning, and yet, with that said, who was left? Or, with my left hemisphere destroyed, perhaps I should now say, who was right? Without a language center telling me: ‘I am Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor. I am a neuroanatomist. I live at this address and can be reached at this phone number’, I felt no obligation to be her any more … Now that I didn’t know her life … I was no longer bound to her decisions or self-induced limitations … Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor had grown up with lots of anger and a lifetime of emotional baggage that must have required a lot of energy to sustain. She was passionate about her work and advocacy. She was intensely committed to living a dynamic life. But, despite her likeable and even admirable characteristics, in my present form I had not inherited her fundamental hostility. I had forgotten about my brother and his illness. I had forgotten about my parents and their divorce. I had forgotten about my job and all the things in my life that brought me stress – and with this obliteration of memories, I felt both relief and joy. I had spent a life-time of 37 years being enthusiastically committed to ‘do-do-doing’ lots of stuff at a very fast pace. On this special day, I learned the meaning of simply ‘being’”.

It took eight years for Jill Bolte Taylor to make a complete recovery from her stroke, and she is clear about what she has learned. “Prior to this experience with stroke, the cells in my left hemisphere had been capable of dominating the cells in my right hemisphere. The judging and analytical character in my left mind dominated my personality. When I experienced the hemorrhage and lost my left hemisphere language center cells that defined my self, those cells could no longer inhibit the cells in my right mind. As a result, I have gained a very clear delineation of the two very distinct characters cohabiting my cranium. The two halves of my brain don’t just perceive and think in different ways at a neurological level, but they demonstrate very different values based upon the types of information they perceive, and thus exhibit very different personalities. My stroke of insight is that at the core of my right hemisphere consciousness is a character that is directly connected to my feeling of deep inner peace. It is completely connected to the expression of peace, love, joy and compassion in the world”

Bolte Taylor now wants to maintain a “healthy balance” between both the functional abilities of the two hemispheres, and also “to have more say over which character dominates my perspective at any given moment”. Her left brain is now ‘normal’ again. It perceives the shorter wavelengths of light, increasing its ability to clearly delineate sharp boundaries – adept at identifying separation lines between adjacent entities. It tunes into the higher frequencies of sound, supporting the development and use of language. It speaks constantly, weaves stories, processes information with remarkable speed and efficiency, maintains personal identity and communicates with the outside world. The right brain thinks in collages and images. Responding to the longer wave lengths of light, its visual perception is blended and softened, with a lack of edge that allows it to dwell on the bigger picture and how things relate to one another. It tunes in to the lower frequencies of sound that are readily generated by our body gurgles and other natural tones. It is biologically designed to readily tune in to our physiology. Bolte Taylor says, “I’m having a big love-fest with the fifty trillion molecular geniuses making up my body. I am so grateful that they are alive and working together in perfect harmony that I implicitly trust them to bring me health”. Quoting a saying that ‘peacefulness should be the place we begin rather than the place we try to achieve’, Bolte Taylor takes this to mean that “we should stem from the peaceful consciousness of our right mind and use the skills of our left mind to interact with the external world”.

Towards the end of the book there are specific recommendations for the rebalancing of consciousness. These include: interrupting negative self-talk or replacing it with vivid imagery; coming back to the here-and-now (where the right brain always dwells) though sensory stimulation, music, deep body massage, or simply walking in the rain. Bolte Taylor also touches on energy dynamics and intuition, seeing them as right brain qualities unrecognized by the left. She says, “our right hemisphere is designed to perceive and decipher the subtle energy dynamics we perceive intuitively … Since the stroke, I steer my life almost entirely by how people, places and things feel to me energetically. In order to hear the intuitive wisdom of my right mind, however, I must consciously slow my left mind down so I am not simply carried along by the current of my chatty story-teller. Intuitively, I don’t question why I am subconsciously attracted to some people and situations, and yet repelled by others. I simply listen to my body and implicitly trust my instincts.”

Jill Bolte Taylor’s message is a simple invitation to tend the garden of the mind from a standpoint of compassion towards self, others and the wider world. It is hardly new or surprising. It is the nature, integrity and inner authority of this individual journey that mark it out.

Jill Bolte Taylor My stroke of insight: a brain scientist’s personal journey London: Hodder & Stoughton, 2008

MIND AND LIFE INSTITUTE IN EUROPE

In a previous post on https://contemplativeinquiry.wordpress.com/2015/1/02 I wrote about the Mind and Life Institute which can be found on http://www.mindandlife.org/. Founded in 1987 it was largely the inspiration of the current Dalai Lama. Its aim is to bring together contemplative practitioners and the academic community to investigate contemplative states and their value. Although it has a largely Buddhist orientation, it is not confined to Buddhists.

This post is to draw attention to a Mind and Life European Summer Research Institute on Contemplative Practice, Science and Society from 28 August to 3 September 2015 at the Abtei Fraueninsel Chiemsee, Germany.

This will explore the influence of contemplative practices on mind, behaviour, brain function and health, but are also fostering the development of new fields of research known as Contemplative Neuroscience, Contemplative Clinical Science, Contemplative Studies, and Contemplative Education (see www.mindandlife-europe.org for more details, or check out www.mindandlife.org if you wish to learn more about previous SRIs in the USA).

 

 

 

 

 

 

MIND AND LIFE INSTITUTE: INQUIRING INTO FEAR AND TRUST IN SELF AND SOCIETY

The Mind and Life Institute can be found on http://www.mindandlife.org/

Founded in 1987 it was largely the inspiration of the current Dalai Lama. Its aim is to bring together contemplative practitioners and the academic community to investigate contemplative states and their value. Although it has a largely Buddhist orientation, it is not confined to Buddhists.

One of their current offerings is the 2015 Mind and Life Summer Research Institute (MLSRI) to be held from 13-19 June 2015 at the Garrison Institute, Garrison NY. The topic is ‘Fear and Trust in Self and Society’. (For anyone interested, the application deadline is 18 February,) The Institute says:

“This is is a week-long program to advance collaborative research among scientists, contemplative scholars, other humanities scholars, and contemplative practitioners, based on a process of inquiry and dialogue. With this unique program, we are not only nurturing a new generation of scientists interested in exploring the influence of contemplative practice and meditation on the mind, but are also fostering the development of new fields of research collectively referred to as the ‘contemplative sciences.’ This year’s institute will be held June 13-19, 2015 and will be located at the Garrison Institute in Garrison, New York, 50 miles north of New York City in the Hudson River Valley.

“The 2015 MLSRI will be devoted to examining fear, trust, and social relationships. Presentations and discussions will draw on research in both the sciences and the humanities, including neuroscience, psychology, anthropology, religion, and contemplative studies. Over the week, we will explore biological and experiential aspects of fear, its influence on our cognition and emotion, and its expression in both healthy states and clinical disorders. Critically, we’ll also be examining the role of trust and interpersonal connection as a counterpoint to fear, so we will also address the protective functions of secure attachment and compassion. Finally, we will ask how contemplative practices might be used to help us work with fear and cultivate social bonds.

“We encourage interested scholars to apply as either a Research Fellow or Senior Investigator:

  • Research Fellow candidates include students in contemplative traditions, as well as undergraduate students, graduate students, and postdoctoral fellows in relevant academic fields.
  • Senior Investigator candidates are established researchers, faculty, teachers, scholars, or practitioners in a relevant field.

“We are now accepting applications online. Applications close on February 18, and applicants will be notified of selection by April 3. There is a $45 application fee. The all-inclusive program cost is $525 for Research Fellows and $775 for Senior Investigators. For more information, please visit our event website: MLSRI 2015.”

Although I sometimes worry about topics like this becoming over-academic, I like the way in which contemplative inquiry is being given increasing attention through initiatives such as  the Mind and Life Institute.

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