Thursday, March 27, 2008

Sharing a Laugh and a Smile

Some say laughter is the quickest way to change our mood or thinking. How often do you laugh? Can you laugh at yourself? Do you intentionally seek laughter to change your mood? Is laughter of value in your life, or just a natural reaction to stimuli?

Marshall Brain has studied laughter and tells us that the average adult laughs 17 times a day. When we laugh heartily, changes occur in many parts of the body, even the arm, leg and trunk muscles. Laughter seems to be produced via a circuit that runs through many regions of the brain. (This means that damage to any of these regions can impair one's sense of humor and response to humor, experts say.)

  • The left side of the cortex (the layer of cells that covers the entire surface of the forebrain) analyzed the words and structure of the joke.
  • The brain's large frontal lobe, which is involved in social emotional responses, became very active.
  • The right hemisphere of the cortex carried out the intellectual analysis required to "get" the joke.
  • Brainwave activity then spread to the sensory processing area of the occipital lobe (the area on the back of the head that contains the cells that process visual signals).
  • Stimulation of the motor sections evoked physical responses to the joke.

Behavioral neurobiologist and pioneering laughter researcher Robert Provine believes that laughter is a decidedly social signal, not an egocentric expression of emotion. In the absence of stimulating media (television, radio or books), people are about 30 times more likely to laugh when they are in a social situation than when they are alone. Humor that creates laughter in these situations may be:

The incongruity theory suggests that humor arises when logic and familiarity are replaced by things that don't normally go together.

The relief theory - an actual story or situation creates tension within us. As we try to cope with two sets of emotions and thoughts, we need a release and laughter is the way of cleansing our system of the built-up tension and incongruity.

In some respects laughter may be a signal of dominance/submission or acceptance/rejection. Consider the distinction between laughing with and laughing at someone.

The superiority theory comes into play when we laugh at jokes that focus on someone else's mistakes, stupidity or misfortune.

A speaker, in other cases, may buffer an aggressive comment with laughter or deliver a remark using "laugh-speak," a consciously controlled hybrid of laughter and speech. In this sense laughter may modify the behavior of others by shaping the emotional tone of a conversation.

Laughter, in its highest form, can also be intentionally used to uplift the spirits of others, as in the case of clowns and comedians who visit hospitals and hospices to bring smiles to those in most need of them. In the Presence of Humor: A Guide to the Humorous Life by Cy Eberhart is a systematic and comprehensive guide, written to increase your ability to find and achieve the humorous life by activating your comic viewpoint. It's designed to help you realize the spiritual strengths that come from experiencing the humor present in your living.

What do YOU think?

Saturday, March 22, 2008

The Marriage of Shiva and Neville's Imagination

When our world seems to fall apart and things start going wrong, what do we do? Do we blame ourselves or someone else? Do we start searching for causes and solutions? Do we hold on to our faith in Divine Will and believe that it will all work out?

The notion of the old dying and giving way for something new is as old as the ancient Hindu traditions, where Shiva is the destroyer of the world, following Brahma the creator and Vishnu the preserver, after which Brahma again creates the world and so on. Shiva is responsible for change both in the form of death and destruction and in the positive sense of the shedding of old habits.

Modern theories of deconstruction include Phenomenology, the philosophy founded by Edmund Husserl and Martin Heidegger, who say that the method of defining phenomenon includes three steps -- reduction, construction, and deconstruction -- and they explain that these three are mutually pertinent to one another. In the deconstruction, every object shows itself as a set of possibilities, not merely as a determinate thing. To see a particular object is to see it in terms of possibilities.

So while it seems that our experience is falling apart, possibility is also arising. If we can focus on the new possibility coming into our experience, instead of focusing on the old that no longer serves us and will fall away with change if we allow, we can see that all experience is experience of more, of possibility.

Neville Goddard believes that once we recognize the possibility, imagination is the key to creating our best possible lives. In his book, Awakened Imagination, he says: "The world presents different appearances according as our states of consciousness differ. What we see when we are identified with a state cannot be seen when we are no longer fused with it. By state is meant all that man believes and consents to as true. The world is a revelation of the states with which imagination is fused. It is the state from which we think that determines the objective world in which we live. If we detach ourselves from a state, and we may at any moment, the conditions and circumstances to which that union gave being vanish. The imaginative man does not deny the reality of the sensuous outer world of Becoming, but he knows that it is the inner world of continuous Imagination that is the force by which the sensuous outer world of Becoming is brought to pass."

What do YOU think?

Artwork by Robert Parker Many thanks.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Follow Your Bliss Like Joseph Campbell

Ralph Waldo Emerson said, "There is no beautifier of complexion, or form, or behavior, like the wish to scatter joy and not pain around us. 'Tis good to give a stranger a meal, or a night's lodging. 'Tis better to be hospitable to his good meaning and thought, and give courage to a companion." But just what is it that he suggests we scatter around? What role does joy play in our lives and what does it mean to you?

Hasidism emphasizes joy as a precondition to elevated spiritual awareness, and teaches the avoidance of melancholy at all costs. The consciousness of a loving, ever-present Creator should lead to a feeling of profound joy. Therefore the appropriate mood for worship is one of good cheer; whereas suffering impedes a proper relationship with God.

Joseph Campbell, contemporary theologian and best known for his study of mythology, tells his students, "Follow your bliss. Find where it is, and don't be afraid to follow it. Now, I came to this idea of bliss because in Sanskrit, which is the great spiritual language of the world, there are three terms that represent the brink, the jumping-off place to the ocean of transcendence: sat-chit-ananda. The word "Sat" means being. "Chi" means consciousness. "Ananda" means bliss or rapture. I thought, 'I don't know whether my consciousness is proper consciousness or not; I don't know whether what I know of my being is my proper being or not; but I do know where my rapture is. So let me hang on to rapture, and that will bring me both my consciousness and my being.' I think it worked.

Bliss, joy and rapture seem to be interchangeable when they are associated with higher consciousness. The change in state of consciousness in Hinduism, Buddhism, Christianity and Islam is reported to be quite similar. The pursuit of yoga and the Buddhist Jhanas involve feelings of oneness with the world that give rise to a state of rapture. Christians also look at creation another way from the standpoint of Christ consciousness, rather than considering creation and life from a material perspective. Experiencing God through Christ enables the unit mind to arrive gracefully at the source of thought, the pure consciousness of God where everything is united and one.

What do YOU think?

Artwork by Aerten Caislean Many thanks.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Making the World a Better Place

Social responsibility is on the minds of many of us. How can we make the world a better place? Is this our duty, as Jean Paul Sarte and the existentialists believed? How can we fit our contribution to the greater community into our busy lives as we struggle with survival and self expression, daily?

Clare W. Graves, Ph.D, was a visionary thinker who began laying the groundwork for the theory behind the Spiral Dynamics application in the 1950s. His theory suggests that every individual or collective consciousness falls somewhere in, between, or among these various levels of being which are not types of people but ways of thinking about a thing.

Graves breaks it into one of nine groups called MEMEs, and assigns a color to each. Beige is the first, this group is involved solely in survival and would have no time to consider social responsibility. The green MEME has the greatest involvement in social issues, as their survival needs are met and their main concerns are harmony/love; joining together for mutual growth; awareness; belonging. The last MEMEs up the spiral, turquoise and coral, go beyond the physical social involvement and contribute to society in ways that involve consciousness more than doing. According to Graves, all groups contribute to life as we know it in valuable and significant ways. It is the dynamic between that creates the life spiral known as evolutionary consciousness.

Future By Design, an organization dedicated to reformulating the operation definition of a better world by introducing coherent planning strategies that are applicable to global and small groups alike, is a good example of green MEME work. Their credo: To constantly maximize existing and future technologies with the sole purpose of enhancing all human life and protecting the environment.

A good example of the work of the turquoise MEME is Dr. Bruce Lipton, the biophysicist who identified the two way communication of unique signals from our cell membranes into our experiential awareness.

An example of the coral MEME would be Neville Goddard, twentieth century mystic, who taught self realization through recognition: "The ideal you seek and hope to attain will not manifest itself, will not be realized by you, until you have imagined that you are already that ideal." We hold the space, imagine the world of our desire, and live from our awakened imagination. What do YOU think?

Friday, March 7, 2008

Illness and Healing, What Do We Know?

Hippocrates , the father of modern medicine, tells us that, "healing is a matter of time, but it is sometimes also a matter of opportunity." We all know that when we are not feeling well, we want to heal, and there are myriad resources available to us for help. But what is healing? How do we choose the best resource from the overwhelming amount of information available?

Harvard Medical School online dictionary defines healing as:

1 : to make sound or whole especially in bodily condition
2 : to cure of disease or disorder <heal injured tissues>
intransitive verb
1 : to return to a sound state heals>
2 : to effect a cure

The National Cancer Institute online dictionary defines cure as: To heal or restore health; a treatment to restore health.

It may be that to understand healing, we need to understand illness. Dr. Bernie Siegal, MD and author of several books on health and healing says, "There is no incurable disease from which someone has not recovered, even at the threshold of death." If one person has the innate capability to overcome a particular disease, the all of us must have that same ability.

In his book, Healing Crisis, Dr. Bruce Fife tells us that the symptoms of the healing crisis are the same as those of an illness. For this reason, the healing crisis is greatly misunderstood and often believed to be an illness that must be treated to restore health. The healing crisis is a positive event, a sign of improving health. According to Fife, "when the body experiences dramatic symptoms of cleansing as a result of improved organ function and immune efficiency, it is referred to as a healing crisis - healing, because it expels toxins and brings about improvement in health, crisis because the symptoms associated with the toxic removal can be dramatic." What do YOU think?

Monday, March 3, 2008

Energy Healing and Western Medicine

The "life force," often called "energy" in Western culture, is the substance that permeates and bonds all. It is sometimes referred to as the "vital force." In China, it is called Qi; in India it is called prana. It is believed the "life force" extends throughout the universe and that the individual is part of an indivisible whole. The belief is that because the "life force" permeates everything, an individual is unavoidably affected by external events and energies. Thus, treatment of the individual should consider the mind/body/spirit interaction as well as an overall connection to the universe.

Energy healing is based on the belief that our "life force" creates energy fields that are unbalanced during emotional or physical disease. Because our energy fields are part of an interconnected whole, the use of focused intention by one individual can aid in the health and well being of another. Many individuals use their own individual means of directing their intention to heal.

An interesting feature of energy healing is that it may be performed over distances of thousands of miles. The "life force" claimed to be transmitted by energy healers does not have the properties of any known form of energy., comparable practice to energy healing that is used frequently in the West is prayer. A 1996 survey showed that 82 percent of Americans believed in the healing power of prayer. A survey of patients in American Cancer Society support groups for breast cancer found that 88 percent experienced beneficial effects of spiritual and religious practice.

In an effort to incorporate Western sciences' need for physical proof, studies have been performed on the impact of energy healing on living, isolated cells as opposed to human subjects. According to the Cleveland Clinic Foundation in the U.S., many of the studies on isolated cells are inadequately controlled, are published as incomplete reports, or are published in non-reviewed journals. Of 23 clinical trials involving energy healing that did meet a rigorous criteria requiring adequate design, control and review procedures, 57 percent have shown a beneficial effect. This caused authors reviewing the studies to conclude that the "evidence thus far merits further study."

Indeed there is growing interest and evidence for alternative health exploration based on a "life force," wholeness, and interconnections. The National Institutes of Health has established a Center that is devoted to research in the area of Complementary and Alternative Medicine. The budget is growing rapidly and research into areas such as energy healing and prayer is being encouraged. Several large clinical trials, especially on the effects of prayer, are now underway in major academic institutions across the U.S. Through science, researchers eventually hope to better understand how energy healing practices may be incorporated into Western medical practices. What do YOU think?