Monday, June 30, 2008

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the ...

Knock, knock. Who's there? What is humor? What is funny? Why do we want to laugh? Many researchers believe that the purpose of humor is related to making and strengthening human connections. "Laughter occurs when people are comfortable with one another, when they feel open and free. And the more laughter [there is], the more bonding [occurs] within the group," says cultural anthropologist Mahadev Apte. This feedback "loop" of bonding-laughter-more bonding, combined with the common desire not to be singled out from the group, may be another reason why laughter is often contagious.

Human beings love to laugh, and the average adult laughs 17 times a day. Humans love to laugh so much that there are actually industries built around laughter. Jokes, sitcoms and comedians are all designed to get us laughing, because laughing feels good. For us it seems so natural, but the funny thing is that humans are one of the only species that laughs. Laughter is actually a complex response that involves many of the same skills used in solving problems.

Research has shown health benefits of laughter ranging from strengthening the immune system to reducing food cravings to increasing one's threshold for pain. There's even an emerging therapeutic field known as humor therapy to help people heal more quickly, among other things. Humor also has several important stress relieving benefits.

We know laughter is powerful, because we feel good when we laugh. And we know it is contagious; when a person laughs, everyone else lightens up, too. Even when it feels as if your life has spun into chaos, you can put yourself in another state that connects you with who you are and what you desire to create. No one can take away your consciousness. When you know that, you also know you can change your circumstances. The cloud covering the sun is about to move, as you remember who you are. Laughter is a quick route to remembrance.

What do YOU think?

Sunday, June 22, 2008

I Die Daily

There is an ancient Tibetan Buddhist saying: "When you are born, you cry, and the world rejoices. When you die, you rejoice, and the world cries".

What is death, exactly, and what does it mean to us as we are living? Throughout the world, death and the rituals that surround it are steeped in taboos. Death is celebrated, embraced and feared. Around death and the dead, cultures put in place diverse restrictions and practices associated with clothing, food and ritual.

For the Roman Catholic Church death is the "complete and final separation of the soul from the body". However the Vatican has conceded that diagnosing death is a subject for medicine, not the Church. In 1957 Pope Pius XII raised the concerns over whether doctors might be "continuing the resuscitation process, despite the fact that the soul may already have left the body."

Some Orthodox Jews, Native Americans, Muslims and fundamentalist Christians believe that as long as a heart is beating--even artificially, you are still alive. Followers of religions like Zen Buddhism, and Shintoism believe that the mind and body are integrated and have trouble accepting the brain death criteria to determine death.

The Tibetan Book of the Dead, whose actual title is "The Great Liberation upon Hearing in the Intermediate State" or "Bardo Thodol", is ostensibly a book describing the experiences to be expected at the moment of death, during an intermediate phase lasting forty-nine days, and during rebirth into another bodily frame. The Bardo Thodol is a guide that is read aloud to the dead while they are in the state between death and reincarnation in order for them to recognize the nature of their mind and attain liberation from the cycle of rebirth.

Some think, however, this book is merely the esoteric framework which the Tibetan Buddhists used to cloak their mystical teachings. The language and symbolism of death rituals of Bonism, the traditional pre-Buddhist Tibetan religion, were skillfully blended with Buddhist conceptions. The esoteric meaning is that it is death and rebirth of the ego that is described, not of the body. Either way, or perhaps for both, the death/rebirth process is examined.

A graduate of Columbia University and Yale Medical School, Brian L. Weiss M.D. is Chairman Emeritus of Psychiatry at the Mount Sinai Medical Center in Miami. He has written many books on reincarnation, and maintains that we have all lived past lives. All of us will live future ones but at some level time probably does not exist. All lives might be occurring simultaneously. He thinks that what we do in this life will influence our lives to come as we evolve toward immortality. This would make death more of a marker between lives.

What do YOU think?

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Our Global Village as a Single Consciousness

The first person to popularize the concept of a global village and to consider its social effects, was Marshall McLuhan. His insights were revolutionary at the time, and fundamentally changed how everyone has thought about media, technology, and communications ever since. McLuhan chose the insightful phrase "global village" to highlight his observation that an electronic nervous system (the media) was rapidly integrating the planet -- events in one part of the world could be experienced from other parts in real-time.

Marshall McLuhan believed that the media is the message: change the media, change your mind. His idea that our medias are extensions of who we are, made us wonder, how does television, internet and cell phone technology change who I am? He believed that the extension of any one sense alters the other senses and changes our world. Our many technologies change many of our senses. How does that effect our lives?

McLuhan once remarked that the one thing a fish is not aware of is water. The water determines everything the fish does yet the fish is blissfully unaware. The point is that we are the fish and technology our water.

Concerning the new status of man in technological, and media-dominated society, he said: "If the work of the city is the remaking or translating of man into a more suitable form than his nomadic ancestors achieved, then might not our current translation of our entire lives into the spiritual form of information seem to make of the entire globe, and of the human family, a single consciousness?"

What do YOU think?

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Let It Be

To be or not to be, that is the question. What does that mean - being? It is something most of us take for granted. We don't have to know or even question the nature of our being to be. Popeye's famous saying, "I am what I am and that's all that I am," may be the quintessential statement on being. What more is needed?

Contemporary philosophers tell us that the term "I am" has no meaning by itself; it must have an action or relation appended to it. Hegel distinguished between the being of objects and the being of people, but thought being stripped of all predicates is nothing.

Jean Paul Sartre (1905-1980) exploits the version of Husserlian intentionality by insisting that human reality (Heidegger's Dasein or human way of being) is "in the world" primarily via its practical concerns and not its epistemic relationships.

Emmanuel Levinas (1923 - 1995) in his ethical phenomenology, asks the question, why is there Being instead of simply nothing? His "first philosophy" is responsibility that unfolds into dialogical sociality and is based on our transcendence through relation with other. His "being" is the exploration of sensibility as the locus at which "inside" and "outside" merge. The exploration of the self, minus the intentional ego, through an affective complex, unfolds in a language that is best communicated through enactment. It can be likened to prophetic witness. It is as though Levinas were describing the affective investiture of a subject called to witness.

Levinas' study brings us closer to the theological view of being, like Hermetic philosophy, which relates man as microcosm to the macrocosm in a direct covenant with the Creator of life, who is defined as God. This is seemingly an abstract definition, if we take the word as it is. Its effectiveness, however, changes entirely if we see it as Creation and as force, indeed as energy in which and through which all aspects of life come into being, and man, the very crown upon Creation, is brought into being.

The Buddhist terms it Nirvana; and the period of which it is the termination is called by the Hindus, Kalpa, a word signifying Form. And they hold that the universe undergoes a succession of Kalpas, being at the end of each reabsorbed into Deity, Who then rests awhile prior to the next manifestation, reposing upon Sesha, the celestial serpent, or living circle of Eternity, the symbol of essential Being, as opposed to existence in its strict sense of manifested Being.

The Hindu Vedanta gives a spiritual interpretation of the Ultimate Reality, the meaning of creation, and the human individual. Its view of the cosmos is one of organic wholeness that includes all beings and things. Things and beings in the realm of maya are not non-existent, though they are illusory. The beings and things of the relative universe appear real because they reflect the light of the Absolute.

The Essenes believe that consciousness is being, and there is no mode of matter in which the potentiality of personality, and therein of man, does not subsist. For every molecule is a mode of the universal consciousness. Without consciousness there is no being.

What do YOU think?

Monday, June 2, 2008

More Courage With Each Breath

I have discovered, over the past year or so of blogging, that it takes me great courage to post some of my comments in these dialogues. There is something about putting yourself out there, your ideas and beliefs, that sometimes takes an act of courage. This begs the question, what is courage? Why do we need it? How do we find it?

Sean Hannah and colleagues (Hannah, Sweeney & Lester, 2007) from the United States Military Academy, writing in The Journal of Positive Psychology, provide a new model of courage. In it they set out a web of interrelated factors thought to feed into the subjective experience of courage.

Broadly, they suggest that levels of courage are influenced by character traits, particular states of mind and the values, beliefs and social forces acting on a person. Being courageous, then, is all about having options, and in order to generate those options you need to be creative.

There are those with very personal ideas of courage like Winston Churchill: "Courage is going from failure to failure without losing enthusiasm." Or W. Clement Stone: "Have the courage to say no. Have the courage to face the truth. Do the right thing because it is right. These are the magic keys to living your life with integrity." Or Maya Angelou: "Courage is the most important of all the virtues, because without courage you can't practice any other virtue consistently. You can practice any virtue erratically, but nothing consistently without courage."

Throughout his political career, President John F. Kennedy inspired people to follow their conscience and to work for the benefit of their communities, their country, and their world. He believed that each person can make a difference, and that everyone should try.

"In whatever arena of life one may meet the challenge of courage, whatever may be the sacrifices he faces if he follows his conscience, the loss of his friends, his fortune, his contentment, even the esteem of his fellow men, each man must decide for himself the course he will follow. The stories of past courage can define that ingredient they can teach, they can offer hope, they can provide inspiration. But they cannot supply courage itself. For this each man must look into his own soul." - John F. Kennedy, Profiles in Courage

What do YOU think?