Spirit

I began meditating a few months back and it feels very positive, even a bit transformative. That feeling is backed up empirically.

There are a number of interesting published studies on the effects of meditation but these two are amazing! Both have high strength of evidence. Here’s the minimum nutshell summary:

  1. Long term meditation alters brain anatomy in positive ways, such as larger hippocampal and frontal volumes of gray matter
  2. Meditation and yoga can rewrite our DNA and alter the gene expression of enduring trauma and stress correlates
The underlying anatomical correlates of long-term meditation: Larger hippocampal and frontal volumes of gray matter

Although the systematic study of meditation is still in its infancy, research has provided evidence for meditation-induced improvements in psychological and physiological well-being. Moreover, meditation practice has been shown not only to benefit higher-order cognitive functions but also to alter brain activity. Nevertheless, little is known about possible links to brain structure. Using high-resolution MRI data of 44 subjects, we set out to examine the underlying anatomical correlates of long-term meditation with different regional specificity (i.e., global, regional, and local). For this purpose, we applied voxel-based morphometry in association with a recently validated automated parcellation approach.

We detected significantly larger gray matter volumes in meditators in the right orbito-frontal cortex (as well as in the right thalamus and left inferior temporal gyrus when co-varying for age and/or lowering applied statistical thresholds). In addition, meditators showed significantly larger volumes of the right hippocampus. Both orbito-frontal and hippocampal regions have been implicated in emotional regulation and response control. Thus, larger volumes in these regions might account for meditators’ singular abilities and habits to cultivate positive emotions, retain emotional stability, and engage in mindful behavior. We further suggest that these regional alterations in brain structures constitute part of the underlying neurological correlate of long-term meditation independent of a specific style and practice. Future longitudinal analyses are necessary to establish the presence and direction of a causal link between meditation practice and brain anatomy.


Meditation and yoga can ‘reverse’ DNA reactions which cause stress, new study suggests 

There is considerable evidence for the effectiveness of mind–body interventions (MBIs) in improving mental and physical health, but the molecular mechanisms of these benefits remain poorly understood. One hypothesis is that MBIs reverse expression of genes involved in inflammatory reactions that are induced by stress. This systematic review was conducted to examine changes in gene expression that occur after MBIs and to explore how these molecular changes are related to health. We searched PubMed throughout September 2016 to look for studies that have used gene expression analysis in MBIs (i.e., mindfulness, yoga, Tai Chi, Qigong, relaxation response, and breath regulation). Due to the limited quantity of studies, we included both clinical and non-clinical samples with any type of research design. Eighteen relevant studies were retrieved and analyzed. Overall, the studies indicate that these practices are associated with a downregulation of nuclear factor kappa B pathway; this is the opposite of the effects of chronic stress on gene expression and suggests that MBI practices may lead to a reduced risk of inflammation-related diseases. However, it is unclear how the effects of MBIs compare to other healthy interventions such as exercise or nutrition due to the small number of available studies. More research is required to be able to understand the effects of MBIs at the molecular level.

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Lovely simple talk about accepting yourself, the secret to letting happiness and love in. People who felt enormous pressure from their family to prove themselves acceptable during socialization and beyond can spend their entire lives stuck in the feeling they aren’t good enough. The wonders you achieve, the amazing things you’ve accomplished feel inadequate to justify your happiness or the value of your love. It can make you avoid true love because it seems impossible that you could ever work hard enough to deserve that.

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I don’t believe Chakras are the literal mystical energy centers believed in by new age people. I also don’t believe they are the nonsensical-fantasy-things-that-don’t-really-exist, as believed by nearly everyone else.

Chakras are symbolic foci for real aspects of our selves, our sub-selves, the parts of your overall whole being. They are defined as 7 modular aspects of self that come on-line by stages as we grow and experience life. They absolutely can be blocked and out of balance, under or overactive. Below is the traditional list though it can vary a bit, they work upward from the bottom of the spine to the top of the head and each is associated with specific areas of our lives, feelings, and personalities. They are distinct color-coded points on the spectrum. But ultimately their functions blend into a healthy, unified self.

  1. Root – Base of the spine; red; governs survival instincts, grounding.
  2. Sacral — Lower abdomen; orange; governs sexuality, intuition, self-worth/-esteem.
  3. Solar Plexus — Upper abdomen; yellow; governs impulse control, ego.
  4. Heart — Center of the chest; green; governs compassion, spirituality.
  5. Throat — Throat; blue; governs communication, emotion.
  6. Third Eye — Between the eyes; purple; governs rationality, wisdom, imagination.
  7. Crown — Top of the head; indigo; governs connection with the Divine

The Chakras rather neatly mirror Abraham Maslow’s almost universally accepted hierarchy of needs. Notice how the artist used defining colors for different levels.

Compare the Hierarchy of Needs:

  1. Physiological needs
  2. Safety needs
  3. Social belonging
  4. Self-esteem
  5. Self-actualization
  6. Transcendence

(There are somewhat alternative versions as well.) If a sub-self is broken at the physical safety level, of the self-confidence level, for example, self-actualization is blocked. The person experiences various psychological symptoms expressing the fears and frustrations of lack and instability in those areas of life. The chakras and the H of N chop up the human pieces a little differently and each one tilts a bit toward the surrounding belief system that hatched it. Still, it is the same invention, spontaneously cropping up to fill the same need for vastly different communities.

The invention is a simple map of the human soul and what it needs to thrive. It describes the places we can break down and suggests a course of treatment.

The Chakras and Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs also dovetail nicely with Carl Jung’s Individuation, the challenging synthesis of becoming a complete, integrated person.

I’ll be writing here soon about some original and creative ways I’ve recently found to work with this material but I think this overall idea is interesting enough to consider on its own.

 

 

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Numinous – having a strong religious or spiritual quality; indicating or suggesting the presence of a divinity. (Oxford English Dictionary)

 

The numinous is tucked inside of every atom

Like oranges and chocolates in a Christmas stocking,

you can have some the minute you wake up.

 

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I’m discussing the idea of control. For example, controlling ourselves, our social scene, romantic life, work issues and money.

There are several common variations of what we call Control. They differ sharply in meaning though each is intended for the same use. When we use the word Control about our lives it resembles one of these descriptions:

Dynamic or Responsive Control: The healthiest and happiest, also the least like the conventional meaning of control. This is a person who responds to life’s problems like a good tennis player responds to the match: Her moves are alert, timely, and proportional. She handles each problem as well as she can and doesn’t get distracted by grief over missing one or waste energy chasing a ball she could never catch.  This person has confidence in themselves and knows that spontaneously handling everything as it comes to you is the only way to win. This style accepts incoming serves without protest as the core of the game, in other words as a basic truth about life.

The negative alternative is Anxious Control: There are several substyles to the spectrum of Anxious Control:

  1. Tense-Jumpy-Irritable Anxious Control – This style is stressed out just under the surface at all times. Problems scare them into hypervigilance and this generates “false positive” problems. Sadly this means they experience way more problems than people who aren’t on such high alert.  Their moves are nervously alert, premature, and disproportionate on the “too big” side. They lack confidence in themselves and each problem costs them deeper emotional stress than necessary. Their response to incoming serves is bitter/resentful. “I knew it!” Oddly, they don’t put much focus on improving life in ways would generate fewer problems.
  2. Big Picture Prudence Anxious Control – The main difference between this one and the previous is time and space. BPP takes the long and global view of potential trouble. It embraces systems of avoiding and minimizing problems.  None of that is pathological in itself, it shows good sense if it is in balance. The negative imbalance appears when fear and dread are the motivators and try to control EVERYTHING. Their moves are suspiciously alert, their timing is preemptive, and they are disproportionately risk-averse. There is a fundamentally negative world view with a dislike/distrust of anything that they cannot control. At the extreme end, this style avoids love, growth, and change. Their response to incoming serves is to manage them remotely or avoid them entirely.
  3. Helpless, Fatalistic Anxious Control – Utterly lacking confidence in themselves this style expects failure and allows it to happen through passivity and by telling themselves it doesn’t matter anyway. They grieve over their weakness but can’t find any way to address it. They avoid many problems by not trying or risking. They don’t bet on themselves. This approach can be global or limited/specialized to areas like love or work. Some, for example, might be highly accomplished in their career and helpless/fatalistic toward ever being loved. Their approach to incoming serves is wistful and sad as they passively let them go by. More rarely they take a feeble swing fully expecting failure.

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The title is reputedly what the intellectual swashbuckler and psychological pioneer William James found he had written down during a drug-induced revelation of ultimate truth: “Overall there is a smell of fried onions”.

In his essay “Subjective Effects of Nitrous Oxide” he wrote:

“only as sobriety returns, the feeling of insight fades, and one is left staring vacantly at a few disjointed words and phrases, as one stares at a cadaverous-looking snow peak from which sunset glow has just fled, or at a black cinder left by an extinguished brand.”

Flatland

We descend from ecstasy to the ordinary world as if “Whatever goes up, must come down” applied equally to airplanes and inspiration. Emotionally and psychologically it is as if Newtonian physics rules our inner lives. If there is a version of gravity in there I think it’s the inevitable return to the linguistic/rational level of human reality where we conduct all our business with each other. The human mind surfaces here when submerged and re-lands here after being elevated. This is the homeostatic balance of our kind, the default neurological coordinates of return from highs and lows. Notice that highs and lows aren’t being critically evaluated, merely suppressed as not conducive to social intercourse. The default settings for humanity are designed to function as the center of a common Venn chart, an area where we all overlap despite other differences.

This realm of normal life is completely dominated by words and concepts as if they were the fundamental atomic forces and structure here. Concepts and words (within a general logic framework) are everything here from the solid ground to a breathable atmosphere. The human community is contained within this verbal\conceptual structure but only a few even recognize its existence: Water isn’t perceived by the fish. Within this domain, we don’t usually feel limited or cramped but only realities that can be sealed inside words or concepts can exist here. These can be considered, shared and exchanged, but only, like a nerd’s action figures, if still sealed in the original container. Flatland is a reality composed of things with no objective reality, it is equally Plato’s Cave and Keanu’s Matrix.

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