Sunday, June 22, 2008

I Ching #51 ~ The Arousing (Shock, Thunder)

Shock brings success.
Shock comes ~ oh, oh!
Laughing words ~ ha, ha!
The shock terrifies for a hundred miles,
And he does not let fall the sacrificial spoon and chalice.

The shock that comes from the manifestation of God within the depth of the earth makes man afraid, but this fear of God is good, for joy and merriment can follow upon it. When a man has learned within his heart what fear and trembling mean, he is safeguarded against any terror produced by outside influences. Let the thunder roll and spread terror a hundred miles around: he remains so composed and reverent in spirit that the sacrificial rite is not interrupted. This is the spirit that must animate leaders and rulers of men ~ a profound inner seriousness from which all outer terrors glance off harmlessly.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Welcoming the Summer Solstice

The megaliths of Stonehenge are aligned with the summer solstice sun, making England’s 5000-year-old monument a gathering place for celebrating the longest day of the year. In the photo above, revelers await the dawn amidst the floodlit stones. About 25,000 people gather at Stonehenge each summer solstice to celebrate the seasonal change.

For several solstice-related photos from National Geographic, click here. For a National Geographic article about the summer and winter solstices, click here.

Photo courtesy of Andrew Dunn

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

From the Tao Te Ching

The great Way is easy,
yet people prefer the side paths.
Be aware when things are out of balance.
Stay centered within the Tao.

When rich speculators prosper
while farmers lose their land;
when government officials spend money
on weapons instead of cures;
when the upper class is extravagant and irresponsible
while the poor have nowhere to turn -- 
all this is robbery and chaos.
It is not in keeping with the Tao.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Meditation: Psychotherapy's Ancient New Tool

Psychotherapy is about one hundred years old. The practice of meditation goes back at least three thousand years. And now psychotherapists are saying meditation may be the best thing to happen to psychotherapy, ever.

Specifically, therapists are referring to “mindfulness meditation,” defined by Siddhartha Gautama around 500 B.C. as the key practice of Buddhism.

Since its inception with Sigmund Freud, psychotherapists have relied on patients’ words and then reframing patients’ thoughts to gain insight into the subconscious to alleviate despair, anxiety and many forms of mental illness. Psychotherapists today are discovering what Buddhists worldwide have known for millennia: Meditation bypasses the limitations of language and goes straight to the mind with remedial power.

That power resides mostly in letting things be. Not trying to change everything. Just see it for what it is.

Mindfulness avoids some of the complexities of Transcendental Meditation, which also has bushels of scientific studies to support its value. With mindfulness, you sit comfortably and, for ten minutes or more, you take note of bodily sensations and your breathing. As thoughts enter your mind, you let them pass without judgment. Always bring your attention back to the rhythm of your breathing as a focus.

Eventually you learn to gain control of your attention and reduce the usual brain chatter. Some therapists now say that getting a grip on your attention helps you face troubling thoughts, endure the pain or anger or sadness associated with them, and then let them pass.

The difference from conventional psychotherapy is in not trying to alter the thoughts or feelings – an action that can backfire with damaging results.

According to a recent New York Times article, the National Institute of Health is financing 50 studies testing mindfulness meditation for relieving stress, easing addictions, improving attention and easing despair.

“It’s a shift from having our mental health defined by the content of our thoughts,” said Steven Hayes, a psychologist at the University of Nevada, “to having it defined by our relationship to that content – and changing that relationship by sitting with, noticing and becoming disentangled from our definition of ourselves.”

I encourage your to read the entire Times article.

I encourage you to at least make an attempt to incorporate some form of meditation into your life. It’s not a major investment, though it is a commitment.

In fact, for the post below, I’m going to reprint one of my earliest Quantum Spirit posts, with its link to Peter Russell’s effective three-minute meditation.

Stop for a Minute or Three

(I'm reprinting this post - one of my earliest on Quantum Spirit - because of the simple effectiveness of Peter Russell's approach. Please try it.)

I'm a great believer in meditation. It's capable of accomplishing wondrous things in each of us if we'd just take a few moments to allow it to work. There are probably seven books on meditation on a shelf in my office and you can learn almost everything in any of them in the next three minutes.

Meditation can work on lofty spiritual planes or it can be the simple yet invisible cord that holds your life together. It can cure you of an impressive number of illnesses - mental and physical. I speak from experience.

But I've already said enough. Click on the link to Peter Russell's Three-Minute Meditation. He's an English physicist, consciousness researcher, lecturer, and author of a couple of my favorite books. He leads you through about two of minutes of calming instruction and then you can meditate for three or thirty minutes, your call. No need for special positions, special clothing or a special mantra.

You'll see how easy it is and how relaxing yet profound the experience can be, and now you can meditate whenever the desire arises. Thank you, Peter.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

America the Anxious

Edvard Munch's 1896 painting entitled "Anxiety."

News Flash:

Anxiety disorder is now the number one mental-health problem in the world.


Anxiety disorder is disproportionately prevalent in the United States.

Today’s edition of featured a searing column after my own heart, in which writer Meredith Maran lays out the situation regarding Americans’ susceptibililty to anxiety disorder. (See my April 16 post on antidepressants, “Knowing Too Little.”)

“Turns out that anxiety disorder -- a spectrum that includes panic, obsessive-compulsive disorder, post-traumatic stress, phobias and the catch-all, generalized anxiety disorder -- is now the most prevalent mental health problem in the world,” Maran writes.

“Like Burger Kings and Botox clinics, AD (anxiety disorder) is disproportionately prevalent in the U.S. According to the most recent World Mental Health Survey, Americans are the most anxious humans on earth,” she goes on. “Forty million of us -- that's 28.8 percent -- suffer from the ailment that the National Institutes of Mental Health defines as ‘an excessive, irrational dread of everyday situations.”

By the way, I bring all this up to amplify my two most recent posts –- the one on the “New Survivalists” who, as you read this, are stocking their basements with still more canned goods, and yesterday's regarding the possibility that fear of apocalyptic cataclysm resides deep in our racial memory.

But racial memory or not, Americans seems to have a particular vulnerability to anxiety, as Maran notes in her article. “We're nine times more likely to be anxious than the Chinese laborers who assemble our children's toys, whose working and living conditions would make us run screaming for a Xanax IV. And 94.4 percent of Mexicans -- bone-crushing poverty and barbed-wire borders notwithstanding -- have never experienced a major episode of anxiety or depression. But move a Mexicano north of the border, according to a study in the December 2004 National Institutes of Health News, and his mental health will deteriorate faster than you can say ‘Campesinos sí, NAFTA no.’

Maran –- like you, like I -- wants to know why.

“I call on Patricia Pearson -- novelist, anxious person and author of A Brief History of Anxiety (Yours and Mine). The book is a genre-busting page turner: a portrait of Pearson's lifelong struggle with anxiety, melded with a journalistic investigation of what ails her, and me and us. ‘Mexicans have stronger family ties, deeper connections to their community, greater involvement in collective rituals through their churches and unions and schools,’ Pearson tells me. ‘And there's less onus on the individual in Mexico to achieve material success.’”

From there, Maran summarizes her own experiences with various therapies and, of course, antidepressants.

(To bring you up to speed, I believe certain antidepressants are valuable for certain people. They can be literal life savers. However, I shudder at the number of people I know who are on them because the medical/pharmaceutical industry treats antipressants as a panacea for almost any negative mood, many of which are natural to our lives as human beings.)

Okay, back to Maran. She and Pearson discuss antidepressants, which Maran refers to as “Pain Begone.”

She writes: “’Drugs can be helpful,’ Pearson allows. ‘But in my case they never resolved the underlying issues.’”


Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Blame Our Collective Memory

The Mayan Calendar, after many thousands of years of accuracy, is believed to come to an end on December 21, 2012. Speculation of apocalyptic events and cataclysm will doubtlessly escalate between now and the end date.

My previous post about the so-called New Survivalism reminds me that so much of our day-to-day experience is influenced by beliefs, recollections and emotions, even those that are extremely deep seated in the depths of our minds. We all know people who are natural optimists and other people who meet every new event and concept with fear and trepidation.

Reading about the growing number of mainstream Americans who see harbingers of apocalypse in global warming, the stock market, housing slumps and gas prices, I recall something Barbara Hand Clow wrote in her 2001 book Catastrophobia: The Truth Behind Earth Changes. Her premise - shared by a growing number of scientists - is that Earth suffered an enormous cataclysm in the Late Pleistocene era about 11,500 years ago. She believes the archetypal memory of that event lingers in our subconscious, and triggers apocalyptic fears in people when they learn about situations of potential catastrophic enormity, such as Y2K and the like.

Here's what she wrote:

"Many of us are inflicted with catastrophobia, an intense fear of catastrophies. This causes individuals and society to think of the future in terms of a coming potential disaster; thus, most people do not care for Earth and its inhabitants, which includes themselves and their families.

"Crippled by collective fear from the past earth changes - the racial memory of this geological paroxysm - our surface minds are filled with floating images of disaster, guilt and suffering. We project these painful thoughts out of our inner minds, which creates a coming apocalypse as a self-fulfilling prophey. However, it already happened! Because few people know this, our attention is riveted when preachers and New Age prophets make predictions that sound true because they resonate with these disassociated inner images."

Coming to grips with these deep-seated fears and racial memories will prove even more important in the next few years, as we approach 2012 and are certain to be reminded time and again that the final day on the ancient Mayan calendar is December 21, 2012, which CNN will undoubtedly say is the day YOU will probably DIE.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Anxieties Provoking "New Survivalism"

“There’s something’s happening here. What it is ain’t exactly clear.”

Remember those lyrics from the old Buffalo Springfield hit For What It’s Worth? A few choruses later, they sang, “Paranoia strikes deep. Into your life it will creep. It starts when you’re always afraid …”

Perhaps that 1967 song should be the soundtrack for a current phenomenon labeled by the New York Times as “The New Survivalism.” It’s finding traction in middle-class America, where some people are beginning to stockpile food, gasoline and water. They’re turning their yards into vegetable gardens and installing photovoltaic electrical systems to survive “off the grid.” Some are reading up on how to dine on rats and dogs and learning how to dispose of bodies.

Purveyors of survival materials say today is the biggest surge in survivalist gear since the late 1970s when thousands of people headed to their basements or the mountains to await Armageddon. They say what’s happening today is much larger than the millennial Y2K scare.

Even a former global strategist for Morgan Stanley, Barton M. Biggs, writes in his new book Wealth, War and Wisdom, “We should assume the possibility of a breakdown of the civilized infrastructure.”

Oil seems to be behind some of it. Some adherents of the “peak oil” theory contend the world has already reached maximum oil production and that the increasing demand will create shortages that will devastate industrialized society. Other people look at the worldwide credit situation and see how over-extension could bring economic collapse. Even the Hurricane Katrina disaster is seen by many to be a harbinger of things to come as our climate turns even harsher.

Books such as When All Hell Breaks Loose by Cody Lunkin and Holly Deyo’s Dare to Prepare! are selling alongside more mainstream volumes such as James Howard Kunstler’s The Long Emergency, all with individual twists on the same theme. Then there’s Cormac McCarthy’s mega book hit The Road with its terrifyingly bleak post-apocalyptic vision.

As is always the case in such times, each one of us will decide how much fear and how much faith we want to live with and then act accordingly.

(Photo at top from the new Nine-Inch Nails CD "Year Zero," with its hit "Survivalism.")

Thursday, June 5, 2008

A Lesson of Oneness

Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor is a neuroscientist whose stroke left her with abilities mystics have sought for millennia. She wants people to “step into the consciousness” of their brains’ right hemispheres and experience the phenomenal oneness that awaits us there.

Dr. Taylor is getting a lot of press these days due to release of her book My Stroke of Insight. Here’s a recent New York Times article. Here’s video from her recent appearance on Oprah, and here’s a video of her speech to the prestigious Technology, Entertainment, Design (TED) Conference.

Because of her work at Harvard’s brain research center, Dr. Taylor was well aware that the left half of our brains gives us logic, time, ego, analysis and other structural faculties. The right side gives us creativity, empathy and things of a more intuitive nature. In 1996, Dr. Taylor, at 37, suffered a stroke that incapacitated parts of her brain’s left hemisphere. She found she could experience the right brain without impediment.

“I felt like a genie liberated from its bottle,” she writes. “The energy of my spirit seemed to flow like a great whale gliding through a sea of silent euphoria.” She saw her body’s atoms and molecules blend with the space around her and realized the whole world and all of its creatures were parts of the same shimmering energy. “My perception of physical boundaries was no longer limited to where my skin met air.”

It took her eight years to recover, but the knowledge the stroke provided has remained. Her driving motivation these days is to make sure people know that they can choose to live more spiritual and peaceful lives with the help of their right brains.

Of particular interest to me is her message that organized religion is a far cry from the intensely beautiful spirituality she has experienced. The daughter of an Episcopal minister, she says, “Religion is just a story that the left brain tells the right brain.”

“Nirvana exists right now,” she says. “There’s no doubt that it’s a beautiful state and that we can get there.”

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Replenishing the Miracle Dirt

Rev. Casimiro Roca in the sanctuary of the Santuario de Chimayo in northern New Mexico.

Legend has it that the dirt is holy and can cure whatever is wrong with you. Given the reputation of the small chapel in Chimayo, New Mexico, who can blame me a few years back as I looked around the room with its hundreds of discarded crutches hanging on the walls and knelt at the hole in ground? I scooped up some of the miracle dirt, ate a little bit and rubbed the rest on my hands and arms as if I were washing them.

I have no way of knowing how many ailments the reddish dirt has cured in me. Perhaps I am alive today because of it. Perhaps it was just dirt and did nothing. Whatever the case, the situation at the Santuario de Chimayo speaks volumes about miracles.

The New York Times recently revealed that visitors to the little chapel each year abscond with so much of the holy dirt that it must be regularly replenished. The visitors bring their own baggies or they purchase bags of “blessed dirt” in the chapel’s gift shop. They eat it, brew tea from it, make a muddy ointment from it or just rub it on their bodies to invoke its healing power.

“It’s not the dirt that makes the miracles!” an exasperated Rev. Casimiro Roca told the Times reporter. “I always tell people I have no faith in the dirt. I have faith in the Lord. But people can believe what they want.”

Father Roca, having spent 50 years at the chapel, pointed to a small nearby outbuilding. “I even have to buy clean dirt,” he said. He stores the dirt in the building until it’s time to replace the dirt in the hole inside the chapel.

This all got started on Good Friday in 1810 when a group of penitents practicing a secret ritual spotted a light shining upward from the valley below, in an area considered sacred by the Pueblo Indians. There they found a half-buried wooden crucifix and carried it off to the church in Santa Cruz, 10 miles away. But the next morning, the mysterious cross was back in its hole in the ground. Three times the cross was carried to Santa Cruz and three times it enigmatically returned to the original hole. The priest from Santa Cruz built a chapel around the hole and word spread that the dirt could heal the lame and the blind.

Now, each Good Friday several thousand pilgrims walk several miles in a procession to the Santuario de Chimayo, some carrying heavy crosses, some crawling eight or so miles on their knees. And throughout the rest of the year, thousands more visit the chapel known as the Lourdes of America.

Monday, June 2, 2008

I Ching #38 ~ Opposition

In small matters, good fortune.

When people live in opposition and estrangement, they cannot carry out a great undertaking in common. Their points of view diverge too widely. In such circumstances, one should above all not proceed brusquely, for that would only increase the existing opposition; instead, one should limit oneself to producing gradual effects in small matters. Here success can still be expected because the situation is such that the opposition does not preclude all agreement. 

In general, opposition appears as an obstruction, but when it represents polarity within a comprehensive whole, it has also its useful and important functions. The oppositions of heaven and earth, spirit and nature, man and woman, when reconciled bring about the creation and reproduction of life.