Back in September of this year, there was a Wisdom 2.0 event that took place is Silicon Valley. A Mr. Gordhamer started this event back in 2009 in order to consider how we can live in a world that is inundated with technologically and not let it “swallow us whole.” Thus this conference is about disconnecting with cellphones, computers, etc. and living in the here and now. In recent time, Mindfulness has become somewhat “trendy” so to speak. It has popped up everywhere. Actresses such as Lena Dunham have spoken about how meditation and mindfulness play a role in her life and powerhouse Ariana Huffington started an entire section of the Huffington Post dedicated to the topic. Huffington also started a conference series and has spoken at many events about the importance of turning inward. The importance of mindfulness has seeped into every facet of life.
And more importantly, mindfulness has become extremely prevalent in the field of psychology. Mindfulness and meditation therapies are being studied all over the country. Particularly, The Marine Corp has been testing Mind Fitness Training to help soldiers relax and boost “emotional intelligence.” Many people believe that mindfulness training may be able to decrease PTSD in soldiers. Mindfulness has been proven to lower stress levels and a professor at Georgetown University thinks, “it can work for soldiers dealing with the extreme stress of combat.” Stanley and others in this area of research believe that meditation should be part of basic military training because it may be as vital to soldiers as knowing how to fire a weapon.
A pilot study conducted by Stanley and her colleagues was done to test the effects of mindfulness training. It included 60 Marines who were in a two month long intense training program before being sent to Iraq. There was a control group that received no meditation training and another group that experienced mindfulness meditation instruction and were told to meditate for 15 minutes every day. Subsequent to the two months of training, the group that did meditate reported significantly less stress and and anxiety. Additionally, the study discovered that the mindfulness training made the soldiers smarter. Their working memories were considerably strengthened and they were found to have better ability to retain novel information.
One of the Marines reported that at first, all of the soldiers were skeptical about the mindfulness training and believed it to be a “waste of time.” Subsequent to tours in Iraq, however, several of the soldiers reported that they continued to meditate as a way to mitigate the stress of combat. They were later retested and the soldiers who continued meditating showed improved working memory and less stress and anxiety than those who did not keep up with the meditation.
This study is amazing to me. PTSD is a serious problem facing soldiers upon homecoming and it is amazing that there is something preventative that they can do to reduce the effects of combat. It seems as though these results and others have proven that it is vital to incorporate mindfulness and meditation into Marine Corps training. Millions of peoples lives could be saved as a result.
April 15, 2014
Many Lives, Many Masters
This week, I decided to read Many Lives, Many Masters by Dr. Brian Weiss, a well-known psychiatrist based in Miami. The whole book is basically one long story about his patient who goes through therapy with him, which turns out to be a huge turning point for both him and his patient. His patient, Catherine, came into his office saying she has stress/trauma related experiences in her sleep, and Dr. Weiss tries to find the root of her problems by hypnosis. He finds out that she has the capabilities to talk about her past lives under hypnosis, and every time she gets to confront the traumatic death in her past life, her symptoms get lighter.
I don’t want to get into the details of Catherine’s past-life experiences, but I am more interested in how Dr. Weiss went about processing this new information. He basically comes from the standard scientific community, and he is very skeptical about anything spiritual because most of these spiritual concepts are anecdotal subjective experiences. When he encountered the possibility of such thing called spirit and past-life, he was skeptical. Thoughts rushed through his head that could potential explain what happened in terms of modern science (Catherine’s “Past-Life” experiences could just be a fantasy or imagination. At the same time, he told himself to keep an open mind and to keep observing. He did not reject what had happened, but rather decided to dig deeper.
As he kept digging deeper, and continuously witnessing Catherine’s spiritual experiences, he became more and more sure that she could not be faking it, and there is something real happening here. However, he does not expect the scientific community to immediately accept it. To quote, “The experience is necessary to add emotional belief to intellectual understanding” (p58). In the preface, he talks about how the study of spiritual field is still in its infancy. He refers back to historical events in science such as when Galileo first discovered the moons of Jupiter and how most scientists refused to believe it because it conflicted with the standard set of accepted beliefs. He believes this is what is happening in the world of spirituality. Eventually enough evidence will emerge to turn the whole thing around. Dr. Weiss hopes that his book is going to be a part of that revolution.
One last bit that really resonated with me was in the afterword of the book, where the author drops this quote : “We are not human beings having a spiritual experience. We are spiritual beings having a human experience.” I have never considered to look at life this way! It sounds crazy, but yet makes a lot of sense considering all of the topics we have been talking about in our class.
Many of you have probably already seen this. It was a graduation speech given by a student, and reminded me a lot of what we have been talking about.
I had the pleasure of reading Timothy Leary’s book, The Psychedelic Experience: A Manual Based on the Tibetan Book of the Dead. This book was written by prominent psychedelic advocate and researcher Timothy Leary as an instruction manual for psychedelic tripping. It was obviously written at a time where officially sanctioned research on psychedelic compounds was more common and when LSD was at a height of popularity with the counterculture of the 1960s. Yet the manual is largely focused on altering one’s consciousness based on the readings of the Tibetan Book of the Dead.
Leary outlines four main goals, based on classic Hinduism, when one engages with psychedelic substances:
- Insight into oneself or others, personal growth, accelerated learning, professional growth and/or intellectual understanding
- Rehabilitation, helping others, duty
- Fun, aesthetic pleasure, interpersonal closeness and/or pure experience
- Liberation of ego and time-space limits, transcendence
In this manual Leary focuses on the fourth goal, but he says that the advice will be applicable for the others as well. Throughout the manual he continually refers to the loss of ego as the end goal because this is the place and time where all worldly concerns, personalities and roles will be gone. He describes these roles and concerns as ‘games’. “Games are behavioral sequences defined by roles, rules, rituals, goals, strategies, values, language, characteristic space-time locations and characteristic patterns of movement”. For example, a married couple may be concerned about their marriage game when tripping or a group of friends may be concerned with their customs and courtesies that usually occur in the ordinary world. It is Leary’s goal through this manual to transcend these ordinary games and achieve a complete loss of ego.
He first makes the distinction known that the psychedelic compounds themselves do not “produce the transcendent experience”. He claims that the substances are more like a chemical key that unlock the ability to free oneself from the typical methodology of thinking. The experience is mainly dependent on the set and setting Leary goes on to explain. Set refers to the state of mind one is in before the psychedelic experience and this could be short term or long term. The setting is also crucial as a trusted environment is much easier to achieve transcendence in. Leary recommends at least three days for the entire ordeal, one before the trip and one after in order to completely process the entire experience. He also has many other practical suggestions for a broad array of topics like group settings, psychedelic guide instructions and dosages.
I was very interested to read this material and see how Leary wanted to use psychedelic compounds to achieve altered perceptions in consciousness. It turns out this guide is incredibly scientific in nature and I’m sure has a plethora of personal experience to back up his work. It sounds like this state of being is achievable by a select few skilled meditators, but the psychedelic compounds create an easier way to attain complete mindfulness to the point of ego loss.
In “The Art of Happiness,” the Dalai Lama explains his belief that the purpose of life is to find happiness. But wouldn’t this make us all selfish? Isn’t finding happiness all about oneself? To illustrate the contrary, Howard C. Cutler cites a survey in which unhappy people are actually more self-centered, less loving and less forgiving than happy people. More so, several experiments have exemplified the idea that happy people are more willing to help others and spread positive feelings. For example, in an experiment that Cutler describes, half of the subjects were set up to find money lying on the ground in a phone booth while the other half were not. When an experimenter walking by posing as a stranger “mistakenly” dropped a stack of papers, the participants who had found the money were more likely to help this “stranger,” compared to those who had not.
So how does someone go about increasing his or her happiness? On the surface, according to the Dalai Lama, it’s about purposely cultivating positive states like kindness and compassion. While I was studying abroad last year, my positive psychology class took a trip to London to study and explore the topic for a week. For one of our assignments, our professor split us into groups and gave each group 10 pounds. The assignment was simple: Do a random act of kindness in the city. My group and I brainstormed for a while — we considered buying food and a blanket for a homeless person or giving out balloons to those walking by. We ultimately decided to go to a frozen yogurt shop and pay for the next person to walk into the store, without them knowing.
It was debatable who was the happiest — my group, the people receiving the free frozen yogurt, or the employees helping us plan the surprise. With this assignment, I definitely experienced firsthand how kindness helps increase happiness and how contagious it is. The class got so much enjoyment from this activity.
For my final week of exploration, I read Dr. Brian Weiss’ Many Lives, Many Masters, which chronicles the treatment of patient who has experienced multiple past lives, and is therefore struggling to cope with her experiences in her current life. I found this story somewhat unbelievable, primarily because of the magnitude of her past experiences, however, found the therapy techniques enlightening and beneficial to forming my own opinions of reincarnation.
Throughout his sessions with the patient, Catherine, Dr. Weiss is working to uncover her past lives in order to help ease her anxiety, tension and panic attacks, which could not logically be linked to experiences from her current life. Week after week, Weiss uncovers more information about dozens of past lives and experiences that have shaped Catherine’s personality, feelings and psychological state in her current life. Often times, Catherine is able to provide vivid details of things she is experiencing (the nature she sees, the specific color of buildings or clothing, and often the date of the specific event she’s recalling). While some of the information Catherine is divulging could be purely her imagination, the strong links these happenings have to her current life anxiety was extremely captivating.
For me, I found this story to be somewhat unbelievable. However, as I worked my way thought it, I also wanted to find some kind of closure, given that this was my last piece of new material for the semester. After this independent exploration of spirituality and reincarnation, I’ve found that I was not able to entirely suspend my disbelief and become completely immersed in these ideas and theories. However, I have found other materials (such as Tucker’s Life Before Life), to be extremely compelling evidence that some types of reincarnation or communication with the other side is possible. I find it very difficult to completely disregard this evidence and attribute it to pure coincidence. That being said, it is difficult for me to place myself in a category of “believer” or “nonbeliever.” I’ve come to the conclusion that there are certain aspects of life that we are not going to be able to explain, and that not everyone will be able to reach agreement on. Reading Catherine’s stories, I’ve seen the comfort that these beliefs and theories can bring to those working to cope with difficult life experiences. Additionally, this type of material has allowed me to reflect on how I lead my life from day to day, and inspired me to consider aspects of my spirituality more often as I made choices in my life.
For this week’s reading, I decided to further my understanding of reincarnation by looking at a different perspective: through children’s memories of previous lives. After diving into Dr. Jim B. Tucker’s Life Before Life, it reconfirmed my assumption that memories of reincarnations are typically are the most vivid in the early childhood but then gradually phase out as illustrated by the other readings and videos watched in class. My opinion is that unlike the previous book that I read, Many Lives, Many Masters, the numerous cases (2500) studied over forty years provides a very strong empirical backing for this phenomenon. One part that was especially intrigued me was the chapter on sex changing cases, where the children lived as a different sex in the previous live. These children somehow experienced characteristics and tendencies of the opposite sex, which implies that they were carried over from a previous life through a consciousness that continues beyond life as we know it. These gender identity cases usually led to sex changes later in life and were marked by the similar birthmarks of the people they claimed to be rebirthed as. As wild and controversial as these observations seem, if true, they seem to be deciding factors as to whether or not I believe the stories present. This is because unlike other parts of people’s stories that can be easily fabricated, something as large as a permanent sex change from a belief of being reincarnated in a different body is something that can’t be ignored or taken lightly.
Another experience that was very impactful this past week was attending President Obama’s speech on campus. This speech, which I waited eighteen hours over the course of two nights to attend, highlighted the necessity of raising the national federal minimum wage to $10.10. Although Michigan and a lot of the country are already on board with this plan, the President obviously felt that it was an important enough of an issue to speak about it all the way out here in Michigan. The premise of the bill is that people who work full time at minimum wage are still living in poverty because the minimum wage has not been adjusted for inflation or increase in living costs over the years. This statement really resonates with the concept of collective consciousness that we studied in class, specifically in the book One Mind.
Why would so many people feel the need to raise minimum wage so that people working on minimum wage don’t have to work two jobs and can afford to live above the poverty threshold? Specifically, why would middle and upper class people ever support this bill because it obviously would create the effect of raising living costs overall for everyone if this would only hurt their chances for evolutionary biological success? And lastly, why would people care at all about this if it were not for the fact that we are all connected on a larger conscious level and therefore watch out for each other’s well-being on some circumstances?
Inspiring Encounters With The Divine
This is a collection of short stories gathered by the author after she had an experience that she believed was undoubtedly proof of the divine. When Jennifer Skiff was 32 she was diagnosed with malignant bone cancer. At this time Jennifer had been struggling with a lot of unhappiness and the news that her life would be soon ending was not really too bad at all. However, it was this experience that showed her how worthwhile her life was. Days after she was diagnosed just about everyone she had ever known came to visit her or send her flowers and the most sincere greetings. She remarks that she was “engulfed by a warm blanket of love.” Nearly a week after the biopsy the doctor came to her room saying, “I never get to say this!… Benign!… the slide we looked at looked malignant but the lab results just came back and they say it was benign!” This event led Jennifer to believe that God concretely touched her life.
Skiff began asking people for their “God stories” after a minister asked her if she had any. When Jennifer asked the minister what God stories were the minister said they were miracle-like events that prove that God exists. People rarely ask this question and people rarely dare to tell others about them, but this book is testament to how many stores are out there. This divine entity many call God may seem far off and distant but God does break through and do somethings completely clear and concrete to touch human lives
This book is a collection of those aha experiences told by people from every faith, religion, and walk of life. I think what is great about this book is that it nudges you to consider your own God stores.
From a skeptical point of view one could say that there were only a few stories that one could find no other rational explanation for but a miracle. However, from my perspective that doesn’t make the stories any less special. I think they all had a meaningful message regardless of if you decide to take every word for truth.
This week, I was planning on reading a book entitled “Tiny Beautiful Things” by Cheryl Strayed. However, I began reading a different book for another class, and discovered that it had great relevance to Psych 401. The book is called “The Other Wes Moore”. It is written by a very educated and successful man named Wes Moore. The book begins with a Baltimore newspaper story about this man being named a Rhode’s Scholar. In that same newspaper, another man from Baltimore also named Wes Moore was in the newspaper for an entirely different reason: he was involved in an armed robbery gone wrong which ended with the death of a police officer. This Wes Moore was sentenced to life in prison.
As the author read this story of the other Wes Moore, he couldn’t help but notice the similarities of their lives. Both men were born into low class families and raised in neighborhoods in Baltimore. As young men, they were both exposed to drugs and violence. However, their life paths greatly deviated despite their similar circumstances, resulting in one man who became a decorated veteran, a White House Fellow, and successful business leader, while the other spent his life falling into the pattern of his peers and living in jail. Intrigued by their stories, the two Wes Moores came in contact and tried to understand how their lives turned out so differently. As they got to know each other and explore each other’s life story, it became clear that the successful Wes experienced change in his life when he joined the military. From there, he began to fall into better patterns of decision-making. However, for the other Wes, change did not come. Instead, he began to deal drugs and fell into a realm of violence, like many of his peers. Although at times he wanted to change, he was pulled back into his old ways because of financial issues or social pressures. Both Wes Moores grew up fatherless, were good students in school, were exposed to violence and drugs, and at times were motivated to change. One was never inherently better than the other, yet one grew up to be incredibly successful while the other not so lucky.
This story had me thinking, what makes up a person? Is it the choices we make? Or the social environment around us? What about the characteristics we are born with? There are so many elements that can dictate the life path we go down and it is often very hard to understand them. It is even harder to understand why some things happen that are beyond anything in our control. The idea that we all have a purpose and a life plan dictated by a higher-power, a loving being, can help explain some of these inexplicable events and may provide some comfort.
Research on Soul mates
This week, I decided to do reading on soul mates. As we saw in class today, the belief in soul mates is not very common. I wanted to start out with my explanation of what I believe soul mates are. My definition of soul mates is two or more souls that have a special connection to each other, who are always drawn together every time they are on Earth. It does not have to be a romantic couple (though let’s be honest, that is always the most fun), it could be sibling, friends, cousins, animals, anything. Well, anything that has a soul (so not a chair). I believe that when you meet your soul mate, you know. You might not realize it right away, but with hindsight bias you will come to see that you knew who this person (or animal or whatever) was all along. Also, I believe that the purpose of soul mates is to have a companion on Earth, to always remind you of the collective consciousness and the connection you have to all others deep down inside. They are someone to keep you company, and to love you unconditionally. And yes, as corny as it is, I do believe that my boyfriend and I are soul mates, and you cannot tell me otherwise!
From a near death experience website, I found an article entitled “Soulmates and Consciousness: New Understanding from NDE Research.” This article describes how consciousness studies, NDEs, and relationships are related to the ongoing Soulmate study the author is doing. She defines soul mate as “a loving relationship involving positive co-creation and manifesting spiritual growth,” so it differs from my definition a bit. The researchers collected NDE stories, and found that many NDE experiencers found soul mates to be a necessary component of soul development. One of the six most important principals NDE experiences described was that soul mates are one aspect of individuals feeling connected to a supreme creative being. So basically, your love for your soul mate, and the love you feel coming from your soul mate, are a substitute for God while you cannot be with him. I would like to think that I would love my boyfriend more even if God was in the room, but I might just be selfish. I was unable to find the research that the author and her co-researcher did in 2000 that she referred to in the article, so I would be curious to learn more about their findings. I did not really buy into any of the other soul mate research I found online, like the one about soul mate energies.