Tag Archives: Brain

Real Simple: How to singletask your way to success and sanity

mom

Despite the fact that today we pride ourselves on being a culture of multi-taskers, I myself am anything but. For me, multitasking is the art of messing up several things at once. But we all know – and perhaps secretly despise – the woman who can seemingly do it all. And seamlessly, at that! Yes, she’s the one who gets up at 5 a.m., sprints to the gym, then showers, answers all her e-mails, fixes her family a breakfast of steel cut oatmeal with flaxseeds and warm organic maple syrup and is ready to go to the office as soon as she drives her two equally perfect children to school. Her male counterpart is just as Type A and accomplished. Not only does he hold down a high-powered day job, but he is a nationally ranked squash player and on weekends writes poetry when not competing in an Ironman Triathlon. In a pinch, he can re-shingle his roof.

One morning, many moons ago, I decided that I, too, could do it all. On that particular day, I also made my family oatmeal for breakfast and carefully chose my husband’s suit and tie. And as soon as I rushed my older sons off to the bus and took my little girl to nursery school, I hopped in the car and gave him door-to-door service to his office.

An hour later, all missions accomplished, I returned to my office and started to write my column with still plenty of time left to meet my deadline. I sat back in the chair and let out a large self-satisfied sigh, thinking to myself, Who said you can’t do it all? Just then the phone rang. Continue reading

Head-Spacing.

“Fire all your guns at once and explode into space.” – Steppenwolf, Born to Be Wild. 

Hello. Are you thinking what I’m thinking?

brain

Sure you are. You just don’t know it yet. But, you do know what I mean. Are you having the same revolutionary inner thoughts that I do? Are your neural pathways, or whatever, firing, or whatever in the synaptic patters and places creating the faces and spaces that mine do? Is your inner mind your inner mine?

Does the thought of re-invention scare you? Continue reading

The real Spiderman, cancer and family

obit

Last week the real spiderman passed away quietly in Minnesota as a result of brain cancer.
At least, that is the story according to one self-written obituary for Aaron Purmort. In it he says goodbye to “first wife Gwen Stefani, current wife Nora and their son Ralph” and asks Ralph to avenge his father’s untimely death. In truth, Aaron and his young family shared their life and love story, via Nora’s blog, which included cancer as of 2011: Continue reading

The Most Basic Guide to Affirmations

affirm2

There are infinite schools of thought as to how good things happen in a person’s life.
Maybe that person is just extra good.
Maybe they believe it, so it happened.
They made a deal with the Devil.
They made a deal with God.
They were lucky.
The sun lined up with Jupiter just right and the full moon was in retrograde.

I’m not a scientist, so I can neither confirm nor deny the power of the moon in retrograde, but I do know that the practice of positive affirmation isn’t a wasted one. There is something to having hope, faith and love. Believing for the best has the power to rewire your brain and help you finally put a stop to the things we are usually eager to leave behind.

Dr. Arlene Taylor specializes in speaking on brain function and she had some very interesting things to say about the best way to get your brain to respond:

According to the dictionary, the word affirm means to validate and to state positively. Practically, this defines a nurturing communications style; one in which you talk to yourself and to others in a positive manner. In general, “positives” are more powerful than “negatives.” Positives are a one-step process that creates a picture that you want the brain to follow. Negatives, on the other hand, require a two-step process. Words such as don’t are meant to convey do the opposite of the picture that was just created in the brain. This is often difficult for a mature brain to figure out and may be virtually impossible for the immature brain to compute.It might feel silly at first, but let me encourage you to speak affirmations out loud.

-Dr. Arlene Taylor, “What Does Affirmation Mean?”

Much like we do, our brains respond best to a positive environment with clear, direct communication.

What do you want?
Say them. Audibly.
It doesn’t have to be for an audience but it’s important that you AND your brain gets the message about what you’re going for.

There isn’t a right or wrong way to the words you choose, no magic spell.
So again, what do you want?
Put those desires together in a clear and direct sentence.

I am awake and alive. I have all the energy I need for today.

I am capable and strong enough to face the challenges that come my way.

I can form habits that are beneficial and long-lasting.

Choosing happiness is something I can and will do everyday.

Where are you in your life right now?
What would you like to see come into your life or change?
That’s a great place to start.
Speak what you would like to see.
Speak what you would like your brain to agree with instead of agreeing with things that aren’t necessarily any more true-

That you aren’t smart enough, likeable, pretty, strong, able.
That good things will never happen for you.
That you aren’t good enough.
That you just aren’t the kind of person who gets what they dream of.

Stop agreeing with those things consciously or subconsciously.
You are able and you are enough.
So say it.

3 Ways to Rewire Your Brain and End Food Cravings

brainonstress

I’m a food addict. We all are. Our brains are biologically driven to seek and devour high-calorie, fatty foods. The difference is that I have learned how to control those primitive parts of my brain. Anyone can this if they know how. In this article, I will share 3 steps to help you counteract those primitive parts of your brain that have you chasing high-calorie, nutrient-poor foods. But before you can update your brain’s biological software, you’ve got to understand why it developed in the first place.

Calories = Survival

The brain’s desire to binge on rich food is a genetic holdover from the days of hunter-gatherers. Given what scientists know today about our early ancestors, it makes sense that our brains are hardwired to fixate on high-calorie foods. It’s a survival mechanism. Eating as many calories as possible, whenever possible, allowed our ancestors to store excess calories as fat and survive lean times. That approach worked well for 2.4 million years, but today it’s making us sick and fat.

That’s because our brains haven’t evolved as fast as our food environment. The human brain evolved over 2.5 million years. And, with the exception of the last 10,000 years, people only ate animals they could hunt and wild-plants they could gather. Imagine if you could only eat what you caught or picked! The variety of foods hunter-gatherers ate paled in comparison to the 40,000 different food items we can buy in the average big-box grocery store today.(1)

No cinnamon buns for them!

And whereas we have easy access to food 24/7, drive-thru meals were not an option for hunter-gatherers. Not to mention that hunting and gathering was hard work. Early humans expended lots of calories acquiring their food, so they needed to eat high-calorie foods to offset the loss. The average hunter-gatherer got up to 60 percent of his calories from animal foods, such as muscle meat, fat, and organ meat, and the other 40 percent from plants.(2)

That balance between protein and carbohydrates in the diet is where the problem lies, but it’s not what you think. Carbohydrates have gotten a bad rap, but they are the single most important nutrient for long-term health and weight loss. But I’m not talking about bagels and donuts. I’m talking about plant foods that more closely resemble what our ancestors ate. Hunter-gatherers ate fruit, tubers, seeds, and nuts. These are whole foods. They are full of fiber, vitamins, minerals and disease- and weight-busting colorful phytochemicals. They also take time to digest. Therefore, they raise blood sugar slowly, which balances metabolism and offers a steady stream of energy. Whole foods have all the right information and turn on all the right genes.

But the past 10,000 years saw the advent of both agriculture and industrialization. And, in the blink of an eye (by evolutionary standards), the human diet got turned upside down. Today, 60 percent of our calories come from things that hunter-gatherers wouldn’t even recognize as food. The bulk of those items—cereal grains, sugary drinks, refined oils and dressings—are simple carbohydrates.(3) The primitive brain sees an endless supply of easy energy. Left unchecked, our bodies pay the price. The result is a two-fronted epidemic of obesity and diabetes in our country—what I call “diabesity.”

3 Ways to Reprogram your Brain

Luckily there are ways to rewire the primitive parts of your brain by making good food choices. Here are 3 ways to get started.

1.) Balance blood sugar.

Blood sugar highs and lows drive primitive food cravings. If you get famished between meals, that’s a sign that your blood sugar is crashing. When blood sugar is low, you’ll eat anything. To better balance blood sugar, eat a small meal or snack that includes healthy protein, like seeds or nuts, every 3 to 4 hours.

2.) Eliminate liquid calories and artificial sweeteners.

Early humans didn’t reach for soda or fruit juices when they got thirsty. Sodas are full of chemicals and high fructose corn syrup. Processed fruit juices are awash in sugar. Try sticking with water and green tea. Green tea contains plant chemicals that are good for your health. And, last but not least, don’t succumb to the diet-drink trap. The artificial sweeteners in diet drinks fool the body into thinking it is ingesting sugar, which creates the same insulin spike as regular sugar.

3.) Eat a high-quality protein at breakfast.

Ideally, you’re eating quality protein at every meal, but, if you need to prioritize one meal, choose breakfast. Studies show that waking up to a healthy protein, such as eggs, nuts, seeds, nut butters or a protein shake help people lose weight, reduce cravings and burn calories.

Ultimately, you may not control your genes, but you do control what and how you eat. Since taking control and changing my diet, my brain no longer caves into the cravings and urgings that seduce the reptilian brain. The most powerful tool you have to transform your health is your fork! Use it well and you will thrive.

References:
(1) “What to Eat,” Marion Nestle, p 17
(2) “Plant-animal subsistence ratios and macronutrient energy estimations in worldwide hunter-gatherer diets,” L
Cordain, et al American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 2000; 71
(3) “Plant-animal subsistence ratios and macronutrient energy estimations in worldwide hunter-gatherer diets,” L
Cordain, et al American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 2000; 71

 

Originally published on my website, DrHyman.com

Deepak Chopra: Thinking Outside the (Skull) Box (Part 11)

Daybreak at Gale Crater

Click here to read Part 10!

By Deepak Chopra, M.D., Menas C. Kafatos, Ph.D., P. Murali Doraiswamy, MBBS, Rudolph E. Tanzi, Ph.D., Neil Theise, MD

In our last post we explored how your body and brain are not just your body and brain – from a 21st-century scientific perspective, you are also a teeming community composed of single-cell organisms. A tiny portion of the body are human cells (yours) while perhaps a hundred times more are mostly bacteria and archaea, known all together as the microbiome. Let’s go several steps further into this scientific re-examination of this thing you call your body.

Intellectually you know that your body today isn’t the same as the body you had in the past. But if you tune in, you generally feel the present you in continuity with yesterday’s you and all the others going back to childhood. You can imagine even going back to a fetus in the womb and the fertilized ovum from which the fetus grew. That first egg and sperm are derived without interruption from your parents’ living bodies. There is no gap where the life of your mother and father stopped and yours began. The flow of life is seamless back to your mother’s womb, and further back as far as human ancestry can go.

Even as we cross species boundaries in our backward journey, to Homo erectus and Homo habilis, our distant forebears, there are no gaps in life, not between you and hominids roaming the African savannah millions of years ago, not between you and the earliest single-cell organisms that were the first emerging life forms on our planet. So you can think of yourself as one living being. You may feel separate in space, occupying a warm and cozy apartment that is unlike a primordial pond covered in blue-green algae. But think about how your skin sheds cells, not just dead epidermal cells but living bacteria that coat your skin in a fine layer. They have separated from you, and yet they are still you. This apparent separation is only in space. In time, there is no separation, there is continuity extending over eons, and time is where we live.

By expanding “you” beyond a package of skin and bones that was born on a certain day and will die one day in the future, you merge with the flow of life as a whole. In other words, you have adopted the perspective of life itself. How old are you, then? At the everyday level of scale you count how many candles there are on your last birthday cake. But take in the 400 trillion microorganisms that are the largest biological part of “you.” Single cells can only reproduce by division. One amoeba divides in two. These aren’t the amoeba’s children. They are simply it, split in half. In a very real sense, all the amoebas alive today are the first amoeba, and the same goes for all the trillions of micro-organisms that occupy your body (and are necessary for it to survive, as we saw in previous posts. They aren’t free riders).

As “you” expand, boundaries melt away. Since the entire mass of animal and plant life on Earth traces back to single-cell creatures, “you” are one enormous 3.5-billion-year-old being. Separation in space makes each of us think we are individuals. And we are. But the continuum of time at the cellular scale reveals an equal reality: we are united as a single biological being. In fact, the continuity of life becomes stronger as we move to even smaller and smaller scales, where seamless properties essential to life are already present. Which means that the properties of “you” – intelligence, self-organization, evolution, and a seamless flow of life – exist at all scales.

Consider the molecular and atomic levels of scale. There is no atom in your body that did not derive from something eaten, drunk, or breathed from the substance of the planet. Whether we talk about the “you” that is sitting in a chair reading this sentence or the “you” that is a single enormous 3.5-billion-year-old being, neither lives on the planet – in a sense they are the planet. Your living body is the self-organization of the substance of the Earth itself – minerals, water, and air – into zillions of life forms. Earth plays Scrabble, forming different words as the letters are recombined (in this case, genetic letters), and although some words, like “human,” run away to live on their own, they forget who owns the game.

If “you” are a recreational pastime for the planet, what does it have in mind for its next move? Games involve a lot of repetition, but there has to be novelty as well, with records to break and highest scores to shatter. Earth decided that “you” needed a new playing field. At one level, the Mars probe named Curiosity can be viewed as a separate human achievement, and a very complex one. It involved skilled, clever engineers and scientists who figured out how to make a robot, propel it to another world, have it land, and then send information back to us.

But there’s another way of looking at it. Just as reasonably, logically, and scientifically, our living planet Earth has been working toward reaching out to touch its neighbor, Mars, for 3.5 billion years (at least). It has taken this long for Earth to create living things out of its own substance that could eventually figure out how to take more of the same substance, fashion it into a rocket and a robot, and take “you” off planet. (In the case of the moon, “you” actually landed on it, yourself.)

While “you,” focused on the separate self, were busy discovering fire, inventing agriculture, writing sacred texts, making war, having sex, and other survival stratagems, Earth was busy organizing, through these activities, landing on the moon and tapping Mars on the shoulder. If this image strikes you as being too fanciful, look at the activity of your brain. You are conscious of having a purpose in mind when you walk, talk, work, and love. But it is undeniable that many brain activities are unconscious (e.g., controlling body temperature, growth, blood pressure), while the activity of the brain as a whole is totally unknown, either by you or any single region of your brain. Whatever makes Earth a totality makes your brain a totality. Therefore, it isn’t fanciful to think of Earth as moving in a coherent, unified direction, just as your brain has from the moment you were born.

Or to put it in a word, if you (as a person) have a purpose, then you (as life on Earth) have a purpose. The two are seamless, even if it suits our pride, and our unfathomable ego, to stand above and separate from our surroundings. Where does that leave mind? Mind is something that condenses in some spaces, expands in others, functioning at everyday levels of scale, planetary levels of scale, and microscopic levels of scale. The smallest aspects of mind can be contained within larger aspects, just as molecules are contained within cells that are contained within bodies, and so on.

Science in the 21st century builds upon its long-held ambition to comprehend the very smallest and largest scales of Nature, and it was always hoped – even taken for granted – that a set of fixed principles would suffice for the whole journey of discovery. That hope broke down when Newton’s set of laws didn’t fit the quantum world. Now the set of rules in the quantum world don’t fit the latest problems, such as what came before the Big Bang, the origin of life, and the appearance of mind in the universe. In this post we’ve been arguing that “you” exist no matter how large or small the scale under consideration. You are beyond any horizons of scale, any boundaries that your mind believes exist. The Vedas speak of Brahman (reality) being bigger than the biggest and smaller than the smallest In modern terminology, this means “you.” We’ll finish in the next post with the mind-blowing conclusions that such reasoning leads to.

(To be cont.)

* * *

Deepak Chopra, MD is the author of more than 75 books translated into over 35 languages with over twenty New York Times bestsellers.  Chopra serves as Founder of The Chopra Foundation.

Menas Kafatos, Ph.D., Fletcher Jones Endowed Professor in Computational Physics, Director of the Center of Excellence at Chapman University, co-author with Deepak Chopra of the forthcoming book, Who Made God and Other Cosmic Riddles. (Harmony)

P. Murali Doraiswamy, MBBS, FRCP, Professor of Psychiatry, Duke University Medical Center, Durham, North Carolina and a leading physician scientist in the area of mental health, cognitive neuroscience and mind-body medicine.

Rudolph E. Tanzi, Ph.D., Joseph P. and Rose F. Kennedy Professor of Neurology at Harvard University, and Director of the Genetics and Aging Research Unit at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH), co-author with Deepak Chopra of Super Brain: Unleashing the Explosive Power of Your Mind to Maximize Health, Happiness, and Spiritual Well-being. (Harmony)

Neil Theise, MD, Professor, Pathology and Medicine, (Division of Digestive Diseases) and Director of the Liver and Stem Cell Research Laboratory, Beth Israel Medical Center — Mount Sinai School of Medicine, New York.  www.neiltheise.com  neiltheise.wordpress.com

Deepak Chopra: Thinking Outside the (Skull) Box (Part 10)

Skeleton InvertedClick here to read Part 9!

By Deepak Chopra, M.D., Menas C. Kafatos, Ph.D., P. Murali Doraiswamy, MBBS, Rudolph E. Tanzi, Ph.D., Neil Theise, MD

So your genome – the sum total of your genetic inheritance – is not sufficient to code for the entire structure of your digestive tract. You are alive because of your connection to the outside world; indeed, there is no boundary between you and the outside world’s abundance of life.

This realization changes the picture of genes, too. They code for your cells, tissues, and organs; moreover, genes code for the interactions between your cells and the neighboring bacteria, with biomolecules being passed back and forth. The biochemistry of digestion is a shared project between your body and bacteria, a basic fact acknowledged for decades, but by implication, without bacteria there can be no you.

This observation can be extended in every direction. Without trees breathing in carbon dioxide and exhaling oxygen, you couldn’t breathe – the forests are part of your lungs. Without viruses constantly mutating, you would have many fewer antibodies – every virus is part of your immune system. The rivers that circulate fresh water are part of your bloodstream. These connections aren’t incidental. Your body is the world, and by extension, so is your brain, since you share with the world every molecule, chemical reaction, and electrical impulse that constitutes the brain.

It makes people woozy to accept that there is no boundary between “me” and the whole world. What about the skin? It is portrayed in high school biology class as an impermeable barrier protecting you from invaders assaulting the body from “out there.” But the metaphor of the skin as living armor isn’t viable. Pause and move your hand, observing how the wrist and finger joints move under the skin. Why doesn’t the skin break down with all this motion, the push and pull of your fingers closing and extending, your arm bending and stretching? Because the bacteria lining the creases in your skin digest the cell membranes of dying skin cells and produce lanolin, which lubricates the skin. How long would “you” and your genome last if your skin were cracking, open to infection just from typing on a laptop or waving goodbye to someone?

What is your body now? It’s no longer just a human body. It’s a community of single cell organisms that function harmoniously together (in times of good health) organizing themselves into tissues and organs. Such astonishingly complex cooperation implies a host of surprising things:

  • Your genes are siblings of bacterial genes.
  • The evolution of bacteria is actually human evolution at the same time.
  • One intelligence binds micro-organisms and “higher” life forms.
  • There is no sharp dividing line between “smart” creatures and the “dumb” micro-organisms that evolved alongside them.

A skeptic may protest that we’ve used physical evidence to support a theory of mind. But science does the same thing all the time. By equating mind and brain, neuroscience has backed itself into a corner, forced to explain thoughts by looking at the interaction of molecules. In the final post of this series, we’ll get out of that corner by putting mind first and brain second. That way, we solve the problem of how molecules of hydrogen, oxygen, and carbon – the majority of “stuff” in the brain – learned to think. The obvious answer is that they didn’t. We think because we are expressions of the mind, not robots being operated by the brain.

(To be continued…)

* * *

Deepak Chopra, MD is the author of more than 75 books translated into over 35 languages with over twenty New York Times bestsellers. Chopra serves as Founder of The Chopra Foundation.

Menas Kafatos, Ph.D., Fletcher Jones Endowed Professor in Computational Physics, Director of the Center of Excellence at Chapman University, co-author with Deepak Chopra of the forthcoming book, Who Made God and Other Cosmic Riddles. (Harmony)

P. Murali Doraiswamy, MBBS, FRCP, Professor of Psychiatry, Duke University Medical Center, Durham, North Carolina and a leading physician scientist in the area of mental health, cognitive neuroscience and mind-body medicine.

Rudolph E. Tanzi, Ph.D., Joseph P. and Rose F. Kennedy Professor of Neurology at Harvard University, and Director of the Genetics and Aging Research Unit at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH), co-author with Deepak Chopra of Super Brain: Unleashing the Explosive Power of Your Mind to Maximize Health, Happiness, and Spiritual Well-being. (Harmony)

Neil Theise, MD, Professor, Pathology and Medicine, (Division of Digestive Diseases) and Director of the Liver and Stem Cell Research Laboratory, Beth Israel Medical Center – Mount Sinai School of Medicine, New York. www.neiltheise.com

Deepak Chopra: Thinking Outside the (Skull) Box (Part 9)

Most Amazing High Definition Image of Earth - Blue Marble 2012Click here to read Part 8!

By Deepak Chopra, M.D., Menas C. Kafatos, Ph.D., P. Murali Doraiswamy, MBBS, Rudolph E. Tanzi, Ph.D., Neil Theise, MD

The title of this series of posts is both a declaration (the mind is not contained exclusively within the brain) and an invitation – to think creatively about the nature of your mind. You no longer have to imprison your mind inside your skull, or anywhere else in the body, in fact. There are other ways to imagine and experience it. We’ve provided many clues that mind extends outside the body, which implies that your own mind, as you experience it, may exist without boundaries. As we demonstrated, contemplative practitioners in many traditions point to experiences of mind that extend beyond the body, to encompass the universe as a whole.

Your brain doesn’t determine your mind. Brain and mind are recreating each other with every act of perception. Moreover, with training, you can learn to experience your mind in parts of your body beyond the enclosure inside your skull, perhaps experiencing it even as filling your body. We’ve been offering factual evidence to avoid the trap of metaphysics or unfounded speculation, since science so deeply distrusts metaphysics. Has the evidence made you curious about what your mind really is? There’s a huge difference between two pictures of reality. One picture describes a clockwork brain that evolved mechanistically from a random universe. The other describes a conscious universe where one expression is the human mind.

If you accept the second story – as we do – it leads to a mind-blowing conclusion: the universe is thinking, feeling, and acting through you. You exist so that the universe has a new outlet for knowing itself. (Surely this makes you curious!) As was said by the Sufi master Hazrat Inayat Khan,

The Sufi says this whole universe was made in order that God might know Himself. The seed wished to realize what it is, what is in it, and therefore became the tree.

If you and I are embedded in a conscious universe, a leap toward freedom can be made. Unfortunately, most people use their brains in a habitual way. Day in and day out, the brain repeats the same patterns of habitual ideas (someone once estimated that 90% of the thoughts we have today are repetitions of the thoughts we had yesterday). Habitual ideas are imprinted in you by prevailing cultural assumptions, including those that derive from science and its purely materialist view of the world. If you are a materialist, the universe couldn’t possibly be thinking (not that this notion bothers the universe – it has time to wait until a better belief system comes along).

We do not seek to convince you of anything in these posts but to stir up the urge to seek your own answers. For example, do you accept that your mind works like a computer, which would make the brain a kind of biological hardware (what one expert in artificial intelligence dubbed “a computer made of meat”)? The brain-as-computer idea can be exploded by asking, has a computer ever been curious? Has a computer ever been in love? Has it ever had urges or given into temptation? These aspects of mind are innate in human beings and are not computational.

Now that you are thinking outside the (skull) box, what if we can expand your sense of self beyond your skin? When you say “my body,” you probably mean this body made of approximately 4 trillion human cells, each of which contains your genes. But is that really your body? On close inspection, your body is lined, over the surface of the skin and throughout the digestive tract by 100 times as many cells, if not more, that aren’t “yours” at all, in that they do not contain your ancestral genes. They are microbial cells, part of what scientists now refer to as the microbiome – your second genome, so to speak. These include both bacteria and other single- celled creatures known as archaea. You are, in essence, composed of colonies of human and non-human cells living in harmonious balance.

Outnumbering “your” cells by a hundred to, these micro-organisms aren’t just passive riders or conveyers of disease. Quite the contrary- these trillions of bacteria convey your health. For example, if we grow mice in an “abiotic” environment in which there are no bacteria (or if we have a boy who has to be raised in a bubble because he has a rare disorder, Severe Combined Immunodeficiency syndrome, and cannot control infections), the digestive tract can’t function properly. The microscopic, finger-like projections, or microvilli, that line the intestinal wall don’t form. Without them, you don’t have enough gut surface area to accomplish the digestion and absorption of nutrition. By adding back in the helpful bacteria that normally line the intestines, the microvilli arise.

(To be cont.)

* * *

Deepak Chopra, MD is the author of more than 75 books translated into over 35 languages with over twenty New York Times bestsellers. Chopra serves as Founder of The Chopra Foundation.

Menas Kafatos, Ph.D., Fletcher Jones Endowed Professor in Computational Physics, Director of the Center of Excellence at Chapman University, co-author with Deepak Chopra of the forthcoming book, Who Made God and Other Cosmic Riddles. (Harmony)

P. Murali Doraiswamy, MBBS, FRCP, Professor of Psychiatry, Duke University Medical Center, Durham, North Carolina and a leading physician scientist in the area of mental health, cognitive neuroscience and mind-body medicine.

Rudolph E. Tanzi, Ph.D., Joseph P. and Rose F. Kennedy Professor of Neurology at Harvard University, and Director of the Genetics and Aging Research Unit at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH), co-author with Deepak Chopra of Super Brain: Unleashing the Explosive Power of Your Mind to Maximize Health, Happiness, and Spiritual Well-being. (Harmony)

Neil Theise, MD, Professor, Pathology and Medicine, (Division of Digestive Diseases) and Director of the Liver and Stem Cell Research Laboratory, Beth Israel Medical Center – Mount Sinai School of Medicine, New York. www.neiltheise.com

Deepak Chopra: Thinking Outside the (Skull) Box (Part 8)

What's black and white and red all over??Click here to read Part 7!

By Deepak Chopra, M.D., Menas C. Kafatos, Ph.D., P. Murali Doraiswamy, MBBS, Rudolph E. Tanzi, Ph.D., and Neil Theise, MD

Despite the fact that cultures have institutionalized the universal Mind with terms long accepted as true (e.g., God, Brahman, the Absolute), words aren’t very helpful to someone who hasn’t yet had the experience. If the unreliability of subjective reports puts off many scientists, the claim that some people have special experiences that go beyond words bolsters their skepticism. As a result, formulating a science of consciousness has been slow to start and even slower to gain credibility.

A personal disclosure: the authors include some contemplative practitioners with a varying depth of experience in the traditions of Buddhism, Vedanta, and Kashmir Shaivism. This doesn’t mean that our personal experiences are “true,” only that these topics are not hypothetical for us. Aligning with centuries of contemplative practitioners, we find the reports of expanded awareness compelling, but being physicians and scientists, we also think of such experiences as material for hypothesis-making and testing through experimentation.

Alas, other scientists hotly disagree, saying, “No, this is not a fit topic for scientific exploration – your evidence is born of hearsay and superstition.” To those who draw a boundary around what is worth exploring scientifically and what is not, we ask, “Isn’t this just another form of unthinking fundamentalism, akin to that of religious fundamentalists whom many rational scientists claim to abhor?” The Roman poet Terence wrote, Homo sum: humani nil a me alienum puto (I am human, I consider nothing human alien to me). Consider all the forbidden topics, from female sexuality to epidemics, from madness to gross anatomy, that were once placed under a ban. These meditation experiences are human experiences, like every other human experience that scientists deem worthy of investigation by techniques such as putting people inside an MRI machine: experiences like depression, memory, love, fear, excitement, orgasm.

The trend is now moving away from the naysayers. Research is starting to account for the swing between the inner and outer world, a swing we all experience every day, using as subjects adept meditation practitioners in Tibetan Buddhism. These meditators report experiences in which the sense of inside/outside and self/other dissolves. Instead of dismissing this as mysticism, one hypothesis now suggests specific neural activity within two complementary signaling networks in the brain – one is active when you are dealing with the world outside the body (called task positive network), the other, the “default network” (or task negative network) revs up when your focus is inward as commonly happens in wakeful rest, introspection, or from lack of significant sensory inputs).

Our brains are thought to alternate rapidly between these two networks, but when deep, “non-dual” meditation is performed, they both activate together, because inside and outside are no longer opposite and contrary, but are experienced as a seamless mind contemplating a seamless whole. We don’t mean to suggest the default mode network is the basis for the mind (since default mode activity is also seen in primates and rats), but the data illustrates how mental states like meditation affect the brain.

Short of proving with scientific rigor that the mind is not located just in the brain, we have pointed to the fact that the experience of your mind in your head is not the only experience you can have. Exploring the implications for yourself only takes a few moments a day – you can feel for yourself how your thinking does not have to remain locked up in the box of your skull.

Finally, the aura of religion is so strong that skeptics dismiss all spiritual experience – being alien to materialism – as matters of faith. Faith, in a great many varieties, is something we all turn to for interpreting our experiences. From the perspective of quantum mechanics, which has shown beyond a doubt that solid objects are not solid, it takes faith to believe that the physical world exists – certainly a rationalist must admit that the five senses are lying or at best are unreliable.

In everyday life, faith is part of the equation. But it is not only great faith that drives spiritual investigations but also, as is said in Zen, “great doubt” – doubt as to the meaning of existence and the reason for suffering in the world. The great faith in this equation is what makes the great doubt bearable. This balance between what we know and what we hope to discover drives science as well as spirituality. The difference lies in which tool of investigation is used.

The mind studying the mind reveals aspects of reality that can’t be reached by investigating the physical world. The reach of consciousness becomes even greater once we realize that the mind isn’t locked in the skull or even bounded by the skin. Step by step, the findings of mainstream science have opened the domain of Mind, that transcends our individual minds and is fundamental to the universe.

In the next posts we’ll return to what contemporary science understands about the most fundamental structures in nature – our aim is to find a meeting place between the inner and outer method of investigation. Have we made you curious? We hope so, because curiosity is the theme to be taken up next.

(To be continued…)

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Deepak Chopra, MD is the author of more than 75 books with over twenty New York Times bestsellers, including co-author with Sanjiv Chopra, MD of Brotherhood: Dharma, Destiny, and The American Dream, and co-author with Rudolph Tanzi of Super Brain: Unleashing the Explosive Power of Your Mind to Maximize Health, Happiness, and Spiritual Well-being (Harmony). Chopra serves as Founder of The Chopra Foundation.

Menas Kafatos, Ph.D., Fletcher Jones Endowed Professor in Computational Physics, Director of the Center of Excellence at Chapman University, co-author with Deepak Chopra of the forthcoming book, Who Made God and Other Cosmic Riddles. (Harmony)

P. Murali Doraiswamy, MBBS, FRCP, Professor of Psychiatry, Duke University Medical Center, Durham, North Carolina and a leading physician scientist in the area of mental health, cognitive neuroscience and mind-body medicine.

Rudolph E. Tanzi, Ph.D., Joseph P. and Rose F. Kennedy Professor of Neurology at Harvard University, and Director of the Genetics and Aging Research Unit at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH), co-author with Deepak Chopra ofSuper Brain: Unleashing the Explosive Power of Your Mind to Maximize Health, Happiness, and Spiritual Well-being. (Harmony)

Neil Theise, MD, Professor, Pathology and Medicine, (Division of Digestive Diseases) and Director of the Liver and Stem Cell Research Laboratory, Beth Israel Medical Center — Mount Sinai School of Medicine, New York. www.neiltheise.com

Deepak Chopra: Thinking Outside the (Skull) Box (Part 7)

Screen Shot 2013-09-03 at 10.50.25 AMClick here to read Part 6!

By Deepak Chopra, M.D., Menas C. Kafatos, Ph.D., P. Murali Doraiswamy, MBBS, Rudolph E. Tanzi, Ph.D., and Neil Theise, MD

In the previous posts we began with the common-sense notion that the brain produces the mind and proceeded to explode it. Using medical facts we showed that every part of the body shares in the process we call “thinking,” although the liver, intestines, and heart do their thinking non-verbally. They still make decisions, show preferences, exhibit self-reliance, and contribute in major ways to the information sent to the brain.

We have offered our proof that mind exists outside the skull without departing from common sense. In the same vein we explored the possibility that mind exists outside the brain. Many scientists would dismiss the possibility out of hand, but we showed that the inner experience of Eastern contemplative practices (meditation, yoga, Zen Buddhism, et al.) are not inferior to the data collected on subjective states like pain, feeling happy, or falling in love. Brain scans offer correlates to these experiences, but it is self-report from a person who says “I’m in pain” or “I feel happy” that must be relied upon. Similarly, subjective reports of a spiritual kind cannot be invalidated unless at the same time you are willing to throw out pain, happiness, love, and all other subjective states.

But our goal isn’t spiritual or religious. We aren’t after God but after mind (even if, on the cosmic scale, they might turn out to be the same). The deepest experiences of yogis, swamis, ancient rishis, and Buddhist masters tell the story of mind everywhere in Nature; mind indeed is the source of existence itself. It can’t be denied that reality only comes to us through subjective experience. Sir Alexander Fleming examining penicillium mold through his microscope was having a subjective experience. If there were phenomena occurring all around him that the human mind can’t experience, think about, or sense, they don’t belong to reality as we know it.

As someone having a “real” experience, Fleming and a Buddhist master exist on the same plane. The only difference is that science focuses on experience “out there” while contemplative practices focus on events “in here.” A caution before we describe these deeper inner experiences. Whether they are described as an encounter with God (e.g. Judaism, Christianity, Islam), the higher self (e.g. in the monistic systems of Vedanta and Hinduism, Shaivism), or with no divine essence at all (e.g. the Absolute in Buddhism) depends on descriptive language and the past conditioning of the practitioner. The descriptive, often poetic words are culturally determined; they serve as verbal devices for grasping a nonverbal experience so that it can be reported to others, usually within the same spiritual, cultural context.

But no description can be the experience itself. There is no attempt here, as many skeptics accuse, to mystify or cloud something suspiciously immaterial and vague, perhaps outright false. If either religion or its absence makes you nervous, don’t get hung up on terminology. Pay attention to the reports of the experiences themselves as a universal phenomenon, born of the mind’s very nature, which is self-awareness.

When “thinking outside the box” calls forth such profound, often life-changing responses in the practitioner, the sensed boundaries of the body disappear. No longer does the skin form a barrier, however permeable, between inside and outside, between self and other. Now, when you feel your breath move in and out, it is the universe that you feel is breathing – indeed, the universe is breathing you. When a bell rings in the meditation hall or a car horn honks on the city streets outside or a bird sings in a nearby tree, the ring, the honk, and the song are your own, palpably arising from within yourself.

While such experiences are uncommon in everyday life, they are not rare in this special setting. Even if they are most actively cultivated in spiritual contexts, you can ask athletes about being “in the zone”, artists about feeling inspired, scientists about the moment of discovery, craftsmen about their intimacy with what is brought forth in their craft – they will all describe similar states of merging where there’s no distinction between what’s going on “in here” and “out there,” because those boundaries have dissolved.

For some people such experiences are not trained and nurtured but happen spontaneously. They may occur during a so-called peak experience or in the extremity of being near death. For others the experience arrives for no detectable reason, and yet without such an experience, could Walt Whitman have written a line like this from Song of Myself: “I am large, I contain multitudes.” His Leaves of Grass is almost entirely a report of moving in the world with an enlarged, even unbounded sense of self, where the division between self and other is experienced as illusion. Here is evidence of mind permeating the world, irrespective of the boundary of the skull or the skin.

And then there’s the experience of “dropping away of body and mind” described by the Japanese Zen patriarch Dogen; the “mind of clear light” described by Tantric teachers; the experience of lower self realizing that it is essentially the higher self, reported by ancient and contemporary Indian sages (rishis); and the Ein Sof – the infinite God beyond our capacity to describe, from which arises all creation – of Jewish mystics. Every tradition speaks about the experience of a Mind that is greater than our own minds, out of which our own minds arise like waves on the ocean. This Mind is beyond all boundaries, something in which we share with all beings and from which all beings arise. This Mind is the place in which there is no suffering. It is pure awareness with no object of awareness except itself. Reaching for words, the world’s spiritual guides teach that pure awareness is infinite, blissful, illuminated from within.

Stay tuned for Part 8!

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Deepak Chopra, MD is the author of more than 75 books with over twenty New York Times bestsellers, including co-author with Sanjiv Chopra, MD of Brotherhood: Dharma, Destiny, and The American Dream, and co-author with Rudolph Tanzi of Super Brain: Unleashing the Explosive Power of Your Mind to Maximize Health, Happiness, and Spiritual Well-being (Harmony). Chopra serves as Founder of The Chopra Foundation.

Menas Kafatos, Ph.D., Fletcher Jones Endowed Professor in Computational Physics, Director of the Center of Excellence at Chapman University, co-author with Deepak Chopra of the forthcoming book, Who Made God and Other Cosmic Riddles. (Harmony)

P. Murali Doraiswamy, MBBS, FRCP, Professor of Psychiatry, Duke University Medical Center, Durham, North Carolina and a leading physician scientist in the area of mental health, cognitive neuroscience and mind-body medicine.

Rudolph E. Tanzi, Ph.D., Joseph P. and Rose F. Kennedy Professor of Neurology at Harvard University, and Director of the Genetics and Aging Research Unit at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH), co-author with Deepak Chopra ofSuper Brain: Unleashing the Explosive Power of Your Mind to Maximize Health, Happiness, and Spiritual Well-being. (Harmony)

Neil Theise, MD, Professor, Pathology and Medicine, (Division of Digestive Diseases) and Director of the Liver and Stem Cell Research Laboratory, Beth Israel Medical Center — Mount Sinai School of Medicine, New York. www.neiltheise.com

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