Tag Archives: observation

Can the Simple Act of Making a List Boost Your Happiness?

seishonagonWhen I was in college, I took a class on the culture of Heian Japan,  and the one and only thing I remember about that subject is The Pillow Book of Sei Shonagon. This strange, brilliant book has haunted me for years.

Sei Shonagon was a court lady in tenth-century Japan, and in her “pillow book,” she wrote down her impressions about things she liked, disliked, observed, and did.

I love lists of all kinds, and certainly Sei Shonagon did, as well. Her lists are beautifully evocative. One of my favorites is called Things That Make One’s Heart Beat Faster:

  •  Sparrows feeding their young
  •  To pass a place where babies are playing.
  •  To sleep in a room where some fine incense has been burnt.
  •  To notice that one’s elegant Chinese mirror has become a little cloudy.
  •  To see a gentleman stop his carriage before one’s gate and instruct his attendants to announce his arrival.
  •  To wash one’s hair, make one’s toilet, and put on scented robes; even if not a soul sees one, these preparations still produce an inner pleasure.
  •  It is night and one is expecting a visitor. Suddenly one is startled by the sound of rain-drops, which the wind blows against the shutters.

Other marvelous lists include Things That Arouse a Fond Memory of the Past, Things That Cannot Be Compared, Rare Things, Pleasing Things, Things That Give a Clean Feeling, Things That One Is in a Hurry to See or to Hear, People Who Look Pleased with Themselves, and, another of my very favorites, from the title alone, People Who Have Changed As Much As If They Had Been Reborn.

Making lists of this sort is a terrific exercise to stimulate the imagination, heighten powers of observation, and stoke appreciation of the everyday details of life. Just reading these lists makes me happier.

How about you? Have you ever made a list of observations, in this way?


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photo by: koalazymonkey

Deepak Chopra: What Is Ultimate Reality?

It is an interesting paradox that science finds itself in. Science says that there is an observer-independent reality and you do not need a conscious observer to manifest reality. At the same time without an observer this reality is not testable, so it cannot exist. In this episode of “Ask Deepak” on The Chopra Well, Deepak discusses scientific contradiction of ultimate reality.

In science, anything that is not testable is considered invalid. Science depends on empirical facts based on observations. If we propose an observer-independent reality, we must realize that an observer-independent reality is not testable. So according to the current principles of science, we cannot say it exists. A scientific conclusion would be that an observer-independent reality does not exist. But is this really the case?

Subscribe to The Chopra Well and let’s keep this discussion going!

Deepak Chopra: Can Reality Set Us Free? The Puzzle of Complementarity (Part 2)

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

Click here for Part 1.

The most fascinating extension of complementarity has to do with complex systems. To a physicist, explaining how a pair of electrons behave together in outer space poses a major challenge; explaining how billions of neurons behave together in the brain defies not just the world’s largest computer but possibly any computer one can conceive of. Yet complex systems, including all life forms, stars, galaxies, and the post-Big Bang cosmos, are perfect examples of how looking at the whole can help explain the parts and vice versa.

Systems science has validated the adage about the whole being greater than the sum of its parts. Studying the materials that the great cathedral of Notre Dame is made of – stone, metals, stained glass, etc. – can give hints about the building and the historical times when it was constructed, but by no means is the great cathedral just the sum of these parts. It was created by conscious beings and reveals a living presence that dead physical objects cannot account for.

No matter how closely one examines the visible parts, there remains the riddle of how complexity arises, what holds it together, and why structures take the shape they do. In complex systems, the whole transcends its discrete parts even when some aspects of organization are hidden, unlike the architects of Notre Dame, who could unfold their blueprints in plain sight.

Another way to express this is by saying that like a cathedral, no complex system can be achieved by a series of simple operations. Carpentry and masonry are basic processes that go into making any building, but there is an infinite variety of buildings, and they depend upon a conception of the whole before you go to work. Reductionism in science is the methodology of exploring the Universe one brick and plank at a time, in discrete units. This cannot be the total story. To believe that reductionism is all we need misses the whole point.

In fact, when a physicist examines any complementary pairs, he notices that they appear to be paradoxical, since no aspect can apply under exactly the same conditions.  One construct of the pair excludes the other. Today science has reached the same levels of the paradoxical that ancient seers and sages knew from personal experience.  What is more paradoxical than human nature, since we are the most violent and at the same time the most compassionate of living things?

The dichotomy between what science studies (so-called objective reality) and what humans experience (anchored in subjective reality) is not fundamental – it merges into the complementary nature of existence. What we’ve called super complementarity embraces the subject and the object. The process of observing them makes both work together, even while each excludes the other. Science works from models out of a desire for closure, and excluding unwanted contradictions, as reductionism does, seems to offer it. But Nature doesn’t. Return to Notre Dame for a moment. How many ways can you observe it?

  • You can see it as a colossal solid mass casting a shadow and blocking out whatever stands behind it.
  • You can see it as a building with no particular significance except to provide shelter.
  • You can see it religiously as a church, or historically as an example of high Gothic architecture.

But these perspectives are only the beginning. Monet saw cathedrals as shimmering creations of light and color, with no solidity at all. The deeply religious see them as symbols of the marriage between Christ and his worshipers. Medieval pilgrims saw them as repositories of miracles, a space inhabited by God. There is no single way to view Notre Dame, and the versatility of our minds, which can choose any perspective and invent new ones, isn’t accidental. It mirrors Nature’s versatility in devising a wholeness open to every possible angle of observation.

This says that complementarity rules. There is no fruitful way to use the terms “whole” and “part” without seeing that what matters is how they relate, not what they appear to be. In complex systems, no relationship exists in the first place without a mind to create the relationship. You can build a house from field stones gathered after plowing an acre of hard New England ground. Without the concept of “house,” however, the stones aren’t building blocks.

Each concept erects a boundary around itself. (As a test, think of how many ways you can use an ordinary red brick. If you stay within the normal boundary, you might use a brick to build a wall or as a doorstop or as a weight to press dried flowers. But you can also grind the brick into a powder to tint red paint – suddenly it has lost one boundary and entered another.) Once placed inside a boundary, a thing can be understood, but since every boundary is a mental construct, the only way to reach complete understanding is either: A. Look at every possible boundary or B. Erase all the boundaries. The second path is much more fruitful. It opens you to the wonder of Notre Dame, not by adding up every narrow angle that it can be looked at from, but by envisioning the whole.

The beauty of the human mind – again mirroring Nature itself – is that it can grasp wholeness. We stand in awe before the Grand Canyon, not needing a swarm of geologists to pick away at the rocks as a means of getting there. Geology provides data; only a view of the whole provides awe. There is a profound mystery in how the mind resolves the paradoxical divisions in Nature. We’ll explore this uncanny ability in the next post. It will take us to the very heart of reality and the role that consciousness plays in turning a jumble of raw data into the richness of the world we live in.

* * *

Deepak Chopra, MD is the author of more than 70 books with twenty-one New York Times bestsellers 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)

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) Beth Israel Medical Center — Albert Einstein College of Medicine, New York.

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

Photo credit: Flickr

Entrusting Yourself to the Waves

wavesI was drawn to my first Buddhist mindfulness retreat during a time when my son, Narayan, was four, and I was on the verge of divorce. During a slow, icy drive through a winter snowstorm on the way to the retreat center, I had plenty of time to reflect on what most mattered to me. I didn’t want a breakup that would bury the love I still shared with my husband; I didn’t want us to turn into uncaring, even hostile, strangers. And I didn’t want a breakup that would deprive Narayan of feeling secure and loved. My deep prayer was that through all that was happening, I’d find a way to stay connected with my heart.

Over the next five days, through hours of silent meditation, I cycled many times through periods of clarity and attentiveness, followed by stretches when I was swamped in sleepiness, plagued by physical discomfort, or lost in a wandering mind. Early one evening I became inundated by thoughts about the upcoming months: Should my husband and I hire lawyers or a mediator to handle the process of divorce? When should we move to separate residences? And, most importantly, how should I be there for our son during this painful transition?

As each anxious thought surfaced, I wanted to really dig in and work everything out in my mind. Yet something in me knew I needed to stay with the unpleasant feelings in my body. A verse from Ryokan, an eighteenth-century Zen poet, came to mind: “To find the Buddhist law, drift east and west, come and go, entrusting yourself to the waves.” The “Buddhist law” refers to the truth of how things really are. We can’t understand the nature of reality until we let go of controlling our experience. There’s no way to see clearly what’s going on if on some level we’re attempting to ignore or bypass the stormy weather.

During the last few days of the retreat I tried to let go, over and over, but felt repeatedly stymied by my well-worn strategy for feeling better—figuring things out. Now Ryokan’s verse was rife with possibility: Perhaps I could entrust myself to the waves. Perhaps the only way to real peace was by opening to life just as it was. Otherwise, behind my efforts to manage things, I’d always sense a lurking threat, something right around the corner that was going to cause trouble.

My old habits didn’t give up easily, though. As soon as I’d contact some tightness in my chest, I’d flip right back into worrying about my son’s new preschool, carpooling, or about how to find a baby-sitter with more flexible hours. Then I’d become hypercritical, harshly judging myself for “wasting” my retreat time. Gradually, I recognized that my heart was clenched tight, afraid to let the intensity of life wash through me. I needed help “entrusting.”

Each afternoon, the teachers had been leading us in a lovingkindness meditation. I decided to try weaving this into my sitting. The classical form of the meditation consists of sending loving prayers to ourselves and widening circles of other beings. I began to offer kind wishes to myself: “May I be happy and at ease; may I be happy and at ease.” At first, repeating the words felt like a superficial mental exercise, but soon something shifted. My heart meant it: I cared about my own life, and becoming conscious of that caring softened some of the tightness around my heart.

Now I could more easily give myself to the waves of fear and sorrow, and simply notice the drifting thoughts and physical sensations—squeezing and soreness—that were coming and going. Whenever the worries that had been snagging me appeared, I sensed that they too were waves, tenacious ones that pressed uncomfortably on my chest. By not resisting, by letting the waves wash through me, I began to relax. Rather than fighting the stormy surges, I rested in an ocean of awareness that embraced all the moving waves. I’d arrived in a sanctuary that felt large enough to hold whatever was going on in my life.

After my retreat, I returned home with the intention of taking refuge in presence whenever I was irritated, anxious, and tight. I was alert when the first flare-up occurred, a week later. My ex-husband called to say he couldn’t take care of Narayan that evening, leaving me scrambling to find a baby-sitter. “I’m the breadwinner, and I can’t even count on him for this!” my mind sputtered. “Once again he’s not doing his share, once again he’s letting me down!”

But when I was done for the day, I took some time to pause and touch into the judgment and blame lingering in my body, and my righteous stance softened. I sat still as the blaming thoughts and swells of irritation came and went. Underneath the resentment was an anxious question: “How will I manage?” As I let the subterranean waves of anxiety move through me, I found a quiet inner space that had more breathing room—and more perspective. Of course I couldn’t figure out how the future would play out. The only time I had was right now, and this moment was okay. From this space I could sense my ex-husband’s stress about finding a new place to live, working out our schedules, and more deeply, adapting to a different future than he had imagined. This helped me feel more tolerant and kind. It also revealed the power of entrusting myself to the waves. My husband and I continue to be dear friends. With him and in countless instances with others, this gateway to presence has reawakened me to a space of loving that feels like home.

Adapted from my book Radical Acceptance
My new book True Refuge  is out January 2013

Enjoy this podcast titled: Attend and Befriend

For more information visit www.tarabrach.com

Awaken Higher Awareness Through Self-Observation

I’m sure that we can all agree that no intelligent, conscious man or woman would ever intentionally hurt him or herself. It is important that we are in agreement about this precept. No one would choose to ache. Yet the fact remains that all of us do hurt ourselves every day with bursts of anger or fits of depression or anxiety. Even at the simplest level there can be no doubt: fear and worry take an immeasurable toll on our health and well-being.

However, there is real intelligence. An inwardly awake person would never intentionally hurt himself. Self-observation is the key to developing this higher order of awareness; it is how we learn to become inwardly vigilant to our own thoughts and feelings, even as they pass through us. When we can observe ourselves in this new way our higher nature naturally prevails over any troubling thoughts or feelings that want to drag us down into their lower world.

Self-observation allows us to understand what we witness in ourselves, instead of being washed away by our reaction to it. This new and higher interior "position" — as the observer of what unfolds around and within us — is at once a part of the proceedings and, at the same time, untouched by them. Recall what the Christ said about "being in the world, but not of it," and you have a small idea about this most unique inner-sanctuary. When we are awake this way, we always make the right choices because we are acting from a level of consciousness that has no past investment in any event or its possible outcome. This means that it is free to select what is intelligent.

Higher intelligence cannot be bound by the momentum of accumulated desires. The silent observer within us does not think; it sees. This is an important point because in order to observe ourselves means that we can’t be self-absorbed. Higher awareness through self-observation increases our field of choices, because this elevated inner-position places you high above the game and lets you see all of the players.

On the other hand, self-absorption is like being on the field. Not only can’t you see all of the players, but those that you can see are more often than not slamming into you, turning you around and around until you don’t know which way to run. That’s the whole point: Stop running and bumping, and start seeing.

There is no greater power for self-change than self-observation because this new inner-vision alone can provide you with true self-knowledge. Being self-liberated is the same as living fully from your Higher Nature. In this lofty state you enjoy the freedom that comes with having let go of your false self. This Higher Nature rests above you. Join it. Let it guide you all the way back to your true home within yourself.

As you persist each day with this important and practical task of adding more inner light to yourself — of making it your aim to stay up in the grandstand and out of the brawls on the field — you may find yourself becoming increasingly disturbed by some of the negativities you are seeing within yourself down on the field. This is a good indication that you are making real progress.

You must apply the principles you have learned even to this new kind of disturbance. This uproar you are experiencing is the false self trying its best to get you into the free-for-all down on the field. Stay in the stands in your observation post. Don’t be concerned with anything you may see. Remember, light need never fear any shadow, and anything you may discover within you that is frightening comes from the shadow world. Your only task is to bring it into the light of your new understanding and let it handle the rest.

Let’s review this royal principle: to see yourself in this new way means that at the same moment of being aware of your physical self, you are also watching your thoughts and feelings. Your old inclination to jump in and judge yourself is also suspended in this new awareness of yourself.

Said slightly differently, self-observation is a way of being fully aware of yourself that includes being watchful of any self-concern that comes up as a result of what you see in yourself. In this unique psychological posture you remain effortlessly apart from all wrong concerns because, should any of them arise, they are treated as just something else you are seeing, not as something you are.

At first, this idea of expanded self-awareness may sound to you like a little too much going on all at once. I assure you that it is not. Once you get the feel for it, self-observation is not any more difficult than leisurely watching a juggler under the Big Top. He may have as many as six or seven assorted objects flipping and spinning all at once, but that is of no concern to you. Seeing takes no effort. You are just enjoying the performance!

And while we’re speaking of performances, you will be happy to know that nothing brings the curtain down faster on the false self than this special kind of inner attention. You will see that self-observation is to our lower nature what sunlight is to a cave-dwelling bat. Just as the bat cannot stand the sun’s bright rays, neither can the false self live in the light of this new and self-healing awareness.

(Excerpted from "The Secret of Letting Go" Rev. Edition, Llewellyn, 2007)

 Guy Finley is the acclaimed author of more than 30 books and audio programs on the subject of self-realization, several of which have become international best sellers. His popular works, published in 16 languages, are widely endorsed by doctors, professionals, and religious leaders of all denominations. Among many others, his popular titles include: The Secret of Letting Go, Design Your Destiny, The Lost Secrets of Prayer, Apprentice of the Heart, Let Go and Live in the Now, and The Essential Laws of Fearless Living. Finley is the founder and director of Life of Learning Foundation, a nonprofit center for self-study located in Southern Oregon where he gives talks four times each week. Visit www.GuyFinley.org for a wealth of free helpful information, free audio and video downloads, and to request your free Self-Improvement Starter Kit. 

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