Tag Archives: Religion

Religion and Terrorism: The Truth of Self-Deception

candles

From Mark Chironna

Psychologist Tori DeAngelis asserts, “the psychology of terrorism is marked more by theory and opinion than by good science”. Nevertheless, there are researchers in the field of psychology as well as psychology and religious studies that have offered insights worthy of consideration. James Jones, Professor of Religion at Rutgers is also a Senior Research Fellow at John Jay’s College Center On Terrorism. Jones notes that “religiously driven terrorism” has its roots in “shame and humiliation” which leads to extremely violent acts. Forensic psychologist James Gilligan in work done with prisoners asserts that there is a correlative condition that is established with violent acts when shame and humiliation are present. Yet shame and humiliation, while valid in terms of reasons for violence and terrorism do not tell the entire story. Continue reading

Can Science & Religion Save Each Other? Pt 2

science and god

Science is used to being dominant, and religion is used to being defensive–these are familiar poses for two worldviews, the one being on the rise, the other on the decline. Generally when an entire belief system is on the decline, it steadily disappears. There’s no need to believe that the king’s touch can cure disease once modern medicine appears, and no need for bleeding to be a medical practice when its usefulness is experimentally invalidated. But the model of progress that substitutes automobiles for horse-drawn carriages doesn’t apply to religion. It may lose adherents who accept the argument that scientific rationality is superior to faith. The values of modern secular society are constantly on the rise. Continue reading

Believing in God in All Shapes and Sizes

GodI thought I’d long ago gotten past believing in some sort of external “God.” (And by God I mean the anthropomorphized image of a guy in a beard and white robes meting out judgment based in rules of obviously human making.) And then, there I was, sitting in stop-and-go traffic one day.

A driver to my right was trying to get onto the road from a Safeway parking lot. Car after car crawled past his front bumper towards the next traffic light, never sparing an inch to let him in. Conscientiously I applied my brakes and gave him some space. He waved “thanks” as he nudged into traffic and I waved back, never thinking a thing about it. And then I suddenly realized…

I’d felt a fleeting sense of satisfaction about how “good” I’d been letting the guy into traffic ahead of me. And all of a sudden I saw the invisible belief implicit in that feeling. OMG! At some level I still believed there was some Guy In The Sky WAY UP THERE with a tote board taking note of my actions like Santa Claus, seeing if I was naughty or nice.

Really?

Really. I saw it and was horrified. Surely I was more spiritually evolved than this? Apparently not.

In that moment a whole bunch of other things I do and their raison d’être came sharply into focus. Rain or shine (and in Western Washington it’s mostly rain) after unloading groceries I always push my shopping cart across the parking lot from wherever my car is parked all the way into the cart-holders, no matter how sopping wet I get. I always let other drivers in front of me (does pissing-off drivers behind me count as a negative?); I often say nice things to clerks, noticing their smile or their efficiency or their new hair-do; I make sure I never let my impatience with slow service show, even if I’m seething and up to my eyebrows in thoughts like I’ve got NO freaking time for this! What’s fracking taking so fracking long anyway you fracking dilbert…??? (internal expletives modified of course for good taste and more points??? ack! )

Yep.

Seeing this, it didn’t take long until I was searching out all the other things I still do to  subconsciously placate this invisible Lord God In Heaven Who Is “Into Judgment.”

Any criticism of anyone I usually follow up with a “But s/he’s got good intentions” (or some such platitude). I guard my tongue against gossip. I try not to lie even whitely (and fail. It’s shocking how easy it is to whitewash even the most mundane incident in order to appear even marginally a better person.) Fortunately I’ve gotten beyond accepting compliments with the de rigeur Christian false modesty… “Oh, it was nothing…” But still…

All these actions are to the “good” I suppose. Being patient, being nice, being encouraging to others are wonderful things. The point I’m trying to make here is: what exactly is the motivating factor behind taking such actions?

Yes. I genuinely like to make other peoples’ days better. I like to pay compliments and only do so if said compliments are genuine. I do think patience is a virtue. Why add my shit onto anybody else? I mean, who cares if I’m in a hurry? Everybody’s in a hurry nowadays. And how nice to give others a break. But I’ve been SHOCKED to realize how much I still harbor the belief that by doing these things it will also pay off to some degree with You Know Who.

EEK! Surely I can’t be the only one with this ancient program nipping at my heels (and conscience?)  And what to do with it if you’ve got it?

Well, here’s what I’m doing. I now sometimes let my shopping cart stay in the walkway (not in the lot where it can (God forbid) actually obstruct somebody else’s ability to park.) And I (GASP!) don’t always take the time to shove the ridiculous amounts of postal junk mail through the teeny-tiny slots in the recycling bins at the post office. I occasionally plop my un-asked-for mail on top of the bins for paid employees (or other do-gooders?) to handle. Maybe if enough people do this they’ll replace the new closed-top bins with the old waste paper baskets that were so much easier?

I also don’t let quite as many drivers in front of me as I used to (easing the nerves, no doubt, on those behind me in traffic, so it probably balances out in the over-all scheme of things.)

Who knows what else is next? If God still made curlers I might even wear them in public.

photo by: Michal Osmenda

America the Beautiful is Still America in Multiple Languages

By now you’ve probably heard about the controversial Coca-Cola ad that aired during the Super Bowl. The spot featured “America the Beautiful” sung in various languages and displayed images of various American families, including a gay couple (yes, that’s apparently still scandalous).

You’ve also probably seen the lists of tweets from people rebelling against it and threatening to boycott Coke products (Good luck with that – they are everywhere). The outrage over the commercial sparked the hashtag #SpeakAmerican. Are we really surprised? That sort of backlash is to be expected whenever a company or campaign tries to embrace the “otherness” that America was founded on.

What is inspiring though is the amount of people that have stood up in support of the ad, toasting it for it’s depiction of America’s core values of diversity and togetherness. One noble newswoman added her two cents that sum up the situation very nicely:

Her line about the Statue of Liberty not saying “give me your English-speaking-only-Christian-believing-heterosexual-masses” is especially applaudable. What’s even more ironic is that the song’s lyricist Katherine Lee Bates lived with her female partner in Boston for 25 years.

When controversies like these occur, one has to wonder if some of us received a different course on American history. Were some of us not told that America was a country founded by foreigners? The Puritans came from England to escape religious persecution and thus our forefathers created a Constitution that intended to give a religious safe haven and a fair chance to anyone that came to America’s shores. That’s not to say that America has been perfect at embracing diversity. In fact we’ve been far from it – you only have to look at the Civil Rights Movement or the current fight for marriage equality to see that. But does the sound of America the Beautiful being sung in the languages of America’s people – all kinds of them – really still enrage us? Why does that feel so unnatural to some of us?

Tolerance will never develop overnight, and we may never see a day of universal acceptance of religion, race and sexual orientation. Yet we can ask to move forward. The advertising gurus at Coke seem to appreciate that, and so do people like this news anchor and all those that supported this ad.

The Spirituality of Sleep

how-to-fall-asleepIn our fast paced culture, sleep is often elusive. The proliferation of news on sleep research makes clear that the quality and quantity of our sleep directly impact the quality of our health and lives. What happens during sleep remains mostly a mystery for most. We lie down and surrender to slumber.

Yet, how we feel during our waking hours is often tied to how we slept. Sleep is essential to our mental, physical and emotional well being. But what of our spiritual well being? What role does sleep play in this integral facet of our Being, beyond the dimensions of body and mind?

The fascination with sleep and where we go during this seemingly still period has puzzled philosophers, masters of wisdom, writers and spiritual seekers for millennium. Amidst a wealth of literature and religious texts are insights about sleep, communicated long before modern scientists could quantify the stages of sleep. This powerful information offers a gateway to balance in our lives, both when asleep when and awake.

Literary masters have had much to say about sleep. Shakespeare proclaimed in 1599, “Sleep may be the image or brother of death, for in sleep the body rests while the soul remains awake, so in death the body rests while the soul and spirit live.” From a religious perspective, abundant references to sleep can be found in the Bible, Torah, Kabbalah, Koran, and in Buddhist teachings. The spiritual traditions of Kabbalah and Tibetan Buddhism offer methodologies to prepare for and arise from sleep, including gratitude, breathing and dream techniques.

From the wisdom of Kabbalah, going back millennium, we can glean a foundation from which to explore sleep’s part in the rejuvenation of our spirit. Upon going to sleep, the body and mind settle down from daily activity. Our eyes are closed. Consciousness drifts away from the pace of our waking lives. Our physiology and neurology begin their critical restorative processes (which is another story for another time). And for the soul, now unencumbered by the body and mind, rejuvenation can begin. The soul leaves the body and travels towards the Light, towards God to connect and recharge.

But what if we aren’t properly prepared for sleep? Could our souls be inhibited from taking this night journey? How can we get the quality and quantity of sleep we need? How do we set the stage to experience the deep sleep essential for our souls, our spirits, to take this valuable and necessary night journey? How do we optimize the sleep we do get, both in quality and quantity, so our body, mind, emotions and spirit are given the rejuvenation and restoration they need?

A first step is to learn the basics of sleep, a course which most of us have never taken. The resulting understanding of what happens during 1/3 of our lives leads to a respect for sleep. In turn, a self assessment of our personal sleep habits and behaviors helps us determine what needs modification, be it our bedtime routine, our sleep environment, the schedules we keep, or what and when we eat and drink. These and other practical sleep strategies set the stage for sleep improvement. Furthermore, knowledge about sleep can lead to seeking medical diagnosis and treatment if a sleep disorder is suspected. Sleep provides a portal for your body, mind, and spirit to embark on their rejuvenating night journey so you can awaken to live fully.

Rethink How to Celebrate The Holidays

HolidayHappiness_1224210-01They’re back – The holidays. From mid to November to early January, many faiths and traditions celebrate. It has indeed the potential to be the most wonderful time of the year – a message that much of the music of the season shares with us.

But with the extreme commercialism that has come to define them, it is easy to lose sight of the real reason for holidays. How we celebrate is entirely our choice – we have the ability to remove or add things to ensure our celebrations are as we want them to be. Though we have the choice, we can get overwhelmed and intimidated into letting the commercial voices tell us how to celebrate the holidays. Don’t give in. Decide early, before the season is fully on you, how you want your celebrations to be.

I regularly see frantic gift-buyers rushing through stores with names of people to buy for. This focus on tangible gifts is still a challenge as our national media and commercial marketing has us believing that lovely diamonds, new cars, electronics and gift cards are the way to share how you feel about others. Though it activates our economy, what is its true place our celebrations? Gifts are truly gifts when they share something of us in a meaningful way with another. So, before you buy one more thing, consider the following gift ideas:

  1. Give the gift of time. Though we may be physically present, the pace of life can frequently make us mentally absent. Make time to fully show up in your relationships. Not only increase your contact – phone and face-to-face – but be more involved and interested in your relationships. Plan events together and really show up. Making time and being present for someone feels amazing. Who needs your gift of time?
  2. Give the gift of friendship. Redefine what being a friend means to you and show up this way to your relationships. Value them more. Be more involved. Share more. Connect at a deeper level. Say what you feel. Who needs your gift of friendship?
  3. Give the gift of patience. Manage your comments, opinions and tone. No two of us see the world in the same way so our responses to similar situations will likely be different. Not right or wrong; just different. We don’t have to agree. We just allow others to be who they are and to have the patience not to force them to see things always from our perspective. With our aging parents and our developing teens, patience can work miracles. The great thing about giving patience is that it generally gives you a similar gift in return. Who needs your gift of patience?
  4. Give the gift of forgiveness. Use this time of year to settle an old disagreement, right an old wrong and be the bigger person. Celebrate a renewed friendship or relationship that had felt the effects of ego, emotions and misunderstandings. Forgiving is a gift we give to others because we know they are human and sometimes humans get things wrong. And again, maybe by giving the gift of forgiveness, you may get it back. Who needs your gift of forgiveness?
  5. Give the gift of acceptance. Life isn’t easy – we are each trying to find our way. What if we were more accepting of others as they define their lives, values, interests and directions? The gift of acceptance is one of the best and most powerful. I received this gift from my grandfather. When I came out, he called to find out how he could learn more about what being gay meant to me so he could support me; he accepted me. That was years ago. I remember this gift every day. Who needs your gift of acceptance?

Rethink your holidays; transform them from commercial events into powerful celebrations of people and relationships. We are on this planet together to learn from each other and to participate together in the wonders of our world. Celebrations are a way to bring us together to help us learn more, connect better and build a stronger sense of community.

We have been trained that a nicely wrapped present means I love you. But spending time, being more forgiving, accepting, patient, friendly and present are more powerful ways of saying the same message – they just get less marketing dollars. Though some may think this approach just gets them out of the hassle of buying a gift, it actually takes considerably more work to show human to your relationships. But think of this one additional and important benefit: as you give these, you are changed. You become more present, more loving, more forgiving and more patient. They benefit, you benefit. That is what true celebration is.

Consider as the volume escalates on holiday music, ads and deals, that things don’t say ‘I love you’; your voice, heart, time and commitment say ‘I love you.’ May your holidays be merry. May they be happy. And may they remind you celebrate the wonderful people in your life.

What Would God Think of the God Particle? Part 1

particle or wave?By Deepak Chopra, M.D., FACP and Menas Kafatos, Ph.D., Fletcher Jones Endowed Professor in Computational Physics, Chapman University

The award of the Nobel Prize in physics generally creates a mental blur for most people, since no one can comprehend the current state of physics without training in advanced mathematics.  This year was somewhat different, thanks to a nickname.

As the world learned on October 3, the British physicist Peter Higgs and the Belgian physicist Francois Englert shared the Nobel, as was widely expected in the profession. The award was given for a theory involving a missing particle in the so-called Standard Model of particle physics. The particle had come to be known as the Higgs boson when it was postulated or more popularly as “the God particle” from a 1993 book by Leon Lederman, another Nobel laureate who also served as the director of the prestigious Fermilab.

The discovery last year at CERN in Switzerland of the Higgs boson was a triumph for the Standard Model theory.  Higgs and Englert, along with Robert Brout, Gerald Guralnik, C. R. Hagen, and Tom Kibble, had hypothesized the existence of a field filling the entire vacuum of space.  If it hadn’t been dubbed the God particle, physicists wouldn’t be saddled with an embarrassing, catchy name.  Meant initially as a joke, the enduring moniker suggests that in some way science has reached an ultimate destination. Creation has surrendered its final secret, even if there is no God. But in reality particle physics keeps moving forward, and after the celebration at finding a Higgs boson dies down, new frontiers will open up. Meanwhile, every physicist who is asked about the God particle takes pains to distance himself from the label, including Higgs himself.

Now that God has been invoked in the discussion, however, it’s worth asking if we are getting closer to understanding Him/Her/It in a way that matters beyond the arcane of quantum physics.

Certainly a step was taken in our understanding of the finest fabric of the cosmos. In technical language, the ubiquitous Higgs field allows all particles in the universe to acquire mass through interactions with it, as the particles move through space, via a kind of dragging effect analogous to chunks of matter moving through molasses (elementary particles being the equivalent of the chunks and the Higgs field the molasses). High energy proton collisions at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at CERN revealed the elusive Higgs boson. The Higgs, unlike the photon, which is also a boson, has a mass, expected to be in the approximate range of 125 (or more) times the mass of the proton. Bosons are particles in quantum theory that carry forces – for example, the photon is the carrier of the electromagnetic force. They can be packed together in unlimited amounts. The Higgs boson is very unstable, instantly decaying after its creation into other particles prescribed by quantum field theory.

What’s also clear is that particle physicists were willing to go to almost any lengths to provide evidence for this missing link. It took many billions of colliding protons in the huge LHC CERN accelerator, backed up by multitudes of computers around the world to painstakingly analyze the data, before the discovery of the God particle seemed real. Most physicists by now, although guarded, believe that some form of Higgs boson was in fact observed last summer. And the rapid award of the Nobel is a testament of that commonly-held belief. The difficulty of this achievement was underlined by the fact that the Higgs boson is so mysterious and fleeting that it took from 1964, when its existence was first proposed, until last March to verify that such a particle actually exists.

Being irritated by a nickname doesn’t dispel the widespread belief that science is somehow getting very, very close to understanding the fundamental nature of reality. Some take an optimistic view of the road ahead. There is hope that the Higgs field may help bring together general relativity and quantum theory. Currently cosmologists believe that dark energy permeates the universe, evolving according to general relativity, and is responsible for an accelerating expansion of the universe. Although a standard Higgs particle would say little about dark energy, more exotic versions could provide theoretical understanding of it. Scientists will have to look at the LHC results on how the Higgs decays into other particles after it is produced in high energy collisions. The “dark” side of the universe poses both a new frontier and a stumbling block.  Cosmologists seem to agree that all the luminous matter in the universe makes up only 4% of whatever exists. All the hundreds of billions of galaxies, composed of many billions of stars, make up just 4% of everything. The rest may be in the form of dark matter and even the more exotic (but unknown) dark energy. So if the “Higgs-like” particle discovered at CERN turns out to be the more exotic form, it could help us understand dark energy.

As Rolf-Dieter Heuer, director of the LHC project, stated in a 2011 talk, “The Higgs is neither matter nor force. The Higgs is just different.”  We won’t go into the differences here, except to say that there is reason to assume that the Higgs isn’t one of a kind but the opening wedge to an entire class of so-called scalar particles. One optimistic view of the results observed so far holds that the discovery will lead to new developments in particle physics. These would open up a finer level of the quantum domain and thus bring physics closer to its holy grail, a Theory of Everything, a grandiose-sounding, particle-based view of the cosmos.

The more pessimistic overview, (but as its proponents claim more realistic,) states that the LHC results have not given any evidence of the existence of other particles that would be needed to continue our understanding of the physics beyond the Higgs, to what is expected to be the next theoretical development, dubbed supersymmetry. As such, there’s a major snag in attempts to ultimately develop a Theory of Everything. Even leaving arguments related to theories of physics aside, such a theory, as envisaged, doesn’t say anything and in fact cannot say anything about life, evolution and the phenomena of mind and awareness. It is not even clear how gravity, the last of the four forces of nature described by general relativity, will fit into the Standard Model – at this point, a great deal of current theory, including the widely touted superstring theory, is interesting speculation.

It is inescapable that two world views, one scientific and technical, the other human and experiential, must either collide or converge. That is, the universe must make room for how human beings evolved in order to investigate the creation that gave rise to us. Any Theory of Everything that leaves the human dimension out – as particle physics tries overwhelmingly to do – cannot reach its goal. The Higgs boson, as viewed from the world we all experience every day, isn’t simply arcane. It leads toward a collision of world views rather than a convergence.

We will discuss what this means in the next post.

Continued in Part 2

photo by: hlkljgk

Elephant in the Room: I Can Only Be With My Boyfriend If He Proposes

Gay-MarriageDear Cora,

I have been with my boyfriend for nearly 5 years.  I am 23 and he’s is 30. I am from a religious family so my mum and dad won’t allow me to live with him without being married. He lives quite a few miles away from me and works a lot so I only see him once a week and being away from him is breaking my heart. After  five years I want him with me every day and not just to see him 1 day a week for a few hours. I feel as though all I have done for 5 years is miss him. Do you think he will ever propose? He has been married before and maybe that is putting him off.  I don’t know where I stand, please help. 

Sincerely, 

Anonymous

Dear Anonymous,

Oh, babe. We have a lot going on here and I think we need to break it down step by step to see what we can come up with.

The first thing that pops out at me is that you’re 23, stop talking about marriageYou especially shouldn’t be talking about it when you approach it as a method to see your boyfriend more often. That’s not what it’s about. Marriage is a serious commitment – it is promising to spend the rest of your life with someone. That means when things aren’t fun, when they aren’t paying attention to you, for better and for worse. Real marriage is about accepting that making a life together is hard work, and that you’re willing to commit to sticking it out together. It’s not a quick fix for missing someone. It’s a life-long, very serious, situation. If your boyfriend has already been married and it ended then he probably knows this better than anyone and his hesitation may be because he knows you two aren’t ready for that level of commitment.

Speaking of your boyfriend, let’s talk about him for a moment. Actually, no. Let’s talk about you, and your feelings for him. I agree that a few hours a week isn’t enough to maintain a serious relationship – especially after five years. How well do you two really know each other? How do you build something solid and lasting on mere glimpses of time? That is a conversation you need to have with him instead of asking when is he going to propose or if he wants to get married. You need to ask what do we need to do to make this really work? Your words and emotions are serious but the level of the relationship seems casual and I think it would behoove you to make sure that you are both on the same page before you continue on writing the rest of the novel.

Now here’s the tough part, but I think if you are able to take advantage of this last piece of advice you’ll find that the rest of it gets easier. It seems the deepest root of your troubles comes from the rules of your parents. While I think you may be too young to be thinking about marriage (at least in your current situation) you are old enough to be making your own decisions. I have no doubts that your parents want the best for you as only they know how – however, they can’t live your life for you. You are old enough to be making your own decisions about how you want to live your life. The hard part of that is finding a way to make your parents accept that, or having the strength to move on by yourself even if they don’t. What I think you need Anonymous is to start thinking about moving out on your own instead of with your boyfriend. You need to learn to stand on your own two feet – that’s what your 20s are for! To figure out who you really are as a person by making your own decisions and your own mistakes. With your own place you not only get the chance to figure out for yourself what you believe but it should allow you more time to see your boyfriend. You two can get to know each other on a serious level, figure out how you work as a couple that has to function with the rest of the world and whether it really does work.

Don’t sell yourself short of this opportunity to grow into your own skin by moving from your parents to your boyfriend. You need time to grow, lovely. Unburden yourself from those shackles. It’s a tough world out there and you have to dig deep to find the strength to choose and hold on to your own happiness. I’m afraid if you keep sitting around waiting for your parents or your boyfriend to hand it to you that you’re going to miss out on the wonderful things you deserve.

Best wishes,

Cora

“Abused Goddesses”: The Ad Campaign that Tackles Domestic Violence in India

enhanced-buzz-13226-1378408862-44Hinduism is the most widely practiced religion in India and one of the largest religions in the world. It is a faith steeped in the concepts of karma, dharma, and the cycles of birth and death, watched over by central deities Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva, among others.

Hinduism is also traditionally known to be highly reverent both the feminine and masculine forces in the world, paying tribute to gods and goddesses, alike. Some of these goddesses, like Parvati and Lakshmi are represented as ideal wives and mothers, modeling feminine virtue. But others, like Durga and Kali, and fierce and powerful in their own right, independent from any male god.

Unfortunately, this reverence in the spirit world does not always translate to real life. This is precisely why the ad company, Taproot, has developed a powerful campaign, called “Abused Goddesses,” to highlight the disparity between India’s goddess-centric religion and the troubling frequency of violence against women. The campaign states,

Pray that we never see this day. Today, more than 68% of women in India are victims of domestic violence. Tomorrow, it seems like no woman shall be spared. Not even the ones we pray to.

Here are three poignant images from the campaign:

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o-TAPROOT-INDIA-570

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Taproot developed this campaign for “Save Our Sisters,” a nonprofit organization that works against domestic violence and sexual exploitation. The images mirror classical paintings of the goddesses Saraswati, Durga, and Lakshmi, and you may be surprised to hear that these images are actually photographs! Makeup was painted on the models to portray wounds of domestic violence, and props are either real or painted on, as well.

Even apart from the artistic skill that went into these ads, the message is crucial. It we as a culture and a society respect women in theory but not in practice, then we are bound for a regressive and continually troubled future. Let’s start treating women – and all people – like the gods and goddesses they are!

Does the “Abused Goddesses” campaign inspire you? Tell us your thoughts below!

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…)

* * *

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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