Monday, July 6, 2020

MINDFULNESS INCREASES PROSOCIAL BEHAVIOUR

New research published in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin provides evidence that mindfulness meditation training results in increases in prosocial behaviour, even in the absence of explicit ethics-based instructions.

The study author Daniel R Berry PhD, pictured, who is an assistant professor at California State University San Marcos, states:

Based on our lab’s experimental research, we believed that training in mindfulness promotes positive interpersonal outcomes through social cognitive changes that entail how we pay attention to others’ needs in social interactions.

The interesting finding is that mindfulness need not rely on appeals to act ethically.

The study does include some caveats. One such caveat is that the effects of mindfulness training on prosocial behaviour were only reliable when prosocial behaviour was measured immediately after the training concluded. 

Secondly, Dr Berry has stated that one must be in careful interpreting the effects showing that mindfulness reduces prejudice. Specifically, most studies of prejudice in the study’s meta-analysis did not use social ingroup as a reference to examine the gap in prosocial behaviour between social ingroup and outgroup members. Thus, mindfulness may be increasing prosocial behaviour toward others in general but not closing the gap in helping that typically favours ingroup members. More research is needed in that regard.


Study: Daniel R Berry et al. ‘Does Mindfulness Training Without Explicit Ethics-Based Instruction Promote Prosocial Behaviors? A Meta-Analysis.’ Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin. Vol 46, Issue 8, 2020. First Published January 23, 2020

Thursday, May 14, 2020

THE PRACTICE OF SILENCE

Silence is golden, according to an old aphorism. There was also a song with that title in the 1960s. I remember it well.

There are few things more important in life than learning—yes, learning—to be silent. A wise person knows when to be silent and not speak. An even wiser person knows how to practise silence. Why? Well, in the words of the British historian, essayist and philosopher Thomas Carlyle, 'Silence is deep as Eternity.' That is so true, for when we penetrate the Eternal Now, beyond all the noise and commotion, there is perfect stillness and silence.

The poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote of there being an inward stillness:

Let us, then, labor for an inward stillness, —
An inward stillness and an inward healing;
That perfect silence where the lips and heart
Are still, and we no longer entertain
Our own imperfect thoughts and vain opinions,
But God alone speaks in us, and we wait
In singleness of heart, that we may know
God's will, and in the silence of our spirits,
That we may do God's will, and do that only!

The Bible has a lot to say about the importance of silence. Here are just a few of its verses on silence:

There was silence, and I heard a voice. Jb 4:16.

A time to keep silence, and a time to speak. Ec 3:7.

The Lord is in his holy temple; let all the earth be silent before him. Hb 2:20.

Be still, and know that I am God. Ps 46:10.

Be silent, O all flesh, before the Lord. Ze 2:13.

Those five verses on the importance of silence are just a few such verses in the Bible. There are many others. The important thing is this: there is a direct connection between the practice of silence and coming to know and experience God. Now, who or what is God? Some theological abstraction? Yes and no. For starters, the Bible tells us that God is love (1 Jn 4:8). Listen to these words: ‘Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love’ (1 Jn 4:7-8). The Bible also tells us that God is Spirit, that is, the very spirit of life (Jn 4:24). Another way of understanding the spirit of life is as pure Being. All things come from the One Source of all Being. God is pure Be-ing—the self-existence and self-consciousness of life itselfand we have our be-ing-ness in God. ‘For in him we live and move and have our being' (Ac 17:28).

So, if you think that God is a giant man 'up there' or 'out there', some supra-personal Being with a face, body, arms and legs and genitalia, you are horribly mistaken. In short, God is love, life, truth and power—and the very ground of our being. The English metaphysician and judge Thomas Troward referred to God as undifferentiated Consciousness—that is, the formless awareness that creates by Itself and becomes that which It images Itself to be. I like that. That makes sense to me. If quantum mechanics has shown us anything
and it has shown us plenty—it has shown that consciousness or mind is fundamental, eternal and all-creative. In short, God is the one Presence and Power active in the universe and in your life right now.

Here's an Eastern story. A king went to see his spiritual advisor and said, ‘I am very busy. In a single sentence, how can I reach union with God?’ The king’s advisor said, ‘I will give you the answer in a single word—silence.’ The king said, ‘But how do I attain silence?’ The advisor said, ‘By meditation.’ The king was puzzled. ‘And what is meditation?’ he asked. ‘Silence,’ said the advisor. 

You see, silence means going beyond words and thoughts. Silence is all about be-ing as opposed to do-ing. Silence is letting be … and letting go.

Now, here’s what I consider to be the best advice I ever heard on the subject—and it comes from Dr Norman Vincent Peale:

Sit still, be silent, let composure creep over you.

That's all you have to do. It’s that simple.

First, sit still. Let the body remain as motionless as possible. Be conscious of your breathing, and perhaps the beating of your heart. Be aware—just be aware, no more than that—of any bodily sensations, external noises, and thoughts and feelings you may experience. Whatever happens … SIT STILL. That is the only 'doing' thing in the whole procedure. That means not moving or making a sound. The poet and playwright T S Eliot wrote of the 'still centre' or 'still point' where the true reality is to be found. Yes, stillness is indeed the name of the game.

Secondly, be silent. Note that word ‘be’. It is not something you do—it is the total absence of doing—but something you are. What are you? I will tell you. You are be-ing-ness itself. An inlet and an outlet of life’s self-expression, that's what you are. Just be … and be silent. Say nothing—and that includes nothing interiorly to yourself. Silence is more than saying nothing. It means remaining as motionless and quiet as possible. Don't try not to think (because then you will think). Simply be as still and quiet as possible--and then you will simply forget to think.

Thirdly, let composure creep over you. The most important word in this third instruction—indeed, in the whole advice—is ‘let’. It is something entirely passive. Again, it is not something that you do. It is something that happens of its own accord—as soon as you remove the barriers to its happening. Once you sit still, and are silent, composure will creep over you. Merriam-Webster defines ‘composure’ as ‘a calmness or repose especially of mind, bearing, or appearance’. Here are three other words that mean more-or-less the same thing: equanimity, serenity and imperturbability.

Sit still. Be silent. Let composure creep over you. Let this happen to and in you many times a day if necessary.

Remember—sit ... be ... let. It's as simple as that.





Wednesday, April 8, 2020

WE ARE PASSING THROUGH A PERIOD OF CRUCIFIXION

We are in Holy Week. This year’s Holy Week has become ‘holed up’ week for most of us, at least the lucky ones.

The world today is passing through a period of crucifixion. The coronavirus pandemic is wreaking havoc almost everywhere. However, the message of Easter is that resurrection always follows crucifixion when there is faith, which for me means living with courage and confidence, despite any appearances in the world to the contrary.

First, let me tell you what I don’t believe about Easter. I don’t believe that Jesus literally and bodily rose from dead. I like what the now deceased Anglican bishop Dr David Jenkins said about that idea. He called the notion of Jesus' physical, bodily resurrection ‘a conjuring trick with bones.’ How wickedly funny, albeit irreverent.


I do, however, know this—Jesus rose spiritually from the tomb. Punishment and death could not destroy the power of his personality and his spirit and his message. Jesus lives today, not in the lives of those who purport to follow him (but show little or no resemblance in their daily lives to Jesus at all), but in the lives of those persons, many of whom would not want to label themselves as Christians, who give constantly of themselves to others in practical service and self-sacrifice so that the troubles of suffering humanity might be relieved. At this dreadful time, I think especially of all the doctors, nurses and other health care professionals and workers in our hospitals and clinics. I think of those working in supermarkets and pharmacies. I think of many others as well. What incredible service and self-sacrifice we are seeing! Sadly, we also see stupidity, selfishness and greed at work among far too many members of the public.

I now want to say a few words about what I refer to as the ‘macro' and the 'micro’ of the Easter story.

In a previous post I have written about the ‘macro’ of Easter, namely, that the Crucifixion is an 'object lesson' and acted parable or dramatization of the ongoing cosmic sacrifice—the self-limitation (crucifixion) of life itself—in which the spirit of life, the one absolute reality which antecedes all manifested things, ever descends into matter, ever offers itself, and ever gives of itself to itself in manifestation, so that life, in all of its multiplicity of forms, may be perpetuated. It is a mystery. It is a wonder. It is divine. What a tragic and terrible thing it is that conventional, mainstream Christianity has so totally literalized and carnalized this truly sublime myth, distorting—even destroying—its true meaning.


Now, the ‘micro’ of Easter. Easter, as we all know, is about dying and rising again. The end of every day is a ‘death’ of sorts. It is gone forever. Now, that is a very good thing, for if it were not to happen there could be no tomorrow. Every new day is a rising of sorts. But it’s even deeper than that. Every new moment is a new beginning—a resurrection of life. We must constantly ‘die’ and ‘rise again’ into newness of life. Most importantly, we must die to self each moment of the day if we wish to be free from the bondage of self. I have often said that we are in bondage to self. All our problems result from that. Freedom lies in constantly dying to self and being resurrected into newness of life. No, not even Jesus can do that for you, despite what some misguided people may have told you. You, and you alone, must do ‘it’ for yourself. You, the person among persons that you are, can and must break the bondage of self—the prison-house of self you have made for yourself—if you want to really become the real person you were destined to be.

Don’t seal in a tomb your faith, hope and love, not to mention your potential future. All too often we shut those important things in with a stone of indifference, despair and fear. We all need to roll away the stone and be resurrected into newness of life. Easter means coming to know and experience personally that there dwells within each one of us an almighty power that can resurrect and remake our broken lives.

Easter is today, tomorrow, and every day. Easter is now.

Keep well. Stay safe. Do the right thing. Follow the experts’ advice. Think of others, not just yourself.


Note. This post reproduces material contained in my previous post, ‘Beyond Traditional Religion: The Real Miracle of Easter’, which appeared on April 18, 2014. Some new material has been added.


RELATED POSTS





Thursday, March 12, 2020

FIVE IDEAS THAT CAN REALLY CHANGE YOUR LIFE

‘You are terrible, but happily for you, you are not you.’ Vernon Howard.

Words have power—for better or for worse—and ideas have even greater power. An idea that expresses an eternal, metaphysical truth is the most powerful thing in the world. 

Here are five empowering ideas that have made a huge difference in my life. They have lifted me out of the depths of despair.

1.   You are be-ing

Life is pure be-ing-ness actualized. Life forever gives of itself to itself so as to create more life in one form or another. The tree of life is be-ing-ness, or Be-ing, itself. I AM-ness. Oneness. It is the impersonal principle of life that is forever becoming personal as you and me and all other persons and things.

Life is the one formless, source-less, essence-less, unlimited, unsearchable, self-existent, self-knowing, self-giving, absolute, omnipresent, indestructible, and abundant self-existence that forever takes form—incarnating as you, me, and everything—but which is never even for a moment absorbed by the innumerable objects of its self-expression. 

The omnipresence of life forever manifests itself as the eternal now by means of an endless process or renewal of the present moment. Each moment is a ‘centre’, for want of a better word, of life's own consciousness. Forms of life constantly change. No form is permanent. Indeed, every form will pass away in time, but the essence of life is formless and eternal. It never passes away. Yes, the life that takes shape in one form or another can never be destroyed. You are life itselfa unique individualization and expression of life. 

Yes, you are part of life’s self-expression, and life cannot other than be. You are be-ing and you are also be-coming. Indeed, you are always in a state of becoming because change is the essence of be-ing-ness. This means that you are constantly changing whether for better or for worse. Once you fully understand this metaphysical truth, you are ready to take charge of your life.

2.   You are consciousness

Life is consciousness. We are life itself—an integral part of life’s self-expression. Each one of us is an inlet and an outlet of consciousness. 

The materialist view that asserts that the mind and the brain are one and the same—the so-called mind-brain identity theory—is not supported by recent discoveries in neuroscience and quantum physics as respects the nature of reality. Those discoveries tend to show that the mind and the brain are not co-extensive or identical, and that mind or consciousness is the creator and governor of so-called matter. 

Because you are be-ing, be-coming and consciousness, you have the powers of thought and observation. There is a time to think and, yes, a time to simply observe … choicelessly. Listen to these words of J. Krishnamurti, pictured right:

I wonder if you have ever walked along a crowded street, or a lonely road, and just looked at things without thought? There is a state of observation without the interference of thought. Though you are aware of everything about you, and you recognize the person, the mountain, the tree, or the oncoming car, yet the mind is not functioning in the usual pattern of thought. I don't know if this has ever happened to you. Do try it sometime when you are driving or walking. Just look without thought; observe without the reaction which breeds thought. 

There will always be a time for rational, critical thought, analysis, judgement and interpretation but if you do these things every second of the day, you will end up with analysis paralysis. Learn the art of choiceless awareness. Look. Observe. Be attentive. Be aware. That is what mindfulness is all about.

3.  You are what you think

No, I am not contradicting myself. As I have said, we need to think. This is the first verse of the Dhammapada according to one famous English translation: ‘Our life is shaped by our mind, for we become what we think.’ The same idea is expressed in the Hebrew Bible: ‘Be careful how you think; your life is shaped by your thoughts’ (Prov 4:23); ‘For as a person thinks in their heart, so are they’ (Prov 23:7).

As we are consciousness, we must watch your thoughts. Are our thoughts positive or negative? Positive thinking has its detractors these days but I have never seen any benefits in negative thinking. Positive thinking is good for the mind and the body. Positive thinking releases life-affirming, healing chemicals into the brain and the body. Negative thinking releases life-destroying, malignant chemicals into the brain and the body. It’s clear which one is better for us. Of course, we must be realistic thinkers. We need to always see things-as-they-really-are. The true positive thinker is a realistic thinker who sees things-as-they-really-are but at the same time refuses to be deflected, let alone overwhelmed or defeated, by that which is negative. The true positive thinker never dwells on those things.

So, in the words of Plato, ‘Take charge of your thoughts; you can do what you will with them.’

4.  You cannot change yourself

The ‘I’ of you cannot change the ‘me’ of you. One of my all-time favourite spiritual teachers Alan Watts, pictured left, has this to say in his book The Wisdom of Insecurity about the wrong way to embark upon self-improvement:

I can only think seriously of trying to live up to an ideal, to improve myself, if I am split in two pieces. There must be a good ‘I’ who is going to improve the bad ‘me.’ ‘I,’ who has the best intentions, will go to work on wayward ‘me,’ and the tussle between the two will very much stress the difference between them. Consequently ‘I’ will feel more separate than ever, and so merely increase the lonely and cut-off feelings which make ‘me’ behave so badly.

The reason the good ‘I’ can’t change the bad ‘I’ is because they are one and the same and they exist only as self-images in our mind. Yes, all the 'I's' and 'me's' in your mind are little 'selves' that brought about by thought. These 'selves' have no separate, independent reality in and of themselves. They appear to be 'solid,' 'fixed,' and 'permanent,' but they are not. They are the product of thought which divides itself. You have hundreds of little 'selves' within you. None of them are the real you—that is, the person that you are. The person that you are is a mind-body complex in respect of which both physical characteristics and states of consciousness can be ascribed. Only the person is ontologically real. 'Selves' come and go; they wax and wane. They have no power and have no separate and independent existence from the person that you are.

You, the person that you are, can change. First, you, the person, must want to change. Secondly, you, the person, must do what is necessary and appropriate to change. The power to change is within, but it is always a ‘power-not-oneself’. Self has no power. Self cannot change self. The ‘I’ of you can never change the ‘me’ of you. Never forget that. Never.

Vernon Howard, a great spiritual author, wrote:

While there is no you who can rescue you, there can be an impartial awareness of the rescuing process. The rescue is complete when the awareness is complete.

What is this 'rescuing process' alluded to by Howard? It is none other than the process of choiceless awareness from one moment to the next, undertaken by the person that you are. Howard wrote:

You can begin to catch your false behaviour by asking the question ‘Who said that?’ and you will catch false personality being pleasant, sarcastic, and so on. As often as you can, you will interrupt yourself and say ‘Who said that?’ and if it is negativ
e in any way at all, that is the invented self speaking in your name. 

All your little, false selves purport to speak in your name. Give them no power over you. They have no power in and of themselves. You give them power only when you believe them to be real. Don't do that!

5.   Acceptance is the answer to all your problems

‘On the acknowledgement of what is there is the cessation of all conflict,’ said Krishnamurti. Yes, acceptance—that is, acknowledging what is—is the answer to all your problems. Now, I am not saying that we should simply give in. No, not at all. However, before we can change we must first accept the reality of what is. Alcoholics cannot recover from their disease until they first accept that they are alcoholics. There’s more, though. Krishnamurti has stated a metaphysical truth of supreme importance, namely, that once we acknowledge what is, conflict in the form of resistance and the like comes to an immediate end. We must surrender in order to gain victory. Never forget that.

There are many other empowering ideas that can change your life. Many of these I have explored and discussed in other posts over the years—ideas such as the law of indirectness (don't attempt to put a thought or problem out of your mind directly but rather let the problem slip from the sphere of conscious analysis’), the principle of non-resistance (what you resist, persists), truth is a pathless land (we are always in direct and immediate contact with truth, so there is no separation or distance between us and truth), and truth is a moment-to-moment experience (truth is dynamic, not static).

I love empowering ideas. As Victor Hugo said, ‘Nothing is stronger than an idea whose time has come.’

All power to you!


Note. The substance of this post first appeared on September 2, 2016 as 'Five Empowering Ideas That Can Change Your Life Forever'. Some new material has been added while some material in the original post has been omitted.


RELATED POSTS


 

A PRACTICAL GUIDE TO MINDFUL LIVING




Monday, December 23, 2019

THE BIRTH OF THE CHRIST CHILD


‘Beloved, let us love one another; for love is of God, and those who love are born of God and know God. Those who do not love do not know God; for God is love.’ 1 Jn 4:7-8.

What are we to make of the story of the birth of the Christ child?

The Nativity Story is so much more than a supposedly literal account of the birth of Jesus. The story is a myth in the truest and most sublime sense of that word. It speaks of the reality of a spiritual—that is, a non-material—event that we all can experience, Christian and non-Christian alike.

What event, you may ask? Well, it’s this—the birth of the Christ child within our ‘hearts’, that is, our minds, the latter symbolized by the Virgin Mary. You see, we all need to wake up, surrender, and be born anew. The message of the Buddha, in two English words, is this—wake up. The message of the prophet Muhammad, in one English word, is this—surrender. The message of Jesus, in five English words, is this—you must be born anew. The point is this—we must change in a very radical and profound way. Furthermore, this change must go far beyond what is ordinarily understood as self-improvement.


Each one of us must undergo a Copernican revolution—that is, a deep, inner psychological revolution, transformation, and mutation—in the way we think, act, and live. We must surrender, let go, and die to self, indeed die to the very idea that there is a separate, independent, permanent self at the core of our being, in order that a new sense of being—metaphorically and symbolically, a new-born baby—may be born in our psyche.

Now, most of what I’ve said above is rank heresy to fundamentalist and evangelical Christians. That does not worry me at all. Indeed, I draw great comfort and pleasure from the fact. You see, I am proud to be a heretic. A heretic is one who chooses, and who chooses to think differently and be different. We need more heretics in the world—more people who are prepared to think and live differently. Indeed, I would go so far as to say that only a heretic can change our damaged, troubled and threatened world. And only a heretic, who is prepared to surrender and throw out of the window all their past thinking and conditioning on matters religious and non-religious, can wake up and change the world for the better. And despite what some would have you believe, only you can make the decision to wake up and be born anew. 

May we all wake up this Christmas.





Tuesday, November 26, 2019

DON’T LET YOUR PAST HOLD YOU BACK!


Is your past, or something in your past, holding you back? Do you keep revisiting the past or some incident in the past to such an extent that it’s preventing you from living fully in the now? 

Listen to these wise words from the Indian spiritual philosopher J. Krishnamurti, pictured right and below:

We are the result of the past. Our thought is founded upon yesterday, and many thousand yesterdays. We are the result of time, and our responses, our present attitudes, are the cumulative effect of many thousand moments, incidents and experiences. So the past is, for the majority of us, the present, which is a fact, which cannot be denied. You, your thoughts, your actions, your responses, are the result of the past. 

So, how can we be free of the past? Of course, as I’ve said many times, we should never ask ‘how’, because then we are asking for a method or technique. Methods and techniques are forms of conditioning, which is the past. The past cannot free us from the past. But what exactly is the past? Here is Krishnamurti once again:

… What do we mean by the past? … We mean, surely, the accumulated experiences, the accumulated responses, memories, traditions, knowledge, the subconscious storehouse of innumerable thoughts, feelings, influences and responses, With that background, it is not possible to understand reality, because reality must be of no time: it is timeless. So, one cannot understand the timeless with a mind which is the outcome of time. The questioner wants to know if it is possible to free the mind, or for the mind, which is the result of time, to cease to be, immediately; or must one go through a long series of examinations and analyses, and so free the mind from its background. You see the difficulty in the question.

Self-analysis tends to fail because the ‘analysing self’ is just another manifestation of self—that is, one of the hundreds of little selves (the ‘I’s’ and ‘me’s’ in our mind). How can the self analyse the self, or one of the many other selves within us? No effort of the self can remove the self from the centre of its own introspection and mental machinations. Let’s say that a thought of anger arises in your mind. The part of your mind which analyses the anger is part of the anger. There is simply no way, by that means, to free yourself from the background. True psychological transformation can only arise when one is entirely free of the background (the ‘mental furniture’). Look and observe. Be aware—choicelessly. Don’t analyse or interpret. Just look, observe and see things as they are—both the things outside of us as well as the contents of our own mind. The insight you gain will change you forever—that is, if you want such change in your life.

The good news is that you can be totally free of the past at any moment. It’s entirely up to you. No one else can do this for you. Yes, there can indeed be that ‘total revolution’ or ‘psychological mutation’ of which Krishnamurti often spoke. We can instantaneously liberate ourselves from the past and from past conditioning including beliefs and misbeliefs of all kinds if we refuse to analyse or dissect the content of our consciousness (the ‘background’ or ‘mental furniture’) and simply see things as they really are, without judgment or evaluation.


In what follows, Krishnamurti describes, much better than I could ever hope to do, the essential features of a mind that is ‘mindful’ (or, to use his word, 'tranquil'):

Now, to put it very simply, when you want to understand something, what is the state of your mind? When you want to understand your child, when you want to understand somebody, something that someone is saying, what is the state of your mind? You are not analysing, criticizing, judging what the other is saying; you are listening, are you not? Your mind is in a state where the thought process is not active, but is very alert. Yes? And that alertness is not of time, is it? You are merely being alert, passively receptive, and yet fully aware; and it is only in this state that there is understanding. Surely, when the mind is agitated, questioning, worrying, dissecting, analysing, there is no understanding. And when there is the intensity to understand, the mind is obviously tranquil.

So, this is what you can choose to do—if you really want to be free, forever, and instantaneously, from the bondage of the past. Watch, almost with disinterest, whatever happens, as if it were happening to someone else. Let there be no comment, judgment or attempt to change anything. Note the presence of any unhealthy, painful thoughts, emotions or memories, but give them no power or attention. Don’t suppress or deny them. Don’t resist them, for whatever you resist, persists. Simply observe … choicelessly … and then let go. And let it be.

Acknowledgment is made, and gratitude is expressed, to the Krishnamurti Foundation of America,
Ojai, California, USA. Krishnamurti Excerpts: Benares 2nd Public Talk, 23 January 1949.


RELATED POSTS





IMPORTANT NOTICE: See the Terms of Use and Disclaimer. The information provided on this blog is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never delay or disregard seeking professional medical advice from your medical practitioner or other qualified health provider because of something you read on this blog.