Monday, January 28, 2013


‘Anyone can get old,’ said the great comedian Groucho Marx (pictured left). ‘All you have to do is live long enough.’ He certainly did, although he didn’t enjoy great physical health in his later years.

A recent University of California at San Francisco (UCSF) study published online in the November 15, 2012 edition of the Association for Psychological Science journal Clinical Psychological Science has found that people who reported more presence ‘in the moment’ had longer telomeres, even after adjusting for current stress in their lives.

Telomeres are DNA-caps that prevent the ends of chromosomes from fusing with nearby chromosomes or deteriorating. They are biomarkers for aging and are known to get shorter and shorter when the body undergoes physiological and psychological stressors. What's more, as earlier research pioneered at UCSF showed, the shorter the telomeres, the earlier disease and death can be predicted.

The scientists studied 239 healthy women aged between 50 and 65 to see how many tended to be focused on the present and how many were inclined to focus on being elsewhere and on things other than the present. Those with more mind wandering had shorter telomeres. Whether the mind wandering causes the aging-linked shortening of telomeres or whether the state of being that focuses on the present actually protects telomeres isn't known yet. However, there is reason to suspect that being mindfully aware of the present could be the key. (Previous studies have found that mindfulness mediation is associated with increased activity of an enzyme known as telomerase, which is responsible for protecting and, in some cases, replenishing telomeres.)

The study supports the possibility that a focus on the present assists in the promotion of health even at the cellular level. ‘Our attentional state---where our thoughts rest at any moment---turns out to be a fascinating window into our well-being. It may be affected by our emotional state as well as shape our emotional state,’ said Dr Elissa Epel, associate professor of psychiatry and lead author on the study. ‘In our healthy sample, people who report being more engaged in their current activities tend to have longer telomeres. We don’t yet know how generalizable or important this relationship is.’

Moving forward, Epel, along with Dr Eli Puterman, a psychologist in the UCSF Department of Psychiatry, and colleagues are developing a series of classes to promote more mindful presence, to see if this intervention protects telomere maintenance or even lengthens telomeres.

Journal Reference:
E S Epel, E Puterman, J Lin, E Blackburn, A Lazaro, W B Mendes. ‘Wandering Minds and Aging Cells.’ Clinical Psychological Science, 2012; DOI: 10.1177/2167702612460234

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Sunday, January 20, 2013


Forgive me, but I wish to return to a familiar theme of mine. Why? Because I think it is the most important thing I have to say. It is this---if you want to get better, if you want to be truly happy, if you want to know and understand life, give up all your beliefs. Yes, all of them.

There are many things wrong with beliefs and belief-systems. Here a just a few of them.

First, beliefs fetter and cage the mind. They prevent us from knowing and understanding reality as it unfolds from one moment to the next. Beliefs, by their very nature, take the form of second or third-hand prejudices, or biases, of various kinds. The Buddha referred to beliefs as being in the nature of thought coverings or veils (āvarnas). You see, each one of us is in direct and immediate contact with reality---both internal and external---unless we choose to put a barrier between ourselves and reality. When we believe something about some aspect of reality, a thought covering or veil is placed between us and reality, blocking off the latter. Using a different metaphor, beliefs are like distorting lenses which filter and distort reality as it tries to pass through the lens. If you want to see, know and understand things-as-they-really-are, discard your beliefs. You don’t need any of them.

Secondly---and this follows on directly from what I’ve just said---beliefs, being entirely a product of the past, are a substitute (and a very bad one at that) for reality. When you take on a belief system, you cease to be choicelessly aware of life. Beliefs are not real. Reality is. Beliefs are crystallized or hardened thoughts---a form of ‘psychosclerosis’ (a term I heard Norman Vincent Peale use in a talk many decades ago). You see, every belief is some other person or group’s collective thinking and conditioning, and when you believe you take onboard that other person or group’s thinking and conditioning---a pernicious form of mind control (whether internal or external or both). The result? An 'infected' mind. You stop thinking for yourself and experiencing life in all its directness and immediacy. Vernon Howard has written of the miserable person who, not knowing things 'from their own essence,' must endlessly switch their beliefs ‘from one authority to another.’ That's a terrible way to 'live'! Now, remember this---whether or not something is the case does not depend upon belief or disbelief. That is why the Buddha said, 'Do not believe, for if you believe, you will never know. If you really want to know, don't believe.' Beliefs are the most powerful, and the most dangerous, form of conditioning known to humanity.

Thirdly, beliefs, more than any other thing (eg race, skin colour, ethnicity, nationality), create deep divisions and separate people one from the other. Catholics are separated from Baptists. Muslims are separated from Jews and Buddhists. Communists are separated from believers in capitalism. With separation and division comes conflict, turmoil and strife. There is no end to it. I laugh when I hear some religious leader talking about ‘brotherhood.’ There can be no world brotherhood or sisterhood for so long as there are religious distinctions---for example, when people are divided up between the ‘saved’ and the ‘unsaved’, the ‘chosen’ and the rest, and so on.

Fourthly, beliefs prevent freedom of thought. As already mentioned, beliefs are a form of collective thinking, and all such thinking is the result and reaction of memory. In such a conditioned state of mind, there is no ability to think freely. Even the desire to think freely is lost. Any 'true' (ha!) believer is constantly exhorted by those in authority to believe more deeply and fully, to have more faith. The result? You build a bigger cage---or prison---for your brain and thus for yourself. Great stuff.

Fifthly, beliefs hold us back---indeed, they make and keep us sick. Examine your beliefs and belief-systems. Have they really made you happier? Do they really make it easier for you to see, know and understand things-as-they-really-are? Now, please be rigorously honest with yourself. You may have been a devout---or perhaps only a nominal---believer in some religion or political ideology all your life, but if it be the case that you are ordinarily anxious, depressed or the like, or have constant difficulties relating to other people, or think the world will be a better place if others believed the same things you do, then I respectfully submit that your belief-system has done absolutely no good for you at all. Krishnamurti put it this way many decades ago:

'So, your belief in God, or your disbelief in God, to me are both the same, because they have no reality. If you were really aware of truth, as you are aware of that flower, if you were really conscious of that truth as you are conscious of fresh air, then your whole life, your whole conduct, your whole behaviour, your very affections, your very thoughts, would be different.'

I tell you this---whether you want to hear it or not. You will never---I repeat, never---be able to experience any meaningful, lasting change in your life for so long as you remain wedded to your beliefs and belief-systems. If you want to recover from any illness, disability or condition, the first thing you must do to get better is to see, know and understand things-as-they-really-are. Do you believe in the sun? Of course not. You know it’s there, so there’s no need to believe in it. We tend only to believe in things we don’t know or understand as well as things the existence of which is either unproven or unprovable. Funny, that.

So, forget about belief-systems. Indeed, why not start today on a lifelong process of purgation of the mind, in which you choose not to believe, or disbelieve, in anything. You set yourself just one goal---to be choicelessly aware of all things as they unfold from one moment to the next. That way you will come to know and understand---and nothing is more important than that.

Beliefs are for ‘spiritual cripples’--that is, for those who can’t, or won’t, think for themselves, for those who choose not to know and understand. Choose to be different. Choose not to be deluded. Choose to have and enjoy an uninfected mind. Choose life.


Monday, January 14, 2013


(L to R) Fossicking at Lightning Ridge---Aerial View of White Cliffs

My wife and I have just returned from a couple of weeks’ touring and exploring outback New South Wales. This was not the first time we have toured and explored this part of New South Wales but it was the first time we had been to the opal mining towns of Lightning Ridge and White Cliffs. Sadly, the only opals we brought back with us were the ones we bought in shops, but the truth is we had little time for fossicking. We did, however, learn a few things about opals---for example, an opal can be cut and made into a solid, a doublet, or a triplet.

A solid, as its name suggests, is a fully natural stone, which is then cut and polished. A doublet consists of two pieces of opal cemented together. For example, a layer of high-grade opal may be bonded to a black back. Then there is a triplet, which is a doublet made from a wafer thin layer of opal with a clear domed glass or quartz cap glued on its face.

This got me thinking---something I don’t do all that often. When it comes to the practice of mindfulness, there are solids, doublets and triplets. A solid is one who is regular in their practice of mindfulness, seldom lapsing into mindless thinking and living. A doublet is half-hearted at best when it comes to the practice of mindfulness. Yes, there is a certain commitment to mindful living, but this commitment waxes and wanes. Then there’s the triplet, who sees the value in mindful living but is far too wedded to either material things or traditional religious beliefs to make any real progress in the practice of mindfulness.

Each one of us is an opal---a gem---in need of daily cutting and polishing.

I ask you this---are you a solid, a doublet, or a triplet?

Tuesday, January 1, 2013


With more than a little nod to
who filled the void for decades and
who continue to help make my life worth living

Lou Costello
[LC]: Heeeyyy A-bbott!  
Bud Abbott [BA]: What d’ya want, Costello?
LC: I want to know how your mindfulness class went.
BA: The mindfulness class went all day. And I’m very pleased to say---I now have no-mind.

LC: Is that good?

BA: Good? It’s wonderful! Having no-mind is something I've always wanted. Mind you, there is so much I've had to stop doing in order to achieve this state of no-mindedness.

LC: You keep saying to me that I have no mind, Abbott.

BA: That’s true. You have absolutely no mind at all. You’re just a lazy, stupid idiot, Costello. 

LC: Thanks, Abbott. But at least I didn’t need to go to mindfulness class to learn that.

BA: You don’t understand, Costello. There’s a whole world of difference between having no-mind and being stupid. I have no-mind. You’re just plain stupid.

LC: You have no mind but you’re not stupid?

BA: Exactly.

LC: How can you have no mind and not be stupid?

BA: It’s easy. Having no-mind means you have attained wisdom and enlightenment. When you have no-mind you are a whole person.

LC: A hole what? How can a person be a hole?

BA: Look, Costello, a person is not a hole, but a person can be whole, if they have, er, no-mind.

LC: A person is, er, hole if they have no mind?

BA: Exactly.

LC: I don’t even know what I’m talking about!

BA: That’s all there is to it. Having no-mind is being whole---and empty. Then it’s full.

LC: How can it be both empty and full at the same time?

BA: Easy. It just happens---when there’s no thought.

LC: No thought of what?

BA: What's on second---we're not talking about him. Costello, I have no thought of anything. I have no-mind because my mind is mindfully empty---that’s why it’s full.

LC: You just said you have no mind, so how can something that doesn’t exist be both full and empty at the same time?

BA: A mindful mind is a mind of no-mind, Costello.  That’s the only sort of mind worth having---mindful and empty.

LC: Mind full---and empty?

BA: Exactly. Full of no-thing.
LC: Here we go again!
BA: Don’t get excited, Costello. You have no mind, which is why you’re stupid. I, on the other hand, have no-mind, which is why I’m not stupid.
LC: How is it that you’re not stupid, even though you have no mind?
BA: It’s simple. My mind has gone.

LC: You’re telling me! Gone where?
BA: Just gone.
LC: If it’s gone, it must have gone some place, Abbott!
BA: Look, Costello, a mind is gone when it’s fully present.
LC: How can it be gone and fully present at the same time?
BA: That’s how it happens. A mind is gone when it stays fully present in the now. Then it’s an empty mind of no-mind.
LC: How can a mind be a mind and no mind at the same time?
BA: It’s simple. A mind is no-minded when it’s gone, that is, when it is fully engaged in being here and now.

LC: Engaged to who?

BA: Just engaged. Who is on first---we're not talking about him.

LC: If you’re engaged, you got to be engaged to somebody, Abbott!

BA: Look, Costello. I am not engaged, it’s just my mind that’s engaged.

LC: How can a mind be engaged?

BA: A mind is engaged when it is … ah … present.

LC: An engagement present?

BA: Talk sense, Costello!

LC: How can a mind be a present?

BA: Look, Costello. A mind is not a present. It is just … ah … present, but only when it is gone.

LC: Here we go again!

BA: I don’t know what I’m going to do with you, Costello. We talk and talk but it gets us nowhere. You just have no mind at all.

LC: Then I’m exactly like you.

BA: You’re nothing of the kind. I have no-mind, but you’re just mindless---and stupid.

LC: But you’re not?

BA: Exactly. I have no-mind because I’m mindful.

LC: Listen, Abbott, how can your mind be full if you have no mind?

BA: Get outa here, Costello!


Important Note---and Grateful Acknowledgments
The licensable images of Abbott and Costello, the routine ‘Who's on First’ and other routines and materials of and by Abbott and Costello are controlled material of the Estates of the Late Bud Abbott and the Late Lou Costello. All rights reserved. The routine presented in this post has been written by Ian Ellis-Jones as a homage to Abbott and Costello and is presented here for entertainment, nonprofit and non-commercial purposes only. There is no intention to infringe copyright or any other controlled material. This post, and the blog site itself, are solely for informational and educational purposes that are entirely nonprofit and non-commercial in nature, intent and actuality.