Meditating upon the size of the Universe – and our place in it

The American Museum of Natural History (AMNH) created few years ago a video to help viewers visualize the size of the known Universe. As the video states in the first few seconds, it features every star, planet, moon and galaxy, among other celestial bodies, that are known to date. In only 6 minutes and 30 seconds, it puts the Universe and our space within it in a breathtaking perspective.

I find this to be one of the most amazing videos ever produced, not only for the extraordinary scientific value it provides. From a spiritual perspective, it provides a very useful context to meditate upon. Realizing that we are so small, limited and remote in the big Universal scale is fascinating. Knowing this, can we decipher what’s the role we are playing in this Universe? What are we, humans, collectively pursuing during our existence in this vast, unknown region to us? What is our link to all this trillions of other celestial bodies that inhabit this indescribably extensive space?

I invite you to watch the video, and to meditate on it afterwards. I sincerely hope you find it as useful as I have for your meditation purposes.


The wealth of “having” vs. the wealth of “doing”

There is a big misconception out there. Especially upon the rise of capitalism and consumerism, the term “wealth” has been often understood as the amount of goods with monetary value that are possessed by a certain individual or organization. As such, in modern language, wealthy person is that who either has large sums of money in their bank account, possesses expensive (usually luxurious) goods, or follows a financially affluent lifestyle. Unfortunately, our modern definition of wealth is very limiting and, needless to say, materialistic. Our contemporary view of wealth means that we can only be wealthy as long as we have access to possessing more than what the average person could. We prize the ability to own and we use that as a measurement to assess whether the person is successful or not. Society at large prizes those individuals who amass fortunes. Moreover, the social understanding of wealth goes to believe that financial wealth equates happiness, and the more we are able to own, is the happier we are.

wealthIf having more financial assets means that we are happier, why would we ever worry about anything else? If our purpose in life is to achieve happiness, and the key to happiness is to accumulate more money and possessions, why not pursuing money for the sake of money? If the ends justify the means, we could keenly pursue money and possessions no matter how we get them. Even breaking laws and bypassing ethics would be justifiable -stealing, defrauding, or whatever not- as at the end, we would achieve both success and happiness.

Once upon a time, however, the understanding of wealth was a much different one. In the ancient world, people valued possessions and power as we do today – however, there was also a huge perception of value in knowledge. Scientists, philosophers and teachers, among others, were thought of as people with a whole “wealth” of knowledge. Musicians, sculptors, and writers were valued for their talents and intellectual contributions to society. In those times, people were valued for what they did, and not so much for what they had.

The modern world, however, is a much different place. Our aspiration as a progressive society should decidedly not be to become just as we lived and thought centuries ago. Money is not evil, and neither are possessions nor financial ownership. It is important to acknowledge that they are a result of our evolution as a civilization and have become tools to foster our development as a society. Whether we fully embrace them or not, we cannot deny that they constitute a part of our lives as well and, they way mankind’s collective mind has evolved, our very belonging to this civilization creates a need to have money and possessions.

As money and possessions are part of our lives, we should acknowledge them by what they are. Amassing them is not ultimate happiness, but they are important tools to achieve happiness. Money can be (and is) a great vehicle to access food and learning, to raise families, to procure warm clothing and housing, and more importantly, to provide well-being to ourselves and all members of society. Money is also a great tool to develop research, medicine, to promote arts and to create a legacy that could impact every person and even future generations.

As such, we must acknowledge that the real power of money and possessions are not in themselves, but rather in what we do with them. For instance, an individual can choose to buy an expensive car with their money, or to donate this money to a charity. Which one would create a longer lasting impact? Which one would provide more satisfaction to this individual? Which one would provide more happiness? Likewise, if a person decides to either spend a large amount of money partying in Las Vegas, or to use that money to take his family to an educational trip, which one would create more satisfaction, happiness, and a longer lasting impact?

True wealth then should not be understood as the capacity to own something, or to have more financial assets than someone else. A wealthy person is not simply an individual who has lots of money in a bank account. A truly wealthy person is that who makes the most out of the financial means they have. An important piece in the big puzzle of happiness resides in understanding this very simple but powerful concept.

Photo credit: / IWoman / CC BY

Love as a misconception

Love is such a beautiful and powerful word – yet, one of the most abused ones in the whole human language.

It is defined in the Merriam Webster dictionary as “a feeling of strong or constant affection for a person”. Another definition it provides is “attraction that includes sexual desire: the strong affection felt by people who have a romantic relationship” and “a person you love in a romantic love”. In short, the grammatical definition of love suggests it is a feeling, a sense of attraction to someone or something.

pigeons-413073_1280However, I will beg to differ with the definition offered by the dictionary. Love is not a feeling, nor a sexual desire. Not even an attraction. If it were so, wouldn’t it be very superficial? If a person claimed to love another person, it would suffice to feel attraction to them in order to love. Whether the love is reciprocal or not, love would still be valid as there is attraction and a sense of affection to some degree. The same would hold true for a leader who claims to love their people, or a parent who says to love their children. Based on the very fact that there is a likeness and affection, love would be possible.

It is to an extent unfortunate that love cannot be defined in just a few words or sentences, and this is one of the main reasons why the word is abused recklessly. A person can claim to love a certain sport or hobby, which -as it turns obvious- speaks about the love of a person to a non-human concept. The same applies when a person says to love their pet, and also for someone who admits to love nature. Is it real love, then, what these people can feel for animals, arts or other non-human recipients?

Love can be, then, understood in very different lights. The love that a person has for their spouse or children is not any more legitimate  than the love someone can have for their dog or cat, or the love they could potentially have for arts and culture. Each of them can be authentic love, or just a liking and affection felt for something or someone as defined in the dictionary. In all instances, it becomes important to understand the true concept of love – and all that it implies.

It usually takes years of reflection, experiences and revelations to understand the true meaning of love. Like other abstract concepts such as justice or freedom, love does not have an exact definition and therefore the term can be easily misused. However, upon some meditation and proper emotional guidance (whether scientific or spiritual), the concept of love is revealed to us and understood, and it is then that we are able to tell real love from other forms of affection inaccurately labelled as love.

Perhaps the most shocking revelation about love is understanding that it is not about “me”, but it is about the recipient of our love. Love is not a simple feeling and does not only depend on whether we like something or someone, but it also has to do with the relationship as a whole that the individual holds with that something or someone. If a person claims to love their spouse by virtue of the fact that they like each other, would that suffice to constitute real love? What are the other spouse’s thoughts on this individual? What kind of commitments of sacrifices has this person done for the sake of love to their partner?

Love, in its true meaning, is intrinsically linked to the commitment and dedication that a person has to the subject of their love. Love encompasses time, dedication, and willingness to give the best of ourselves to the well-being and development of the recipient of our love. In that regard, a person who says to love their dog can in fact hold a truer love to their pet which they take care of every day, nurture, look after their well being, and makes their best to ensure the pet has a happy life, than an individual who claims to love their spouse, yet puts all their personal desires in a greater rank of importance than those of their significant other. Likewise, if a person claims to love food and cooks meals for other people, enhances recipes or teaches others their culinary ability so the wealth of knowledge can be shared to broader audiences, that love holds more true than the love that a person can claim to have for pizza based solely on the fact that this particular dish provides personal pleasure to them.

A person who truly loves something or someone intertwines their mind and soul with that of their love recipient, and therefore both become as one. A man who marries a woman and truly feels her soul, faces her issues as his own, listens to her mind and soul and gives the very best of himself to ensure her well being loves her. If she does the same for him, it is a consummated love. The same applies for a person for their art, a sport, a pet, a parent, a child, or whatever not. Love is a two way avenue that requires effort, dedication, and commitment. It may not always pay immediate dividends in the shape of emotional pleasure or enjoyment, and as a matter of fact it is almost guaranteed to bring sour times to our lives. Nevertheless, love is a long term commitment: If we plant the right seeds in a fertile soil from the get go, we will reap its benefits throughout our lifetime – and who knows? Maybe even beyond.

Science vs. Spirituality: Which one is the right way?

It would appear that, centuries ago, people had a need to understand the world, themselves and the phenomena that surrounded them. Day and night, warmth and cold, health and sickness, life and death… every single aspect of the world and life was out there to be discovered and understood. To their best of their abilities, these ancient men and women created theories and found explanations to their need of knowledge in what today could be easily labelled an “imaginary” world. People would be inspired by various beliefs to provide explanations and doctrines to abide by, some of which eventually became organized religions and spiritual communities.

Fast forward a few centuries, the advancement of technology and science has allowed the contemporary generations to obtain a better-researched understanding of our everyday lives. Today, we have much more advanced explanations that allow us to understand concepts that ancient people couldn’t even remotely fathom. This advanced access to information and scientific perspective of people, life and the world has also brought a shift in mentalities where modern individuals deny the need of having to resort to the imaginary, spiritual world that -in their view- was invented by man himself ages ago.

openphotonet_1 free water hand_resizeNevertheless, even with the advancement of science and the better understanding of our world through access to better research tools, it would seem that people still come back to spiritual activities to understand their surroundings. Meditation groups, yoga, even religions, are still alive in our times, and their existence and prevalence among communities does not seem to be threatened in any way. People still practice spirituality all over the world.

Having such advanced science and technology, why would people still look for answers in spirituality?

There is a fundamental mistake in assuming that people who practice any form of spirituality do so hoping to understand their surrounding world. All the opposite: People who practice spirituality usually do so with the intention of understanding themselves. They do so to dig deeper in their minds and to understand their connection to the world and the whole cosmos. Spirituality is, then, a vehicle for people to listen to their deepest conscience in the hopes of becoming better individuals and to enjoy a more plentiful life – physically, mentally and beyond.

Understanding the fundamental idea behind spirituality helps us also determine whether science or spirituality provide the ultimate answers to life. The answer: They both coexist. They serve different purpose. And those who are able to tell one from the other also align themselves to better chances of enjoying a much richer, knowledgeable, and wholly life. Understand the world through the eyes of science, but understand your soul through the eyes of spirituality.

Photo: hand and sprinkling water © Miroslav Vajdić


When we think of miracles, most of us would normally think of supernatural phenomena that affect positively our lives – or that of others. We may even think of the forces of the Universe acting together in the benefit of a certain individual, or a group of people – in ways that are beyond the human power.

In that regard, for example, we could think that if a person gets unexpectedly cured from a specific rare ailment – that constitutes a miracle. If an individual drives their car recklessly on the highway, crashes but escapes the incident unharmed – that is a miracle. If an athlete gets badly injured, but then they participate in a competition where their performance is better than what was expected of them and come out as a winner – that, also, is a miracle.

Are the situations in the examples miracles? Indeed they are. The individuals in the situations explained obtained unexpected good outcomes of their own particular circumstances, against all odds. With the help of nature, and under poorly understood (rather unknown) conditions, their seemingly bleak situation worked out in their favour.


Now, if we think of our day to day lives, and the circumstances that we face on our everyday – from the moment that we wake up, experience the world outside our house, do our daily activities, interact with people, come back home to share time with those we love most, until the moment we tuck ourselves in bed and sleep -, do we get to realize the circumstances that allow us to make it through our routines? Do we appreciate the marvels of the world that surround us?

When we realize that every day we wake up to another day where forces beyond our human power interact in our benefit, our perception of what miracles are changes. If we consider that every day we wake up to another day enlightened and warmed up by the Sun, that we get to breath fresh air cleaned by photosynthesis performed by plants, that we get to eat fresh and nutritious food grown from rich grounds of the Earth, that we are able to utilize resources provided by nature in order to accomplish our goals… do we realize that all of those are here not because our human will made them happen, but because the Universe has made the circumstances turn in our favour?

If we consider that the very fact that we were born to experience the Universe, do we get to realize that our birth is a fortunate situation that worked in our favour? When we get to experience feelings like love, happiness, pleasure, even sadness… do we realize that experiencing such emotions, at the very root, is a process that we did not plan, but which the Universe has made possible for our full experiencing of life? Indeed, we experience miracles all the time. We, ourselves, as well as all the creatures of the world, are also miracles.

Whether we are aware of it every moment or not, we are continuously experiencing miracles. Every day and every night, every hour and every minute, there are phenomena happening within us and around us, over which we don’t have any control but they still yield positive outcomes for us. Our very existence in this life itself is a big miracle that we should have present day by day, and admire as we would do when witnessing any other miracle.

Success beyond mere financial wealth

In today’s competitive society, it is easy to find ourselves in situations where we act according to what others expect from us. It’s not uncommon to engage in situations that are unpleasant (unfulfilling jobs, materialistic mindsets, etc), but which nevertheless we pursue for the sake of “success”. Unfortunately, in these modern times, success is equated to financial wealth and professional success escalating corporate ladders.

With that false idea of success in mind, millions of people live their lives focused exclusively in the task of making money to achieve financial power and success. Don’t take me wrong, there is nothing bad with living those values, except that at the end of the day… how many people throughout history are remembered for the amount of money they had in the bank? How many people are valued by society for an average track record as a corporate employee? How many people have left a lasting impression in this world for having achieved financial “success”?


On the other hand, we remember plenty of people who throughout their life made significant contributions to the arts, to philosophy, to astronomy, or to science – just to mention a few. They left a great legacy to their communities and even to mankind as a whole, and they are remembered throughout the generations. The secret? Throughout their life, they did not only focus on their day jobs as merchants, mailmen or teachers with the sole intention of accumulating wealth. They did work jobs in order to make a living, but they also utilized their unique abilities to leave a lasting legacy behind them

In today’s world, there are still people out there who contribute significantly to the heritage and well being of their community. How do they do that? By remaining true to their nature: Yes, like the rest of us, they are people who work jobs, have bank accounts, and purchase goods for their use. Nevertheless, they are people who do not pursue financial wealth as an indicator of success and well being, but they also do what they like and what they enjoy in life and share it with others.

Whereas it is important to become a productive member of this society by working and serving the community, it is crucial for a person to remain true to their nature in the process. As we know, every person has unique talents, abilities and passions – which together forge the uniqueness of every human being. Do not be afraid to pursue your real passions in life – it is our duty to make use of those passions and talents in order to fulfil our role in this lifetime to leave a lasting legacy for future generations.

Science proves benefits of meditation in learning

An exciting article published on The New York Times on April 3rd, 2013, explains the benefits of meditation applied to studying and retention of information in our brains. This amazing article, which I cite textually below, is originally written by Jan Hoffman.

This piece is an excellent complement to another article previously cited in this blog: Sherry Baker’s work “How Meditation Changes Brain Rhythms to Sooth Pain and Depression“. I highly recommend reading both in full – the depth of findings from both pieces of research is simply fascinating.


How Meditation Might Boost Your Test Scores


Mindfulness meditation, the ancient and flourishing practice that increases awareness of random thoughts and redirects attention to the present moment, has been used to manage stress, depression and even chronic pain. But can it improve test scores?


StudyResearchers in the department of psychological and brain sciences at the University of California, Santa Barbara, who have been studying the relationship between mindfulness and mind-wandering, or the tendency to let our minds drift away on “task-unrelated thoughts,” as it is referred to in academic literature, sought to find out.

“We had already found that mind-wandering underlies performance on a variety of tests, including working memory capacity and intelligence,” said Michael D. Mrazek, a graduate student working with Jonathan W. Schooler, a professor of psychology at the university who studies the impacts and implications of mind-wandering and mindfulness. The higher the working memory, or an individual’s ability to keep in mind chunks of information and also use them, the better students tend to perform on reading comprehension tests.

Researchers disagree about the extent to which an individual’s working memory capacity can be enhanced. But in a study published last month in the journal Psychological Science, the Santa Barbara researchers found that after a group of undergraduates went through a two-week intensive mindfulness training program, their mind-wandering decreased and their working memory capacity improved. They also performed better on a reading comprehension test — a section from the Graduate Record Examination, or G.R.E.

For the study, the researchers enrolled 48 University of California undergraduates in a study intended, they told them, to improve cognitive performance. Each student was evaluated for working memory capacity, mind-wandering and performance on a G.R.E. reading comprehension section.

Then, half the group was randomly assigned to take part in a nutrition program, in which they were educated about healthy eating and asked to keep a daily food diary.

The others took a training that resembled the standard mindfulness-based stress reduction program, which typically meets once a week for eight sessions. In the Santa Barbara regimen, students instead met four days a week for two weeks and were not required to devote as much formal practice outside of class.

But in the main, the class invoked the secular pillars of the practice, including sitting in an upright posture with legs crossed and gaze lowered, breathing exercises and “minimizing the distracting quality of past and future concerns by reframing them as mental projections occurring in the present.”

After two weeks, the students were re-evaluated for mind-wandering and working memory capacity and given another version of the G.R.E. reading comprehension section.

The nutrition group’s results did not change.

The group that took mindfulness training, however, mind-wandered less and performed better on tests of working memory capacity and reading comprehension. For example, before the training, their average G.R.E. verbal score was 460. Two weeks later, it was 520.

Richard J. Davidson, a professor of psychology and psychiatry at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, who has studied brain function in long-term and novice mindful meditators, offered this analogy: “You can improve the signal-to-noise ratio by reducing the noise. Decreasing mind-wandering is doing just that.”

Other professors of cognitive psychology thought the study was well done, although based on a small sample, with results that have yet to be replicated.

“A type of training that can help one avoid susceptibility to worries, or other sources of mind-wandering, very well could improve performance,” said Nelson Cowan, a professor at the University of Missouri who specializes in the study of working memory capacity and attention, in an e-mail message.

Daniel T. Willingham, a psychology professor at the University of Virginia and author of “When Can You Trust the Experts? How to Tell Good Science From Bad in Education,” said that “when you see these big effects, it may not be that you’ve really fundamentally changed how the mind works. But you have removed a stumbling block that was absorbing them.”

The Santa Barbara researchers have also recently worked with local high school students to see whether the results can be repeated using the SAT. But psychology professors like David Z. Hambrick of Michigan State University questioned how long the effects of a two-week training program would last.

Professor Davidson, who has studied Buddhist monks who have practiced meditation for 34,000 hours over the course of their lives, said, “If you have people who are out of shape and then do two weeks of physical exercise, you’ll see some benefit. But if they stop exercising, the benefits won’t persist.”

The original article is available on this link.

Meditation: A scientific perspective

A fascinating article titled “How meditation changes brain rhythms to sooth pain and depression” was recently published on the Natural News website. The article, written by Sherri Baker, is a great piece to illustrate the benefits of meditating on a regular basis from a scientific point of view, as well as the ways in which our brain changes its perception of the world. Really worth the read.

How meditation changes brain rhythms to sooth pain and depression

by: Sherry Baker, Health Sciences Editor

CZ 1506Meditation isn’t only a way to relax or a throw-back to the 1960s when the Beatles first made the practice popular in the U.S. In fact, in recent years, mainstream scientists have published several studies showing that mindfulness meditation, which is centered on being aware of the present moment by focusing on the body and breath sensations, can prevent and treat depression. Meditation has also been found to help chronic pain.
But what’s going on in the body to produce these benefits? According to Brown University scientists, the answer appears to lie in how meditation changes the brain’s rhythms.

People who meditate regularly, the researchers say, gain control over sensory cortical alpha rhythms. In simple English, this means meditation appears to change brain rhythms that regulate how the brain filters and processes a variety of sensations – including depressing memories and pain in the body.

The Brown University researchers, who just published a paper outlining their findings and ideas about how meditation works in the journal Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, base their proposal on published experimental results as well as a computer simulation of neural networks. Because mindfulness meditation training begins with a highly localized focus on body and breath sensations, the scientists write, this enhances control over localized alpha rhythms in the part of the brain (known as the primary somatosensory cortex) where sensations from different body are “mapped.”

In a way, by learning to control their focus on the present moment, mindfulness meditators become able to “turn down” a kind of internal “volume knob” for controlling specific, localized sensory alpha rhythms. That seems to allow them to turn away from internally focused negative thoughts and sensations.

“We think we’re the first group to propose an underlying neurophysiological mechanism that directly links the actual practice of mindful awareness of breath and body sensations to the kinds of cognitive and emotional benefits that mindfulness confers,” lead author Catherine Kerr, assistant professor (research) of family medicine at the Alpert Medical School and director of translational neuroscience for the Contemplative Studies Initiative at Brown, said in a press statement.

As Natural News previously covered, meditation results in beneficial physiological changes that can be measured. For example, a recent study by University of Wisconsin-Madison neuroscientists with the Center for Investigating Healthy Minds found that mindfulness meditation not only reduces stress but also reduces inflammation. And this is clearly important information for the countless people with diseases such as arthritis who can’t take, or don’t want to rely on, side effect-laden anti-inflammatory drugs.

What’s more, a University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) study just published in the Association for Psychological Science journal Clinical Psychological Science found that people who reported more presence in the moment (having a greater focus and engagement with their current activities) had longer telomeres, even after adjusting for current stress in their lives. Telomeres are sort of caps at the ends of DNA 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.

Learn more:

Meteors and reality checks: Our Universe is very vast, and very humbling

The news of asteroid 2012 DA14 expected to approach Earth closer than any celestial object recorded ever by NASA would have been enough, but the Universe had prepared for us a much more powerful reminder of our fragility as a species: A meteor crashing against our planet. An event that even the most seasoned astronomers at NASA and ESA did not foresee, and one that therefore caught mankind by surprise. But really, is there anything we could have done to prevent it? The answer is likely a resounding no. Is there anything we can do to prevent this from happening in the future? Perhaps not, although there is indeed room to improve ourselves and our species from the lessons learned out of this phenomenon.

Analyzed from a strictly social point of view, the event is tragic and its painful impact is noted: Thousands of people resulted injured as a result of the crash of the meteor in the nearby city of Chelyabinsk, in Russia, where damages were calculated in over $33 million dollars. And all that we humans could do about it was to sit, watch, and repair the damages after the event.


Photo: Tumblr

This rare event, however, is more than an isolated astronomical incident. If we go a step further and put the incident in a philosophical perspective, we will discover that the message is much more powerful that the only impact of the meteor itself: It is a powerful, direct, and clear reminder that there is a Universe out there. But that Universe is not an empty space unrelated to us, and we are not rulers over the Universe. All the opposite: We are part of this powerful Universe, a magnificent Universe with the ability to damage us or even make us vanish in a whim.

The sudden crash of this meteor offers a great wake-up call for us to reconsider our lives from both a personal and civilization-level perspective. What is our role in this Universe? What do we want to achieve during our relatively short existence here? What are we doing to make ourselves better?

There is another important message to take away from this event: This meteor came to remind us that Earth is just a planet, perhaps a vulnerable one, yet our protective home. Are we respecting Earth as such, or are we too busy abusing it for the sake of money and egoism? Are we working together as a species for the shared well being of mankind, or are we a rather fragmented civilization thirsty for power and dominance over other humans? What, exactly, are we looking for as a species?

Before taking on the massive task of finding our goal as a species, it will certainly take some time for each of us to think about our own personal roles in society, and to discover our potential to become better individuals – not with the intent of being better than others, but to be better towards our fellow humans. Hopefully that way, someday, our societal mindset will focus on the single goal of making of mankind and Earth better places. Who knows, maybe that is our reason to exist in this powerful Universe.

Our egoism has no place in the Universe

In our pursuit of happiness, we become blind. We forget that we are just a piece of the puzzle, and not the puzzle as a whole. We are just a part of the Universe, and not the Universe as a whole.

Is it possible that we are here only to serve our egoism and pride?

Is it possible that we are here only to serve our own illusions and inventions?

We were created in this world, with magnificent attributes, with unprecedented consciousness,

We were blessed with every component of intelligence to connect with the Universe that surround us,

We were created as one – as a single species, in charge of caring for a whole world.

What have we done for it? Have we made it prey of our own inventions and desires?

Money for the sake of money. Wealth for the sake of wealth. Power for the sake of being better than other fellow humans, for the sake of displaying individual dominance over them and over the world that was given to us. Is that our idea of success? Is that out idea of happiness?


If we were visited by other inhabitants from the Universe, we would be none but their laughingstock. We are prey of our own inventions, of our own desires, of our own self-created idea of wealth. We do not value our world as our home – we value it for the economic wealth we can exploit from it, from the personal riches that we can acquire by abusing it… our own home. Our only one. And as we rape our home, we wonder whether there are other places in the Universe where we can thrive as a species – but not with the intention to flourish and make of them better places, but with the very and only intention of continuing the exploitation for the very sake of profits and financial wealth – a product of our minds.

Meanwhile, a whole Universe looks upon us… perhaps we are the missing link that will help the Universe as a whole to complete its mission. Or perhaps we are not. If we only were able to forget about our own egoism in the first place, and look upon the well being of our species as a species, and not as individuals, we would maybe find out…