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

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: http://www.naturalnews.com/039139_meditation_brain_rhythms_depression.html#ixzz2NkdetpyH

Pleasure vs. Happiness: Where to look for true happiness?

In our current, modern way of life, we are sometimes convinced (by the media, or by behaviours of other people) that happiness is correlative to success, and success is correlative to economic wealth. In other words, the wealthier we are, the more successful we are – hence the happier we are. If this equation was true, then devouting our lives to work and consumerism would lead to a happy and perfect life.

But this equation could not be farther away from reality. In our pursuit of happiness, it is important that we make a clear distinction between happiness and pleasure. Whereas there might be some fringe relation between the two, pleasure tends to be more of an ephemeral -and misguiding- sensation.

Let’s take the example of a person who buys a luxurious car.  As soon as they drive out of the car dealership, they will for sure feel a rush of adrenaline and a sense of pride and achievement running through their veins. At the end of the day, the luxurious car is a result of their hard work, more like a reward for their efforts. Will that feeling last forever? Unlikely. How long will it take, then, until the adrenaline and pride rushes wash off? Once that happens, this person will feel the need to reward themselves again. Maybe next time they’ll be treating themselves to an expensive dinner with champagne and caviar?

What this person obtained by buying the expensive car was pleasure: A momentary sensation, produced by external stimuli. Indeed, the car is not a source of happiness. In fact, neither the car nor any material possession can ever be considered as a potential source of pleasure because happiness is a state of mind. As such, happiness comes from within, and has the potential to outlast the effects of any pleasure.

Happiness is all about finding the goodness within ourselves, and absorbing the positive energy of our surroundings. To achieve happiness, you should not aim to satisfy your need to be happy with the pleasure from possessing material wealth. Look into your body, mind and soul first, and find out the necessary balance that will open the gates to happiness. In the words of Paramhansa Yogananda, “You must first establish it firmly within yourself and then, with an undying resolution always to be happy, go through the world seeking health, prosperity, and wisdom. You will find greater happiness if you seek success ever with a happy attitude than if you try to gain your heart’s desire with an unhappy mind, no matter what that desire may be.

Arjuna Ardagh: About love and spiritual self respect

The following text was written by Arjuna Ardagh. He originally titled it “Why is it important to worship a woman”. But the learning that it leaves behind goes way beyond on the importance of worshipping a woman: It speaks a lot about our physical, mental, and spiritual integrity and self respect. Moreover, it speaks about love in its purest spiritual nature. It is an amazing read from all perspectives.

“Many many years ago, I went to Bali for a vacation, on my own. I met up with some other young travelers there and we hired a Jeep to take us on a tour of the island. We drove up right to the highest point of the island, where Tourists don’t usually go. Our guide took us to one of the most sacred temples. It was surrounded by a big brick wall with an ornate entrance. After removing our shoes and wrapping scarves around our heads, we stepped together through this entrance. Inside, there was a short courtyard and then another brick wall with another entrance. After more preparations of lighting incense and giving offerings, we stepped through the second entrance. We were allowed to go through the opening in one more wall, but that was it. All together there were ten walls around the deity in the middle. Hindus could go beyond the fourth wall. Devotees of that particular deity could go beyond the fifth wall, and so it went on. The only people allowed to approach the deity directly were those who had given their lives completely and totally to its worship. Everyone else could come a little closer, a little closer, to the innermost beauty, but not all the way to the center.

I’m not a big believer of the worship of statues, but there’s a beautiful symbolism to what I saw there, because a woman’s heart is just like that. At the essence of every woman’s heart is the divine feminine. It contains everything that has ever been beautiful, or lovely, or inspiring, in any woman, anywhere, at any time. The very essence of every woman’s heart is the peak of wisdom, the peak of inspiration, the peak of sexual desirability, the peak of soothing, healing love. The peak of everything. But it’s protected, for good reason, by a series of concentric walls. To move inwardly from one wall to the next requires that you intensify your capacity to devotion, and as you do so, you are rewarded with Grace. This is not something you can negotiate verbally with a woman. She doesn’t even know consciously how to open those gates herself. They are opened magically and invisibly by the keys of worship.

If you stand on the outside of the outermost wall, all you have available to you, like many other unfortunate men, is pornography. For $1.99 a minute, you can see her breasts, maybe her vagina, and you can stimulate yourself in a sad longing for deeper love.

Step through another gate, and she will show you her outer gift-wrapping. She’ll look at you with a certain twinkle in her eye. She’ll answer your questions coyly. She’ll give you just the faintest hint that there is more available.

Step through another gate with your commitment, with your attention, with the small seedlings of devotion, and she’ll open her heart to you more. She’ll share with you her insecurities, the way that she’s been hurt, her deepest longings. Some men will back away at this point. They realize that the price they must pay to go deeper is more than they are willing to give. They start to feel a responsibility. But for those few who step though another gate, they come to discover her loyalty, her willingness to stick with you no matter what, her willingness to raise your children, stick up for you in conversation, and, if you are lucky, even pick up your dirty socks now and then. And so it goes on. You’ve got the gist by now.

Somewhere around the second wall from the center, she casts the veils of her personality aside, and shows you that she is both a human being and also a portal into something much greater than that. She shows you a wrath that is not hers, but all women’s. She shows you a patience that is also universal. She shows you her wisdom. At this point you start to experience the archetypes of women, who have been portrayed as goddesses and mythological figures in every tradition.”

-Arjuna Ardagh

Controlling our Self-bias

When talking about colours, it is not uncommon to hear that white is the absence of all colours, while black is the mix of all colours. In other words, we could say that white is the nothing while black is the everything. They are so distant, so opposite. And yet, both are inevitably dependent on all other colours, and their existence  – or non-existence thereof.

Ying Yang

This analogy applies wonderfully when we speak about our perception of the world – and our power to influence it: good and bad, right and wrong, success and failure, everything and nothing. In a way, the concept of all of them is the absolute “presence” or “absence” of a certain element. For example, based on the dictionary definition of success, the concepts of success and failure can be understood as the absolute presence of a favourable outcome or the absolute lack of it. The same rationale would apply for all other seemingly opposing forces in our world.

But since they depend on common attributes, they can’t totally oppose each other. Rather, we can understand them from a brand new perspective: Just as the existence of black and white is dependent on the existence or non existence or other colours, the existence or non existence of forces like success-failure, good-bad, rich-poor, happy-miserable, and so forth, depends on our own perception – and the degree of positivity or negativity that we apply to them – what we can dub the self-bias.

On that note, if we reflect upon us and try to determine whether we are happy or unhappy – it will depend entirely on what factors we consider to measure our happiness. The absolute lack of positivity when judging ourselves self-biased (thoughts like “I’m not good enough at doing this or that, I’m not intelligent enough, I have unpaid debts, I haven’t accomplished my new-year resolutions, and so forth) will have a very different outcome than the absolute presence of it (I have food to eat at my table every day, I have shelter and clothing to protect myself of the weather, I live in a peaceful community, I have good health, etc), which of course makes every one of us owners of our own perception and our own happiness.

The power to be happy and to shape your world is in your hands – and in your mind! Awaken it and live a full life from now!

Mens Sana in Corpore Sano – Exercise and what?

The Romans wisely coined the phrase “Mens Sana in Corpore Sano”, which roughly translates as “Healthy Mind in a Healthy Body”.

The very base of this thought is not only that by doing exercise, our mind will stay clear of “noise” that allow us to ascertain our world in the most transparent way. Very deep inside, the very message that this phrase conveys is that a balanced life keeps our Mind and Body clear. Indeed, we must pay equal attention to our body and mind to achieve a plentiful Physical Existence. How so?

Vitruvian Man

Let’s start by speaking about the healthy Body. As science has correctly taught us, a healthy Body requires exercise, balanced nutrition, hygiene and regular examinations to make sure that it is always at its peak performance rate. If we only did this, would we automatically know that this healthy Body contains a healthy Mind?

Probably not per se. Despite of the fact that a healthy body provides an ideal environment for a healthy Mind to exist, there is also some maintenance that must be done to the Mind – and such maintenance comes in the shape of relaxation, meditation, and exercising the mind (i.e. thinking!), along with recreational activities and an adequate management of stress.

Being so, Without a healthy Mind, we cannot have a healthy body. Without a healthy Body, we cannot have a healthy Mind. Only achieving a healthy Body does not grant us a healthy Mind, nor vice versa. Life is all about balances – and this famous Roman saying is just a timeless reminder of that for all generations that were, are, and will be.

Fear – And how to tame it!

Fear is but a single, specific feeling – yet different people have different fears: Fear of death, fear of heights, fear of failure, fear of darkness, fear of change… you name it. But what do they all have in common?

The one and only factor that all kinds of fear shown by people (and the very only source of it) is uncertainty. People are afraid of facing things that they don’t know – or things that may be potentially harmful. Fear is a woe to overcome! But what if fear was not a woe, but an ally? How can you make a friend from your fear?

The first thing to consider when coping with fear is to acknowledge its very nature -the uncertainty factor- and analyze the potential outcomes from the perceived fear. Pick the fear of your choice and meditate about it for a minute. Consider: What is the worst case scenario that could happen if you were face-to-face to your source of fear? How would you deal with the anxiety so you can keep a moderate demeanour under such circumstances?

Having an action plan prepared in advance is a great thing to do, as it minimizes anxiety and provides a clearer rationale of why is that fear bugging us –  and what would we do in the event we had an encounter with it. Awareness and preparedness are amazing weapons to mitigate fear!

Another great way to deal with fear is to discuss it with a person who is able to listen and help you analyze the source and nature of the fear – a person who does not share the same fear as you do. Ask them, why are they not afraid of the same things as you are? What is the source of their “courage” (for the lack of a better word) to avoid such fear?

Keep in mind that fear, because of its very own nature, usually keeps us from thinking with a clear mind – hence creating false images and scenarios in our brains, which more often than not are but exaggerated and twisted products of our own rigged imagination. Is it worth to confront them while our minds are completely overwhelmed? Well no. Moreover, reasoning and making decisions under such circumstances is like shooting in the dark.

These exercises in discussion, reflection, and brainstorming will give you a valuable key to manage your fear and understand that such feeling is totally tameable. Understanding this every time, no fear -present or future- will lie between again you and your goals.

The nature of your inner power – and the purpose of this blog!

Each of us is blessed with special powers: The power to love, the power to understand, the power to move our world around in order to achieve our maximum potential every day. We are powerful indeed, whether we are aware of it. Sometimes, it might appear that we are not in control of our power, but we are. And we can improve our grip on such power.

As we will see throughout this journey, there are plenty of ways in which we can manage to get a better grip on our inner power – day by day, hour by hour. By creating this blog, my goal is to provide food for thought that will inspire you to control your inner power and maximize your potential – spiritually, mentally and emotionally.

In Mind, Body, and Soul…

Eddie Tafber