Sunday, August 30, 2009

Meditation - A Powerful Tool for Human Evolution

(By Kevin Schoeninger)

The research is pouring in on the profound benefits of meditation practice. Science now confirms what practitioners have known for centuries: Meditation is a powerful tool for human evolution.

How could sitting quietly “doing nothing” possibly make such a difference in your life? The truth is found in many dimensions. We’ll explore some of the most important points in this brief article. Of course, to fully understand, you’ll have to meditate for yourself. If you need some inspiration or re-motivation for that venture, read on.

Let’s talk about the benefits of meditation in four dimensions: physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual. Meditation in its best forms is a truly holistic practice; it works on all levels of your being. It has the power to improve your health and immune function, increase your emotional sensitivity and emotional balance, clear and focus your mind, and strengthen your sense of spiritual connection. Let’s go through each of these in turn.

Dr. Herbert Benson began his research into the physiological changes during meditation practice at Harvard University in 1968. He published a groundbreaking book, called “The Relaxation Response” in 1975. In this book, he described a state of deep relaxation that occurs in meditation that counters the physical and emotional effects of stress or the “fight/flight” response.

Stress activates the sympathetic nervous system which puts us in a state of hyperactive readiness that can be useful during real emergency situations. However, chronic stress is a condition that tears down the body and inhibits its ability to adapt, grow, and repair itself. Chronic stress shunts blood away from the internal organs to the extremities which hampers digestion and immunity. Our muscles tighten into a state of persistent tension, blood pressure rises, emotions get locked into a protective fear mode, and our mind is less able to process new information and find creative solutions.

In addition, chronic stress is associated with chronic inflammation in the body which is being linked to almost every major disease, including cancer, heart disease, and autoimmune dysfunction. With the speed, pressure, and intensity of human life at an all-time high and on the rise, it’s absolutely imperative that we learn to master stress and relax our bodies.

The relaxation response described by Dr. Benson activates the parasympathetic nervous system which is our recovery and repair mode. People who learn to activate the relaxation response using a simple meditation technique show almost immediate positive physiological changes. Their breathing slows and deepens, their hearts come into rhythmic coherence, their brainwaves slow and synchronize, and they experience a pleasurable sense of relief and relaxation.
Long-term meditation practice lowers blood pressure, increases the release of “feel good” neurotransmitters such as serotonin, dopamine, and GABA, and stimulates the production of DHEA, a hormone which helps the body repair and regenerate itself.

When you meditate, your body not only comes down from stress, but you feel better and more in charge of your inner life. You are more aware of your inner feelings and more able to manage them. Research at the Center for Spirituality and the Mind at the University of Pennsylvania shows that meditation practice develops the anterior cingulate, a structure in the midbrain that enables you to manage your thoughts and feelings and increases your ability to empathize with and have compassion for others. In other words, meditation is good for your personal well-being and for building strong relationships.

Meditation also develops the prefrontal lobes in the front of the brain, just behind your forehead. The prefrontal lobes enable you to focus your attention and integrate your experiences in meaningful and productive ways. Studies with Tibetan monks at the University of Wisconsin have shown increased thickness in the prefrontal lobes and increased neural connections between the frontal lobes and the rest of the brain in those who have meditated for extended periods of time.

Research at the University of Pennsylvania also suggests that meditation practice enhances memory formation and retention. This points to its use as a possible preventive measure for Alzheimer’s and other conditions associated with aging and the brain.

Not only does meditation have these powerful effects on the body, emotions, and brain, but there are more profound and less easy to study spiritual effects. In general, meditation develops your ability to feel connected to life. People often describe their deep meditations as times when they feel most like themselves. They also experience themselves as part of the One Life that we all share. Meditators often describe a deep sense of trust, support, and guidance that comes in their meditation practice.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Scared Geometry

(By Tiffiney Whitmire)

"All things throughout our universe seem to follow the same fundamental blueprint or geometric patterns. These geometrical archetypes, which reveal to us the nature of each form and its vibrational resonances. They are also symbolic of the underlying metaphysical principle of the inseparable relationship of the part to the whole. It is this principle of oneness underlying all geometry that permeates the architecture of all inseparability and union provides us with a continuous reminder of our relationship to the whole--a blueprint for the mind to the sacred foundation of all things created."

We call this blueprint "Sacred Geometry".

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Stories are how we understand best

In Athens back in 388 BC, Plato petitioned to the City Fathers (or members of the city’s municipal council) to exile and banish all storytellers from the city for the “safety” of its citizenry. He argued that they are threats to the society at large by reason that they do not communicate ideas in an open and rational manner as with philosophers. Instead, the storytellers hide their ideas within the seductive emotions of art.

Plato knew that storytellers have the ability to influence the citizens by concealing potent ideas in compelling yet deceptively straightforward stories. Plato argued that each well-constructed story will deliver a charged idea out into the minds of the citizens, and therefore effectively compelling them to believe and accept the idea, even if it may be morally repugnant. Plato knew that concealing an idea within a story magnified the power of that idea far beyond simply sharing the idea alone.

The reason for this is that stories emulate the way we think. In our daily lives, we literally think in narrative structures as if we are telling an ongoing story of ourselves. May it be talking about the events which occurred during our day, connecting with a friend over a cup of coffee, or reflecting on our experiences just before we go to bed, we inadvertently think in a storyline format. It is because of this, stories naturally imprint themselves into our minds without any effort on our part.

Stories are how we understand best.

Saturday, August 01, 2009

The Magic of Creative Flow

Originally posted in Evolution Ezine at the following site:

Artists describe it as “rapture”.
Mystics describe it as “ecstasy”.
Athletes describe it “being in the zone”.
Taoist scholar Chuang Tzu describes it as a state where "perception and understanding come to a stop and the spirit begins to move where it wants”.
And Mihalyi Csikszentmihalyi (pronounced Me-hi Chicksent-me-hi), a research psychologist and former chairman of the psychology department at the University of Chicago who has devoted his life to the study of flow, describes it as an optimal experience during which people feel that they are engaged in a creative unfolding of something greater than the task at hand. As a result of this engagement, they experience a deep sense of fulfillment and spontaneous joy.

Flow is achieved any time when we are able to experience full, positive engagement with what we are doing, that is, whenever we are able to put everything we have into the engagement. The nature of the activity, may it be art, problem-solving, innovation, games, sports, work or hobbies, does not matter in the least. It is during the total un-self-conscious tuning into the present as well as the activity in which we are engaged when our emotions are positively energized and completely aligned with the task at hand.

Csikszentmihalyi has identified and outlined several elements of the experience of flow, of which the following six are the most characteristic:

The flow is a state of self-forgetfulness.

While in the flow, we are performing at their peak, and we are so fully absorbed in their task at hand that welose all self-consciousness. Moments of flow are egoless. When experiencing the flow, we are unconcerned with how we are performing, or whether we will succeed or fail. In fact, we are not even consciously experiencing satisfaction or joy. In fact, if we were to stop and think, “Oh how happy I am” or “I’m doing this so well”, the flow may as such be interrupted by the shift of focus from the task to the self. And feelings of deep satisfaction, elation, fulfilment that accompany the flow are usually consciously realized in retrospect.

In the flow, there is no perception of space and time.

While in the flow, the outside world fades away, while full focus is maintained on the task at hand. Distractions are excluded from consciousness. Performing artists will become unaware of the audience, and in fact, after the performance is over, they may not remember much about it too. A skier who won a gold medal at the Winter Olympics in 1994, when interviewed about her experience, said that she remembered nothing about it except being immersed in relaxation. She said: “I felt like a waterfall”. While in the flow, time becomes an ever-present "now" in which awareness and action are merged into one. Instead of the individual being in charge of the process, the process seems to be in charge of itself. Each step emerges out of the previous one seemingly in one, single extended moment.

In the flow, the brain is in a “cool” state.

The quality of attention while in the flow is highly focused, yet completely relaxed and at ease. When people reach this effortless state of flow, their brain actually quiets down even though the activity may be quite challenging. But once we become totally attuned to the task at hand, as well as are positively and emotionally immersed into it, our brains work unhindered by any other concerns such as worry or fear. The zone of flow is described as an “oasis of cortical experience”, with only a bare minimum of mental energy being expended.

The flow occurs when the activity is “autotelic”.

In other words, the activity is done just for its own sake, and is perceived as an end in itself. Researchers have found that flow is achieved more easily by artists who just focus on their artwork, instead of focusing on the future benefits of fame and wealth that their artwork may bring. The same results have been found in self-reports from athletes, writers and innovators, who have begun their tasks at hand or undertaken their specific challenges not as means to an end, but as ends in themselves. In this case, they are perhaps perceived them as opportunities to try something new, to excel in something, or to stretch and outdo themselves.

While in the flow, people are tireless.

When the brain is operating at peak performance, even very challenging tasks that require very hard work are experienced as refreshing or replenishing rather than draining. This occasionally may have some negative side-effects, because the brain does get tired eventually and fatigue may ensue. Most people who have learned to get into the zone of flow usually know when to take a break or stop working on their tasks for a while, but at the same time also know that they can get back into it anytime they want.

The flow is “addictive”.

This happens for two reasons:

1) Because the flow frequently occurs when an activity challenges us to the fullest of their capacities, our skills will tend to improve or increase in the process and therefore the next challenge would need to be heightened for us to get into the flow, like a larger dose of a drug.

2) The flow feels good and is intrinsically rewarding; for this reason, people tend to want to repeat the experience of flow as frequently as possible. An owner of a large retail company once described the elation he felt in applying some new systems in the organization of his company to improve company-customer relations. His high level of involvement in the project could be felt tangibly as he talked about it, and it could be seen in his shining eyes the excitement and rapture that he felt. As soon as his project was complete, and when the new systems were running perfectly, he immediately embarked upon a new project with “even better” systems for improving the company's customer relations that he had in the meantime discovered. In other words, he was hooked on the flow.

How easy is it then to experience flow?

The whole key to getting into the flow is achieving the state of self-forgetfulness that the experts stress on, by totally focusing on the task at hand with positive expectation and total emotional engagement. Usually, our brains will create some “static” in the first few minutes until they becomes completely aligned with the task at hand. By then as if by magic, we would be suddenly thrust into the zone experiencing the magic of the flow.

P.S. Ismini Apostoli is a clinical psychologist and psychotherapist, practicing in Greece and offering online services throughout the world. She is particularly interested in self- esteem, self-development and self-actualization and helping people uncover their special gifts and talents. You can find out more by visiting the following site: