Human And Divine

Human And Divine

“Why does it have to be human or divine? Maybe human is divine.”
- Robert Langdon in Da Vinci Code.

This insight provided by Robert Langdon, the character of Tom Hanks, in Da Vinci Code is critical for understanding yoga. For millennia we humans have struggled with the idea of divinity. Our misunderstanding of this idea has been the source of endless conflict. Being divine and human has been considered mutually exclusive. You had to be something special to be divine and to prove your divinity you had to be able to perform miracles. Divinity became a source of contention and conflict.

But yoga changes all that. The deepest insight of yoga is that we are all divine. There is nothing special about divinity. The most vile mass murder also has divinity buried inside him. The choice is NOT between being human OR divine. The choice is between being divine and non-divine. When we are divine we are expressing our humanity in a particular way. When we are being non-divine our humanity is expressed in a different way. The mass murderer is expressing his humanity in the most vile and obnoxious way.

There are these two young fish swimming along, and they happen to meet an older fish going the other way, who nods at them and says, “Morning, boys, how’s the water?” And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes, “What the hell is water?”

We are like the young fish. We are immersed in Divinity, and yet we are unaware of it. How can this happen? The answer in one word is: Ego. The ego is our source of ignorance. It is the cause of our separation from the whole.

The ego is simply a knot of consciousness that reflects back on itself in such a way that it creates an illusion of separateness. There is nothing inherently evil about the ego and we should not try and beat it up. The key insight with respect to the ego is to consider it as a tool and nothing more. If on the other hand we identify with the ego and become subservient to its wishes then the divinity within us remains subsumed. Our humanity is expressed in the most un-divine way. Our life is hijacked by the ego and we become servants of its whims. The mass murders begin to surface amongst us.

Yoga provides us the tools to take back control. It allows us to reach back to our source, our inherent divinity. Yoga recognizes that the ego is not something that is going to vanish overnight. It therefore provides us mechanisms to turn our ego into a tool. From being a master of life, the ego simply becomes a tool. As we get closer to our inherent divinity, the ego becomes less and less important. And eventually when we merge with our divinity the ego dissolves. The knot is released.

In Yoga miracles are not proof of divinity. They are a diversion, a sideshow. Since we are all divine no proof of divinity is needed. For a fish there is no need to prove the existence of water. Miraculous powers are known as “Siddhis” in yoga. Miracles are just one way in which we can express our humanity, and an indicator that we are making progress on our journey to the source. If we happen to come by some Siddhis and if we turn these into a source of power and attention, then the ego is back in business. Our progress stops and there is danger of slippage. On the other hand if we treat these as signposts that indicate we are on the right tack then we can continue along our journey.

The choice before us not between being human or divine. The choice instead is between being a servant of our ego or its master. The choice is between using our energies to move towards our source or to use our energies at the whims of the ego. What shall you choose?

Related: Surface Dweller Or Deep Swimmer?

Credits:This has been written by Raj Shah and edited by Ketna Shah.

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The Gratitude Dance

There is much to be grateful for. There is so much joy to be shared with our brothers and sisters across the world! This “Gratitude Dance” shows the way. Please share!

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Change Brain Structure With Meditation

More Brain With Meditation

An 8-week study of the effects of meditation on the brain has discovered some astounding things. Not only does meditation make noticeable improvements in our feeling of well-being, it actually changes the brain physically, producing more grey matter in certain regions of the brain and reversing the effect of aging on the brain.

In a study that appeared in the issue of Psychiatry Research: Neuroimaging, a team of researchers report about meditation-produced changes over time in the brain’s grey matter.

“Although the practice of meditation is associated with a sense of peacefulness and physical relaxation, practitioners have long claimed that meditation also provides cognitive and psychological benefits that persist throughout the day,” says Sara Lazar, PhD, of the MGH Psychiatric Neuroimaging Research Program, the study’s senior author. “This study demonstrates that changes in brain structure may underlie some of these reported improvements and that people are not just feeling better because they are spending time relaxing.”

Previous studies from Lazar’s group and others found structural differences between the brains of experienced mediation practitioners and individuals with no history of meditation, observing thickening of the cerebral cortex in areas associated with attention and emotional integration. But those investigations could not document that those differences were actually produced by meditation.

For the current study, MR images were take of the brain structure of 16 study participants two weeks before and after they took part in the 8-week Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) Program at the University of Massachusetts Center for Mindfulness. In addition to weekly meetings that included practice of mindfulness meditation – which focuses on nonjudgmental awareness of sensations, feelings and state of mind – participants received audio recordings for guided meditation practice and were asked to keep track of how much time they practiced each day. A set of MR brain images were also taken of a control group of non-meditators over a similar time interval.

Meditation group participants reported spending an average of 27 minutes each day practicing mindfulness exercises, and their responses to a mindfulness questionnaire indicated significant improvements compared with pre-participation responses. The analysis of MR images, which focused on areas where meditation-associated differences were seen in earlier studies, found increased grey-matter density in the hippocampus, known to be important for learning and memory, and in structures associated with self-awareness, compassion and introspection. Participant-reported reductions in stress also were correlated with decreased grey-matter density in the amygdala, which is known to play an important role in anxiety and stress. Although no change was seen in a self-awareness-associated structure called the insula, which had been identified in earlier studies, the authors suggest that longer-term meditation practice might be needed to produce changes in that area. None of these changes were seen in the control group, indicating that they had not resulted merely from the passage of time.

“It is fascinating to see the brain’s plasticity and that, by practicing meditation, we can play an active role in changing the brain and can increase our well-being and quality of life.” says Britta Hölzel, PhD, first author of the paper and a research fellow at MGH and Giessen University in Germany. “Other studies in different patient populations have shown that meditation can make significant improvements in a variety of symptoms, and we are now investigating the underlying mechanisms in the brain that facilitate this change.”

Amishi Jha, PhD, a University of Miami neuroscientist who investigates mindfulness-training’s effects on individuals in high-stress situations, says, “These results shed light on the mechanisms of action of mindfulness-based training. They demonstrate that the first-person experience of stress can not only be reduced with an 8-week mindfulness training program but that this experiential change corresponds with structural changes in the amydala, a finding that opens doors to many possibilities for further research on MBSR’s potential to protect against stress-related disorders, such as post-traumatic stress disorder.” Jha was not one of the study investigators.

Credit: The above story is based on materials provided by Massachusetts General Hospital.

Related: Getting Started With Meditation In Nine Easy Steps

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The Wondrous Whale

Wondrous Whale

Once upon a time in a magnificent ocean filled with brightly coloured corals, a great diversity of fish and other lovely ocean creatures there lived a wondrous whale. The whale was very large and also very loving.

The whale was very happy living in the deep blue ocean with all the many friends he had. Near the surface where the water of the ocean was very clear, the whale could see all of the other ocean creatures very well, but deep down where the water was dark and murky he couldn’t always be sure.

Fortunately, the whale had a handy tool he could use called echolocation. The whale would simply send out calls into the ocean and then he would listen carefully to the echoes of those calls that came back to him. This is how the whale was able to find food for himself and to know which other ocean creatures, corals and other objects were around him.

Many of the ocean creatures didn’t quite understand how the whale’s special gift worked and so the whale tried to explain it to them.

“When the sound I make reaches another fish or plant for instance, some of this sound is sent back to me. So by listening to these echoes from my surroundings I am able to sense where other ocean creatures and plant life are,” the whale explained.

One of the smaller fish found all of this very confusing and wanted to go up to the large whale and ask him about it. At first he was a bit worried about asking more questions since the whale had explained it all many times before. But then he decided to be brave and do it anyway.

“Aren’t you afraid to send out sounds?” the fish asked the whale. “Don’t you worry about what will come back to you?”

The whale chuckled at the little fish’s question.

“That’s a very wise question,” the whale began. “It takes true courage to speak up and put yourself out there.”

The small fish felt reassured that he had done well by telling the whale what he had been wondering about.

“Fortunately,” the whale continued, “you live in this marvellous ocean and when any feelings of fear or doubt or worry come to you, it is always best to immediately hand these over to the ocean to be washed away.”

The small fish nodded. This was something he had heard before and always tried to remember to do.

“Look at me,” the whale said. “I am very large and I choose for my sounds to be loud. Just as it is for you, it is also important for me to be brave and speak up.”

The small fish nodded. He thought that the whale must have known that he had been a little bit worried about asking more questions and he now felt comforted by the large loving whale.

“If the whale can be courageous and speak up then so can I,” the little fish thought.

“And then I listen for what comes back to me,” the whale continued. “Animals that use echolocation know the importance of good communication. It is not just about speaking up and putting yourself out there. It is equally important to truly listen to others.”

Again, this was something the small fish had heard many times before and always tried to remember to do.

“But aren’t you afraid to send out loud sounds?” the little fish asked. “I mean, aren’t you afraid of what will come back to you?”

The loving whale smiled widely at the little fish. “I choose for my sounds to be loud,” he said. “I’m not afraid someone might hear me. I need for my sounds to reach other objects so that I can find them.”

“But aren’t you afraid of what will come back to you?” the little fish asked again.

“As for being afraid of what comes back to me,” the whale said to the small fish, “I know that whatever I send out is what will come back to me.”

“I don’t understand,” the small fish said.

“Well,” the whale said, “as with everything, whatever you send out is what eventually comes back to you.”

The little fish was confused. “Are you sure?” he asked.

“Well, of course,” the whale said. “So, it’s always best to send out that which you would like to receive.”

The little fish laughed. “Dear whale, you are so wise,” he then said.

The whale lovingly smiled at the little fish and asked, “So what is it that you would like to receive?”

The small fish pondered on this question for a while and then said, “I would like to receive everything good.”

The whale chuckled. “Me, too,” he then added. “And where does everything good ultimately come from?” the whale asked the small fish.

“It comes from a place of love,” the little fish answered.

“That’s right,” the whale said. “So, you send out love.”

“How do you do that?” the small fish asked, somewhat confused.

“You wrap all your words in love,” the whale explained.

“It’s that simple?” the small fish asked.

“Of course,” the whale replied.

The little fish was stunned. “And it really works?” he asked.

“Of course,” the whale said. “Who are the ocean creatures loved the most by everyone in and out of the water?” he asked the little fish.

“That’s easy,” the little fish immediately said. “The dolphins are.”

“And do you know why?” the whale asked.

“Because in their eyes you can see true love,” the small fish replied. “Being around them, even just thinking about them, makes your heart feel warm.”

“And why is that?” the whale asked again.

“Because they love everything and everyone very much and it shows,” the small fish explained.

“That’s exactly right,” the whale confirmed. “The way I see it is that if you love everybody then you’ve done your part. And in the end that is what will come back to you. In truth, how others feel about you has nothing to do with you. You only have to do your part.”

“I understand,” the small fish said, nodding in full agreement. “And from now on, I will love all of the creatures in and out of the ocean very much and eventually that love will come back to me and I will be very loved, too.”

The whale smiled widely at the little fish and then lovingly said to him, “You already are, my little friend, more than you know.”

Credit: This has been written by Judith Victoria Deer and has been published with permission.

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How Not To Be Ignorant About The World

If we don’t know where we are how will we understand where we are going? Hans Rosling and his son provide a riveting talk that provides us clues on how to make sense on where the world is headed.

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