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Are You A Believer?

Picture of woman praying
It’s a simple question: Are you believer? However the answer may not be so simple. To answer this it may be better to first answer the question: What do you mean by “belief”?

This is important because meanings of words evolve over time and that the meaning of the word “belief” has evolved too. Karen Armstrong in an interview with Reddit explains:

…the English word belief changed its meaning: beliven used to mean “love, loyalty, commitment, engagement,” It was related to the German liebe (“beloved”) and the Latin libido (“desire”). Only in the late 17th century did it come to mean: “an intellectual acceptance of a somewhat dubious proposition.”

When ancient sages and prophets talked about having “belief” or “faith” they meant something much different from what it seems to mean today. The call for having belief or faith was akin to a call for action. It was not a call for an intellectual exercise. You do not decide to be a believer or non-believer as an intellectual exercise. Instead you decide to act or not to act. To be a believer meant committing to live your life in a particular way.

And what type of life were the ancient sages asking us to commit to when they asked us to be believers? The answer is that all sages and prophets, throughout history, have unanimously asked us to commit to the “Golden Rule”: To do to others what we would have them do to us.

Belief was a commitment to think and act, all day, every day, in a manner that is consistent with the Golden Rule. The promise was that if you do this consistently you would grow closer to God. Belief was a journey towards God; it was not something that you do at the outset of the journey. God was not an intellectual exercise. God was something practical you could do something about and could grow into. Continue reading

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Where is the ice cream?

Teen Girl Holding an Ice Cream Cone
A Michigan woman and her family were vacationing in a small New England town where Paul Newman and his family often visited. One Sunday morning, the woman got up early to take a long walk. After a brisk five-mile hike, she decided to treat herself to a double-dip chocolate ice cream cone.

She hopped in the car, drove to the center of the village and went straight to the combination bakery/ice cream parlor. There was only one other patron in the store: Paul Newman, sitting at the counter having a doughnut and coffee.

The woman’s heart skipped a beat as her eyes made contact with those famous baby-blue eyes. The actor nodded graciously and the star struck woman smiled demurely.

Pull yourself together! She chided herself. You’re a happily married woman with three children, you’re forty-five years old, not a teenager!

The clerk filled her order and she took the double-dip chocolate ice cream cone in one hand and her change in the other. Then she went out the door, avoiding even a glance in Paul Newman’s direction.

When she reached her car, she realized that she had a handful of change but her other hand was empty. Where’s my ice cream cone? Did I leave it in the store?

Back into the shop she went, expecting to see the cone still in the clerk’s hand or in a holder on the counter or something! No ice cream cone was in sight. With that, she happened to look over at Paul Newman.

His face broke into his familiar, warm, friendly grin and he said to the woman, “You put it in your purse.”

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My stroke of insight

Jill Bolte Taylor is a brain scientist and neuralanotamist. She spends her time studying the brain, mapping micro-circuitry of the brain. One morning she woke up to a peculiar pain behind her left eye. She did not realize at that time that she was experiencing a stroke in the left side of the brain that was getting progressively worse. She clambered onto her exercise machine hoping that the pain would go away as she exercised. As the stroke progressed her experience shifted and instead of experiencing herself as being on this machine she experienced herself as a witness that was having this experience on the machine.

The left hemisphere of the brain is a serial processor that is charged with taking the collage of experience of the right hemisphere and creating out of it a sequence in time. It maps the inputs from the right hemisphere to our prior experience and then projects these into the future. The left hemisphere is the thinking, analytic part of our cognitive experience. It is responsible for our thoughts and the chatter inside our brain. The right hemisphere on the other hand is like a parallel processor. It lives in the present moment rather than arranging things sequentially. The cognitive power of the right hemisphere takes the sensory input of sight, sound, taste, smell, and touch and creates a beautiful, wonderful and expansive sensory collage in our brain.

As the stroke progressed, at one moment, Jill found that suddenly the chatter emanating from her left-brain went silent. “It was as if suddenly someone had pressed a mute button and I found myself in a silent mind,” she says. Immediately she felt captured by the energy around her. “Because I could no longer identify the boundary around me, I felt enormous and expansive. I felt one with all energy and it was beautiful there!”

Even as her stroke progressed she found “moments of clarity” when her left-brain sporadically came back online. Somehow she summoned help and was taken to a hospital. When she recovered consciousness, following surgery, her left-brain was not functioning normally and she had a two-fold experience. At one level she found it painful to deal with the constant flow of sensory input flowing into her left-brain. On the other hand she felt unbound and free and her spirit soared like a giant whale swimming in an ocean of consciousness. “I felt like Nirvana! And I could not comprehend how I would ever be able to squeeze the enormity of my experience back into my tiny little body!”

Who are we?” Jill asks. “We are the life power of the Universe!” She responds to her own question with a voice quivering in emotion. “At any given moment, I have a choice. Either to be with my right hemisphere, and be one with the 50 trillion molecular geniuses (my cells) that make up my form, and also be one with all there is. Or I can be with my left hemisphere, and be separate from the flow and become Jill Bolte Taylor.”

“Which one should I choose? Which one would you choose?” She asks. “I feel that the more time we spend with the right hemisphere the more peaceful we will be and the more peace we will project out into the world. And this is the stroke of insight I want to share with you and this world!”

You can find Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor on her website or the website of her book. This is her facebook page. On the Facebook page you will find others with similar experience to hers.

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Yoga: Integrating Left and Right Brains, Changing the World

Picture of two brains

Back when I first started taking yoga classes, I was preoccupied with whether I could meet the concrete physical challenges they presented. Coming in feeling proud that I could touch my toes (having long considered this a feat of flexibility), I’d experience some angst mixed with the thrill of new ambition when instructed to do some previously unimagined variation such as Padahastasana (“hand-to-foot pose,” a standing forward fold with feet on top of palms.) And that’s what I thought it was all about. Could I “do it” – that is, achieve some particular physical posture – or not??

It’s funny for me to think back on those days. Because when I get on my mat now, I’m much more absorbed in working with my emotional and energetic bodies than in honing my physical practice per se. While I still try to learn new poses and believe that that’s a valuable process, nailing them is far from my primary aim. Instead, I’m much more immediately concerned with the psychological and spiritual dimensions of practice. The visible physical practice is the vehicle, but what really matters to me is invisible – at least to the untrained eye.

Just as I feel my own life force revitalized by asana practice, I have as a teacher “seen” students’ Prana visibly amplify. Which is a strange and wondrous and inspiring “sight” – a vision seen with some intuitive capacity of mind that I previously didn’t even know existed. But it’s also a difficult one to translate into the empiricist rigor and cultural limitations of words like I’m trying to do now – really, I’d have to be a poet to do it justice.

But that’s OK. Because even though I’m not a poet, I do value the process of translation – taking experiences processed through that non-verbal, extra-rational, intuitive right hemisphere of my brain and representing them through the medium of its linguistically structured, rational, analytic counterpart. Trying, in other words, to write in a more-or-less straightforward way about some of the more mysterious and esoteric dimensions of yoga.

In fact, I’ve come to see this kind of writing as part of my own personal practice. Because if yoga is about union, then doesn’t using all of our mental capacities – creating an integrated dialog between those left and right hemispheres – make perfect yogic sense? Sure, I’ve heard a lot of “turn off your mind” directives during my years in the yoga community. But I’ve come to the conclusion that I don’t want to turn anything off. Process and drain off accumulated mental and emotional crap? Yes. But “turn off” the innate and incredible human capacity to think? No. Continue reading

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Quantum mess

Picture depicting quantum atom

Quantum theory is an enigma. Richard Feynman a Nobel Prize winning physicist said, “If you think you understand quantum mechanics, you don’t understand quantum mechanics.” Which is another way of saying that quantum theory is not humanly understandable.

Niels Bohr, another Nobel Prize winning physicists, and an architect of quantum theory said, “If anybody is not shocked by quantum theory, he has not understood it.”

Quantum theory is a description of reality at the atomic level. However at this point all we have is mathematics that describes quantum mechanics. We have no corresponding physical description of what it means. It seems that there is a break down in our ability to describe what the mathematics in the theory is telling us.

So why is this? One reason is due to the fact that physicists have to by necessity use language and the mathematics that has an underlying basis on a space-time framework. When this hits against a reality that is not mechanical and is beyond space-time, the mathematics starts giving paradoxical answers.

Niels Bohr understood this and said, “We must be clear that when it comes to atoms, language can be used only as in poetry. The poet, too, is not nearly so concerned with describing facts as with creating images and establishing mental connections.” Continue reading

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