Sunday, November 19, 2006

Dr R.S. Agarwal's Mind and Vision

In India, Dr R.S. Agarwal (available in a book form titled Mind and Vision, published by the Sri Aurobindo Ashram, Pondicherry, costing Rs 50) offers his carefully researched methodology which has been popularized by Sri Aurobindo Ashram. In Mumbai, the modest Sanjeevan, the School of perfect eyesight, based on Dr Agarwal’s system has hundreds of ardent adherents, from all age groups, who have benefited enormously and improved their vision through this yoga of the eyes.
Dr Agarwal establishes the mind-sight connection right in the first sentence of his marvelously practical book: “Preservation of good eyesight is almost impossible without proper eye education and mental relaxation. The quieter the mind, better is the eyesight preserved.” He starts off giving credit to Bates, but re-introduces the yogic techniques of palming, sun treatment (also called sunning), relaxation. He says even five minutes of sunning (only the mild sunlight as at sunrise or sunset) can give relief in most eye problems. He also lays a lot of stress on the connection between a relaxed mind and perfect sight.
Palming helps for several reasons that is even today not clearly understood. But motivational guru and endocrinologist Deepak Chopra says just by mentally focusing on a particular body part we can increase blood flow to it, thus helping it heal itself. Perhaps palming works for similar reasons, where the light pressure on the crucial acupressure areas around the eyes give it relief, hastening and facilitating blood flow, encouraging lymphatic drainage, thus allowing the eyes to become stronger again.
Some of Dr Agarwal’s suggestions, shared by other alternative therapists for sight, include reading fine print to improve memory of letters, palming as often as possible, sunning, body-winging to help the eye muscles relearn the art of accommodation to fluctuating light conditions and re-training the mind to remember letters. This also includes relearning the art of blinking. Blinking gives rest to the eyes.
Today’s modern computer boom means that we are fast forgetting the significance of this simple body mechanism. It is said those who sit before the computer for long hours blink 20 to 40 per cent less than is normal. Again, because most computers are placed in a-r-conditioned rooms which cause dehydration, we suffer the double whammy of dry eyes that have forgotten to moisturize themselves through blinking. This is the second in the three-part series on yoga and sight. Posted by Shameem Akthar at 4:51 AM Saturday, November 18, 2006 Labels: , ,

Friday, November 10, 2006

Monks and monkeys

October 27, 2006 The Evolution of Handedness and Laterality
The evolution of bilaterality marked a great change in the organization of animals and to this day some illnesses are associated with disturbances of the normal balance between the two sides of the human body, most especially of the hemispheres of the brain. Presumably they would not occur if we were still arranged like jellyfish or sponges. But then we would probably not have become the species that we are without that great evolutionary leap forward.
A new report has shown that at the molecular level, the first signs of genes that are expressed asymmetrically are in the lowly sea anemone. What is even more extraordinary is that the same asymmetric genes found n the sea anemone can induce lateralization in the embryo of a frog.
This is of more than just academic interest: it tells us that the move toward lateralization was already present hundreds of millions of years ago, and primitive versions of some of the same genes in your body are also present in the simplest of organisms. This is incredible evidence for the oneness of life. There is also something else. Nature is economical: genes that are not needed are discarded. The fact that these lateralization genes have been around for such a long time indicates that they were critically important in our development. And disturbances of them may be important to this day.
The scientists doing the study have speculated that creatures with radial symmetry, like starfish, might have evolved from asymmetrical animals. I couldn’t help but remember the apparently strange speculations of Rudolf Steiner, who said that the essential form of humans was present hundreds of millions of years ago, and that other animals devolved from them. The idea was that sentience and spirituality did not just crop up with homo sapiens. but have been present since the beginning of time. Be that as it may, understanding more about the fundamental processes of lateralization will likely have important implications for understanding human evolution and disease.
“The wise man remembers that while he is a descendant of the past, he is a parent of the future.”--Herbert Spencer (English Evolutionary Philosopher, 1820-1903)
“We are descended not only from monkeys, but also from monks.”--Elbert Hubbard (American Editor, Publisher and Author, 1856-1915)
“As Aurobindo and Teilhard de Chardin knew, the future of humankind is God-consciousness...”--Ken Wilber (American Philosopher, 1949-)
Technorati Tags: , , , , , , October 27, 2006 in Evolution, Genes, Handedness and Laterality

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Wear the crown of authority in your heart

Stress Management for Students Abstract
You have to live your own life. You can decide to live either a happy life or a stressful one. You can live through the years with the attitude, “I will do my best and not bother about the outcome,” or you can live a life full of fears, doubts and jealousy. The choice is yours. To be happy or to be under stress irrespective of anything. I repeat, anything...
Power of Prayer in Stress Reduction
We are instruments in the hands of God. We make out daily plans and when these plans do not work we feel stressed. Students have to be taught to accept and be grateful without forgetting the theory of Karma – Nishkam Karma – as the Bhagwad Gita has taught us. Once we have done our best, nothing should worry us. We should not worry and feel stressed, if our daily plans fail. Above all, to make the students stress free, wear the crown of authority in your heart and not in your mind while dealing with them.
References :
Bloom. 1971. Report of Pilot Project. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology.
Das, Manoj. 1999. Shri Aurobindo on Education. New Delhi : NCTE.
Joshi, Kireet. 1997. Education for Character Development. Dharam Hinduja International Centre of Indian Research.
Mayer, Paul. 1995. Success Motivation in Personal and Professional Programme.
Sri Aurobindo Society. 1996. The True Teacher. Integral Education Series.
This entry was posted on Monday, October 9th, 2006 at 3:28 pm and is filed under Uncategorized. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site. Dr. Ranjana Bhatia Principal Amity Institute of Education Amity Campus, Saket New Delhi 110 017

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

School of Perfect Eyesight

Improving eyesight by Yoga
In October 2000 I travelled to Pondicherry, on the South East Coast of India for a course on eyesight improvement (i.e. myopia reduction). This school is one of the few schools that prescribe to the Bates Method for improvement in eyesight, in India. Having just completed a two week course, I returned to London to have my eyes tested and my sight improved from -2.75/-3.00 to –2.25, both eyes, and I was amazed at the result. I continue to do some of the exercises when I get the time, and do not wear glasses/lenses except for driving/sport. My eyes are generally less tired and feel much more relaxed then before. The school is straightforward, there is no useless babble - you just get on with the exercises with people at hand to give assistance and to make sure you do the exercise “properly”. The environment is well organised with around 10-20 students doing the exercises at any one time.
The specialists are professional and you can see that they have worked on 1000’s of cases. The school itself has been running since 1968, so any doubt from your mind erases the minute you walk into the school. The course is completely FREE - you can make an anonymous donation if you wish, in a discreetly placed box.The Exercise ProcessThe exercises are taking an hour, and after an initial check up you walk into the center and carry out the exercises. You are not supposed to wear glasses or watch television during the duration of the course. During the exercises there is relaxing light music playing in the background. These are some of the exercised that I did
Sun Gazing with eyes closed
Palming: Covering your eyes with a cupped palm of your hand.
Reading small print (normal light and candlelight):
Playing with a tennis ball: Moving ball from hand to hand and blinking, and bouncing ball from hand to hand and blinking
Imagination exercises with an eye chart.
Vapour Treatment: Hot vapour is released to your closed eyes for 30 seconds.
Eye Swab: Two cold eye swabs for 10 minutes.
After the first few days you will be called to do special exercised based on imagination, and small print reading – the “optician” will call you into his/her office especially for this. Contact & References Prappana Swain, School of Perfect Eyesight, Sri Aurobindo Ashram, Pondicherry India. 605001. Email: Tel: 0091 413 337156 They are Books published by the School of Perfect Eyesight by a Dr. Aggrawal an admirer of Bates posted by Ketan Varia at 6:18 AM Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Sri Aurobindo's Sharira Chatushtaya

Sri Aurobindo's Sharira Chatushtaya, the application of Utthapana, stage 1 and 2, noticing the energy and flow of prana in relation to the lightness and lack of exhaustion or tiredness during the flow. The application of Saundarya, being beautiful, bright, sweet and beautiful. This has a subtle component in the lower centers as sexual attraction, the subtle appearance of display, the idea of make up comes from trying to reproduce the state of subtle beauty that is seen when the sexual energies, arousal is strong...but beauty comes from the heart expressing through the energy of the body's consciousness and the recognition of a highly developed pranic flow, open channels. posted by Pravritti @ 11:17 AM Name: Pravritti Location: Cedar Rapids, Iowa, United States. I practice and teach Triyoga, also internal martial arts. Satyam

Saturday, September 09, 2006

By becoming charged with prana and Light

The Secret To Meditation and Moving Beyond it's Limitations
Daily meditation is the single greatest and easiest practice you can do to relax, restore your energy and love yourself. To reconnect to your spirit and experience who you truly are, this is the first step, but it will only take you so far.
Many successful people like Oprah Winfrey, Marianne Williamson and Deepak Chopra swear by it. Why? Because there is wisdom, peace and joy in being present with stillness. In today's world it is almost a radical act to be still, breathe and simply be with yourself without any distractions.
There are many ways to meditate, but here is a simple way to start if you are new to meditation:
Sit in a quiet space either on a cushion on the floor or in a chair.
Hold your spine straight, your chin down and imagine a string pulling the top center of your head up to the ceiling.
Then simply focus on your out breath - your breath is your life source; in one sense it's God's breath breathing you.
Your shoulders and your jaw are relaxed.
Your eyes may be open or closed. If they are open, hold an open gaze that is not focused on a particular object.
As your mind races notice the thought and allow it to pass like a cloud. There is othing to do. Just simply be. That's all you do, but the benefits to your physical and mental health will be tremendous. Unfortunately, those of us who have meditated for over 20 years will tell you, there is a limitation to how far this will take you spiritually.
After 2 or 3 years of meditating there is nowhere to go besides cycling around. Meditation alone leads to calming the mind and blissing out, but not to the spiritual liberation of enlightenment and ascention.
For this you need more advanced techniques in visualization and breathing that focus on your brain and your chakras. These techniques will allow you be awake and aware at any time. To live in a state of grace where your being experiences love, joy and a sense of equanimity at all times.
Chalanda Sai Ma is having one of her master teachers train interested beings in brain illumination techniques which can move you beyond meditation and towards enlightenment.
Here is a description of this from : "Brain illumination is a simple and very powerful set of techniques used to bring light into the brain in order to create an expanding state of awakened consciousness and enlightenment into our subtle body structures.
Cyclic breathing builds and harnesses prana, and is coupled with universal energy directed by our minds through visualization. These powerful energies are directed into the limbic system of our brain. The limbic system is the portion of our neuro-anatomy that is the seat of consciousness.
By becoming charged with prana and Light (the Supramental Light of God), the limbic system becomes electromagnetically and electrochemically stimulated, awakening the consciousness and expanding awareness into higher states of realization." For more details on how to do this simple yet highly effective practice visit: umination/index.cfm
Meditation is the first fundamental step of living an inspired life. How can you live your passion before you prctice connecting to your source on a consistent basis? You can't. Get to know your inner self and then you'll begin to experience the expansion of grace in your outer world.
It has been written that when a human body dies it loses 21 grams of weight. This is thought to be the weight of your soul which is your life force. Imagine living 80 to 100 years in this incarnation and never using any of that time to deepen the most primary relationship in your life - your relationship with your spirit.
Lets face it, you came to this life alone and you'll be leaving alone - the rest is a gift. So why not meditate and deepen your relationship with the spirit you'll be taking with you when you leave? Your spirit deserves nothing less Tuesday, August 22, 2006 posted by Herbert @ 5:35 AM

Friday, September 01, 2006

How meditation works

What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us. - Oliver Wendell Holmes
Meditation is an extremely simple process. It follows three distinct steps
We start with the superficial, scattered mind – (This is the level with which we often carry out our day-to-day chores, ‘bring in the newspaper’, ‘cook the meal’ - it is often characterised by lots of thoughts, positive and negative, with very little control or knowledge of how they got there) If we are often in this state of mind, we will find that we are easily distracted, have difficulty concentrating, probably worry about unimportant things and have little understanding of the real 'us'.
We then progress by virtue of our heart’s concentration - to deeper, analytical thinking. When our mind is focused completely on one thing, we are the most efficient and purposeful in our thinking. (This is the basis of the rules of ‘time-management’ -> to be focused absolutely on one task at a time) The analytical level reveals the deepest we can go with thought.
From this very deep thinking we enter into intuitive states, revelations, "I know this is right" feelings or extremely vivid goals or intense creativity or spiritual dreams. When thinking stops and intuitive experience takes over, this is meditation. We call these moments, 'Aah' moments. These moments are where the deepest moments of revelation and intuition are born, and we reveal our real self.
The task of meditation is to enter the very focused thinking of the analytical mind and from there the shift to the intuitive mind or heart takes place automatically.
The highest experience in any endeavour is a meditation experience. Every endeavour goes through similar processes to eventually arrive at meditation experiences.
If, for example, we want to become a pianist, we first have to train the body and the mind to have the correct finger technique etc. For a footballer, the right kicking style; for a rock-climber, the right moves; so we concentrate past the superficial to the analytical mind and learn and practice as efficiently as possible.
At each endeavour's upper echelon, however, there are moments where our consciousness is transported past the analytical to the intuitive or higher mind or what we may call the heart. Examples of these intuitive or ‘meditative’ moments are typically where a team works as one, a runner experiences the ‘runner’s high’, a bushwalker ceases to be an observer and merges into the feeling of the forest and becomes a participant, a sports person hits a ‘zone’.
As we know already these moments are usually;
Memorable - when we look back on our lives these are the moments that we recall.
Fulfilling - they are the reason we spend hours at our endeavours so we can get a few moments of ‘meditation’.
Accidental - imagine how much better our lives would be if we could meditate at any time we chose.
The seven keys to meditation
There are several key things you can do that will significantly enhance your meditation. They may seem subtle at first, but remember, meditation itself is all about cultivating the higher, subtler parts of your being. Take it from experience - together these seven keys will make a big difference. So please give them a try!
Key#1: Find a Special Place
Set aside a special place that is used only for meditation. If you have a spare room, great, but it’s fine to set aside a corner of your bedroom. This will be your sacred space for self-discovery, so you’ll want to make it as inspiring as possible. You might like to:· Cover a low table with a clean, light cloth · Place a candle on a table, and a vase with fresh flowers if possible.· You may also want to light some incense. Together, these items will help create a meditative atmosphere.
Key#2: Prepare Physically
Your spiritual journey takes place in and through your physical body. Here’s how you can help prepare it for meditation: · Take a shower before meditating. If it isn’t possible to take a shower, wash your face and hands.· Wear clean, light, loose fitting clothes.· Take your shoes off before meditating. Your feet deserve a break too!
Key#3: Sit Relaxed, Sit Straight
There’s no need to sit in a special yogic posture to meditate. If you can sit comfortably on a cushion on the floor, this is best. Otherwise a meditation stool or chair is fine. The important thing is to be still and relaxed, to have your back erect, and to have the flower and candle close to eye level. People often ask if it’s okay to meditate while lying down. We don’t recommend it; the most likely outcome is you’ll fall asleep. Always remember to begin your meditation with six or seven ‘power-breaths’ – long, slow deep breaths that release the myriad of thoughts and focus your attention within.
Key#4: Slow and Steady Wins the Race
In the beginning, five minutes of meditation a day is enough. Meditation is like an inner muscle that you are slowly but surely making stronger. If you overwork a muscle, it becomes sore; if you meditate for more than five minutes and feel tension in your head or get a headache, you know you’ve gone beyond your capacity. Try not to be concerned with expectations of what your meditation is going to do for you or what your meditation experience ‘should’ be. Just steadily, soulfully and sincerely practice and make yourself alert to the messages that will begin to arise from within.
Key#5: Choose the right time
Make an appointment with yourself and practice at the same time each day. Just as you feed your physical body several times a day at certain times, meditation nourishes your inner life so set at least one special time each day for your meditation exercises. The best time to meditate is early in the morning, before you enter into your daily activities. This way, the peace you get from your meditation will permeate the rest of your day.
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Monday, August 21, 2006

The basic approach is consciousness

Integral Health (By Dr. Soumitra Basu; Published by SAIIIHR, Sri Aurobindo Society, Pondicherry, Price: Rs. 75/-, pp.140)
With multiple avenues in the fieldof complementary therapies openingup “The physician today is placed inan unenviable position. His decisionshave to be often based on factors be-yond his prescribing limits. He hasnot been taught what to do if his con-science conflicts with the legal sanction of euthanasia. Wouldthe withdrawing of hydration from a comatose subject to facili-tate passive euthanasia affect the physician himself?” Theseand many other problems are tackled through this simply writ-ten book.
The basic approach is consciousness. As the author writes,“The difficulty in integrating the physical, social and mentaldimensions of health and then linking them with a spiritualdimension need not debar us from the pursuit. Indeed, an at-tempt to harmonize these myriad value-systems (which are nottotally independent) can only be possible if we take into ac-count a substrate to which all these value-systems can relate ina hierarchised manner.This substrate,most appropriately foundin the yogic description of consciousness, can relate to thedifferent dimensions of health. The seer-wisdom of ancientIndia considerered consciousness to be the essence of all exist-ence — a concept to which Sri Aurobindo, in recent times,gives an evolutionary perspective.”So Health is viewed as a dynamic equilibrium between theenergies acting at different planes of consciousness.These planesare universally self-existent and reflect in all living and non-living creatures as — the mental, the vital, the physical, etc.
Illness is seen as a disequilibrium or disharmony that can becorrected by moving to a higher level of consciousness.This higher consciousness is inherent in the Psychic Beingwhich is the real integrative principle of the human personality— the Atman of the Indian tradition in its evolving form. Whenthe Psychic Being replaces the ego the individual has a senseof wholeness, integrity, peace and joy even in adverse situa-tions.The essence of Health (Integral Health) therefore lies inbeing aware and shifting one’s consciousness. As the Mothersays,“It is simply when one sees the disequilibrium and is capa-ble of re-establishing the equilibrium that one is cured.”“The concept of Integral Health is based on a wide andprogressive view of human life.
The Mother explains themetapsychology of this view: There is an ascending evolutionin nature which goes from the stone to the plant, from the plantto the animal, from the animal to man. Because man is, for themoment, the last rung at the summit of the ascending evolution,he considers himself as the final stage in this ascension andbelieves there can be nothing on earth superior to him. In thathe is mistaken. In his physical nature he is yet almost wholly ananimal, a thinking and speaking animal, but still an animal inhis material habits and instincts. Undoubtedly, nature cannotbe satisfied with such an imperfect result; she endeavours tobring out a being who will be to man what man is to the animal,a being who will remain a man in its external form, and yetwhose consciousness will rise far above the mental and itsslavery to ignorance.”
The book also discusses various modes of treatment suchas homoeopathy, Reiki, acupuncture, etc. Each has an essentialtruth-idea based on the working of the energy on either thephysical, vital or mental consciousness. Thus, modern allo-pathic medicines and their pharmacological agents could workon the gross physical level, homoeopathy and acupuncture onthe vital level of consciousness, Reiki and Pranic Healingthrough the vital physical envelope, relaxation and bio-feed-back on the physical mind and psychotherapies on the vitalmind level. Higher energies can modify, transmute and upliftthe lower energies and each therapeutic system can be used asthe starting point for moving to subtler levels.Essentially therefore, the concept and pursuit of IntegralHealth implies a growth of consciousness.
Throughout thisbook Dr. Basu has quoted exhaustively from the works of SriAurobindo and the Mother, describing the various planes ofconsciousness and the concept and role of Psychic Being inIntegral Health. The attitude of Faith in relation to healing, therole of culture and society with respect to health and the role ofthe Pranic Shakti as it acts both in the individual microcosmand the macrocosm are elaborately discussed.The author has also given illustrative case studies of vari-ous patients as illustrations and a very effective glossary thatexplains the various terms and concepts that may be unknownto a reader not familiar with the works of Sri Aurobindo andthe Mother. Around 159 references are given at the end of thebook and in about 140 pages Dr. Basu portrays quite admira-bly a comprehensive approach to health and healing.— Dr. D.E. Mistry

Touch, not via the intellectual senses

Touch - Adi Da Samraj
Touch is precisely the dimension in which you must become awake. You must transcend the intellectualizable senses of sight and hearing and so forth. Samadhi is simply a matter of passing through all the internal lights and sounds and visions associated with the intellectual senses into the domain of the sense of touch where all the intellectual senses are suspended. At the level of touch we read the very condition of the nervous system in space. But, as touch, that condition is blind, it is prior to the usual body sense, prior to all the intellectually organized complexity of inwardness. Inwardness vanishes, and what is seen is at the skin level. Our contraction from infinity can possibly even be measured in terms of electrical activity at the skin level. It is only when the sense of touch becomes Enlightened that the subtle activity at the level of the skin achieves the Native State and permits bodily intercourse with the Infinite Radiance.
The ultimate dimension or mode of the nervous system is cognized at the level of touch, not via the intellectual senses-which include all the senses except touch. You propose, in your egoic fashion, to go about exploiting the intellectual senses, the receptor senses, which can be associated with higher person contemplation, in separation from the physical. Yet, separation from the physical is basically separation from the sense of touch. You tend to exploit these other senses because the surface of your being is not entirely released though touch into infinite Radiance. Your neurosis is reflected at the level of touch, in your avoidance of relationship, your contraction of the sense of touch. You recoil, you turn upon yourself toward the inward part. Therefore, you principally violate the organization of the being relative to the sense of touch, or simple, whole-bodily surrender.
You are least conscious of the dimension of touch. You think information comes first through these intellectual senses such as vision-and all the games you play with these senses which are associated with higher imagination. But long before you see, the very surface of the eye balls is contracted by fear. The very surface of the brain is contracted. The extremity as well as the root of the nervous system is contracted. The very presentation of the whole/bodily being is fundamentally contracted. Thus, the media of the body/mind all provide information qualified by a fundamental error of the whole bodily being at the level of its most basic presentation.
The Way is founded on touch. Only when the whole body, or the total surface of the body is Enlightened, rather that when some isolated part is stimulated, can you fully involve yourself in the sense of touch. The whole body is associated with touch. All the other organs of sensation are creepy little internal senses and yogis always exploit these sensors. They do not take up the Way of touch, which is founded in whole-body sense of touch.
Thus, the liberation, the Enlightenment, of the sense of touch and not its inversion-is the vehicle of the Way. Touch transcends all the other dimensions of sensation and awareness. Touch transcends sight and sound and all the mystical experiences that can be realized through the inversion of any of the other senses. You can experience all kinds of visions of the Great Being by inverting the sense of sight, but an entirely other dimension is revealed when the dimension of touch is liberated, freed from the subtle effort of contraction that separates the body at the skin level. The whole-body being resumes its fundamental presentation of itself prior to inwardness and recoil from the universal design and from its own Being and Radiance, its Condition in Truth.
Avatara Adi Da, Samraj- The Laughing Man Magazine From: "John Forth"

Friday, August 11, 2006

Sri Aurobindo's "sunlit path"

Gentle reminders Bharat Savur Business Line Friday, Aug 11, 2006 Getting forgetful is not an indication of ageing, but a sure sign of living edgily. Jog your memory: Exercise helps boost brain power- N. SRIDHARAN
Do you feel you are becoming a tad too forgetful for comfort? Not getting the right word — mot juste — when required, for example. Or worrying whether you switched off the geyser on your way to the workplace. The first thought that leaps to mind normally is a fretful "I must be getting old" or fearful "I'm losing it." Not at all! What you could be doing is living edgily, and engaging the body's coping mechanism continuously where it keeps secreting excess cortisol, the deadly stress hormone. Apart from hastening our heartbeats, elevating our blood pressure, blood sugar, cholesterol levels, and lowering our immunity, cortisol depresses us, disallows sleep, clouds our ability to think, remember and reason clearly, and even destroys brain cells. The first thing to do is:
Stop worrying about being forgetful: Worrying pushes you into a hole. Relax. And I really mean r-e-l-a-x. I advocate Sri Aurobindo's "sunlit path". Face the sun, he advises. Have a natural spirit of faith and surrender. If you forget something, say cheerfully, "Well, that was pretty odd!" Dismiss it. Know that you've remembered nine things and forgotten one. Such awareness creates a positive space in your mind for encoding and storing data more efficiently. List for confidence: Making a list is not the mark of a forgetful person but the mark of a diligent, efficient executive. A list lifts all anxiety of forgetting from your mind and liberates it from its undeserving yoke.
Read to refresh: If you can't find the right words, it's because you aren't exposed to them anymore. Technical texts, marketing manuals, magazines, spiritual books et al are not exactly vocabulary-enhancers. The best reading is classical stuff or literature — Somerset Maugham, Charles Dickens, James Michener, Louisa M. Alcott to name a few masters of the mot juste. Talk to your doc: Certain drugs — blood pressure pills, antihistamines, etc — can bring on a subtle dullness where you feel more like a patient and less like a person. Check with your doctor about possible dose-reductions or change in medicine.
Reduce or renounce booze: Don't think of yourself as an `alcoholic' if you drink regularly. Such labels give you a false identity and make you cling on to bad habits. However, there's no getting away from the fact that alcohol does make you forgetful — it cuts into your short-term memory. So, reduce or renounce booze. Even just cutting down three pegs to two pegs can clear the fog from the brain and make you feel more alert and alive.
Try ashwagandh: Check with an ayurvedic vaidya whether you can have ashwagandh. It's a herb that contains withanolides and antioxidants that prevent and repair brain damage. Research has shown that ashwagandh increases acetylcholine-receptor — the brain's neurotransmitter in charge of memory and cognition-activity. The advantage of ashwagandh is that it is an anxiety-buster as well. The normal recommended dosage is 2-4 grams per day with milk.
Sleep like a log: According to sleep specialists, if you sit in the morning sun for 20 minutes, you correct the sleep cycle and fall asleep quicker at night. Deep sleep is a must for mood and memory. When in bed, take five deep breaths. Relax and loosen your legs, arms and shoulders. Raise your eyebrows to relax your forehead and scalp. Inhale... exhale... drift off into a soft slumber...
Exercise for life: It is said that up to age 35, your brain helps you remember; after 35, you should help your brain to remember! Exercise greatly boosts brain-power. It induces brain-capillaries to grow, more nutrients to reach neurons and more oxygen to reach the brain's cells. Exercise stimulates neurotransmitters, which in turn enhance both memory and your immunity system. Walk, cycle, garden, dance, gym... just keep moving!
Grow your dendrites: Dendrites, those fine tendrils that connect neurons, regulate our memory and intelligence. The more active our mind and brain, the greater the growth of the learned dendrites. However, brain fitness and health does not come just from filling it with information. As important are an inner quietude, self-trust, the will to be strong, healthy, alert and present-minded (not absent-minded).
Eat satvic: My definition of satvic food is: hygienic, low-fat and fresh. Cut out refined flour and sugar, and processed foods. Eat moderate quantities of whole grains, pulses, fruits and vegetables. Liberally garnish your salads with tulsi leaves (basil). They lower cortisol levels and help you de-stress. Never fast if you are nervous, hyper, tense, or hostile by temperament. Lack of nutrients make you more jittery and, yes, forgetful.
Finally, a bit of voluntary forgetfulness is not a bad thing. You can forget grudges, fights, nastiness, and past negative influences... Simultaneously, remember to walk the sunlit path to health, happiness, laughter, lovingness and a luminous memory. (The writer is co-author of the book, `Fitness for Life'.)

Thursday, August 03, 2006

The Reaction to Stress

Dr. Soumitra Basu
Editorial note: Stress is a common experience of all organisers. Even the inanimate world of matter has been found to experience stress. Though common and universal; stress has till now been regarded only as a dreaded something to which one has to somehow adjust. Recently, however, the trend in psychology is to look at the positive aspect of stress, called 'eustress', so as to discover in it an evolutionary force that by disturbing the lower equilibrium within and around us forces us to enter into a higher equilibrium. The article touches upon this issue briefly
TheAdaptive Systems
Our physical body has not only to adjust to the external environment but has also to maintain an internal environment for proper functioning. The maintenance of a stable internal environment (homeostasis) is achieved through regulatory mechanisms that co-ordinate systems with divergent and conflicting functions. One such important regulatory mechanism is the Autonomic Nervous System which has to balance two components: (a) the sympathetico-adreno-medullary system that gears the organism for expenditure of bodily energy (catabolism) to cope with threats, and (b) the parasympathetic system which helps in restoration and conservation of bodily energy (anabolism).
Faced with a stressful situation, the harmonious balance between the two components gets disturbed and one system temporarily comes to dominate the other. This is nature's adaptive device to prepare an organism for offence or defence when under a threat. One has to be physically and emotionally aroused to cope with an emergency. When a tiger growls, one cannot continue to recite poetry, one has to run. The sympathetico-adrenomedullary- system becomes dominant to mobilize bodily resources for the intense muscular effort needed. Sufficient blood must flow through the skeletal muscles, heart, lungs and brain; the heart must beat faster, the pupils should dilate for better vision while the urinary and rectal sphincters tighten and the more leisurely activities like intestinal movements and intestinal secretions slow down as part of the body's economical adjustments. Besides, one cannot simultaneously be in a holiday mood - one is frightened, tense, anxious or enraged (one needs to be a Yogi to remain composed) one must be both physically and emotionally vigilant to face the challenge
A question often raised is, what responds to stress first - the body or the emotions? Some argue that emotional arousal is followed by physical arousal. William James believed the opposite to be true and proposed that feelings, including anxiety, were merely the individual's conscious awareness of physiological processes antecedent to the emotion. The controversy remains unsolved.
From the perspective of Integral Yoga where personality is studied not as a finished product but along hierarchical planes of consciousness with universal forces acting at different levels, one could theorise that depending upon the level of interaction, either the emotions (vital) or the body (physical) could be aroused first or both could even be aroused together. In the Integral Yoga, the vital-physical is that plane of personality which is involved in the reactions of the nerves and the reflexive sensations and feelings (1). Sri Aurobindo elaborated,"It [the vital-physical] is also. largely responsible for most of the suffering and disease of mind or body to which the physical being is subject in Nature"(2).
Return to the Base-line
The tiger, however, cannot be allowed to growl for long and eventually a time comes when the danger ceases (one runs out of the forest). Logically this implies that when the stressful situation abates, the sympatheticoadreno-medullary system must cease to dominate; the internal physical environment must revert to the status-quo and the harmony should be re-established. This is just what should ideally happen to a healthy individual.
The Maladaptive Trend
Unfortunately, sometimes or in some individuals, even after the external threat ceases to be relevant, the sympatheticoadreno-medullary system continues to be unnecessarily dominant for an extended period of time or a state of sustained emotional arousal continues, no more as an adaptive but as a maladaptive trend. Such a state is strenuous for both the physical and mental health of the individual. As a result, a host of illnesses can erupt, depending also on mediating variables like genetic predisposition, environmental influences, personality traits, organ vulnerability and psychological conflicts. Thus one may develop physical manifestations of generalised anxiety, a psychosomatic disease or an emotional disorder. Using the Mother's description, one can ascribe such an illness to a functional imbalance. Once a person is ill, the illness itself acts as a new threat - a new stressor, exacerbating the disharmony and establishing a vicious cycle that entangles one as in a spider's web.
Psychological Threats
The response of the homeostatic regulating mechanisms which prepare an organism to cope with an external threat is a protective device perfectly suited for the sub-human animal species and our forest-dwelling human ancestors. However, in our self-acclaimed 'civilized' society, many of the threats we face are in essence not physical but psychological. The probability of being physically devoured by tigers is less than facing threats from examinations, law-suits, share market fluctuations, marital discords and unpredictable office bosses. Work overload, retirement, status change, social isolation, interpersonal conflicts, boredom, life events or the demands of a changing society are more important stressors today. Besides, one has to face internal threats from unacceptable and unconscious conflicts and instinctual forces that have not been adequately 'repressed'. There is the stress arising from the conflict between one's achievements and ambitions, from the distortion of one's selfimage, from the inflated demands and insatiable desires of the ego. Scientists believe that usually such stressors are aversive events that most people would prefer to do without. If animals could be given a choice, they would either avoid these situations or escape.
As a matter of fact, in a study we conducted on missing children and adolescents from well-to-do families in Calcutta, 42 per cent of the boys ran away to avoid the excessive stress of studies and 53 per cent of the girls eloped to avoid the stress of forced marriages(3). Unfortunately we lack the romantic vigour of adolescence and if we do not 'run away' by committing suicide, we become ill when overwhelmed by stress.
It is interesting to note that we react to psychological threats in the same way as we react to a physical threat. Selye, one of the pioneers of stress research, finds that psychological events can produce the same stress responses as physical stressors( 4). This means that whatever may be the source of the threat, most of us continue to physically and emotionally react to the stressors of modern life in the same way that we did as inhabitants of the wild - a habitual response which we now find difficult to unlearn. If this be true, then, obviously, in the area of stress reaction, the remarkable elevation in biological status is yet to be satisfactorily accompanied by a progressive elevation in Consciousness. It is high time we outgrew our habitual reactions and responded with more maturity to stress.
Man is a mental being and we do of course psychologically react to stress, though thisreaction appears immature. In fact, we use a number of psychological manoeuvring techniques like blaming others (projection), minimizing the importance of the situation (denial), or avoiding the stressor (repression)(5). Such skills are based on internal defence mechanisms.
The study of psychopathology has shown how the use of defence mechanisms can in turn be decompensatory and give rise to mental illness. In the Integral Yoga, psychological defence mechanisms are considered to be features of the vital mind. One must acknowledge that our present coping skills are at best compromise formulas that do not aim at mastery - one remains at the same level of consciousness.
The Integral Approach
Therapists are busy with methods that could help us to face 'stress without duress'. None, however, feels the necessity of doing away with the stress reaction altogether. It is too utopian to surpass; it is easier to repress.
Integral Yoga which envisages not only a mechanical evolution of forms but also a psychological evolution of consciousness holds the promise that the hiatus between our achieved biological status and an idealised utopian state of perfection can be progressively bridged. Instead of make-shift compromises that may break down at any point, a radical transformation of consciousness can alone help us to unlearn and outgrow our habitual reaction to stress. This would free us from stress-linked diseases.
The Mother points out:
"….And it is only with this spiritual capacity of rising to a higher level and replacing the animal's unconsciousness by a spiritual super-consciousness that there comes into the being not only the capacity to see the goal of existence and to foresee the culmination of the effort but also a clear-sighted trust in a higher spiritual power to which one can surrender one's whole being, entrust oneself, give the responsibility for one's life and future and so abandon all worries.
"Of course, it is impossible for man to fall back to the level of the animal and loose the consciousness he has acquired; therefore, for him there is only one means, one way to get out of this condition he is in, which I call a miserable one, and to emerge into a higher state where worry is replaced by a trusting surrender and the certitude of a luminous culmination - this way is to change the consciousness"(6).
Surpassing the Role of Anxiety
It is interesting to note that while anxiety is still an important feature of the struggle for existence - it motivates us to goal-oriented activities and has a survival value in activating us during an emergency - anxiety fails to develop in a tamasic environment devoid of motivation and striving. This was demonstrated by Kral's study of a concentration camp near Prague where stress-related disorders failed to develop, even in anxietyprone individuals, in the absence of the ruthless struggle for survival. On return home, some of the subject.s again developed anxiety-related symptoms as they were back in a world of competition that required motivation and striving(7).
Integral Yoga points out that with a progressive evolution of consciousness, the soulpersonality (the Psychic) will come forward to replace the ego-personality as the centre of our life. This would automatically surpass the source of our activation and motivation and give a new orientation to life.
It could be argued that an easier solution would be an elimination of all stress-provoking situations. This again is difficult to conceive; after all, a shift from the savage to the modern man has meant a shift from a largely physical to a largely psychological basis of stress. One cannot regress to a stressfree vegetative existence; the only other way for a life free of stressors is a gnostic society that comes as a culmination of a mutant transformation - a radical change of consciousness.
1. A.S. Dalal. Introduction in Living Within -The Yoga Approach to Psychological Health and Growth.Selections from the Works of Sri Aurobindo and The Mother. Pondicherry: Sri Aurobindo Ashram, 1987.2. Sri Aurobindo. Letters on Yoga. Sri Aurobindo Birth Centenary Library, Vol. 24. Pondicherry: Sri Aurobindo Ashram, 1970.3. S. Basu and S. Ghosh. 'Children Lost and Found'. Calcutta: Bulletin, Psycho-Social Research and Training Centre, 1989.4. H. Selye. Selye's Guide to Stress Research, Vol. I. New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold. 1980.5. R. Plutchik. Emotion: A Psychoevolutionary Synthesis. New York: Harper & Row, 1980.6. The Mother. Questions and Answers, 195758. Collected Works of the The Mother, Vol. 9, p. 304. Pondicherry: Sri Aurobindo Ashram, 1977.7. V.A. Kral. Psychiatric Observations under Chronic Stress. American Journal of Psychiatry, 108: 185, 1951.

Decentralisation and dispersion of cells

What is death? Dr. R.L. Bijlani Editor's note Written by an eminent physiologist, this article explores different aspects of death.
Somatic death and molecular death
Somatic death is said to have occurred when the person as a whole is no longer alive. The criteria of clinical death refer to somatic death. After somatic death, maintaining oxygen supply through artificial life-support can keep several organs alive for long periods as discussed above. But even if no artificial life-support is used, the cells in different organs and tissues stay alive for variable periods of time after somatic death. Death of the cells is called cellular or molecular death. In general, molecular death occurs earliest in organs which have the richest blood supply during life. Brain cells undergo molecular death within five minutes of somatic death, and muscle cells after about one hour, but blood cells and the cornea stay alive even five hours after somatic death. As an organ can be transplanted only before it has undergone molecular death, the brain cannot be transplanted.
Suspended animation
Suspended animation is a state of extreme reduction in metabolic activity. The person may appear dead but the bare minimum of metabolic activity is still going on throughout the body, and the person can return to normal activity. Some yogns can achieve a marked reduction in metabolic activity voluntarily, and thereby stay alive for relatively long periods in a place with highly restricted oxygen supply, such as an underground pit. One such yogn was examined by Prof. B.K. Anand and his colleagues at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences. The yogn could bring down his metabolic rate to about half the ‘normal’ resting metabolic rate (6). A similar state is achieved clinically when hypothermia is induced to facilitate certain surgical procedures. Sometimes a person goes into suspended animation after drowning or electrocution. A person exposed to extreme cold may sometimes have all the signs of clinical death, but may revive after rewarming. The dictum in such cases is that the patient is not dead unless warm and dead.
The process of death
Life is maintained in complex multi-cellular organisms like man by a delicate balance of homeostatic mechanisms which ensure optimal conditions for the functioning of all cells of the body. In view of the complexity of the homeostatic mechanisms that maintain life, it is not surprising that sooner or later something goes wrong at some crucial point and life comes to an end. What is more surprising is that this happens after such a long time. One of the keys to our long lifespan is provided by the basic units of life — the cells. Most cells of the body have a lifespan much shorter than the organism to which they belong. But the process of cell division ensures that new cells replace the cells that die. The process of replacement is so exact that we do not notice the turnover and treat each individual as a stable entity. Imagine a machine from which only a few parts are removed at a time, replaced promptly, and then a few more parts removed from elsewhere, again replaced promptly, and so on. Soon a time will come when all the old parts have been replaced by new ones. In effect, what we have is a new machine but we remain under the illusion that it is the same old machine!
Cell death
Cells may die due to an injury or poison. Cell death in this fashion is called necrosis. Cells which undergo necrosis swell and burst. However, what has engaged the attention of scientists very intensively during the last twenty-five years is programmed cell death, or apoptosis (pronounced app-oh-toe-sis). It seems that a cell normally generates a variety of molecules, some of which send survival signals whilst others send death signals to the cell. So long as survival signals dominate, the cell stays alive. Dominance of death signals triggers apoptosis. This mode of apoptosis has been termed 'cell suicide’. Cell death by a similar mechanism may be triggered also by toxic substances generated by neighbouring cells, e.g. by cytokines released by immune cells. This mode of apoptosis has been termed ‘murder’. Neighbouring cells do not necessarily send lethal substances. They may also send trophic factors, e.g. the trophic factors released by nerve cells which keep neighbouring nerve cells, or the muscle cells which they innervate, alive.
Regulators of cell death act through a series of chain reactions affecting the genetic expression of some proteins, which in turn may eventually activate enzymes called caspases. Caspases are the final mediators of the apoptotic pathway. These enzymes break down protein molecules. Their name is based on the fact that they selectively cleave protein molecules at sites just C-terminal to aspartate residues. Caspases target proteins of the nuclear lamina and cytoskeleton. Attack on these critical structures eventually leads to cell death (7).
Why do cells have to die?
Using oxygen markedly increases the amount of energy that can be obtained from nutrient substrates. But it is also associated with the formation of reactive oxygen species which can damage the cells by attacking fats, proteins and nucleic acids. Although various defence mechanisms against oxidative damage have been built into cells, some damage does occur. Such damage is cumulative, and seems to be one of the contributors to the process of aging. It seems that a stage finally comes in the life of a cell when the damage reaches such a level that further survival of the cell would not be in the best interests of the body as a whole. At this stage some unknown trigger triggers the apoptotic pathway, leading to 'cell suicide’. Some healthy cells may also undergo apoptosis, e.g. during embryonic life to sculpt tissues into a specific shape. Thus normal cells have no hesitation in quitting when no longer needed, or when their survival is no longer in the interests of the body as a whole.
Death and cell death
If cell death is a well-regulated process, and dying cells are replaced by new ones, why does the organism die? This happens because the situation is a little more complex. We live in a hostile, competitive environment. A variety of chemical, physical and biological agents threaten our existence. The reason we still survive is because responding to these agents is a part of the cellular defence mechanisms. If the challenge is overwhelming, or the response is inadequate, more cells may die than can be replaced. Inadequate response is a part of the process of aging. Even in the absence of an external onslaught, there may be apparently spontaneous abnormalities, which occur more frequently with aging. These changes may be: first, inadequate replacement of dead cells (atrophy); second, replacement by inadequately or inappropriately functioning cells (degeneration or scarring); or third, transformation into neoplastic cells. When such changes take place in any part of the body, initially nothing wrong may be observed because of the enormous physiological reserve. If the physiological reserve is exhausted, it impacts the body depending on the organ involved and the degree of involvement. Impairment of function beyond a point in one or more vital organs results in death of the whole organism.
Death in uni-cellular organisms
In uni-cellular organisms, death is not a clearly discernible event. The reason is that long before the cell accumulates enough damage to die, it divides. The division results in two identical cells, each of them exactly like the parent cell. Since the parent is indistinguishable from the progeny, and very large numbers of such cells may be produced before some of them die, it is impossible to say when the parent cell died. This argument applies not only to uni-cellular organisms but to some extent to all organisms reproducing asexually. One may like to speculate that if asexual reproduction guarantees virtual (not real) immortality, why sexual reproduction evolved at all. Sexual reproduction makes it possible for the progeny to be different from the parents. The possibility of progeny improving upon the parents, facilitates evolution. One might say that asexual reproduction is like photocopying while sexual reproduction is creative art.
II. Metaphysical aspects of death
Decentralisation and dispersion of cells
The Mother described death as the
“decentralisation and dispersion of the cells which make up the physical body (8).”
To elaborate, She said, “Death is the decentralisation of the consciousness contained in the body’s cells (9).”
The Supreme Consciousness expresses itself in the universe in diverse forms. Each form expresses the universal Consciousness to varying degrees. Although the level of expression differs, every atom has a consciousness, every cell has a consciousness, and every individual has a consciousness. During much of the lifetime of an individual, the consciousness of each cell is centred around the consciousness of the individual. But there comes a time when this centralisation becomes weak. As the Mother says,
“The central will of the physical being abdicates its will to hold all the cells together… It is this which inevitably precedes death (10).”
In order to understand why and when the process of decentralisation begins, one may turn to what happens before decentralisation. The consciousness of the individual is not static during life. Its ultimate destiny is to meet its source, or to express the Supreme Consciousness or Universal Spirit completely. These steps are taken using the body as an instrument. As a result of these steps, there is a growth in the consciousness of the individual. But due to the limited plasticity of the body, further growth of consciousness is not possible while retaining the same body. The body which served as an instrument for the growth of consciousness now becomes a bar to further growth.
“The whole sense of the evolution of matter has been a growth from a first state of unconsciousness to an increasing consciousness. And in this process of growth dissolution of forms became an inevitable necessity, as things actually took place. For a fixed form was needed in order that the organised individual consciousness might have a stable support. And yet it is the fixity of the form that made death inevitable. Matter had to assume forms; individualisation and the concrete embod-iment of life-forces or consciousness-forces were impossible without it and without these there would have been lacking the first conditions of organised existence on the plane of matter. But a definite and concrete formation contracts the tendency to become at once rigid and hard and petrified. The individual form persisted as a too binding mould; it cannot follow the movements of the forces; it cannot change in harmony with the progressive change in the universal dynamism; it cannot meet continually Nature’s demand or keep pace with her; it gets out of the current. At a certain point of this growing disparity and disharmony between the form and the force that presses upon it, a complete dissolution of the form is unavoidable. A new form must be created; a new harmony and parity made possible. This is the true significance of death and this is its use in Nature (11).”
It is possibly when the material form becomes inadequate for responding to the pressure for further growth of consciousness that there develops, in the words of the Mother,
“a kind of disgust with continuing the effort of coordination and harmonisation (12).”
The ‘central will’ to retain a collective consciousness gives way to decentralisation of the individual consciousness of each cell. At the mental level, the replacement of the ‘will to live’ by a ‘wish to die’ is probably the beginning of decentralisation. Decentralisation is followed by ill-health, and finally death. Death is followed by dissolution of the body, leading to dispersion of cells. Eventually, the cells also dissolve, leading to dispersion of the atoms which compose them. The atoms may regroup themselves into new cells. The new cells may regroup into a new body.
A spiritual understanding of the process of death, as provided by the Mother in terms of decentralisation and dispersion of cells, throws some light on the purpose of life. During the limited lifespan of an individual, the growth of consciousness achieved by the individual leaves an imprint on the matter composing the body. Dispersion of cells possibly transmits the new level of consciousness to the new forms it assumes. In the words of the Mother, “It is the consciousness of the cells that enters other combinations (13).”
In keeping with the trends of our times, a question is likely to be raised regarding the scientific validity of decentralisation and dispersion of cells. Before we attempt to answer any such question, we need to remind ourselves that first, scientific truths are limited by the presumptions and methods of science; second, spiritual truths are wider and higher than scientific truths; and finally, seeing spiritual truths requires methods which are available to all but cultivated by very few.
Scientifically, the tendency of the central will to hold all the cells of the body together during life may be partly reflected in the single aim towards which all cells in the body work, i.e. to maintain homeostasis. Some cells replenish oxygen, some replenish food material, some remove waste products, while some coordinate the activities of all the rest, but all these individual functions are merely contributions towards the one common goal of maintaining homeostasis in the body as a whole. The beginning of ill health is a breakdown in the harmony between the activities of different parts of the body, leading to derangement in homeostasis. This breakdown may create the decentralisation of cells. The dispersion and dissolution of cells and consequent dissemination of a new level of consciousness after death of the individual, are issues beyond the competence of science to examine and comment upon.
However, if a parallel may be drawn, there seems to be a correspondence with the law of conservation. Not only matter and energy but also the soul of the individual seems to follow this law. They are all equally indestructible. Just as the matter belonging to an individual is recyled, his spiritual element represented by the soul is recycled too. Neither the material body nor the soul are destroyed, but both are recycled and enter new temporary consolidations which we call individuals. Body is con-solidated matter, and the soul is consolidated Spirit.
At the birth of an individual, matter manifests the Spirit; during life, matter serves as an instrument of the Spirit; after death, matter serves as a vehicle for dissemination of the Spirit. If life has been used for growth of consciousness, the disseminated matter manifests the Spirit less imperfectly than at birth.
Time of death
It is commonly held without any evidence, but with great conviction, that the time of death is fixed right at the time of birth, and that nothing can be done to change it. It is also commonly believed, with some evidence, but with far less conviction, that a person can delay or hasten his death if he strongly wants it. When asked to clarify this issue, the Mother said that we live in a deterministic universe, but qualified it by saying that there are different layers of determinism. On the purely material plane, the time of death is inexorably fixed. But if one rises to a higher plane of consciousness, a different type of determinism prevails. At higher planes, this determinism looks like free will, although there is nothing like free will in the universe. It is just that the laws that govern the higher planes are different; creating an illusion of free will is a part of those laws. To give an analogy, the computer sometimes seems to think and behave intelligently. But in fact the computer can neither think nor has any intelligence. Its behaviour is exactly as determined by the programmer. In the same way, we act exactly as determined by our Programmer (the Divine), but seem to possess free will. The semblance of free will is inherent in the programme. There is plenty of anecdotal evidence for seeming free will in relation to the time of death. Benefitting apparently from a strong will to live and confidence in self-healing, patients with incurable cancers often defy all statistics and live much longer than expected. More commonly, patients sometimes live for a few weeks or months after all hope is lost as if merely to reach a milestone such as a birthday or a child’s wedding. Still more commonly, patients go steadily downhill in spite of all treatment once they have lost the will to live. Nothing seems to help once the patient has given in or given up. A significant determinant of the course of an illness are the ‘live’ or ‘die’ signals generated by the patient himself, depending on the attitude to disease and life. Psychoneuroimmunology (14) now has some partial but plausible explanations for these phenomena. The spiritual explanation provided by the Mother is that a person does not die till he gives his consent. It may be only for “the hundredth part of a second”. As She says, there is always something in the person which, out of fatigue or disgust, says:
“Well, Ah! Let it be finished, so much the better (15).”
Premonition of death
Support for the validity of premonition of death is generally cited in terms of positive cases looked at retrospectively. This is indefensible because the process neglects a large number of cases in which the premonition is not followed by death. It is possible that even an unbiased study might detect that the premonition is followed by death more frequently than can be accounted for purely by chance. But that could be another way of looking at loss of the will to live. If a person loses the will to live, he is likely to also get the premonition of death because nobody is immune to wishful thinking, specially in a helpless state. Psychoneuroimmunology provides a limited biological explanation for the march towards death being accelerated by loss of the will to live.
Life and death
Two interesting questions, to which there can be both physiological and spiritual answers, are whether death is a reality and whether death is necessary. Physiologically, death is only a partial reality because a bit of the protoplasm continues to live, even after death, in the progeny. Physiologically, death is also necessary for getting around the problem of imperfection of the body. The body, like any machine, cannot function for ever. Therefore renewal by reproduction has got to be coupled with death, old order yielding to the new. Thus reproduction and death are two sides of the same coin and are designed to keep open the possibility of evolution of better, less imperfect forms of life.
Spiritually speaking, the answers are similar although the arguments are different and deeper. Death is a partial reality because it results in a breaking up of one form of life for reconstruction into new forms. Nothing may perish, but the configuration existing before death ceases to exist. Recycling, reconstruction and renewal are the basic features of life. As Sri Aurobindo says:
“Death is imposed on the individual life both by the conditions of its own existence and by its relations to the All-Force which manifests itself in the universe. For the individual life is a particular play of energy specialised to constitute, maintain, energise and finally to dissolve when its utility is over, one of the myriad forms which all serve, each in its own place, time and scope, the whole play of the universe (16).”
The immortality of the soul, commonly assumed by many, is clarified by Sri Aurobindo as:
“… when we insist on the soul’s undying existence, what is meant is the survival after death of a definite unchanging personality which was and will always remain the same throughout eternity. It is the very imperfect superficial ‘I’ of the moment, evidently regarded by Nature as a temporary form and not worth preservation, for which we demand this stupendous right to survival and immortality. But the demand is extravagant and cannot be conceded; the ‘I’ of the moment can only merit survival if it consents to change, to be no longer itself but something else, greater, better, more luminous in knowledge, more moulded in the image of the eternal inner beauty, more and more progressive towards the divinity of the secret Spirit. It is that secret Spirit or divinity of Self in us which is imperishable, because it is unborn and eternal (17).”
Thus it is only the divine Spirit which is immortal, not the entire configuration of the individual. Immortality of the soul resides in the fact that it is a projection of the divine Spirit.
Spiritually speaking, death is also a necessity. The manifest universe expresses the Supreme Consciousness only in a rudimentary form. Matter expresses so little of it as to seem inconscient. Man expresses it better than any other form in the universe known to us, but still falls far short of full expression. Man is probably the only creature who can achieve a significant growth of consciousness during life. But due to the inherent inertia of matter, there comes a point when the physical body cannot respond any further to the evolutionary thrust for further growth of consciousness. At that point, it becomes necessary for the body to disintegrate and death provides the mechanism for fulfilling this necessity. It is interesting that the mere knowledge that death is inevitable ensures some growth of consciousness. All religious and spiritual traditions goad us to mend our ways. We often ignore these exhortations, but in old age, when the inevitable seems close, we turn to spirituality. The growth of consciousness a person may achieve in the short period between getting a terminal illness and death may exceed the growth achieved in the entire life before the illness. Not only the dying, but also those who take care or come in close contact with the dying, may experience a similar surge of spiritual growth.
If man were immortal, he would probably have no incentive for genuine improvement.
“…it is obvious that the most dominant characteristic of matter is inertia, and that, if there were not this violence, perhaps the individual consciousness would be so inert that rather than change it would accept to live in a perpetual imperfection (18).”
Death is Nature’s answer to two properties of matter: its tendency to decay and its inability to respond, beyond a point, to the demands of spiritual growth. Out of the two, the latter is a deeper reason why death is necessary. As Sri Aurobindo says:
“Even if Science … were to discover the necessary conditions or means for an indefinite survival of the body, still, if the body could not adapt itself so as to become a fit instrument of expression for the inner growth, the soul would find some way to abandon it and pass on to a new incarnation. The material or physical causes of death are not its sole or its true cause; its true inmost reason is the spiritual necessity for the evolution of a new being (19).”
Thus death is spiritually necessary; aging and the associated decline in function are only incidental excuses. However, that does not mean death will always be there in its present form. Immortality may not be feasible for the material body, but with the descent of a new level of consciousness on earth, life at will could well be a reality. Death is no longer inevitable, says the Mother. The reason why it still continues is because it was previously “an inescapable habit”, “the memory of a disastrous past (20).”
Life is a phenomenon shrouded in mystery, and so is death. Clinical death is now defined as the permanent and irreversible cessation of function of any one of the three interconnected vital systems, viz. nervous system, circulatory system and respiratory system. Even after the person as a whole is no longer alive, individual cells and tissues remain viable for variable periods of time, making their transplantation possible. Physiologically, death represents failure of the homeostatic mechanisms. Cell death by necrosis as well as apoptosis is a regular phenomenon, but the organism continues to be alive due to replacement of cells. However, a point is reached when replacement and physiological reserve are unable to compensate for deterioration due to aging. Impairment of function beyond a point in one or more vital organs results in death of the whole organism.
The Mother described death as the “decentralisation and dispersion of cells (21).”
At the mental level, the replacement of the ‘will to live’ by a ‘wish to die’ is probably the beginning of decentralisation. Decentralisation is followed by ill-health, and finally death.
On the purely material plane, the time of death is inexorably fixed. But on higher planes of consciousness, a different type of determinism prevails. That is why the will to live, or its absence, may have a role in determining the time of death. Psychoneuroimmunology provides some partial but plausible explanations for the phenomenon.
Death is both a physiological and a spiritual necessity. As Sri Aurobindo says:
“Even if Science…were to discover the necessary conditions or means for an indefinite survival of the body, …the soul would find some way to abandon it and pass on to a new incarnation …its true inmost reason is the spiritual necessity for the evolution of a new being(22).”
However, that does not mean death will always be there in its present form. The Mother reassures us that with the descent of a new level of consciousness on earth, death is now “the memory of a disastrous past (23).”
References1. Kubler-Ross E. On Death and Dying. New York; Touchstone, 1997.2. Spitz W.U., Fisher R.S. (Eds.). Medicolegal Investigation of Death: guidelines for the application of pathology to crime investigation 2nd edition. Springfield, Illinois; Charles C. Thomas, 1980, p. 12.3. Nandy A. Principles of Forensic Medicine 2nd edition. Kolkata; New Central Book Agency, 2000, p. 133.4. Ibid.,5. Bijlani R.L. Understanding Medical Physiology 3rd edition. New Delhi; Jaypee, 2004, p. 849.6. Anand B.K., Chhina G.S., Singh B. Studies on Shri Ramanand Yogi during his stay in an airtight box. Indian J Med Res 1961: 82-9.7. Lodish H., Berk A., Zipursky S.L., Matsudaira P, Baltimore D., Darnell J. Molecular Cell Biology 4th edition. New York; W.H. Freeman, 2000, pp. 1044-51.8. The Mother. Collected Works of the Mother, Volume 12. Pondicherry; Sri Aurobindo Ashram, 1978, p. 343.9. The Mother. Mother’s Agenda, Volume 10. Paris; Institut de Recherches Evolutives, 1998, p.475.10. Op. cit. Collected Works of the Mother, Volume 12. Pondicherry; Sri Aurobindo Ashram, p. 343-4.11. Op. cit. Collected Works of the Mother, Volume 3. Pondicherry; Sri Aurobindo Ashram, 1977, p. 37.12. Op. cit. Collected Works of the Mother, Volume 12. Pondicherry; Sri Aurobindo Ashram, 1978, p. 343.13. Ibid., p. 345.14. Kiecolt-Glaser J.K., McGuire L., Robles T.F., Glaser R. Emotions, morbidity, and mortality: new perspectives from psychoneuroimmunology. Annu Rev Psy-chol 2002: 83-107.15. Op. cit. Collected Works of the Mother, Volume 5. Pondicherry; Sri Aurobindo Ashram, 1976, p. 138.16. Sri Aurobindo. The Life Divine. Pondicherry; Sri Aurobindo Ashram, 1970, p. 192.17. Ibid. p. 821.18. Op. cit.Collected Works of the Mother, Volume 9. Pondicherry; Sri Aurobindo Ashram, 1977, p. 34.19. Op. cit. The Life Divine. Pondicherry; Sri Aurobindo Ashram, 1970, p. 822.20. Op. cit. Mother’s Agenda, Volume 9. Paris; Institut de Recherches Evolutives, 1998, p. 56.21. Op. cit. Collected Works of the Mother, Volume 12. Pondicherry; Sri Aurobindo Ashram, 1978, p. 342.22. Op. cit. The Life Divine. Pondicherry; Sri Aurobindo Ashram, 1970, p. 822.23. Op. cit. Mother’s Agenda, Volume 9. Paris; Institut de Recherches Evolutives, 1998, p. 56.
Dr.R.L. Bijlani has been working on Yoga/physiology at the India Institute of Medical Science, New Delhi for many years.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

The brain has not enough computing capacity

Marko Rinck Says: July 31st, 2006 at 2:18 pm It seems to me that consciousness as an epiphenomenon of the brain has already been proven by science to be untrue. A number of courageous scientists have started to do research on Near Death Experiences, for instance the Dutch cardiologist Pim van Lommel who from 1988 on did research on patients that had cardiac arrest and came back to life.
He comes to the conclusion that consciousness exists independent from the brain (off course this doesn’t solve the hard problem but he has some interesting hypotheses on this subject, and his and other NDE researcher’s conclusions still don’t seem to have filtered through to other parts of science although his original research was published in the Lancet - perhaps they don’t want to hear it)
He says in his article “On the Continuity of Consciousness”: “With lack of evidence for any other theories for NDE, the concept thus far assumed but never scientifically proven, that consciousness and memories are localized in the brain should be discussed. Traditionally, it has been argued that thoughts or consciousness are produced by large groups of neurons or neuronal networks. How could a clear consciousness outside one’s body be experienced at the moment that the brain no longer functions during a period of clinical death, with flat EEG? Furthermore, blind people have also described veridical perceptions during out-of-body experiences at the time of their NDE. Scientific study of NDE pushes us to the limits of our medical and neurophysiological ideas about the range of human consciousness and relationship of consciousness and memories to the brain.”
Further on he continues: “Simon Berkovitch, a professor in Computer Science of the George Washington University, has calculated that the brain has an absolutely inadequate capacity to produce and store all the informational processes of all our memories with associative thoughts. We would need 10 to the power of 24 operations per second, which is absolutely impossible for our neurons. Herms Romijn, a Dutch neurobiologist, comes to the same conclusion. One should conclude that the brain has not enough computing capacity to store all the memories with associative thoughts from one’s life, has not enough retrieval abilities, and seems not to be able to elicit consciousness.”
He then brings in Quantum physics: “Quantum physics cannot explain the essence of consciousness or the secret of life, but in my concept it is helpful for understanding the transition between the fields of consciousness in the phase-space (to be compared with the probability fields as we know from quantum mechanics) and the body-linked waking consciousness in the real-space, because these are the two complementary aspects of consciousness. Our whole and undivided consciousness with declarative memories finds its origin in, and is stored in this phase-space, and the cortex only serves as a relay station for parts of our consciousness and parts of our memories to be received into our waking consciousness. In this concept consciousness is not physically rooted. This could be compared with the internet, which does not originate from the computer itself, but is only received by it”.
And his conclusion about death and consciousness: “When we die, our consciousness will no longer have an aspect of particles, but only an eternal aspect of waves. With this new concept about consciousness and the mind-brain relation all reported elements of an NDE during cardiac arrest could be explained. This concept is also compatible with the non-local interconnectedness with fields of consciousness of other persons in phase-space. Following an NDE most people, often to their own amazement and confusion, experience an enhanced intuitive sensibility, like clairvoyance and clairaudience, or prognostic dreams, in which they “dream” about future events. In people with an NDE the functional receiving capacity seems to be permanently enhanced.”
He suggests DNA as being the interface: “In assessing all the theories mentioned above, it seems reasonable to consider the person-specific DNA in our cells as the place of resonance, or the interface across which a constant informational exchange takes place between our personal material body and the phase-space, where all fields of our personal consciousness are available as fields of possibility.”
Pim van Lommel has written a very interesting article “On the Continuity of Consciousness”: See the whole article here: The article that was published in The Lancet can be found here: under “documentatie” but this is more on NDE than on consciousness (site is in Dutch, article in English). Perhaps his hypotheses are not new (see f.i. Lazslo), but his backing it up with evidence from NDE research, as far as I know, is.

Emotional Intelligence

The Consortium for Research on Emotional Intelligence in Organizations EI Framework
The Emotional Competence Framework
SOURCES: This generic competence framework distills findings from: MOSAIC
competencies for professional and administrative occupations (U.S. Office of Personnel
Management); Spencer and Spencer, Competence at Work; and top performance and
leadership competence studies published in Richard H. Rosier (ed.), The Competency
Model Handbook, Volumes One and Two (Boston : Linkage, 1994 and 1995), especially
those from Cigna, Sprint, American Express, Sandoz Pharmaceuticals; Wisconsin Power
and Light; and Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Maryland. Much of the material that
follows comes from Working with Emotional Intelligence by Daniel Goleman (Bantam,

Personal Competence
Emotional awareness: Recognizing one.s emotions and their effects. People with this
• Know which emotions they are feeling and why
• Realize the links between their feelings and what they think, do, and say
• Recognize how their feelings affect their performance
• Have a guiding awareness of their values and goals
Accurate self-assessment: Knowing one.s strengths and limits. People with this
competence are:
• Aware of their strengths and weaknesses
• Reflective, learning from experience
• Open to candid feedback, new perspectives, continuous learning, and selfdevelopment
• Able to show a sense of humor and perspective about themselves
Self-confidence: Sureness about one.s self-worth and capabilities. People with this
• Present themselves with self-assurance; have .presence.
• Can voice views that are unpopular and go out on a limb for what is right
• Are decisive, able to make sound decisions despite uncertainties and pressures
Self-control: Managing disruptive emotions and impulses. People with this competence:
• Manage their impulsive feelings and distressing emotions well
• Stay composed, positive, and unflappable even in trying moments
• Think clearly and stay focused under pressure
Trustworthiness: Maintaining standards of honesty and integrity. People with this
• Act ethically and are above reproach
• Build trust through their reliability and authenticity
• Admit their own mistakes and confront unethical actions in others
• Take tough, principled stands even if they are unpopular
Conscientiousness: Taking responsibility for personal performance. People with this
• Meet commitments and keep promises
• Hold themselves accountable for meeting their objectives
• Are organized and careful in their work
Adaptability: Flexibility in handling change. People with this competence:
• Smoothly handle multiple demands, shifting priorities, and rapid change
• Adapt their responses and tactics to fit fluid circumstances
• Are flexible in how they see events
Innovativeness: Being comfortable with and open to novel ideas and new information.
People with this competence:
• Seek out fresh ideas from a wide variety of sources
• Entertain original solutions to problems
• Generate new ideas
• Take fresh perspectives and risks in their thinking
Achievement drive: Striving to improve or meet a standard of excellence. People with
this competence:
• Are results-oriented, with a high drive to meet their objectives and standards
• Set challenging goals and take calculated risks
• Pursue information to reduce uncertainty and find ways to do better
• Learn how to improve their performance
Commitment: Aligning with the goals of the group or organization. People with this
• Readily make personal or group sacrifices to meet a larger organizational goal
• Find a sense of purpose in the larger mission
• Use the group.s core values in making decisions and clarifying choices
• Actively seek out opportunities to fulfill the group.s mission
Initiative: Readiness to act on opportunities. People with this competence:
• Are ready to seize opportunities
• Pursue goals beyond what.s required or expected of them
• Cut through red tape and bend the rules when necessary to get the job done
• Mobilize others through unusual, enterprising efforts
Optimism: Persistence in pursuing goals despite obstacles and setbacks. People with this
• Persist in seeking goals despite obstacles and setbacks
• Operate from hope of success rather than fear of failure
• See setbacks as due to manageable circumstance rather than a personal flaw
Social Competence
Empathy: Sensing others. feelings and perspective, and taking an active interest in their
concerns. People with this competence:
• Are attentive to emotional cues and listen well
• Show sensitivity and understand others. perspectives
• Help out based on understanding other people.s needs and feelings
Service orientation: Anticipating, recognizing, and meeting customers. needs. People
with this competence:
• Understand customers. needs and match them to services or products
• Seek ways to increase customers. satisfaction and loyalty
• Gladly offer appropriate assistance
• Grasp a customer.s perspective, acting as a trusted advisor
Developing others: Sensing what others need in order to develop, and bolstering their
abilities. People with this competence:
• Acknowledge and reward people.s strengths, accomplishments, and development
• Offer useful feedback and identify people.s needs for development
• Mentor, give timely coaching, and offer assignments that challenge and grow a
person.s skills.
Leveraging diversity: Cultivating opportunities through diverse people. People with this
• Respect and relate well to people from varied backgrounds
• Understand diverse worldviews and are sensitive to group differences
• See diversity as opportunity, creating an environment where diverse people can
• Challenge bias and intolerance
Political awareness: Reading a group.s emotional currents and power relationships.
People with this competence:
• Accurately read key power relationships
• Detect crucial social networks
• Understand the forces that shape views and actions of clients, customers, or
• Accurately read situations and organizational and external realities
Influence: Wielding effective tactics for persuasion. People with this competence:
• Are skilled at persuasion
• Fine-tune presentations to appeal to the listener
• Use complex strategies like indirect influence to build consensus and support
• Orchestrate dramatic events to effectively make a point
Communication: Sending clear and convincing messages. People with this competence:
• Are effective in give-and-take, registering emotional cues in attuning their
• Deal with difficult issues straightforwardly
• Listen well, seek mutual understanding, and welcome sharing of information fully
• Foster open communication and stay receptive to bad news as well as good
Leadership: Inspiring and guiding groups and people. People with this competence:
• Articulate and arouse enthusiasm for a shared vision and mission
• Step forward to lead as needed, regardless of position
• Guide the performance of others while holding them accountable
• Lead by example
Change catalyst: Initiating or managing change. People with this competence:
• Recognize the need for change and remove barriers
• Challenge the status quo to acknowledge the need for change
• Champion the change and enlist others in its pursuit
• Model the change expected of others
Conflict management: Negotiating and resolving disagreements. People with this
• Handle difficult people and tense situations with diplomacy and tact
• Spot potential conflict, bring disagreements into the open, and help deescalate
• Encourage debate and open discussion
• Orchestrate win-win solutions
Building bonds: Nurturing instrumental relationships. People with this competence:
• Cultivate and maintain extensive informal networks
• Seek out relationships that are mutually beneficial
• Build rapport and keep others in the loop
• Make and maintain personal friendships among work associates
Collaboration and cooperation: Working with others toward shared goals. People with
this competence:
• Balance a focus on task with attention to relationships
• Collaborate, sharing plans, information, and resources
• Promote a friendly, cooperative climate
• Spot and nurture opportunities for collaboration
Team capabilities: Creating group synergy in pursuing collective goals. People with this
• Model team qualities like respect, helpfulness, and cooperation
• Draw all members into active and enthusiastic participation
• Build team identity, esprit de corps, and commitment
• Protect the group and its reputation; share credit

Proper sleep cycle is necessary

Sleep plays a very vital role in a normal functioning of a body. Most of us need sleep to give our body and mind some amount of relaxation. A human body is like a machine, which needs some amount rest and repair for its smooth functioning. Proper sleep cycle is necessary for a sound body and mind. Most of us are not able to meet this demand of our body. Lack of sleep creates disturbances in a person “daily” routine.
Most of the students are in the clutch of this problem. Most of the students shorten their sleep duration so that they can dedicate more time for studies. On the contrary reducing times for sleep results in dizziness and uneasiness thus affecting the course of studies. A normal sleep schedule is required for the smooth functioning of a body. Each person should follow a specific routine.
Fix a bedtime and an awakening time. Do not be one of those people who allows bedtime and awakening time to drift. The body "gets used" to falling asleep at a certain time, but only if this is relatively fixed. Even if you are retired or not working, this is an essential component of good sleeping habits. Avoid napping during the day. If you nap throughout the day, it is no wonder that you will not be able to sleep at night. The late afternoon for most people is a "sleepy time." Many people take a nap at that time. This is generally not a bad thing to do, provided you limit the nap to 30–45 minutes and can sleep well at night.
Avoid alcohol 4-6 hours before bedtime. Many people believe that alcohol helps them sleep. While alcohol has an immediate sleep-inducing effect, a few hours later as the alcohol levels in your blood start to fall, there is a stimulant or wake-up effect. Avoid caffeine 4-6 hours before bedtime. This includes caffeinated beverages such as coffee, tea and many sodas, as well as chocolate, so be careful. Avoid heavy, spicy, or sugary foods 4-6 hours before bedtime- These can affect your ability to stay asleep.
Exercise regularly, but not right before bed - Regular exercise, particularly in the afternoon, can help deepen sleep. Strenuous exercise within the 2 hours before bedtime, however, can decrease your ability to fall asleep.
Reserve the bed for sleep. Don’t use the bed as an office, workroom or recreation room. Let your body "know" that the bed is associated with sleeping. Try a light snack before bed. Warm milk and foods high in the amino acid tryptophan, such as bananas, may help you to sleep. Practice relaxation techniques before bed. Relaxation techniques such as yoga, deep breathing and others may help relieve anxiety and reduce muscle tension.
Don’t take your worries to bed. Leave your worries about job, school, daily life, etc., behind when you go to bed. Some people find it useful to assign a "worry period" during the evening or late afternoon to deal with these issues. Establish a pre-sleep ritual. Pre-sleep rituals, such as a warm bath or a few minutes of reading, can help you sleep. Get into your favorite sleeping position. If you don’t fall asleep within 15–30 minutes, get up, go into another room, and read until sleepy.
Getting Up in the Middle of the Night: Most people wake up one or two times a night for various reasons. If you find that you get up in the middle of night and cannot get back to sleep within 15–20 minutes, then do not remain in the bed "trying hard" to sleep. Get out of bed. Leave the bedroom. Read, have a light snack, do some quiet activity, or take a bath. You will generally find that you can get back to sleep 20 minutes or so later. Do not perform challenging or engaging activity such as office work, housework, etc. Do not watch television. Prerna - Path to smiles A Complete Guide to Stress Management