Archive | July, 2015

Healthy Diet, aging, anti-oxidants, Cancer, and Telomeres

28 Jul

This blog is about the very important topic of Healthy diet and our health. As you will read much of our health is determined by our diet and lifestyle. As with all research over time some research becomes outdated and new information is accepted. So this blog was for me an interest to find and share some of the best information at the time on diet, nutrition and health. Please use this information as a springboard for thinking and finding up to date information in these areas. Best health to you!

‘Priority to non-poisonous rather than nutritious foods.’ “It takes months to build and only a minute to break down. How strange!” I heard a carpenter talk thus to himself while wiping his brow. No matter how careful you are about your nutrition, if your care does not include the condition “Never take poison”, your dietetics can crumble from the foundation at any time. Preservatives, anti-drying chemicals, artificial coloring, insecticides, weed killers, artificial flavoring, (etc, etc, etc) – are all dangerous. Kanjitsu Iijima

And our sense of the word (healthy) stands in need of some broadening. When most of us think about food and health, we think in fairly narrow nutritionist terms – about our personal physical health and how ingestion of this particular nutrient or rejection of that affects us. But I no longer think it’s possible to separate our bodily health from the health of the environment in which we eat or, for that matter, from the health of our general outlook about food (and health). If my explorations of the food chain have taught me anything, it’s that it is a food chain, and all the links in it are in fact linked: the health of the soil to the health of the plants and animals we eat to the health of the food culture in which we eat them to the health of the eater, in body as well as mind. … Food consists not just in piles of chemicals; it also comprises a set of social and ecological relationships, reaching back to the land and outward to other people. Michael Pollan

Meat offers a good proof of the proposition that the healthfulness of a food cannot be divorced from the health of the food chain that produced it – that the health of soil, plant, animal, and eater are all connected, for better or worse. … The whole of a dietary pattern is evidently greater than the sum of its parts. … In recent years a less reductive method of doing nutritional science has emerged, based on the idea of studying whole dietary patterns instead of individual foods or nutrients. The early results have tended to support the idea that traditional diets do indeed protect us from chronic disease and that these diets can be transferred from one place and population to another. … Such an approach can take into account complicated interactions among nutrients and non-nutrient substances in studies of free-living people. Michael Pollan

ARE TELOMERES THE KEY TO AGING AND CANCER?

Inside the center or nucleus of a cell, our genes are located on twisted, double-stranded molecules of DNA called chromosomes. At the ends of the chromosomes are stretches of DNA called telomeres, which protect our genetic data, make it possible for cells to divide and hold some secrets to how we age and get cancer.

Like the rest of a chromosome and its genes, telomeres are sequences of DNA – chains of chemical code. Like other DNA, they are made of four nucleic acid bases: G for guanine, A for adenine, T for thymine and C for cytosine.

Without telomeres, the main part of the chromosome – the part containing genes essential for life – would get shorter each time a cell divides. So telomeres allow cells to divide without losing genes. Cell division is needed so we can grow new skin, blood, bone and other cells when needed. Without telomeres, chromosome ends could fuse together and degrade the cell’s genetic blueprint, making the cell malfunction, become cancerous or die.

Geneticist Richard Cawthon and colleagues at the University of Utah found shorter telomeres are associated with shorter lives. Among people older than 60, those with shorter telomeres were three times more likely to die from heart disease and eight times more likely to die from infectious disease.

When telomere length, chronological age and gender are combined (women live longer than men), those factors account for 37 percent of the variation in the risk of dying over age 60. So what causes the other 63 percent? A major cause of aging is “oxidative stress.” It is the damage to DNA, proteins and lipids (fatty substances) caused by oxidants, which are highly reactive substances containing oxygen. These oxidants are produced normally when we breathe, and also result from inflammation, infection and consumption of alcohol and cigarettes.

Another factor in aging is “glycation.” It happens when glucose sugar from what we eat binds to some of our DNA, proteins and lipids, leaving them unable to do their jobs. The problem becomes worse as we get older, causing body tissues to malfunction, resulting in disease and death. This may explain why studies in various laboratory animals indicate that restricting calorie intake extends lifespan. Author: Lee J. Siegel (I reduced article for blog) What is Glycation? Glycation is a process by which proteins, certain fats, and glucose tangle together. It affects all body tissues, and tends to make them stiff and inflexible. Glycation causes most problems for organs where flexibility is most important, such as the heart, kidneys, skin and eyes. Once it has become glycated, the tissues start to produce ‘glycotoxins’, such as Advanced Glycation End-products – or AGEs, which are damaging to our cells. AGEs do this in two ways, both of which promote aging: they produce free radicals, and increase inflammation.

Glycation, and the glycotoxins caused by it, are a major cause of the horrible side-effects of being diabetic – higher levels of heart disease, high blood pressure, kidney disease and eye problems. Happily, though not widely known, these conditions can be partly or fully controlled, as discussed below.

Glycation is particularly relevant to diabetics as it is more likely because of the raised blood sugar which is a feature of diabetes.

Treatment of Glycation Treatment of glycation is through 3 routes: 1. Avoiding certain foods, 2. Keep blood sugar levels low, and 3. Supplementation.

  1. It is the preparation of food which is important when seeking to avoid glycation. Specifically, high temperature cooking must be avoided. Frying, grilling and roasting all produce glycation and ‘glycotoxins’.

Much manufactured food will have been prepared using high temperature processes. Junk food can be a nightmare of glycation! Food should be chosen which is which is raw, steamed, stewed or poached. A slow cooker is very useful to prepare meat, fish or vegetarian meals easily, conveniently – safely.

  1. A healthy blood sugar range is below 100mg/dL. Above this level, glycation occurs much more readily. This level can be checked with a ‘fasting blood test’; ie you don’t eat for a length of time, then blood is taken for analysis. If blood sugar is higher than 100mg/dL, action can be taken to reduce blood sugar. This can quickly be achieved by dramatically reducing starchy food in the diet, and replacing it with extra vegetables, salads and protein.

The starchy foods to cut out or reduce dramatically are; sugar itself, potatoes, and grains and grain products including bread, pastries and pasta. Fruit juice and cooked fruit should be reduced or cut out because its sugar quickly passes into the blood; but moderate amounts of whole fruit are fine as they contain abundant nutrients and their sugar is absorbed more slowly thanks to the fibre content of the fruit. Poaching, stewing, slow cooking is best.

Scientific American had a story about boosting telomerase through diet, exercise and stress reduction. Specifically, he (Ornish et al.)found that telomerase was boosted by 30 percent in prostate cancer patients who followed a plant-based, whole-grain diet with very little fat or sugar for three months. The men also took fish oil supplements, did daily 30-minute bouts of exercise, and practiced yoga or meditation for an hour a day. “Telomerase turns up those genes associated with disease prevention and turns down the genes associated with heart disease, diabetes, and cancer,” explains Ornish. Just an ounce. The “pound of cure” lifestyle approach examined in his study may not be necessary for healthier folks, he says. They may need only an ounce of prevention to maintain their telomerase levels: switching from regular to nonfat dairy products; adding two or three servings of fruits and vegetables to their diet, for example; or doing just a few minutes of daily meditation.  2009 It turns out that most of our DNA is the software involved in determining how and when 30,000 genes are expressed. Regulation of this expression can be affected by environmental, nutritional, and other factors. These changes to the genome by external factors, called epigenetic changes, can have significant effects on a wide variety of molecular processes. For example, one of the most important nutritional factors modulating gene expression is folic acid: a lack of folic acid has been linked to an increased risk of heart disease and cancer. Folic acid, which is found in dark green leafy vegetables such as spinach and green lettuce, participates in a pathway leading to the stabilization of DNA.

Research has shown convincing evidence that dietary patterns practiced during adulthood are important contributors to age-related cognitive decline and dementia risk. An article published in Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences highlights information on the benefits of diets high in fruit, vegetables, cereals and fish and low in saturated fats in reducing dementia risk.

The mere existence of these and other epigenetic changes demonstrates that your DNA is not set in stone. It is a living part of the cells in your body and its software code can be influenced by nutritional and environmental factors.

Early bacteria living in Earth’s oxygen-poor atmosphere learned to extract energy from the sun that only 30% of processes normally associated with aging are dictated by genes, while 70% are under your personal control  through diet, exercise, and other lifestyle behaviors. by combining the energy with carbon dioxide from the air and water from the ocean, they were able to form the glucose they needed for their cells to function. This process, known as photosynthesis, gave these bacteria a huge advantage over competing species, but created a problem: the oxygen they produced as a byproduct of this chemical reaction threatened to destroy them through oxidation of their DNA. So, they developed specialized antioxidants called phytochemicals, which have properties that enable them to absorb the extra electrons found on oxidized chemicals and oxygen radicals. Phytochemicals are truly sponges for oxygen radicals.

In the human body, different types of antioxidants are found in specific locations where they can be most effective. For example, some act only in the oily environment of fat cells while others act in the liquid, water-like environment of muscle cells. This latter adaptation is particularly important, as the primary energy producers within muscle cells, the mitochondria, also leak oxygen radicals in oxygen-poor environments. The ability of antioxidants to mop up these radicals enables them to play an important role in the fight against cell damage and the development of cancer. This is where exercise can be particularly useful exercise increases the levels of many antioxidants in the muscles, thus reducing the levels of dangerous free radicals.

The Color System of Antioxidants

The different types of antioxidants can, for the most part, be grouped by color. For example, the antioxidants found in red tomatoes are identical to those found in red watermelon or pink grapefruit. Although the system is by no means perfect, organizing phytochemicals by color is an easy way to help you differentiate between the different types of antioxidants and learn how to get a variety of phytochemicals and antioxidants into your diet.

The red group, including tomatoes, pink grapefruit, and watermelon, contain lycopene, one of the most well-studied antioxidants in the fight against prostate cancer. Population-based studies that were conducted when prostate cancer was diagnosed at more advanced stages clearly demonstrated that increased blood levels of lycopene and increased intake of lycopene-containing foods were associated with a reduced risk of aggressive prostate cancer. In recent years, as the population of prostate cancer patients has shifted to the identification of cancers at earlier stages, and as the population of patients has changed, some of these associations can no longer be demonstrated.

There are several short-term studies in which tomato paste or lycopene supplements were given to men prior to prostatectomy. Lycopene was identified in the prostate tissue after surgery and there were changes in prostate cells suggesting benefit. Multiple animal studies have also demonstrated the ability of lycopene to reduce tumor growth as well. It is also clear from multiple studies that the benefits of lycopene are more readily available when absorbed from cooked tomato products and juices than from whole tomatoes. In fact, more than 80% of the lycopene in the American diet comes from cooked tomato-based products such as pasta sauce, tomato soup, tomato juice, and ketchup.

Ultimately, studies focused on the ability of lycopene to prevent the initiation and progression of prostate cancer have not yet established definitively the benefits of increasing the intake of lycopene-containing foods or supplements. More research is needed to clarify the potential benefit of this nutritional component.

Importantly, some animal studies have shown minimal or no benefit to lycopene alone for slowing prostate cancer growth, while whole tomato extracts have been shown to slow tumor growth. Thus, the benefits to the red group are likely due to more than just lycopene, and simply taking a lycopene supplement will not confer the same benefit as eating whole fruits and vegetables. Again, this is a simple reminder that there are no shortcuts to a healthy diet and regular exercise.

The red/purple group, including pomegranates, grapes, plums, and assorted berries, all contain anthocyanins, which accounts for the color of the group. However, different berries in this group have unique properties. For example, pomegranates have ellagitannins, which inhibit inflammation and may have benefits for heart health, cancer prevention, and dementia, while cranberries have proanthocyanidins, which target a bacteria common in urinary tract infections. The full benefits of blackberries, strawberries, and raspberries are still being studied, but they all have antioxidant power and work together with the other red/purple berries.

The orange group, including carrots, mangoes, apricots, cantaloupes, pumpkin, and sweet potatoes, contain alpha and beta carotenes. Beta-carotene, the more well-studied of the two, is converted by the body into vitamin A, which is important for vision, and works together with the red, green, and yellow/green antioxidants. Note that carrots provide about half the alpha and beta carotene in the average American diet, with significant contributions from tomato-based products.

The orange/yellow group, including oranges, peaches, papaya, and nectarines, contain betacryptoxanthin, a minor carotenoid that accounts for only a minute amount of the daily intake of all carotenoids by the average American. About 87% of cryptoxanthin comes from orange juice, oranges, and tangerines. However, one must be cautious about relying on processed juices as some of the nutrients are removed during production and high amounts of sugars are often added.

The yellow/green group, including spinach, collard, yellow corn, green peas, avocado, and honeydew melon, contain lutein and zeaxanthin. These carotenoids concentrate in the eye and contribute to eye health. Lower intakes have been associated with cataracts and age-related macular degeneration, the primary preventable cause of blindness in America.

 

The green group, including broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, bok choy, and kale, contain sulforaphane, isothiocyanates, and indoles. These compounds stimulate genes in the liver to produce enzymes that break down carcinogens, including those that are produced when overcooking and/or charbroiling meats.

The white/green group, including garlic, onions, asparagus, leeks, shallots, and chives, contain allyl sulfides, which activate an antioxidant response in cells.

Plant foods that don’t fit into the color system can also have unique benefits. For example, celery has salicylic acid, which is closely related to the active ingredient in aspirin and has been used for centuries to relieve headaches. Mushrooms are a complex group of plant foods with possible effects on the immune system at the level of the intestines.

Also, keep in mind that because the color of the fruit or vegetable is tied to its chemical properties, foods with deeper, richer colors are typically more nutritious. Compare, for example, a regular store-bought tomato with one bought from a local farm. To be able to ship a firm tomato by truck, the tomato is picked while it is still green and is rapidly ripened by being blasted with ethylene gas, a substance normally produced by the plant as a signal to ripen. While ripening, the family of lycopene compounds accumulates, especially in response to heat and light. However, once ripening stops, the accumulation of lycopene stops. Because the ripening process is stilted, the color of the typical store-bought tomato is often somewhat washed out. By contrast, the tomato that ripens naturally on the vine at the local farm is typically deeper in color and richer in taste and thus more nutritious.

Incorporating a variety of both colorful and colorless phytochemicals in fruits and vegetables can help to maximize intake of key chemical elements required to maintain healthy tissues and reduce the risk of disease.

How can this cause cancer? Well, if a tumor suppressor gene is abnormally turned off, or an oncogene is turned on, then cancer (carcinogenesis) can occur. One key is a chemical change to the DNA called methylation. First, we need to define the process to make it clearer. Abnormal methylation in cancer has been known for 20 years. Hypo-methylated areas turn on normally silent areas such as virally inserted genes or inactive X-linked genes. Hyper-methylated areas silence tumor suppresser genes.

We know that cancers have abnormal levels of methylation and we know foods can help prevent cancers. Is there a link between foods and epigenetics? Yes! The study of food nutrients and their effect on disease through epigenetics is known as nutrigenomics. Epidemiologic studies suggest there are bad foods and good foods. BAD: red meat, processed meat, grilled meat, dairy, animal fat, partially hydrogenated fats. Good: Fish, fruits, vegetables, tree nuts, omega-3 fatty acids, whole grains. Foods with epigenetic effects include green tea, cruciferous vegetables, and grapes. Usually we hear about antioxidants and foods. Antioxidants are important but there are beneficial substances in foods called polyphenols which can affect genes. Of the polyphenols, different forms exist but flavonoids are the most highly cited for health benefits and are found in a variety of vegetables and fruits. Types of flavonoids include flavanols in tea, isothiocyanate in cruciferous vegetables, anthocyanidins in grapes and berries, flavonone in citrus fruits, flavonols in onions, isoflavones (genistein) in soy.

These findings demonstrate that a good diet is the most powerful weapon we have against disease and sickness…. In fact, dietary protein proved to be so powerful in its effect that we could turn on and turn off cancer growth simply by changing the level consumed… These findings show that heart disease, diabetes and obesity can be reversed by a healthy diet. Other research shows that various cancers, auto immune diseases, bone health, kidney health, vision and brain disorders in old age(like cognitive dysfunction and Alzheimer’s) are convincingly influenced by diet. The diet that has time and again been shown to reverse and/or prevent these disorders is a whole foods, plants-based diet. …We now have a deep and broad range of evidence showing that a whole foods, plant-based diet is the best to reverse and/or prevent these disorders…..The most promising preventions and treatments have now been shown to be diet and lifestyle changes, a constitutional approach to health. T. Colin Campbell The most impressive evidence favoring plant-based diets is the way that so many food factors and biological events are integrated to maximize health and minimize disease. Although the biological processes are exceptionally complex, these factors still work together as a beautifully choreographed, self-correcting network. It is exceptionally impressive, especially the coordination and control of this network. T. Colin Campbell  All tea contains polyphenols, but the highest levels are in green and white tea. Green tea has been well studied and appears to have anti-cancer benefits. In China, green tea drinkers are 50% less likely to develop gastric or esophageal cancer (Carcin 2002; 23 (9): 1497), and 2 cups daily added to topical tea extract reversed oral leukoplakia (J. Nutri Biochem 2001; 12 (7): 404).

Green tea has powerful antioxidant effects but it also helps to balance normal methylation in DNA. In fact, one study in esophageal cancer cells demonstrated that EGCG from green tea is able to turn on tumor suppressor genes that had been chemically silenced by methylation (Cancer Research 2003;63:7563).

Cruciferous vegetables include broccoli, cauliflower, kale, Bok choi and their anti-cancer effects have been demonstrated in epidemiologic studies. These powerful vegetables not only induce enzymes that break down carcinogens but they also inhibit DNA methylation allowing tumor suppressor genes to thrive. Inhibiting abnormal methylation also helps cruciferous vegetables to inhibit the cancer causing action of tobacco smoke by preventing the formation of nitrosamine-DNA adducts.

Grapes, which contain resveratrol, are excellent for heart health and they have anti-cancer activity. Grapes work by preventing the formation or initiation and promotion of cancers. They don’t have methylation actions as discussed above but they work by modulation histones.

Histones are the chief protein component of the DNA chain (chromatin). They act as spools for the DNA to wind around which then shortens the length of the DNA to 30,000 times shorter than an unwrapped strand. This process not only allows the long DNA chain to fit into a cell but also plays a role in gene expression because how the genes are wound affects which are exposed and available for turning on or off. Rolling the spool a different way would expose other genes and change their expression.

Histones are modified after translation by acetylation, methylation, phosphorylation, ubiquitination. The changes occur at lysine residues (except for phosphorylation of serine or threonine). When the histone is acetylated the charge is changed and the histone loosens its grip on the DNA strand and the DNA unwinds, exposing the genes to be transcribed, or repaired.

When histone tails (H3,H4) are acetylated, genes are transcribed, when they are deacetylated, genes are turned off. Histone deacetylases work to maintain deacetylated sites.

Resveratrol, found in grapes, activates Sirtuins; SirT1 (Sir2 proteins). There are at least 7 Sir2-like proteins and they are histone deacetylators. Sirtuins are induced in animals during starvation states. They seem to have a life preservation effect. Interestingly, when an animal is starved, it can live longer. When the calorie intake of rodents was decreased by 40% in rodents, they actually lived 50% longer and appear to have fewer chronic diseases. The same benefit occurs when rodents when they are given resveratrol in their diet.

Resveratrol deacetylates histones causing tighter packing of the chromatin and a lower level of transcription of DNA. This silencing of the DNA is thought to be the mechanism of life prolongation, heart health, and its beneficial actions to prevent cancers. This is why grapes or red wine is beneficial to your health. How much red wine should you drink? No one knows for sure, but any beneficial effects might be negated after two glasses a day because of the alcohol. I wouldn’t advise drinking more than this until more is known. The data is very promising, but more research is needed.

The foods that we put into our bodies on a daily basis, whether it is fast food, raw foods or organic foods, have an effect on us. For instance, did you know there are foods that prevent cancer? You read right, these same foods can also help prevent other chronic diseases as well. In this article we will explore 3 green giants in the food world that can help prevent disease.

1 – Broccoli

The first green giant of foods that prevent cancer is broccoli. According to an article by J. Cohen published by the National Cancer Institute in 1992, a researcher at Johns Hopkins University announced the discovery of a compound found in broccoli that prevented the further development of tumors by 60% in participants as well as reduced the size of existing tumors by 75%. Broccoli also contains Vitamin C, Fiber, Calcium, Vitamin K, Beta-Carotene and much more, it is also a great source of iron for those that do not eat meat.

Broccoli also contains sulforaphane which scientific studies have shown to be effective against a specific bacterium that is a common cause of gastric ulcers and gastric cancer. Smokers under the age of 65 are encouraged to indulge in a cup of broccoli a day as studies have shown it to help battle colon cancer cells as well.

2 – Spinach

The second green giant of foods that prevent cancer is spinach. Spinach is a powerful food. It contains Vitamins C and E, Beta-Carotene, B vitamins, Calcium, iron and many more natural minerals and nutrients.

Spinach has been shown to help protect the eyes from age-related degeneration. Spinach, as well as other green vegetables, is high in potassium and low in sodium. Along with the mixture of plant-derived omega-3 fatty acids, fiber and other minerals, spinach is great for lowering your blood pressure.

3 – Wheatgrass

The second green giant and perhaps most powerful of foods that prevent cancer is wheatgrass. Wheat Grass is one of the most beneficial complete foods there is. It is very high in chlorophyll and provides natural detoxification. The chlorophyll found in a liquid ounce of wheat grass and other leafy greens not only cleanses and builds blood, but research now shows that it may also assist in offsetting the adverse effects of radiation. Wheatgrass is one molecule away from hemoglobin in the human blood so it is the closet we can come to a blood transfusion without actually getting a blood transfusion. Now that is a powerful food!

Wheatgrass is high in oxygen like all green plants as it contains chlorophyll. The brain and other tissue in the body function at an optimal level in a highly-oxygenated environment. Science has proven that chlorophyll stops growth and development of unfriendly bacteria and can assist in increasing low red cell count. It is so nutritionally condensed that 15 pounds of Wheat Grass is the equivalent of 350 pounds of carrot, lettuce, celery, and other juices.

The above 3 types of food are just a few of the green giants in foods that prevent cancer and there are many others. Remember, the foods — good and bad – that we put into our bodies affect us. Make the right choice.

There are many contributing factors in the causes of cancer such as diet, lifestyle, stress, toxicity and more. Eating good amounts of the above is a great way to improve your overall health and immune system, but it is important that you look into the other factors as well.

The National Cancer Society has estimated that nearly one in three cancer deaths are actually diet related. Those are astonishing statistics considering that means we may actually be able to prevent cancer with our diet choices, or cause it.

Research has shown that certain foods actually contribute to the growth of cancer while others help to lessen the risk. The dietary choices we make today affect us for the rest of our lives.

DEATH

27 Jul

An age old question for human beings is why do we die – sometimes in a senseless, violent manner?  Why do good people die young? This is what self-conscious beings ask. After reflecting more on this from a perspective of the teaching of the Buddha, I thought to put in words some of thoughts on death.

A year ago, I read a short but interesting blog by Joe Goldfarb on his ethical dilemma of killing plants. He wrote, “For one organism to live another must die. There is no escaping this. Having a tiered value status of life, i.e. a mammal has a higher status than a plant, based on assigned arbitrary values is a false perception of reality. I believe in a reality of equality, not inequality, regardless of the form and capabilities of the organism. A bear does not have more value than a flower, for both their names, and bodies are not real. The only thing that is real is their life, of which they both have of equal value. With that said, it is the gift of life, not consciousness, which I acknowledge and respect… Even killing less life, one is still taking life. This is why Veganism has good intentions, but is inherently flawed. Because of this moral problem, I have been studying Native American belief systems in hopes of finding a resolution.”

Now, I don’t know if he has resolved this moral problem for himself but his thoughts point out an important fact: that to live, there is death. After watching the news on TV, I saw another of endless situations where people being at the wrong place, at the wrong time, are killed. It could be a natural disaster or a bombing or some other manmade disaster but the result is the same: death. Their lives are quickly and ruthlessly ended. If one takes away the usual eulogy of priests, rabbis, ministers, or Imams that God has a purpose that we don’t understand and the person who has died will be in the hands of God (perhaps) – we must admit, we just don’t know. Death happens.

However, to me the “why does it happen” is answered by – the universe doesn’t care. Life and death are two sides of the same coin. They are complementary aspects of life. Therefore, death is as natural as life and there is no plan except that under certain conditions people and sentient beings live and die. There is no “divine plan” which creates life isolated from death. As has already happened many times, the stars and planets of this universe have died and been reborn and our planet and solar system will one day be extinguished. Perhaps also even the universe has gone through endless deaths and rejuvenation. All is impermanent. As far as we know, there is only energy.

Now is this depressing? No. Actually with the acceptance that life is fragile and very limited, one is more sensitive to it, taking it as a precious opportunity. Each moment of life allows one to put into motion waves of action which continue into the future. If one understands there is no permanent ‘I’ or me, than the idea of losing it through death is not a problem for an individual. It is through the alienation from the ‘All’ by the mistaken psychological separation caused by the ignorance of the belief in a permanent substantail Self that the fear and angst of death appears. However, I must add that as our knowledge expands, i.e. quanrum theory, the universe/existence is very mysterious to us humans and in the end what will happen to this life form of ours after death is still unknown. We will just have to wait and see or not.

Is-qi-ki-chi-real-or-only-a-new-age-fantasy-?

26 Jul

Is-qi-ki-chi-real-or-only-a-new-age-fantasy-?

  • I practice Qi-gong and Tai Chi. The physical and psychological benefits of these practices have long been documented and known. Even if I experienced Qi, I have often wondered is this real or a suggestive fantasy? In this blog I begin with a typical criticism of Qi and then present articles and research summaries  by current researchers about the scientific exploration of Qi/Chi/Ki. I will add items as time goes on.

Typical non-scientific challenge called The Myth of “Qi”

If, like us, you are concerned about the problem of “qi”, we’d like to hear from you. We cannot promise to post every link we are sent, but we do intend to provide links to articles or sites concerned with this matter. You could be a scientist who thinks the whole “qi” phenomenon is a load of pseudo-scientific claptrap, a concerned religious voice who thinks that the use of so-called “internal energies” is morally wrong, or a martial artist who thinks that it is time to get real in our martial practice and work to eradicate silly and even downright dangerous myths and superstitions. Like us, you might have multiple concerns. We think that the time has come to put the myth of “qi” under the triple microscopes of science, religion and rational martial practice. Surely there is no room to sit on the fence. However, many people do just that, without really thinking through the issue of whether or not they have a consistent religious or spiritual justification for what they are doing. In 21st century culture, people’s souls are up for grabs, whether you are into Qi-gong, Reiki, Yoga. Experiencing “qi” (usually in the form of physical sensations) is somewhat akin to the seeing of ghosts.

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“The effects of qigong have been well documented in scientific qigong research both inside and outside of China. It has been definitely established that qigong can cure diseases and induce a number of extraordinary functions in human beings. The current scientific qigong experiments are very limited in scope-many areas have not been studied. And the areas studied have merely focused on ordinarily measurable phenomena. In fact, there are possibly many more, deeper and even more perplexing phenomena yet to be investigated. As for monitoring and measuring qi, I think that modern scientific methods do have limitations. In other words, the whole modern scientific paradigm, including its theories, technologies, and precision instruments are very restricting.” Dr. Yan Xin                                                                                                                                    ——————————————————————————————————

“Scientific qigong experiments at the initial stage can only produce natural-philosophical hypotheses which are crude, pale, and without proofs and predictions. More and better-quality experiments will obviously build up the ground for further improvement of this situation. Qigong scientists should always remind themselves that science is developed through the process of negating itself. The past qigong experiments have posed problems which are difficult to be explained with existing scientific knowledge.” Lu Zuyin                                                                                                                                                                              ——————————————————————————————————-

Qi-gong through the science lens

Numerous reports have suggested the existence of Qi-gong energy and its biological effects (Sancier et al., 1991; Lu, 1997). Qi-gong currently draws much attention from not only traditional Chinese medicine researchers but also conventional scientists (Ziegler, 1999), and Qi-gong healing is seemingly becoming more accepted as one of the next possible candidates for complementary or alternative medicine, following acupuncture (Sancier et al., 1991). Unfortunately, many reports are described in Chinese or Japanese, and most of these might be considered flawed, since they were undertaken without appropriate masking (blinding) and/or randomization procedures. However, an extensive and systematic review of previous reports allows us certain insights into Qi-gong energy and the application of conventional scientific methods to the study of this subtle energy.

Various aspects of Qi-gong energy have been studied by different investigators. These include reports on the electroencephalograms (EEGs) of Qi-gong practitioners (Weixing et al., 1994; Zhang et al., 1988; Liu et al., 1990; Xu et al., 1998) and the effects of Qi-gong on human physiological and pathological conditions, and also the study of cellular activity, such as cellular proliferation (Sancier et al., 1991; Lu, 1997; Sancier, 1996; Trieschmann, 1999; Shah et al., 1999; Chien et al., 1991; Wu et al., 1999).

Qi-gong energy as a magnetic field

Although it is quite difficult to detect Qi-energy using conventional physical measurement techniques, many reports have described specific approaches which detect Qi-gong energy as a magnetic field, far-infrared or photon (Chien et al., 1991; Seto et al., 1992; Hisamitsu et al., 1996; Benford et al., 1999; Machi, 1995; Usa et al., 1995; Lu, 1997). The most notable among them are reports asserting that Qi-gong practitioners emit a strong magnetic field from their hand or head (Hisamitsu et al., 1996; Benford et al., 1999), and the enhancement of natural killer cell-activity in vitro (Yamamoto et al., 1996). Surprisingly, it has even been reported that Qi-gong energy can be stored in various materials (Omura, 1990), despite there being no rational physico-chemical explanation for such an observation at present. At the same time, electromagnetic fields have been found to have a stimulative effect on the phagocytic activity of polymorphonuclear leukocytes (PMNs) (Roy et al., 1995; Gapeyev et al., 1997; Papatheofanis, 1990; Khadir et al., 1999). Microwave or laser irradiation of PMNs has also been shown to enhance their phagocytic activity (Kiel et al., 1986; Dima et al., 1996). Furthermore, recent physico-chemical studies have demonstrated magnetic effects on electrolyte solutions (Oshitani et al., 1999; Oshitani et al., 1999) and their physiological effects (Ayrapetyan et al., 1994), and it has been shown that an aqueous solution pre-exposed to microwave irradiation influences K-Ca channel activity (Fesenko et al., 1995). These reports suggest a “memory effect” in which magnetic effects remain for a considerable period after magnetic exposure is completed (Oshitani et al., 1999; Oshitani et al., 1999; Ayrapetyan et al., 1994; Fesenko et al., 1995; Adair, 1999; Velizarov et al., 1999). Preliminary experiments carried out by Matsumoto and his colleague suggested that external Qi-gong treated phosphate-buffered saline (PBS) has a stimulatory effect on the phagocytic activity of human PMNs assayed by the highly sensitive chemiluminescent method (Kataoka et al., 1997).

However, these experiments were not performed with masking and randomized conditions and also large variations in phagocytic activities of PMNs between PMN-donors were not accounted for in the analysis. These several lines of evidence prompted a rigorous series of experiments in masked and well-controlled conditions to demonstrate the effect of external Qi-gong treated PBS (referred to as Qi-gongized PBS) on the phagocytic activity of human PMNs using the highly sensitive chemiluminescence assay method.

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But first, what is Qi?

Qi is one of the most mysterious elements of Oriental medicine. It cannot be seen, touched, or smelled. Nevertheless, the curing of patients by acupuncture depends on and results from this invisible flow of qi. The doctor and I made the following interpretation. The twisted ankle had prevented blood circulation; hence, the ankle was very cold initially. After healing, the blood could circulate more easily again, and the ankle became warm. The next day, she met me and happily told me that her foot felt much better from the healing.

At the close of that demonstration I explained the whole process of emitting qi, receiving qi, and healing in terms of quantum theory. (Please consult my book for details of this explanation.) Clearly, there is no mystique in either acupuncture or Qi-gong. These ancient, empirically valid methods have genuine physical and biological effects. Their theoretical foundations and explanations lie in modern physics.

In conclusion, I contend that the infrared imaging technique is not only a scientific research tool for measuring the effects of externally transmitted qi that can yield new quantitative results; this method is a tool that can prove to any skeptic the very demonstrable effects of qi in healing.

* Detailed results and references are presented in the author’s book, Biophysics Basis for Acupuncture and Health By Yin Lo, PhD

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And, what is Ki? Scientific evidences about the “Ki-effect”

“Ki-energy (life-energy) is believed to increase the immune activity of its practitioners. It has also been shown to cause neuropsychological effects. We undertook this study to obtain objective and scientific evidence as to whether or not a Ki-effect could inhibit the growth of cultured cancer cells.

Cultured human liver carcinoma cells, HepG2, were used. A Japanese Ki-expert held his fingers toward the cells in culture dishes for 5 or 10 min. After culturing for 24 hr, we measured cell numbers, protein concentration per cell, certain mRNA expressions and the synthesis of regucalcin. The results were compared with those for control cells (non-treated cells).

We found that the number of cells in the Ki-exposed groups were less than those in the controls by 30.3 and 40.6% with 5 and10 min Ki-exposure, respectively. The protein content per cell in the Ki-exposed groups (5 and 10 min) was higher than that in the control groups by 38.8 and 62.9%, respectively. These results were statistically significant. Using RT-PCR, we found that the mRNA expression for c-myc, a tumor stimulator gene, was decreased, while that for regucalcin, which suppresses DNA synthesis, was increased. Our molecular biological studies and mathematical model analysis demonstrated that Ki-energy inhibited cancer cell division. The data also indicate that the Ki-effects involve some form of infrared radiation from the human body. This study suggests the possibility that Ki-energy may be beneficial for cancer patients because it suppresses cancer cell growth, and at the same time, it stimulates immune functions of the patients.” Tomoko Ohnishi

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Results of a vigorously designed three-year study that she conducted suggest that test-tube cells grew better when people trained in reiki touch therapy passed their hands over the containers.

They did not touch the test tubes, or warm them, or affect them physically in any known way, Gronowicz said.

She was stunned. And puzzled.

The tightly controlled study suggests that patients could physically benefit from some sort of energy emanating from the skilled human hand.

“This is quite astonishing to me”, Gronowicz said. How do humans interact with biofields?

The University of Connecticut Health Center study was financed by the National Institutes of Health center for complementary and alternative medicine, and published in the Journal of Orthopedic Research. Gronowicz said she has come to accept the idea of biofields and would like to collaborate with a physicist to study them.

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Philadelphia Biomedical Research Institute, King of Prussia, PA 19406, Department of Biochemistry and

Biophysics, University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, Philadelphia, PA 19104, USA andSchool of Nishino Breathing Method, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo 150, Japan

We investigated whether Ki-energy (life-energy) has beneficial effects on mitochondria. The paradigm we developed was to keep isolated rat liver mitochondria in conditions in which they undergo heat deterioration (39C for 10 min). After the heat treatment, the respiration of the mitochondria was measured using a Clarke-type oxygen electrode. Then, the respiratory control ratio (RC ratio; the ratiobetween State-3 and State-4 respiration, which is known to represent the integrity and intactness of

isolated mitochondria) was calculated.

Without the heat treatment, the RC ratio was >5 for NADH linked respiration (with glutamate plus malate as substrates). The RC ratio decreased to 1.86-4.36 by the incubation at 39C for 10 min. However, when Ki-energy was applied by a Japanese Ki-expert during the heat treatment, the ratio was improved to 2.24-5.23. We used five preparations from five different rats, and the significance of the differences of each experiment was either P <0.05 or P <0.01 (n¼ 3-5).

We analyzed the degree of lipid peroxidation in the mitochondria by measuring the amount of TBARS (thiobarbituric acid reactive substances). The amount of TBARS in heat-treated, no Ki-exposed mitochondria was greater than that of the control (no heat-treated, no Ki-exposed).

However, the amount was reduced in the heat-treated, Ki-exposed mitochondria (two experiments; both P <0.05) suggesting that Ki-energy protected mitochondria from oxidative stress. Calcium ions may play an important role in the protection by Ki-energy. Data also suggest that the observed Ki-effect involves, at least, near-infrared radiation (0.8-2.7mm) from the human body.

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An in vitro study reported by investigators at the University of

Oklahoma with co-authors from the University of Sherbrooke,

Harvard Medical School, and the National Institutes of Health

stands out in that it claims dramatic and reproducible effects.

This group tested whether treatments by a well-known Qi-gong

practitioner can protect rat brain cells from cell death induced

by oxidative stress in the form of exposure to hydrogen peroxide

(H2O2). Their findings suggest that Qigong treatments can reproducibly

block the damaging effects of H2O2 to such a degree

that they outperform pharmaceutical compounds currently in

use as protective agents against oxidative stress.

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Ki-energy (Life-energy) Stimulates Osteoblastic Cells and Inhibits the Formation of Osteoclast-like Cells in Bone Cell Culture Models, Ohnishi ST

Some practitioners of the Nishino Breathing Method (NBM) were found to have a higher bone density than the average values of age- and gender-matched non-practitioners. Using bone cell culture models, we investigated a possible mechanism behind this observation. For the study of bone mineralization, we performed the following two experiments using cultured osteoblastic MC3T3-E1 cells:

  1. Kozo Nishino, a Japanese Ki expert, sent Ki-energy to the cells once for 5 or 10-min after they were seeded in culture dishes in the presence of 10% fetal bovine serum (FBS). They were incubated for 72-h and the cells were counted. The number in the dish with 10-min Ki-exposure was significantly greater than that in the control (P < 0.01 with n = 8). We performed a reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) study using these cells, but the mRNA expressions did not change significantly.
  2. (ii) After cells were incubated for 72-h without Ki-exposure (in the presence of FBS), they were further cultured for 48-h (in the absence of FBS) to promote differentiation. At the beginning of the second culture stage, Ki was applied once for 10-min. After 48-h, RT-PCR was performed. The mRNA expressions which are related to bone mineralization, such as Runx2, -1(I) collagen, alkaline phosphatase and osteocalcin, increased significantly (P < 0.05 and n = 4 for all). For the bone resorption study, we used mouse marrow cultures, which can form osteoclast-like cells in the presence of (1-34) parathyroid hormone (PTH), and stimulate resorption. We exposed these cells to Ki-energy twice for the duration of 5 or 10-min on day 0 and day 4. On day 7, the cells were counted. The number of osteoclast-like cells in dishes with Ki exposure was significantly smaller than those in control dishes (P < 0.05 with n = 5). The difference between 5-min exposure and 10-min exposure was not statistically significant. All of our data suggest that the Ki-effect on osteoporosis should be further explored.

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The meridian phenomenon

Many express doubts about the existence of meridians and qi. In fact, all people have meridians, and although they cannot be seen or touched, under certain conditions they can be sensed. Chinese scientists have found that about 1 % of people are meridian-sensitive. Chinese scientists have tested the objectivity of the meridian system using modern scientific experiments. A scientist from the Chinese Academy of Sciences devised a highly sensitive instrument and found that meridians are in the form of lines that give out luminescence. They emitted 2.5 times more photons than non-meridian points on the body. Meridians are points, normally forming lines, on the human body where electrical resistance is lower than adjacent areas. When injecting a trace element into a meridian, the trace element will travel through the meridians into the body and then diffuse. Professor Li Dingzhong, a famous Chinese skin scientist and expert on meridians, observed 305 cases of skin diseases where lesions occurred along a meridian line. The discovery caused a great shock to the international medical profession. His book Meridian Phenomenon was published in Japan.

TIME IS A MYSTERY

26 Jul
  • Time is a mystery. Some thoughts by thinkers. ——————————————————————-  

The illusion of the passage of time arises from the confusing of the given with the real. Passage of time arises because we think of occupying different realities. In fact, we occupy only different givens. There is only one reality.” Kurt Gödel

“Gödel concluded that time travel is indeed theoretically possible, rendering time, as we know it, meaningless. Time, that mysterious and seemingly self-contradictory being, as Gödel put it, which, on the other hand, seems to form the basis of the world and our own existence, turned out in the end to be the world’s greatest illusion. For Gödel, time was the philosophical question” Palle Yourgrau, ‘A world without time’

“Ultimately all moments are really one. Therefore, now is eternity.” David Bohm
“…for us physicists believe the separation between past, present, and future is only an illusion, although a convincing one.” Albert Einstein

“I am therefore inclined to think that “the Real”- alais human independent reality- is not embedded in space-time. And indeed, I go as far as speculating that, quite the contrary, the nature of space-time is… not ‘noumenal’ but ‘phenomenal’, that space-time is a ‘reality-for-us.’” Bernard d’Espagnat  

” …As a result, all change must be gauged by correlations. Ultimately, everything must be correlated with the size of the Universe. Any vestige of a moving present has faded completely…Remember that Einstein spoke of an illusion…Might it be that our strong sense of the flow of time is an illusion akin to giddiness, perhaps connected with the way our memories operate?” Paul Davies   

“The world just does not happen, it simply is…” Hermann Weyl 

“All these Nows,  just exist.  They do not appear and then vanish; they just are.   From a global perspective, there is no answer to the question, “What time is it?”  There are just different experiences at different Nows. From any given vantage point, you look back, and remember other times – so that the question, “Why is it this time right now, rather than some other time?” seems to make sense.  But there is no answer. When I came to this understanding, I forgot the meaning that Time had once held for me. Time has dissolved for me, has been reduced to something simpler that is not itself timeful. I can no longer conceive that there might really be a universal time, which is somehow “moving” from the past to the future.  This now seems like nonsense.” Eliezer Yudkowsky 

“One cannot though conclude how the variations are taking place, over what timescales they are taking place or even how old the universe is. The universe could be 10×10 years old or 5 x 10-44 sec (the Planck time)old, or any time in between. Time is strictly a parameter that can be introduced in the scale-invariant relationships. It has no meaning by itself. The universe appears to be evolving as the number of particles and ratios are varying.” Menas Kafatos, Sisir Roy and Richard Amoroso   

“…the present moments of reality are now replacing one another, where if one had direct awareness of reality one would know reality as transcendental efficient moments” Fyodor Ippolitovich Stcherbatsky

“From non-nirvanic awareness, one experiences imaginary causal connections between moments and thus fabricates the illusion of persistence and duration of objects. But when one experiences reality, one only experiences the efficient moments, rapidly replacing one another, like the flames of a fire. Buddha: the whole world is burning. The non-nirvanic observer, unaware of the fiery, boiling nature of reality, is unaware that they will not exist beyond this present instant, and that any volition or hope is unneeded and illusory, and is based on the misery of unreality.” J. Grupp  

The Buddha said, “Even so was my past existence at that time real, but unreal the future and present existence; and my future existence will be at one time real but unreal the past and present existence; and my present existence is now real, but unreal the past and future existence. All these are merely popular designations and expressions, mere conventional term of speaking, mere popular notions” (Digha-nikaya). Hence the Buddha has only one time, that is “Eternal Present”.” Chen Hsiongcai

“I have realized that the past and future are real illusions, that they exist in the present, which is what there is and all there is.” Alan Watts

“Time, as self-determination of the eternal “Now”, is essentially contained in this Now. There where time is, contained and extinquished, personality appears, as content of eternity.” Nishida

“The Universe is a dynamic system in a permanent dynamic equilibrium, there is no beginning and no end of the universe.” A.S.Sorli

“So in summary, the universe we see is just a fragment nested in a timeless (everything) whole, rather than a single material world magically arisen above some primordial nothing. All universes exist without beginning or end in the ultimate arena of time, and each moment we experience exists forever.” Gevin Giorbran  

“This means that because, in reality, there is no coming or going in time, when we cross the river or climb the mountain we exist in the eternal present of time; this time includes all past and present time.” Dogen  

“Dogen writes, ‘Entire being, the entire world, exists in the time of each and every now.’ Thus the mind, body, being, world, and time form a unity. Not only are entities time, and not only is time in me, but activities are time. ‘As the time now is all there is, each being-time is without exception entire time.’ Dogen emphasizes the now moment because there is never a time that has not been or a time that is coming. ‘…all is the immediate presencing here and now of being-time.’ Thus time is a continuous occurrence of ‘nows’. The Buddha-nature is a present actuality.” Carl Olson

“Dogen frees himself from the representational mode of thinking without subverting time and remaining convinced that each moment is complete in itself and cannot be undermined.” Carl Olson    

“The universe would be completely self contained and not affected by anything outside itself. It would neither be created nor destroyed. It would just BE.”  Stephen Hawking

“Whether or not reality has one universe or many, it had no beginning and was not created. It neither was nor will be. It just is.” Victor J. Stenger

“What suggests itself is that psychologically – and perhaps eventually for the deepest level physically – we can’t use time as the essence. Rather, the moment NOW is the essence, because all the past and the future that we ever will know are in this moment. The past and the future are now – namely, in so far as it has left any impression, whatever has happened is now. And our experiences are now. Thus we could say that now may be the starting point. One picture you could make of an electron would be that it sort of flashes into and out of existence so fast that when picked up in the usual equipment it looks continuously existent. It might have a certain regularity, so that it appears to obey an order of necessity. But it might be that it is basically creative; the creative act may create this order of necessity.” David Bohm

“We are always moving (inflationary cosmology)(arrow of time) but also always remain in the now. The ‘phenomenal’ now is relative, experienced as eternal but intuitively we grasp and psychologically represent a moving existence by remembering a past and projecting into a future.” Rodger Ricketts

“Time is like a ‘field’ – there is no fixed, locatable present. It always vanishes upon close examination. The moment you try to pinpoint it, it has already passed and a future moment is now present.” Trinh Thuan

In 1949 the great logician Kurt Gödel constructed the first mathematical models of the universe in which travel into the past is, in theory at least, possible. Within the framework of Einstein’s general theory of relativity Gödel produced cosmological solutions to Einstein’s field equations which contain closed time-like curves, that is, curves in spacetime which, despite being closed, still represent possible paths of bodies. An object moving along such a path would travel back into its own past, to the very moment at which it ‘began’ the journey. More generally, Gödel showed that, in his ‘universe’, for any two points P and Q on a body’s track through spacetime (its world line), such that P temporally precedes Q, there is a time-like curve linking P and Q on which Q temporally precedes P. This means that, in principle at least, one could board a ‘time machine’ and travel to any point of the past. Gödel inferred, in consonance (as he observes) with the views of Parmenides, Kant and the modern idealists, that under these circumstances there could be no such thing as an objective lapse of time, that time or, more generally, change, is an illusion arising from our special mode of perception.” John L. Bell

 

Are Buddhists Happy or Pessimistic?

24 Jul

The first Noble Truth of the Four Noble Truths of the teaching of the Buddha is Dukkha-ariyasacca. This is often translated as The Noble Truth of Suffering and it has been interpreted to mean that life is nothing but suffering and pain. For example, from the 2002 Oregon State website on philosophers, it uses the following, in a discussion on Schopenhauer, to describe the Four Noble truths: “Sidhartha also taught a fundamental lesson about the problem of living, known as the Four Noble Truths. They are:

*Life is suffering *Suffering arises from attachment to desires *Suffering ceases when attachment to desire ceases *Freedom from suffering is possible by practicing the Eightfold Path”

The translation, ‘Life is Suffering’, is unfortunate and misleading. It has led many to regard the teaching of the Buddha as pessimistic because the concept of suffering has been understood either in terms of the conception of tragedy so familiar in Western philosophy and literature that goes back to the Greeks or ‘universal suffering’.

Actually, the teaching of the Buddha is neither pessimistic nor optimistic. Instead, a better way to describe it is realistic, non-substantialist, non-absolutist and pragmatic. The insight of the First Noble Truth is that, “There is suffering” and the rest is: “There is an Origin of Suffering”; “There is a Cessation of Suffering” and “The Path Leading to the Cessation of Suffering”-which is the Noble Eightfold Path”.

As Ajahan Sumedho reminds us, “The First Noble Truth is not a dismal metaphysical statement saying that everything is suffering. Notice that there is a difference between a metaphysical doctrine in which you are making a statement about The Absolute and a Noble Truth which is a reflection. A Noble Truth is a truth to reflect upon; it is not an absolute. This is where western people get very confused because they interpret this Noble Truth as a kind of metaphysical truth of Buddhism – but it was never meant to be that.

You can see that the First Noble Truth is not an absolute statement because of the Fourth noble Truth – which is the way of non-suffering. You cannot have absolute suffering and then also have a way out of it, can you? That doesn’t make sense. Yet some people will pick up on the First noble truth and say that the Buddha taught that everything is suffering.”

So we see that the Buddha’s teaching is recognition that there is suffering in life and the way to end suffering which does not make the life of a Buddhist melancholy or sorrowful. Instead, the true Buddhist is happy. He/she has no fears or anxieties. They are calm and serene and don’t become upset or dismayed by changes or calamities, because they see and take things as they are. They are positive, compassionate, gentle and realistic because of their mental and ethical training.

There are two ancient Buddhist texts called the Theragàthà and Therigàthà which are full of happy and joyful expressions by the Buddha’s disciples, both male and female, who found peace and happiness in his teachings. The king of Kosala remarked to the Buddha that contrary to other religious systems, his followers were ‘joyful’, ‘free from anxiety’, ‘serene’, ‘peaceful’ and ‘light-hearted’. The king added that he believed these attributes were so because the Buddha’s disciples ‘had realized the great and full significance of the Blessed One’s teaching’.

Buddhism recognizes that melancholic, sorrowful and gloomy attitudes are hindrances to the realization of the Truth. Actually, how could a system that teaches the development of compassion and wisdom be sorrowful?  That is why a devote Buddhist, while intelligently and wisely understanding things as they are, is full of compassion and kindness for all beings, not only human beings, but all living beings. Compassion and wisdom are linked together in a Buddhist way of life.

So truly the Buddhist way of life supports and develops happiness. Not a foolish apparent happiness based on greed, ignorance and anger but happiness based on wisdom and kindness and compassion for all living beings including, of course, our own personage.

The Planetary Perfect Storm

24 Jul

The Planetary Perfect Storm

This blog (originally written in 2010) is about the obvious convergence of two planetary “storms” that together are going to have obvious and predictable catastrophic consequences for all living beings on planet earth. However, as different from the forces of nature, these two “storms” are not created by the forces of nature but by human beings. Therefore, if corrections are begun in earnest now, the “Perfect Storm” configuration can be avoided. However, if ignored or minimized, the consequences will be much, much worse for planet earth and its inhabitants then by a single act by Mother Nature.

What are these two trends? The first is mass consumption with increasing population and the second is global warming. These two trends which can be scientifically shown to exist will create in the not too distant future the “Perfect Storm” of destruction of the present habitat and resources of the earth leading to catastrophic consequences. Let’s look at some of the projected consequences of these two trends.

Global Warming

  • A study by IISS found that reduced water supplies and hotter temperatures mean “65 countries were likely to lose over 15 percent of their agricultural output by 2100.”
  • Global warming will turn already-dry environments into deserts, causing the people who live there to migrate in massive numbers to more livable places.
  • A study by the relief group Christian Aid estimates the number of refugees around the world will top a billion by 2050, thanks in large part to global warming.
  • A report called “National Security and the Threat of Climate Change,” written by a group of retired generals and admirals, specifically linked global warming to increased border tensions. “If, as some project, sea levels rise, human migrations may occur, likely both within and across borders.”
  • “Developing countries, many with average temperatures that are already near or above crop tolerance levels, are predicted to suffer an average 10 to 25 percent decline in agricultural productivity by the 2080s.”
  • Global warming will cause longer, more devastating droughts, thus exacerbating the fight over the world’s water.
  • In April, 2009, a report completed by the Center for Naval Analyses predicted that global warming would cause “large-scale migrations, increased border tensions, the spread of disease and conflicts over food and water.”
  • “The World Health Organization has identified more than 30 new or resurgent diseases in the last three decades, the sort of explosion some experts say has not happened since the Industrial Revolution brought masses of people together in cities.” Why? Global warming “is fueling the spread of epidemics in areas unprepared for the diseases” when “mosquitoes, ticks, mice and other carriers are surviving warmer winters and expanding their range, bringing health threats with them.”
  • Once confined to land near the equator, West Nile Virus is now found as far north as Canada. Seven years ago, West Nile virus had never been seen in North America; today, it has “infected more than 21,000 people in the United States and Canada and killed more than 800.”
  • Greenland is melting at a rate of 52 cubic miles per year—much faster than once predicted. If Greenland’s entire 2.5 million cubic kilometers of ice were to melt, it would lead to a global sea level rise of 7.2 meters, or more than 23 feet.
  • The amount of ice in the Arctic at the end of the 2005 summer “was the smallest seen in 27 years of satellite imaging, and probably the smallest in 100 years.” Experts said it’s the strongest evidence of global warming in the Arctic thus far.
  • In 2002, a chunk of ice in Antarctica larger than the state of Rhode Island collapsed into the sea. British and Belgian scientists said the chunk was weakened by warm winds blowing over the shelf … and that the winds were caused by global warming.
  • In 2005, a giant chunk of ice the size of Manhattan broke off of a Canadian ice shelf and began free floating westward, putting oil drilling operations in peril.
  •  “In Glacier National Park, the number of glaciers in the park has dropped from 150 to 26 since 1850. Some project that none will be left within 25 to 30 years.”
  • Global warming may unleash giant “sand seas” in Africa—giant fields of sand dunes with no vegetation—as a shortage of rainfall and increasing winds may “reactivate” the now-stable Kalahari dune fields. That means farewell to local vegetation, animals, and any tourism in the areas.
  • It sounds like a really bad sci-fi movie, but it’s true: The oceans are turning to acid! Oceans absorb CO2 which, when mixed with seawater, turns to a weak carbonic acid. Calcium from eroded rocks creates a “natural buffer” against the acid, and most marine life is “finely tuned” to the current balance. As we produce more and more CO2, we throw the whole balance out of whack and the oceans turn to acid.
  • According to the U.N., the Great Barrier Reef will disappear within decades as “warmer, more acidic seas could severely bleach coral in the world-famous reef as early as 2030.”
  • Italian experts say thanks to faster evaporation and rising temperatures, the Mediterranean Sea is quickly turning into “a salty and stagnant sea.” The hot, salty water “could doom many of the sea’s plant and animal species and ravage the fishing industry.”
  • The sacred Ganges River in India is beginning to run dry. The Ganges is fed by the Gangotri glacier, which is today “shrinking at a rate of 40 yards a year, nearly twice as fast as two decades ago.” Scientists warn the glacier could be gone as soon as 2030.
  • Geologists recently projected a 10 percent to 20 percent drop in rainfall in northwestern and southern Africa by 2070. That would leave Botswana with just 23 percent of the river it has now; Cape Town would be left with just 42 percent of its river water.
  • What happened to the five-acre glacial lake in Southern Chile? In March, it was there. In May, it was … gone. Scientists blame global warming.
  • Next on the global warming hit list: Rising sea levels linked to climate change mean we could lose half of the mangrove trees of the Pacific Isles by the end of the century.
  • British scientists warn of another possible side effect of climate change: A surge of dangerous volcanic eruptions.
  • Over the past century, the number of hurricanes that strike each year has more than doubled. Scientists blame global warming and the rising temperature of the surface of the seas.
  • Hotter temperatures could also mean larger and more devastating wildfires. This past summer in California, a blaze consumed more than 33,500 acres, or 52 square miles.
  • Global warming has also allowed non-native grasses to thrive in the Mojave Desert, where they act as fast-burning fuel for wildfires.
  • Hurricanes aside, NASA scientists now say as the world gets hotter, even smaller thunderstorms will pose more severe risks with “deadly lightning, damaging hail and the potential for tornadoes.”
  • Scientists believe sea levels will be three feet higher by the end of the century than they are now.

Mass Consumerism and population and resources

The consumption of the average U.S. citizen requires eighteen tons of natural resources per person per year and generates an even higher volume of wastes (including household, industrial, mining, and agricultural wastes). Some of these wastes are released to the atmosphere, rivers, and oceans; others are land-filled or incinerated; a small proportion is recycled. The standard conception of economic development envisions the rest of the world’s population as moving steadily up the ladder of mass consumption, eventually achieving levels similar to those achieved by the United States and some European economies.

Clearly, the environmental implications of the global spread of mass consumption for resource use and environmental waste absorption are staggering. Should not this promote some rethinking of economic theories of consumption, which for the most part have ignored resource and environmental implications? Jonathan Harris

While other factors such as technology and population growth are important, consumption levels play a key role as well. As such, technological change and population stabilization alone cannot save the planet; a complementary reduction of material wants is also required.

A Consumption and the Environment study of the international potential for reduction in fossil fuel consumption concluded that the entire world’s population could live at the level of West Europeans in the mid-1970s. This includes modest but comfortable homes, refrigeration for food, clothes washers, hot water, and ready access to public transit plus limited auto use. It does not include, nor could the world support, American lifestyles for all, with their larger homes, numerous electrical appliances, and auto-centered transportation. Even the European standard of the 1970s, if projected worldwide, may not achieve the global reduction in carbon emissions that is believed to be necessary to stabilize the world’s climate.

“Even assuming rapid progress in stabilizing human numbers and great strides in employing clean and efficient technologies, human wants will overrun the biosphere unless they shift from material to nonmaterial ends.

  • The ability of the earth to support billions of human beings depends on whether we continue to equate consumption with fulfillment.” Alan Durning
  • …This suggests that some limits to consumption are advisable and eventually inescapable. If, as Daly argues, the scale of the macro economy has expanded to the point where natural resources and environmental waste absorption, rather than human-made capital, are the scarce factors, then consumption itself needs to be rethought. Rather than maximize consumption in the pursuit of welfare, we need to seek ways to maximize welfare with minimum consumption. Hitherto the market system has been better at the former goal than the latter, and economic theory has measured success primarily in terms of greater consumption (or greater investment today in the cause of increased consumption tomorrow). This does not mean that the market system is not up to the new challenges; but it does suggest that it needs new direction.
  • Durning’s primary point is the impossibility of global “development” as conceived by economic theory. The resource and environmental demands of bringing all the world’s people up to “consumer class” standards of living would be catastrophic. This is all the more true in the context of planetary population growth up to an eventual eight or ten billion, which would nearly double resource and environmental requirements even with no increase in living standards.
  • Lest one might think that Ponting and Durning are over generalizing or exaggerating the problem, the World Resources Institute biennial report provides a wealth of specific detail to support these assertions. The problem is not, as originally conceived in the Club of Rome’s 1972 Limits to Growth report, foreseeable shortages of specific nonrenewable resources— at least for the next fifty years or so. Rather, it is the impacts of industrial growth on renewable natural resource systems, including the atmosphere, that poses the greatest dangers.
  • Global inequality accentuates environmental impacts at both ends of the scale: The rich damage the environment through their high consumption levels, and the poor damage the environment by being forced to utilize marginal and fragile ecosystems. If indeed it is impossible for all to ride the escalator up to mass consumption, then some form of development that will reduce inequality while lessening environmental impacts seems essential. Jonathan Harris

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A growing share of the global consumer class now lives in developing countries. China and India alone claim more than 20 percent of the global total with a combined consumer class of 362 million, more than in all of Western Europe. (Though the average Chinese or Indian member consumes substantially less than the average European.)

Developing countries also have the greatest potential to expand the ranks of consumers. China and India s large consumer set constitutes only 16 percent of the region s population, whereas in Europe the figure is 89 percent. Indeed, in most developing countries the consumer class accounts for less than half of the population suggesting considerable room to grow.

What About Population?

At least part of the rise in global consumption is the result of population growth.

  • The U.N. projects that world population will increase 41 percent by 2050, to 8.9 billion people, with nearly all of this growth in developing countries. This surge in human numbers threatens to offset any savings in resource use from improved efficiency, as well as any gains in reducing per-capita consumption. Even if the average American eats 20 percent less meat in 2050 than in 2000, total U.S. meat consumption will be 5 million tons greater in 2050 due to population growth.
  • Then there is Peter Farb who came up with a paradox: “Intensification of production to feed an increased population leads to a still greater increase in population.”
  • If the consumption aspirations of the wealthiest of nations cannot be satiated, the prospects for corralling consumption everywhere before it strips and degrades our planet beyond recognition would appear to be bleak.

Despite rising consumption in the developing world, industrial countries remain responsible for the bulk of the world s resource consumption as well as the associated global environmental degradation. Yet there is little evidence that the consumption locomotive is braking, even in the United States, where most people are amply supplied with the goods and services needed to lead a dignified life.

The U.S. Consumer

  •          The United States, with less than 5 % of the global population, uses about a quarter of the world s fossil fuel resources burning up nearly 25 % of the coal, 26 % of the oil, and 27 % of the world s natural gas.
  • ·         As of 2003, the U.S. had more private cars than licensed drivers, and gas-guzzling sport utility vehicles were among the best-selling vehicles.
  • ·         New houses in the U.S. were 38 % bigger in 2002 than in 1975, despite having fewer people per household on average.
  • If the levels of consumption that…the most affluent people enjoy today were replicated across even half of the roughly 9 billion people projected to be on the planet in 2050, the impact on our water supply, air quality, forests, climate, biological diversity, and human health would be severe.

Today s human economies are designed with little attention to the residuals of production and consumption. Among the most visible unintended by products of the current economic system are environmental problems like air and water pollution and landscape degradation. Nearly all the world s ecosystems are shrinking to make way for humans and their homes, farms, malls, and factories. WWFs Living Planet Index, which measures the health of forests, oceans, freshwater, and other natural systems, shows a 35 percent decline in Earth s ecological health since 1970.

Environmental Impacts of Consumption

  • Calculations show that the planet has available 1.9 hectares of biologically productive land per person to supply resources and absorb wastes yet the average person on Earth already uses 2.3 hectares worth. These ecological footprints range from the 9.7 hectares claimed by the average American to the 0.47 hectares used by the average Mozambican
  • The failure of additional wealth and consumption to help people have satisfying lives may be the most eloquent argument for reevaluating our current approach to consumption.
  • Individuals often face personal costs associated with heavy levels of consumption: the financial debt; the time and stress associated with working to support high consumption; the time required to clean, upgrade, store, or otherwise maintain possessions; and the ways in which consumption replaces time with family and friends.
  • Aggressive pursuit of a mass consumption society also correlates with a decline in health indicators in many countries, as obesity, crime, and other social ills continue to surge.

Social Impacts of Consumption in the U.S.

  •       An estimated 62 % of U.S. adults are overweight or obese, leading to an annual loss of 300,000 lives and at least $117 billion in health care costs in 1999.
  •       In 2002, 61 % of U.S. credit card users carried a monthly balance, averaging $12,000 at 16 % interest. This amounts to about $1,900 a year in finance charges more than the average per capita income in at least 35 countries (in purchasing power parity).

The economies of mass consumption that produced a world of abundance for many in the twentieth century face a different challenge in the twenty-first: to focus not on the indefinite accumulation of goods but instead on a better quality of life for all, with minimal environmental harm.

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So the gist of this blog, which gives only some highlights of the Planetary “Perfect Storm” problem, is that unless the global community comes to grips with both global warming and the new quickly evolving consumption patterns with increasing population, there will be a catastrophic “Perfect storm” in which all inhabitants of Earth will needlessly suffer greatly. These issues need to be discussed and then acted upon. Some of the authors of this blog were found in the GLOBAL DEVELOPMENT AND ENVIRONMENT INSTITUTE, Tufts University, papers.

Healthy Organs For a Healthy Life

22 Jul

Two events promoted me to write this bog. First, in my last blog on Traditional Chinese Medicine, I was interested in how TCM places great importance to the health of the organs of the body through both diet and exercise. I noticed how this approach was quite different from the typical, popular health exercise and diet discussion in the USA and other western countries which almost never discusses the health of the body’s organs. However, I believe that the TCM perspective is valuable and so I decided to further explore what exactly Western health experts say about organ wellness.

Secondly, the other day I was talking to a friend about healthy living and I commented on how I noticed that many Western health exercise programs emphasize only muscle/skeletal and in general cardio vascular exercise for fitness. I said we also need to be aware of the health of the body’s organs because actually most of serious health problems are located in the organs not in our muscle-skeletal system. My friend laughed and said “The organs, what can you do for the organs?” so, for the above two reasons, this blog explores what some American experts say about it.

Notice: This blog is only an interested person’s view and should not be taken as medical advice or recommendations. I write this blog purely from my interest in health promotion and to stimulate thought and discussion on organ and the body’s health. Since health research is always updating itself, some of this information may now be out of date- please update from current professional sources. May everyone be well and happy as much as possible through our own self care.

Since this is a long blog, I split it into five parts.

Ways to Take Care of Your Liver

Health Lifestyle: Eating a healthy diet and exercising regularly help the liver to work well. Eating an unhealthy diet can lead to liver disease. For example, a person who eats a lot of fatty foods is at higher risk of being overweight and having non-alcoholic fatty liver disease.  Eat foods from all the food groups: grains, protein, dairy, fruits, vegetables.

Eat foods that have a lot of fiber such as fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grain breads, rice and cereals

Limit the Amount of Alcohol You Drink: Alcohol can damage or destroy liver cells. Liver damage can lead to the buildup of fat in your liver (fatty liver), inflammation or swelling of your liver (alcoholic hepatitis), and/or scarring of your liver (cirrhosis). For people with liver disease, even a small amount of alcohol can make the disease worse. Talk to your doctor about what amount of alcohol is right for you.

Manage Your Medications: When medicines are taken incorrectly – by taking too much or the wrong type or by mixing – the liver can be harmed.

  • Learn about medicines and how they can affect the liver
  • Follow dosing instructions

Talk to a doctor or pharmacist often about the medicines you are taking

Avoid Breathing in or Touching Toxins: Toxins can injure liver cells.

  • Limit direct contact with toxins from cleaning and aerosol products, insecticides, chemicals, and additives in cigarettes

Do not smoke

  • Take care with aerosol sprays. When you use an aerosol cleaner, make sure the room is ventilated, or wear a mask. Take similar protective measures when spraying insecticides, fungicides, paint and other toxic chemicals. Always follow the manufacturer’s instructions.
  • Watch what gets on your skin. When using insecticides and other toxic chemicals, cover your skin with gloves, long sleeves, a hat and a mask. Wash off any chemicals you get on your skin with soap and water as soon as possible.
  • Eating healthy foods for the liver can improve and support liver function on a daily basis. Having a healthy liver results in greater energy and general well-being.
  • A poorly functioning liver can result in tiredness, headaches, bad breath, allergies and intolerances, problem skin and weight gain.

Foods that are healthy for the liver fall into two main categories.

  • First are those that promote the detoxification process of the liver. And second, are those that are high in antioxidants and therefore protect the liver while it’s carrying out its detoxification processes. Below is a list of the top eight foods that are considered to be good for your liver.
  • GARLIC and ONIONS.
  • Garlic contains allicin which is a sulphur-based compound needed by the liver for effective detoxification. Garlic helps the liver rid the body of mercury, certain food additives and the hormone oestrogen.
  • CRUCIFEROUS VEGETABLES (broccoli, brussel sprouts, cauliflower, cabbage).
  • These vegetables are very powerful detoxifiers of the liver. They contain chemicals that neutralize certain toxins such as nitrosamines found in cigarette smoke and aflotoxin found in peanuts. They also contain glucosinolates that help the liver to produce enzymes it needs for its detoxification processes.
  • FRESHLY SQUEEZED LEMON IN HOT WATER.
  • Drinking freshly squeezed lemon juice in a cup of boiled water first thing in the morning helps to cleanse the liver and promote detoxification. It also stimulates bile production, cleanses the stomach and bowel and stimulates a bowel motion.
  • BEETROOT (BEETS). It’s a blood-purifying tonic that is also capable of absorbing heavy metals.
  • HIGH-ANTIOXIDENT FRUITS.
  • In a study done by the US Department of Agriculture at Tuffs University, it was found that the following list of fruits had the highest levels of antioxidants (in descending order): Prunes, raisons, blueberries, blackberries, strawberries, raspberries, plums, oranges, pink grapefruit, cantaloupe, apples and pears. Antioxidants help to protect the liver from the high levels of free radicals that are naturally produced during the process of detoxification.
  • APPLES.
  • Apples contain pectin that bind to heavy metals in the body (in particular in the colon) and help their excretion. This reduces the load on the liver and its detoxification capacities.
  • ARTICOKE.
  • Increases bile production. One of the jobs of bile is to remove toxins through the bowel, as well as ‘unfriendly’ micro-organisms. It has been suggested that 30 minutes after eating globe artichoke, bile flow is increased by over 100%. Artichoke contains both liver-protective/restorative powers. It acts as a blood purifier and has been proven in clinical studies to lower cholesterol, triglyceride levels and other metabolic waste products
  • BITTER LEAFY SALAD GREENS (dandelion, chicory, endive, rocket).
  • The bitterness of these foods helps to stimulate bile flow within the liver.

Top 10 tips for a Healthy Liver and Lymph

Your liver has many functions; stores certain vitamins, minerals and sugars for use as fuel, cleanses/filters the toxins out of your blood and controls the production/excretion of cholesterol. Your overall health and vitality, to a great extent, depends upon the health of your liver. The thousands of enzyme systems that control virtually everybody activity are created there. If your liver fails to create even one of these enzymes, overall body function is impaired, creating greater metabolic stress on your body.

THE LYMPH composed of Lymph fluid consists of; the ’tissue fluid’ in which all of our cells are bathed, and the fluid within the ‘lymph vessels’. These are ‘blood vessel’ like tubes, which connect the lymph glands of the body. The Lymphatic System is also called the Immune System.

Modern lifestyles can overstress your liver. Alcohol, tobacco, environmental pollutants, food additives, agricultural pesticides, popular cosmetic ingredients, common household products, stress, pharmaceutical and OTC (over-the-counter) drugs (including oral contraceptives and caffeine), gallstones, home repair materials, artist materials, garden chemicals and building materials can all kill liver cells.

Symptoms of liver imbalance include headaches, bruising easily, anxiety, depression, confusion, fatigue, jaundice, impaired libido (sex drive) and mental function, food allergies, multiple chemical sensitivities and PMS, as well as conditions like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s Disease. When your liver is damaged it cannot remove toxins, which then build up in your blood and eventually, your brain.

Try the following tips for a healthy liver and lymph:

Avoid any foods of which you suspect you may be intolerant: They will produce toxins in the gut that can cause stress to the detoxification mechanisms. Bacteria, viruses, too much alcohol, coffee and other caffeine-containing drinks, smoking and the medicines that have powerful effects on the liver, stomach and other parts of the body can prove toxic Chew your food well to help release the enzymes that aid digestion. Consume plenty of foods containing: Consume plenty of foods containing foliate, flavonoids,magnesium, iron, sulphate and selenium and B-vitamins, 2,3,6 and 12, since toxicity in the body can be caused by deficiency of the nutrients that the liver needs for detoxification as much as by exposure to toxins. Think along the lines of salads, beans, fresh juices, stir-fries cooked in a little good-quality olive oil, nuts, seeds, yoghurt (full-fat is fine). Steaming is a quick and healthy way of cooking vegetables, and the only vegetables to avoid are potatoes. Aim for a diet build on complex carbohydrates  (brown rice), lean protein(beans, lentils, eggs, chicken, fish and a little lean red meat) and organic fruits & vegetables. Cut down on stimulants: such as tea and coffee, and depressants such as smoking & alcohol. Aim at drinking at least 2.5 liters of water a day.

Eat foods rich in antioxidants: which aid the natural detox mechanisms like broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, kale, and Brussels sprouts and Soybean products. Nutrients that enhance our immune system areVitamin C, Vitamin E, the B-Vitamins, Zinc and Magnesium. These nutrients are either potent anti-oxidants capable of stopping the free-radical cascade of tissue damage or are involved in the enzymes that help detoxify damaging chemicals. Rest and feel good! :

One more really good way to boost your immune system and it’s free.

Laugh, Rest and feel good!  A depressed mind can cause a depressed body.

Laughter actually increases production of an antibody that is responsible for our first line of defense against bacterial infections. Laughter, lovemaking and exercise are great medicines. Over time, the health of the liver and lymph may be restored. Taking beneficial herbs regularly and following a detoxification process can help to provide protection to either the sick or healthy liver during the course of daily life. This stabilizes cell membranes and encourages the regeneration of liver cells destroyed during their normal functions. Overview Poor nutrition is rarely a cause of liver disease, but good nutrition in the form of a balanced diet, may help liver cells damaged by hepatitis viruses to regenerate, forming new liver cells. Nutrition can be an essential part of treatment. Many chronic liver diseases are associated with malnutrition. Watch the Protein To quickly determine your daily protein in grams, divide your weight in pounds by 2. Too much daily protein may cause hepatic encephalopathy (mental confusion). This occurs when the amount of dietary protein is greater than the liver’s ability to use the protein. This causes a buildup of toxins that can interfere with brain function. Protein is restricted in patients with clinical evidence of encephalopathy. However, controversy exists regarding the type of protein a diet should contain. Vegetable and dairy protein may be tolerated better than meat protein. Medications, such as lactulose and neomycin, may be used to help control hepatitis-related encephalopathy. Due to the body’s need for proteins, protein restriction should only be undertaken with a doctor’s advice. Watch the Calories. Excess calories in the form of carbohydrates can add to liver dysfunction and can cause fat deposits in the liver. No more than 30% of a person’s total calories should come from fat because of the danger to the cardiovascular system. To figure out your daily calorie needs, you’ll need a minimum of 15 calories a day for each pound you weight. Watch the Salt Good nutrition also helps to maintain the normal fluid and electrolyte balances in the body. Patients with fluid retention and swelling of the abdomen (ascites), or the legs (peripheral edema), may need diets low in salt to avoid sodium retention that contributes to fluid retention. Avoiding foods such as canned soups and vegetables, cold cuts, dairy products, and condiments such as mayonnaise and ketchup can reduce sodium intake. Read food labels carefully as many prepared foods contain large amounts of salt. The best-tasting salt substitute is lemon juice.

Watch Vitamins A and D Excessive amounts of some vitamins may be an additional source of stress to the liver that must act as a filter for the body. Mega-vitamin supplements, particularly if they contain vitamins A and D, may be harmful. Excess vitamin A is very toxic to the liver. Beware of Alcohol You’ll need to stop drinking completely to give your liver a break – a chance to heal, a chance to rebuild, a chance for new liver cells to grow. This means avoiding beer, wine, cocktails, champagne, and liquor in any other form. If you continue to drink, your liver will pay the price, and if your doctor is checking your liver function tests, it may be hard to determine if a change in a test means there has been damage to your liver due to the disease itself or because of the alcohol. Beware of Alcohol and Acetaminophen Acetaminophen is an ingredient in some over-the-counter pain relievers, and is contained in many over-the-counter drugs used for colds or coughs. Taken with alcohol, these products can cause a condition called sudden and severe hepatitis which could cause fatal liver failure. Clearly, you should never combine these two substances. If you have any doubt about what medicines to take simultaneously, ask your doctor. Beware of “Nutritional Therapies” Herbal treatments and alternative liver medicines need to undergo rigorous scientific study before they can be recommended. “Natural” or diet treatments and herbal remedies can be quite dangerous. Plants of the Senecio, Crotalaria and Heliotopium families, plus chaparral, germander, comfrey, mistletoe, skullcap, margosa oil, mate tea, Gordolobo yerba tea, pennyroyal, and Jin Blu Huan are all toxic to the liver.

Be Well and Happy!

 

Quotes, Thoughts, Reflections on Non-dualism, evolution, God, ecology, War and more…

20 Jul

It is the process through which today’s culture is rooted in cultures of the past, the process whereby our thoughts generate actions, which touch others, which touch still others, and thus a vast web of conscious minds together weave the fabric of their reality, forever creating new ways of seeing and being. L.Gabora

None of us is as smart as all of us. Japanese proverb

One comes to the startling conclusion that the coherent organism is a macroscopic quantum object, it has a macroscopic wave-function that is always evolving, always changing as it entangles its environment. This wave-function is the unique, significant form of the organism. In the quantum coherent state the organism is maximally sensitive and can best respond to opportunities and cope with all contingencies. It is source of the organism’s remarkable flexibility, resilience and creativity. …Mae-Wan Ho

And so you opted for the substantialist’s art of self making, Cutting off all umbilical cords to the Mother of Field-Being. You first dignify yourself in the kingly robes of an independent entity, enthroning yourself in the lonely kingdom of ego-substance. Then with the projective magic of your subjective substantiality, you objectify everything on your way to Godlike rigidity. And with the pointing of the substantializing wand, a bond was broken; a shade of mutuality has withered and waned. Now everything becomes merely external and separate from everything else. External is your objective world, your objectified God, and your objectified self. Anything you cannot safely possess and control you relegate to the dark side. And so you opted for the substantialist’s art of self making, Cutting off all umbilical cords to the Mother of Field-Being. You first dignify yourself in the kingly robes of an independent entity, enthroning yourself in the lonely kingdom of ego-substance. Then with the projective magic of your subjective substantiality, you objectify everything on your way to Godlike rigidity. And with the pointing of the substantializing wand, a bond was broken; a shade of mutuality has withered and waned. Now everything becomes merely external and separate from everything else. External is your objective world, your objectified God, and your objectified self. Anything you cannot safely possess and control you relegate to the dark side of the Other, the Hell, the objective pole, And condemned it as illusion, unreal, ugly, or evil. Oh, in carrying your Godlike rigidity to all eternity (as if you were in fact rigidly eternal), you, a virtuoso in dualization, have created the most unhappy situation. Professor l. k. Tong

Chicken- egg: dualism-egoism and grasping. Rodger R

When the animals evolved the talent to produce a virtual presence, they acquired a soul.

Then there was a God to be adored.

And an Adam was created.

As production of virtual presences increases, mans tie to the Real decreases.

Soon, he praises innovation and inhuman courage. He invents thrills and excitements. He relies on myths and mysteries. He downgrades Nature with a reckless chisel.

Life becomes the Grand Illusion.

With facility in the manipulation of the virtual presences, the primal Superman was born.

With perfection in the art, a second Lucifer took charge.

It was then that man came to defy the Lord.

The interminable conflict thrusting the virtual presences against the real intensifies. R. G. H. Siu

Accustomed, as it is, to think of man as a dualism of mind and body, and to regard the former as “sensible” and the latter as a “dumb” animal, our culture is an affront to the wisdom of nature and a ruinous exploitation of the human organism as a whole. We are perpetually frustrated because the verbal and abstract thinking of the brain gives the false impression of being able to cut loose from all finite limitations. It forgets that an infinity of anything is not a reality but an abstract concept, and persuades us that we desire this fantasy as a real goal of living. Alan Watts

Living organisms are much more sensitive and complex, in all respects, than we usually imagine. Rodger R
The history of phototropism is long and rich. Our current understanding of the response has its roots in ancient Greek philosophy and stems from the early physiological studies of the enlightenment. Recent research with Arabidopsis has tremendously expanded our mechanistic understanding of phototropism. We can no longer view the response as a simple or linear physiological response. Instead, phototropism must be viewed as a complex biological response involving interactions of multiple photoreceptors, multiple hormones, and multiple signaling pathways that together orchestrate the establishment of coordinated differential growth gradients. Given its complexity, much phototropism research remains to be done before we can understand all of the underlying mechanisms and know the full account of its biological significance. Craig W. Whippo
Science becomes the story that our civilization tells itself. It is a story about the universe, but told in such a way that it supports and gives credence to all that our society holds of value- analysis, prediction, technology, the accumulation of wealth and knowledge, the desire for control, progress, the need for closure and wrapping things up. Science adds credibility to our cultural dream by supporting it a seemingly objective way. We must also remember that other cultures tell different stories. It is a new form of cultural imperialism to claim that the stories of other cultures are no more than myths that must be corrected, exposed for their naiveté, or ‘make more scientific.’ Rather they should be respected, for they represent different possible glances at the universe and different ways of structuring knowledge. The danger arises when a culture takes its own story as the absolute truth and seeks to impose this truth on others as the yardstick for all knowledge and belief. F. David Peat

“The people of your culture cling with fanatical tenacity to the specialness of man. They want desperately to perceive a vast gulf between man and the rest of creation. This mythology of human specialness justifies their doing whatever they please with the world, just the way Hitler’s mythology of Aryan superiority justified his doing whatever he pleased with Europe. But in the end this mythology is not deeply satisfying. The Takers are a profoundly lonely people. The world for them is enemy territory, and they live in it like an army of occupation, alienated and isolated by their extraordinary specialness.” Ishmael

People in West Sussex think they are normal. … Some avidly enjoy foxhunting. … terrorising foxes! Just imagine what your heart would do if you had a pack of sixty dogs chasing after you and people on horseback telling them to get you. It’s ugly when you really reflect on this. Yet this considered normal, or even a desirable thing to do in this part of England. Because people do not take time to reflect, we can be victims of habit, caught in desires and habits. …When you start reflecting on the way things are and remember when your life has really been in danger, you will know how horrible it is. It is an absolutely terrfifying experience. If you don’t reflect, you think foxes don’t matter. Now this ability to reflect and observe is what the Buddha was pointing to in his teachings, as the liberation from blind following of habit and convention….We begin to be much more careful about how we do live. Once you see what it is all about, you really want to be very, very careful about what you do and say. One does not feel that one’s own life is so much more important than anyone else’s. One begins to feel the freedom and lightness in that harmony with nature rather than the heaviness of exploitation of nature for personal gain. …We don’t see ourselves as some isolated, alienated entity lost in a mysterious and frightening universe. We don’t feel overwhelmed by it, trying to find a little piece of it that we can grasp and feel safe with, because we feel at peace with it. Then we have merged with the truth. Ajahn Sumedho

The term Ecology, as used locally, does not have the connotation of the “environment” as used in America, There is no separation of man and his environment; rather there is a fusion of man and his environment. Ecology represents the study of the ecological entity as a whole. When a given ecological complex appears unfavorable from the standpoint of man, for example, he does not have a prior claim to adjustment on the part of the other elemen (ts of the complex. The others have just as much “right” to demand modification of his behavior as he has on theirs. All are one in Nature. The appreciation of this Oneness and the delicate interrelationships of its diffusions represents the prime academic purpose of the Ecology Series. (The Land of Keikitran and Eleevan) R.G.H. Siu

We are mounds of quarks in trios, we are proton-and-electron families. …There is but a single family on this planet, just one life-form stretching out its tendrils, testing possibilities as dust and stars did once upon a time. Face it, we are all in this together, microbes, seaweed, starfish, salamanders, humans, every strange extrusion of nucleic acid chains. We are the kin of yeast, the brothers of cockroaches, the sisters of sugar beets, and the cousins of maize. We share a common birthright born of ancient gene-and-membrane teams. All of us are children in the clan of DNA. Howard Bloom

All is One, One is All. Rodger R

“God” can never be alone – a solitary figure. Rodger R

The best form of knowledge, according to the Buddha, turns out to be knowledge of things “as they have become”, not knowledge of things “as they really are.”… For the Buddha, human life is not made for morals; morals are made for human life. D.J. Kalupahana

You can please some people all the time, all people some of the time but not all the people all of the time. Abe Lincoln

When written in Chinese, the word crisis is compounded of two characters – one represents danger, and the other represents opportunity. J.F. Kennedy

Environmental regularities are the result of a conjoint history, a congruence that unfolds from a long history of codetermination. Organisms and environments are mutually unfolded and enfolded structures. E.Thompson,F.J.Varela

The organism is both the subject and object of evolution. Lewontin

What is required for evolutionary change is not genetically encoded as opposed to acquired traits, but functioning developmental systems: ecologically embedded genomes. Oyama

Whenever the army has passed, briars and thorns spring up. Years of hunger follow in the wake of a great war. Lao Tzu

Conquering the people’s hearts is more effective than occupying their cities. Sun Tzu

There is many a boy today who looks on war as glory, but boys, it is all hell! William Tecumseh Sherman

I am sick and tired of war. Its glory is all moonshine. It is only those who have neither fired a shot nor heard the shrieks and groans of the wounded who cry for blood, vengeance, for desolation. War is hell! Lt. Col. Dave Grossman

The more I understand, the less I know- Tao Le Ching

The wisest mind has something yet to learn- George Santayana

Life is a dance in which we both lead and are led.-Rodger R

The future is always pregnant with possibility. Thereby, making the future indeterminate and creativity possible. Rodger R

We all enter the future with a degree of naiveté. Rodger R

What we anticipate seldom occurs; what we least expect generally happens. Benjamin Disraeli

Change is inevitable. Change is constant. Benjamin Disraeli

Afternoon Delight

Eager eyes

Hands touch

Lips embrace

Rodger

It is a commonly accepted rule of artistic training that the student must first learn technique in order to transcend technique. To learn technique is to be conditioned by the cumulative experience to perform certain acts in a certain way, the holding of a brush, the fingering of a bamboo flute, the cutting of flowers. But to be conditioned by these rules only opens up the possibility of response. One must overcome the danger of being determined by these rules, of becoming too attached to these conditions acquired in the past that the present is no longer creative. To transcend technique is to respond to the presence of the moment now before us. The determinateness of past conditions must vibrate in unison with the openness of the present. Thomas P. Kasulis

The relation between artistic creation and the Tanden, the seat of the primordial, is immediate and essential. Neither the hand nor the head should paint the picture. It is a necessary condition for the expression of the essential in all art that the artist should empty and free his head, and then concentrate his whole energy in the Tanden. His brush will then move of itself in accord with the rhythm of the Primordial Force. If, on the contrary, in drawing the lines he uses strength of this hand, or if he works under personal tension, what he wants to express will be cut off from the source of inner synthesis, and will look hard and fixed. The synthesis as oneness of subject and object does not have to be ‘produced’, it is there underlying the reality. And only through this complete knowledge can it be brought to light. This must be a whole, all-human knowledge which has its place neither in the head nor in the heart but in the centre of the whole person. Kaneko Shoseki

Life is a continuous and pervasive entanglement always affecting us on all levels. Rodger R

To live content with small means; to seek elegance rather than luxury, and refinement rather than fashion; to be worthy, not respectable, and wealthy, not rich; to study hard, think quietly, talk gently, act frankly; to listen to stars and birds, to babes and sages, with open heart; to bear all cheerfully, do all bravely, await occasions, hurry never. In a word, to let the spiritual, unbidden and unconscious, grow up through the common. This is to be my symphony.William Henry Channing

‘Psychologist’s Fallacy’ The great snare of the psychologist is the confusion of his own standpoint with that of the mental fact about which he is making his report. I shall hereafter call this the “psychologist’s fallacy” par excellence. For some of the mischief, are too, language is to blame. The psychologist. .. stands outside of his mental state he speaks of. Both itself and its object are objects for him. Now when it is a cognitive state (percept, thought, concept, etc.), he ordinarily has no other way of naming it than as the thought, percept, etc., of that object. He himself, meanwhile, knowing the self-same object in his way, gets easily led to suppose that the thought, which is of it, knows it in the same way in which he knows it, although it is far from being the case. The most fictitious puzzles have been introduced into our science by this means. The so-called question of presentative or representative perception, of whether an object present to the thought that thinks it by a counterfeit image of itself, or directly without any intervening image at all; the question of nominalism and conceptualism, of the shape in which things are present when only a general notion of them is before the mind; are comparatively easy questions when once the psychologist’s fallacy is eliminated from their treatment…’ William James

Traditional Chinese Medicine and Promoting our Holistic Health

20 Jul

Traditional Chinese Medicine and Maintaining Homeostasis

The most accepted homeostasis definition is the body’s ability to maintain a stable state of healthy function. Homeostasis is how your body maintains a steady temperature pattern, a stable flow of blood through the body, which provides optimal nourishment and oxygen to the cells while effectively whisking away toxins, and how your body maintains a healthy intake of oxygen and disposal of carbon dioxide. Essentially, homeostasis is the whole of your body’s efforts to maintain optimal health and proper balance.

Recently, I read the book, ‘Healthy Aging’ edited by Ping-Chung Leung. The book is a compilation of studies and articles published in the Annals of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). While this book is dedicated to aging, the approach of health maintenance is for everyone. The translation of the Chinese system of health promotion is offered as ‘Natural Healing’ and another is the maintenance or promotion of Wellness. I offer also ‘Maintaining Homeostasis’ to try to capture the overall spirit of the Traditional Chinese approach which refers to the maintenance of health without specific drug or other means of treatment. Instead, health promotion uses natural means in the physical, physiological and psycho-social aspects of living through careful planning of food intake, life style and exercises. This complete system of self-regulated health maintenance which began in Ancient China is uniquely Chinese.

In this blog I will highlight ideas that I found to be useful in especially differentiating a TCM approach to health promotion vs. the common western approach. I have been doing t’ai chi, qi gong as well as other Chinese internal exercises for many years.

In an ancient classic of Chinese Medicine, Ne-jing, the goal of excellent health and longevity is accomplished by maintaining a perfect state of physical and physiological health and a harmonious state of psycho-social wellbeing. These three components are all interlinked. While the concepts Ying and Yang and Qi are essential in understanding the Traditional Chinese approach, this blog won’t explore their complexities for space reasons. Instead, I want to look at the practice of maintaining homeostasis.

The ‘Natural Healing’ of TCM has a broad approach which covers health maintenance, wellness and prevention of falling ill. To only give a very brief overview here regarding food, western nutritional theory emphasizes the macro- and micro-nutritional contents of foods, such as proteins, fat, sugar, minerals, vitamins and fiber. By contrast TCM food theory is based on a system of ancient medical theories with classification of four natures (cool, cold warm and hot in terms of the response of the body) and five tastes (salty, sweet, sour, bitter, and acrid in terms of flavor when ingested). The food choice depends on a number of considerations i.e., the body constitution, climate, geographical location and health and/or illness circumstances. The very basic principles of balanced nutrition means a regular diet of simple food according to need (never over eat), choice of a balanced diet devoid of rich (fatty) varieties and a smart choice of vegetables and fruits which possess both nutritional as well as health promoting value.

Two common practices of maintaining homoeostasis are T’ai Chi and Qi Gong. To first talk about Qi Gong, it helps to harmonize three important components: Qi, Jing (balanced secretion) and Shen (spiritual esteem). Qi Gong consists of stretching movements and respiratory control using extra-long inspiration and extra-long expiration simultaneous with the stretching movements. Diaphragmatic breathing and other combinations are used while also squeezing the anal sphincter at will.

TCM considers the harmonization of the physical, humoral and mental activities indispensible so meditation is also considered an essential component. The skillful practitioner attains tranquility of the mind while stretching is performed with controlled breathing. These three aspects work together and support one another. This ‘moving meditation’ rests the central nervous system, frees it from motor and sensory inputs (except from the comforting limb movements), relieves it from complex memories, and protects it from emotions and problem solving requirements. The assumption is: with this tranquil mental state, a reorganization of neurological activity can take place that initiates a neurological establishment of harmony and re-organization of the humoral state.

T’ai Chi consists of the same three components (stretching, controlled breathing and meditation) as qi gong but instead of the qi gong individual postures, t’ai chi uses a system of set chained activities. The T’ai Chi symbol shows the Yin-Yang natural law of the universe which possesses perfect harmony and balance. Therefore, practitioners obey the law of balance between light and heavy, slow and fast, weak and strong, (etc), maintain well controlled breathing, avoid jerky motions, over strenuous movements, etc. Every movement is synchronized with respiration. The concerted contractions of the muscle groups requires gentle oxygen intake and then join together and converge into a state of qi establishment.

Both qi gong and t’ai chi practice have been medically evaluated for their health promotion benefits and in this book several studies are cited. Results indicate that both improved musculoskeletal strength, balance, cardiac function, respiratory function, cardiovascular function, type 2 diabetes, hemoglobinA1c mental ability, bone health and density, cardio-pulmonary function, hypertension, immune function, some hormone deficiencies, and mood.

TCM Natural Healing or, as I call it, maintaining homeostasis is different from most western approaches as a promotion of wellness and longevity. TCM health promotion can be achieved by a relatively easy, regular, low cost, and freely modified innovative practice of stretching exercises, controlled breathing and meditation. Wellness is certainly available to almost all.

Aerobic exercise, as well as weight training, is popular in Western countries and engages a comprehensive training of muscle-skeleto-cardio-and pulmonary function, these are all normal day to day physiological functions. Differently, t’ai chi and qi gong produce extra-ordinary neurological stimulations which are very beneficial in a number of ways. Also, strenuous aerobic training has been shown to create joint and cartilage damage while qi gong/t’ai chi doesn’t. In my opinion, another significant difference between a strenuous western workout and the TCM workout is the emphasis on balance and harmony which is so important to Chinese exercise but not in a Western workout. The TCM emphasis creates a very beneficial attitude not only toward one’s body/mind but also one’s interaction with the world/environment.

A Western attitude toward exercise is crude, mainly emphasizing the major muscle groups and pulmonary-circulation system. It is mainly competitive both towards one self and often others. The attitude then is harsh and in a way ascetic, perhaps reflecting a Christian attitude toward the body. For many fitness practitioners, the body is viewed as an instrument to manipulate and govern. No wonder so many exercisers use drug enhancement to exploit the body into unnatural growth. Also, this domination attitude is clear by many Westerns turn to extreme sports to “push the body to its limits” as a personal testimony of ego prowess. However, in the end this attitude and practice is damaging to the body, even fatal.

On the contrary, TCM encourages a harmonious practice towards the body, the mind, the world and even spirituality. It promotes balance, mind/body unity and a holistic understanding of the complete person which includes the maintenance of harmony with the outside environment and society. Any use of herbs is done only in a holistic understanding that when you introduce a strong substance into the body, one must be aware of the interactional effects on the complete system. TCM is a systems approach to health promotion and maintenance. This reflects major cultural differences between the Western and TCM approaches. TCM is an approach that makes much more sense to me especially in the light of modern discoveries in biology and science that strongly supports system, ecological and holistic thinking. Since health promotion is also illness prevention the need is not to focus only on single pathologies but the focus includes an individual’s genomic make-up, psychological state, personal habits, social behavior and environmental situations that are important for the maintenance of harmony.

As a clinical psychologist I am also familiar with the burgeoning research on the health benefits of meditation. The mind/body approach is being accepted and used much more in psychology as a viable theory for understanding and treating psychological and physical disturbances. The TCM approach is difficult for many westerners to accept because it is culturally very different. However, I believe now that TCM and maintaining homeostasis, in all its complexity that I cannot go into in this short blog, has much to offer everyone – not only in maintaining physical health but spirituality and psychological wellbeing since these are all intertwined. So homeostasis should also be understood as that condition for the body which maintains health through spirituality, physically and psychologically – looking not only at the internal interactions of the body but also holistically and in an ecological and systems perspective.

What IS Mindfulness? A Perspective as Taught by the Buddha.

19 Jul

There is a discrepancy between the teachings of the Buddha on Mindfulness and the definition of Mindfulness as stated in much of the current psychology articles as well as a continuing confusion among psychologists regarding the original intent of the use of Mindfulness and the modern popular one. Several examples of well-known phrases define mindfulness as: paying attention in a particular way; on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgementally; involves a kind of non-elaborative, non-judgemental, present-centered awareness in which each thought, feeling, or sensation that arises in the attentional field is acknowledged and accepted as it is; and finally, the practice of meditation and mindfulness will clear away the dullness of being on autopilot and free you to live more fully than you ever have before. This blog is an exploration of what the Buddha really intended in the practice of Sati (the Pali word for mindfulness), as different from the previous definitions.
The Buddha was the originator of the practice of Sati and it is clear that he meant meditation as the “Royal Road” for all people to potentially attain a transpersonal psychological experience named enlightenment, or awakening. In Buddhism, meditation is more often referred to as bhavana or mental culture, which emphasizes the holistic nature of mental cultivation associated with the Buddha’s Eightfold Path. Mindfulness is one of the eight factors of the Eightfold Path. For a fuller explanation of the Buddha’s teachings from a cognitive science perspective, I recommend my book, The Buddha’s Teachings: Seeing without Illusion (revised edition, 2013).
The Eightfold Path is the Buddha’s goal-oriented program with specific systematic procedures or instructions for psychological transformation. Like any learning program, there is advancement from basic to more refined concepts and practices. The beginning of the Eightfold Path is Right View, or perspective, and it is an orientation to the values and ideas of the program as presented in the Four Noble Truths. This is crucial, as the conceptual Right View gives the basic foundation and principles of the Buddha’s teachings. It is the correct framework of the problem and how to solve it; therefore, the Right View gives direction and coherence to the program rationale.
The next factor of the Eightfold Path is Right Effort. The Buddha taught from his enlightenment to his passing away to “strive with earnestness”. So fundamental was this teaching, that these are reported to be his last words. He also said, “All wholesome things are founded on earnestness, converge on earnestness, and so earnestness is to be considered as the most important of all. Clearly to reach any goal, whether psychological, academic, commercial, etc., and to earnestly practice any program, requires energy, and in the case of the Eightfold Path, Right Effort concerns making conscious practices to positively shape cognitions and thoughts and, therefore, the mental world.” Right Effort in Buddhism is commonly ranked in an ascending order from: (1) Prevent unwholesome mental states. (2) Abandon unwholesome mental states. (3) Arouse wholesome mental states. (4) Maintain and perfect wholesome mental states.
Mind training through these four interventions takes time and effort. Right Effort is also considered “right endeavouring” and it is the Buddhist practitioner’s continuous effort to keep his or her mind free of thoughts that might impair or be a hindrance to their ability to put into practice the other elements of the Eightfold Path which can eventually lead to enlightenment. Right Effort includes the skilful, appropriate, and balanced exertion of energy and intensity that is needed for different skill applications as they arise.
Now that one has the right schema and intentions as well as a willingness to skilfully exert a balanced effort, the next three path factors of Sila, or moral discipline, become the focus; these are: Right Speech, Right Action, and Right Living. These factors of Sila interact and support each other, and while outwardly are actions of kindness and benefit to others, are in fact, by controlling one’s behaviour, also modulating one’s thinking and training one’s cognitions. For it is impossible for unwholesome actions to originate from wholesome thoughts and vice versa. We have seen that in Right Effort, the four rankings of cultivation of wholesomeness and their application to Right Sila is obvious. To practice Right Speech in a wholesome and kind manner, we must, for example, prevent and eliminate speaking with the unwholesomeness of anger, slander, and deceit.
At this point along our journey on the Path, we are following the program of the Buddha to begin to purify our minds with wholesomeness and to use skilful actions through the practice of Sila. We have more trust and confidence in the program because we see the beneficial results of our becoming happier, having a better relationship with the world, and experiencing uplifting and positive thinking. Therefore, we continue to exert a balanced effort into the application of wholesome “right” skills to achieve further positive results.
So now we are ready to move into another phase of the path, and that is Right Concentration, or meditation, which in Pali is known as Samma Samadhi. Right Concentration is intensified concentration that results from a deliberate intention and mental effort to raise the mind to a more purified level of awareness. The main function of Samadhi, as wholesome concentration, is to collect the ordinary scattered stream of mental states to create a unified mental state. The mind trained in concentration can remain absorbed on one point without distraction and this induces the more serene mind to better insight. Traditionally in Buddhist meditation, one passes through the eight “Divine Jhanas” which are fully immersed meditative states of profound stillness, and which in the end one experiences the height of mental concentration. However, this experience still lacks the wisdom of insight and is not sufficient for gaining enlightenment.
Next (while not in a strictly linear sense but for ease of discussion) we need to adopt the skill of Right Mindfulness. In our present, hypothetical scenario, we would now be working the Buddha’s program well. We have a “right” perspective, desire, effort, energy, and intention to skilfully maintain wholesome thoughts and behaviors; we can now collect our ordinarily scattered stream of mental states and create a unified mental state. This induces an open and serene mind more available to insight as we strive to be honest and objective with ourselves about our intentions. However, to not only gain and practice new skill applications but also generalize and maintain any previous “right” skills acquisition, one needs also to be able to become heedful, maintain a balanced, watchful mind, and be aware of oneself in an objective, non-attached mindful manner; to do this is a vital factor in the Buddha’s program of mental purification.
We can now see that the function of Right Mindfulness is not only observation and attentiveness, but also the skill of discrimination, refinement, and maintenance between having wholesome vs. unwholesome and skilful vs. unskilful thoughts, feelings, and behaviour, and the integration of all skill acquisition with the other right factors of the Eightfold Path. An example of this is shown by the explanation of the Buddha:
“One is mindful to abandon wrong view & to enter & remain in right view. This is one’s right mindfulness…
One is mindful to abandon wrong resolve & to enter & remain in right resolve: This is one’s right mindfulness…
One is mindful to abandon wrong speech & to enter & remain in right speech: This is one’s right mindfulness…
One is mindful to abandon wrong action & to enter & remain in right action: This is one’s right mindfulness…
One is mindful to abandon wrong livelihood & to enter & remain in right livelihood: This is one’s right mindfulness…” — MN 117
The commentary of a verse in the Dhammapada further explains:
“The wise person is always mindful. Through this alertness he discards the ways of the slothful. The monk, as the seeker after the truth, is frightened of mindlessness because he knows that if one is unmindful, one is caught up in the unending suffering of samsara. Therefore, he forges ahead diligently and mindfully burning away those bonds that fetter people to worldliness.”
We see clearly that Right Mindfulness has the function of not only present moment awareness, but more importantly, self-regulation. In fact, often in the Dhammapada the word “heedfulness” or “heedful” – which means having or showing a close attentiveness to avoid danger or trouble – is substituted for “mindfulness”.
Throughout the suttas or Buddhist texts, it is clear that Buddha taught a skills acquisition, goal oriented, introspective bhavana or mental cultivation program. We can say it is an introspective program, because its primary orientation is the observation and examination of any number of one’s own mental states, including sensory, bodily, cognitive, emotional, and so forth. Regarding mental cultivation, the Buddha said, “The training of the mind is good, a mind so tamed brings happiness”, “The tame mind brings bliss”, “All that we are is the result of what we have thought; it is founded on our thoughts, it is made up of our thoughts”, and finally, “We will develop mindfulness immersed in the body. We will pursue it, hand it the reins and take it as a basis, give it grounding, steady it, consolidate it, and undertake it well. That is how you should train yourselves.” Here the taming of the mind that the Buddha is talking about is actualized through mindfulness, which has a function similar to that of the trainer who tames an unruly animal.
Therefore, what is being discussed in the early Buddhist description of mindfulness is not a passive, sense-based, non-judgemental skill, but more accurately involves metacognition. Metacognition engages in self-reflection and refers to a regulation of cognition or a level of thinking that involves active control over the processes of thinking that are especially used in learning, and it enhances problem solving ability. Metacognitive regulation refers to processes that coordinate cognition. These include both bottom-up processes called cognitive monitoring (e.g., error detection, source monitoring in memory retrieval) and top-down processes called cognitive control (e.g., conflict resolution, error correction, inhibitory control, planning, resource allocation) (Nelson & Narens, 1990; Reder & Schunn, 1996). Metacognition is closely related to executive function, which involves the ability to monitor and control the information processing necessary to produce voluntary action. Metacognition refers to any knowledge or cognitive process that monitors or controls cognition.
Metacognitive skills have been identified as: Planning the appropriate selection of learned strategies; the correct allocation of psychic resources that affect learning; self-monitoring of understanding and task performance; and finally, evaluating or appraising the final results of a task and the efficiency at which the task was performed. Other metacognitive skills or executive functions are maintaining motivation and effort to see a task to completion, and the ability to become aware and skilfully intervene when both distracting internal and external stimuli occur. Engaging in self-reflection or introspection enhances metacognition through monitoring lapses in knowledge and addressing them, or through judging knowledge availability and feelings of accuracy. Right Mindfulness, understood as Metacognition, plays a critical role in successful “right” skills acquisition, “right” skills consolidation and application training, and the generalization and maintenance of the right factors of the Eightfold Path.
So to summarize, mindfulness as metacognition involves both executive management and strategic knowledge. Executive management processes involve planning, monitoring, evaluating, and revising one’s own thinking processes and products, while strategic knowledge involves knowing what (factual or declarative knowledge), knowing when and why (conditional or contextual knowledge), and knowing how (procedural or methodological knowledge). “Both executive management and strategic knowledge metacognition are needed to self-regulate one’s own thinking and learning” (Dunlosky, J. & Bjork, R. A. Eds). H. J. Hartman (2001) has written about other benefits of mindfulness, such as, “promoting executive-level functioning in detecting when the mind has wandered (meta awareness) further reduces lapses in attention. Mindfulness practice promotes a form of meta-cognitive insight of learning to emotionally disengage from distracters (frustration; anxiety). This form of top-down cognitive control leads the Mindfulness practitioner to more readily focus on the present task leading to better performance.”
Now that we have explored briefly the idea that mindfulness is really describing metacognition and executive function which includes the abilities that help us learn new information, remember and retrieve information we’ve learned in the past, and use this information to solve problems of life, let’s see more examples of this idea in Buddhist writings. The early Buddhist definition of Sati as memory is indicated by such terms as: calling to mind; remembrance; bearing in mind; and recollection. In the Dhammapada, mindfulness is compared to the treasurer of a king who reminds the king of the royal possessions in detail, daily, at night and in the morning. Also, the mindfulness of the aspirant to enlightenment reminds them of Virtue, Concentration, and Wisdom, which constitute the three pillars of the teachings of the Buddha. The value of the recollected activity of mindfulness is seen in the increasing awareness of the essentials of “right” living in the aspirant’s mind, and the growing strength of purpose for realizing these within him or herself.
Thānissaro Bhikkhu also emphasizes the memory aspect in this comment: “As he [the Buddha] defined the term, right mindfulness is not bare attention. Instead, it’s a faculty of active memory, adept at calling to mind and keeping in mind instructions and intentions that will be useful on the path. Its role is to draw on right view and to work proactively in supervising the other factors of the path to give rise to right concentration, and in using right concentration as a basis for total release.” So, mindfulness is the bringing or keeping of something in (to) awareness, but it is not solely awareness. Mindfulness can be used to bring any mental quality to mind.
Bhikkhu Bodhi offers us another perspective of mindfulness and its function as executive function: “There are certainly occasions when the cultivation of mindfulness requires the practitioner to suspend discrimination, evaluation, and judgment, and to adopt instead a stance of simple observation. However, to fulfill its role as an integral member of the eightfold path, mindfulness has to work in unison with right view and right effort. This means that the practitioner of mindfulness must at times evaluate mental qualities and intended deeds, make judgments about them, and engage in purposeful action.”
In Satipatthana, The Direct Path to Realization, Venerable Analayo wrote that we need to distinguish clearly between a first stage of observation and a second stage of taking action. Calmly assessing a situation without immediately reacting enables us to undertake the appropriate action. Thus, Sati provides the information for the then wise use of Right Effort, and it will oversee the countermeasures by noting if these are right and balanced, not too much or too little.
Soma Thera, in his short book, The Way of Mindfulness, The Satipatthana Sutta and Its Commentary (1998), it is also quite clear that mindfulness involves what we are now referring to as metacognition and executive functions. To quote at length: “Mindfulness is the activity that takes care of the mind and protects it. It is compared to a wagon driver who ties the oxen to the wagon’s yoke, greases the axle, and drives the wagon, making the oxen go gently. In this activity mindfulness looks to the smooth working and movement of the mind and takes notice of the processes both skilful and not, taking place in the consciousness. In the more complex forms it is the selective and integrative action of the mind. The selective activity has been compared to the work of the Chief Adviser of a King. As the Adviser is instrumental in distinguishing the good from the bad, and in getting the good and avoiding the bad, so mindfulness distinguishes the worthy from unworthy things, avoids the unworthy and obtains the worthy.
The integrative character of mindfulness is like the Minister-of-all-work of a King. He is wanted in putting through every project of the King. He is commissioned to organise and combine the workers and execute the tasks. Mindfulness is also like that Minister. It is the organizing activity of the mind necessary for the development of wholesome states of consciousness. It combines the various other qualities which compose those states, puts them to their appropriate tasks and keeps them in proper working order. By the strength of integrating mindfulness a conscious state of skill functions harmoniously and becomes a well-knit unity. This activity of mindfulness makes the work of the aspirant complete at every stage of his progress. Integrating mindfulness sees all lacks and deficiencies, brings in the needed qualities and suitably applies them. It is called the highest wisdom of mindfulness [parama satinepakka], and constitutes the core of the Mindfulness that is included in the Real Way [Ariya Magga Pariyapanna Sati], of the Way Factor of Mindfulness [Sati Magganga] and of the Enlightenment Factor of Mindfulness [Sati Sambojjhanga]. It is Right Mindfulness [Sammasati] in the full sense of the term.”
Other, shorter quotes from Soma Thera’s book that indicate the executive function of mindfulness include:
“That it is mindfulness that holds things together in the mental flux, brings them up, and prevents them from floating away, getting submerged, forgotten and lost. Without mindfulness there will be no reconstitution of already acquired knowledge and consciousness itself would break in pieces, become fragmentary, and be unable to do properly the work of cognition.”
“Strong mindfulness ignores the unnecessary, by adhering to the center of the business in hand, and extends its view to important peripheral conditions, with a wide spreading watchfulness resembling that of the sentinel on a tower scanning the horizon “for the glint of armour. By such a balance between width and depth mindfulness steers clear of the extremes of lopsided vision and practice.”
“In the sense of overcoming mental conflict, and in the sense of getting rid of all unclarity, all incapacity to judge aright and indefiniteness due to mental unquiet, mindfulness is a controlling faculty [indriya]. The controlling faculty of mindfulness makes for the absence of confusion [asamussanata] and produces lucidity of thought, sound judgment, and definiteness of outlook. Mindfulness accompanied by keen understanding appears as the controlling faculty of mindfulness.”
“Mindfulness accompanied by sustained energy is mindfulness considered as a spiritual power [bala] and is the quality of earnestness [appamada] which destroys the wavering of negligence [pamada]. Negligence is the wandering of the mind in objects of fivefold sense-pleasure, repeatedly: it is the absence of thoroughness, of perseverance, and of steadfastness in doing good; the behavior that is stuck in the mire of worldliness; the casting aside of the desire to do what is right; the casting aside of the duties which belong to one; the absence of practice, development, and increase of wholesome qualities; the lack of right resolve, and the want of application. Earnestness is the opposite of all that negligence connotes. According to meaning, earnestness is the non-neglect of mindfulness [atthato hi so satiya avippavaso]. Indeed, earnestness is the name for mindfulness that is always active, constantly at work.”
To conclude our discussion, we have seen that contrary to the simplistic, popular definitions of mindfulness, Sati is really considering the executive functions and metacognition of the learning program called the Eightfold Path. In other words, the early Buddhist definition of mindfulness as memory, which is an executive function, is indicated by such definitions as: calling to mind; remembrance; bearing in mind; and recollection. We have seen that to proceed on the Eightfold Path, practitioners need to assess whether or not retrieved information is relevant to the life experience they are trying to skilfully master. “Successful differentiation of relevant from irrelevant memories is key to problem solving, planning, and other complex tasks. Planning requires reflecting on which course of action is necessary to achieve a goal, and as such planning is part of metacognition” (Brown, Bransford, Ferrara, & Campione, 1983). Action planning requires establishing both a main goal (enlightenment) and a hierarchy of sub-goals that must be satisfied for the main goal to be obtained (ethical behaviour, concentration, learning the Four Noble Truths, etc.). The main goal usually guides the sub-goals, which is considered Right View. So we can adopt a definition of mindfulness as a method by which we skilfully and intentionally focus our attention on our behaviors, perceptions, feelings, thoughts, and mental phenomena in the present moment, with the right intention of purifying the mind as prescribed in the Eightfold Path.