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Karma as Intention and Volition

13 Jun

Karma as Intention and Volition

Actualizing our Human Potential

3 Jun

Actualizing our Human Potential pdf

Self As Construction

29 May

Self as Construction

Agency Mistaken as Self

18 May

Agency mistaken as Self

Embodied Living: Glimpses into the Complexity of Life.

9 Feb

 Embodiment

In my book, The Buddha’s Radical Psychology: Explorations, I develop a crucial discussion of how without a major focus on the ‘Self’/Ego as western psychology tends to still have, Buddhist inspired psychology naturally looks to the embodied nature of human existence and the significance of the body. The following are some general explorations highlighting the significance of our embodied life from chapters from that book. Naturally as research develops and deepens the datum will change but the discussion will remain the same.

  • Our bodies are crucial

Our body, a living organism is the matrix of one’s experience. Neuroscientists J. A. Scott Kelso and David Engstrom affirm this: ‘The body is crucial to our experience of the world because it provides the sense organs through which we access the objective world and it has the organizing capacity of the mind that processes and constructs data understanding. Organisms are not just pieces of matter; they are matter in motion – animate forms… with “embodied cognition”.’

  • Organisms as Coherent Embedded Systems

The interrelationship between organisms and their environment is an oscillating co-arising with an equilibrium between two sets of processes; the organism with its hierarchy of needs and the broader ambiance in which it is a part. Within the hierarchy, there is one dominant process, called the organizing process.  All life consists of inseparability and dynamic interactions. With meaningful information exchange in living things, dualities are bi-stable, and in general multi-stable coordination, dynamics confers many advantages, in particular, multi-functionality. If any aspect of the duality becomes out of balance and develops too far, it binds the system.

In living, organisms can never maintain perfect symmetry. Co-arising is universal. The Buddha taught that there is no universal preconceived beginning or end. Life is unity in diversity and form is the recognizable continuity of a process.

  • Life’s web and rhythm

All life on earth exists within a web of vibrations, and rhythm is fundamental to all forms of life. Natural rhythms guide all that we do (daily rhythms, internal rhythms, etc.).

One compelling answer to explain these universal phenomena is provided by thermodynamics. According to biochemist Mae Wan Ho:

‘Practically all living processes are organized in cycles. … biological rhythms ranging from periods of … electrical activities of brain cells … the heart-beat…respiration, to periods which are circadian and circannual. …why that should be. The answer is provided by thermodynamics. It turns out that symmetrically coupled cycles are the key to both the conservation of coherent energy and compensation… entropy within the system so that living organization is maintained…’

Much of our basic daily-life activities are co-arising around these rhythms. They have positive functional advantages, including spatial and temporal organization, prediction of events, energy efficiency and precision of control. The rhythms of our breath, heartbeat and brain are intimately related to our emotions, thoughts and mindset states. The quiet rhythmic breathing of meditation is well known for its calming effect. Both simple and complex rhythms do not exist in isolation. Rather, they have complex interactions. When physiologists discovered brain waves these rhythms were believed to be correlated with various mental states. For the brain, the experience is not continuous stream or flow but quantized.

According to Gregory Hickok: ‘We actually perceive the world in rhythmic pulses rather than as a continuous flow…. Rhythms in the environment, such as those in music or speech, can draw neural oscillations into their tempo, effectively synchronizing the brain’s rhythms with those of the world around us […]. We should talk of the rhythm of thought, of perception, of consciousness. Conceptualizing our mental experience this way is not only more accurate, but it also situates our mind within the broader context of the daily, monthly and yearly rhythms that dominate our lives.’

Brain waves shape our perception, movement, memory. Hickok believes that the brain interacts with the world in rhythmic pulses. These rhythms correlate with electrical rhythms of the brain and this is how our brain focuses attention (cocktail party example).

Bodily rhythms that interact with the external environment resent an essential element in whether we have healthy or unhealthy bodily functions. For instance, our circadian rhythm can be easily disturbed by jetlag or bright light etc. Health can be interpreted as harmony among these rhythms. Disruption of normal rhythms and the emergence of abnormal rhythms have been called ‘dynamical diseases.

  • Circadian rhythm

Circadian rhythms (our Body Clock) signal and affect every aspect of our life (wake up, sleep, active and energy). They influence how we socialize and how we feel. There are patterns of brain wave activity, hormone production, cell regeneration and other biological activities linked by the light-dark cycle over a 24-hour period. Within the brain, and more specifically located in the hypothalamus just above the optic nerves, lies a group of about 20,000 nerve cells called the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN), which coordinates all these body ‘clocks’ so that they are in synchronization.

A protein directing our circadian rhythms is named CLOCK. Functional balance is created by a metabolic protein called SIRT1, which counterbalances CLOCK. Disequilibrium in the CLOCK-SIRT1 balance, lead to sleep disruption and increased hunger. Light has a significant role in governing our circadian rhythms. Tim Brown has discovered that it is the color of a sunset that our bodies use to regulate the internal clock (melatonin production). Work schedules conflict with the body’s natural circadian rhythm and some individuals have difficulty adjusting to the change. Light exposure and ad unusual meal times increase the risk of developing chronic diseases.

Recent studies suggest that repeated bouts of jetlag may cause harm to the temporal lobe, an area of the brain important to memory.  Delayed Sleep Phase Syndrome (DSPS) – Changes in routine such as staying up late is a circadian rhythm disorder. Advanced Sleep Phase Syndrome (ASPD). ASPD results in symptoms of evening sleepiness, going to bed earlier and waking up earlier than desired.

  • Lunar phases

There is a link between sleep patterns and lunar phases. Sleep might be delayed by 25 minutes around a full moon, and sleepers have been found to spend 30 additional minutes in REM sleep. Sleep duration is often shortened by 20 minutes around the time of the full moon. These syndromes can have significant problems for our health, but we can minimize their effect and prevent them. The choices we make about our sleep environments and sleep habits can make a significant difference. Limiting night-time exposure to artificial light and increasing exposure to sunlight can shift sleep-wake cycles.

  • Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)

SAD is a form of depression that is related to changes in the seasons.  It is estimated that SAD affects between 10% and 20% of the Northern latitude population. Symptoms of SAD typically manifest around the age of twenty years old. There appear to be several biologic mechanisms underlying SAD, including retinal sensitivity to light, vulnerability to stress, neurotransmitter dysfunction, genetic variations affecting circadian rhythms, and reduced serotonin levels. The primary cause appears to be the delay or advance of the circadian phase. Humans have neural circuits that detect changes in day length and use this information to control the timing of seasonal behavior. In this way, even relatively minor seasonal changes in day length is sufficient to create problems for certain individuals.

  • The human life-cycle

A broad definition of life history includes not only the traditional foci such as age-related fecundity and mortality rates, but also the entire sequence of behavioral, physiological, and morphological changes that an organism passes through during its development from conception to death.’ Shea

A life-cycle is defined as the developmental stages that occur during an organism’s lifetime. All living things have a life-cycle that includes being born, childhood, adulthood and death.  As humans we are interrelated with our socio-economic environment, therefore not only the individual but the family unit has its own stages of development, or life-cycle, as does one’s employment, housing, education etc. A person’s life is substantially determined by the challenges of each developmental phase. A person’s life is significantly shaped by the tasks and opportunities embedded within their developmental life-cycles.

  • The biological imperative of movement

Research into natural movement patterns reveals that there appears to be, ‘biological imperatives to movement,’. One such study found that people tend to move in complementary intervals. The intervals of movement and inactivity were more consistent in younger people than older ones. Another study looked at the movement pattern of mice. When running wheels were provided, the younger mice exercised a lot, developing marked peaks and valleys of activity. The older mice were less consistent in their activity patterns. Once the ability to exercise (running wheels) was removed, the patterns of the younger mice became more like that of the older ones: By prompting the release of a wide variety of biochemicals in the body and brain…exercise almost certainly affects the body’s internal clock mechanisms and therefore its circadian rhythms, especially those related to activity.

  • The body as an embedded organism
    • Creatures of the atmosphere

In Buddha’s psychology, we see the body as an embedded organism, with effects constantly co-arising with its interaction and interconnectedness with the forces of nature, including the weather. While no satisfactory agreement has been reached as to how the weather causes joint pain, there are plausible theories. One theory points to changes in air pressure. Barometric pressure is the weight of the atmosphere that surrounds us. Barometric pressure often drops before bad weather sets in. This lower air pressure pushes less against the body, allowing tissues to expand.  As rheumatologist David Borenstein explains, ‘When there’s less pressure, we expand.’

  • And creatures sensitive to temperature

Hot temperatures: There are two ways in which our body copes with heat – by perspiring and by breathing. High temperatures and humidity present a crucial adaptive factor. If there is very high temperature and high humidity, the body will be sweating but the sweat won’t dry on the skin. Therefore, the body is not able to cool down as effectively. If the temperature remains elevated overnight, the body becomes overwhelmed. If a person is exposed to heat for a very long time, the first thing that shuts down is the ability to sweat. Once somebody stops perspiring, they become very hot and in short order can move from heat exhaustion to heat stroke.

Cold temperatures: Likewise, the human body is not adapted for extremely cold temperatures. But the human body does have several defenses. Our muscles shiver and our teeth chatter, our hairs rise and our flesh forms goosebumps. The hypothalamus stimulates these reactions to keep the body’s vital organs warm. The body directs its warm blood close to the core, thereby constricting blood supply to the outer regions. While fat does not transfer heat very well and, therefore keeps it inside the body, humans, with no fur and relatively little fat, can’t adapt well to very cold environments.

  • Smells can make you feel and act differently

Our sense of smell can recognize thousands of different smells and is directly connected to the limbic system. These structures are involved in many of our emotions and motivations, for example, fear, anger and sexual arousal. By the time we correctly recognize a particular scent as, the scent has already activated the limbic system, triggering an emotional reaction. A smell can evoke a memory. Despite individual peculiarities, some significant generalizations have been made: For example, people tend to give higher pleasantness ratings to smells that they can identify correctly, including the use of an appropriate color, for example, red with the smell of cherry. There are some fragrances that appear to be universally perceived as pleasant, such as vanilla. The thought of pleasant fragrances can make us a bit calmer. It seems that positive emotions are predominantly processed by the left hemisphere of the brain, while negative emotions are more often processed by the right hemisphere. Smells can also affect our perceptions of other people. Beauty can be in the ‘nose’ of the beholder. Unpleasant smells can have the opposite effect. Therefore, we need to be mindful of how odors can affect our judgment and behavior.

  • Organ cross-talk and interactions

Important in the cognitive processes and the enmeshing of the body and its environment, the co-arising principle is again critical in the interactions between the unified coherent body systems.

Our unified body systems operate on functional, automatic mode every moment of our life. When we wake up, get sleepy, hungry or thirsty, all is responded to by the coherent and wide system operation of our body. There isn’t an organ in the human body that operates in isolation. Everything interacts in different levels of response. The interactions between these different levels are so complex that they can’t be reduced to a single level. In a biological system, a change in one part of the body’s system will affect the dynamic behavior of the whole organism.

Unfortunately, many people do not conceive of the body as a whole, and instead still think of using a Cartesian partition between mind and brain, and brain and body. Some basic physical interactions include the nervous system and its interactions with every single organ including musculoskeletal control. Many physiological and behavioral functions depend on the merging within the nervous system. The nervous system is a dynamic platform exchanging information from between one part of the body and another. This happens in both healthy and unhealthy physical processes, processing that can be significantly influenced by hormones.

The liver is often called the most unselfish organ because almost everything that it does is done for the benefit of the body as a whole. Likewise, the kidneys share a very close role with the heart through the cardiovascular system. An example is provided by Andrew Davenport in his article, ‘The Brain and the Kidney – Organ Cross Talk and Interactions’, in which he describes how the kidney and the brain play major roles in maintaining normal homeostasis of the extracellular fluid. It is vital to look at the body as an inter-connected dependent co-arising unit, instead of individual parts.  For example: If someone with a lowered adrenal output is given supplemental thyroid hormones, they develop many side effects, such as heart arrhythmias, or nervousness. This is because the adrenal glands are further stressed by the additional thyroid.

Both neurotransmitters serotonin and dopamine are made through a methylation pathway. Research has shown that the pituitary gland needs serotonin and dopamine in order to release the appropriate hormone signals. There is a physiological hierarchy of needs. An important example of this is that when the body is attempting to cope with a stress situation, it will create more cortisol and sacrifice the sex hormones. With our fast-paced modern lifestyles, our bodies are using cortisol almost constantly.

An exquisite feature of the living system is its acute sensitivity to weak signals. The extreme sensitivity of the human organism applies to all systems; no part has to be pushed or pulled into action. Instead, the coordinated action of all the parts depends on rapid intercommunication between the different organs and tissues. The organism is a system of, ‘Excitable media,’.

  • Specific body systems

Circulatory System – transports nutrients and gasses to cells and tissues throughout body.

Lymphatic System – transports lymph towards the heart, plays a crucial role in immune system.

Nervous System – monitors and coordinates internal organ function and responds to changes in the external environment.

  • Homeostasis

‘The highly developed living being is an open system having many relations to its surroundings – in the respiratory and alimentary tracts and through surface receptors, neuromuscular organs and bony levers. Changes in the surroundings excite reactions in this system or affect it directly so that internal disturbances of the system are produced. Such disturbances are normally kept within narrow limits because automatic adjustments within the system are brought into action, and thereby wide oscillations are prevented and the internal conditions are held fairly constant.’ Walter B. Cannon31

Walter Cannon coined the term ‘homeostasis’. Homeostasis is the automatic and coherent response of our body to maintain optimal health via a relatively constant internal environment balance. For example, it maintains our body temperature, a stable flow of blood, optimal nourishment and oxygen to the cells, whilst removing toxins. ‘The brain also has a remarkable tendency to maintain its chemical constancy…’

The regulative processes in every organism tend to be restorative. Physical and psychological stress cause physical imbalance. ‘What Does Homeostatic Balance Mean?’:

‘The body uses different processes to maintain homeostasis. Receptors throughout the body sense changes in the internal and external environment and send messages to the brain; it responds by telling the appropriate organs to restore equilibrium. Hormones are often used to signal the changes that must be made to restore balance, but the body also uses other mechanisms.’…

An imbalance in the homeostatic processes can lead to disease or even death.

  • The chemical basis of behavior

Metabolism describes all chemical reactions involved in maintaining the living state of the cells and hence the organism. The metabolic process involves two kinds of activities:

Anabolism – The building and storing processes.

Catabolism – Comprises those processes that breakdown molecules to release the energy required.

Metabolism is a vital, complicated and constant chemical process; if it stops, then we die.

Specific proteins and several hormones of the endocrine system are involved in controlling the rate and direction of metabolism. The thyroid gland releases thyroxine. The pancreas releases the hormone insulin to increase their anabolic activities. Generally, metabolism works effectively and automatically. A metabolic disorder can cause serious medical problems: Hypothyroidism (The under-functioning) Hyperthyroidism (over-functioning).

Type 1 diabetes – The pancreas doesn’t produce and secrete enough insulin. Symptoms include excessive thirst and urination, hunger and weight loss.

Type 2 diabetes – The body can’t respond normally to insulin requirements. The symptoms of this disorder are similar.

Metabolism is closely linked to nutrition and the availability of nutrients. Food provides a variety of substances that are essential for the efficient functioning of the body.

Essential nutrients that we must acquire include: Carbohydrates,  Starches and sugars,  Fibre , Proteins, Fats, Minerals  More than 50 elements are found in the human body.  Vitamins – Vitamins play an important role in body chemistry generally, activation of important enzymes (co-enzymes).

Other important chemicals interacting with brain functions include: Oxygen-Glucose – Normal brain function is dependent upon an adequate and continuous supply of glucose etc.

  • Exercise physiology

People used to live in an environment in which physical activities like walking, running, lifting, etc. were necessary for accomplishing many everyday tasks throughout the year. But, the amount of physical activity carried out on a daily basis has been greatly reduced. The body, however, still responds to the physical stress in the same way as it always has. Robert Gerszten, explained that, ‘[…] how these effects occur is not entirely clear. Exercise physiology is surprisingly very poorly understood.’

  • Blood chemistry

Regular exercise offers important benefits for our wellbeing, partly through altering blood chemistry. Exercise alters the body’s physiology by increasing of the oxygen-carrying capacity of blood. In addition, the number of mitochondria will increase to handle the higher demand for energy. Blood sugar levels fluctuate as glucose is catabolized for energy. Next, the body will trigger a chain of chemical reactions to break down stored energy in the muscles, liver and adipose tissue. The release of the stored sugar will elevate glucose levels until they are depleted through activity. This helps to normalize our glucose, insulin and leptin levels by optimizing insulin/ leptin receptor sensitivity.

  • Brain chemicals

When performing aerobic exercises, researchers found that increased stimulation of brain regions that are involved in memory function and an increase in the production of a neurotransmitter known as Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF), which plays an important role in memory.  BDNF rewires memory circuits so they work better. As BDNF levels increase, the growth rate of neurons in the hippocampus increases as well.  ‘Using more brain cells turns on genes to make more BDNF.’ There are several other chemicals that are released by exercise, which can affect your mood, outlook and physical comfort level.

  • Hormones

When you move, your muscles release hormones. Some interesting hormones relating to physical activity include Irisin, or the ‘Exercise Hormone’. The validity of irisin has generated controversy among scientists. ‘Data unequivocally demonstrate that human irisin exists,’ said Spiegelman. Testosterone –. Estrogen – Peptide YY/Ghrelin – A vigorous workout affects the release of these two key appetite hormones. Ghrelin is the hormone known to stimulate appetite. But exercise also does increase levels of peptide YY, which may make you less hungry. Endorphins – Serotonin – Dopamine. Exercising can increase the amount of dopamine in certain regions of the brain, promoting positive wellbeing and even countering negative mental states. It’s been shown that meditation can also increase dopamine levels. Hobbies of all kinds bring the brain into a meditative state and increase dopamine. Growth factors – like hepatocyte, fibroblast and insulin send signals to the satellite cells to regulate preparative growth of muscle mass growth.

  • The microbiome and its multiple roles: the gut-brain axis

All vertebrates have a symbiotic relationship with what is called gut microbiota.  Surprisingly, cell by cell, we are mostly made up of bacteria. There are up to 100 times more bacteria than human cells in the human body. Biologists now believe that much of our wellbeing depends on microbial activity. At birth, the gut is sterile, but over time our gut develops a diverse and distinct variety of bacterial species, determined by genetics as well as by which bacteria live in us and those around us. In a human adult, the gut bacteria can weigh as much as five pounds, and they make up an organ of sorts. The Human Microbiome Project estimates that a normal adult’s gut consists of 100 trillion microbes. Collectively they are known as the microbiome. It interacts with and influences organ systems throughout the body. The brain can have a strong influence on the microbiome – mild cognitive stress reactions can change the microbial balance from beneficial to disease-causing bacteria. Premysl Bercik, MD says, ‘[…] data suggest that bacteria can have profound effects on behavior and brain biochemistry, probably through multiple pathways.’ There is evidence of bacterial translocation being associated with approximately 35% of people with depression.

Demonstrating the significance of the microbiome-gut-brain axis, Bercik and colleagues reported having completely changed the behavior of a species of mice by giving them a mixture of antibiotics that significantly changed the composition of their gut bacteria. The ecosystem of the microbiome is also intimately entwined with our immune, endocrine and nervous systems. It is crucially linked to the brain – our diet and gut bacteria influence our behavior, thoughts and mood: ‘Scientists are increasingly convinced that the vast assemblage of microfauna in our intestines may have a major impact on our state of mind.’ Not only does the microbiome affect brain biochemistry, stress responses and behavior, it also produces many neurochemicals that the brain uses. Dr. Siri Carpenter estimates that gut bacteria manufacture about 95% of the body’s supply of serotonin, which influences both mood and gastrointestinal (GI) activity. Similarly, Lyte, proposes a neurochemical, ‘Delivery system’ by which gut bacteria, such as probiotics, can send messages to the brain.

Gut bacteria both produce and respond to the same neurochemicals that the brain uses to regulate mood and cognitive processes. Such neurochemicals probably allow the brain to tune its behavior to the feedback it receives from the mass of bacteria in the gut. The microbiome is often referred to as the ‘second brain ‘, as it is the only organ to have its own independent nervous system.  Dr. Katrin Andreasen has been investigating the role of microglia and the brain’s immune cells in Alzheimer’s disease. Her work suggests that the prodromal stage of Alzheimer’s disease involves an inflammatory response; a particular receptor, EP2, may predispose individuals to develop the condition.

Another study found that compared with individuals who received a placebo intervention; participants who received a multispecies probiotics intervention demonstrated significantly reduced ruminative thoughts.

The research into understanding the role of the microbiome in reaction to human emotions and behaviors has become very compelling. Exploring functions and mechanisms of the human body as part of a whole, interdependent, dynamic system is far more accurate than trying to understand it as comprised of individual independent systems.

  • Epigenetics: a new insight to biology

Another new branch in biology is epigenetics or the study of changes in gene activity which are not caused by changes in the DNA sequence. Environmental influences, including nutrition, stress, and emotions can modify genes without changing the sequence of nucleotides. The epigenome refers to the overall state of a cell, and works as an interface between the environment and the genome. Epigenetics studies the reason why a skin cell looks different from a brain cell or a muscle cell.

Epigenetics studies the factors that cause the body’s genes to turn off or turn on by exploring the effects of the physical, social and electromagnetic environment on our cells’ actions. Preetha Anand suspects that only 5–10% of all cancer cases can be attributed to genetic defects, whereas the remaining 90–95% have their roots in environmentally-induced epigenetic alterations. What we eat, where we live, who we interact with, when we sleep, how we exercise, even aging – all of these factors can cause chemical modifications in our genome. As biochemist Mae Wan Ho stated: ‘…we already have a great deal of knowledge on how social deprivation, psychological stress, and environmental toxins can have dire effects on us and our still unborn children and grandchildren while social enrichment, caring environments and cognitive and physical exercises, and stress-reducing mind-body techniques can have beneficial effects on infants, children and adults alike. The implications of the appropriate interventions for health, education and social wellbeing are clear.

It seems we cannot control approximately 30% of our genetic makeup, but we can control about 70%. It was previously thought that an embryo’s epigenome was completely new, but this isn’t completely true. Some epigenetic changes do pass from generation to generation (epigenetic inheritance). Early in an embryo’s development, most signals come from within cells or from neighboring cells. As cells grow and divide, they faithfully copy epigenetic tags along with the DNA. This is especially important during embryonic development, as past experiences inform future choices. The epigenome enables cells to remember their past experiences long after the signals fade away (e.g. the mother’s nutrition). Other types of signals, such as stress hormones, can travel from mother to fetus. In infancy, a wider range of environmental factors begin to shape the epigenome. Environmental signals allow cells to respond dynamically to the outside world while internal signals direct body maintenance. During these processes, the cell’s experiences are transferred to the epigenome, where they shut down and/or activate specific sets of genes. Examples of inherited epigenetic changes have been shown by experiments with rat models, which were exposed to a crop fungicide that can cause susceptibility to cancer.

  • Psychoneuroimmunology

‘The mind and body are dependent on each other the way two sheaves stand up by leaning against each other.’ Samyutta Nikaya

Psychoneuroimmunology (PNI) studies the complex and intimate communications, interactions and regulation among our psychological processes, behaviors, central nervous system (CNS), immune system and the endocrine system. Dr. Robert Ader states, ‘Its [PNI] central premise is that homeostasis is an integrated process involving interactions among behavior and the nervous, endocrine, and immune systems.’ PNI is increasingly showing how changes in a person’s mental or emotional state can modify the molecular profile of his or her immune or hormonal system.

The pain experience is complex and involves many components, which depend on bi-directional communication with the spinal cord. One study provided evidence that explicitly presented pain-related words lead to activations within regions of the brain’s pain matrix. When tasks involved imagination, the specificity of pain-related words is reflected in the activation of regions associated with the cognitive dimension of pain, such as the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC) and the inferior parietal gyri (or IPG). The findings suggest that the perception of pain-related words changes the central nervous processing, that is associated with the cognitive dimension of pain.

Music-induced analgesia can reduce stress, depression and distress in people with acute and chronic pain. Christine Dobek’s research showed observable changes in neural function in the entire CNS in response to changes in pain perception related to music analgesia. Music-induced analgesia seems to work by evoking a rewarding response in the brain that activates the descending analgesia system, indicating therefore that music is processed in various areas distributed throughout the brain including limbic areas, cortical regions and reward-related mesolimbic circuits. Dopamine mediates the mesocortical and mesolimbic circuits to (potentially) trigger opioid release in the nucleus accumbens (NAc) whilst listening to music.

  • The stress phenomenon

An important focus of PNI is the complexity of the stress phenomenon and its potentially harmful influence on the body. In fact, any belief that there isn’t an intimate interaction between physical and psychological stressors is a misconception. The stress response typically expresses itself in two main ways. Firstly, the endocrine pathway causes the secretion of several stress hormones, including corticotropin-releasing hormone (CRH), adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH) and cortisol. If left unchecked, these chemicals can devastate the body’s homeostatic balance. Secondly, the autonomic pathway may be affected. Adrenaline, like cortisol, has a large number of effects on several body systems, one example being that persistent adrenal surges can damage blood vessels and arteries, raising blood pressure and increasing the risk of heart attacks or strokes.

  • Chronic stress

The brain and bodily systems can’t differentiate between an actual and an imaginary threat. Chronic stress not only results from long-term, repeated exposure, but can also be caused by negative emotional ruminations about the past. It has been found that in response to long-term stress responses, the branching dendrites, where much of the brain’s information and memories are stored, decrease in size and in volume. Gestalt Therapy proponents of chronic stress: If the organism’s needs or sensibilities remain “unfinished”, the organism will keep on trying to resolve the unresolved contact. Instead of giving up on its needs, the organism will take emergency measures, delaying any unfavorable resolution or consolation. If the organism’s needs continue to go unmet, the chronic emergency becomes the new normal and eventually passes out of awareness. Chronic stress, by causing a negative mind-body interaction, is considered a significant risk factor. Chronic stress may also contribute to obesity, both through direct mechanisms (causing people to eat more) or indirectly (decreasing sleep and exercise) and numerous other problems. Therefore reducing chronic stress can boost the immune system, and enhance wellbeing.

  • The placebo effect on stress

To further appreciate the two-way process between the relationship of mind and body, the placebo phenomenon must be acknowledged. Some studies suggest, that the placebo effect triggers an increase in the body’s production of endorphins. Helen S. Mayberg and colleagues report that there is an increased metabolism, which is probably an early indicator of the brain’s compensatory capacity in response to a placebo response. As the basic concept of PNI hypothesizes that the mind and body are inseparable, it seems logical that the power of suggestion will have an effect either way.

Expectation seems to play a potent role in the placebo effect. The stronger the feeling, the more likely it is that a person will experience positive results (and vice versa).

The placebo effect appears to be part of human potential to be relieved by something for which there is no apparent medical basis just by reacting positively to a ‘healer’. Since, the brain seems to respond to an imagined scene much as it would to something it actually sees, a placebo may help the brain go back and remember a time before current physical or psychological symptoms and produce certain physical-chemical changes. This is called Remembered Wellness. When directed in a constructive path, the positive placebo is an illustration of the therapeutic potential of the mind-body relationship. With a wholesome mindset, a person can enhance the immune function and improve his or her mind-body condition. The Buddha tells us that with a wholesome, serene mindset, happiness will follow, ‘If a man speaks or acts with a pure mind, happiness follows him, like a shadow that never leaves him.’

  • The immune system: neuroimmunology

Neuroimmunology describes the study of the interrelationship between the nervous and immune systems. It’s becoming increasingly clear that our brain, our immune system and our gut microbes are intricately linked. Autism, for instance, may be associated with gastrointestinal problems and a potential over-reaction in the immune system. Jonathan Kipnis reported: ‘Moreover, neurological diseases like multiple sclerosis and Alzheimer’s have long been linked to changes in immune system function, and autoimmune diseases of the gut, like Crohn’s disease, correlate with psychiatric illness.’ It hasn’t been clear how such connections arise, but now both a gut-brain axis and a link between the immune system and brain have been more clearly shown. Kipnis emphasized:  ‘We believe that for every neurological disease that has an immune component to it, these vessels may play a major role. …In Alzheimer’s [for example], there are accumulations of big protein chunks in the brain. …they may be accumulating in the brain because they’re not being efficiently removed by these vessels.’ And, ‘Careful studies have shown that the brain does interact with the peripheral immune system, albeit in unique ways. Immune cells do, somehow, circulate through the brain, and antigens – which would normally stoke an immune response – do drain from the brain into the lymph nodes.’

  • The immune system as an ecological system

Alfred I. Tauber proposed that the immune system does operate and cooperate with so-called ‘foreign’ visitors to the body. From an ecological perspective, we, as individual organisms, actually live in a community of others that contribute to our welfare. There is a growing body of evidence that the immune system isn’t a passive system just waiting to react to outside threats, but a highly proactive system that changes in response to external cues.

Robert Ader stated: Together, behavioral, neural, endocrine, and immune processes of adaptation constitute an integrated network of defenses and, insofar as immuno-regulatory processes are concerned, the assumption of an autonomous immune system is no longer tenable. It is not possible to obtain a full understanding of immune regulatory processes without considering the organism and the internal and external environment in which immune responses take place.’

The immune system possesses ‘cognitive’ functions too, in that it ‘knows’ how to recognize healthy versus harmful visitors. There is no isolated, circumscribed, static, rigidly self-defined identity designated as ‘the self’.  ‘Self/non-self’ separation recedes as a governing principle, even with immunity, when it is appreciated as both outer-directed against the deleterious and inner-directed in an on-going communicative system of internal homeostasis. From this dual perspective, immune function falls on a continuum of reactivity, where the character of the immune object is determined by the context in which it appears, not by its character as other per se. Tauber asserts that more simplistic models have too often obscured this cardinal lesson and writes, ‘The “me” (or “I”) serves as the variable linguistic label of a function of possessive identity, which in the translation of Freud’s das Ich has been forever called (inaccurately) “the ego”.’

  • Neurobiology

‘The mind is the basis for everything. Everything is created by my mind, and is ruled by my mind. When I speak or act with impure thoughts, suffering follows me As the wheel of the cart follows the hoof of the ox. The mind is the basis for everything. Everything is created by my mind and is ruled by my mind. When I speak or act with a clear awareness, happiness stays with me. Like my own shadow, it is unshakeable.’ Dhammapada 1-2

If we’re looking for happiness or fulfillment, the place to look for it is inside. Rick Hanson, Ph.D. wrote an insightful article called, ‘Mind Changing Brain Changing Mind’. In this, he summarizes important facts, which provide the basis for understanding the biological processes that accompany meditation; and the importance for a disciplined Bhavana or mind-culture practitioner to attain wholesome results on the journey for mental purification. Recognizing how our thoughts influence the structure of our brain, and vice versa, as well as how our cognitive construction of a ‘self’ are only a creation of our neural networks, can support us on our journey to Enlightenment. Research is beginning to clarify the circular, interdependent relationship between the brain and the mind. The Citta, or mind, also alters both the brain’s physical structure and functional organization. In his article, Hanson defines mind as being, ‘The flow of information through the nervous system, most of which is forever unconscious’.

As the synaptic connections strengthen in response to the increased activity, and new synapses form for new activities. Through meditation and other concentrated thought processes, we can use our mind to build neural structures and increase particular regions of the brain’s mass. This can be highly beneficial for building skillful mental states.  Within the vast networks of the brain, the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) has been found to be the area that manages what is called ‘effortful attention’. When we practice the four foundations of mindfulness, we use the ACC; performing Metta, which stimulates the ACC and strengthens it (the region can increase in mass). Meditation also strengthens another region of the brain called the insula, which supports us in our ability to become more empathic with others.

Research has indicated that the deep, non-conscious structure of the brain is actually the most significantly active when thoughts surface. When you observe your thoughts, you can see the outer signs of neural activity.  Interestingly, after thought but just before new thought forms, there’s an ‘empty’ quiet moment, where a structure hasn’t yet congealed. This can be a productive meditation practice of staying with the empty moment and even trying to expand it.

Once a representation has formed and become fully established in our mind. The representation can quickly become identified as a subject and as an aspect of our ‘self’. Once we identify with the image, it becomes difficult to un-identify with. Even these images related to ‘self’ are just neural patterns, these patterns exist but they’re impermanent, dependently arisen and mere constructions of our brain’s cognitive apparatus. While the ‘self’ seems real and substantial, it helps our non-identification practice to remember that it is only evolving and impermanent patterns in the mind and brain. The ‘self’ exists in the way that memory allows it to exist, and like all physical-biological processes, memories are transient, illusionary, and it therefore is foolish to cling to them. To quote Hanson: Whatever of self-there is in the brain, it is compounded and distributed, not coherent and unified; it is variable and transient, not stable and enduring. In other words, the conventional notion of self is a mythical creature.’ As we grow to understand that the representations of ‘self’ are only fictional, we can then start taking our ‘self’, ‘with a pinch of salt’. Neuropsychology supports the idea that we have the freedom and possibility to condition and create our particular mind states, which are supported by our nurtured brain structures. After the gradual ripening to a maturation of our habits, latent tendencies, non-identification with the subjective ownership of experience etc. we no longer respond immaturely or egotistically to our desires and aversions. This doesn’t mean that we become emotionless and detached automatons. Through the transformative process, there becomes a greater awareness and respect for our body, a serenity of the emotions, increased kindness of the heart, flexible and realistic attitudes. More genuine human relationships grow out of a deeper awareness. In the end, an Arahant can be described with two words: simple and stable.

  • Body electric

Our body is capable of generating electricity, and this ability is actually a key part of our achieving health. Everything we do is controlled and enabled by electrical signals (nervous system, brain). Electrical signals in our body are responsible for controlling the rhythm of our heartbeat, the movement of blood and much more. We are electrical beings. Any breakdown in our body’s electrical system is a real problem. For example, when you get an electric shock, it interrupts the normal operation of the system. We can generate electricity since our bodies are huge masses of atoms, with protons positive charge, neutrons neutral charge and electrons negative charge, and there is a flow of electrons.

Almost all of our cells are capable of generating electricity.

This electric field is detectable (EEG). We can generate between 10 and 100 millivolts. Not only your brain, but our entire body has an electric field. Anywhere there’s a nerve cell, there’s electricity. Being an electric field, all those overlying electric vibration patterns that comprise your brain waves are governed by the same equations governing the electromagnetic spectrum, light, particles and everything else in the universe. Your thoughts are formed in this electric field.

The thoughts you are thinking of, the words your mind is processing, are all electrical impulses that can be measured if you had a few wires hooked up between your head and a machine. So, thoughts are energy, the same as everything else.  Some even hypothesize, that the higher the frequency of our thought/brain wave vibration/ rhythm, the higher our consciousness (and vice versa).

  • The electrodynamics of health

‘Most of the fields surrounding the cells and us are invisible, but their effects are not. It is time to look for them as this regards our understanding about ourselves.’ Dr. Daniel Fels ‘There is a strong evidence that EMFs and radio/ microwave frequencies are associated with accelerated aging (enhanced cell death and cancer) and moods, depression, suicide, anger, rage and violence, primarily through alteration of cellular calcium ions and the melatonin/serotonin balance.’ Dr. Neil Cherry

  • The human body as a complex energetic system

Science confirms that in addition to biochemical processes, the body is suffused by a quantum electrodynamics field, interacting on many levels of subtle energy, patterns and significance. Our bodies are networks of complex energy fields that interact with the physical and cellular systems. There is a hierarchy of subtle energy systems that coordinate electro-physiological and hormonal functions as well as a cellular structure within the body. Consciousness is an energetic form that is closely related to the cellular expression of the physical body. Disease states may arise when energy systems are out of balance. As indicated by Pokorný, fundamentally disturbed electrodynamics field characterizes cancer cells: ‘Mitochondrial dysfunction (that develops before the appearance of the cancer malignant properties) and diminished power and coherence of the electrodynamics field may be the most pronounced differences between the healthy and the cancer cells in the clinical phase.’

Pokorný asserts that high-capacity information transfer between the body organs and the brain may be mediated by the electromagnetic field. The human bio-energy field is proposed to have a magnetic structure. It ultimately determines our chemistry, metabolism and cell structure. Some suggest that electromagnetic field imbalances (or outer influences) are linked to cancers and other illnesses, such as leukemia. These hypotheses are often dismissed because of a presumed absence of possible biological mechanisms’ to account for the illnesses. Pokorný’s model represents a valuable source to understand the sensitivity of organisms to weak electromagnetic fields.

The unpredictability of electromagnetic fields is perfectly described in the ‘butterfly effect’.

The existence and functionality of electrodynamics fields is not new. In the 1930s, American biologist Harold Saxton Burr proposed that all living organisms are molded and controlled by electrodynamics. Then, in the 1950s, a researcher named Becker showed that all organisms’ bodies have a Direct Current (DC) field. These fields are in addition to the accepted knowledge of the electrical activities of the brain and heart. Becker further proposed in the 1960s that an electrical communication system exists within all living things. As the body uses electromagnetic signals of different frequencies and to different extents to intercommunicate, it would be surprising if external electromagnetic fields did not have an effect. It is becomingly increasingly evident that electrodynamics and electric currents are involved in intercommunication throughout the body.

  • Effects of electromagnetic fields on the body

Recently, there has been an increase in radiofrequency (RF) exposure from wireless devices as well as reports of hypersensitivity and diseases related to the electromagnetic field (EMF) and RF exposure. The American Academy of Environmental Medicine (AAEM) has documented numerous studies showing this exposure has adverse effects on health. It is well known that long-range EMF or RF forces can act over large distances to set a biological system oscillating in phase with the frequency of the electromagnetic field. Even passive resonant circuits can imprint potentially long-lasting effects of a frequency imprint into water and biological systems. RF exposure causing changes associated with degenerative neurological diseases such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) has been reported. Epidemiological studies of RF exposure occurring non-locally, have reported neurological and cognitive disorders. Pulsed electromagnetic frequencies (EMF) have been shown to consistently provoke neurological symptoms in subjects, while exposure to continuous frequencies did not. From such a perspective, it seems increasingly clear that a quantum physics model is necessary to fully understand and appreciate how and why EMF and RF fields are harmful to living beings.

Specific frequencies of electromagnetic radiation regulate DNA, RNA and protein synthesis (assemble), alter protein shape and function and control gene regulation, cell division, cell differentiation, hormones secretion, nerve growth and function.

Thoughts, the mind’s energy, directly influence how the brain controls the body: they represent an incredibly powerful form of energy that can activate or inhibit the function of a cell’s proteins via constructive or destructive interference. ‘Every cell in our body has a characteristic vibration. …When they vibrate at a different rate and pattern, the body functions less well and the person feels not so good […] every thought is a pattern of energy characterized by a certain vibratory rate and pattern […]’

Our conscious mind experiences the chemical communication signals between cells as emotions. If positive thinking and emotions are good for you, imagine what negative thinking can do.

  • Electromagnetic radiation effects on people from everyday electronics

ELF-MF and radiofrequency electromagnetic fields do seem to influence our circadian rhythms. Numerous studies have reported changes in sleep patterns, and melatonin and cortisol secretion after exposure to these fields.  There is a wealth of evidence to support the claim that the everyday technologies we use today emit electromagnetic radiation that can penetrate our body.  For years now, research has linked EM radiation to serious diseases like cancer, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and others. For example, after an extensive review of more than 2,000 such studies, the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences concluded  that EMFs,should be regarded as possible carcinogens.’

  • Why is radiation dangerous?

Our bodies use electromagnetic fields to function properly. Robert Becker wrote that our cells actually communicate with each other via bioelectrical signals and electromagnetic fields. These natural EMFs help regulate important biochemical processes of all kinds. Maintaining balance in those cellular electromagnetic fields is crucial to our physical health. Magnetic radiation (which is part of any EMF), can easily penetrate the body. The body’s electrical signals can easily be affected by ambient radio waves, microwaves and other. Artificial EMFs can change the frequency of the body’s electrical fields, distorting the balance and alter its communications. Even when we leave that strong electromagnetic field environment, our body’s systems tend to store electromagnetic radiations within the cells as electromagnetic oscillations.  Mobile phones, for example, have powerful EMFs. Numerous studies conducted have shown that overexposure to EMFs can lead to weakened immunities, lowered resistance to bacterial and viral infections and cancer. While hotly debated the BioInitiative Report (2007), concluded that the existing standards for public safety are completely inadequate to protect your health.

Further research is being conducted into the possibility of a connection existing between different types of health risks. Accordingly, a recent study reported the results from a series of experimental studies aimed at discovering the effects of low-intensity radiofrequency radiation in the metabolism of living cells. In particular, oxidative stress was observed, which represents, ‘An imbalance between the production of reactive oxygen species (ROS) and antioxidant defense.’  Oxidative stress mechanisms are known as a key factor in the onset of cancer.

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Life Cherishes Itself

30 Dec

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INTERDENDENCE of Humans and Nature: We Are One

21 Jul

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As I have written in my newest book- The Buddha’s Radical Psychology: Explorations, there are direct implications for ecological ethics throughout the Buddha’s teachings. There is a holism. The Buddha emphasized the interdependence of human and non-human life, the importance of the ecosystem and of natural processes. By rejecting the concept of a substantial ‘self’, and comprehension of the interdependency of all phenomena, the importance of the distinction we usually make between ourselves and other living beings lessens. Such an attitude views the world as a vast interdependent field, in which no life form, no matter how insignificant it may seem, is an outsider. There is a state of connectedness and interdependence of all phenomena. The significant realization that there is no independent ‘self’– that the perception of ‘self’, of ‘me’, of ‘mine’ is only an egotistical representation, therefore leads every person to inter-dependently co-exist. Undercutting the usual ignorant anthropomorphic view of the validity of the successful domination and control of the environment by humans, naturalist Aldo Leopold claimed that, ‘The biotic (life factor) mechanism is so complex that its working may never be fully understood.’ There is a deeper ecology that recognizes the inherent worth of other beings aside from their utility.

Another writer who expressed a similar deep view of ecology was R.G.H. Siu:

‘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 unfavourable from the standpoint of man, for example, he does not have a prior claim to adjustment on the part of the other elements of the complex. The others have just as much “right” to demand modification of his behaviour as he has on theirs. All are one in Nature. There is an appreciation of this Oneness and the delicate interrelationships of its diffusions.’

So humans are not an isolated island in a sea of existence, but rather their being is shared ultimately with all. This becomes a clear and apparent relationship with all existence through the Buddha’s teaching of anatta.