How to Make Eastern Self-Mastery Philosophy Scientific

 A Taoist friend of mine once told me: “Discipline the body to discipline the mind, discipline the mind to discipline the spirit.”

The subject here is of self-mastery. In eastern spirituality self-mastery and knowing yourself is the key to finding enlightenment.

Enlightenment means to transcend the limits we perceive of our physical bodies, to connect with our inner-selves, which is thought to be the truest nature of ourselves. The inner-self is believed to be our direct link to the Universal Source, from which we all came. The idea is that God isn’t some detached, Supreme Being overseeing all of us. God- or in Taoism, the Tao, is the point of nothingness from which we all came. We all came from this same source, so we are all part of this and connected through this. Remember hearing the phrase, “I am one with the Universe.”? All it means is that we are no different than anything else in the Universe, because we all came from the same source, and are all connected by it.

In Taoism, and even in Buddhism, to find our true nature, underneath all these false labels and titles we’ve given ourselves, is to experience true freedom. That freedom is described as reaching a state of Bliss or Nirvana.

This could be a good point to link the idea of the Tao- everything coming from nothing, and The Big Bang Theory, but I want to get back to the subject of self-mastery, and the path to enlightenment. How can we root the idea of attaining self-mastery in science? I believe the answer to mostly all of this, lies in understanding our brains.

What is meant by ‘discipline the body to discipline the mind’?

I’ve been told otherwise that you can’t discipline the body unless your mind is disciplined. This argument made sense to me, because it seems having the self control to eat right, and exercise, and not get into habits that are bad for your health, takes a lot of mind power to make the right choices, on a consistent basis. But then, what gives us the power of mind? Maybe the order here isn’t as less clear-cut as people think.

In recent months, I’ve become increasingly more and more interested in learning about neurotransmitters, and how they affect us.

Neurotransmitters are chemicals that “communicate information throughout our brain and body. They relay signals between nerve cells, called neurons. The brain uses neurotransmitters to tell your heart to beat, your lungs to breathe, and your stomach to digest. They can also affect mood, sleep, concentration, weight, and can cause adverse symptoms when they are out of balance… Stress, poor diet, neurotoxins, genetic predisposition, drug (prescription and recreational), alcohol and caffeine usage can cause these levels to be out of optimal range.” [http://www.neurogistics.com]

Imagine- just eating healthy, exercising, and avoiding bad habits could be enough to keep your brain chemicals balanced, so your body and mind can function properly.

There’s some mind power behind finding the self-control, but in finding this self-control and taking care of our bodies, we take care of our mind concurrently, which gives us the right mood and feelings of motivation mentally to keep taking care of our bodies, and to get our emotions in check, once our minds are in balance. When we achieve this mind-body balance, we can become free of these physical, mundane burdens.

Look at two major issues we suffer from as a nation. Body-wise we have the nationwide obesity problem, and mentally we have a problem with depression. Wouldn’t it feel freeing, to be rid of these problems? Imagine a world without being bombarded with depression pill ads on television, and all those lose-weight quick pills and schemes.

I understand that there are other things that cause depression and are attributed to obesity issues, but once we all understand how our minds work, and what it takes to make them healthy, we can get ourselves on the right track to correct these problems. We can’t expect to fix everything at once, but all we have to do is make small steps towards making better decisions.

Self-mastery is about knowing yourself- inside and out. People get discouraged, and seem to think they need a ‘hero’ to come and save them or pick them up, but in actuality the only one who can really pick you up is yourself. Yes, maybe you do have good friends and family to love and support you, and that’s great, but they can’t make your decisions for you, and they can’t be the things you use to make yourself feel fulfilled.

When I was younger I saw a poster that read, “Fill your cup first, and then fill others with the overflow.”

Back then, I thought this line of thinking was selfish. Now I realize, it’s not selfish, because the only way you can truly give of yourself fully is when you are no longer trying to use others to make yourself feel full. When you don’t want or need others to feel fulfilled and you give just for the sake of giving, true compassion is found.

Though self-mastery is about the self, when we all apply the practice of achieving this state, it will be for the betterment of us all.

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Art, Religion, Science, and The Tree of Life

Found the Tree of Life in Martinez, California!

Albert Einstein has said, “All religions, arts and sciences are branches of the same tree.”

The relationship between religion and science, is easy to see, since the two are often seen as opposing sides- in the media, and in various online forums. With art thrown in, however, I can see people getting confused.

I look at Einstein’s quote like this: If humans were the tree- science would be the physical body, religion the mind, and art would be the soul.

Just as said, by a character in Terry Brooks’ novel, The Voyage of the Jerle Shannara: Antrax: “A man is three things: A mind to think, a body to act and a spirit to feel.”

(For more about Terry Brooks novels visit http://www.terrybrooks.net/novels/.)

When I talk about religion here, I’m not talking about the kind where you go to mass, and read a bible, and are instructed to follow a set of ‘commandments.’

I don’t believe that’s the kind, Einstein, was referring to either.

I’m talking about spirituality- which isn’t exactly, the same as religion.

Merriam-Webster.com, defines religious as relating to or manifesting faithful devotion to an acknowledged ultimate reality or deity, and spiritual as of, relating to, consisting of, or affecting the spirit.

Basically, religion, is devotion to a collective understanding, of ultimate truth and/or a deity. Spirituality is about a person’s spirit.

It’s the religious devotees, that are in conflict with science.

Both sides are driven by the subject of truth. The difference is, these religions are told their Bible is the truth, and don’t question it. Science is about discovering truth, through research and experimentation.

I stated, spirituality is about a person’s spirit.

For me, a person’s spirit is the part of us that ponders and wants to know- Why are we here? How did we get here?

In the beginning was the spirit, that asked the questions, and that spirit became a scientist, who decided to take charge, and find the answers.

That’s not to say, spiritualists simply pass the torch, and let the scientists ‘gather and conquer.’ The spiritualists, still have their own answers to seek.

While scientists are busy, finding the why and how, spiritualists are looking for the purpose.

What is our purpose for being here? What is the purpose of the Universe?

It’s like a cup of water. Scientists understand why the cup is able to hold the water. Knowing how and why it works, is all the scientists needs, and wants to know. The spiritualist wants to know, why the cup was meant to hold the water in the first place.

Where is the art, in all of this?

The art is the soul- it’s the feeling and heart behind all of this, that’s beyond thoughts and mechanics.

The scientists asks ‘how and why rainbows form,’ the spiritualists asks ‘what’s its purpose,’ and the art is the part of us that doesn’t care why, or what it’s for.

The art is the part beyond speech, when we’re swept away by the beauty of it all, and enjoy the moment. It’s the awe factor.

The art is what makes it all feel magical and precious- like when you’re lying in the grass, gazing up at the stars, in simple child-like wonder and amazement.

Imagine how dull, and robotic, everything would seem, without art?

What would our lives be if we never asked the questions?

Science, religion and art, are all branches of the same tree, because the tree is The Tree of Life, and Life wouldn’t be as it is without any of these aspects.

If neuroscientist can prove that visiting the ocean has true physiological benefits, will that be enough to encourage people to care more about ocean conservation?

Photo of Dr. Wallace J. Nichols. Photo credited to Neil Ever Osborne - found at http://www.thedailygreen.com.

While sitting in the waiting room, accompanying my Mom, at her doctor’s appointment, I stumbled across an article, printed in the December 2011 issue of Outside magazine, titled “The touchy-feely (But totally scientific!) methods of Wallace J. Nichols,” written by Michael Roberts.

(The article can be found online, if you click on the following link: http://www.outsideonline.com/outdoor-adventure/nature/The-Touchy-Feely-But-Totally-Scientific-Methods-Of-Wallace-J-Nichols.html?page=all)

Dr. Wallace J. Nichols, is a marine biologist, and a Research Associate, at the California Academy of Sciences. The academy’s website can be found at www.calacademy.org.

The article is about Nichols’ goal, to urge neuroscientists to study the brain processes that happen in humans, when they are in the presence of the ocean. Nichols is hoping that this will prove that there are true, physiological, mental health benefits for people to visit, and get in touch with the ocean. According to the article, he feels that, rather than using scare tactics many environmentalists have resorted to using, to stimulate peoples’ concern for the environment, he wants to appeal to peoples’ sense of wanting to feel well, and reduce stress, by showing them through neuroscience, that visiting the ocean is good for their health. Much like how, as the article points out, politicians and marketers have learned, that they have a better influence when they appeal to peoples’ hearts, rather than just trying to meet them intellectually.

In the article, Nichols is quoted, “If I walk into a meeting of a coastal zoning commission and say, ‘I think people listening to the ocean is good for them,’ you’d see all the eyeballs in the room rolling… but if I walk in and say, ‘This is my friend the Stanford neuroscientist, and his research using brain scans shows that sitting by the ocean has the same calming effects as meditation on reducing stress,’ suddenly access to the coast becomes a public-health issue.”

According to the article, since Nichols isn’t a neuroscientist, himself, and is unable to test his hypotheses, he’s launched a campaign to create a new field of study he calls neuro-conservation. This is where he plans to team up with neuroscientists and conservationists, in an effort to make big changes, in the way ocean conservation efforts go about bringing conservation conscientiousness to the public.

The article’s writer, Michael Roberts, asks: Let’s say neuroscience does demonstrate that sitting by the ocean provides a unique and primal kind of stimulus that washes away stress. Would our reaction necessarily be a strong desire to protect it? Or might we all instead just selfishly want our own Malibu beach pad?

Photo of Dr. Michael Soulé. Photo taken from Soulé's website.

Roberts writes, that these questions sum up the attitude of Dr. Michael Soulé, who pioneered the field of conservation biology in the 1970s and later chaired the environmental-studies program at the University of California at Santa Cruz.

(For more about Soulé, visit his website at: www.michaelsoule.com.)

Roberts quotes Soulé: “I admire Nichols’s work and his excitement, but the field of cognitive neuroscience can lead you to the opposite conclusions.”

Roberts says Soulé believes that emotions drive our behavior, but [Soulé’s] analysis of fMRI studies (functional MRI studies: www.fmri.org/fmri.htm), which allow neuroscientists to observe the brain at work, has him convinced that humans are, as Roberts quotes him, “hardwired to be self-centered and self-biased.”

Roberts writes, Soulé believes understanding why chilling out by the ocean makes us feel great won’t motivate a shift in our fundamentally greedy behavior, and believes we are born to be, as Robert’s quotes him, “good consumers but not good conservationists.”

Roberts gives Nichols response as: Of course we’re self-centered. That’s why knowing the mechanisms behind something that makes us happy is so powerful- it resonates with our innate desire to feel good, whether we get that feeling from sitting on a beach or protecting it. He writes that Nichols argues, understanding what goes on in our brains when we’re in the presence of the ocean can only help us craft a more persuasive conservation agenda.

After reading this article, I’m definitely a new fan of Dr. Nichols. I love that he understands, getting science to the masses, is going to take more than pure facts, and lectures. And also, that he knows, he needs to make real connections, and reach people at a deeper level, and make science more accessible. However, like Soulé, I also have doubts about Nichols hypotheses, being able to really, radically change the pace of ocean conservation efforts. Mainly, because I believe as Soulé said, people are selfish.

I take it back to one of Roberts’ questions: Let’s say neuroscience does demonstrate that sitting by the ocean provides a unique and primal kind of stimulus that washes away stress. Would our reaction necessarily be a strong desire to protect it?

I don’t think so Robert.

Scientist have gathered substantial evidence to prove that, exercise and proper nutrition are good for us, and make us feel better, but we’re still battling, widespread obesity and fast food chains, how’s proving the ocean makes us feel good going to generate more support for its conservation?

I believe the real task here, is not, to find what ‘feel good’ chemicals are released, when people are in the presence of the ocean, but to find out, what in our brains, causes us to actually care about anything, that doesn’t directly, affect our day-to-day lives. Is there a “care chemical” in our brain?

If none specific, what combination of chemicals are needed, or triggered in our brain, to care about something, and actually, want to do something about it?

As author, Eckhart Tolle puts it in his book about self-realization, A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose: …it is likely you won’t feel any emotion when you are told that someone’s car has been stolen, but when it is your car, you will probably feel upset. It is amazing how much emotion a little mental concept like “my” can generate.

(For more information about Eckhart Tolle, and his writings, his website is www.eckharttolle.com.)

Maybe, we can just mind-warp our entire, human population to become possessive of the ocean, and find a way to convince everyone it’s not THE ocean, but THEIR ocean, and make them care if it’s clean – but then again, the word clean is subjective to what degree of cleanliness is going to be clean enough in peoples’ individual opinions of what’s clean and not clean.

I know I’m not sounding too hopeful, but I’ve learned there’s a greater chance for disappointment in being hopeful, and would rather now, just be realistic.

If miracles happen, and Dr. Nichols, is able to make a dramatic switch, in conservation strategies, and is able to accomplish his mission, he’s set-off to do, then I’ll be beyond amazed. Until that day though, I’m not getting my hopes up.

On a positive note though, I do love Nichols idea, and I wish him the best on his campaign.

Nichols has a website- bluemarbles.org, that is a small jumping point for those interested in helping Nichols with his campaign.

I may not want to get my hopes up, but I am willing to play the blue game and help the cause. Nichols, regardless of his results, has a great message to share with people, and I’d love to go to one of his seminars.

You can also find more about Nichols at wallacejnichols.org, Facebook, Twitter, and blogging for The Huffington Post (Here’s the link to his blog: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/wallace-j-nichols).