Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Changing meditations for changing times

During my life there has been times when I have felt a special affinity for a particular type of meditation/ visualization or that it came naturally to me or developed within me as per my needs of the moment.

I was thinking about it and suddenly remembered, long back it was about the felt sense of all beings forever connected. Only later I think I read about the metaphor of 'Indra's web' where each one of us is like a single knot in that web. Along with that there was a feeling that we never lose anyone, since we are forever there with each other.

The second time it was of good will for every one, especially starting from my practice at that time of karuna-matri meditation. It was like opening of heart and a higher energy of good will and love sustaining me and everyone.

And nowadays its more about connecting with the empty space between every thought, the space which hold everything in a room, the space which hold the earth, the space which is always the container and thus larger than whatever it contains.
Just now as I was reading another article about Mellen-Thomas Benedict's self report of his NDE, something very similar is described in one of the paragraphs.
Where is the void? I know. The void is inside and outside everything. You, right now even while you live, are always inside and outside the void simultaneously. You don't have to go anywhere or die to get there. The void is the vacuum or nothingness between all physical manifestations. The SPACE between atoms and their components. Modern science has begun to study this space between everything. They call it zero-point. Whenever they try to measure it, their instruments go off the scale, or to infinity, so to speak. They have no way, as of yet, to measure infinity accurately. There is more of the zero space in your own body and the universe than anything else!

A neurosurgeon's first person account of near-death experience

Very interesting account of Consciousness beyond known brain functions. As Dr. Alexander says...

There is no scientific explanation for the fact that while my body lay in coma, my mind—my conscious, inner self—was alive and well. While the neurons of my cortex were stunned to complete inactivity by the bacteria that had attacked them, my brain-free consciousness journeyed to another, larger dimension of the universe: a dimension I’d never dreamed existed and which the old, pre-coma me would have been more than happy to explain was a simple impossibility.

Then he goes on to say...

I’m not the first person to have discovered evidence that consciousness exists beyond the body. Brief, wonderful glimpses of this realm are as old as human history. But as far as I know, no one before me has ever traveled to this dimension (a) while their cortex was completely shut down, and (b) while their body was under minute medical observation, as mine was for the full seven days of my coma.

All the chief arguments against near-death experiences suggest that these experiences are the results of minimal, transient, or partial malfunctioning of the cortex. My near-death experience, however, took place not while my cortex was malfunctioning, but while it was simply off. This is clear from the severity and duration of my meningitis, and from the global cortical involvement documented by CT scans and neurological examinations. According to current medical understanding of the brain and mind, there is absolutely no way that I could have experienced even a dim and limited consciousness during my time in the coma, much less the hyper-vivid and completely coherent odyssey I underwent.
For the rest... read the article :)

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Life of Pi II

Returned back from my favorite Pondi, as if, back from a trip home.
Came across this review of an upcoming movie based on a book 'Life of Pi'. Interestingly the story starts with Pondicherry. Five years back I had written a post on this book. Here is what the director of this new movie has to say...
“I loved the book,” he said, “but it’s very hard to crack. I thought you can’t make a movie about religion but it can be a movie about the value of storytelling and how that brings structure and wisdom to life. This is a coming-of-age story. It’s about taking a leap of faith.”

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Indian Joint Families: Pains & gains of a naturalistic social security system

Lately in my psychotherapy sessions many women (in their 50s) were referred for pain... most often with complaints of back pain.
I noticed some common pattern in their respective lives - early marriage, joint family set-up, critical in-laws (although some had at least one in-law who was very supportive). This coupled with high sensitivity to approval (almost socialized for that), being a full-time home maker, husbands being busy with successful businesses (often from Vaishya caste), children who have individuated and might be ready to leave the nest, life revolving around domestic duties where they and their contributions are taken for granted / minimized.
While listening to them I often got a sense that I have heard the story before. There is a dry deadness to it all.  Its just an endless cycle of domesticity, kitchen, thankless caring and boredom. As if there is little to look forward to...
Often 'pain', debilitating pain, is what brings the family together, around the oft-neglected 'mom'.

(One also had more horror in her life with series of losses, abuse, helplessness and guilt about not being able to protect own son from similar abuse).

The other group is that of personal growth circle which I run for my students. Here I encourage them to share their life stories and its eye opening or even inspiration to hear from them. Its a very diverse group with majority coming from a rural area/small Indian town, a couple with urban middle-class background and few others coming from beyond Indian sub-continent.
During the last session I suddenly realized many of these students lost their father in their childhood, one even his mother. Most of them, and few other too (due to other reasons) grew up with other relatives, grandparents, maternal/ paternal uncles etc, and were treated well (almost like foster homes, but still had a sense of reliability and trust, which is missing in the lives of children stuck in government bureaucratic child support services of western /developed countries).
Having such close community network, the joint family system, most of them grew up into decently secure individuals with happy memories of their lives with their cousins. Into resilient young adults, with a solid value system, and a trust in the universe, the way this world runs and who were able to ignore some of the negative life events and move further. Isn't it heart-warming?


Such are the pains and gains of an old system, which on one hand can hold people, especially women in narrow spaces, and on the other hand can provide support and security in much better ways than an informal, seemingly uncaring, bureaucratic system.

Monday, October 22, 2012

If you love something... revisiting marshmallow study

Have you ever heard this famous saying, 'If you love someone set her/him free, if s/he comes back s/he is yours, if s/he doesn't, s/he never was'.
What if you love 'something' ;)

I think this advice can be used in other many other life contexts requiring ability for delaying gratification. One very famous study (Marshmallow study) looked at this ability itself in pre-school children (i.e. ability for self-control) and correlated it with their life success after almost 2 decades. The results got really famous and got quoted everywhere 
(In popular culture I read there is a movie with similar theme, 'Five year engagement' with heroine being an experimental psychologist :)

Some other studies have tried to teach ways for coping with the intensity of needs - in the experimental setting by hiding the marshmallow or thinking about the bigger gain (with moderate effects), and in the real life by developing self control and patience.
The largest effect came from a new study (published in journal Cognition), which manipulated environment's reliability. When in 2 earlier interactions the experimenter was reliable (reliably gave larger rewards after making the child wait), it resulted in child delaying the need to eat the marshmallow immediately and waiting for more later. They say children are sensitive and make rational decisions, especially here about the trustworthiness of the environment.  

And now I can't resist myself from extrapolating this result... to the realm of human & mystical ;)
I mean what about the 'trust' on not only other humans, but also on Universe and its laws, God etc? Especially when you see humans around you are helpless and there are larger forces which influences the outcome of any situation, in short-term, in long-term, or even cosmic-terms (think of belief in reincarnation). 
I guess this trust, this belief in 'just & fair' universal laws (such as that of 'karma', 'what goes around, comes around' etc) helps a large group of people to have self-control and tolerance for situations which are really miserable ...
We need to do a study :)

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Autism & the Technical Mind

Here is what Scientific American has to say ... (btw, the author's theories on autism being extreme of male-brain or systems thinking, were initially considered to be controversial).

  • Silicon Valley and other tech-savvy communities report exceptionally high rates of autism. These trends might reflect a link between genes that contribute to autism and genes behind technical aptitude.
  • When two technical-minded individuals pair up, their children may inherit genes for useful cognitive skills, as well as genes involved in the development of autism.
  • Furthermore, high levels of testosterone in the womb may play a role in the development of both technical and autistic minds.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Cloud Atlas & Psychology of reincarnation

Recently read the review of Cloud Atlas ...
OOO... loved reading about it... waiting to watch it :)

A lot of religions believe in re-incarnation (Hindus & Buddhist for sure).
Some scientific research too has been done so far. In Indian sub-continent the collaborator of an international project was one of my ex-professor (her work was actually on spontaneous memories of past life and factual information in those memories). She has written few books including 2 volumes of 'Can the Mind Survive Beyond Death? In Pursuit of Scientific Evidence'

Although research in this field are hardly enough to prove anything... 
But then some of the most valuable or beautiful aspects of our humanity are hard to measure and prove. (Disclosure: I do believe in multiple births as per my religious & cultural background).

To lot many people it certainly gives a way of meaning-making about random events of this world... a sense of larger / cosmic fairness & justice.

Often these cultures have an inherent sense of evolution, where souls go through a journey where in each life they learn something and thus grow in their spirit. If it went badly, no problem, you come another time.

Some even hypothesize that probably followers of such belief systems have lesser anxiety about death / hell / heaven, without forgoing the other benefits of religion / spirituality by turning into complete atheist.

As far as I have read, the movie revolves around such themes, of 3 souls evolving through 6 births. (Oh reminds me of so many discussions we have had as well as some weird synchronicities without a closure ... probably postponed for some other birth ;)

Anyway, the movie sounds too good... I wait to watch :)

Thursday, October 18, 2012

This fragile human life

Yesterday, a student from one of the course and later her husband, committed suicide. The news shook everyone in the campus. Classmates, patients, staff, everyone had same question in their mind, why?
They seemed a happy couple... they apparently posted their photos on Facebook that night.

My only interaction with the lady, a medical student, happened few days before the incident, when she came to discuss emotional problems of her cousin who has borderline intelligence and was around for participating in some yoga retreat.
How I wish now that I had some fore-knowledge about her emotional issues... probably I could have provided some 'space' to talk... or probably nothing could have been done... we die when we are meant to ...
Still everyone can try to help another ...

During such times we suddenly wonder, how fragile is this human life and how short our stay here. I wish we would be a little more nice, a little more kind & sensitive toward each other...

May they rest in peace.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Craigslist & Indian matrimonial sites

Almost two years back a series of amusing incidents happened with me somewhat associated with an article in NewYorker magazine, which compared Indian arranged marriages with craigslist. (Till that moment I had no clue what the hell was craigslist ;) Its a website for classifieds and has a very international presence, especially in US. 

However, I do have some clue about Indian matrimonial sites. I have vicariously experienced the roller-coaster rides some of my friends have gone through in their experiences with these sites, through SOS phone call and late night discussions. 

Lately one of my friends who is spouse-hunting gives me long-distance distress calls to discuss the women he meets on such sites. Either they are too sweet but un-interesting, or too interesting but very confused, or out of his league all together, or any one with whom he connects reminds him of his ex-flame, for whom he still pines. (It is really sad to see him stuck in such a situation, for he is one of the most loving, generous and self-aware man I have ever met ... well, from engineering profession, although I have found a few such friends :). 

Actually, in this digital era these sites are rich source of psychological data too. Years back, one of my ex-professor had done a psycho-social study of newspaper matrimonial ads and one may be tempted to extend it further now and analyse what people are looking for currently, beyond old fashioned 'fair, homely, girl' & 'well-settled doctor/engineer/IAS boy'. What is in their list! ? Is it a reflection of changing psycho-social reality of Indian population. 

One American dating site (OKcupid) has done serious amount of data mining and come up with very interesting results &write-ups ... time for Indian sites to do the same ;)
(Although in such cases, statistically analyzed crazy ideas may get fed into the public value system ... a self-fulfilling prophecy, no?). 

One more interesting aspect which I am often tempted to study is how people make meaning out of their past relationships, assessed from their online narratives. Long back I noticed this trend on Orkut, where people would fill out a question, 'From my past relationship I learned...'. 
Now, some people take it further on matrimonial sites, while posting their expected list of attributes in the prospective partner ... not only what they expect, but also sometimes in bold letters they write what they do not approve of... indicating their current state of mind, the angry,the betrayed, the depressed, the heart broken. Guess they have had enough of it last time :) 

Well, I'm reminded of dear old Freud who said, 'He that has eyes to see and ears to hear may convince himself that no mortal can keep a secret. If his lips are silent, he chatters with his fingertips; betrayal oozes out of him at every pore'. 

Personal growth circle

Yesterday night eleven of us, me & my students, sat together in a circle... with a plan to have an ice-breaking moment from where we were supposed to proceed ---> to the agenda of self-growth :)

Well, that was the plan, if God-forbid, things go too smoothly... as planned.
I really didn't want it that way! If it goes like that, then something is seriously wrong ;)

I had asked everyone to bring a piece of their favorite poetry, or a quote which they love, find inspirational.
The first few moments were clumsy, with students of heavy spirituality courses, talking as if giving a presentation. Thankfully it started getting better.
One of the students shared some thing deeply personal, without realizing what he has brought to the group. It was about his childhood losses (of both parents) and how life has not let him down (by sustaining him, people giving him food...) (amazing simplicity of his being). Although he thought he did so by walking out of an ashram, (scared of old-age loneliness) where he initially had joined as a monk. Overall, for me it was so inspiring, expanding of my own perspective ... Till now he was just one of my students, now I see him in a different light.
It brought out some other student's pain too and I ended up in my therapy room till 9.30pm. Well, life happens!

Some of my students have been coming to me individually to discuss their lives, share their experiences/ confusions, take some guidance ... and one of the most common issue they struggle with is that of 'loss'. Single or multiple, serial or parallel...

But the language of spirituality, especially 'jnana yoga' dismisses, minimizes or even refuses to acknowledge pain in its full 'subjective' dimension. It is true pain can pass like a cloud across blue sky, when one is in an expanded consciousness or is well, Enlightened ... but it doesn't help someone struggling with it :(

If pain is there then obviously one is not feeling enlightened in that moment, period. It will be an act of charity towards oneself, if we just accept it. Otherwise it often leads to denial, conflict & self-hatred.

I am planning to focus the next session on this issue. Of course, if God forbid, things go as per my mind's agenda :)

Although I might get some or other chance to bring up this topic, since instead of earlier planned once a week session, now the frequency of these meetings will be on every alternate day, on popular demand!

Looking forward to it... probably finally I should start a separate blog for applied Indian Psychology, no? ;)

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Yoga, Ayurveda & Harvard

Here I came across this new piece that Harvard has written to Patanjali yogapeeth for a collaboration, especially for starting some courses in Yoga and Ayurveda. There is increasing research suggesting benefits of Indian practices for health and wellness, and its being applied in context of children as well as people struggling with problems like PTSD.
Coming back to Ramdev baba, in spite of many criticisms I still feel he and his group really made a difference for public health in India & probably world. Most health professionals in India had this experience of one of their patients walking in their clinic with miracle stories of their recoveries through yoga. I was initially skeptic, till i had too many anecdotes. My own mom's eye sight improved as a side effect of yoga.
Although the problem with televised free yoga is that, sometimes people do not know what asana/ pranayama to do and how. It requires close supervision, especially for those who have a physical illness. My diabetic dad stopped pranayama completely after experiencing giddiness. He restarted only after a 2 week expensive retreat in my current campus, where he and my mom were trained into it all, once again under supervision.
Who can stop something to become elitist when its all over hollywood/bollywood ;)

Coming to ayurveda, well my dad's western medicine for diabetes was completely stopped after 2 weeks of ayuredic medicines in the same retreat. He is living normally now, but we will need to supervise his blood sugar for few more months.

It is inherently difficult to do research studies in Ayurveda or similar traditional medicines, especially because of their individualized approach to treatment. I recently heard a wonderful doctor Dr. Ram Manohar whose research collaboration with some American universities was path breaking. They even run a digital helpline DHARA.

Ok, this is on the physical part. There is far too much of research lit. on meditations. Although there might also be an effect similar to 'regression to mean' where everything which is wrong, improves with these practices. But little more...

And here comes the idea that there is lot more to offer, if we look deeper. Which is the kind of possibilities in Indian Psychology. I am teaching modern psychology to students of Ayurveda & Yoga and its getting more and more fun to discuss how where modern psychology leaves, the ancient Indian psychology often takes off.
I'm actually getting more clear in my mind and connecting various ideas as I teach. Well, I guess the center for Applied Indian Psychology should work now. Its high time :)
Or I need to start it myself if everyone else is too old, or too young or too busy :)

Friday, October 12, 2012

Are schools injurious to health?

Found a really nice article on education by John Taylor Gatto. (This one is so similar to what Dr. Matthijs wrote, Are schools injurious to health? in the book Child & adolescent mental health). 

Mr. Gatto got NewYork State teacher of the award for 1989, 1990 & 1991. He has spoken of 'The Psychopathic School' which 'Dumb Us Down'. And the 'Seven-Lessons' that are taught in all public schools by all teachers in America (I guess everywhere in modern world), whether they know it or not. 

1. Confusion: Schools presents an incoherent ensemble of information that the child needs to memorize to stay in school. Apart from the tests and trials that programming is similar to the television, it fills almost all the "free" time of children. One sees and hears something, only to forget it again.

2. Class position: One comes to know their place, and learn to envy and fear the better and have contempt for the dumb.

3. Indifference: When the bell rings, drop whatever they have been doing and move to next.

4. Emotional dependency: With stars & red checks, smiles & frowns, children learn to surrender their will to a predestinated chain of commands.

5. Intellectual dependency: To wait for better trained other people for making meaning of their own lives. And also to learn to think with minimum resistance and some enthusiasm, the way it is assigned to them. 

6. Provisional self-esteem: It teaches them a kind of self confidence that requires constant confirmation by experts of their worth through report cards.

7. They cannot hide: Because they are constantly watched, supervised, and denied any privacy ... for they cannot be trusted.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

And who is S/he/ It ?

But Savitri answered meeting scorn with scorn,

The mortal woman to the dreadful Lord:

“Who is this God imagined by thy night,

Contemptuously creating worlds disdained,

Who made for vanity the brilliant stars?


Not he who has reared his temple in my thoughts

And made his sacred floor my human heart.

My God is will and triumphs in his paths,

My God is love and sweetly suffers all.

To him I have offered hope for sacrifice

And gave my longings as a sacrament.

(- Sri Aurobindo, Savitri)

Who is he?

On the dumb bosom of this oblivious globe

Although as unknown beings we seem to meet,

Our lives are not aliens nor as strangers join,

Moved to each other by a causeless force.

The soul can recognise its answering soul

Across dividing Time and, on life’s roads

Absorbed wrapped traveller, turning it recovers

Familiar splendours in an unknown face.

(- Sri Aurobindo, Savitri)

Monday, October 8, 2012


Found a nice article on De-growth.
"Does that sound scary? Today it is: degrowth means recession, with its unemployment, inequality and desperation. But it need not be that way. Unemployment could translate into greater leisure for all. Lower consumption could translate into reclaiming life from money, reskilling, reconnecting, sharing."

Love & freedom

All that life brings,
Everyone who walks in,
Teaches me 
Just two things
Love & freedom.

A part of my whole 
Every day, every moment
Comes to me.
And then some more,
Loveless, joyless,
Difficult moments
burden upon me.
All I have learned
Is just to watch,
Tolerate these moments
Dry and harsh.

Holding on to
The deep faith within,
Some day I will go
Beyond just being stoic, 
And I will learn
The final lessons
Of love & freedom.

Me and Calvin

How I feel like him ... somedays :)

Thursday, October 4, 2012

A letter for Be

(This post was removed by the author...)