Walking-Smile Meditation: A Mindful February

Much of Buddhist mindfulness tradition is used in certain parts of psychotherapy these days. It can and does work–whether there is a placebo effect or not, it is difficult to fully state (especially when you are practicing it yourself. So, I will examine that aspect at the end of the month).

Have you ever noticed that when you start to smile a little– your half smile breaks eventually into a large full smile. There is also a Buddhist practice of a half-smile. Physiologically, it is based on the fact that smiling can boost natural endorphin levels.

The Buddhist tradition also says walking–or mindfully walking can be a good way to center oneself. When combining mindful walking and half-smiling the effects upon most people is irreversible: an up-tick feel-good endorphins. It is also used to center oneself —or grounding oneself in the present moment.

So, lets try to break down the  components

  • Walking Meditation

The technique of walking meditation that I tend to employ in my own life is based on that of the “peace walk” described by Thich Nhat Hanh.

From the website:

( https://www.lionsroar.com/how-to-meditate-thich-nhat-hanh-on-walking-meditation/ )

Walking meditation is first and foremost a practice to bring body and mind together peacefully.

Thich Nhat Hanh explores the process:

Walking meditation unites our body and our mind. We combine our breathing with our steps. When we breathe in, we may take two or three steps. When we breathe out, we may take three, four, or five steps. We pay attention to what is comfortable for our body.

While learning to walk mindfully may seem un-natural — one may argue, it can bring a sense of peace and well-being if practiced regularly. Try it…

 

  • The Half-Smile

While smiling, itself, is not necessarily apart of Buddhist tradition, you may notice that pictures and statues depict Buddha with a “half-smile.” Generally speaking, Buddhist tradition preaches serenity–thus the half-smile.

Quite a few psychological studies have shown the positive effects of “half-smiling” — I will cite one:

In the journal, Psychological Science, we can read—- Grin and Bear It
The Influence of Manipulated Facial Expression on the Stress Response
Tara L. Kraft, Sarah D. Pressman

Grin and bear it

While it is just one study, try it some time– when in a stressful situation, try half-smiling and it may reduce your blood pressure….

 

Mindful February-From Buddhism to Mental Health to Thich Nhat Hanh

 

 

The concept of mindfulness is a fuzzy one. In 21st century parlance, it has evolved to be any of a number of things– it is used in prayer by Buddhists, as a tool used in psychotherapy, a management paradigm-tool, and finally– a manner to centering  one’s soul

Perhaps, the most accurate way to look for a definition is to look at the source of its the practice. According to the website:

www.dhamma.org/en/vipassana 

The practice of vipassana, is to see the world as it truly is. The origins come from ancient Buddhism.

Borrowing more words from another internet site:

www.vipassanadhura.com

The practice of insight, on the other hand, cultivates wisdom. The student develops systematic mindfulness in order to see the real characteristics of existence: unsatisfactoriness, impermanence, and impersonality. All the activities of daily life can be objects of mindfulness: bodily actions, feelings, thoughts and emotions— even painful ones. Nothing is suppressed.

Where does that leave us?

All too often, we find ourselves in the midst of pain–and when we identify where the pain comes from, it can give us insight. It can gives the means to rid ourselves of the pain, or to learn to accept it.

While this sounds like a lot of whooey to those of who have scientific backgrounds, the technique actually does work if you find yourself in a state dismay and stress. It is successfully used to treat people in prison, people in facing depression, and quite a few maladies.

In psychotherapy, the techniques fall under the practice of Dialectical Behavioral Therapy– a technique pioneered by Marsha Sinetar:

http://www.marshasinetar.com/

Thich Nhat Hanh

Thich Nhat Hanh is an elderly Buddhist priest who is was nominated for the Nobel Peace prize in the 1960s by Martin Luther King Jr. Thich Nhat Hanh was one of the voices calling for peace amidst the war of Vietnam. Although he has not been awarded the Nobel (not yet, at least), he has brought the practice of mindfulness to western culture. Let me borrow a word from his website:

https://plumvillage.org/about/thich-nhat-hanh/

 

The energies of mindfulness, concentration and insight can liberate us from our anxiety and worries. We let go of the past and the future, and come in touch with the wonders of the present.

— Thich Nhat Hanh

February is dedicated to Thich Nhat Hanh

I  will be concentrating on this Zen master to help explain how he and his paradigms of mindful peace can change one’s world and our world! He has a lot things to say about how to live peacefully with one’s self. Even in today’s world– we can find a bit of peace and love without the din of greed and war….

1000px-Dharmachakra,_withprint_(en).svg

Mindfulness is just one practice of the eight paths –when taken in perspective with Buddhism.

Source of artwork:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dharmachakra#/media/File:Dharmachakra,_withprint_(en).svg

Peace,

John

The Responsibility of Humanity: Should Science be a Tool of War?

Science has been a handmaiden to the military for thousands of years. Humanity has sought to weaponize technology since the use of hand axes, fire, and spears against large prey on the plains of the Serengeti.

Among some of the more notable individuals of science helping the war efforts of the past was Archimedes. Archimedes was born in Syracuse— an ancient Greek colony of Corinth [in present day Sicily.] Archimedes, known as both Natural Philosopher and Mathematician,  made scientific discoveries equal to that of Newton and Einstein.

Notably different from Newton and Einstein, Archimedes aided the war effort of ancient Syracuse by inventing advanced weapons of war (neither Newton nor Einstein aided war efforts despite popular myth to the contrary).

Operation Crossroads Test Able explosion_ 946

Weapons of war have grown increasingly sophisticated from the invention of gun powder to the threat of nuclear weapons. By USAAF [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Archimedes aided the war effort during the Roman siege of Syracuse. One of  his accomplishments, the Iron Claw,  reportedly stalled the Roman siege on Syracuse. The Iron Claw reportedly capsized Roman war vessels

Other instances of science assisting the weapons of war include (1) the hardening of steel by ancient metallurgists for swords with the Damascus process, (2) the invention of gun powder by Chinese scientists, and modern inventions like the (3) hydrogen and neutron bombs. When looked at from the lens of war, science has been both deterrent and  weapon.

“… dynamite will sooner lead to peace … … men will find that in one instant, whole armies can be utterly destroyed …”  Alfred Nobel, (1867.)

The economic gains from the spoils of war, alone, would provide good reasons for some nations to push science education. However, there lies the problem with using science as the means for economic gain— science as war machine is costly. The costs of war come from its effects upon limb and mind. 

Many mourn the loss of loved ones long after a war has ended. The loss of innocence that war brings, however, may be worse. To those who study war and its psychological effects, PTSD and depression among veterans occurs in many instances. The general population must care for war veterans who suffer psychological trauma. 

The-Claw-of-Archimedes

The inventions of Archimedes helped stave off the complete destruction of peoples. The question remains: should technology be used as a means to conduct war? Image by John A. Jaksich

 

Is it Morally Responsible to Use Technology to Build War Weapons?

While war is often argued to be wrong and immoral, using technology to gain an advantage over a foe is an escalation of the war machine. And the question follows, what if we didn’t use technology to build more destructive bombs and war tools?

Could we, as a species, survive? Pacifists often respond: an intelligent and morally sophisticated society has no need to spill blood to prove its worth nor to advance its goals.

More to the point: ‘Is is realistic to assume that war can be eliminated?’ – I often ponder the question myself… with no real answers, either… … it is as if there needs to be a part of the human condition that needs to be expunged. How and where that relates to individual behavior is hard to pin down. The human brain acts in part by instinct and in higher cognitive faculties, as well.

However, the two questions can be viewed as mutually exclusive– using technology to build advanced weapons and fighting a war through the spilling of blood.

So a question arises: why can’t we just send our best athletes to a game that determines who is top dog (kind of sounds like the Olympics… well, almost)?

There is something about the human condition that makes some of us act out aggressively and some of us, not so much? What needs to addressed is the need or satisfaction that aggression brings in the human brain?

And, that is a ‘Holy Grail’ — that we may need to address if we are to become a more advanced civilization….

“We have perfected our weapons, our conscience has fallen asleep, and we have sharpened our ideas to justify ourselves. Violence and war lead only to death.”   Pope Francis, (2016.)

 

Hero’s Journey from Darkness: the Space Race, the Silver Screen, and Mythology

EGA_Plus_10_mapcam_Earth_Moon-768x768

Understanding the smallness of our planet within a cosmic context breeds a sense of humility and love for humankind. Many astronauts who have ventured to the moon have come back from their journey exclaiming a sense of humility and respect for their planet and humanity, itself. Can we claim the same for ourselves?  Image by John A. Jaksich

Most of us love to gaze at the night sky with wonder and hope. If you are one of the lucky ones, you will get to voyage past Earth’s gravity and learn to question the vastness of space. You may gain the gifted perspective of its magnificent desolation (quoting moon walker, Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin) or understand how gifted we truly are to be living on a vastly beautiful planet.

Thus, when the Apollo spacecraft journeyed to the Moon, those of us who watched on the television set were greatly privileged. We learned to love the solar system and its wondrous perspective. For those of us who remember it, we were pioneers.

Earthrise

For those of us who remember the Apollo missions of the 1960s, we became pioneers. The missions kindled a love for space in many of us. Image courtesy of NASA

While it is unclear whether humans will journey back to the moon or even Mars, what has become clear is that our sense of nobleness and pioneering spirit has given way to self-centered Nationalism. While many may argue the moonshot was a product of the Cold War, the feelings of discovery drove many children to wish to be astronauts. Some of these would-be astronauts became academically oriented and studied the cosmos or the sciences. It was a good time gaze at the cosmos with wonder.

The Power of the Mythic Cosmos on the Silver Screen

Just as NASA was winding down the moonshots (and Skylab too), we were captivated by a little known film maker by the name of George Lucas. The Star Wars saga debuted in the 1970s. The visionary film maker George Lucas wowed audiences and fellow-film-makers, alike. His story of a band of outgunned and outnumbered rebels seeking to uphold noble values against tyranny is a twist to classical stories from mythology. Its setting was in a galaxy far away and long ago.

However, it is akin to Homer’s telling of the Odyssey and the battles for Troy by heroic ‘god-like’ humans. Mr. Lucas is said to have been influenced by the story-telling power of the mythic figures of Homer. He is specifically said to be influenced by the scholar, Joseph Campbell. Mr. Campbell studied world mythology and the roles it played in past societies — he was also interested in how it applied to today’s mythological figures.

The protagonist in the original 1970s-1980s trilogy is one Luke Skywalker– someone who is at the margins of society. However, he mentored by an older  “father-like” figure- Obi Wan Kenobi. Skywalker must battle the forces of evil (and his true father, as well). However, as Skywalker becomes victorious, we are left with a sense: doesn’t a lot of the themes touched on by Lucas have themes prevalent in everyday life?

Family members battle one another in the hopes of truth and nobility. And, along the way, we learn a few things about the right and wrong. We learn that we are not the only ones who sit in the darkened theaters cheering for the ‘good guy’ to win out?

And, in many ways it is similar to the ancient Greeks listening to Homer making  sense of life?

A Hero’s Journey– Star Wars Retelling

What to Take-Away? -A Slap of Reality across our Faces?

When our children’s children read of the years 2016 – early 2018 as history, it will read like a step backwards in time. The most powerful politician of the US is a bigot and is ‘money-obsessed.’ He has no regard for anyone who holds little or no real property and wants to make sure the U.S. is the bastion of a ‘white’s only’ citizenry.

For many of us, we thought that darkness of this sort had been banished through the U.S. Civil War, and two World Wars. How wrong are we? I am not calling for war–I am pacifist.  I truly do not like suffering.

However, something needs to be done–

When the U.S. colonies fought the Revolutionary War, it was a battle against repression. The cause was noble and good. We were taking the high road. When the U.S. fought its own Civil War, it was a battle against repression and evil. When we fought the two World Wars, it was against repression.

The buck needs to stop with the youngest among us…. we don’t need to face repression, hatred, and or war–

Who among you recognizes that history is cyclical? — We should have learned our lessons many years ago? At, least I believe we did so… … isn’t there a hero among us?

Human Rights January – Fundamental Truths About Love?

“Nothing in all the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.”  MLK Jr.

“One has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws.”  MLK Jr.

Love can make the hard-times bearable. However, nothing is worse than finding oneself trapped in a rut. While many of us don’t like change nor hard-times, traversing the same paths repeatedly prevent us from learning from our mistakes. It can retard our ability to love and to mature, as well.

It is more often true than not – learning to persevere in the face of self-centeredness is a tough proposition. We may view that our motives are good (and that may be so) but we fall short all too often. Some approaches become piece-meal and almost half-hearted. However, the reasons for semi-failure are many– 1) not all goals are clear, 2) not all goals are achievable, 3) the paths to achieving the worthiest of intentions may not be clear —even to the planner.

In the instances in that we fail, we can find ourselves in a muddled path.

 

What can I do to prevent confused goals and intentions?

Perhaps the simplest approach is organize and execute noble paths around ‘small steps’ –even when the end result is the best possible outcome. It may take many, many smaller steps to achieve the ‘grand result.’

Perhaps we should ask ourselves?– Do we recognize red flags or proverbial signs that we are coming short to the goal?

I had a good mentor just recently tell me to pick up the book: The Four Agreements by don Miguel Ruiz.  It sounds like a good idea. I had another mentor tell me to return to a more spiritual grounding—

The Four Agreements

Either path sounds like a more conservative approach to living. And why not?  The sign of the times dictates that a better grounding in the spirit may solve many problems–not only my own but those that closest to me. ❤

Peace

John

Human Rights January

A new year is upon us. As the old year is set to expire, planning and execution of what is important for the coming 12 months should be considered. For me, January is a “Human Rights” month.

Each month, I will pick an individual that I believe epitomizes the best of the human condition (dead or alive). In January of 2018, my pick is Martin Luther King Jr.

Martin Luther King Jr. is one of my heroes. His views on civil rights and non-violence are an inspiration. His struggles to achieve his goals are well documented. From facing down water cannons and klansmen to dealing with uncooperative individuals from the government, his life is one of a profile of courage and hope (to borrow the phrase from JFK).

While his Dream speech at the foot of the Lincoln memorial is one that many will remember, there are aspects of his inspiration that few heard of nor knew of. He realized that the dream he shared with so many was part of a long nightmare– (the following is taken from a Christmas sermon broadcast by the Canadian Broadcast Corporation):

… If there is to be peace on earth and good will toward men, we must finally believe in the ultimate morality of the universe, and believe that all reality hinges on moral foundations. Something must remind us of this as we once again stand in the Christmas season and think of the Easter season simultaneously, for the two somehow go together. Christ came to show us the way. Men love darkness rather than the light, and they crucified him, and there on Good Friday on the cross it was still dark, but then Easter came, and Easter is an eternal reminder of the fact that the truth-crushed earth will rise again. Easter justifies Carlyle in saying, “No lie can live forever.” And so this is our faith, as we continue to hope for peace on earth and good will toward men: let us know that in the process we have cosmic companionship.

In 1963, on a sweltering August afternoon, we stood in Washington, D.C., and talked to the nation about many things. Toward the end of that afternoon, I tried to talk to the nation about a dream that I had had, and I must confess to you today that not long after talking about that dream I started seeing it turn into a nightmare. I remember the first time I saw that dream turn into a nightmare, just a few weeks after I had talked about it. It was when four beautiful, unoffending, innocent Negro girls were murdered in a church in Birmingham, Alabama. I watched that dream turn into a nightmare as I moved through the ghettos of the nation and saw my black brothers and sisters perishing on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity, and saw the nation doing nothing to grapple with the Negroes’ problem of poverty. I saw that dream turn into a nightmare as I watched my black brothers and sisters in the midst of anger and understandable outrage, in the midst of their hurt, in the midst of their disappointment, turn to misguided riots to try to solve that problem. I saw that dream turn into a nightmare as I watched the war in Vietnam escalating, and as I saw so-called military advisors, sixteen thousand strong, turn into fighting soldiers until today over five hundred thousand American boys are fighting on Asian soil. Yes, I am personally the victim of deferred dreams, of blasted hopes, but in spite of that I close today by saying I still have a dream, because, you know, you can’t give up in life. If you lose hope, somehow you lose that vitality that keeps life moving, you lose that courage to be, that quality that helps you go on in spite of all. And so today I still have a dream. …

(Excerpt taken from

http://www.ecoflourish.com/Primers/education/Christmas_Sermon.html

The sermon was  broadcast by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation on Christmas Eve 1967)

 

As can be inferred by my quotation (below) and passage choices, Martin Luther King Jr. never ever gave up. He understood that to persist in times of trouble, there had to be an overarching sense of purpose in the face of overwhelming odds.

For some of us, individuals like MLK Jr. hold inspiration – although we may not have the same trials— but their life of example is one to imitate. A better version of ourselves.

Lincoln Memorial

“If you can’t fly then run, if you can’t run then walk, if you can’t walk then crawl, but whatever you do you have to keep moving forward.” –MLK Jr.

 

Are we truly free –or do we submit to the paean of the many? Traveling a road less traveled is normally far harder than would appear. Can we sacrifice selfish desires?

A Day in the Anthropocene

While the images like the Aurora borealis (seen below) are common to many of us. A lot of us recognize it as a scientific phenomena – It is one where the magnetic field of the Earth is excited by solar particles of our Sun.

The phenomenon is viewed as beautiful, and feelings of warmth and love are attributed to its viewing.

In many ways, there is a dichotomy to understanding our world. One of feeling and sentiment and one of analytical understanding based upon rationalism.

The dichotomy of the views present a problem– one can be said to think of the world in one of two ways. However, we can rectify the dichotomy. Rectifying the views requires wisdom.

This wisdom we need utilizing both rationalization and emotional/feeling — bringing together both to an understanding.

The present solutions to our problems are based upon concepts of Sustainability. Will we be wise enough to use the Paradigm of Sustainability to ensure that our progeny can thrive?

HOPE and BELIEF in a GREATER GOOD

Can wisdom sustain humanity’s future? Image by John A. Jaksich.

Many problems that require humanity’s wisdom begin with solutions based upon hope. In this present era, it is known as the (era of Man) Anthropocene. It is fraught with pain and anxiety.

This Era of Man is a wake-up call for all.

Whether it is a La Nina driven hurricane slamming into the Yucatan Peninsula or an extreme high tide inundating the Florida Keys, the effects of human-driven climate change will affect more than just local populations.  From journals to popular best-sellers, our planet’s challenges are documented.

Answers for the Anthropocene are based upon Sustainability—

Sustainability is the means of meeting the needs of the present while preserving biodiversity and the natural ecosystems for future generations.

A major issue surrounding the paradigm of sustainability is the lack of a crystal ball that the approach is meant to address. Let’s face it, when addressing the preparedness of humanity to take on disasters of their own making, our own track record is poor. Putting it succinctly: We can not solve today’s problems with yesterday’s technologies.  

I do have hope, however. I will not give in nor surrender.