Supplements vs. real food

 

A recent meta-study (a study of a number of existing studies) finds that certain vitamin supplements appear to shorten the lifespan of those taking them (specifically beta-carotene and vitamins E and A.)

Assuming the findings are accurate, and assuming that we are in a fortunate enough situation to have access to sufficient food (which large portions of us are not), then this is another reminder eat a balanced and varied diet of fresh food rather than relying on supplements.

It is usually not a good idea to provide the body with substances it did not evolve to handle, and dietary supplements mostly fall into this category. A balanced diet does provide whatever nutrients the body needs, and a modern balanced diet is nutritionally far beyond what our ancestors – in most cases, had access to, and their bodies still did quite well – as we are living evidence for.

As with health related issues in general, the basic answers are often quite simple – and found when we look at the lives of our ancestors. They ate a varied (omnivorous) diet when possible, ate in moderate amounts… often by necessity, the food was organic and local, and they engaged in a variety of physical activities throughout the day. The closer we are to this, the more physically healthy we are likely to be.

It is very simple. Yet, if there is something about it we don’t like we look for shortcuts, such as dietary supplements, which may not work or have unforeseen effects.

More about the study on BBC: Vitamins ‘could shorten lifespan’

Dream: guide on a pilgrim circuit

 

I am in Kirkenes in Northern Norway, north of the arctic circle. I am shown that I am to be the guide on a pilgrim circuit, linking together several new churches and science centers. Everything has a sense of clarity, luminosity and beauty… the landscape, the wildlife, the people, the buildings. There is a sense of new inner clarity, maturity, depth and responsibility, reflected in my new outer role as a guide for those in the region, as well as visitors from other areas.

The name Kirkenes means Church peninsula. And while I have rarely been in the arctic regions, I have always been attracted to the stark beauty and the clear light.

In the dream, I lead groups on a pilgrimage circuit connecting several new churches and science centers, the two main realms of human knowing… spirituality and science. There is a sense of the seamlessness of the two… a church, then a science center, then a church.. as beads on a string. Exploring existence from different angles, informing each other, applying scientific methods in spiritual practice, studying the effects of spiritual practice through science.

There is also a sense of it all being new, unspoiled, virgin… the buildings, the settlements, the landscape, the climate. All new, luminous, clear. And with it, this sense of new depth, solidity, maturity, responsibilities… emerging from the inside, reflected in my role in the outside.

Free will

 

The question of free will, as explored in this article from the New York Times, only arises when there is a sense of I and Other, as all existential question do. When the sense of I and Other falls away, the question also falls away, at least as an existential question.

Falls away as an existential question, but the dynamics of choice can still be explored

The dynamics and mechanism of choice can be explored in the many ways it is explored today, through the inner (self-inquiry, phenomenology) and outer (cognitive and other forms of psychology, biology, evolution) and the one and the many.

But it is not an existential question anymore. It belongs to the realm of form and this human self as a part of this realm of form, but there is no separate I involved anymore. This human self, and anything else arising, is realized as inherently absent of any separate or individual I.

Infinite causes

Even a superficial exploration of choice shows that for any choice in our life, there are infinite causes. We can always find one more, and one more, until we see that the whole of the universe is involved in any choice we make, in the fullness of its extent and going back to the beginning of time itself.

Doing this, over and over, we see that there does not seem to be any need, nor much room, for “free” choice. Where would it come from? How would it slip in between these infinite causes? And, what would its purpose be? Why would there be a need for it?

Choice happening on its own

Similarly, when I explore choice as it happens right now, I see that it does exactly that: it happens. It happens on its own, arising out of emptiness, as anything else. Sounds, sights, thoughts, choices, actions, they all happen on their own.

There only appears to be an “I” there when a belief in a separate I is placed on top of these thoughts, choices and actions.

Arising within and as timelessness, and causality

In immediate experience, it all happens here now, fresh, new, arising out of emptiness. There is no past that it can be influenced by, nor any future it leads to.

Past, future, causality, all of those are just from ideas placed on top of what arises here now. And they are very useful ideas, helping this human self to orient and function in the world, but still just ideas. Abstractions placed on the timeless present as it arises here and now.

Field

There is this field of seeing and seen, of awake emptiness and form.

Within the world of form, everything has infinite causes and infinite effects. It is a seamless whole, moving as one whole.

Any change, including any thought, choice and action of a human being, is the whole acting locally.

There is no free will within the world of form, and no need for it.

There is no separate I anywhere, so no Other to be free from.

And awake emptiness is form, and always free from form.

Changing experience of free will

There are many ways the experience of choice and free will changes.

If unquestioned, there is certainly a sense of some degree of free will. This human self obviously makes choices and acts (or not) on them, and there is a sense of I there, so then also a sense that I choose and act.

Then, we may come to see how culture and even biology influences these choices, and we may strive to become more conscious of these influences, free ourselves from them, at least to some degree, and place ourselves under a different set of influences.

But even here, there are infinite causes to any thought, choice and action, even as it appears more free from the conventional causes and patterns. And this shift, as anything else, itself has infinite causes.

The question falls away, yet this human self continues to work with causality

Finally, when the field awakens to itself as a field, absent of I anywhere (and still connected with this human self), the whole question falls away. There is no I and Other anymore, so nothing to be free from.

At the same time, within the world of form there is still causality, so at a practical level, this human self still continues to work with causality in all the usual ways, including placing itself under certain influences to invite certain effects such as continued development, healing and maturation, and also acting to invite certain effects in the wider world.

And all of this is the whole acting locally, through and as this human self, and now awakened to itself as the whole acting locally.

(Two previous posts on this topic: 1 & 2)

Mars rovers and identification

 


Our human self is, in some ways, like a Mars rover.

In both cases, there is no I inherently there. In both cases, it serves as a vehicle in the world of form. In both cases, it provides sensory input for awareness, for pure witness consciousness.

Imagine a NASA scientist or engineer who identifies completely with one of the Mars rovers. He or she would experience and talk about the rover as “I”, experience mortal fear whenever it is in a dangerous situation, completely dreading the day it dies, and so on. This would at best be seen as weird and an eccentricity, and at worst as insanity.

Now imagine the same for our human self. If there is an exclusive identification with our human self, there is the same experience of it as “I”, the same fear whenever it is in danger, the same dread of its death.

So what is the difference?

The Mars rovers are an extension of our own bodies and senses, and they are mechanical and far away, so it is relatively easy – even for the most involved scientist, to maintain the “I” at his or her human self, and see the rover as either “it” (third person) or “ours” or “mine” (second of first person possessive).

Our human self is different. It is the primary and immediate vehicle in the world of form, so it is far more understandable if it is seen as an “I”. But this too is a mistaken identity.

If we explore it a little further, we see that there is only the seamless field of seeing and seen, and no I to be found anywhere in it. This sense of I, placed on our human self, comes from a belief that there has to be a separate individual I somewhere, and since the most likely candidate is our human self we place it there.

Waking up from this happens spontaneously, either out of the blue or following some diligent explorations of all of this. Is there really an I here? Where is it? Is it in the seen, in the stream of forms and experiences, always new, fresh, different? Is it in the seeing? Where can I find the boundary between the seeing and the seen? If the I is in the seeing itself, in the pure witness consciousness, where is the boundary between I as the seeing and Other as the seen?

And when we pass through this gateless gate, we see that there never was an I anywhere. It was all innocent, a temporary mistaken identity. There wasn’t even a gate to pass through, it only seemed that way as long as there was a sense of I there. And although it is understandable when there is an identification with this human self, it it still about as weird as being identified with a rover sitting on a little hill on Mars.

Now, the human self is a me and mine, for practical and conventional reasons, as an aid in navigating in the world and for communication, but clearly absent of any I anywhere. The drama goes out of it. There is just the Ground and field of seeing and seen, awakening to its own nature of no I anywhere, yet still functionally and temporarily connected with this particular human self, as a me or mine.

This human self arises as anything else – thoughts, emotions, feelings, choices, behaviors, personality, clouds, trees, people, situations. It all happens on its own. There is doing but no doer (apart from the doer as the whole of the world of form.)

The universe gawking at itself

 


This beautiful photo of a nebula in the constellation Cassiopeia is an example of the universe gawking in amazement at itself, in the words of Brian Swimme.

The universe forms itself into matter, galaxies, nebula, solar systems, planets, life, awareness organs (living sensing beings), culture, technology, science, computers, telescopes, rockets…

And it gawks at itself… It is amazed by itself. It brings itself into awareness in always new ways.

The universe forms itself into the seen, the technology used for the seeing, and the organisms the seeing occurs through. And all of this and the seeing itself arises all within and as Ground, as Big Mind, Spirit, Brahman, Divine Mind.

SETI

 

There are some major questions in each of our lives, whether we explore these or not. The main one is probably who/what am I? And another is are we, as human beings, alone in the universe?

It is interesting that very few schools spend much or any time on the first question, whether it is through conventional western style philosophy or more direct self-inquiry. And it is also interesting that only a minuscule amount of resources is spent on the second question, are we alone in the universe? No governments, as far as I know, allocate any money to SETI, and the private funding is very limited as well.

I am not sure what that tells us about who we are at this stage in our evolution. Maybe that we are easily distracted. Maybe that for many of us, other issues appear more urgent. Maybe that our natural curiosity is out competed by other impulses or goes in other directions. Maybe that we have trouble peeling off the layers down to the really big questions.

In any case, I have been fascinated by SETI since I first heard about it in my early teens, became a member of the Planetary Society a little later, and was among the first to sign up for SETI@home. Now, after a while of not running the SETI@home screen saver, it seems time to participate again.

It is difficult to imagine any other discovery that will have a more significant impact on how we see ourselves, and eventually the course of our own evolution. Just knowing that we are not alone will be another nudge in our deprovinsialization of ourselves. And any exchange of real information, although it may take a long time before it gets going, will change our culture and evolution deeply.

Just the question itself, and contemplating the consequences of contact, or of not finding anything even after a thorough (still far into the future) search, is hugely important. The question and contemplation itself will change how we see ourselves.

Pluto

 

This is not so important, but it makes an astronomy nut like me happy to see that they finally decided to strip Pluto of its status as a full planet and categorize it as a dwarf planet instead. Categorizing it as a regular planet was somewhat of a mistake in the first place, and it is good to see the rational win out over the sentimental.

Which brings me to this inquiry…

They should act in a rational manner.

  1. Is it true?

    Yes (especially scientists!)

  2. Can I absolutely know it is true? What is the reality of it?

    No, I cannot absolutely know it is true. The reality is that even scientists sometimes don’t act in a rational manner (they get caught up in sentimentality, attachments and so on.)

  3. How do I react when I have that belief?

    I get frustrated seeing people who should be champions of rational thought behaving in a less than rational manner, using sentimentality as an argument for wishful categorizing.

    How do I treat them?

    As a little soft brained, not standing up for what they know is right.

    How do I treat myself?

    As someone who is more rational, more cool-headed, more able to let go of sentimental attachments when that is called for.

    When did I first have the thought?

    Probably in middle-school, when I got more interested in science, rational thinking, valid arguments and so on.

    Does the thought bring me peace or stress?

    Stress, definitely.

    What is the worst that can happen if I let go of that belief?

    I would let the sentimental override the rational, like (some of) them.

    Turnaround: I would not let the sentimental override the rational. Yes, that seems as or more likely. Without the stress coming from this belief, I would be more receptive, open, clear.

  4. Who/what would I be without the thought?

    I would be receptive, open, clear. Able to enjoy the small-scale drama around the discussion. Able to see the validity and good points in the different arguments, coming from any view.

  5. Turnarounds

    (a) They shouldn’t act in a rational manner.

    That is true. Some of them don’t, and that is the reality of it according to my story. The benefit for me is that I get to see my own beliefs around this, the stress it brings me, and it gives me an opportunity to inquire into it.

    (b) I should act in a rational manner.

    Yes, certainly. The advice is for myself here. When I believe that they should act in a different way from what they do, I am irrational. There is no way I can influence it in any real way, not even with people close to me. These are just processes playing themselves out.

    (c) I should not act in a rational manner.

    Well, not if I don’t. When I believe that thought, I do not act in a rational manner, and that is what is playing itself out right then. It is OK. And it, as anything, is subject to change.

    (x) Turnaround to live in daily life

    I should act in a rational manner. I shouldn’t expect people to change because it would be convenient to me. I can take my own advice instead. The advice is for me.

Death Calculator

 

I came across Dr. Demko’s Death Calculator, and it is pretty interesting.

It brings up many things…

It is a reminder for me that although my days are numbered (limited), the exact date of my death is a mystery to me. It can be today. Or it can be in many decades, possibly five or more.

It is a reminder that although my date of death is a mystery, I can do quite a few things to increase or maintain my health and well-being – which may (or may not) also prolong my life.

And it is a reminder that none of these things are particularly mysterious. They all involve nurturing a variety of relationships: To other people, nurturing nurturing relationships. To my mind, keeping it active. To my body, eating a good diet and getting some excercise. And to my body/mind, allowing it to unwind, relax, and find some resolution to challenges in my life.

And finally, the death calculator is a reminder that things like death calculators can be very useful. They serve as a reminder of all these things, a gentle kick in the butt.

Maybe the very last reminder is to not go into complacency, even if the number coming out of the calculator is pretty good (90 to 100 or more in my case). It only works if I am actually doing all these things, maintaining engagement with all those relationships.

Contact

 

I recently watched Contact again, and it brings up several things for me…

Mostly, the incredible beauty and awe that comes up from realizing that we are this universe bringing itself into awareness. And the deep sense of humility and belonging that comes from realizing that we, as human beings, are infinitely small parts of this infinitely large and rich universe.

Also, the continuing de-provinsialization in our culture, as it shows up in so many areas – going towards deepening worldcentric views and experiences of the world. From anthropocentrism to biocentrism and possibly beyond. From ethnocentrism to ethnodiversity. From rights for a few to universal human rights. From seeing this planet as the center of the universe, to seeing the sun as the center, to seeing this galaxy as the center (or rather all there is), to realizing the infinite number of galaxies out there – everywhere a center to itself. And how even the thought of life other places in the universe brings us even further out of our provincial outlook, to acknowledging that this planet may be one of a large number of living planets out there.

And also, slightly disappointing maybe, the orange (in Spiral Dynamics) view on science and religion which the story is filtered through – making it appear to be a choice between the scientific methodology and faith, or maybe both although for separate realms.

In any case, when I saw the movie the first time it brought me straight into Big Mind, and it still does. It reminds me of the big picture – that we, as humans, are stardust. That we are the universe temporarily reorganizing itself into humans, human culture, human technology, cities, thoughts, emotions, feelings, sensations, animals, plants, mountains, stars, oceans, clouds, rain, rocks, beaches, trees, the living Earth, this solar system, this galaxy, and all there is. That we, along with everything else that is, are the leading edge of the evolving universe. That all this is, with a center everywhere and nowhere, one seamless unfolding process – where there are no separate individuals, no separate doers, thinkers, seers, experiencers. Everything belongs, everything is the local movements of the whole – beyond and including all polarities.

Phase Transitions & Popping

 

When I lived at the Zen center and studied psychology (health psychology and systems theories), I saw a clear parallel between the awakening process and phase transitions as described by systems theories. And now, when there is an oscillation of realizing “no I” – sometimes relatively clearly and other times more obscured – this comes back to me.

Systems views is quite similar to (parts of) some of the Eastern philosophies. For instance, the world of phenomena is seen as a seamless fluid whole, organized holarchically – nested systems one within another, similar to russian nesting dolls.

Systems view & nondual awakening

And in terms of a nondual awakening – to a clear realization of “no I” anywhere – there are also many parallels.

Before this awakening, the attractor state is organized around a belief in the thought “I” and everything that brings with it. After awakening, there is a new attractor state – a new stable condition for the system – now in the clear realization of “no I”.

The system undergoes a phase transition, from one stable attractor state (the story of I) to another (dropping the story of I).

And there are several control variables which helps nudge the system into this phase transition. These are the ones we are familiar with through the various spiritual traditions, including clarity, devotion and insights – and induced through practices such as meditation, prayer, inquiry, mindfulness and more.

So systems theories can be used as one way to analyze the awakening process and the tools used at various phases of this process. It may yield some helpful insights, and help us organize the various traditions and approaches as well.