How effective are yoga and meditation at healing old traumas?

(Originally published on Quora on October 21st, 2012)
I can only speak from personal experience with my own meditation practice, as I’m not involved in any type of research and have not looked at any statistics on the subject.
So here goes: After reading about Vipassana, or Insight Meditation in a post on Sam Harris’s blog (see here – http://www.samharris.org/blog/it…), I became curious and took an 8 week class at a local center.

The technique, though very challenging in practice, is very simple in principle. You stabilize and concentrate your mind by focusing only on your breath. Whenever your attention wanders, you proceed to look at the new object of attention – be it a sensation, an emotion, or a thought – with your full attention. You then name it, and  gently and without judgment return to focusing on the breath, where you try to remain most of the time. I was instructed to sit for 20, then 30, and eventually 45 minutes a day doing just this, though some further guidance was of course provided, and my questions answered.

Within a week, I was noticing patterns in my own thinking that had been there all along but which I had never noticed before. Within a couple of weeks, I could see some of the reasons for these patterns. By the third week I had vivid memories of past traumas, and could see very clearly the connections between those traumas and some of my unproductive behaviors.

I’ve had moments of personal revelation or “sudden clarity” throughout my adult life, long before meditation, and those had always helped me grow. But nothing had prepared me for the consistency and sheer breadth of the insights I’ve gotten from practicing Vipassana meditation. For a couple of months, it was like a reliable assembly line was producing insights day in and day out. As if those insights were waiting just under the surface and came gushing out as soon as I had payed stable, nonjudgmental attention to them.

Those insights, moreover, were of a different kind than any I’ve experience before. The trigger for most of my past insights was intellectual: I would be thinking about an idea and suddenly realize that I had been wrong. Or I would realize intellectually that I was acting irrationally in some instance, and would force myself to think it through. In meditation though, much of my insights felt more like undirected observations: I would observe my own thinking and noticed it was tinged with a certain emotion. I would look at that emotion and see it was actually three different emotions, all mashed up together, but in actuality arising because of different causes and conditions. I would look at each one in turn and see how it arose, and often time remember, for the first time in years, a traumatic event that gave rise to it. And by seeing the connection so clearly, I could start laying down new foundations and weakening the old ones.

As weeks went by I was aware that I was beginning to let go of many of these patterns, little by little, and that the unproductive behaviors were significantly reduced or stopped completely. I continue to practice and reap the benefits of meditation daily. I have not tried other forms of meditation, and cannot vouch for their effectiveness. I can’t even guarantee that Vipassana meditation would work for you. But I do believe that paying calm and nonjudgmental attention to the content of your mind once a day is a great first step in coming to terms with trauma.

 

What’s Syntropy?

Syntropy is the opposite of entropy.

It is the appearance of order out of chaos. The self-organizing tendency of matter, over long periods of time. The tendency towards greater complexity and harmony that occurs naturally and counteracts the universal law of entropy, in living systems as well as inanimate constellations.

The term is not in common use. A more common name is “Negentropy”, or “Negative Entropy”. Wikipedia describes the term’s evolution as follows:

The concept and phrase “negative entropy” were introduced by Erwin Schrödinger in his 1943 popular-science book What is Life? Later, Léon Brillouin shortened the phrase to negentropy, to express it in a more “positive” way: a living system imports negentropy and stores it. In 1974, Albert Szent-Györgyi proposed replacing the term negentropy with syntropy. That term may have originated in the 1940s with the Italian mathematician Luigi Fantappiè, who tried to construct a unified theory of biology and physics. Buckminster Fuller tried to popularize this usage, but negentropy remains common.

Whatever word we use, I believe that the concept is of the utmost importance:

To the extent that there is a single “reason” for our existence, and for everything around us, the fact of syntropy is it. And if any one concept can guide us forward, as the rate of technical innovation accelerates and the very way we think of humanity expands, I believe that syntropy is that concept.

This is my personal blog, and I intend to blog about many things including philosophy, technology, art, and the psychology of human happiness. But I also hope to express some of my ideas about syntropy and its applications. I hope to engage with others who are thinking about similar topics. And I hope to get more people talking and thinking about syntropy.

Enjoy the ride!

Why do many people believe things based on faith rather than due to the Scientific Method?

(Originally published on Quora on December 29th, 2011)

I believe that the following reasons play a major role:

  1. Human beings have a psychological need for meaning. That meaning must be more than the simple injunction to “make the most of it.” People are looking for some way to look at life and feel that it matters in more than just a personal sense. They want to know what is a life well-lived, and what is the standard.
  2. Human beings have a need for everyday psychological guidance and practice. This goes beyond “curing mental disease”, which is the focus of most of today’s psychotherapy. People are looking for guidance in dealing with the normal difficulties of life. Especially the universal limitations that all human beings must deal with: limited control, limited time, uncertainty, etc. People are looking for tools for increasing happiness, satisfaction, perspective, and meaning in the face of the inherent difficulties of everyday life.
  3. Human beings need a systematic way of dealing with and accepting death.Even Atheists (such as myself) find it helpful to remember and “digest” the fact of their own mortality, and place it in a positive framework. Virtually every religion in the world revolved around a core concept that either denies death or explains it away in a way that help people accept it, at least as long as they believe in the model.
  4. Human beings have a psychological need for meaningful social ritual. By this I mean a way to share and celebrate life and its meaning with others. A structured way to share the journey with your loved ones and your community. A structured way for the community to provide emotional and moral support in times of crisis.

As an Atheist, I believe it is possible for a completely scientific, rational, and proven system to provide us with all of the above. However, it’s also important to note thatno such system exists today.

Until one is developed, people will always flock to systems that seem designed to answer those fundamental needs. They would rather ignore the light of reason when it means, to them, a meaningless and cold existence with no support network or the comfort of social rituals.

Steve Jobs is Gone

Steve Jobs

 

 

I’ve been playing with the idea for this blog for a long time. But something about today made me start it: Steve Jobs is dead.

A couple of hours ago the news started surfacing online, and then we read this statement by Apple’s board of directors:

 

CUPERTINO, Calif. — We are deeply saddened to announce that Steve Jobs passed away today.
Steve’s brilliance, passion and energy were the source of countless innovations that enrich and improve all of our lives. The world is immeasurably better because of Steve.

His greatest love was for his wife, Laurene, and his family. Our hearts go out to them and to all who were touched by his extraordinary gifts.

Steve Jobs, the ultimate man of Syntropy. The man who almost alone among the early computer enthusiasts, realized that the personal computer would one day change everything, then proceeded to effect this change by creating Apple and the first accessible, beautiful personal computer. The man who, years later, saved the same Apple from bankruptcy by heading it again, and leading it to become the world’s most profitable, and one of the most deeply impactful, companies in the world.  The man who had spent a lifetime removing friction, obstacles, and unnecessary complexity from our lives, while making us more productive, more connected, and yes – happier.

Each one of his major products: the Mac, the iPod, the iPhone, the iPad introduced new possibilities, allowed new forms of interaction, production, and enjoyment. Each one was followed by an outpouring of creative energies, business ventures, and competitors quick to copy his ideas.

Steve was also a man who understood the inevitable nature of entropy. He knew that our time on this earth is precious. He knew that what we do with it, with every second, is the only thing that mattered. In his Stanford Commencement Address, he famously told us:

When I was 17, I read a quote that went something like: “If you live each day as if it was your last, someday you’ll most certainly be right.” It made an impression on me, and since then, for the past 33 years, I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: “If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?” And whenever the answer has been “No” for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.

Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything — all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure – these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.

So I’m following mine. I’ve wanted to start this blog for a very long time, and today – I did. And for that, along with everything else, I thank you Steve Jobs.