from the world's big
Reaching beyond the stereotypes of meditation and embracing the science of mindfulness.
- There are a lot of misconceptions when it comes to what mindfulness is and what meditation can do for those who practice it. In this video, professors, neuroscientists, psychologists, composers, authors, and a former Buddhist monk share their experiences, explain the science behind meditation, and discuss the benefits of learning to be in the moment.
- "Mindfulness allows us to shift our relationship to our experience," explains psychologist Daniel Goleman. The science shows that long-term meditators have higher levels of gamma waves in their brains even when they are not meditating. The effect of this altered response is yet unknown, though it shows that there are lasting cognitive effects.
- "I think we're looking at meditation as the next big public health revolution," says ABC News anchor Dan Harris. "Meditation is going to join the pantheon of no-brainers like exercise, brushing your teeth and taking the meds that your doctor prescribes to you." Closing out the video is a guided meditation experience led by author Damien Echols that can be practiced anywhere and repeated as many times as you'd like.
Placing science and religion at opposite ends of the belief spectrum is to ignore their unique purposes.
- Science and religion (fact versus faith) are often seen as two incongruous groups. When you consider the purpose of each and the questions that they seek to answer, the comparison becomes less black and white.
- This video features religious scholars, a primatologist, a neuroendocrinologist, a comedian, and other brilliant minds considering, among other things, the evolutionary function that religion serves, the power of symbols, and the human need to learn, explore, and know the world around us so that it becomes a less scary place.
- "I think most people are actually kind of comfortable with the idea that science is a reliable way to learn about nature, but it's not the whole story and there's a place also for religion, for faith, for theology, for philosophy," says Francis Collins, American geneticist and director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH). "But that harmony perspective doesn't get as much attention. Nobody is as interested in harmony as they are in conflict."
Ever want to move forward but find you're in your own way?
- Many of us are held back by the idea of ourselves that our egos have built and will do anything to maintain.
- Oftentimes this manifests as a fear of failure, an inability to start on new projects, or the evasion of responsibility.
- Here we have five suggestions on how to keep your ego in check.
Ryan Holiday: Ego is the Enemy<div class="rm-shortcode" data-media_id="qQbtxR7m" data-player_id="FvQKszTI" data-rm-shortcode-id="da58a58596485e7999d4d394da1cb742"> <div id="botr_qQbtxR7m_FvQKszTI_div" class="jwplayer-media" data-jwplayer-video-src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/qQbtxR7m-FvQKszTI.js"> <img src="https://cdn.jwplayer.com/thumbs/qQbtxR7m-1920.jpg" class="jwplayer-media-preview" /> </div> <script src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/qQbtxR7m-FvQKszTI.js"></script> </div> <p><a href="https://bigthink.com/u/ryan-holiday" target="_self">Ryan Holiday</a> is a marketing executive, writer, and speaker with important insights into how ego can trip you up.</p><p>In his book, "Ego is the Enemy<em>,"</em> Holiday<em> </em>discusses the dangers of getting too caught up in the stories we tell ourselves about how fantastic we are and the adverse side effects of this. Using his own life for an example, he describes how he realized that he was so dedicated to his work that if he didn't slow down, he was going to work himself into an early grave. This was a result of buying into the story he had been telling himself about himself. He also watched more than a few people fall apart because they didn't have the same realization. </p><p>His book offers a variety of ideas on how to deal with this problem from sources as diverse as stoic philosophy and the advice of UFC fighters. His most practical suggestion might be the "equal, plus, minus" <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B9xpKY7eWfU" target="_blank">concept</a>.</p><p>In this system, a person should have a friend who is their equal, better, and lessor in their field. When you're working on starting a project, turn to your equals to stay motivated and to remind you that you're all in the same boat. When coming off a success, turn to your better, who could be an accomplished mentor, to keep your ego from growing too much. Lastly, when you've failed, have somebody who you're a mentor to around to explain the failing; that'll help you realize that failure is just part of the process.</p><p>These three kinds of people can help you keep your ego in check and help you get over the pitfalls that prevent you from starting your projects, admitting failure, or moving forward after a win.</p>
Buddhist Thought and "Non-Self"<div class="rm-shortcode" data-media_id="4KYp5mvc" data-player_id="FvQKszTI" data-rm-shortcode-id="78aebf46092ec62d0faa179b0394191d"> <div id="botr_4KYp5mvc_FvQKszTI_div" class="jwplayer-media" data-jwplayer-video-src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/4KYp5mvc-FvQKszTI.js"> <img src="https://cdn.jwplayer.com/thumbs/4KYp5mvc-1920.jpg" class="jwplayer-media-preview" /> </div> <script src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/4KYp5mvc-FvQKszTI.js"></script> </div> <p>The Buddhist notion of <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anatta" target="_blank">Anatta</a> means "non-self" and refers to the idea that there is no permanent, unchanging substance that we can call the "self." We tend to point at a variety of things, namely our form, thoughts, sensory experience, perceptions, and consciousness, and say that one or more of these things as they currently exist is the "self." Buddhism is here to tell you that they aren't.</p><p>As with everything else, Buddhism suggests that suffering arises when we try to hold on to impermanent things. In this case, your idea of an enduring "self." By understanding the true nature of the self, that there isn't something enduring there at all, we can come to realize that many of the things that our ego tells us are fundamental parts of ourselves, how we look, think, act, see the world, or feel about things this moment aren't actually "us." </p><p>By getting that idea out of our heads, we can allow ourselves to make the changes, take risks, and accept the things that ego usually wouldn't allow us to. Many a Buddhist monk would also suggest that it would enable you to move down the path towards enlightenment.</p>
Mindfulness Meditation<div class="rm-shortcode" data-media_id="VGZSWkFa" data-player_id="FvQKszTI" data-rm-shortcode-id="ac625b307d0c949ca945222a6df6a13a"> <div id="botr_VGZSWkFa_FvQKszTI_div" class="jwplayer-media" data-jwplayer-video-src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/VGZSWkFa-FvQKszTI.js"> <img src="https://cdn.jwplayer.com/thumbs/VGZSWkFa-1920.jpg" class="jwplayer-media-preview" /> </div> <script src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/VGZSWkFa-FvQKszTI.js"></script> </div> <p>Meditation's endless benefits are, and have been, promoted by a variety of religions and ideologies in a myriad of forms. We're going to focus on mindfulness meditation here, but know that other kinds of meditation can claim these benefits.</p><p>Mindfulness meditation takes a few pages from Buddhism's playbook but goes in a separate direction. The goal is to bring one's attention to the present moment while sitting. This is often done by counting the breath or focusing attention on a particular area on the body. Done correctly, it allows one to enter into a state of "nonelaborative, nonjudgmental, present-centered awareness in which each thought, feeling, or sensation that arises in the attentional field is acknowledged and accepted as it is," as described by psychologist <a href="https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1093/clipsy.bph077" target="_blank">Dr. Scott Bishop</a>. </p><p>By helping us to turn off that part of our brain that worries about the past, future, and the endless list of threats to our sense of self, mindfulness meditation trains us to focus on what is rather than what our ego often tells us is. By doing so, we gain the ability to get past our ego defenses. This notion is supported by studies that demonstrate that people who practice mindfulness have a healthier and more coherent sense of <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4310269/" target="_blank">self</a>. </p>
Drugs!<div class="rm-shortcode" data-media_id="83HrLnMe" data-player_id="FvQKszTI" data-rm-shortcode-id="e834635ec27ede810bf69997f37bed8d"> <div id="botr_83HrLnMe_FvQKszTI_div" class="jwplayer-media" data-jwplayer-video-src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/83HrLnMe-FvQKszTI.js"> <img src="https://cdn.jwplayer.com/thumbs/83HrLnMe-1920.jpg" class="jwplayer-media-preview" /> </div> <script src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/83HrLnMe-FvQKszTI.js"></script> </div> <p>Before we begin, please remember that you shouldn't go running to the neighborhood dealer just because some website mentioned how drugs can do something interesting.</p><p>Ever since Timothy Leary and company got their hands on the Tibetan Book of the Dead in the 1960s, the goal of achieving Ego Death has been a commonly discussed topic in psychedelic literature. The idea is to use drugs to alter your consciousness to a point where your mind no longer differentiates itself from the rest of the world around it. </p><p>Psychonauts describe this effect as quite dramatic and unlike typical consciousness experiences. One I spoke to described it as an intense rocket launch into the serine void of space. Another described it as a blowing out of a candle with perfect stillness afterward. The condition allows for the individual to view their mental processes, including ego defenses and the stories we tell ourselves about ourselves, from a detached state. </p><p>As recorded by several <a href="https://www.sunypress.edu/p-2684-the-ecstatic-imagination.aspx" target="_blank">researchers</a>, the experience can be cathartic and lead to great personal insights under the right conditions. As Sam Harris mentions in his video, drugs do have the benefit of always producing an effect, and the experience can lead to legitimate insights. Those who research psychedelic drugs believe that this effect is caused by the drugs' creation of new connections between parts of the brain that don't regularly interact with one another.</p><p>It is also worth noting that John Lennon blamed the intensification of his personal problems and a bout of depression on trying to follow Leary's instructions. Writer Hunter S. Thompson, who had more acid in him than a car battery, thought that Leary was peddling nonsense. </p>
Tim Ferriss' list of fears<div class="rm-shortcode" data-media_id="OyjFAvAa" data-player_id="FvQKszTI" data-rm-shortcode-id="de6558efc7e7adbc2ad39a2a288f9c5b"> <div id="botr_OyjFAvAa_FvQKszTI_div" class="jwplayer-media" data-jwplayer-video-src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/OyjFAvAa-FvQKszTI.js"> <img src="https://cdn.jwplayer.com/thumbs/OyjFAvAa-1920.jpg" class="jwplayer-media-preview" /> </div> <script src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/OyjFAvAa-FvQKszTI.js"></script> </div> <p>An investor and author with some ideas related to stoic philosophy, Mr. Ferriss has some suggestions for overcoming fear that can easily be applied to getting your ego out of your way.</p><p>Fear setting requires that you take a piece of paper with three columns and write what risk you want to take at the top. In the first column, you write very specific bad things that could happen if you take the risk. In the next column, you write ways to minimize those risks. In the last, you write ways to rebound from each listed risk. <br> <br> This system can be applied to notions of ourselves just as easily as it can be applied to our fear of going broke. If you don't start painting because you are afraid of what the critics will say, list it on this chart. Concerned that people will laugh at you if you change your style? Include it. Even just using it as intended can be enough to battle your ego. How many times have you been afraid of being seen as a failure so much that you don't try something? </p><p>Now, ask yourself what your ego defenses are protecting and see if you can get around those walls. </p>
The Buddha wasn't concerned with transcendence, but rather fully embodying the moment.
- Buddhism's recognition of nature's transience is particularly important right now.
- Mindfulness is an introduction to insight, which needs to be applied to navigate challenging times.
- The following 10 quotes provide a roadmap for dealing with our current struggles.
Pema Chödrön: What to Do When You Lose It Completely<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="f7b93269a34446108ac19f28134e4eba"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/asRKEXq-Y3g?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><blockquote>"If we commit ourselves to staying right where we are, then our experience becomes very vivid. Things become very clear when there is nowhere to escape." Pe<span style="background-color: initial;">ma Chödrön, </span><em>When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times</em></blockquote><p>One of the unique factors in this very politically polarized time is that a virus does not discriminate due to political beliefs. There is truly nowhere to escape during this public heath crisis, and so we are forced to confront what is right in front of us. </p><blockquote>"Some people are content in the midst of deprivation and danger, while others are miserable despite having all the luck in the world. This is not to say that external circumstances do not matter. But it is your mind, rather than circumstances themselves, that determines the quality of your life. Your mind is the basis of everything you experience and of every contribution you make to the lives of others. Given this fact, it makes sense to train it." — Sam Harris, <em>Waking Up: A Guide to Spirituality Without Religion</em></blockquote><p>Training includes meditation, something that Sam Harris knows well. Many of us are faced with suddenly being thrown back to the base of Maslow's pyramid. Those working in the hospitality, entertainment, and numerous other industries have to pay bills. The survival instinct is kicking in. Yet mindset still matters. </p><blockquote>"Even if the familiar is unsatisfactory, we tend to cling to it because we are afraid of the unknown." Karen Armstrong, <em>Buddha</em></blockquote><p>The scariest aspect of the present moment is that <em>no one knows</em>. We can only speculate and hope experts provide the best guidance they can. That said, clinging to what was before will not help. </p><blockquote>"If we can be open…we find that life's unpredictability is full of interesting and invigorating challenges. These challenges engage us in unexpected and unanticipated ways and allow for the freedom of unscripted responsiveness. Right Action is more than just a reaction. It springs from an attunement to the moment that the confines of convention obscure." Mark Epstein, <em>Advice Not Given: A Guide to Getting Over Yourself</em></blockquote><p>After Buddha developed his <a href="https://www.lionsroar.com/what-are-the-four-noble-truths/" target="_blank">Four Noble Truths</a>, he needed a prescriptive plan. This arrived in the form of <a href="https://tricycle.org/magazine/noble-eightfold-path/" target="_blank">The Noble Eightfold Path</a>. Here, Epstein addresses one of these limbs, Right Action:</p><blockquote>"To live on this shifting ground, one first needs to stop obsessing about what has happened before and what might happen later. One needs to be more vitally conscious of what is happening now. This not to deny the reality of past and future. It is about embarking on a new relationship with the impermanence and temporality of life. Instead of hankering after the past and speculating about the future, one sees the present as the fruit of what has been and the germ of what will be. Gotama did not encourage withdrawal to a timeless, mystical now, but an unflinching encounter with the contingent world as it unravels moment to moment." Stephen Batchelor, <em>Confessions of a Buddhist Atheist</em></blockquote><p>What I've always appreciated about Buddhism is its initial refusal to discuss metaphysical concepts (thought that did come later). Here Batchelor sums up why we need to focus on what's in front of us. </p>
Photo by Patrick Connor Klopf / Unsplash<blockquote>"We cannot attain true peace of mind merely by seeking our own salvation while remaining indifferent to the welfare of others." Philip Kapleau, <em>The Three Pillars of Zen: Teaching, Practice, and Enlightenment</em></blockquote><p>If there is any singular lesson we can all learn right now, it's the reality of another Buddhist principle: interdependence. We're all in this together. </p><blockquote>"The key, taught the Buddha, lies in not taking trauma personally. When it it seen as a natural reflection of the chaotic universe of whi<strong></strong>ch we are a part, it loses its edge and can become a deeper object of mindfulness." Mark Epstein, <em>The Trauma of Everyday Life</em></blockquote><p>In an individualistic culture such as America, it is easy to take affronts personally. Again, disease does not discriminate. Yes, it is predominantly attacking people with compromised immune systems, but that has nothing to do with the usual markers we use to divide societies, such as race, class, or gender. The normal definitions of self are useless in the face of a pandemic, forcing us to reconsider what "self" implies. </p><blockquote>"Each instance of craving involved an escape from the here and now, a desire for becoming or being something or someplace other than what the present moment offered. But to seek ceaselessly some new state of being while at the same time striving for permanence was to expose oneself to frustration." Pankaj Mishra, <em>An End to Suffering: The Buddha in the World</em></blockquote><p>Attachment is one of the main forms of bondage. We are, as stated, in a new world. The sooner we recognize that, the better it will be for our mental health. </p><blockquote>"Our pains are sufferings, obviously. Our ordinary pleasures seem the opposite, but the seeker of enlightenment knows that they bring suffering by being fleeting and addictive, leaving us more discontent when we lose them than if we never had them." Robert Thurman, <em>Inner Revolution: Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Real Happiness</em></blockquote><p>The tendency to avoid pain at all costs and seek pleasure has always been flawed. Now we are being collectively forced to confront that fact. </p><blockquote>"The practice of embodied attention challenges our habitual <em>perceptions</em> of self and world as permanent, satisfactory, and intrinsically ours. By stabilizing attention through mindfulness and concentration, we begin to see for ourselves how pleasurable and painful <em>feelings</em> trigger habitual patterns of reactivity and craving. These two insights not only undermine our <em>inclinations</em> to hold on to what we like and to push away what we fear but open up the possibility of thinking, speaking, and acting otherwise." Stephen Batchelor, <em>After Buddhism: Rethinking the Dharma for a Secular Age</em></blockquote><p>In the end, how we act in the face of adversity reveals our true character. We can't always change the external reality, but we can change how we react. </p><p><em></em>--</p><p>Stay in touch with Derek on <a href="http://www.twitter.com/derekberes" target="_blank">Twitter</a> and <a href="https://www.facebook.com/DerekBeresdotcom" target="_blank">Facebook</a>. His next book is "Hero's Dose: The Case For Psychedelics in Ritual and Therapy."</p>
Critics complain that Maslow's hierarchy of needs focuses too much on the West. Yet other cultures often have similar ideas about personal development.
- When Abraham Maslow developed his hierarchy of needs, he focused entirely on students, peers, and historical figures, all of whom were from the West.
- This led many critics to argue that his model of human development and the concept of self-actualization were not universal; they merely reflected Western ideas about development and self-improvement.
- Other cultures ranging from Blackfoot Native Americans to the Chinese have similar ideas that run parallel to self-actualization. What are they, and how do they differ?
Self-actualization has been a pop psychology touchstone ever since Abraham Maslow coined the term in 1943. Since then, a panoply of articles, books, podcasts, motivational posters, and even business models have popped up explaining the best way forward for countless individuals looking to grow and become the best version of themselves they can possibly be.
The concept of self-actualization and the hierarchy of needs, however, has taken on a life of its own outside the ivory tower of academia. While the concept that an individual's highest drive is to become all that they can possibly be has become accepted as fact, academics still debate whether the hierarchy of needs is the best model of human development. One criticism, in particular, is that self-actualization is a thoroughly Western concept. Maslow developed it by studying the characteristics of his peers and of famous historical figures, such as Abraham Lincoln and Albert Einstein.
Why does this matter? The model is meant to be a model of human development, but the research it was developed from was mostly based on one sliver of human experience. Other cultures and philosophies have similar, but slightly varied ways of describing higher states of being. What's the difference between self-actualization and these other ideals?
Taoism and Buddhism
Japanese Zen Buddhist
Image source: Wikimedia Commons
One of the biggest commonalities between these Eastern philosophies and self-actualization is that they all assume there is a drive toward a higher state of being, whether that's Enlightenment, oneness with the Tao, or self-actualization. In Taoism, the goal is to achieve unity with the unknowable underlying principle of the universe (i.e., the tao, or "the way"), while in Zen Buddhism, the goal is to achieve Enlightenment by understanding the emptiness of existence.
Already, we can see some significant differences between self-actualization and these philosophies. There's no religious or even spiritual component in the hierarchy of needs. It doesn't purport to explain life and death or the nature of the universe, just the nature of human motivation. But if you strip away some of the more spiritual elements of these systems, the end goals are pretty similar.
The sage in Taoism, the enlightened individual in Zen Buddhism, and the self-actualized individual in Maslow's hierarchy of needs all are concerned for the well-being of others, are closer to nature, accept reality as it is, and are extremely autonomous. This last bit, the autonomy and independence, is probably why many Westerners are so familiar with Taoism, Zen Buddhism, and the like. Westerners like the idea of independent practice, of self-work — of self-actualization.
But there are many other ideas about what makes for a higher state of being that explicitly reject the idea that you can become better in a vacuum.
Image source: Prisma / UIG / Getty Images
Like the hierarchy of needs, there is also an ideal, higher state to be pursued in Confucianism; specifically, sagehood. The Confucian sage is a benevolent, wise individual that embodies tian, which can be thought of as heaven or the underlying laws of the universe. Confucius thought that very few people reached this state of being, as Maslow did in regard to self-actualization. A major difference, however, is that Confucius focused significantly more on the relationship between the sage or developing individual and the society around them. For Maslow's self-actualized individual, their relationship with society is pretty much up to them. A self-actualized individual might care very much about the world around them, or they could be a hermit; it would depend on their individual nature.
In Confucianism, addressing societal issues is how one enables others to become sages. As a result, Confucianism prescribes a strict social code for individuals to follow in order to enable the right kind of society, summed up in Confucius's quote: "There is government, when the prince is prince, and the minister is minister; when the father is father, and the son is son." What's more, by being a father, minister, or whichever role you're meant to be, Confucianism asserts that you can become more virtuous and develop further. Perhaps more than the other philosophies listed here, Confucianism is much more prescriptive, where the hierarchy of needs is much more descriptive.
Blackfoot Native Americans
Chief Little Dog, a Blackfoot Native American, on his horse n front of a tipi at Glacier Park Lodge.
Wolfgang Kaehler/LightRocket via Getty Images
One of the more interesting parallels to Maslow's hierarchy of needs is the philosophy of the Blackfoot Native Americans. In fact, Maslow is believed to have used Blackfoot beliefs to develop his theory after a visit to the Blackfoot Nation in Alberta, Canada, in 1938.
The Blackfoot perspective on self-actualization was quite different than Maslow's, however.
For the Blackfoot, self-actualization was actually at the base of the pyramid. As with other philosophies focused on human development and higher states of being, the Blackfoot model extends the concept outside of the self and focuses on the impact of self-development on the community. Above self-actualization comes community actualization, above which comes cultural perpetuity, or the idea that the knowledge and wisdom of a community can live on in perpetuity, so long as the individual and the community become actualized.
Aside from its emphasis on community rather than the individual, this model is interesting because it also focuses on time — if a community achieves cultural perpetuity, then it lasts forever. It also explicitly discusses something that Maslow would later add to his hierarchy: the idea of self-transcendence. Maslow later believed that all self-actualized individuals would feel the need to pursue goals outside of the self, a feature that was already present in the Blackfoot model.
None of this is to say that Maslow's model of human development is wrong or right — rather, it's important to acknowledge how much of Maslow's thinking was a product of his culture. Psychology, in particular, is a science that's easily influenced by culture — just as an example, consider the fact that nearly all psychological studies are conducted on undergraduate college students. It's immediately apparent that ascertaining universal truths from a sample of undergraduate college students and Western historical figures is a dubious proposition.
When it comes to pursuing a better version of the self, it pays to keep in mind that there are many perspectives on what that better version might be.