Multimind

The occasion which really started my interest in the brain was Robert Ornstein’s book Multimind, which I read in 1986. Ornstein is a distinguished psychology professor, with many fine books to his name. Perhaps the one for which he will be remembered is his Psychology of Consciousness.

In Multimind, as I recall, he describes how we understand the world and our experience by choosing from one of the patterns which exist in our minds. The one which most immediately struck me was his remark that we use one pattern to judge other’s behaviour and another to judge our own.

Let me give you a small but true example. One hot summer my wife was complaining about a neighbour noisily playing pop music. I agreed with her. But a few days later I noticed (well, I couldn’t avoid noticing) that she had our hi fi playing at full volume. I asked her how she could do that in the light of her neighbour’s annoying habits. She said: “I’m playing Mozart. No one could possibly complain about that.”

(I would like to have given you an example of my inconsistency. But, you see, I am never inconsistent, though I am sure that you often are.)

What is the cause of this inconsistency? I note that it starts off when we are infants. You have all seen 5 year olds squabbling. Both are furious with what the other has done, and they escalate in a crescendo of accusations of “he did it first”, “she did it first”. The experienced grown up knows that nothing is going to be gained by an attempted judgment of Solomon. The only answer is to bring the escalation to an end by distraction, or to use force majeure.

The grown up philosophically hopes that, with maturity, the children will realise that they are each as bad as the other – their comforting illusion which pictures themselves as innocent and the other as guilty is just that – an illusion. And irrelevant. One day perhaps the children will recognise this and become skilled themselves in reducing the escalation.

That is a triumph of optimism. We see adult irrational escalations every day in society: for example, trade unions and management. Or, even more dangerously, the escalation of nuclear armament in the Cold War.

At the individual adult level we can see the psychological factors at work. The behaviour tends to be characteristic of people who have a strong sense of ego. This of course is a weakness: such an individual becomes over anxious and defensive. He or she needs to protect their ego by placing the blame elsewhere or, on other occasions, attempting to deal the final, crushing blow. Only it has a tendency to be neither final nor crushing – and the escalation continues.

There is likely to be another reason too. It appears in a study from the University of Toronto published in Cerebral Cortex in January this year. This shows that, while we judge the external world through our (cognitive) neocortex, we judge ourselves through our (emotional) limbic system. This latter system mediates to us our emotions and our fears.

We had thought that we were weighing the faults of our opponent fairly against our own. We had forgotten, or did not know, that we were using two different weighing machines – and the one we used for our own behaviour was deeply biased in our favour.

This is why a spectator can watch an escalating spat – and wonder how two intelligent people can proceed to damage themselves by such irrationality. Meanwhile the participants are tricked by the primitive part of the brain into believing that winning, or having the last word, is an essential defence of their whole person. Everyone loses.

Advertisements

About Quentin

Science Editor, Catholic Herald. Portrait © Jacqueline Alma
This entry was posted in Moral judgment, Neuroscience, Philosophy. Bookmark the permalink.

82 Responses to Multimind

  1. milliganp says:

    I’m not sure if it has the same level of academic approval but there is a methodology documented in popular psychology called transactional analysis (e.g What do you say after you say hello). The theory is that in any exchange we play the role of parent (self righteous and judgemental), adult (open to equality of other) or child (misbehaving, immature and self-justifying). The parental mode is particularly popular among fundamentalists and Catholic neo-traditionalists – hence the many dialogues-of-the-deaf you see on internet blogs. Adam reverted to child when he blamed Eve for his complicity in the fall.
    Given that this is a science and religion blog the question we have to ask is how culpable we are for actions that are an accident of the way our brains work. The principal behind psychotherapy is that we can change once we properly understand how our minds work. An Act of Contrition, Three Hail-Marys and a promise not to do it again may be a poor substitute.

  2. Iona says:

    I suppose we judge ourselves through our emotional system (not rationally) because we feel that “self” is something that needs protecting. People stand up for members of their own family in the same way, – particularly parents defending their children. The matter is too urgent to be rational about; we just react. Later on, when things have calmed down, we can look at the situation more rationally.
    There are people who habitually judge themselves more harshly than they judge others. Or, they make excuses for others, which they don’t for themselves. But this may be in retrospect, not in the heat of the moment.
    (On thinking about it, I suspect such people are becoming increasingly rare; the current tendency is to be self-assertive).

    • Peter D. Wilson says:

      How true! I constantly find myself having to correct the tendency, and now I wonder how often I may have failed to do so.

    • Nektarios says:

      Iona

      Are we not all describing the disorder that exists in the man -made mind?
      Can we get something clear, are we not living in a man-made world, with a man-made mind? Are we the result of man-made minds – our thinking and so on; our responses in the brain are not actual, but conditioned man-made responses?
      We are living in a man-made world with a condtioned mind by man, with man-made responses,
      so the question is, can this man -made mind free itself from its conditioning?
      Can the mind reach a state where there is something not man-made?
      As long as we stay within this conditioned man-made mind, the human man-made mind with all its conditioning it is limited and in various states of disorder.

  3. Iona says:

    MilliganP – Three Hail Marys, an Act of Contrition and a promise not to do it again (or, firm purpose of amendment?) may not be a substitute for understanding how our minds work, but perhaps they are at least a step in the right direction, – an acknowledgement that our self-partiality was regrettable and to be avoided in future if possible. And if the priest is a good one he may be able to give some helpful advice. Which might even include seeking help from a psychotherapist if the problem is severe enough.

    • milliganp says:

      I won’t disagree with you since the essence of the Christian life is denial of self. My point is that, if we know a little about why we do things, making a change in our behaviour would be much easier as we would have a tool to use. It’s would be obviously absurd to justify rape or adultery on the basis of the basic sex drive, however mortal sin requires concious wilful rejection of the divine law and the reality is that much of what we tend to call sin is not concious (e.g. wandering mind while praying, initial anger as a conditioned reflex).
      There’s an old saying “a stitch in time saves nine”. I suspect Quentin, from his marriage counselling experience, has come across many situations that would have been salvageable if they had been recognised earlier.
      My final point would be that many of these behaviours would seem to be a direct result of how we are made by God which inevitably raises some issues of culpability – hence a few exercises in behavioural change might be a useful addition to the three Hail Marys.

      • Nektarios says:

        milliganp
        Yes, but what is this `Self’ that has to be denied?
        I don’t know if you have gone into the whole issue of Self, yet, for example what it is, what energizes it and sustains it, and why this Self behaves the way it does?
        Do you want to explore this Self for yourself or are you waiting for someone to tell you – most are?

      • mike Horsnall says:

        MilliganP:

        I get the sense that the act of reconciliation may well act as a door opening the way INTO behavioural change. There is a kind of self loathing associated with repeated sinfulness which can usefully be broken in the confessional thus allowing genuine progress to be made….as has been mentioned already we judge ourselves along an emotional pathway which is not particularly rational – self forgiveness and a movement toward health may be impossible until the self condemnation is ritually dealt with.

      • Rahner says:

        “…since the essence of the Christian life is denial of self.”
        Rubbish. The essence of the Christian life is a transformation of the self by an encounter with God in Christ.

  4. Brian Hamill says:

    Some good comments here so far. I came across a rationale behind this dual approach some time ago. It relates to the image of our eyes. We have two of them. If we cover up one of them, we can still see, but it is in two dimensions. We need the other to provide the third dimension and so focus properly. Now if we were to say that each of us have the unique view from one eye and only others can provide the view from the other eye, then we need others to focus properly on reality by providing their view of the situation, which is equally valid as our own unique view. This requires an attitude of self-confidence in our own view and of humility towards the others’ view. It all goes wrong when we promote our ‘eye’ over theirs or, in the case of the person who lacks proper self-confidence, their eye over ours. This is what is God-given. We need each other to get as near as possible to the truth of a situation.

    • Nektarios says:

      Brian Hamill

      If you are saying, we can look at some object and everybody would see it slightly differently, this is well known.
      This is one of the problems one encounters when one compares, when one analyizes,
      when measures, weighs and lablels whatever. we all appear to see things differently.
      When it comes to `Self’ it is not seen, just the effects of its workings.

      As for one self-confidence, or ability to communicate well promotes our eye over their eye, this is done many millions of times around the world every day. It leads to arguments, strife, offence, (people walking away from this blog – (take stock Quentin),
      wars, and one trying to dominate another.

      I am not satisfied with the idea of `getting near to the truth’ I need to see the truth,
      for in that seeing, one is changed, transformed, enlightened if you like. and set free,
      for `the truth shall set you free.’ Right?

      Go slowly Brian, you are talking about yourself, that ` Self’ you need to look at, see
      its movement. Question everything, go into it seriously, otherwise there is no point.
      We would not have understanding, wisdom, truth, but only an opinion.
      Getting ones opinion heard depends where in the social strata one is coming from,
      otherwise one will not be heard.

      But, one can always look within, one can always discover and one can always find the truth, if one is serious enough, not judging or condemning or even wanting to change
      what one sees, that will happen anyway.

  5. Iona says:

    Milliganp
    “mortal sin requires concious wilful rejection of the divine law and the reality is that much of what we tend to call sin is not concious (e.g. wandering mind while praying, initial anger as a conditioned reflex).”
    Agreed, not conscious, but if we don’t make an effort to become conscious of it and overcome it, isn’t that culpable negligence?

  6. Iona says:

    Nektarios – at 1.05 a.m.
    (1.05 a.m.? Are you always such a night owl?)
    Yes, on the whole I agree with what you say. But does it actually get us anywhere; because if we can get outside the man-made conditioning, concepts etc., could we then communicate anything of what we then saw to anyone else (except perhaps someone else who had already seen it)?

    • Nektarios says:

      Iona

      A monk once wrote: “During the day, it is time for work, for services, worship, reading,prayers, visitors, talking; But the night time… the stillness, that is mine.”
      So, yes, I am a bit of a night -owl.

      Am I not communicating? I must be communicating something otherwise you would not say, ” On the whole I agree with you”.

      You say “if” we can get outside the man-made conditioning etc……
      Lets start there shall we?
      How is this man-made mind with all its reactions, according to its man-made conditioning
      to come upon that which is not of a man-made mind, and so on?

      In the realm of ideas we flit about like butterflies. We are not an idea or set of ideas in actuality.
      The man-made mind, the conditioned mind, the fearful mind, the judgmental mind cannot
      enquire. Play around with ideas, yes, agree or disagree, but not enquire….it is in too much of a state of disorder to do that.
      This disorder is your disorder, it is my disorder, for you are everyman and everyman is you.
      So are we stuck with this disorder, this conditioned man-made mind?
      What is one to do?
      What we can do initially is to observe this man-made mind….not everyone elses, ones own, nobody knows it better.
      Do not judge it, or condemn it, or even seek to change it, just observe it.
      If we do just that, then we have made a start in getting beyond the man-made conditioned mind.

      • Quentin says:

        I think you would need to define a “conditioned” mind. We do not respond or react starting from scratch but in the light of our previous experience, our genes, our primitive instincts etc. Without these we would be dumbfounded. However, once we are aware of our conditioning, we can take steps to regain better control in the important areas.

  7. tim says:

    “Half of the harm that is done in this world
    Is due to people who want to feel important.
    We do not see the harm – or we justify it
    Because we are engaged in the endless struggle
    To think well of ourselves.”

    ‘The Cocktail Party”, T S Eliot (slightly amended)

  8. Nektarios says:

    Quentin
    I just did define something of the conditioned mind – it is man-made!
    But to elaborate a little. Of course one is born with natural instincts, some of these have been well observed, such as our responses to light, to a Mother’s love, feeding heat touch, sight, smell and so on. Notice a babies responses to what a parent gives a baby to play with, it looks at it, feels it, sees if it is edible, then it has assimilated all the information it wants on the little toy and has moved on to something else. It is that rapid a learning curb taking seconds. There are other instincts we have such as, fear, fight and flight, but there are more subltle ones such as, the baby’s need for space, its instinct for bonding, its instinct for laughing and crying that communicates to the attentive mother. It also has a social instinct which is more perceptive than that of an adult. There is the instinct to move, to sleep to intereact with others -age no barrier! Need I qualify anymore the basic instincts, the movement of which is common to us all as healthy babies and fairly well documented.

    Now to qualify what does one mean by a conditioned mind.
    There is a right use of conditioning of course, like for the safety of the child, we teach them to cross the road properly – the old Green Cross Code; family routine and behaviour; learning to read and write and add and substract; learning what is good to eat and not good. Hygene and other essential necessary conditioning.
    Then comes the man -made conditioning of the mind, the total conforming or punishment.
    in the home, The pattern of conforming to authority is firmily established in the child by the age of approximatly five years old.
    Education is also another tool of conditioning of the mind by man to conform. The workplace, police, Government, Military, Religion are all people engaged to condition the mind to conform usually by fear or punishment and of course reward. The pretext, soial cohesion.

    By the time a person is an adult, they are either confused, enraged or been totally conditioned and repeats the same when they get married, have children, send them off to school and so on.

    Perhaps the most insidious of all conditioning of the mind is done by the media, Offering
    pleasures evermore, exicitement, distraction, happiness, well-being, good relationships and so on.
    Then there is the conditioning of the mind by the professionals, religious, political, banks, business, the clebritity culture, actors and many many other groups that demand our conformity
    to bow down before them, their authority, their power, their cleverness, their, professional qualifications and talents, which in many cases, is little more than self interest by others demanding our conformity. This is abuse and simply using pre-condtioned people who have been conditioned. What those who demand conformity forget or not realize is, They are themselves conditioned – but alas, in most cases they don’t see it.

    Is it any wonder then that the man made mind, that is conditioning the mind by man for man, that for many, when it comes to worship, man worships the creature, the created, rather than the Creator?
    As to being aware of ones conditioning – are we, really? I don’t think we have delved into ourself sufficiently to say one is aware of our conditioning, some of it perhaps, but with all the other chains that have been bound around ones mind – a mere idea about awareness is not going to take one out of the man-made conditioned mind,nor escape so easily to discover that of the mind which is not man-made, pristine, whole and holy and free.
    Have I said enough for now to answer your question, Quentin?

    • Quentin says:

      Does your broad view of the conditioned mind cover also the shorthand conditioning brought about by experience? For example. I have a stereotype built from mathematicians that I know. This gives me a good starting point when I meet a new one. But if I am not aware how stereotypes influence me, I cannot make proper allowance for this. So the conditioning here is both useful and potentially misleading.

  9. Nektarios says:

    Quentin
    I am not quite sure what you mean by shorthand conditioning?

    But to answer you, question: Does your broad view of the conditioned mind cover also the shorthand conditioning brought about experience?

    To differentiate, there is a difference between experience and experiencing.
    Experience is old and out of memory.
    Experiencing is always immediate, happening in the now as it were. You see the difference?

    If we are experiencing something new, for the first time, Thought lays hold of it and asks what is this? It taps into memory.
    Memory can only present that which is known, and if called to answer what is this something new,
    memory gives us ony a fragment. Well, it is like this or that.

    When it comes to more complex aspects such as relationships, for example, our past experience can be so coloured by our past conditioning, so we are not meeting the new at all, but simply assessing the new by our conditioning of the past, regards parents, girls, men, colour, race ,
    religion, creed and so on

    Let me give you a simple example:
    My wife said something yesterday and I was very upset. I don’t like to argue with her, so I remained in a stoney silence.
    I had to leave the same day for a couple of days for a conference.
    When I saw my wife again two days later, it was not the wife I was meeting, but that woman which two days earlier I had emotionally been hurt by. Are you following this?
    So you see, the present experiencing which is new, is often clouded by the past.
    Most of our conditioning patterns are set up by the time one is seven years old. As you are well aware, once a pattern in set up, it is extremly difficult to break. Such is our conditioning.

    • mike Horsnall says:

      Tim, “….Half of the harm that is done in this world….”
      Thanks for that Eliot-he’s among my favourites.

      Rahner: “…since the essence of the Christian life is denial of self.”
      Rubbish. The essence of the Christian life is a transformation of the self by an encounter with God in Christ.
      We may disagree on many things but here you are precisely bang on. Trouble is its not an easy thing to get to grips with. I was on a painting and prayer retreat for a few days this week at St Beuno’s in Wales. We spent some time pondering this little tale:
      Brother Lott goes to to see Brother Shael who is an aged and famous mystic. Brother Lott says something like this: “Well Brother Shael, I pray a little , fast a little , try my best to live a good life and am pretty much at peace, what else should I be doing.?”
      In reply Brother Shael stands up and stretches his arms up to the heavens-his fingers become like flame and he says: “Well you could always catch on fire ..!”
      Its not quite true to the original which is buried somewhere in the shambles of my car. But it iillustrates well the dilemma I think. Our priest spoke the other week about allowing Jesus to retreat into the pages of the Bible or to dissapear into the Tradition of the Church, again he had a point-easy to follow the way of the Church-harder to be transformed.

  10. Iona says:

    Tim – only half?

    • tim says:

      Maybe not. Construing it strictly, I don’t think it necessarily excludes more than half. Nor is it to be read as accurate to four significant figures. I expect in fact it was from euphony: “Half of the harm…”

  11. John Candido says:

    I agree with Rahner’s view that ‘the essence of the Christian life is a transformation of the self by an encounter with God in Christ’. At least it is a more rounded and positive conceptualisation of Christian life than saying that the essence of life is the ‘denial of self’. As far as possible, humans should eschew guilt, shame, or self-hatred, whatever their aetiology, as plain common-sense and conducive to a good life.

    The nurturing of our faith depends on two things in essence. Firstly, our level of maturity and experience in life, and secondly, using all of the sacraments as occasions of grace from God, with the intention of loving God more and more as we grow older.

    Part of the sacramental life of Christians is prayer and meditation. Professor Robert E. Ornstein, who published ‘Multimind’ and ‘Psychology of Consciousness’, has also published ‘Meditation and Modern Psychology’, published by Malor Books in 2008. This book discusses meditation from different religious perspectives and examines the effect of meditation on human minds from the vantage point of neuroscience.

    For anybody that might be interested, there is a past discussion on the science of meditation on Secondsight in May 2010 at https://secondsightblog.net/2010/05/20/the-science-of-meditation/.

    • John Candido says:

      P.S. there is a very useful website called ‘Booko’ at http://www.booko.com.au/ which I regularly use to find the cheapest price for any book that I might be interested in buying. It is a comparison website which examines the price for a particular book from several online bookshops, and gives you the price of the book as well as the postal charge, if any. It is an Australian website and I am not sure as to how it would work in other countries. I will not give it a guarantee that it will do the job in whatever country you are reading this.

  12. mike Horsnall says:

    ..Self denial…
    On the other hand the New Testament is fairly clear , as was jesus himself, that self denial is intrinsic to the living out of Christian life…this opens up a whole can of worms I know but we are defined by our everyday choices-to please oneself or to aim somewhat higher.

    • Rahner says:

      The language of self-denial is often associated with a negative, Platonised spirituality that is remote from the teachings of Jesus. I would suggest that the language of self- transcendence which sees the whole of the human person growing into a fuller relationship with both God and the world is more appropriate and helpful.

      • Nektarios says:

        Rahner,

        What do you mean by self-trancendence? How are you going to progress from the sinful nature, that is conditioned religiously as well in a secular way, with only a 5% awareness
        of the total consciousness to this `fuller relationship with both God and the world, and,
        what does such relationship consist of?

    • Nektarios says:

      Mike Horsnall

      Yes, but what is this Self that has to be denied. Why must this Self be denied? What is it that sustains and energizes the Self and why does it behave the way it does? Rahner needs to answer the same question, along with the question: What Self is it that is transformed by an encounter with God in Christ?
      John Candido, agrees that the Self is to be denied, but doesn’t say why it need to be denied , and only offers limits to that Self denial as long as it is not detrimental to common sense and conducive to a good life – what kind of self denial is that?

      Coming back to Mike’s statement : `I know we are defined by our everyday choices – to please oneself or to aim somewhat higher’.

      Choice is not as good as it sounds in some respects. Choice always equals division.
      What is making the choices,if not the conditioned mind?
      What Self, is aiming somewhat higher? Higher than what? Do do what; be what?
      If one is not careful, with all the choices, one does not simply land up with a more subtle form of the conditioned self.

      Now that you have read this, don’t agree or disagree, but look, enquire, question,
      otherwise one is going nowhere in all this ` multimind concepts’. One is only playing
      with ideas as though this was something totally external to us individiually, when clearly
      it is internal, within our own skin and needs addressing?

  13. mike Horsnall says:

    Please stop bothering me with your foolishness.

    • Quentin says:

      Mike, you are at liberty to disagree with Nektarios, or declare that you do not understand his drift, or ignore his comment but one word put-downs like “foolishness” and “rubbish” (yes I know that one wasn’t you) are unhelpful.

  14. mike Horsnall says:

    Quentin,
    The continual harping on like a stuck needle on one topic and refusing to simply accept that others do not wish to be bothered by this same constantly repeated blather is foolishness. Mostly I do ignore it these days but the courtesy does not seem to be returned and so on and on this wearisome way we go. I have asked previously not to be included in what seems to me largely sanctimonious cant but to no avail.

  15. Iona says:

    The word “self” is used with subtly different meanings in a multitude of contexts, and there’s no certainty even that two people using it in the same context have the same thing in mind. John Candido doesn’t like the idea that the “denial of self” is the essence of the Christian life, although Jesus said “if anyone wants to be my disciple, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me”; but (John) is your uneasiness because you are thinking of the self as the true essence of a person, which should be nurtured rather than denied; whereas the “self” of Jesus’s “self denial” is a much more limited and blinkered entity?

    • Nektarios says:

      Iona
      I agree with you that `self’ is used subtly in a multitude of contexts.
      However, the `self’ that we are asked to deny is not an enity at all, but an illusion,
      that is why it has to be denied.
      The `self’ that has to be denied is a product of thought, put together by thought, energized by thought and sustained by thought. An enity has being, the `self’ that is to be denied has no being, just disordered energy, conditioned, selfish, and continually anxious. The `self’ that has to be denied, is a thought construct and has no permenance.
      We have lived in and with the disorder of this `self’ that has to be denied for so long, that we find it very difficult to distinguish between that `self’ to be denied and our true self.
      If Salvation is anything, and it is, one of its apects is extracting us from the old nature in to the new nature in Christ Jesus.
      It is also giving us the Truth to dwell with us. And to the Truth one must be attentive.
      In doing so, one begins to live in the Truth and that energy.
      When we live, follow and are attentive to the Truth, `self is denied,
      the energy becomes weak so much so `Self’ that is to be denied, reaches to the point where it no longer is a problem and its effects, disorder and illusions are no more.
      The Truth has set one free.

      For those who perhaps think this is repetitive sanctimonious cant, think again, it is what the Fathers knew, lived and taught. It is called Patristic Theology.
      And what is Patristic Theology all about? It is about the theory and the practice of the spiritual life; from being dead in trespasses and sin to that life in Christ and spiritual health.
      The word , health comes from the word `Halig’ meaning healthy and that healthiness and
      is referring to primarily a spiritual health.

    • John Candido says:

      I agree with Peter D. Wilson, Mike Horsnall, & Rahner on what they have written on the issue of the ‘self’ and self-denial.

      Of course Christ used the well-known verse in Luke 9: 23-24,

      ‘And he said to them all, “If anyone wants to come with me, he must forget himself, take up his cross every day, and follow me. For whoever wants to save his own life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.”’ (Good News Bible, Catholic Edition, 1991).

      As Peter D. Wilson has said, it is a matter of balance. In Mark 12: 28-31, a Teacher of the Law asked Jesus a question,

      ‘Which commandment is the most important of all?’ Jesus replied,

      “…love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind (which to me means intellectually or theologically – my comment only), and with all your strength. The second most important commandment is this: Love your neighbour as you love yourself.” (Good News Bible, Catholic Edition, 1991).

      ‘Love your neighbour as you love yourself’, is a well-known scripture that is used fairly regularly by pastors to emphasise the overwhelming importance of a healthy self-love, self-esteem, or self-confidence. Without it in everybody’s life, loving one’s neighbour is harder. It is common-sense really. Integrity, honesty, sincerity, exercises an important role in one’s self-love as well, which is not to say that criminals cannot have high levels of self-confidence, self-love, ego, or self-esteem.

      We have probably heard this before ad nausea; however, it is worth repeating intermittently that you cannot love others, if you don’t love yourself; presumably there is a necessity that some sort of healthy level of self-love must be present within us in the first place. Our parents love for us as children and the love of our friends are the key to it all, actually. Without their sincere efforts, it becomes a much harder proposition.

  16. Peter D. Wilson says:

    The motto “moderation in all things” seems appropriate to those aspects of thought or conduct that have been described as “negative.” Self-denial to the point of impairing one’s capacity to function properly (whatever “properly” may imply in the particular circumstamces) is clearly wrong; so is shame if it becomes an obsession impeding one’s capacity to do good. On the other hand denying oneself unnecessary luxuries for the sake of utilising resources in some better way or simply curbing selfishness is thoroughly desirable, while a modicum of shame for past failings affords some protection against repeating them or developing an unrealistic sense of virtue.

    I can’t help thinking of Professor Joad in the old “Brains Trust” series, whose reaction to almost any conundrum seemed to be “It all depends on what you mean by … ” Defining terms can sink into tedious pedantry, but is sometimes necessary to productive discussion.

    • Nektarios says:

      Peter D. Wilson
      Exactly! I concur with your last paragraph…. but is sometimes necessary to
      productive discussion.

  17. mike Horsnall says:

    ‘Denying self’ as I understand it in practice simply means recognising those selfish inclinations which are likely to be detrimental to ones own good and the good of others. So for example like many I was happily caught up in the Facebook craze for awhile..Then, being an addictive sort of chap, I found that I was beginning to waste too much time on the thing to the extent that morning prayer was being replaced by morning facebook…Some trimming of the facebook habit was then required-even though I really did like accumulating friends and exchanging gossip. This doesnt mean that I deny the basic instinct towards relationship and friendship which is part of my ‘self’ but I do have to recognise that there is a place for all things and that a part of me has got out of control and turned a simple pleasure into something more atavistic.

  18. Vincent says:

    On the question of ‘self’ I have, rather pedestrianly gone back to the dictionary; I find that it has 6 meanings. And 3 sub meanings. This is then followed by 7 columns of words which contain self.

    However I have fixed on the first two meanings. One is a person’s or thing’s own individuality or essence. The second is a person or thing as the object of introspection or reflexive action.

    Two outcomes seem relevant to me. The first is a simple identification, e.g., me, myself, and I. The second requires a grasp of my essence, and the ability to see myself from inside. And that is very difficult. I have sympathy with Nektarios’s mystical, subjective approach to this. But because the conclusions are subjective they preclude discussion. And, as we are beginning to realise, any picture of our own essence will be highly modified by the subconscious elements we are now studying.

    • Nektarios says:

      Vincent

      I don’t know if you have noticed when Richard Dawkin’s discusses on the Christian Faith,
      his demand is always the same to demand empirical evidence to look at and so on.
      I see several brilliant people on the blog are demanding the same empirical evidence.

      To all such who see empirical evidence of Christians living the faith and energy of
      the Holy Spirit, let me ask a question or two if I may.
      Why is it that a Church congregation that is truly living the Christian life as described
      are happier, better taught, more caring and out-going to the population outside the Church. Who practically get involved with the poor and the needy and the homeless?

      Why is it Governments that are Christian tend to fare better than those that are not?

      Why is it that Christian Schools or Church Schools fair better academically than those
      who are secular?
      Why is it that Christian marriages fair better by a large margin, than those who ar not Christian?
      And why is it that a Christian workforce work better, are more productive, honest and seldom strike?

      Perhaps the empirical evidence some want may be contained within theses questions?

  19. Iona says:

    Jesus required that we not only “deny ourself” but “take up our cross and follow him”, which can be a very tough proposition (not to mention being somewhat at odds with his declaration that “my yoke is easy, my burden light”). St Therese of Lisieux describes her “little way” of following Jesus, which is probably every bit as tough as a “big way” of being martyred; she set herself to love things that intensely annoyed her about some of her sister-nuns; she made a point of smiling at and being pleasant to a particularly bad-tempered elderly nun; when people were unpleasant to her she treated the experience as “a nice little salad prepared for me by the Lord, with plenty of vinegar”; she never complained about the food, with the result that she got given the worst of everything, because the other nuns knew she would accept it quietly.

    This is “denial of self”. I’m not sure how well it fits with Nektarios’s idea of “denial of self”, nor am I sure whether it is compatible with John Candido’s idea of “balance” and healthy self-love.

    • Vincent says:

      “balance” and healthy self love.
      How about:: you should love your neighbour as yourself, so you’d better start by loving yourself.
      i don’t think that love here means esteem or admire. Rather it means an acceptance of worthfulness (because God loves us), and a wish to benefit the beloved (even if the beloved is ourselves).

    • Nektarios says:

      Iona
      Practically speaking, what does it mean for us, to deny that disordered, conditioned,
      5% aware conscious self?
      I have just re-read Quentin’s introduction to Multimind, while he is scratching around data on brain activity, and we in turn discuss this disorded energy thought has put together and we call `Self’ I want you to notice something very common when discussing issues like this.

      Do you see that instead of applying our energy, our attention to observe this anxious limited and disordered illusion call `Self’ we are in fact moving away from it?
      We will talk about anything else,such as, the workings of the brain within the limits of present knowledge, or we talk about some hagiography of some saint or other and see there, some extreme cases of ascesis. Take note, it was their ascsis, not yours, but we get the idea, and that is what it is, just and idea, this is what self-denial is and we must copy it.
      Others like to quote Scriptures, perhaps thinking that to quote Holy Writ sums up for us what self-denial actually is.
      But all the time we are moving away from observing this illusion we call `self’. Do you see that? Obviously, if this is the case, we are not getting anywhere out of this disodered `self and its effects?
      I will stop for now with an associated question to mull over – can this disordered limited self bring about order?

  20. Iona says:

    Nektarios – I’m sure Richard Dawkins would find some way of not accepting your empirical evidence; – he believes (or, says he does) that religion is at the root of all evil!

    • Vincent says:

      I don’t think that Dawkins would deny the comforts of religion, much as he would not deny a child enjoying Father Christmas.
      While the benefits of religion provide good supporting evidence – if you already believe, it’s always possible to think of reasons for the benefits which are cited whether religion is true or not.

      • tim says:

        Dawkins enjoys carol services – allegedly. This may be a bit patronising of him, but I don’t think we should grudge him that.

    • mike Horsnall says:

      In fact the ’empirical’ evidence turns out to be rather anecdotal. I have looked into statistics for marriage etc and followed discussions about this when published in the broadsheet press. For example the average life of a marriage is 14 years and its very difficult to break it down statistically-I’ve heard arguments both for and against the ’empirical’ view that christians somehow do better-we would like to believe this of course because we like the idea and often find ourselves surrounded by more stable and law abiding , churchgoing folk; so we easily believe the stories . When I’ve been prison visiting however there seems to be no shortage of Christians to visit, or muslims come to that. A friend of mine who employs people told me recently he had given up favouring ‘christians’ because it didnt work….so I am a little less sanguine about this empiricism than I used to be.

  21. Vincent says:

    Continuation.
    For example: people tend to be happy if they live in close communities. Sharing religion is an obvious way to belong to a close community.
    For example: people get great morale from seeing meaning and purpose in life. Religion can give both of these.
    Incidentally many of these benefits are available to people who share an ideology. A Communist cell for instance.

  22. mike Horsnall says:

    “….This is “denial of self”. I’m not sure how well it fits with Nektarios’s idea of “denial of self”, nor am I sure whether it is compatible with John Candido’s idea of “balance” and healthy self-love”…”

    I would think that most who have felt the powerful tug of God and are drawn thus to the goodness of God have some inner sense of what denial means. Most of us I guess will have had times when they had to dig in firmly against themselves- to smile when we want to frown, to help when we don’t want to, not to bully, not to assert oneself purely for the satisfying of an instinct to power, -not to have that affair, not to cheat or lie, not to go along with inner vanities…Making sure that an apology is given if needed, seeking reconciliation with spouse or workmate…. Self mastery is formed in the wind tunnel of desires which must be overcome by the firm setting of the face in a godward direction-often to no immediate reward, thats where my life is to be found anyway…whenI’m not getting blown over that is!!
    . Yet in the struggle towards freedom that this “denial” marks there is great delight-when ones sails blow freely to the good, when kindness comes rushing unbidden through ones heart into the soul of another, when some small good deed which seemed impossible now seems the most obvious and pressing need. So the fruits of self denial are to some extent a kind of love which flows through one and which is pleasing to ones soul-A bit like John Candido but a bit contrary also.

  23. Iona says:

    Mike –
    “A friend of mine who employs people told me recently he had given up favouring ‘christians’ because it didnt work”

    In what sense didn’t it “work”?

    • mike Horsnall says:

      Iona,
      Like many small employers my friend, an evangelical christian, was keen to live out his principles. He wanted to employ christians so that his firm would work well and be good. He found that ‘christians’ turned out to be rather ordinary people with their own foibles, inconsistencies, laziness and mediocrity. When he had to sack these people it was difficult because of the shared ‘bond’ of their faith. After a few years he came to the conclusion that he would just hire people who could walk their talk regardless of their faith background-this worked better.

  24. Iona says:

    Nektarios
    “Practically speaking, what does it mean for us, to deny that disordered, conditioned,
    5% aware conscious self?”

    I don’t know. Are you asking a rhetorical question, and if so, please what is your answer?

    And what is the “I” that is doing the denying, if it is not the “disordered, conditioned, 5% aware conscious self”?
    (Please note, I am not necessarily accepting that the conscious self IS disordered, conditioned and only 5% aware. Though I am not necessarily denying it either).

    • Nektarios says:

      Iona
      No, It is not a rhetorical question, it is necessary and practical thing that we
      can do.
      Within the space limits of this blog, there is only so much one can say.
      Firstly, one would like to indulge in the realm of ideas, but this is ourselves we are talking about, Right!
      Secondly, we think it very complicated, better left to academic and the likes who I know are equally disordered as we are, I have spoken with many of them from many disciplines. We need to approach it very simply. OK.

      As to your first question: Practically speaking, what does it mean for us, to deny that conditioned, 5% aware conscious self?

      Initially, It means to become aware of our thinking, our chattering mind. Just become aware of it. Don’t judge it, condemn it, or try to stop it, just become aware of it.
      As one observes our chattering mind, slowly it will become silent by itself. Just observe.

      As you observe your own chattering mind, it will have its own topics it will be chattering about. Right. Again, don’t judge, condemn or try to change it, Just observe it.
      What is happening is the mind is becoming silent. One cannot observe without the mind being silent. Without your thoughts stilled, not jumping from one thing to another, but still.
      You might call it stilling oneself – well, it is a bit more than that.
      That practically, Iona, is the first steps to denying self.
      In just observing, the mind becomes still, clearing the clutter, and stilling the thoughts
      of the conditioned 5% aware conscious self. In doing so, you are taking away its energy where it can’t operate

      Your second question: And what is the `I’ that is doing the denying, if it is not the `disordered, conditioned 5% aware conscious self’?

      If I comes into it, you will not be observing, you will be thinking, judging, correcting, condemning and wanting to change according to the conditioned self.
      So I does not come into it.

      So may ask, what is doing the observing? Yes? It is the mind that has become silent, empty, clear of clutter, the chattering mind stilled, simply observing, not judging or condemning or wanting to change anything, it is a choiceless observing. Change will come by itself – enough for now.

  25. John Candido says:

    I don’t know anything about the philosophical problem of consciousness that Professor David Chalmers, as well as a host of other people, do their research on. However, I have a 10 minute YouTube video, which is an excerpt of a longer conversation between him and psychologist Jeffrey Mishlove PhD, produced sometime in the 1990s. Apparently there are many academics that are doing research on this issue from a variety of perspectives. The talk can be accessed from here, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r4SLOr2icnY&feature=related.

    • Nektarios says:

      John Candido

      Thank you John for that link.
      And what did you, make of what Prof. David Chalmers was saying and
      after reading so much of what has been said on and around this issue of consciousness on this blog so far?

      • John Candido says:

        As I have not read much on David Chalmers works, I really cannot respond in a comprehensive manner. However, what David Chalmers is pointing to is the dichotomy between human objectivity and human subjectivity as it relates to consciousness. He also points to the discontinuity between the gatherings of scientific knowledge & the humanities through human research on the one hand, and an intermittently forgetfulness and unawareness of society’s assumptions about how that knowledge was obtained in the first place.

        In other words, the gold standard in science and high quality research in the humanities is indeed objective, logical, analytical, and thoroughly based on reality. Yes, it is based on all these things, but all human knowledge, whether you are talking about mathematics, formal logic, physics, chemistry, astronomy, psychology, engineering, etc. etc., is absolutely built on the subjective foundation of human consciousness. Humans do the research; humans use their consciousness to do it; the consciousness is essentially in essence a subjective entity; therefore subjectivity is continually implemented in order to examine objective entities.

        The question in the end is whether or not science can one day dissect and analyse human consciousness, in order to fully explain its apparent contemporary mystery. I suggest that a lot of atheists, if not all, would tend to believe this future proposition, while theists would tend to support the opposite. David Chalmers thinks that science will never solve or fully understand the subjective reality of consciousness in scientific terms; however he of course dedicates his life to its philosophical description. He sees it as an impossible task akin to using science to prove the existence of God. It is a position similar to the dichotomy between a strictly scientific explanation of the theory of evolution, and a theological explanation of our origins that excludes science.

        Chalmers believes that as the whole of mathematics, science, technology, and the humanities, is accumulated by the subjective human consciousness of many people over time, (which of course is true) and that science will not be able to be used to turn on the human consciousness itself and analyse, explain, or uncover the essential mystery of it. Human consciousness is a subjective reality which excludes rational analysis. In any case humans cannot escape from their subjective consciousness in order to examine the subjectivity of the consciousness. Science, objectivity, rationality, logicality, and mathematics, at this point in time and possibly never will be able to be used to examine subjective entities using scientific methods such as the gold standard of experimentation, or any other methods akin to it.

  26. John Candido says:

    I don’t know anything about the philosophical problem of consciousness that Professor David Chalmers, as well as a host of other people, do their research on. However, I have a 10 minute YouTube video, which is an excerpt of a longer conversation between him and psychologist Jeffrey Mishlove PhD, produced sometime in the 1990s. Apparently there are many academics that are doing research on this issue from a variety of perspectives. The talk can be accessed from here, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r4SLOr2icnY&feature=related.

    Clinical psychologist Jeffrey Mishlove PhD, is the interviewer of many academics in various fields, in a series of interesting looking DVDs from the United States that deals with a multitude of issues. The series of DVDs is called ‘Thinking Aloud’, and the home page is, http://www.thinkingallowed.com/. An alphabetical list of discussion topics can be accessed from here, http://www.thinkingallowed.com/topics.html.

    There is a conversation between an American Buddhist called Shinzen Young and Jeffrey Mishlove in the ‘Thinking Allowed’ series about meditation. As a Christian meditator of around 20 years practice, I can verify most of what Shinzen Young says about the subject as consistent with my own experience of meditation. The conversation is around eight minutes in length and can be viewed from here, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aCcsBtAo844&feature=player_embedded.

    My own practice of Christian Meditation can easily be learnt from the web site of the World Community for Christian Meditation, http://www.wccm.org/. Click on ‘How to Meditate’, which is just left of centre and towards the top of the home page.

    David Chalmers’ work might have some important things to say about Christian apologetics indirectly. Without having read his book called, ‘The Conscious Mind, in Search of a Fundamental Theory’, Oxford University Press, 1996, I am fairly confident that consciousness is still a huge mystery to humanity. He favours a dualist model of consciousness, meaning he constructs it as part matter and part non-matter. Rather like the duality of the human body and its soul! Apologists could find it a helpful book to read.

    I have just stumbled upon another interesting video of David Chalmers. Professor David Chalmers could be a believer in God after all! Have a look at this video. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kmZaA_xoJiM&feature=related

  27. Iona says:

    Nektarios – May 3rd, 1.53 a.m.
    If there is observing, is there an observer?

    • Nektarios says:

      Iona
      Obviously I am observing. But, and here think deeply about this, afterall it is not just a question, but you that has to do the observing. Right.
      Listen carefully, You are going to observe. All that you are doing is to limit it to the field of observation. I observe the form only, so I am limiting it to observation only, so all the accumulations that I is does not distort anything, and one has pure observation.

      To understand pure observation the word is not the actual, no more when one talks about oneself is that the actual. So, if I or the me, or the self or the ego or whatever you want to call it is present, one cannot observe when I or the me is in the way. So I must limit the field to just observation with total attention and the me or the I is not in the way.
      Are you following this?

  28. Iona says:

    I’m afraid not.
    It reminds me a bit of things I have read in the past, to do with mysticism in the Buddhist and/or Hindu tradition, but exponents of those traditions usually suggest that what they are talking about may be directly experienced but actually cannot be expressed in words. I suspect that this is also the case with what you are talking about here.

    • Nektarios says:

      Iona,
      Christianianty is both theological and mystical. Truth is like Brighton rock,the same all the way through. There are certan truths I guess in Buddhism or Hindu tradition as you say, but I am not referring to any of that. I am not too acquaint with their philosopy
      I am aware however, the level of discussion is in the realm of ideas, of opinions, which one censors according to ones conditioning and self interest, but there can only be at that level, only accumulations of such things which gives rise to the me, the I the self, or whatever you want to call it, and bound by the past, conditioning and fear.

      You are right, that some things directly experienced cannot be put into words.
      Take for example a husband and wife. They are both aware, by means of a silent communication of their love for one another. To say I love one, is very nice to hear, but it does not adequately convey as much as that silent awareness the love of the other person. It does not necessarily lead always to words but it does lead to loving actions.
      What I am discussing, coveying something of that movement.

      We are covering a lot of ground of which I am attempting to take us step by step
      in our life in Christ.

  29. John Candido says:

    If anybody doubts that Christian Meditation is too radical, or something quite strange and does not have the explicit approval of the Roman Catholic Church, look no further than the ringing endorsement of His Eminence, the Catholic Archbishop of Sydney, George Cardinal Pell. Cardinal Pell is a noted conservative. You can read his comments on Christian Meditation from the blog called, ‘Christian Meditation for Priests’. Click on his name on the left-hand side of the page and second from the top, under ‘Authors & Topics’. http://christianmeditationforpriests.blogspot.com.au/

    The Christian Meditation that I practice is the one advocated by the ‘World Community for Christian Meditation’, which was founded by the late English Benedictine Fr. John Main OSB, and currently administered by another English Benedictine called Fr. Laurence Freeman OSB. http://www.wccm.org/

    • Quentin says:

      At some point in the future I hope to do a further column on meditation. It would help me if contributors were to tell us of their experiences (satisfactory or unsatisfactory, or why they have never tried). There is a good deal of investigation currently taking place of the secular benefits of meditation – in particular what is known as “mindfulness” meditation. I would like views on how the brain phenomena changes brought about by meditation methods relate to Christian meditation. You may like to read my column of May 20 2010 (put meditation into the search box) and see if that helps or hinders.
      Quentin

      • Mike Horsnall says:

        Quentin
        For many years I was interested in Taoist practice, I used to teach Tai’chi and studied various schools of meditation. Over the past ten years I have delved fairly deeply into silent contemplation from a Christian perspective-particularly the ignatian school.
        During this year, my tinnitus has reached screaming pitch so I am completely deprived of silence and find meditation/contemplation difficult- this means I am reduced to living as presently as possible in the common run of every day life-I have a story to tell along those lines if you ever wish to hear it.

      • Quentin says:

        Mike Thank you for this. I am really sorry to learn of your tinnitus. I am not a sufferer, thank God, and I can only catch a glimmer of what it must be like for you.

        Having moved, if only in the past, from Taoist meditation to Christian meditation, I wonder if you can explain the difference you experienced. As far as I know, Taoist philosophy is not incompatible with Christian thought. But Christianity brings some big new factors into play. So forgive what may be a naïve question. The common ground of all meditation seems to me to be deep relaxation which complements a quietness of mind which changes the receptiveness of the brain state. In that state one can attend to the secular concept of self awareness (mindfulness meditation), or to Taoist philosophy or Christian contemplation. Am I right in my provisional conclusion thinking that the psychological basis of meditation is the same, and only the focus of thought is different?

  30. mike Horsnall says:

    Quentin
    Its a really interesting question.

    You are correct in assuming the common ground. Antony de Mello is the famous Jesuit expositor of basic techniques common to all-for use in prayer.There are caveats however. John Candido might have words on this. It seems to me that the deep relaxation you speak of is a precursor state. This precursor state is essentially an inhibitory condition in which attention is no longer given to those various psychic inputs which represent as random thought. In this state attention is almost invariably focussed on breathing which has the effect of almost ‘primitivisng’ the conscious ness so that the faculty of simple observation comes to the fore-its obvious that we do not have to comment on our breathing so we can just attend to it and by doing so become aware of the process of attention-which is restful-kind of ticking over if you like. In Wu Shu -which is the speeded up version of Tai Chi and is a fullyfledged fighting art-one moves in this state of awareness-quite fast in fact! This is because the body can be aware of itself in movement as well as stillness-You can experience this phenomena in sport eg serious rockclimbing….stillness is not always a matter of sitting down!

    So the base state is the same Quentin but the object vastly different. In the Taoist /buddhist arts the base state is allowed to expand and a cosmic significance becomes attached, the concept/ experience of “no-thing” is a state that can produce a kind of ecstatic sense. In Christian considerations-contemplation is an act which has its presence in Love. This means that the awareness is freed to rest upon an object-that object being God, or more precisely Gods love. I guess christian meditation includes mantra’s such as the Jesus Prayer-maybe not, contemplation is more the ignatian way and is contemplation to gain love-a rapt attention to the heart of the beloved.
    The interesting question for this blog would be what is the origin of the sense of love? If divine then the secular and the religious forms might as well be on different planets, if the sense of love is neurological then they are the same. My own experience has been that christian contemplation is to gaze into the eyes of a lover whereas the more secular meditative forms are as to gaze dispassionately as over a landscape-both restful, both beneficial but very different. I know I am using the tem ‘gaze’ here loosely.

    Thankyou for your comments re tinnitus by the way-I was on retreat a few days ago at St Bueno’s when we were discussing the value and nature of silence which I once loved but now do not have-yet the ‘sense’ of silence if you like can remain-which is interesting in its own right!

    • Quentin says:

      This is beginning to make real sense to me now. Interestingly, several years ago, I made a professional (cassette) tape on deep relaxation. It was very popular. Whe I was coaching people directly, I found that it took about a week to master (perhaps not ‘master’ but to achieve real relaxation success). I found it in fact very close to self hypnotism; I could make my forearm’s rise simply by willing them to. Intriguing.

      One practical use I found for it was with some marriage counselling clients, who seemed to be psychologically stuck. A ten minute session could be very helpful.

      I try to do my mindfulness meditation daily, and sense good results.

  31. John Candido says:

    I am not a neurologist or a neuropsychologist, so what I am going to say will be without any authoritative knowledge about this subject in the least. Nonetheless, one can make a bash at this by quoting the results of several studies about the effects of meditation on people, which can be found on Google. Some of the effects of meditation on me and others are informed by research and the subjective reflections of others.

    There have literally been thousands of studies conducted on the subject of the effect of meditation on the human brain of varying quality. There is research demonstrating permanent changes in the brain as a result of long-term use of meditative practice. Some research also suggests that neurogenesis (the generation of neurons from progenitor cells or stem cells, and/or the neural stem itself http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Neurogenesis) and neuroplasticity (flexible changes to the brain and nervous system as a result of behaviour and the environment http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Neuroplasticity) is also enhanced by meditation.

    For a more comprehensive list of scientific studies go to Google scholar and enter ‘the neurological effects of meditation’, or simply click on the link below and you get a rather comprehensive set of research results, http://scholar.google.com.au/scholar?q=neurological+effects+of+meditation&hl=en&as_sdt=0&as_vis=1&oi=scholart&sa=X&ei=O1SqT5T4JOmNiAe4s4CACQ&ved=0CBkQgQMwAA

    There is an excellent film or DVD; produced by the National Film Board of Canada (NFA) in 2006, and which is available on the internet called, ‘Mystical Brain’ that everyone should watch. It goes for approximately 50 minutes and briefly covers issues such as science and religion, consciousness, and atheism and belief. Part of the film is about a scientific study of 15 French-Canadian Carmelite nuns as they experience the contemplative state whilst in an fMRI, which stands for ‘Functioning Magnetic Resonance Imaging’. An MRI machine is a very expensive high-tech brain scanner and imager http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Functional_MRI.

    My experience of viewing the film was a little disappointing because it was not a clear picture. The sound was fine. To get the best picture activate the new player rather than the older one, which is simply given to you on the film screen itself. You might also have to click on the higher resolution option at the bottom of the picture and designated as ‘480P’ rather than the ‘Low’ resolution option. You can also click on the top right-hand corner of the picture to open the film in a pop-out http://www.nfb.ca/film/mystical_brain

    For a very good introduction to the meaning of the word ‘theoria’, which is Greek for ‘contemplation’, click on the following link,
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Theoria

    I have personally found Christian Meditation to be one of those serendipitous discoveries that one makes in life. A real blessing to be sure! It is a form of stress reduction; a way of creating the time and space in order to increase the level of contentedness in life; a way to better control of your personal life; and a way of becoming a better Christian as well. It is no wonder that it is presently being taught in primary and secondary schools, seminaries, prisons, and hospital clinics.

    It is not a magic elixir that will turn you into a perfect person, so don’t become unrealistic in your practice of it. While it is effective in being a real help and blessing to people, it cannot replace a competent counsellor or medical practitioner where there is a real need for their expertise. Please don’t listen to others who make extraordinary claims about meditation because they are simply too good to be true. It cannot cure cancer, solve all of your personal problems, or make you suddenly wealthy. Leave the charlatans to themselves.

    Turning to Mike Horsnall’s problem with tinnitus; please consult you medical practitioner for his or her opinion as I will not claim to have a cure for you. However, have you considered trying a Buddhist approach to your tinnitus in conjunction with medical advice? It is a piece of common-sense really. If anyone has pain, and I am not talking about eschewing adequate pain relief through proper medication, why not try to thoroughly accept the condition as a way of better managing it in personal terms?

    I know that sounds pretty silly. But if you break down the experience of pain it has two components. Firstly, there is the pain itself. I know that you don’t have to tell me it is horrible. It is a horror. The interesting part is this. There is the physical pain or tinnitus on the one hand, but there is your response to the tinnitus, which is a possible key to managing it better, alongside proper medication. You need to separate the two parts of the pain of the tinnitus itself and your response to it; both intellectually and emotionally, in order to get on top of it.

    A counsellor who specialises in pain management might be able to assist you with this way of living with your tinnitus in a more controlled and relaxed manner. I am sure that you understand that the worst thing that you can do is to actively resist and fight against your tinnitus, because it will make matters much worse than they might otherwise be. My apologies if you have already gone down this road.

    • Quentin says:

      This is very helpful. I have been in correspondence with Britta Hölzel of Harvard, having studied her paper on “How does mindfulness meditation work” (Nov 2011). it is a very full exposition but, to my mind, it doesn’t control adequately for other forms of meditation. So I remain unsure as to whether the effects you mention come with any form of meditation, or only with the Mindfulness type. (For those not familiar with the term, mindfulness meditation is in itself secular. The subject who is meditating focuses on self awareness. He does not attempt to block out phenomena but simply watches the flit through the mind.) it is no coincidence, for instance, that deep relaxation is used by psychotherapists who are attempting to cure phobias. That is, phobias are produced in the limbic brain, thus can rarely be cured by rational commonsense. But deep relaxation addresses the limbic brain, and this may be why it can work well.

      I suspect Iona may be able to throw some light.

      By the way Hölzel (or Hoelzel) and mindfulness are worth googling.

  32. John Candido says:

    I forgot to add my starting point in my previous post. It is very general introductory information about research in meditation in broad terms. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Research_on_meditation

  33. John Candido says:

    The link of the study that Quentin refers to above by Britta Holzel as an abstract in Sage Publications:

    http://pps.sagepub.com/content/6/6/537.short

    The following link gives fifteen results from Google scholar by entering ‘”author:Hölzel author:B.K.”’. One result is in German.

    http://scholar.google.com/scholar?start=0&q=%22author:H%C3%B6lzel+author:B.K.%22&hl=en&as_sdt=0,5

    The following link gives multiple results in Google scholar on the subject of experimentation on meditation.

    http://scholar.google.com/scholar?q=related:http%3A%2F%2Fpps.sagepub.com%2Fcontent%2F6%2F6%2F537.abstract

    Mike horsnall might find the following link of interest. It contains an abstract of a study by Britta K. Holzel et al, which examines pain management through meditation. Its title is, ‘Pain Attenuation through Mindfulness is Associated with Decreased Cognitive Control and Increased Sensory Processing in the Brain’. ‘Decreased Cognitive Control’, are the words used in the title of the study and it points to the need to be aware of the trap of consciously or unconsciously fighting against one’s condition or pain. While ‘Increased Sensory Processing in the Brain’, points to the importance of using meditation in order to ‘process’ or resolve one’s emotions and feelings for the attenuation of pain.

    http://cercor.oxfordjournals.org/content/early/2011/12/14/cercor.bhr352.short

  34. John Candido says:

    There is an important study from UCLA (University of California, Los Angeles http://www.ucla.edu/) that suggests that years of meditation ‘thickens’ the brain, and I don’t mean that people become thicker! The ‘thickening’ or the processes of neurogenesis and neuroplasticity, is a good effect of meditation which is achieved by years of practice. It is thought that this strengthens the links between brain cells making communication between them more efficient. ‘Gyrification’ is the gradual ‘folding’ of the cerebral cortex (outer layer of the brain), and this is thought to be behind the brain’s capacity to ‘process information faster than people who do not meditate’.

    The following link tells the story, http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/03/120314170647.htm

    Another study from the Université de Montréal and published in a special issue of the American Psychological Association journal called, ‘Emotion’. Researchers found ‘evidence that practicing the centuries-old discipline of Zen can reinforce a central brain region (anterior cingulate) that regulates pain’. http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/02/100224103357.htm

    Here is a study which suggests that meditation can increase one’s level of creativity. http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/04/120419102317.htm

    A study from the University of Manchester points to the potential of meditation to find pain less unpleasant because meditators don’t anticipate pain as much as non-meditators. http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/06/100602091315.htm

    • mike Horsnall says:

      John Candido,

      Thanks for all that John,

      My fault for mentioning it in the first place but, interestingly, most tinnitus sufferers find that the utter last thing they want to do is discuss the condition-this is because it focusses their attention on their condition and they spend 99% of their time trying to ‘tune it out’ -ignore it in other words. Tinnitus when severe is a life threatening condition -tinnitus related suicide is not uncommon, so you can understand why most folk keep quiet about it. I mentioned it inthe context of silence and what I call the ‘sense of silence’ You would probably call the sense of silence ‘mindfulness’ It is a state wherein one simply rests in the condition one is in and kind of accepts it (though I would say the condition is so distressing that it is nigh on impossible to ‘accept’) But the effect is similar to what is being said here on these links

    • Horace says:

      I really know very little about EEG studies of meditation apart from the seminal work carried out in India using the first portable Grass EEG machine (I think by Bagchi) in the 1960’s. This study concentrated on alpha frequencies (around 10c/s found at the back of the scalp, i.e. recorded from the visual cortex) which were (unsurprisingly) more stable and continuous during meditation, when the eyes are usually closed.

      Many later studies seem to have concentrated on fast activity:-
      In particular activity at about 40 Hz is said to be particularly prominent frontally in experienced meditators and shows the same sort of synchrony described as GFS by König. (See – Neuroscience – the second in a series)
      Fast rhythms are much more difficult to characterise and measure – not least because they are easily contaminated by muscle potentials. (See Antoine Lutz, et al. The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA 101(46)16369-16373, 2004)
      The synchronicity of such fast rhythms is said to be due to “networks of cortical inter-neurones connected by windows between adjacent cells which therefore share a common membrane and fire synchronously.”
      Development of networks of this kind could well ‘thicken’ the cortex and increase ‘Gyrification’.
      “Meditation, however, might not only cause changes in brain anatomy by inducing growth but also by preventing reduction, [i.e.] meditation may slow down aging-related brain atrophy” (Eileen Luders Visiting Assistant Professor at UCLA).

      • John Candido says:

        Thank you for your reply Horace. It is really satisfying that meditation has been found to have many brain related benefits for the regular participant. While scientific studies on Christian Meditation suggests it has several important neurological benefits, such as gyrification (thickening of the folds of the cerebral cortex), neurogenesis, neuroplasticity, stress reduction and better pain management, this is not its primary aim. The aim of contemplation is unity with God. The purpose of meditation is a mature relationship between the meditator and God based on love, and a growing love for others.

  35. Iona says:

    Mike – you have my sympathy – I also have tinnitus, though I certainly wouldn’t describe mine as “screaming”. I’ve had it for about 15 years, and have reached the point where mostly I can ignore it. However, on the rare days when I’m without it, I feel blissfully at peace with the world.

    • mike Horsnall says:

      Hi Iona,
      Mine was like that for many years then several months ago I accidentally wacked my head on the car door!! Its a funny thing. I only mentioned it because there is a kind of discipline one has to develop if the thing ramps up suddenly as mine did and that discipline is a kind of meditative one, I’d hate to have this and not have had the years of contemplative discipline to help also. Thanks again.

  36. Iona says:

    Mike – commiserations.
    I’ll keep my head away from car doors.

  37. Iona says:

    John Candido – spent the last half-hour following-up some of your references, – very interesting; thank you very much.

  38. John Candido says:

    You are most welcome Iona. Thank you.

  39. John Candido says:

    I have been looking for some titles on the subject of mindfulness and pain management. The following could be of interest to any person interested in using mindfulness, meditation, and pain management, to better control pain and/or increase one’s contentment and joy in life, despite one’s difficulties.

    ‘The Mindfulness Solution to Pain’, by Dr. Jackie Gardner-Nix & Lucie Costin-Hall, Published by New Harbinger Publications, 2009.

    ‘The Mindfulness Solution’, by Dr. Ronald D. Siegel, Published by Guilford Publications, 2009.

    ‘Mindsight’, by Dr. Daniel Siegel, Published by Bantam, 2010.

    This final one is more for any professional counsellors.

    ‘The Mindful Therapist – A Clinicians Guide to Mindsight’, by Dr. Daniel J. Siegel, published by W. W. Norton & Company, 2010.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s