The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains

“The effects of technology do not occur at the level of opinions or concepts. They alter patterns of perception steadily and without any resistance.”

Marshal McLuhan

Our nervous systems are plastic. We are always in the process of forming new neural connections while losing old ones. In the microscopic spaces in between our neurons — whenever we perform a task, experience an event, or think a thought — chemical reactions “register and record experiences in neural pathways.” (Carr, Nicholas)

Certain sets of neurons in our brains are activated. They join together and exchange neurotransmitters with each other. When our experiences are repeated, synaptic links between our neurons strengthen while irrelevant synaptic links weaken overtime. Our brains are constantly growing, reorganizing, and developing “ever-changing cellular connections inside our heads.” (Carr, Nicholas)

Our nervous systems adapt to different environments. How we think and feel and perceive reality is not entirely determined by our genes or childhood experiences. We’re capable of changing our nervous systems through what we do, how we learn, how other people treat us, what we think, how we feel, where we live, and even the tools that we use.

While our neuroplasticity gives us a chance to recreate ourselves, we can also develop bad habits. We can be stuck in rigid behaviors, repeating what causes ourselves and others suffering. While certain neurons strengthen overtime, others are pruned away. If we are not careful, we can become more efficient at what hurts us than at what helps us.

The tools that we use are also using us. They are molding us, shaping us, the more that we use them. Some of these tools, such as intellectual technologies, impact our brains far more than other tools.

Nicholas Carr, technology writer and author of “The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains” wrote, “Although the use of any kind of tool can influence our thoughts and perspectives — the plow changed the outlook of the farmer, the microscope opened new worlds of mental exploration for the scientist — it is our intellectual technologies that have the greatest and most lasting power over what and how we think. They are our most intimate tools, the ones we use for self-expression, for shaping personal and public identity, and for cultivating relations with others.”

We aren’t yet aware of the total effect of our intellectual tools and how they will change us as a species. Some tools, such as the printing press and Internet, have moved beyond our control. We cannot predict how far they will technologically progress.

Intellectual technologies are not merely our aids. They have the power to reshape our lives. They change our activities and meanings and identities. They extend our capacities. These tools are developed with a certain set of rules while we also adapt to the rules of what we create. As we manipulate information, as we interpret our world through the logic of the tools that we use, our brains change. The more closely that we use these tools, the more our senses, thoughts, feelings, and actions are fused into what we create.

While the clock, map, printing press, and television have all revolutionized our existence, the Internet has dominated us on an unprecedent scale. “It’s becoming our typewriter and our printing press, our map and our clock, our calculator and our telephone, our post office and our library, our radio and our TV. It’s even taking over the functions of other computers.” (Carr, Nicholas)

We can send and receive messages every hour of every day. We can connect for commerce and business purposes: placing orders, tracking shipments, banking, advertising, selling, searching through catalogues, and reviewing products.

We can also connect with other people socially. We can upload and download. We can post our videos, blogs, music, paintings, poems, and podcasts. Our creations can be liked and commented on. They can be edited and reuploaded and blogged about and tweeted. Users can gossip and share and argue and show off and chat and like. Communities can unite, political causes can gain traction, and news about our daily happenings can spread to other people.

We use the Internet far more than other intellectual technologies such as the television and newspaper and radio. Our Internet usage has risen every year while our offline reading has diminished. With so many options available to us in one tool, we’ve become endlessly distracted by what is offered to us, sacrificing our attention for hyper-stimulation.

“By combining many different kinds of information on a single screen, the multimedia Net further fragments content and disrupts our concentration. A single Web page may contain a few chunks of text, a video or audio stream, a set of navigational tools, various advertisements, and several small software applications, or ‘widgets,’ running in their own windows… Whenever we turn on our computer, we are plunged into an ‘ecosystem of interruption technologies,’ as the blogger and science fiction writer Cory Doctorow terms it.” (Carr, Nicholas)

The Internet is a medium that is made to attract us while distracting us. While the book is an intellectual technology that supports our calmness and attentiveness, letting us develop our ideas in a sacred space of silence, the Internet is designed to compete for our attention all the time. As we enter into an online environment, we are conditioned to rush through our thoughts and scan for relevant information and seek our next reward.

“The Net delivers a steady stream of inputs to our visual, somatosensory, and auditory cortices. There are the sensations that come through our hands and fingers as we click and scroll, type and touch. There are the many audio signals delivered through our ears, such as the chime that announces the arrival of a new e-mail or instant message and the various ringtones that our mobile phones use to alert us to different events. And, of course, there are the myriad visual cues that flash across our retinas as we navigate the online world: not just the ever-changing arrays of text and pictures and videos but also the hyperlinks distinguished by underlining or colored text, the cursors that change shape depending on their function, the new e-mail subject lines highlighted in bold type, the virtual buttons that call out to be clicked, the icons and other screen elements that beg to be dragged and dropped, the forms that require filling out, the pop-up ads and windows that need to be read or dismissed. The Net engages all of our senses — except, so far, those of smell and taste — and it engages them simultaneously.” (Carr, Nicholas)

The Net immerses us in a universe of fast-paced stimuli. Whenever we click on a link, we are rewarded with Web pages, videos, articles, comments, posts, etc. Whenever we Google a topic, we are provided with pages of answers. We send texts and receive replies, we post on Facebook and notifications pop up, we blog daily and gain new followers. The hyper-interactivity of the Internet reinforces us with so much dopamine that we’ve become “lab rats constantly pressing levers to get tiny pellets of social or intellectual nourishment.” (Carr, Nicholas).

The more that we go online, the more the “real world recedes as we process the flood of symbols and stimuli coming through our devices.” As we become oblivious to what is around us, we use this hyper-interactive tool to engage with each other online. We create profiles of our identities and update our statuses, evaluating our social standings. The more that we use the Net, the more self-conscious we become. We judge others and compare our lives to their lives and fear losing our preferred status.

The Internet is designed to keep our attention for as long as possible. The more time we spend on it, the more distracted we are, which ruins our ability to concentrate for long. This medium distracts us with its competing messages and stimuli. We’re seduced because we are constantly seeking out more novelty, complexity, and information. The Net indulges us with stimulation. We are overloaded with fleeting information, seeking more and more.

“What we’re not doing when we’re online also has neurological consequences. Just as neurons that fire together wire together, neurons that don’t fire together don’t wire together. As the time we spend scanning Web pages crowds out the time we spend reading books, as the time we spend exchanging bite-sized text messages crowds out the time we spend composing sentences and paragraphs, as the time we spend hopping across links crowds out the time we devote to quiet reflection and contemplation, the circuits that support those old intellectual functions and pursuits weaken and begin to break apart. The brain recycles the disused neurons and synapses for other, more pressing work. We gain new skills and perspectives but lose old ones.” (Carr, Nicholas)

Net users experience extensive activity across all regions of their brains. Book readers experience neural-activity in “regions associated with language, memory, and visual processing, but they don’t display much activity in the prefrontal regions associated with decision making and problem solving.” Net users mentally coordinate through a swarm of competing distractions, all while making judgements in seconds. While readers digest information at a slower pace, they are comprehending what they are learning at a deeper level. Internet users, on the other hand, are overtaxing their brains and learning superficially.

Our brains need a lot of space and time to process information. We have to transfer information from our working memories to our long-term memories, intertwining what we have just learned with what we knew before. We store this information in our conceptual schemas. Our schemas are interwoven with our long-term memories. They are organizational frameworks that enable us to look into new patterns and deepen our understanding.

“Imagine filling a bathtub with a thimble; that’s the challenge involved in transferring information from working memory into long-term memory. By regulating the velocity and intensity of information flow, media exert a strong influence on this process. When we read a book, the information faucet provides a steady drip, which we can control by the pace of our reading. Through our single-minded concentration on the text, we can transfer all or most of the information, thimbleful by thimbleful, into long-term memory and forge the rich associations essential to the creation of schemas. With the Net, we face many information faucets, all going full blast. Our little thimble overflows as we rush from one faucet to the next. We’re able to transfer only a small portion of the information to long-term memory, and what we do transfer is a jumble of drops from different faucets, not a continuous, coherent stream from one source.” (Carr, Nicholas)

When we are distracted, we cannot remember much. When we cannot remember, we cannot develop rich networks of connections in our brains. Our understanding then becomes shallower. When we can read a linear text without links, ads, retweets, likes, comments, tabs, and other potential distractions, we can retain more, reflect more, and develop our knowledge. Frequent interruptions, on the other hand, scatter our thoughts, make us feel anxious, and weaken our memories.

We gain skills with the Net but those skills generally involve our “lower-level, or more primitive, mental functions such as hand-eye coordination, reflex response, and the processing of visual cues.” We’re also better able to scan through a lot of information to find what we are pursuing. By repetitively clicking on links and headlines, we are adapting into quicker problem-solvers, looking for relevant patterns in data. While we are better at multi-tasking, we have sacrificed our ability to think creatively, concentrate for longer periods of time, and process information.

“Given our brain’s plasticity, we know that our online habits continue to reverberate in the workings of our synapses when we’re not online. We can assume that the neural circuits devoted to scanning, skimming, and multitasking are expanding and strengthening, while those used for reading and thinking deeply, with sustained concentration, are weakening or eroding.” (Carr, Nicholas)

We are given more information than we can handle. “We are forever inundated by information of immediate interest to us,” so we are conditioned to crave more, while never feeling fully satisfied. Rather than developing our knowledge, we are skimming through the Net, barely registering what enters into our nervous systems.

“The Web places more pressure on our working memory, not only diverting resources from our higher reasoning faculties but obstructing the consolidation of long-term memories and the development of schemas. The calculator, a powerful but highly specialized tool, turned out to be an aid to memory. The Web is a technology of forgetfulness.” (Carr, Nicholas)

We need to be attentive to consolidate the information that we have learned. Forming connections between our memories “requires strong mental concentration, amplified by repetition or by intense intellectual or emotional engagement. The sharper the attention, the sharper the memory.” (Carr, Nicholas)

The more time we spend on the Internet, the more we will unlearn our former intellectual skills. As we replace our deep knowledge with efficiency, we will depend on a tool that grows stronger as we are made weaker. While our dependence on the Net heightens our capabilities when we use it, we are diminished even more without it.

“Our growing dependence on the Web’s information stores may in fact be the product of a self-perpetuating, self-amplifying loop. As our use of the Web makes it harder for us to lock information into our biological memory, we’re forced to rely more and more on the Net’s capacious and easily searchable artificial memory, even if it makes us shallower thinkers.” (Carr, Nicholas)

We not only become shallower thinkers on the Net, but we lose our capacity for higher emotions too. Our higher emotions, such as compassion and empathy, come from a calm and attentive mind. We need time to reflect on our moral decisions. When we are constantly interrupted, we have more trouble processing the subtle emotional states in ourselves and others.

As we meld with our tools, we become more like them. When we pick up a sword, that sword stretches to feel like part of our arm. When we wear a pair of glasses, we look forward with new eyes. When we study a map, we examine abstractions drawn in space.

When we go online, we adapt to an algorithmic logic written in hidden code. We follow the scripts that the designers have made for us to follow. We consume ourselves with mindless online rituals until they are burned into our neural pathways. We now have smartphones as well as personal computers, which are with us everywhere we go: at home, at work, in school, on the sidewalk, in the car, at the doctor’s office, in bed, in the bathroom, in nature. We have over-stuffed ourselves with stimuli, craving ever more. But there is a cost.

The Art of Loving

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  1. The Shallowness of Modern Love

Love in modern capitalistic societies is often treated shallowly. People are seen as commodities to be used. Each person has a specific package of qualities, which when depending on the value-judgements of others, make them appear as favorable or unfavorable.

They perceive other perspective members of their groups as objects to be possessed, but not as actual human beings.

Once a potential match is made on the market of personality, an individual will enter into an arrangement where they’ll hope to gain some sort of benefit. If their expectations are not fulfilled, then they’ll no longer see the point in giving their “love” to the other person.

People market themselves based on their attractiveness, popularity, status, financial security, and whatever other sets of traits are trending at the time. Opinions change as to what is acceptable. The masses will adapt themselves to what is in favor and promote themselves for future success.

Many people in materialistic societies become infatuated and then mistake their infatuation for love. The intensity of their initial intimacy soon becomes antagonism and boredom, especially once the mirage of passion is gone. As they enter into their relationships with expectations of having perfect partners and ideal mates, they are often led to more failures than successes.

2. Alienation and False Unity

As people grow and become more aware of themselves as individuals, they eventually sense their separateness from others as well. This alienation makes them feel anxious, fearful in their loneliness, and confused about what the purpose of their existence is. They seek out a meaningful direction for their lives that can transcend their loneliness and cosmic insignificance.

People seek to transcend their anxiety of separateness through drugs, orgasms, and conformity to the practices and values of a group.

In many totalitarian societies, conformity is forced on the general population through fear, imprisonment, torture, execution, starvation, and repressive controls in the media. In democratic societies, mass propaganda, political corruption, and expensive marketing is often used to manipulate the masses into servitude.

Many members of capitalistic societies feel that they’re non-conformists, even though their opinions are strikingly similar to the opinions of the rest of their group. They all go to the same schools, work at the same jobs, read the same books, watch the same movies, and share the same favorable ideas with each other.

They have been indoctrinated into certain social, religious, and political groups from the time of their birth, not realizing that their desires have been carefully molded. They genuinely believe in what they do, and who they are, but they don’t realize that if they believed in something different, they wouldn’t have their preferred status.

Conformity is not true unity, but rather, a relinquishing of one’s free thought to the shackles of group rule. In conformity, one seeks an illusion of security while fearing exclusion.

Any unity formed through only sex and drugs is a pseudo sense of unity. Those who seek the highs of either will become attached to expectations of more and more pleasure, which will diminish overtime, after having been temporarily gained.

3. Immature Love and Mature Love

When one person submits to another to escape from their feeling of alienation, they’ve surrendered their integrity for dependence.

They have given up their boundaries to be exploited by the other. Just as that person enters into a masochistic relationship, the one who they’ve come to depend upon is dependent on them as well. The sadist is attached to the masochist just as much as the masochist is attached to the sadist.

In mature love, people unite while still maintaining their integrity. In immature love, people form false-unions in a passive relationship based on mutual exploitation.

Love is active and growing. It is ultimately done in the spirit of giving. To give is not to give away one’s principles or dignity. It is not to forgo one’s values either.

Those who are raised in modern industrial society often expect to receive because they have given. To give without getting anything for their effort makes them feel impoverished. They may even give out of a mistaken belief in sacrifice, and out of a grim obligation to the group, rather than from any sense of joy.

When a person is giving, they are showing what is alive within themselves. They’re genuinely expressing who they are. A giving person cares for the world with active interest, not passive narcissism.

They help other people to grow rather than forcing them to become carbon copies of themselves. They respect the individuality in other people, while also feeling responsible for their own well-being.

Respect is built on the foundation of freedom, not dependence. Only with freedom can there be authentic love.

With love comes acceptance. One learns to accept each unique person as they are, and not judge them.

It’s impossible to know anyone fully, to penetrate into their deepest hearts, but even in the uncertainty between people, there’s appreciation in intimacy, in being together, in learning about each other.

In the act of love, one not only learns about others, but about oneself. The mature person is humble about their incapacity to know the secrets of life, while being in awe of all its mystery.

They’re committed to caring for the world, but don’t cling onto the world greedily. To love is to let go as much as it is to care, to accept as much as it is to change, to grow as much as it is to know the limitations of knowing.

4. Sex and Love

Sexual intimacy can be a manifestation of love. At its height, two selves merge into one, immersed in the present. During sex, one forgets oneself temporarily in a bliss of togetherness.

When the masculine and feminine are distorted in a relationship, then those in that relationship overcompensate for their insecurities. They exploit though lies and manipulations and force. The masculine descends into sadism while the feminine falls back into masochism.

5. Development into Adulthood

While inside the womb, the fetus is entirely dependent on its mother for survival. Then when that baby is born, he or she depends on their mother (or guardian) for milk and warmth and shelter and water and food. As the baby develops into a toddler and child and teenager and so on, they learn of their separateness from other people and things.

During their early development, they’re unconditionally loved by their mother or guardian simply for existing. They receive love for being alive, not necessarily for anything that they have done.

The child, at first, passively accepts love for being who they are. It is only later in their development that they consider giving back.

When a person matures out of their old habits of childish egocentricity, they learn to love in another way. They learn the freedom of independence in newfound knowledge.

As they grow, they figure out how to walk and talk and dress themselves and share and laugh at jokes and write and on and on. They learn the way of the world and how to act properly in that world to be successful. They gain acceptance from others based on what they do and how they think. They fear the absence of warmth that comes from not being accepted.

Mature parents care for their children while also teaching those children how to be independent from them. They do not drag their children down into a state of perpetual dependency.

If parents are successful in their roles, then their children will have internalized their lessons, growing into unique people, engaging their lives with competence and confidence. Parents have to make sure that they are not transferring their own anxieties and prejudices onto their kids. Everything that they think and say and do will influence their children’s development.

6. Brotherly Love

Love is an orientation toward life. To love one person while neglecting the rest of humanity is only an inflated egotism of two.

To truly love one person is to love all of life.

There is no exclusiveness in love, but rather, a deep oneness with all that is.

To love is to love everyone, even those who are helpless, weak, and poor. One gives without thinking of giving and helps only to help. People are neither judged as superior nor inferior. They are viewed only as equals, worthy of affection and dignity.

In western culture, love is often seen as a spontaneous grip of intense feeling, or a clinging devotion to the life of another.

Love is not merely a feeling, but an expression, a commitment, and a promise. Feelings come and go. Love is as much an acceptance of oneself as that of another.

Self-love is not narcissism either. Those who cannot love themselves cannot love others.

The selfish person only desires more for themselves while never being satisfied with what they have or who they are. They take without any consideration for others. Those who are selfish are insecure and devoid of any creative purpose, lacking the capacity to enjoy anything for long.

To love oneself is to love others and vice versa. There’s no true difference between the two.

7. Mythological Symbolism

Matriarchal religions usually emphasize the equality of all life coexisting together. Patriarchal religions are often dominated by hierarchical structures.

In mythology, the mother-figure is one of unconditional love and interdependence, whereas the father-figure is one of justice and truth. There are often hidden mother-figures in patriarchal religions and hidden father-figures in matriarchal religions. An acceptance of these symbols, and their prevalence, depends on the conditions within a given society.

In the deepest mystical parts of religion, God is nameless, or cannot be named, because God is infinite, and there’s no way to contain what is infinite.

Many people view the idea of God as that of a helping father. They expect that God should give them what they desire, such as a partner, a happy life, enlightenment, bliss in the afterlife, a job, and so on. They perceive their religion through a childish dependency instead of though a mature love.

When people realize their ignorance, and no longer assume that they know the truth about all of life, then they become wise in the knowledge of knowing that they don’t know.

Symbols are useful but limited tools that represent aspects of life, while never being life in itself. The ultimate mystery cannot be named. It cannot be described with any accuracy. Models of reality are not reality. Some religions try to define reality, others try to define through claiming what reality is not, while others deny both the denial and the definition. Meanwhile reality, in all its endless mystery, escapes the grasp of intellectualization.

In western religions, love often comes in the form of belief and faith. In eastern religions, love often comes through a feeling of oneness with all that is.

Interwoven in most of these mythological systems are the stages of development in all of humanity, from worshiping a mother protector to obeying a father authority to being fully one with a namelessness that transcends the ego.

8. Modern Capitalistic Societies

Contemporary capitalistic societies place the idea of love in the market. People are conditioned to be productive members of the systems that they are embedded in. They are taught to obey those in power and to play acceptable roles in the social machine. Most people in western societies are alienated from their work, from their communities, and mostly from nature.

These people feel alone while longing for unity. They fill their desperate alienation with the consumption of books, movies, music, cigarettes, phones, religions, and other people, as if these were disposable products.

Everything is a refuge, a distraction, from underlying feelings of loneliness, anxiety, and fear. People are judged by how they can satisfy each other while they don’t really know each other.

Modern western societies often encourage infantile forms of love though mediums such as movies, romance novels, and magazines. Consumers are taught to chase after abstractions of love, to idolize their partners, and to depend on rituals of manipulative seduction to win over attractive mates.

All too often, many people transfer the dependencies of their childhoods onto their partners. They see their mates as another form of their parents or other authority figures. They expect to gain security and love and care and so on, usually until they grow bored, or their partner fails to fulfill their unrealistic expectations.

They live in the past and future, never the present, projecting all their problems onto others. Often they avoid real conflicts with their partners, and settle instead for petty dramas, because they fear being alone more than anything.

Individuals often sacrifice their integrity for apathy in conformity. They no longer seek truth, but rather, copy others for success in the market of personality.

Their lives are routines in a system where they must comply. They wake up to work from 9–5, marry, raise 2.5 children, listen to the radio hits, surf the web, post on social media, and consume, consume, consume in a state of idleness.

9. Self-Mastery

In order to learn how to love, people need solitude. No television, no phone, nothing but themselves. If people cannot be alone, then they will never know the vitality of their thoughts, feelings, and sensations. They’ll never learn how to listen to their inner voices.

Mature people take care of themselves. They are aware of unhealthy people and unhealthy environments and avoid those situations when they can. They listen more than they speak. When they do listen, they absorb what is being said from a place of deep openness, rather than waiting to respond.

They are fully present in what they do, whether they’re eating a bowl of rice or driving a car or sitting in a waiting room.

When people deeply concentrate as a habit, they learn to be sensitive to the changes within themselves and others. They’re not tense, but alert, not worried with doubts, but open to what may come.

10. Transcendence in Love

As people learn to love, they gradually transcend their narcissistic orientations. Rather than thinking only of themselves, they’re sensitive to the inner-worlds of others.

Those who love are humble. They strive for objectivity in every situation, while knowing how much they don’t know.

Love comes not only from each individual’s independence but from their deep trust in who they are, despite what anyone else thinks or says or does. They are faithful, not merely to their opinions, but to their dignity as human beings. They’re present, open to the world, while never betraying their inner worth.

Love can permeate every aspect of life. It is ever bountiful, passing from neighbors to strangers.

As people trust in themselves, they learn to see the value in serving others. They do not find love in any system or group, but only in themselves, and in each other.

Here’s to the Helpers

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An old man had a habit of early morning walks on the beach. One day, after a storm, he saw a human figure in the distance moving like a dancer. As he came closer he saw that it was a young woman and she was not dancing but was reaching down to the sand, picking up a starfish and very gently throwing them into the ocean.

“Young lady,” he asked, “Why are you throwing starfish into the ocean?”

“The sun is up, and the tide is going out, and if I do not throw them in they will die.”

“But young lady, do you not realize that there are miles and miles of beach and starfish all along it? You cannot possibly make a difference.”

The young woman listened politely, paused and then bent down, picked up another starfish and threw it into the sea, past the breaking waves. “It made a difference to that one.”

We have traded our intimacy for social media, our romantic bonds for dating matches on apps, our societal truth for the propaganda of corporate interests, our spiritual questioning for dogmatism, our intellectual curiosity for standardized tests and grading, our inner voices for the opinions of celebrities and hustler gurus and politicians, our mindfulness for algorithmic distractions and outrage, our inborn need to belong to communities for ideological bubbles, our trust in scientific evidence for the attractive lies of false leaders, our solitude for public exhibitionism.

We have ignored the hunter-gatherer wisdom of our past, obedient now to the myth of progress.

But we must remember who we are and where we came from.

We are animals born into mystery, looking up at the stars. Uncertain in ourselves, not knowing where we are heading. We exist with the same bodies, the same brains, as Homo sapiens from thousands of years past, roaming on the plains, hunting in forests and by the sea, foraging together in small bands.

Except now, our technology is exponentially increasing at a scale that we cannot predict.

We are overwhelmed with information; lost in a matrix that we do not understand.

Our civilizational “progress” is built on the bones of the indigenous and the poor and the powerless.

Our “progress” comes at the expense of our land, and oceans, and air.

We are reaching beyond what we can globally sustain. Former empires have perished from their unrestrained greed for more resources. They were limited in past ages by geography and capacity, collapsing in regions, and not over the entire planet.

What will be the cost of our progress?

We have grown arrogant in our comfort, hardened away from our compassion, believing that our reality is the only reality.

Yet even at our most uncertain, there are still those saints who are unknown and nameless, who help even when they do not need to help.

They often are not rich, don’t have their profiles written up in magazines, and will never win any prestigious awards.

They may have shared their last bit of food while already surviving on so little. They may have cherished the disheartened, shown warmth to the neglected, tended to the diseased and dying, spoken kindly to the hopeless.

They do not tremble in silence while the wheels of prejudice crush over their land.

Withering what was once fertile into pale death and smoke.

They tend to what they love, to what they serve.

They help, even when they could fall back into ignorance, even when they could prosper through easy greed, even when they could compromise their values, conforming into groupthink for the illusion of security.

They help.

No-Drama Discipline (review)

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“No-Drama Discipline” breaks down discipline from a holistic perspective rather than from an attitude of strict punishment. Based in neuroscience, Daniel J. Siegal, a clinical psychologist and UCLA professor, and Tina Payne Bryson, a psychotherapist and founder of “The Center for Connection,” examine the healthiest ways to discipline children, so they can grow into mature adults.

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Whenever a child misbehaves, we need to learn about why that child is misbehaving. Rather than blaming the child, we can look at what caused their actions and how they reacted. It is easy to become frustrated and angry, taking a child’s behavior personally. Rather than acting from our own punitive habits, however, we should pause and reflect.

(1) What made the child feel that way?

(2) What are the reasons for his or her actions?

(3) What lesson can we give based on what happened?

The goal of discipline is not to punish or give a consequence to bad behavior. As caregivers and teachers and parents, we want to teach a lesson. We want our children to be caring, loving, responsible, self-controlled, and compassionate human beings.

Whenever a child does something we do not like, that is a chance for us to teach them a specific message — about honesty, caring, responsibility, bravery, and so on. But how can we best communicate our lesson in an effective way?

To be effective, we need to understand our child’s age and developmental stage. We cannot expect children to act like little adults. Not even adults will be perfect all the time. We must also understand that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to discipline. Children are unique and may not respond to a specific technique. Even the same child may react differently based on their mood and the given circumstances.

Children generally don’t act out because they are cruel, sadistic, or want to aggravate us. They usually misbehave because they haven’t learned how to properly regulate their emotions and desires and impulses.

We can guide a child through their struggles, helping them connect their feelings to their behavior. Instead of reacting with a harsh punishment, it is important for us to attune to the child’s needs, to see the situation from their eyes, to listen with compassion, and to look for deeper causes. What is the meaning behind the thrown object, the meltdown in the grocery store, the teasing on the playground?

“It’s easy to forget that our children are just that — children — and to expect behavior beyond their developmental capacity.”

As caregivers, parents, and teachers, we need to be a calm presence in our children’s lives. Rather than sending a child into isolation (time-out) for a long period of time, which abandons the child when he or she is already out of control, it is necessary to guide a child back from their strong emotions, teaching them to regulate themselves.

We need to set boundaries. We need to let the child know — with calmness and consistency — what is acceptable and what is not. Even a well-regulated child will test our rules. Trying to lecture, or explain, such boundaries is not ideal when a child is distraught.

“We need to help develop our children’s upstairs brain — along with all of the skills it makes possible — and while doing so, we may need to act as an external upstairs brain along the way, working with them and helping them make decisions they’re not quite capable yet of making for themselves.”

What we do repeatedly shapes our children’s brains. Our responses to them, whether we yell when they break a toy or embrace them when they are sad, builds their internal architecture.

How they feel about themselves, how they communicate with their peers, how they handle challenges later in life, develops through our interactions with them, when they behave and misbehave. We are training them from our engagement, from our attitude toward their actions, from our language, day after day after day.

“When we discipline with threats — whether explicitly through our words or implicitly through scary nonverbals like our tone, posture, and facial expressions — we activate the defensive circuits of our child’s reactive reptilian downstairs brain. We call this ‘poking the lizard,’ and we don’t recommend it because it almost always leads to escalating emotions, for both parent and child.”

We can engage a child’s higher brain, helping them to calm down and to be more reflective about who they are. Through connecting with them when they’re sad, upset, and not listening, we can establish a nurturing presence. Even when we help children label their emotions, their higher brain activates and their lower brain is soothed.

Children are not computers who will follow our commands all the time. They are constantly changing, developing people. We can consistently communicate with them that we care, that we will support them even when they make mistakes, that we are there for them. When they are distressed, we don’t need to react harshly and punish them. We can establish that we are always there for them, despite their actions, leading them toward integration.

We want our children’s upstairs brains to grow.

“One way to think about it is that we’re helping our kids develop the ability to shift between the different aspects of what’s called the autonomic nervous system. One part of the autonomic nervous system is the sympathetic branch, which you can think of as the ‘accelerator’ of the system. Like a gas pedal, it causes us to react with gusto to impulses and situations, as it primes the body for action. The other part is the parasympathetic branch, which serves as the ‘brakes’ of the system and allows us to stop and regulate ourselves and our impulses. Keeping the accelerator and the brakes in balance is key for emotional regulation, so when we help children develop the capacity to control themselves even when they’re upset, we’re helping them learn to balance these two branches of the autonomic nervous system.”

“Purely in terms of brain functioning, sometimes an activated accelerator (which might result in a child’s inappropriate and impulsive action) followed by the sudden application of brakes (in the form of parental limit setting) leads to a nervous system response that may cause the child to stop and feel a sense of shame. When this happens, the physiologic manifestation might result in avoiding eye contact, feeling a heaviness in her chest, and possibly experiencing a sinking feeling in her stomach. Parents might describe this by saying she ‘feels bad about what she’s done.’ This initial awareness of having crossed a line is extremely healthy, and it’s evidence of a child’s developing upstairs brain. Some scientists suggest that limit setting that creates a ‘healthy sense of shame’ leads to an internal compass to guide future behavior. It means she’s beginning to acquire a conscience, or an inner voice, along with an understanding of morality and self-control. Over time, as her parents repeatedly help her recognize the moments when she needs to put on the brakes, her behavior begins to change. It’s more than simply learning that a particular action is bad, or that her parents don’t like what she’s done, so she’d better avoid that action or she’ll get in trouble. More occurs within this child than just learning the rules of good vs. bad or acceptable vs. unacceptable. Rather, her brain actually changes, and her nervous system gets wired to tell her what ‘feels right,’ which modifies her future behavior. New experiences wire new connections among her neurons, and the changes in the circuitry of her brain fundamentally and positively alter the way she interacts with her world. The way her parents help this process along is by lovingly and empathically teaching her which behaviors are acceptable and which aren’t. That’s why it’s essential that we set limits and that our children internalize ‘no’ when necessary, particularly in the early years, when the regulatory circuits of the brain are wiring up. By helping them understand the rules and limits in their respective environments, we help build their conscience.”

We don’t need to embarrass children or scream at them. That message teaches children to be reactive, to be scared of those who are supposed to care for them, confusing their need for a secure attachment with a threat. Whenever a child is misbehaving, that is an opportunity for a child to learn a lesson. Their behavior shows where they are developmentally, what they need to work on, and what specific skills they should practice.

When a child misbehaves but isn’t attuned to, their emotions may escalate. We can connect with the child, and redirect them, before their behavior becomes destructive.

“Through connection, we can soothe their internal storm, help them calm down, and assist them in making better decisions. When they feel our love and acceptance, when they ‘feel felt’ by us, even when they know we don’t like their actions (or they don’t like ours), they can begin to regain control and allow their upstairs brains to engage again.”

“Imagine the last time you felt really sad or angry or upset. How would it have felt if someone you love told you, ‘You need to calm down,’ or ‘It’s not that big a deal?’ Or what if you were told to ‘go be by yourself until you’re calm and ready to be nice and happy?’ These responses would feel awful, wouldn’t they? Yet these are the kinds of things we tell our kids all the time. When we do, we actually increase their internal distress, leading to more acting out, not less. These responses accomplish the opposite of connection, effectively amplifying negative states.

Connection, on the other hand, calms, allowing children to begin to regain control of their emotions and bodies. It allows them to ‘feel felt,’ and this empathy soothes the sense of isolation or being misunderstood that arises with the reactivity of their downstairs brain and the whole nervous system: heart pounding, lungs rapidly breathing, muscles tightening, and intestines churning. Those reactive states are uncomfortable, and they can become intensified with further demands and disconnection. With connection, however, kids can make more thoughtful choices and handle themselves better. What connection does, essentially, is to integrate the brain. Here’s how it works. The brain, as we’ve said, is complex. (That’s the third Brain C.) It’s made up of many parts, all of which have different jobs to do. The upstairs brain, the downstairs brain. The left side and the right side. There are memory centers and pain regions. Along with all the systems and circuitry of the brain, these parts of our brain have their own responsibilities, their own jobs to do. When they work together as a coordinated whole, the brain becomes integrated. Its many parts can perform as a team, accomplishing more and being more effective than they could working on their own.

So that’s what connection does. It moves children away from the banks and back into the flow, where they experience an internal sense of balance and feel happier and more stable. Then they can hear what we need to tell them, and they can make better decisions. When we connect with a child who feels overwhelmed and chaotic, we help move her away from that bank and into the center of the river, where she can feel more balanced and in control. When we connect with a child who’s stuck in a rigid frame of mind, unable to consider alternative perspectives, we help him integrate so that he can loosen his unyielding grip on a situation and become more flexible and adaptive. In both cases, connection creates an integrated state of mind, and the opportunity for learning.”

When a child is so overwhelmed that they cannot listen, it is not time to teach them a lesson. It is only time to connect, to be there with them, to care, to be empathetic and loving. Only after they have calmed down can they be taught.

At the same time, we should never spoil a child. There must be clear expectations and boundaries to follow. A child’s every fleeting desire should not be satisfied indiscriminately. Connection with children is about giving them what they need, not what they desire. Indulging children, lavishing them with rewards, protecting them from all their struggles and pains, teaches them to be entitled overtime. What a child needs is love and attention. They need to learn to be happy with what they have, to grapple with difficult challenges, and to master themselves.

“Ultimately, then, kids need us to set boundaries and communicate our expectations. But the key here is that all discipline should begin by nurturing our children and attuning to their internal world, allowing them to know that they are seen, heard, and loved by their parents — even when they’ve done something wrong. When children feel seen, safe, and soothed, they feel secure and they thrive. This is how we can value our children’s minds while helping to shape and structure their behavior. We can help guide a behavioral change, teach a new skill, and impart an important way of approaching a problem, all while valuing a child’s mind beneath the behavior. This is how we discipline, how we teach, while nurturing a child’s sense of self and sense of connection to us. Then they’ll interact with the world around them based on these beliefs and with these social and emotional skills, because their brains will be wired to expect that their needs will be met and that they are unconditionally loved.”

Children’s feelings need to be validated. When their feelings are not accepted, when they are minimized, belittled, and criticized, they will become reactive instead of reflective.

When we tell children to stop feeling upset or else (“don’t talk to me until you’ve calmed down”), children are really being told that they are not loved until they act in a specific way. If they don’t act in the approved way, then they will see themselves as unworthy.

We can acknowledge a child’s storm of emotions without approving of their misbehavior. We can help the child identify what they are feeling, guiding them away from their reactivity. Firstly, though, we must be there for the child, letting them know that their misbehavior isn’t necessarily a judgement of their worth.

When a child is having a tantrum, they will not listen to an adult lecture about what they did wrong. They will feel attacked. Their cortisol will rise, their heart will beat faster, and adrenaline will flood their bodies. They will learn to tune the adult out. Even when the adult is explaining the rules logically, a child will not emotionally be able to listen. They’ll feel hurt, angry, disappointed, and so on, reacting through their lower brains. An upset child is on sensory overload. They need us to listen deeply to them rather than argue, scold, or lecture. We must give children enough time and space, so they can feel comfortable enough to express how they feel.

Then we can reflect back what the child told us. This shows children that they are understood and helps to defuse a charged situation. When a child feels listened to, validated for how they feel, even if their behavior is not accepted, they will respond more openly.

Once children feel receptive, they can then learn the appropriate ways to deal with their emotions. Helping children through their difficult periods — whether from nodding and listening to their struggles, to identifying what they feel and why and what they can do to change — engages their higher thinking functions and deactivates their reactive brains.

We can be more adaptive with how we engage our children, approaching our discipline from an open, compassionate perspective, rather than a punitive one.

Children need a lot of help to grow. Their brains are changing, developing, at different stages. They are highly vulnerable to their environments and need consistent boundaries. They need love and acceptance. They need to not be judged for who they are, but rather, feel they can come to us for safety and security and guidance.

Discipline is not a lecture, a punishment, or a consequence.

It is an opportunity for us to learn, connect, and communicate together.

The Art of Communicating (Thich Nhat Hanh)

The Art of Communicating (Thich Nhat Hanh)

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“Mindfulness requires letting go of judgement, returning to an awareness of the breath and the body, and bringing your full attention to what is in you and around you. This helps you notice whether the thought you just produced is healthy or unhealthy, compassionate or unkind.”

When we breathe mindfully, we communicate. We know we’re breathing in, breathing out. In this awareness, we are in tune with our body-mind, with feelings and thoughts, with the environment.

“Breathing in, I know I’m breathing in. Breathing out, I know I’m breathing out.”

When we’re mindful, we’re free. When we’re consumed with anger, anxiety, and fear, we’re trapped. Instead of holding on to our storylines, and avoiding the present, we can release our suffering and return home, again and again.

A lot of our thinking comes from dwelling on the past, controlling the future, imagining scenarios that have never happened. We worry so much. We worry about ourselves, about what other people think of us, about meaning, about money, about everything that we can. We get caught in our ideas, talking, talking, talking, thinking, thinking, thinking. Distracting ourselves with constant amusements and dramas.

Instead of realizing that our perceptions are only perceptions, we mistake them for reality.

When we mindfully breathe, we can return to where we are.

“It’s enjoyable to breathe in, to breathe out; it’s enjoyable to sit, to walk, to eat breakfast, to take a shower, to clean the bathroom, to work in the vegetable garden. When we stop talking and thinking and listen mindfully to ourselves, one thing we will notice is our greater capacity and opportunities for joy.”

Mindfulness lets us open up to our fear, our pain, our sorrow, our love. We don’t run away from life. We become aware of life, nurturing the present, letting go of what causes us to suffer.

We are no longer afraid to be with ourselves.

“We can just continue to follow our in-breath and our out-breath. We don’t tell our fear to go away; we recognize it. We don’t tell our anger to go away; we acknowledge it. These feelings are like a small child tugging at our sleeves. Pick them up and hold them tenderly. Acknowledging our feelings without judging them or pushing them away, embracing them with mindfulness, is an act of homecoming.”

When we know our own suffering, then we can learn to see the suffering of the world. Exploitation, discrimination, racism, poverty, homelessness, war, and so on, cause a lot of suffering to us and those around us. We cannot help others until we look at our own sorrow and fear, pain and anxiety, depression and anger.

We need to listen deeply to ourselves. Only then can we release our burdens. Only then can we stop the destructive patterns that we’ve inherited from our ancestors, from our parents, from our past.

“If a lotus is to grow, it needs to be rooted in the mud. Compassion is born from understanding suffering. We all should learn to embrace our own suffering, to listen to it deeply, and to have a deep look into its nature. In doing so, we allow the energy of love and compassion to be born.”

To be effective at communication, we need to know ourselves. Then we can practice mindfulness, deep listening, and loving speech. Other people may complain, insult us, manipulate, whine, and judge. When we listen deeply with compassion, we can look at people as they are, and not be stirred up emotionally. We can love them without judging them, care about them without giving in to anger and resentment.

As we listen, our purpose is to help others to suffer less. We want ourselves to suffer less too. Instead of judging and blaming, we can be mindfully aware.

When we are not mindful, we will not see our own suffering. Then we will make everyone around us suffer as well. We may believe that we know the people around us, such as our family members and friends and colleagues, but maybe we have never truly listened to them. Maybe we’ve never truly listened to ourselves.

We must be skillful with how we communicate. Do we use words of kindness, compassion, and truth, working to reduce another person’s pain and anxiety? Are we gentle or harsh in our tones? As we begin to understand more about ourselves, we can understand others. We can listen and speak kindly and choose the right words for the right situation.

We can use peaceful language instead of abusing, condemning, judging. We don’t need to exaggerate. We don’t need to speak one way to one person and another way to another person, attempting to manipulate. Our truth can be gentle, consistent, and loving.

Not everyone has the same perception or understanding. When we talk, we can adapt ourselves to each person, learning about how they think and feel. Not everyone will be receptive to the same stories, the same messages, and the same knowledge.

Our speech should be used for well-being and healing. When our speech causes ill-being and suffering, then that is wrong speech. We can make those around us feel loved through our presence, through our gentleness and care.

As we look into ourselves, we know that we’re not perfect. We have strengths and weaknesses like everyone else. We feel pain and joy and compassion and fear and anger and on and on, just like everyone else.

We don’t have to judge ourselves as bad, because we have positive qualities too, but we don’t have to swell with pride either, because we make mistakes too. No one sees us for who we are in totality. They are only partly right. We don’t see everyone else for who they are in totality either. People may have many experiences, feelings, and thoughts that we will never be aware of.

When we feel angry, we neither need to act nor suppress our anger. Anger may have a sense of urgency to it, but when we act, we often escalate the situation.

Rather than falling into the same habitual patterns, we can treat our anger with tenderness. We can embrace our energy and breathe and let go. Even a small pause can be beneficial.

We can ask ourselves whenever a thought arises, “Is that thought right? Are we really sure?” Instead of committing to a wrong perception, we can slow down and question our certainty.

Unless we can communicate mindfully with ourselves, we cannot improve the quality of our relationships. With mindfulness of suffering, compassion arises. When we see the suffering in others, we want to help. We cannot force others to become who we want them to be, but we can change ourselves.

When we are compassionate to ourselves, our desire to help our communities grows.

Our love grows.

Our lives are interwoven. We are dependent on each other for survival and well-being. If our communities can listen to each other, communicating with loving-kindness and non-judgmental awareness, we can systematically change our civilization.

We can only help each other when we are engaged.

We can only help each other when we care.

Buddhist Perspective on Schadenfreude

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Image from beyondmeds.com

Definition of schadenfreude:

Enjoyment obtained from the troubles of others.

Satisfaction or pleasure over another’s misfortunes.

Feeling happiness when someone fails, makes a mistake, or is humiliated.

There are people who make us suffer. We often feel that our lives are more difficult, stressful, painful, and so on, because of what they have said and done. These people may harm those we care about, help our enemies, or support ideas we disagree with.

It is easy to wish those difficult people misfortune and then take pleasure when they fail. It is easy to water the seeds of judgement, comparison, and sadism.

We must be mindful of how we think and not reinforce ideas of division, resentment, bitterness, and discrimination. Instead we need to look at ourselves and see our own suffering, so that we can find compassion for everyone. Even those who do us harm.

When we take pleasure in another’s misfortune, we lower ourselves. We fall into darkness in our condemnation, in our judgement, of another’s suffering.

What kind of human beings are we when we wish suffering on others?

We may feel a temporary satisfaction over a false sense of revenge, but we are degrading ourselves. We are watering the seeds of hatred, separation, and envy. Instead we need to water the seeds of compassion and loving-kindness.

Instead of looking outward in comparison, we need to know ourselves intimately.

Freedom From the Known (reflections)

Freedom From the Known (reflections)

You’re not just a separate creature that lives “in” this universe for a fleeting time. You’re not merely a “part” of this universe, apart from the indescribable processes of life and death. You are this universe. Interwoven in the cosmos.

Without spacetime, without the evolutionary line of your ancestors to you, without the soil, rivers, and wind, without the sun and flowers and rain, you would not be here. They are in you.

You do not exist as a single identity, or ego, separate from everything and everyone else. Your existence is changing, transforming in its infinite relationships, right now.

With sensitivity, you can watch interdependent relationships unfold.

They are nuanced and spontaneous, arising, passing, arising, passing.

You are like a wave, calming and crashing and sparkling with light on shadows, until merging back to an endless sea.


There is no sensitivity in ideas of the past. The past is dead and you confuse yourself by carrying around its bones. Your mind is often dulled of its aliveness because it is dominated by the past.

When you lose your sensitivity, you grind out your days with unthinking habits like overeating, smoking, dwelling on your mistakes, worrying, and so on.

You must intimately know this moment. How can you know this moment when you’re filled with opinions, judgements, and values?

When you are judging, concerned with right and wrong, agreeing, disagreeing, comparing, and so on, you’re focused on a fixed interpretation of life. Instead of seeing clearly, you are projecting, distorting, manipulating reality.

The moment that you think you know who you are, you are limited by your view of yourself, and are no longer learning.

It is hard to learn, to see clearly, to be fully alive, because you have been conditioned from language, education, culture, art, politics, religion, family, custom, past experiences. You have been trained to respond in conditioned ways, to think robotically.

Most of us don’t realize we’re conditioned until there is a great disturbance in our lives. Whether from political or economic hardships, in our families or professions, through our relationships with others and within ourselves, we become disturbed.

What can we do? Can we live with so much suffering and confusion and uncertainty?

A lot of people avoid dealing with their sorrows, their sufferings, their fears of what is uncertain. They join a new group, subscribe to an ideology, shout at others, take drugs, gamble, check their social media accounts, or watch TV. They distract themselves all day with amusements.

Instead of being present with their fears and uncertainties and anxieties, they hide from them, avoid them, numb themselves from them. Their fears won’t go away, but they have desensitized themselves so much that they don’t feel alive anymore.

You must be totally aware to understand. Often you are one type of person at the office and another with friends. You talk differently to yourself than you do with your coworkers. You act out so many different roles every day.

You divide your consciousness and create conflict with those divisions, blocking out one part of yourself for another, aware of one aspect of existence and not another.

When you do try to understand yourself, you categorize and analyze and examine, spending weeks and months and years on petty personal dramas. But still, you are no further along to enlightenment.

If you could just be aware for a moment, sensitive to all of life, to trees and wind and birds and rivers and the beating of your heart, to inner and outer energies changing without division, without any purpose or method or conclusion, then you will see immediately who you are.

You can know life more deeply without the need to compare deep to shallow, right to wrong, good to bad.

All too often, you cannot see what is, what exists beyond all symbols, because you’re trapped in conditioned states of thinking, comparing, judging, and deciding.

You narrowly perceive, trained into a rigid way of being after a lifetime of chasing after pleasure, and avoiding pain, and fearing what you don’t understand.

Can you be here without trying to be elsewhere? With choiceless awareness, you can begin to see the totality of life. There is nothing to get and no reward, except for what is happening. If you can truly be without any expectation, letting what comes come until it passes away, then you will know joy.

When you seek out pleasure, to repeat an experience of the past, you will soon know pain. Pain is the shadow of pleasure. One follows the other.

When you have what you want, you often wish to hold onto it forever and fear losing it. If someone has what you don’t have, and you want what they have, then you eventually become envious and bitter.

By clinging to your memories of pleasure, you’re in conflict with yourself. Your desire to keep something or someone, to appear in a favorable way, to not lose what you already have, eventually leads you into suffering.

To be present is to no longer be afraid of losing what you desire. You are not afraid when you are just watching yourself be. At the back of your mind, however, you think about the past and future. You are scared of losing your job, your status, your kids, your health, your life. Can you watch all these fears without trying to justify them?

Do the words, images, and associations to past memories disturb you so much? Look behind the symbols at the undercurrent of energy. What is actually happening to you in reality and what is only thought, feeling, and memory?

Thoughts are not realities. For example, you may have gotten sick a few years ago. Now that you are well, you fear becoming sick again.

Your resistance to sickness is a thought, not what is happening within your body at the moment. At the moment, you are fine. Instead of being aware of how you are and tending to yourself with compassion and joy, you get lost in fears about losing your health. There is a conflict between what you think and what is. You ignore what is and dwell on ideas, which are fixed symbols. The more you think, the more you suffer about non-realities that are no longer there or not there in the future, blocking yourself to all of life.

Can you look at fear without dissecting it? Can you see fear without having to control or analyze it, without having to summon courage, without directing your mind to specific things that you are afraid of? Directly look at fear without making it intellectual. Know fear without hiding, rationalizing, trying to take it apart.

You are not apart from fear. There is no fear and then you, an observer of fear. There is only, when you notice subtly enough, fear, which is you.

Then your awareness of fear — without you trying to conclude or explain what fear is — dissolves it.

Fear is not fear alone. Fear interrelates with anxiety, hatred, jealousy, violence, and many similar states.

How can a person find peace in a world writhing with war, class conflict, murder, starvation, with many forms of injustice, perpetuated throughout the centuries?

Violence doesn’t merely stop at the events. that surround you but it is within you as well.

Violence is not just to maim or kill another person. It is a harsh word, jealousy over a friend’s accomplishments, discrimination, obeying an authority out of fear.

When you divide yourself from others and refuse to see the humanity in them, you’re being violent. All too often, you separate yourself through belief and thought. You see yourself as superior, inferior, or both. You blame and judge, rather than being present, listening deeply, and learning.

If you want to transcend violence, you cannot deny, hide, or distract from the violence within. You must be intimately aware of your anger and sadness and jealousy and anxiety and fear, neither justifying nor condemning these states.

All too often, you strive for ideals of non-violence. You tell yourself that you must be peaceful rather than violent, calm rather than angry, and so on. You think about the best ideological systems to obey to become a better person and blame others for failing to follow along.

You create dualities of good and bad, right and wrong, judging and forming opinions.

You try to be better daily. You prepare so much to be a good person because you have been taught to compare, analyze, judge, and think about every situation.

Yet there is no trying. There is only what is peaceful and what is not peaceful. Many holy books have been filled with words about non-violence for centuries and people are still angry, jealous, greedy, hateful, and so on.

When you claim that you believe in the ideals of peace, but are not peaceful within or in relationship to the world, you’re acting hypocritically.

When you separate, when you condemn others while justifying your righteousness, you’re trapped. You have not learned how to see what is.

Most people are not actually with each other. They form ideas and then act on the nuanced relationships between those ideas. They live on images, on symbols, rather than being with someone in the present. The more they cling to ideas, the more they live in a universe of abstraction.

You must be able to see totally. It is one thing to intellectually understand, to examine yourself under an analysis of symbols, but is quite another thing to completely see, to be aware of what happens within you.

You are never free until you can see what you depend on, what causes you to suffer, what brings you joy, without trying to hide or deny these things within yourself. From relationship — to yourself, to the group, to society, to all of life interconnected in the universe — you can be aware.

Reflections on Prometheus Rising

“What the Thinker thinks, the Prover proves.”


People think themselves into their relative neurological realities. In these “realities,” there are underlying assumptions about what is true and false, right and wrong, essential and not essential, real and fake.

They think about the universe through the neuro-filter of a Marxist, Atheist, Christian, Buddhist, feminist, Democrat, Republican, protestor, doctor, Caucasian male, African female, cynic, optimist, lover, fighter, bad son, good daughter, and on, and on.

People make constant assumptions about their identities and the identities of others. While it is easier to see the prejudices and biases in others, it is far more difficult to see those same inclinations within.

Most people not only don’t know but they don’t know what they don’t know. Their “reality” appears to be the true one, while other people’s realities, the further they diverge, seem increasingly bizarre and nonsensical.

When the Thinker is convinced of a given reality, then the Thinker will unconsciously work to organize all “evidence” in favor of it being true. Signals that are consistent with a favored reality are absorbed into their overall model of reality while other signals are forgotten, ignored, rejected, rationalized, and resisted.


Brains are made of matter in spacetime. They weigh close to three pounds, are composed of a gel-like form, transmit “ideas” with electro-chemical signals, varying in innumerable neuronal sequences, while suspended in cerebrospinal fluid.

Brains generate many ideas — influenced by everything that impacted them, from texts written a thousand years ago to a drama on TV to a fight with a sibling. Ideas are not equal to reality, but ideas can make up the models of a given reality.

While brains resemble the hardware of a computer, ideas resemble the software. Anything, from psychedelic drugs to an idea about political revolution to eating only a vegetarian diet, can change the consciousness of a person.

Certain programs can be written onto the hardware of the brain: genetic imperatives and imprinting, conditioning and learning. The mind is bound to what it imprints at vulnerable stages of its development. Its software turns into hardware overtime, which sets the structure for conscious thought.

Out of an infinite number of signals in the universe, when a person’s growing brain is imprinted at different stages of life, that person develops a sense of self. Further learning and conditioning adds to the structural foundation, thus creating a more intricate model of what reality is.


In the oral bio-survival circuit, people are hardwired in the most primitive parts of their nervous systems to seek security, nourishment, and a womb-like sense of safety, while avoiding what is harmful, dangerous, and threatening.

Domesticated primates (humans) are genetically hardwired to seek security within their family, immediate group, and tribe. They can be further conditioned to seek security in symbolic groups that they identify with such as a country, a political party, the religion they were raised in, and so on. They can even transfer this security-need onto symbols such as money, which in itself is of no value (you cannot eat money) except in the agreed upon value determined by other members of that particular group.

“In traditional society, belonging to the tribe was bio-security; exile was terror, and real threat of death. In modern society, having the tickets (money) is bio-security; having the tickets withdrawn is terror.”

Humans who do not belong to the same group are often categorized as outsiders and are perceived as hostile, aggressive, or challenging to that group’s interests and purpose. Any element, from a dissident person to an idea, which threatens the security of the group, is resisted and rejected.


The emotional-territorial circuit is involved with power. People are unconsciously in a struggle for status in a social group. In a tribe, members fit into various roles with different responsibilities and functions. Some members assume top dog roles while others fall into bottom dog roles.

These roles can be divided into the four quadrants of “I’m ok/you’re ok, I’m ok/you’re not ok, I’m not ok/you’re not ok, I’m not ok/you’re ok,” to use the terminology of Transactional Analysis.

This model, among other similar models. that represent the earliest imprinting, and subsequent conditioning, of one’s ego role in society, will vary based on how strong the imprinting is, how the dynamics of the group are in relation to the individual and societal structure, how well one can be conditioned out of robotically accepting an imprinted role, and so on.

Furthermore, each of the quadrants, while convenient as a tool for practical use, can be divided into subtler categories (with no end in sight). Nobody exists in one of the quadrants absolutely, but rather, will fall on a spectrum between extremes, which shifts overtime, as one’s nervous system changes.


Humans (domesticated primates) use symbols and are used by symbols. These symbols include, but are not limited to, art, music, mathematics, maps, and words.

Many symbols rule people’s lives without their conscious awareness of them such as with the wheel, the Roman road systems, the alphabet, agriculture, the State, and so on.

Some symbols, such as words, already have assumptions about reality buried in them, suggesting certain psychological states, emotional tones, explanations of the physical universe, and references to innumerable aspects of what makes up existence and meaning and purpose.

The semantic circuit makes distinctions out of raw experiences. It puts labels on life, dividing and sub-dividing, routine with categorization.

Every generation adds information to the previous ones, re-classifying the outdated information of the past. New connections arise between what has existed before, leading to insights in knowledge.

While entropy is the increasing disorder overtime in a closed system, information is negative entropy, coherence and order, where understandings birth out of chaos. As information increases more rapidly, so does a recognition of patterns from a randomness of events.

Over ever shorter spans of time, information is exponentially increasing, marking advancements in science, technology, music, art, and so on.

People are still using their more primitive circuits, despite this so-called progress. They have evolved with the reptilian and mammalian brains of earlier epochs in time.

Their rational, semantic, or time-binding circuits can be manipulated easily by fear of outsiders, threats to their status and safety, criticisms of the authorities that they trust in, appeals to tribal loyalty at the expense of those who are seen as inferior, dangerous, alien to them, etc.

While the first two circuits establish homeostasis in a civilization, the third circuit seeks higher states. The third circuit has always been controlled, partially or totally, by rules, taboos, prohibitions, laws, traditions, rituals, cultural games — most of which are unconscious, unstated, or seen as “common sense.”

Those who are in power want to control third-circuit insights, and establish order, because what is unknown and new and radical challenges the power structures already in place. There has always been fluctuations between progressive ideas and tradition, but as time increases, so does informational content.

That informational content may support. life such as with the LGBT, environmental, black, and feminist movements, recent medicines that treat diseases, scientific revolutions, and so on. At the same time, informational content could threaten to destroy all of life, such as with bombs, pollution, assault rifles, child labor, war between certain groups of domesticated primates over a sliver of territory, etc.

Everything that has manifested in civilization — from planes and trains, skyscrapers and roads and houses, nuclear weapons and clothes and microwaves — birthed from ideas, connecting symbolically in various people’s imaginations, developing, changing, self-correcting, evolving.

From the manifestation of imaginations, people live with a potential for unknown amounts of growth and destruction. In a world of limited resources, overpopulation, and institutions that seek to maintain their primate order with bombs, a manipulation of the third-circuit, and ink excretions on paper to establish their power over land and water and air, there is another force that is accelerating: information. From information there is a potential for high knowledge, liberation, and awareness.


The socio-sexual circuit first awakens during adolescence — at the onset of puberty. At this most vulnerable stage in human development, sexual preferences, taboos, dysfunctions, and fetishes have the highest chance of being imprinted.

These imprints can be due to chance, trauma, genetics, and environmental influences. People often mimic what’s deemed as acceptable by their local culture and hide what is not, keeping certain parts of their sexual profiles secret.

Every tribe has their own rules as to what is considered sexually moral and immoral. There are often, in every society, controls over a person’s sexual self-identification and subsequent behaviors. Whether the rules are ignorant, biased, misinformed, enlightened, liberated, and so on, is one matter. The innate purpose behind these rules, however, is to control the survival and variability and evolution of the gene pool. It is also to have power over what people can do and cannot do, socially controlling their choices and values.

Despite this attempt at control, there will always be unknown variables in sexual attraction, reproduction, mating, and future evolution.

Robert Anton Wilson said, “Taboo and morality are tribal attempts to govern the random element — to select the desired future.”

Those who act as guides and leaders in the local group, such as priests and shamans, philosophers and politicians, define what symbols are considered to be acceptable and what symbols are not.

From categorizing certain symbols as acceptable, moral, and right, those in power control the limits of information. Ideas seen as immoral, unacceptable, eccentric, and so on, are repressed, blocked, and forbidden.

The socio-sexual circuit keeps a check on the time-binding, rational third-circuit, to prevent the unrestrained rise of innovation and to keep order.

Children are often taught to follow the rules of society. They are not commonly taught to question, to criticize authority, and to become independent in thought.

Tribal guides, from parents and teachers to priests and police, desire for children to think and act semi-robotically, mimicking group values, following the traditions of the past, so they can be accepted into preferred roles in their group.

Most people are programmed to be just smart enough to do their roles properly, but not smart enough to question the roles they are placed under. They are trained to follow certain unspoken rules within their groups (of gender, class, race, age, and so on) and not to question them much.

They will vote for leaders who appeal to their primitive circuits, such as politicians claiming to be patriots, denouncing all outsiders that threaten their traditional values.

To stir up fear in the masses based on outside threats, to speak eloquently of change and hope, is a way to manipulate the human need for security and fear of losing it to the unknown.


Groups often use tactics to re-imprint individual nervous systems. Many cults, governments, militaries, religions, and terrorist groups, who’ve effectively re-imprinted (brainwashed) those initially outside their groups, used methods of isolation from conflicting reality-tunnels, punishments for unacceptable behavior with rewards for acceptable behavior, reinforcement of group superiority over individual inferiority, mind-altering drugs on occasion, initiations into status in the group with fear of the unknown (outside perspectives) along with comfort in the group (protective mother/father figure), and so on.

“The easiest way to get brainwashed is to be born. All of the above principles then immediately go into action, a process which social psychologists euphemistically call socialization. The bio-survival circuit automatically hooks onto or bonds to the most appropriate mother or mothering object; the emotional-territorial circuit looks for a ‘role’ or ego-identification in the family or tribe; the semantic circuit learns to imitate and then use the local reality-grids (symbol systems); the socio-sexual circuit is imprinted by whatever mating experiences are initially available at puberty.”

Domesticated primates (humans) have nervous systems that can adapt to wildly different reality-tunnels. Whereas in the past, groups could exist separately from other groups and maintain their sense of stable reality, in modern times, in an ever-connected world, groups bump into each other constantly, clashing with each other over what reality (symbol system) is. The symbol system that they hold to be true and logical, to other groups, is false and nonsensical. Furthermore, they confuse the symbol system (map of reality) with reality itself.

To dogmatic believers inside the group, their reality is the only true reality and everyone else who opposes them is deluded, immoral, or heretical.

In present times, to come into contact with so many different reality-tunnels is to be challenged with threats to group identity. The more dogmatic the group, the more dangerous the outsiders are or can be.


Beyond the first four circuits of the nervous system is the neurosomatic circuit.

Pranayama breathing, meditation, visualization of white light, prolonged sexual play without orgasm, psychedelic and cannabis consumption, among other techniques, trigger highly pleasant or unpleasant sensory states, depending on whether those who do these practices are experienced or unprepared amateurs.

Many yogis, gurus, mystics, and heretics have described this circuit as orgasmic experience, union with all/God/the infinite/the divine, crossing the abyss, and so on. Some enter this state through terrible internal struggle while others seem to naturally flow there without suffering.

The fifth circuit is intuitive and non-linear. Whereas the third-circuit hyper-thinking rationalist builds linear maps of reality, and the second circuit alpha male acts based on who is dominant in the social hierarchy, the fifth circuit mystic senses the gestalt, the organic whole, between data points in infinity.


The neurogenetic circuit goes beyond all previous circuits. It is the circuit of genetic memory, of the collective unconscious, of the Tao, of non-duality. Coincidences are significant and paradoxes are solved with wordless understanding. There is no true distinction between what exists out there and what exists within.

In this circuit, all of infinity fits into a flicker of sunlight. All of the cosmos, from quarks to planets, from the Big Bang to a sigh in the present moment, is interconnected, mutually rising and falling, becoming and not becoming. Life and death intertwine like the root systems of expanding trees.


The mind becomes what it focuses on. A mind that thinks about thinking is meta-thinking. To think about thinking about thinking, ad Infinitum, to reflect life like a mirror without clinging onto the changing experience, to be totally absorbed in an idea, a feeling, a moment, without any mental separation, is to use the meta-programming circuit.

This seventh circuit can program all lower circuits and switch between them like the channels of a TV. Similar to non action in Taoism, the meta-programmer adapts to what it engages but does not hold on.

The human brain may be psychically small compared to the universe, but within the brain, all of the universe hums. As the mind encounters certain reality-tunnels, the mind can be those reality-tunnels, while knowing of ever more.


The neurological system takes in a limited number of “existential” information, or a limited number of data points, out of the infinity of the universe.

The nervous system creates models of reality from changing data, editing, re-combining, classifying, removing, and adding information, mostly without conscious awareness.

So many thoughts, feelings, perceptions, and sensations are experienced every millisecond. Most of people’s lives are forgotten, rejected from their belief systems, re-classified to fit into their relative models of reality from what happened, ignored totally, and so on.

Usually only fragments of experiences are selected before they are analyzed, edited, classified, judged, and rationalized.

Humans then narrow their perceptions further through filtering themselves in different symbol systems of race, class, gender, politics, religion, height, fitness, personal hobbies, sexuality, ad Infinitum, creating reality-tunnels for themselves.

Domesticated primates are a lot more creative than they realize. They are the artists of their own existence, capable of, but not always aware of, neurologically programming their relationship with the universe.


All human systems have degrees of order and chaos within them. As this balance shifts, so does the system and those who are embedded in it. The more complex the system becomes informationally, the more unstable it will become as well. Moreover, with information increasing exponentially, there will be major transformations in the system, radically changing the realities of future people — sometimes intentionally, most often not.

Look at the difference in perception between a hunter-gatherer and an industrialist, an astrologer in ancient Egypt and a quantum physicist in the twentieth century, a factory worker in 1890 and a computer software engineer.

The breakdown of an old system could be the sign of a breakthrough into another model of reality, another visionary step, another way of seeing.

From death comes life again. In all of life, however, there is still an element of death. Like a caterpillar bursting through the rigid hold of its cocoon, and then flapping out its bright wings, for only a moment, for only a brief span of time, before it too returns back to the earth.

Systems are not isolated information organisms, destined to evolve or self-destruct alone. They are interconnected with the energies of other systems and gleam with promise like the beads of Indra’s Net.

As entropy is a measure of the increasing disorder in a closed system, there is still a quantum probability of energy underlying the fabric of every event non-locally. As information increases in an uncertain but probabilistic state of coherence to chaos, order to disorder, systems change and neurological realities will adapt within, until there is another transformation in future consciousness.

Stoic Philosophy: Fame and Popularity

Stoic Philosophy: Fame and Popularity

Which master do you serve: the fleeting approval of the multitude or your own integrity?


You may strive to be honored after your death. When you are dead, however, you will no longer be with the living and all that they say will not be heard by you.

Furthermore, you will not have any control over what the living speak about, even if they decide to speak about you.

If people do talk about you, how soon will their conversations shift from praise and blame to indifference?

Those who do remember you will also die. Their memories will fade with them. Their stories forever lost in time.

Your name may not even be as significant as the greatest humans from generations past who are now less than the whispers on lips.

Every sage and poet, king and slave, every lover and child and warrior and scientist, everyone who was born and breathed in the cool air, everyone from hundreds to thousands of years before, had perished into bones and dirt and shadows. Their lives were so fleeting, here, then gone.

Forgotten in unknown pasts.


Just because someone appears happier by being famous doesn’t mean that they are happy. Appearances of happiness are not happiness.

It is common for people to have a first impression of an event or a person. While the unwise take that impression to be true and make value judgements about it, the wise will use their reason to investigate why they felt a given way and whether their feeling was justified. After they’ve patiently evaluated their initial impression, they will let go of it, and then move on. Those who are unwise will cling to their impressions. They will desire what is external and uncontrollable, such as reputation and fame and power and money.

The wise will be present and focus on who they are and what they can change while the unwise will worry about the past and the future.


Fame is not worthwhile if it causes you to lose your dignity, self-respect, kindness, turning you into a hypocrite, coward, or tyrant.


Praise is a fickle pleasure. Applause is empty of meaning beyond a moment in infinity. Nothing lasts and everything is soon forgotten. Desiring fame is only a tiresome burden.


Don’t fall under the spell of vanity, believing that you are more important than others. If you are convinced of how special you are, then you are seduced away from your reason.

Seek to be a good person rather than seeking to be known as a good person. Everyone is connected as citizens of the world.


When you want to attain a higher social status, people will have power over you. You’ll be enslaved to their approval and disapproval.

Always be indifferent to praise and blame.

When praised, laugh internally at their silly words. When blamed or sneered at, don’t concern yourself with what you cannot control.


Before you talk about being a good person, be a good person. Do not let crowds seduce you away from your discipline, your virtue, your actions. You are responsible for the type of person you are. Master yourself rather than manipulating other people.

Stoic Philosophy: Epictetus on Control

Stoic Philosophy: Epictetus on Control

Epictetus was born as a slave in Ancient Greece. He became a prominent Stoic philosopher during the Roman Imperial Period, later influencing such people as Marcus Aurelius. Although he never wrote his teachings down, his pupil, Arrian, did.

His main works are the Enchiridion and the Discourses.


Some things are in our control while other things are not. We should focus on what is in our control.

Our desires and aversions, how we choose to think and act, our pursuits and goals and preferences, are in our control (to a degree).

What is not in our control are the bodies that we are born with, our reputation, old age, illness, and death.


When we try to control the things that are not in our control, we will suffer. We must look directly at what we can control and not burden ourselves with what is not in our control.


Our expectations are not life. We must mentally prepare for adversities while being content with what we have, not wishing for what we cannot control.


Other people’s opinions are their own. Instead of manipulating what they think about us, we should work on mastering our own virtue.

Let’s look at what is within our power and act wisely rather than looking at another person for our worth.


We are all born with different abilities, privileges, struggles. Instead of judging ourselves, let’s act out our roles with dignity.

While we didn’t choose to be born or to be placed under certain circumstances, we can choose our own attitudes and ideas and actions.


We should demonstrate our philosophy through how we live. Our true master is within us first.


We should never sacrifice our humanity for the fleeting approval of others.

It is easy to be seduced by what is external and uncontrollable, but in doing so, we may risk our own integrity.

If we compromise who we are for long enough, we may lose who we are forever.


Every difficulty is a question.

We must answer with how we live.


Spend time with those who help us to grow and avoid those who diminish us. Endure those who insult us with humor, humility, and kindness.

We don’t need to explain who we are to those who refuse to understand us. We only need to focus on what’s in our power, letting go of opinions and speculation and gossip.

We don’t need to talk about ourselves like we are important. There is no need for us to boast or blame. We can remain quiet, but when speaking, speak objectively.


Review what has happened at the end of each day. Investigate what we have done well and poorly. We can cultivate habits that are virtuous while remaining compassionate toward our mistakes.