You were on your way home when you died…

You were on your way home when you died…

The Egg
By: Andy Weir

You were on your way home when you died.
It was a car accident. Nothing particularly remarkable, but fatal nonetheless. You left behind a wife and two children. It was a painless death. The EMTs tried their best to save you, but to no avail. Your body was so utterly shattered you were better off, trust me.
And that’s when you met me.
“What… what happened?” You asked. “Where am I?”
“You died,” I said, matter-of-factly. No point in mincing words.
“There was a… a truck and it was skidding…”
“Yup,” I said.
“I… I died?”
“Yup. But don’t feel bad about it. Everyone dies,” I said.
You looked around. There was nothingness. Just you and me. “What is this place?” You asked. “Is this the afterlife?”
“More or less,” I said.
“Are you god?” You asked.
“Yup,” I replied. “I’m God.”
“My kids… my wife,” you said.
“What about them?”
“Will they be all right?”
“That’s what I like to see,” I said. “You just died and your main concern is for your family. That’s good stuff right there.”
You looked at me with fascination. To you, I didn’t look like God. I just looked like some man. Or possibly a woman. Some vague authority figure, maybe. More of a grammar school teacher than the almighty.
“Don’t worry,” I said. “They’ll be fine. Your kids will remember you as perfect in every way. They didn’t have time to grow contempt for you. Your wife will cry on the outside, but will be secretly relieved. To be fair, your marriage was falling apart. If it’s any consolation, she’ll feel very guilty for feeling relieved.”
“Oh,” you said. “So what happens now? Do I go to heaven or hell or something?”
“Neither,” I said. “You’ll be reincarnated.”
“Ah,” you said. “So the Hindus were right,”
“All religions are right in their own way,” I said. “Walk with me.”
You followed along as we strode through the void. “Where are we going?”
“Nowhere in particular,” I said. “It’s just nice to walk while we talk.”
“So what’s the point, then?” You asked. “When I get reborn, I’ll just be a blank slate, right? A baby. So all my experiences and everything I did in this life won’t matter.”
“Not so!” I said. “You have within you all the knowledge and experiences of all your past lives. You just don’t remember them right now.”
I stopped walking and took you by the shoulders. “Your soul is more magnificent, beautiful, and gigantic than you can possibly imagine. A human mind can only contain a tiny fraction of what you are. It’s like sticking your finger in a glass of water to see if it’s hot or cold. You put a tiny part of yourself into the vessel, and when you bring it back out, you’ve gained all the experiences it had.
“You’ve been in a human for the last 48 years, so you haven’t stretched out yet and felt the rest of your immense consciousness. If we hung out here for long enough, you’d start remembering everything. But there’s no point to doing that between each life.”
“How many times have I been reincarnated, then?”
“Oh lots. Lots and lots. An in to lots of different lives.” I said. “This time around, you’ll be a Chinese peasant girl in 540 AD.”
“Wait, what?” You stammered. “You’re sending me back in time?”
“Well, I guess technically. Time, as you know it, only exists in your universe. Things are different where I come from.”
“Where you come from?” You said.
“Oh sure,” I explained “I come from somewhere. Somewhere else. And there are others like me. I know you’ll want to know what it’s like there, but honestly you wouldn’t understand.”
“Oh,” you said, a little let down. “But wait. If I get reincarnated to other places in time, I could have interacted with myself at some point.”
“Sure. Happens all the time. And with both lives only aware of their own lifespan you don’t even know it’s happening.”
“So what’s the point of it all?”
“Seriously?” I asked. “Seriously? You’re asking me for the meaning of life? Isn’t that a little stereotypical?”
“Well it’s a reasonable question,” you persisted.
I looked you in the eye. “The meaning of life, the reason I made this whole universe, is for you to mature.”
“You mean mankind? You want us to mature?”
“No, just you. I made this whole universe for you. With each new life you grow and mature and become a larger and greater intellect.”
“Just me? What about everyone else?”
“There is no one else,” I said. “In this universe, there’s just you and me.”
You stared blankly at me. “But all the people on earth…”
“All you. Different incarnations of you.”
“Wait. I’m everyone!?”
“Now you’re getting it,” I said, with a congratulatory slap on the back.
“I’m every human being who ever lived?”
“Or who will ever live, yes.”
“I’m Abraham Lincoln?”
“And you’re John Wilkes Booth, too,” I added.
“I’m Hitler?” You said, appalled.
“And you’re the millions he killed.”
“I’m Jesus?”
“And you’re everyone who followed him.”
You fell silent.
“Every time you victimized someone,” I said, “you were victimizing yourself. Every act of kindness you’ve done, you’ve done to yourself. Every happy and sad moment ever experienced by any human was, or will be, experienced by you.”
You thought for a long time.
“Why?” You asked me. “Why do all this?”
“Because someday, you will become like me. Because that’s what you are. You’re one of my kind. You’re my child.”
“Whoa,” you said, incredulous. “You mean I’m a god?”
“No. Not yet. You’re a fetus. You’re still growing. Once you’ve lived every human life throughout all time, you will have grown enough to be born.”
“So the whole universe,” you said, “it’s just…”
“An egg.” I answered. “Now it’s time for you to move on to your next life.”

And I sent you on your way.

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Mindfulness and the Brain

Mindfulness and the Brain

Neuroscience has shown that the brain changes with experience.

Taxi drivers who have ferried passengers around London for years have larger hippocampi, a region of the brain important for spatial awareness and memory, compared to newer cab drivers.

Similarly, experienced musicians show higher grey matter volume in motor, auditory and visual-spatial regions, suggesting their brains have been altered through daily practice.

When the brain is damaged – such as during a stroke – it is possible to recover lost capacity through therapy. Other areas of the brain take over from those damaged.
The brain’s ability to adapt in response to experience is known as neuroplasticity. Just as exercise affects the body, the same is true of the brain. This process can happen quite quickly: learning to juggle or play the piano over just a few days alters brain density.

This is empowering news because it suggests that we aren’t stuck with our old brains and our old habits. We can plough new furrows, cultivating freedom to shape the future, based on what we do in the present, or how we train the mind.

Researchers have explored the neuroplastic changes that occur with mindfulness training, and are finding that practitioners’ brains seem to reflect their expertise. Activity, structure and volume are different in parts of the pre-frontal cortex, the area of the brain which is associated strongly with reasoning and decision making. Experienced meditators also show high levels of gamma wave activity, which is thought to be related to increased awareness.

Changes start to be seen in the brains of new meditators after a few days or weeks of training. As they practise mindfulness, regions of the brain related to learning, memory, mind-body awareness, cognitive control, emotional reactivity, sense of self and other markers of wellbeing are all affected.

It doesn’t take much, it appears, for patterns of activity in the brain to shift. As new grooves are formed in our ways of seeing, relating and behaving, so these are reflected and perhaps reinforced by neural shifts.

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Are you mind-blind?
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Are you mind-blind?

I am working with really brave men. Men who have endured the most emotionally excruciating episodes of their lives. Many have been brought to their knees by an unrelenting Fate who stands with her sharpened heel on their windpipe long after they have surrendered.

These men, covered in sorrow and exhaustion, crawl onto the couch where we begin to explore the sequence of events that has driven them to the yawning abyss of Self.
I personified Fate as a woman earlier, the reason for this is that many of these men have been taught fierce heart lessons at the hands of those they love.

Some of these men are ‘mind-blind’, living in a very concrete world, unable to fathom the intentions behind people’s actions. A man who is ‘mind blind’, may also struggle to distinguish between what is in his own mind, and what might be going on from another persons point of view. The inability to hold the mind of another within ones own occurs as result of multiple frustrating interactions with the minds of others, from infancy to adulthood. Many men are taught to repress their emotions as children, or are humiliated for ‘feeling’, the impact of this is that men learn to doubt and fear what is happening within them. Their emotional worlds become dangerous and unpredictable.

Others have a good capacity for reflective functioning, this means that they have the following elements intact.
A capacity for empathy: the ability to see things from multiple points of view, to stand in another’s shoes (note: some people have a remarkable capacity to stand in other people’s shoes, by vacating their own entirely! This is not empathy, rather this can be viewed as a form of ‘pathological accommodation’ where our selves are betrayed in service to the other in order to buy proximity).

They have a time perspective: “I understand that I feel like this now, but it will pass, I have evidence of this from my history, I have endured and survived…”

They have the ability to join with the therapist to explore patterns and feelings and are not hypnotized by a doer-done to dynamic that only serves to accentuate polarities.

They can own their shit: they understand that they carry injuries, that they have defenses that no longer serve them and are willing to explore ways of upgrading their “operating systems”.

I am not for one minute advocating the view that men are solely responsible for the breakdown of communication between the sexes, but…in a society plagued by gender based confusion, we men have a duty to own our part. It is time for us to accept that we ARE flawed, AND…we have an enormous capacity to heal.
The longer we choose to deny our emotional injuries and to project them mindlessly onto those we claim to love, the more we are doomed to repeat and remain trapped by our wounded selves.

Acknowledge that you’re suffering, begin to understand…and with that, heal.

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How we spend our days, is how we spend our lives.

How we spend our days, is how we spend our lives.

I’m appalled by the amount of burnout that’s coming into my office on a daily basis. Many corporate veterans stumble into therapy, harrowed, hollowed out from their daily grind. Often they have created a lifestyle that keeps them painfully tethered to a rigid schedule, to flawed systems that bribe them with bonuses and shiny toys while they steal their very life force. Their intimate relationships have withered from years of neglect. Silent, desperately exhausted date nights, high anxiety, terminal insomnia and multiple health issues (IBS, high cholesterol, hypertension, addiction) stalk their waking hours. On the couch they stare ahead with a fixed gaze, saying things like…”I don’t know how this happened…” or “my wife wants to leave me” or “I just need a couple more years and then I’ll have enough”. Their children are often starving for a loving gaze, a gentle touch… much like they did when they were their children’s age. Sometimes they tie themselves to a mountain bike, or gym contact, or a whisky bottle in a vain attempt to fend off the inevitability of decay, productivity becomes the god they pay their tithe to.

These new corporate gods proselytize about employee wellness, wringing their hands in mock dismay as they simultaneously count the cost of daily absenteeism. The poor buggers they have eviscerated are desperate to be viewed in a good light, anxious overachievers…working themselves empty to wring a golden glimpse of management’s brief, affirming gaze. Always soul- hungry…always tired.

“How we spend our days,” Annie Dillard memorably wrote in her soul-stretching meditation on the life of presence, “is, of course, how we spend our lives.” And yet most of us spend our days in what Kierkegaard believed to be our greatest source of unhappiness — a refusal to recognize that “busy is a decision” and that presence is infinitely more rewarding than productivity. I frequently worry that being ‘productive’ is the surest way to lull ourselves into a trance of passivity and busyness the greatest distraction from living, as we coast through our lives day after day, showing up for our obligations but being absent from our selves, mistaking the doing for the being.

Despite a steadily swelling human life expectancy, these concerns seem more urgent than ever — and yet they are hardly unique to our age. In fact, they go as far back as the record of human experience and endeavor. It is unsurprising, then, that the best treatment of the subject is also among the oldest: Roman philosopher Seneca’s spectacular 2,000-year-old treatise On the Shortness of Life— a poignant reminder of what we so deeply intuit yet so easily forget and so chronically fail to put into practice.

Seneca writes: (complements of Brainpickings)

“It is not that we have a short time to live, but that we waste a lot of it. Life is long enough, and a sufficiently generous amount has been given to us for the highest achievements if it were all well invested. But when it is wasted in heedless luxury and spent on no good activity, we are forced at last by death’s final constraint to realize that it has passed away before we knew it was passing. So it is: we are not given a short life but we make it short, and we are not ill-supplied but wasteful of it… Life is long if you know how to use it.”

I too know the perils, but knowing is not enough.
Action is required.
So I encourage us all to reflect during this holiday period, to set aside the stress that is inherent in Christmas shopping and family dramas, to just pause for an hour or two and reflect on how you are spending your precious life.

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