Monday, September 7, 2015

Are Empathy and Compassion "Natural"?

One bonobo comforts another.
             Frans De Waal is a scientist who studies bonobos and chimpanzees, animals that are most like human beings.  He noticed some natural behaviors  that seemed to show that these animals had empathy and a sense of fairness.  Empathy means the ability to identify with another and imagine what the other feels.  The picture showing a bonobo comforting another with a hug suggests that one animal feels empathy for pain or disappointment the other felt. 

             De Waal conducted experiments that seem to prove that bonobos and chimps show empathy and fairness.  Apparently, grapes are highly prized by both kinds of animals.  If two bonobos are both given grapes, they are happy but if only one gets a grape and the other gets a cucumber, the one with the cucumber gets angry. They stay angry until they get a grape too.  This is interpreted as a sense of fairness. The bonobos are self-centered. Chimps are able to sacrifice until fairness is established..  If one chimp gets a grape and the other gets a cucumber, the one with the grape won’t eat the grape until the other chimp also is given a grape.

Based on these findings, DeWaal argues that morality is naturally hardwired into the emotional system and does not come from religion, or thinking.  DeWaal thinks that the difference between bonobos and chimps on one side and humans on the other is that the animals have these responses when faced with another animal, whereas humans can generalize.  What we understand about one person we can apply to the whole group.

If being good and fair is natural, then why do some people act in ways that hurt others?  If empathy motivates a bonobo to comfort another, why do people cause each other pain and suffering?  Why do people hurt each other? 

Toddler comforts another who is crying.
People have minds and the ability to choose, whereas animals operate according to instinct.  What does the mind do that can cause people to hurt each other? 

What if emotions and feelings were the first mind, a kind of mind we share with animals.  The second mind would be the mind that names things, that can learn and communicate with language, that can solve puzzles and think, that can choose.  If emotions and feelings cannot be expressed, they build up inside.  Eventually, they will be expressed, sometimes in hurtful ways.  Even though the second mind, the thinking mind, may know what’s right, it may no longer be in charge. 

Feelings can make life enjoyable and beautiful or can be like a time bomb.  Can you talk about your feelings?  Do you know words for how you feel? Do you know ways to express feeling that don’t hurt others?  Some people use exercise to get the energy out of their bodies.  Some people sing or dance or draw pictures.  Some people are able to write. Even if you think you can’t get it, tell how you feel and what you need.

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Sunday, June 24, 2012

Red Rose Petal Facial Masque @ Vedika Global

Today at the Vedika Global monthly sangha, I was given a free facial mask with fresh rose petals from founder Shunyaji's rose bush. Shunya asked for someone who had problems with redness on the face and I raised my hand. The rose paste was... made of macerated red rose petals, coconut oil, and raw milk that had been boiled and cooled. It felt cold when applied to my face. Ghee was put around my eyes and rose petals placed over that. Since I had a nasty itchy rash at my right elbow, I asked if they would please put some of the masque material on that too and they obliged. The masque was not allowed to dry out. 
 
As I relaxed with the rose petal paste on my face and arm, I became more and more calm and felt that the usually outgoing energy of pitta (fire) dosha (constitution) resolved and that the energy rooted itself within me. Afterward, everyone told me that my skin looked very refreshed. It was a most luxurious experience.
 
Online I notice that it costs $65 for a jar of rose petal masque.  This is not what I had.  Rather What was put on my face used real fresh ingredients combined on the spot.
 
I imagine that a facial like this would cost several hundred dollars in a spa which grew its own organic roses. Check out http://www.vedikaglobal.com/ for monthly sanghas, free and low cost ayurvedic medical clinic, weekend workshops, classes, videos and more.
 
 

Monday, April 4, 2011

Getting to Know Fear


Fear: Panic

Fear, other people’s fear, is what I have thought keeps them from volunteering in the prison ministry: fear of becoming a victim of a crime.  A little bit of my own fear enabled me to be cautious in designing how the ministry worked.  Even the worst things about us have some good to offer.

In the past six months I’ve been exploring darker aspects of my mind.  Darker means that which leads me to darkness, to blindness, that enmeshes me in not knowing the truth.  It started as an intention to do this, via SoulCollage®.  That is an enjoyable, intuitive art activity through which you create a pack of cards with your own collages on them. It was developed by Seena Frost who has studied and practiced Jungian analysis and also theology.  She had originally been using Tarot cards  with her clients to help them easily open the treasure chest of their own minds (or spirits) themselves, to access their own wisdom.  At some point she must have decided that folks could make their own cards.  A SoulCollage® deck has four suits that are different from Tarot suits and give unique self-exploration opportunities through a Jungian model.

Fears about Money
So, as part of the darkness that is also me, I had made a card for anger, my own anger.  Making that card was remarkably healing.  My anger became integrated and not an object rejected and also dragged behind me in a way that everyone else, except me, could see.  

Fear: Never "At Home"
Then I made a card for fear.  The first one was for pure Fear, or even panic, which I had experienced now and then a couple of years ago.  The card is bold--one of my better cards. Interestingly enough, I now know that it carries the color that helps heal fear: yellow.  The next card expressed fear about money. I’m at the age when I should be retiring, or even retired, but cannot quite release into that state due to money concerns. I allowed that card to be the first seed for my journal which is being worked on by the members of the Sisterhood of the Travelling Journals.  That was the second fear card. Last week I saw that I have now made four fear cards. One represents never quite feeling “at home” and so carrying my home wherever I go.  The most recent has to do with being crushed by others.    

Apparently, my fear has been deeply suppressed because it contributed to longstanding physical dysfunction. My understsanding is that, if an emotion can be expressed in a healthy way, the energy is released but, if it is understood not to be safe to express the feeling or there is no opportunity to do so, the feeling gets stuck in the body until such time as it can be let go.  I conclude that my fear is suppressed because, in the past six months, I have experienced a lot of physical and mental trouble.  As healing takes place, I gain glimpses of the fear that has been buried for a long time. 
Fear: Destruction
At first, due to my physical and mental symptoms, I thought my thyroid was  underactive and I arranged to have it thoroughly tested.  As I was awaiting those results, I decided to get Chinese herbs to get rid of gallstones since I knew I had those. There seemed no need to wait to rush moaning and groaning to the hospital for surgery.  That herbal treatment started continued and repeated blasts of cleansing the entire gastro-intestinal tract.  It was uncomfortable, draining, embarrassing, and, yes, scarey.  Did I have some awful disease? That question could be entertained because the culprit, Fear, had not yet shown itself.
At one point, as I was going through the experience, I realized that, if I had gone to India and have the ayurvedic cleansing treatment called pancha karma, I would have taken herbs to cause the same physical cleansing experiences.  Of course, I would have lived in a place recognized as a healing center and have had knowledgeable people help me care for myself during the process.  I certainly would not have been going to work and having to explain to co-workers that I had diarrhea, at the most inopportune moments.  During this episode, intuition, the strongest mental facility I have thankfully, needed to be my vaidya (auyurvedic doctor). The realization that I was undergoing healing and renewal caused a shift in my outlook. 


Rev. Dr. Michael Beckwith of the Agape International Spiritual Center shared a vision with us in Oakland in 2010, that we all exist in a dynamic multi-dimensional field of God energy for good that is always seeking to give us the greatest good we can have if we open to it, accept that blessing.  That Power for Good will win eventually. Sometimes, remembering his words, I can feel that God energy as though, at that very moment, I am swimming in it.  One morning I awoke with the thought “I accept my healing.”  I had perhaps one more bout of “the runs” and then found that my digestive system was actually working well for the first time in 32 years. During the healing process I had moved away from eating wheat or much of cow milk products as I moved through this process.  For me it is not worth having much of either of these.

Companion Card for Third Chakra

Next came an infection which brought with it lots of coughing and the release of lots of old stuff from the lungs.  After the most severe discomfort, I recognized that what was leaving me was what remained due to the longstanding digestive malfunction.  If I doubted my rosey attitude toward these discomforts, yesterday I went swimming and was able to swim happily up and down the pool with no dimunition of energy, as if 30 years had been removed from my body’s age of nearly 68.

During this challenging period, the amount of fear I have carried revealed itself like an exotic demon dancer lifting its shimmering veils from time to time.  For instance, I saw that, due to never having had consistent energy, I am afraid that I am not up physically up to the challenge, whatever it is, that I won’t have the energy to pull it off.  This quiet fear has held me back, has led me to avoid doing things for years.  Due to fear of being crushed by others, I can feel deeply hurt and stuck when a normal miscommunication has occurred.  Each glimpse of this fear demon's dance leaves me feeling greater freedom.  I can see his snarly face, smile, and brush him aside.
Back a few months ago, I decided to have a Vedic astrology reading.  I considered myself Hindu for nearly forty years and the whole culture expressing that faith tradition, including the traditional astrology, is like a color-filled, sparkling, healing meadow of wonders that fits me exactly when I allow myself to wrap myself in its shawl.  It gives tools that work on deep levels for me.  I cannot rationally explain why or how they work but I gratefully accept them and allow them to nourish me. 
Durga Ma

Vedic astrology has amelioratives including herbs, gems, and prayers to lessen any dire events coming up.   I came away from the reading knowing the season of my life (a rahu period for the next two years) and what could assist in this period.  The helpers included the color yellow, as mentioned before, dominating my first SoulCollage® card for fear. Devotion to Goddess Durga was recommended. She was one of the three – Durga, Lakshmi and Saraswati—with whom I had not yet become acquainted. Gems for Mercury (emerald) were good. Devotional singing and all creative expression was good.

This prescription was like having my old toys returned to me, renewed.  It was as if someone had prescribed that I should do all the things I love doing.  Yellow had already been calling to me.  Getting to know Goddess Durga meant that I could chant Sanskrit again and get to know the symbology of this Goddess who removes difficulties.  SoulCollage® experts might say that I’m stepping into a new archetype as I immerse myself in Durga Ma as a way God has blessed humanity for centuries.

This is not to say that the spiritual practices of Religious Science have been displaced.  My spiritual journey has brought me to many holy places and practices from the first entry into native spirituality through vision, through my Catholic upbringing and practice, to Christian Science, to Hinduism, to Religious Science, to Buddhism.  They all nourish.  They all remain like rooms in my spiritual home, in my soul, and I walk freely around in them as needed. They are my greater sparkle.

At Oakland Center one Sunday at breakfast, a woman who is a skilled masseuse, as I was crowing about my fun with yellow, said something about healing the third chakra.  I hadn't put that together yet, hadn't consciously included chakras.  The Vedic astrologer hadn't mentioned them.  Of course, it is the third chakra, the region of the digestive organs, that physical area called the "hara" by the Japanese, that is said to be the center of personal power.  Curiously, in SoulCollage®, The first companion card, the card where you choose an animal to reveal your feeling of a specific chakra's energy--my first companion card (above) was for the third chakra rather than the fourth or heart chakra which is commonly done first. 

Durga, when remembered, relieves fears of all who are in trouble, grants intelligence and well-being for those who are not in trouble.  She relieves woe, fear and poverty.  She is always kind hearted, creating everyone's welfare.

-Saptashloki Durga

God is all there is. God is life, love, wholeness, and freedom.  I am one with God as alll this and more.  I speak a word for myself, Aikya Param.  I accept my complete healing right here and right now.  I know that the fullness and power of that same God who created the galaxies is in every cell of my body and created my body out of the Logos, the "stuff."  That very same God who created it, knows it all as whole, perfect and complete and is fully capable of recreating it in perfect condition.  I accept my complete healing for the benefit of all creatures. I accept the best thing that could happen in all areas of my life.  I give thanks for the opportunity to express this prayer and I release this word into the Law, which is the Mind of God in action.  And so it it.  Aho! Amen.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

First Day of Freedom

Last week, as I was telling Christian how Salman's first day of freedom had gone, Christian said that he wished I'd write these things down, that it might help him. Christian is a new intern in the Freedom Ministry, the prison outreach program at Oakland Center for Spiritual Living. 


I had the inspiration of Amma who has made her life a continual demonstration of unconditional love.  Not only does she hug all who come to her but also she has inspired the founding and continuation of so many humanitarian projects that it takes at least an hour just to mention and briefly describe them all. I proceed with some humility to discover things to do that harm no one and to continually evaluate what has been tried.   I am always available to learn from others who have been doing work like this for some time, indeed from anyone with a good idea and a willingness to help make it happen.

In my life in American culture activism, usually entailed deciding who the bad guys are and why, and setting out to counter them. By contrast, I intend to be an activist without opposing anyone or anything.  Amma appears to operate this way as those who love her build homes for the homeless, run schools at all levels and run a hospital with mobile outreach to remote areas.  This does not mean that I approve of inhumane treatment of people in prison, or condone lack of education and decent health care for inmates.  It does mean embracing everyone in what Professor Angela Davis calls “the Prison Industrial complex” as equally enmeshed in a system which all of us, which the whole society and culture, create and maintain.  Volunteers are surprised that I encourage prayer for guards and prison staff as well as inmates and their families.


Returning to the story of Salman, he had been in state prison for 15 years and had been in one kind of institution or another since he was 17 and he is now 32. The build-up to his release was fraught with anxiety for me. We did not know where he would live. The biggest battle for me was to my own fear. I kept reminding myself that God has provided a perfect home for his every creature in God's creation and a perfect home was waiting for Salman. When my fear took over, I'd look at Internet images of animals happy in their natural homes. My favorite showed seals playing in the water. Hey: whatever it takes, right?

His first day was filled with blessings. When he stepped out of the prison van and walked to my old banged up Ford, he was the happiest I have ever seen him. The clothes I bought him -- the trousers anyway--were way too big. He kept telling me that he was bigger and bigger so I kept exchanging the clothes for larger sizes. Oh my! But that smile being so big was just right!  By then, to my great relief, we knew that his mother and her husband would meet him at the bus on the other end in southern California. They would get him set up in a decent hotel and make sure he made it to his first meeting with the parole officer. They said they'd stay with him until he was in his own place.

Salman had returned to the religion of his Dominican and Puerto Rican ancestors, Islam, when he was in prison. He hadn't really known it until his incarceration. He learned Arabic and studied deeply. The imam who served his prison was convinced that he would become a scholar. The imam had alerted several people to the opportunity to help him just as he emerged from prison.

We visited a Halal meat market whose manager treated us to lunch and gifted Salman with a black leather jacket. The manager had been in and out of prison himself but now was doing well, was married, had children. While we were there two other men came in for lunch. They too had served time and they greeted Salman with big hugs. One still had 3 months left on his parole. When they heard it was his first day out after 15 years, both of them got on the phone to buddies in Southern California who could give Salman a job. They gave him money and encouragement. A lady at the shared lunch table, when she heard that Salman had just come out of prison a few hours before, after 15 years inside, bought him a soda and a candy bar.  Before we left, the men stood in a circle with Salman and the store manager gave him some advice on how to stay out of trouble. As we got to the car, the manager came after us with more for Salman. His boss wanted to give something too and he pressed more bills into Salman’s palm.  The outpouring of generosity by these Muslim brothers is not what you see on the news.

I got him on the bus at 3:03 PM. When we realized that he probably could not carry the duffel bag and the big box of books and personal items, he packed as many of his books in the space left in the duffel bag. The remained of books and papers will be mailed.


A week has passed now. Salman has received telephone calls from many family members. A cousin offered him a place to live and the parole department has approved it.  He could have gone home with his mother before his new home was approved.  She lives outside the area where he is allowed to go on parole.  He told her “No, mom.  I’m through.  I’m through breaking the law.  I’m through breaking the rules!”  I’m proud of him.

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To volunteer to become a spiritual friend to someone in prison, please write to circle.of.love.inside@gmail.com.  Introductory information will be sent to you.
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