Tag Archives: Thich Nhat Hanh

God’s Proximity and Health

The ultimate goal of man is eternal life and perhaps with that comes eternal health.   I am convinced that we have defined God out of existence in many cases by accepting definitions that are out of our realm of direct experience.   The verse above reminds us that God is always ready to “come into us” and dine with us.  With every “in breath” we can open the door and let him in and dine with him.  Then with every “out breath” we can transform the new life and energy delivered directly from the source of all movement into health and healing for our bodies and our world.  Notice that this matches the recommended breathing pattern for most exercise.  That is, we breath in while preparing for exertion and then breath out as we perform the exertion.

In another verse (John 15:5) we are reminded that we are always directly connected to God like branches on a vine.  God is the Prime Mover and the Prime Energizer.  Feel God’s movements in your life as energy by liberating your body in the present moment.  Move, stretch, let God lead you in the dance.  Do not let your body stagnate.   God / Energy  permeates all space and time.  It permeates our bodies and  minds.  Energy powers our lives just as it powers our cars.  This does not imply that God is mundane, but rather that the seemingly mundane also relies on the divine for its present moment.  Everything that is created remains connected to the creator, for everything exists in God and through God.

The illusion of separateness must be conquered in order to progress to the next level of health.   Thich Nhat Hanh refers to this as inter-being (we inter-are).  We inter-are with each other and we inter-are with God.

We face many challenges in the struggle towards the next level of human advancement, and it will not happen without awareness of God’s proximity.  How has God’s proximity affected your life?  In my case it has allowed me to trust in God to pursue transformation of my own life and priorities.  It has also allowed me to “be” in gratitude and to feel the urgency of being in this moment.

What do you feel about the role of God in health?  Notice that I am asking about God not religion.  Would love to hear your take on this.  How does God present himself / herself to you?

Your Best Attainable Health (BAH)

Image of nonviolent struggle
Your Best Attainable Health (BAH) requires a nonviolent redirection of outdated genetics through mindful practice. Photo by ManicMorff @ morguefile.com

Over the last several month’s the OnTierraHealth blog has focused on the big picture issues that limit the attainability of ideal health for most people. Today I will focus on the fundamental root cause of the poor health prognosis for our species (taken from an evolutionary perspective). The problem is a very basic clash of developmental time scales when comparing biological evolutionary change to technological progress. The essence is this, evolutionary behaviors that were well suited for survival in a jungle-like environment are grossly unsuited for survival of life on earth over the long-term given the rapidity of technological innovation.

Biological Evolutionary Behavior

Biological evolutionary behavior is genetically determined and as such can be viewed as a bottom-up organizational force. An example of this for a heterosexual person would be attraction to the opposite sex. A person is not attracted sexually to a worm. We take this for granted but must acknowledge that sexual attraction is created by the brain. There is nothing inherently sexier about a person unless the brain makes it so, therefore to a worm another worm is much sexier. We accept evolutionary behaviors as immutable and in many cases they serve us well.

However, warfare can also be considered a biological evolutionary behavior.  It is based on an evolutionary algorithm whereby “might is right” by virtue of survival. The fundamental principle is that one can determine who is right in a dispute through an existential challenge, with the survivor being right. Initially this behavior may have led to wrestling matches and fisticuffs resulting in the selection stronger individuals. However, as technology progressed the evolutionary algorithm of “might is right” has not budged resulting in weapons for destroying hundreds, thousands and then millions of individuals (i.e. WWII). Here we can see the problem clearly, technology has advanced too quickly for the evolutionary algorithm to catch up. An evolutionary algorithm that in the past helped natural selection to create stronger individuals now has become a liability that could result in mutually assured destruction of all life on earth.

One may think that this scenario makes the self-destruction of life on earth an inevitable outcome.  However, there may be a form of high-speed evolution that is attempting to bridge the gap.  There is no guarantee that this high-speed evolution will occur fast enough to rescue life on earth.

Evolutionary Neurodynamics and Memes

The idea behind Evolutionary Neurodynamics (Szilágyi, et al., 2016) is that the same natural selection algorithms that are at work in the ecosystem are also at work on a microscopic scale within each person’s brain  and that natural selection in the brain is critical to the discovery of open-ended evolutionary solutions that can take place within an individuals lifetime.  According to the theory, neural evolution takes place at high-speed as neurons and populations of neurons compete with one another in a parallel search for solutions to problems.  Successful solutions are then copied to other groups of neurons with some variability.  This process forms a type of heredity among neural connections that is constantly in flux, resulting in the possibility of novel solutions.

Combining the idea of Evolutionary Neurodynamics with the concept of memes (ideas that are able to be transmitted and reproduced between brains) provides a framework whereby evolutionary behaviors that have become liabilities may be replaced by self-evolutionary behaviors that can be reproduced in a large population.

The advantage  of self-evolutionary behavior is that unlike the relatively blind bottom-up forces of biological evolution, neurological evolution has both bottom-up and top-down components allowing it be guided by holistic intelligence.  This holistic guidance is necessary for the success of self-evolution.  Religion, philosophy and science play a role in providing sources of holistic intelligence and in particular the practice of mindfulness may be critical for self-evolution.  However,  understanding the evolutionary challenge is also essential.

Best Attainable Health (BAH)

The problem of replacing bottom-up genetically-determined dysfunctional evolutionary behavior with holistic top-down self-evolved behavior is at the heart of achieving Best Attainable Health (BAH) and long-term survival.   It appears that at the heart of this evolutionary transformation is the art and science of mindfulness as practiced and taught by the Buddhist Monk Thich Nhat Hanh (Thay).  The practice of mindfulness draws our attention to the beauty and miraculous nature of the present moment through breathing meditation, and in so doing causes the mind and the body to be reunited. This allows us to observe dysfunctional biologically evolved behaviors with a balanced non-judgemental perspective and to slowly rewire our brains for the next stage of human evolution.

Thay states, “The practice of meditation helps us to see things other people can’t see. ”  An example of this is the nature of inter-being.  The father is in the son and the son is in the mother,  the cloud is in the river and the river in the ocean, the tree is in the seed and the seed is in the fruit.  The spirit of nonviolence is born from this realization, that we inter-are.  Nonviolence is the antithesis of the “might is right” principle of biological evolution and it constitutes the only path towards the next stage of human evolution.  Thay states,

When we realize our ‘interbeing nature’, we’ll stop blaming and exploiting and killing, because we know that we inter-are. That is the great awakening we must have in order for the Earth to be saved.

Establishing and spreading the meme of nonviolence is the first step towards achieving BAH, because it is a direct mitigation of the self-destructive, biological, “might is right” directive.  Note that Thay warns us that we can never achieve complete nonviolence but rather, nonviolence is a direction that leads us away from complete self-annihilation.   Christ referred to it as  ‘turning the other cheek’ and though the seeds have been sown by religious figures such as Buddha, Christ, Gandhi and Martin Luther King, we are entering urgently upon the time for watering the seeds fully in order to save the world from madness, self-destruction and lost life.

Nonviolence is not a weak concept but rather a form of justice that substitutes “might is right” and warfare with reconciliation, forgiveness, and just arbitration.  It requires one justice for all people throughout the world based upon nonviolence.  However, as Thay teaches, it begins with nonviolence towards the self, achieved through mindful meditation.    From this practice will emerge the neural evolution required to reach Best Attainable Health individually and collectively.

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Breathing In Breathing Out

Breathing is something we take for granted.
Breathing is something we often take for granted but is deeply connected to a healthy mind, body and spirit. Photo by vickiayala @ www.morguefile.com

Thích Nhất Hạnh is a Vietnamese Budhist Monk who became 90 years old this past October.  In his book, “you are here,” Nhất teaches that there is a very profound power in the act of breathing, and that breathing meditation can bring us back into the present moment in a way that is powerfully healing.  He argues that our brains have complicated our lives so much that we have lost sight of how easy it is for a person to have complete happiness and joy. He emphasizes that human beings create heaven and hell within themselves and that heaven is reachable in this life for everyone through simple breathing meditation.

I have found his approach very helpful in my own life and have begun applying it to my marriage as well for improving communication.   It begins with these simple words:

Breathing in,  I know I am breathing in.

Breathing out, I know I am breathing out.

These simple words hold the keys to a profound transformation and evolution of human thought and consciousness.  I have often wondered how society could transition from one of engineered scarcity in which individuals battle one another in fierce competition over artificially constrained resources, to a society in which everyone is wealthy and successful.

For example, consider an apple orchard in which every tree has access to water, sunlight and enough soil to anchor its roots.  These trees could be considered wealthy and successful.  But what does it take for a human being to be considered wealthy and successful?  Many people conjure up images of palaces, servants, expensive toys and thousands of adoring fans.  But Nhất has uncovered something surprising.  These ideas of wealth and success are all illusions.  True wealth and success begin with the freedom to breathe mindfully, and this is available to everyone right in the present moment!

Do you get what this means?  We have been led to think that we are sentenced to toil and hard labor as we seek to earn scarce moments of happiness.  But the reality is that we can have complete joy and happiness in the present moment at any time simply by practicing the beauty of breathing meditation.

 What makes breathing so special

The power of mindful breathing meditation is that it opens the doors to our true nature of miraculous inter-being in the moment.  Once we are drawn to a deep awareness of the present we can more fully appreciate that all things are present through each other and not separately.   For example, if I am eating an apple during breathing meditation , I become aware that the sun is in the apple as are the clouds that watered the orchard and the soil that nurtured the tree.  We are not isolated beings but rather inter-beings!  This becomes a deep realization through breathing meditation.

Think of it, all along we only needed to learn to breath to be successful and wealthy.   Sort of how Dorothy always had the power to go home in the Wizard of Oz but had to find this out for herself after an arduous journey.  This underscores how the important things in life are not taught to us in school.  I find it amazing that I had never heard of Thich Nhat Hanh until recently when the book, “you are here,”  was discussed on an online LinkedIn group named Universal Quest.  

Breathing is also special because it lies on the boundary between voluntary and involuntary movement.  Breathing can be controlled automatically without conscious intervention, or consciously.  This allows it to  play an important role in connecting our mind and bodies harmoniously.  Thus during breathing meditation the goal is not to control our breathing but rather to allow the body to control breathing. During this meditation the mind focuses on simple pairs of thoughts such as deep and slow, calmness and ease, the present moment and its wonder. The links below provide some first hand information on breathing meditation.  The word ‘sangha’ mentioned in the links below refers to any group of breathing meditation practitioners that meet to support each other.  Enjoy!

Interview with Oprah Winfrey

Discussion of the Dharma-Body (Dharmakāya)
and the practice of mindful breathing.