A Change of Heart Changes Everything

A slightly dated, but still excellent, introduction and overview by Jurriaan Kamp of the research being done by the Heartmath Institute. For more up to date information and free, downloadable resources, follow the link.

A California institute demonstrates how people can actually make their heart beat in a healthier way. Through its research, the Institute of HeartMath proves that health starts with love, and that love can reduce stress. It is a method that is used by hundreds of thousands of people worldwide and more than 100 organizations – from global corporations to hospitals to government agencies and schools. This simple method is changing the world. A report from Boulder Creek, California.

All you need is love, sang John Lennon. 
True, according to most people. 
The only challenge: how do you create love?

A quite startlingly simple answer was found to that question in the redwood forests of Boulder Creek, California, south of San Francisco. Since 1991, the Institute of HeartMath has generated a large body of convincing scientific evidence that it is indeed possible to create love.

HeartMath’s research shows that emotions work much faster, and are more powerful, than thoughts. And that – when it comes to the human body – the heart is much more important than the brain to overall health and well-being – even cognitive function – than anyone but poets believed. Its dominance inside the body is now clearly demonstrated. Thinking clearly with your brain is useful. But feeling positively from your heart provides an amazing boost to health and creativity.

Briefly re-experiencing a cherished memory creates synchronization in your heart rhythm in mere seconds. This increases the release of healthy, energizing hormones, while at the same time decreasing levels of damaging stress hormones, at the same time your immune system is strengthened, blood pressure decreases … and health and focus increase. Using a simple prescription that consists of a number of exercises that anyone can do anywhere in a few minutes – the details are coming shortly – HeartMath is successfully battling the greatest threat to health, happiness and peace in this world: stress.

Stress is the plague of our time, an epidemic that is spreading rapidly. The World Health Organization (WHO) raised the alarm 20 years ago, but things have only gotten worse. Every day some one million Americans fail to come to work due to stress. The European Union estimated in 2000 that the annual price tag of stress, in the form of healthcare costs and lost productivity, amounts to some three to four percent of the EU’s gross domestic product.

Stress is one of the most important causes of high blood pressure, which afflicts one in three adults in Europe and North America and is the cause of many serious illnesses such as heart disease and stroke. Stress also lies at the basis of depression and burnout.

“The good news is that the negative effects of stress can be effectively countered more easily than people might imagine. This leads to better performance in every aspect of life. It is therefore a smart strategy for every organization to tackle this source of excessive costs and human strain,” according to HeartMath’s president and CEO Bruce Cryer.

That insight has now permeated many companies and institutions. Managers are sent to stress seminars. Yoga lessons are offered at company headquarters. And there are even companies that encourage their employees to take vacations. But these measures aren’t very effective as long as stress continues to permeate the corporate culture.

The sense of relief from a yoga lesson or a weekend at the beach is often lost during the first chat with a frustrated colleague at the coffee machine. A successful anti-stress strategy provides results precisely at the moment the stress is experienced. This is what HeartMath does, which is why its client list now includes such leading companies as Hewlett Packard, Shell, Unilever, Cisco Systems, and Boeing.

HeartMath was established in 1991 by Doc Lew Childre. Childre had made a name for himself as a researcher and advisor to companies and scientific institutions. With the founding of HeartMath, he embarked on his mission to demonstrate that the heart was central to human health, success and fulfillment.

While HeartMath’s techniques emphasize the importance of emotional self-management, HeartMath is no new age phenomenon. It is a research institute that has published a large body of scientific research in established and respected publications such as the Harvard Business Review and the American Journal of Cardiology.

Those publications support HeartMath’s central aim of presenting revolutionary scientific discoveries in a solid, “bullet proof” way. It has demonstrated significant cost savings for healthcare organizations struggling with staff turnover, and has shown significant health benefits in an array of studies covering congestive heart failure, diabetes, asthma, and hypertension. As Cryer says, “HeartMath is not based simply on belief. There are proven physiological reactions in how emotion, heart and brain interact.” In other words: HeartMath’s work is kept scrupulously free of the obvious potential for opportunism.

Which is admirable given that financing and survival issues have presented tricky challenges for the organization through the years. HeartMath’s location reflects this cautious strategy. The institute is located in a group of buildings on a lovely retreat-like setting in Boulder Creek, a town that is nearly impossible to find among the tall trees of the ancient Californian forests. Stress and Boulder Creek have little to do with one another, I realize, following a drive through the pouring rain. And yet the decision to locate HeartMath here was not so odd. Forty-five minutes down the road is a well-known hotbed of this “modern plague:” Silicon Valley.

Research director Rollin McCraty is in his office – a simple study with a huge window looking out over a wooded slope – working on one of HeartMath’s latest initiatives: a computer-driven experiment that shows how the heart reacts more quickly to external stimuli than the brain. HeartMath programs utilize an innovative biofeedback system – developed by founder Doc Childre – whereby your finger or ear is hooked up to a sensor that shows the heart’s activity on a computer screen. The feedback is not a precondition for the result of the HeartMath exercises, but seeing your heart rhythms live on a computer screen makes it easier to convince critics of the favourable effect of positive feelings.

Measuring internal feelings using modern instruments is not new in itself. For example, with the help of the electroencephalogram (EEG), it has been proven that meditating yogis produce completely different brain waves than – say – stock traders on Wall Street. But HeartMath’s heart-driven method extends much further than relaxation through meditation. McCraty notes, “Meditation is mainly geared towards consciously separating yourself from the reality around you. That has totally different physical consequences than our approach, which is geared towards actively adding positive energy to a particular situation.”

To measure the heart’s reaction to particular events, HeartMath uses a relatively new concept – one that is currently a hot item in mainstream medicine – as an indicator of a healthily functioning body: heart rate variability (HRV). Research conducted 10 years ago by Dr Andrew Armour of Dalhouse University in Halifax, Canada showed that the heart has its own neural network—in essence, a little brain. HRV – the rhythm of the time period between two heartbeats – plays a key role in that network. It has now been demonstrated that the heart sends signals to the brain and the hormonal system via nerves which carry the heart rhythm patterns. It doesn’t matter so much how many times a heart beats per minute; it’s the rhythm of the heartbeat that counts.

Childre, McCraty and HeartMath’s research team have discovered that certain patterns in the heart rhythm correspond to a particular emotional state. McCraty explains, “With every heartbeat, information is supplied that affects our emotions, our physical health and the quality of our lives.” This means that feelings of compassion, love, care and appreciation produce a smoothly rolling – HeartMath calls it “coherent” – heart rhythm, while feelings of anger, frustration, fear and danger emit a jagged and capricious – “incoherent” – image. But this is more than a statistical difference. HeartMath’s research shows that a different heart rhythm leads to other chemical and electrical—even neurological—reactions in the body.

Simply put: when people experience love, they not only feel happy and joyful, but they also produce, for example, more DHEA, the hormone that prevents aging, and gives us feelings of youthful vitality. Not surprisingly, a synthetic form of the hormone is currently sold in pill form at drugstores and health food stores. At the same time, the production of damaging stress hormones like cortisol is reduced. High levels of cortisol have been associated with Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes, depression and fatigue.

By contrast, a “loving body” absorbs less cholesterol, thereby preventing arteries from clogging while boosting production of immunoglobulin A, an important biochemical that boosts immune function. In addition, blood pressure stabilizes. McCraty links this effect to problems many organizations face: “There is a clear connection between healthcare costs and blood pressure levels. When your blood pressure falls, so do visits to the doctor…” And so HeartMath concludes that love is both an emotional and a physical state: positive feelings – like love – generate health. The reverse is also true. Someone who is angry produces less DHEA and more cortisol. And so on. HeartMath’s slogan – a change of heart changes everything – pretty much sums it up.

But how do you “change your heart?” According to HeartMath research, it is much simpler than it looks. McCraty says, “If you consciously shift your attention to a positive emotion, like appreciation or care, or if you allow your thoughts to return to the feeling of a cherished memory, your heart rhythm changes immediately.”

This phenomenon continues to astonish the some 25,000 people who attend HeartMath courses each year. Initially, HeartMath utilized expensive medical equipment to measure and display the heart rhythm. But since 2000 HeartMath has offered a “do-it-yourself” equivalent: the Freeze-Framer, an award-winning computer program with an innovative sensor that anyone can install in their computer at home or at work. So far, HeartMath has sold more than 30,000 of these systems.

The first time I start up the Freeze-Framer at home and attach the sensor to my finger, a freakish pattern appears on my computer screen. My heart rhythm is all wild peaks and valleys or – in HeartMath jargon – an “incoherent pattern.” I then perform my prescribed exercise. I shift my thoughts to the area around my heart, I visualize that I’m breathing in through my heart and out through my solar plexus (the energy point under the breastbone, above the belly button). I remember a sweet memory with my daughter. I feel the warmth of our contact at that moment … and I see the graph on the computer screen change.

The exercise, which I’ve only been doing for a couple of minutes, is quick and effective. The volatile peaks change into rolling hills on my screen. My incoherent heart rhythm has synchronized into a coherent rhythm. And what I can’t see on the line of the graph, but know – from HeartMath research – is that my body is now functioning in a more healthy and wholesome way.

The research is convincing. A group of managers from Motorola attended a HeartMath workshop and were tested six months later on the results of their daily exercises. One-quarter of the managers had high blood pressure at the start of the project. After six months, they all had normal blood pressure levels. In another study with Hewlett-Packard managers, the average blood pressure fell from 138/86 to 128/80. This large an improvement is comparable to the effect of losing nearly 20 kilos (44 pounds).

A recent study of employees at the food and household products multinational Unilever shows that the production of the favourable hormone DHEA increased by an average of 50 percent after six months of HeartMath exercises and rose to 90 percent after nine months. The exercises also work for people with chronic diseases.

For example, diabetes patients who performed a total of one hour of HeartMath exercises every week for six months scored significantly better on a number of health aspects crucial to them. Another HeartMath study indicates that the savings on health care costs and absenteeism can run up to $700 U.S. (540 euros) per employee a year. For a company with 1,000 employees, that would mean a savings of $700,000 U.S. (540,000 euros) a year.

The fact the exercises are so easy may well be the most promising aspect of the HeartMath system. Bruce Cryer notes, “Time pressure is continually increasing. No matter how good a program might be for them, many people simply don’t take the time to invest in their emotional and physical health every day. People want exercises to take virtually no time, but to yield results. That’s the strength of our approach.

You can learn the techniques in five minutes and get positive results if you do them a few times a day for 30 seconds. When you’re on your way to your next meeting, for example. Or when you start up your computer. Or sitting at a stoplight. Or waiting to make a phone call. Or before starting to check your e-mails. By making the techniques simple and quick, you can integrate them into your daily schedule without having to drastically change your life.”

Regularly using the Freeze-Framer is particularly helpful in recognizing stress patterns. You gain insight into your own behaviour and the effect of that behaviour on your health. In that respect, the Freeze-Framer works like a thermometer: you get to the point where you don’t need to take your temperature any more to know you have a fever. As a result, it becomes ever easier to quickly correct the experience of stress.

Cryer says, “HeartMath’s aim is to eliminate stress. Of course we can’t eliminate stressful events from our lives, but we can change our physiological and emotional response to them. The goal is to teach you to recognize which circumstances create stress so you can change your reaction to those situations. For example, practising a HeartMath technique helps you not to curse if someone cuts you off on the highway, but to react differently. And the most important result is that no damaging stress hormones are released in your body and no damaging comments come out of your mouth that could make the situation much worse.”

Is HeartMath the only effective answer to stress? Clearly not. Every walk on the beach is beneficial. The same goes for an enjoyable concert. And for experiences of friendship and love. There are also other promising initiatives with a comparable focus. Ode previously reported on the work of the Italian Amedeo Maffei (see Ode, June 2002) as well as the computer game Wild Divine (see Ode, April 2004). And there are other projects geared towards synchronising the heart and brain rhythms to stimulate favourable biochemical and electrical processes in our bodies.

But the strength of HeartMath lies in the convincing evidence of the effectiveness of the exercises and their simplicity. And its approach takes into account the sense of time pressure continually experienced by the stressed target group.

Less stress and more health is, of course, enough of a recommendation for following HeartMath’s system. But there’s more: studies show that the electromagnetic field of the heart (which is created by the heart’s electrical system, or electrocardiogram) can be measured from between two and three metres from the body. HeartMath has discovered that if someone has a coherent heart rhythm, it has a demonstrably positive effect on other people in close proximity to him or her (and the reverse is also true). Just think about how you feel in the presence of someone who is appreciative or caring, compared to being close to someone angry or frustrated.

That is: if your own heart rhythm is coherent, there is a greater chance that your environment will also behave coherently.
That is: the health of your environment starts with your own health. 
That is: changing the world starts with you.

Cryer notes how, “A lot of people feel powerless. Climate change. Poverty. War. Terrorism. There are so many things we could fear in the world. So where do you start as an individual, when the size of the problems seem so daunting? It is important to know that you can have a demonstrably positive effect on the world. We can change the world, starting with ourselves.”

That enthusiasm is behind all the solid research done by HeartMath. This vision also explains why the Institute never opted for quick fixes, but instead preferred building steady proof of concept.

Cryer concludes, “It is our mission to help the world change, by helping people change. The root of most of our world’s problems is a lack of emotional management, a lack of understanding, care, respect and compassion. Most organizations and governments are fairly dysfunctional, because their leaders lack skills to manage themselves emotionally, let alone be an example for others to follow. That dysfunction damages the planet every day. We offer tools that are needed to eradicate major challenges and problems and to prevent wrongs.”

Those tools help the heart to make love.

All you need is love, John Lennon sang.

It’s as simple as that.

The Heartmath Institute




Happy Xmas (War Is Over)

In 1969 and 70 John Lennon and Yoko Ono spread a specific message of peace around the world. American combat troops had been fighting in Vietnam since 1965, and around 45,000 Americans had already been killed by the end of 1969. Almost half a million US men and women were deployed in the conflict, and opposition to the war was growing as demonstrated by The Peace Moratorium, which was at that time the largest demonstration in US history with an estimated two million people involved.

Against that backdrop John and Yoko rented billboards in eleven major cities around the world and put up posters that read: “WAR IS OVER! (If You Want It) Happy Christmas from John and Yoko”.

“Happy Xmas (War Is Over)” is a song written by John Lennon and Yoko Ono and released in 1971 as a single by John & Yoko/Plastic Ono Band with the Harlem Community Choir. John explained that what he and Yoko wanted to see was for people all over the world to come together on wanting peace. They wanted to see people talking about peace, working for peace, praying for peace, thinking about peace, publicising peace, doing whatever came to mind for the cause of peace.

They wanted people to get into the idea of “War Is Over” and to state it, believe it, shout it, display it. The idea was that if enough people believe that war is over then we will have a peaceful world. (Those reading this who think the idea is nonsense should bring their perception of what is possible using intention up to date with the scientific findings of The Intention Experiment, the first worldwide double-blind experiments on the effects of focused intent).

John Lennon is arguably the most famous peace activist of our time, and the War is Over – If You Want It campaign was a product of his vision and dedication to the cause. If he were alive today you can guarantee that he would be making himself heard and promoting a message of peace. Those who didn’t want peace got rid of John, but his legacy is still with us.

On the Imagine Peace website is the War is Over – If You Want It image in a variety of freely downloadable formats.  Download it print out and display in in your windows, at school, at work, and in your car window. Use it as your avatar or profile picture, send it as a greetings card.

Of all the songs regurgitated over the period, too often this one is conspicuous by its absence. Given its antiwar message and the fact that there has been a war going on fairly continuously since WWII, it’s little wonder that media controllers don’t encourage its being aired. Personally, I’d like to hear the song more often than I do, especially over the coming weeks. In fact, I’d like to see it reach number one in the charts this Christmas.

Hands up who wants peace! Me too, and I can’t think of a better way around this time of year than breathing life into John’s vision. His message was that it’s up to us, we have the power to end war. A message that needs to be heard again.

Download the image, share it, print it out. Again, I can’t think of a card more fitting or cool this Yule. Send in requests to the radio,  download the song.

(The video below was chosen from a variety available due to the questionable imagery used in all of them, especially the ‘official’ video)

<a href="http://youtube.com/watch?v=oXaLu7bvke8">http://youtube.com/watch?v=oXaLu7bvke8</a>

Many of you will remember the successful move made by Facebook users in 2009 to scupper the plans of the producers of the TV show X-Factor by displacing their contrived hit song with the more sincere Rage Against the Machine song.  The action restored my faith in people and the potential of social networks.

LETS”S DO IT AGAIN!

The easiest way I can think of is just do it yourself, and share the idea with your friends and people, over whichever media you want.  By all means someone set up a Make War is Over Christmas No 1, but I would question the need. We can act as a group without being ‘part of a group’. I say this suspecting that the men behind the curtain aren’t going to sit by idly while their tool is once more used as a rallying point, and even less so if that message is, like John and Yoko’s, one of love and peace. Since the 2009 event various changes have been introduce to Facebook, which make that kind of mass community usage less easy. But there are lots of other ways to spread a message.

Download the image, share it, print it out, put it in your windows at home and in your vehicle; use it as your avatar or profile picture for the season, send it as a greetings card, send in daily requests to the radio, download the song.

In John’s own words, ‘We can get it together. Get it?! Together!’

Peace.

 




The Internet Archive & The Wayback Machine

For well over a decade I’ve been intensively using the Internet for research. Over time some of those sources have, for one reason and another, disappeared. When that happens, the most valuable tool available has been  the 20+ years of web history accessible through the Wayback Machine provided by The Internet Archive digital library. The Internet Archive is a non-profit library of millions of free books, movies, software, music, websites, and more. For 21 years, the Internet Archive has been dedicated to a single mission: to give everyone access to all knowledge, forever. For free.

The archive contains

The Internet Archive has something for everyone

Today, visitors from across the globe retrieve countless digitized books, films, TV clips, websites, software, music and audio files, photos, games, maps, court/legal documents and more via the no-charge Internet Archive.

These days it may be passé to refer to the Internet as The Information Superhighway, but in that context The Internet Archive is truly a Super Library that has something for everyone.

Anyone encountering dead or broken links in the appendix of Psyclone can paste the link into The Wayback Machine and be confident of being able to access the content.




The Six Paramitas

by Dr Will Tuttle, author of The World Peace Diet

As we deepen our inquiry into the nature of our culture, and how we can best help liberate animals, our Earth, and ourselves from the harmful actions and attitudes causing conflict and destruction, we may begin to realize that the problem is not just other people. We ourselves are part of the problem also. How many people can we actually and substantively change for the better? Quite honestly that number is one.

Cow by visionary artist Madeleine TuttleThis is not to say that we can’t help move our world and other people in a positive direction, but rather to emphasize that this capacity is, paradoxically, a result essentially of our authentic efforts to move ourselves in a positive direction. Most of us, when encountering someone who would like to “improve” us will wisely act to block that effort. Thus, in the end, the most effective way to change others and the world is to endeavor to embody and exemplify in ourselves whatever changes we’d like to see in others.

Substantive positive personal change requires inner effort to question the obsolete and harmful attitudes living within us, to understand them, and to heal them through the effort to cultivate a higher and more inclusive and realistic awareness. We have all been wounded from infancy be being born into a herding culture based on the exploitation and abuse of the weak by the strong. In order to build a movement capable of transforming our culture, we are called to undertake the most challenging of all efforts: the effort to transform ourselves.

Grassroots vegan advocacy starts with us as individuals in our communities, endeavoring to become more aware and proficient in our understanding, and in our ability to communicate and cooperate with others. This is the indispensible foundation of the movement to liberate animals, and all of us, from the status quo culture of domination that steals and destroys the sovereignty of both animals and people.

Large non-profit organizations, unlike grassroots efforts, tend to be reductionist and authoritarian in nature. Ironically, herderism, the living core of our cultural mindset and root of our problems, is similarly reductionist and authoritarian, but in the extreme. (If we were born as cows or chickens, we would have no doubt of this.) Thus the large animal protection organizations exist ironically as products of the herding culture and tend to mirror and support its underlying mentality and way of functioning. These organizations compete with one another for funding, and operate under centralized hierarchical structures of authority. The living transformation of vegan awakening tends in their hands to be reduced to a commodity to be marketed by compliant leafletters and spokespeople whose job is to deliver a message that has been crafted by public relations “experts.” Such an approach is ironically an expression of the same mind-set that is creating the problem of animal exploitation in the first place. It tends to muffle the authentic creative voices of individuals who have unique talents and gifts to share.

Bobcats by visionary artist Madeleine TuttleThus, to continually invent and renew a movement for the liberation of animals, we are each called, as individuals, to embody as best we can the change we are working for, and diligently monitor and refresh our organizations to ensure they reflect this same spirit. While going vegan is a liberating, healing, and empowering step for us as individuals, and naturally helps heal and improve our interconnected society, it is not the last step. In many ways, it is the first step of a life where we awaken from being a mere culturally-programmed bio-robot, and step out of the prison of the imposed food narrative of disease and destruction and its many manifestations. Our journey beckons us to continue ever on, so that our inner world, like our outer behavior, ever more fully reflects our core values of respect, kindness, freedom, and harmony.

This is the real challenge we all face. It’s much easier and more tempting to blame others (such as political figures, financial elites, and so on) for our problems than it is to work with our internalized attitudes and wounds. And yet, it is only to the degree that we transform ourselves—so that our lives are radiant expressions of the message we would like others to hear—that we will experience our full potential to bring healing and positive change to our world. As the vegan movement becomes increasingly a movement of people who are authentically doing the inner work necessary to explore and purify our individual consciousness, our movement, through this, is becoming increasingly unstoppable.

Satyagraha, the “truth power” that Gandhi described, is ultimately triumphant, and the best way to spread truth is through embodying it so that we plant seeds of change naturally and effectively, with means that reflect the ends we envision. While we don’t try to change others, we can definitely do our best to plant seeds of positive change in others by making these changes congruent in ourselves, so our actions, words, values, thoughts, feelings, and gestures are all aligned within us and people sense this congruency.

How do we make these positive internal changes? With practice. Like with anything else, we become what we practice. The ancient wisdom traditions have many practices that have helped people heal and renew their minds and lives. These practices can be especially helpful for us in contributing to a vegan world of respect and kindness for all.

Horse by visionary artist Madeleine TuttleOne example is the Six Paramitas from the Buddhist tradition, also called the Six Perfections. Paramita in Sanskrit means “crossing over,” so these six Paramitas are qualities that we can cultivate every day to help us cross over to the other shore of greater awareness and freedom. One way to practice them is to focus on a different paramita each day of the week. What follows is the Six Paramitas practice for all seven days, with a short explanation for each one, which is best recited every morning to set the intention for the day.

Monday, The Day of Giving: Dana Paramita. Let us have all-pervading love, not only for people but for all sentient beings, and give of ourselves and our possessions freely and without regret, with a heart of lovingkindness. Let our giving be rooted in transcendent awareness, knowing the three elements involved are of one essence. Finally, let us remember that the teachings contain no greater wisdom than the wisdom of letting go. This is also called Dana. (Note: the three elements mentioned here are giver, gift, and receiver)

Tuesday, The Day of Ethics: Sila Paramita. Let us maintain standards of discipline, etiquette, and decorum so that our actions are honorable in every situation, and thinking of others always, let us be careful not to harm them in any way. Let us cultivate the natural integrity, diligence, and straightforwardness that fundamental aspects of clear seeing and real virtue.

Bee by visionary artist Madeleine TuttleWednesday, The Day of Patience: Kshanti Paramita. Let us treat all beings as the Buddha, seeing through the spell of appearance to the essential reality in which there is no fundamentally separate self. Let us remember that patience is humility, a basic acceptance of this present moment as the perfect unfoldment of life and love, and that it is also an accurate mirror of our present state of mind, and thus continuously bears great opportunities to grow in wisdom and compassion.

Thursday, the Day of Zealous Effort: Virya Paramita. Whatever is appropriate, let us perform it diligently and persistently push forward. Let us be aware of the Source of all energy and activity, and live in harmony with it.

Friday, the Day of Stillness and Stability of Mind: Dhyana Paramita. Let us function in tranquil one-pointedness of mind, free from agitation arising through the senses, and dualistic conceptions of this and that, self and other. Let us let go of tension and separateness, and realize the equanimity that is born of awakening to the truth underlying phenomena.

Saturday, the Day of Wisdom: Prajna Paramita. Let us act so that the mind is always pure and bright, and behave so that we are never uncertain about the rightness of our actions. By the brightness of inherent wisdom, let us dispel the delusion of separateness, and greed and hatred, which spring from ignorance about the real nature of sense objects.

Sunday, the Day of Service: Simultaneous Practice of all the Paramitas. Let us put all forms of wholesome action into practice, by rendering service to others and practicing generosity, loving speech, beneficial action, and cooperativeness. May lovingkindness and compassion emanate from our every thought, word, and deed, and bless all sentient beings, and may they all realize the original brightness of their minds and be instantly reborn in the Pure Land of clear seeing.

In conclusion, with this Six Paramitas practice, the idea is daily to recite and feel into the essential nature of the quality of mind and heart that is being evoked by this day’s Paramita, and to hold it in consciousness throughout the day as best we can. Gradually, and with persistent practice, all six Paramitas will begin to suffuse their healing presenceElephants by visionary artist Madeleine Tuttle into our awareness in all seven days. We begin to realize that vegan living, nonviolence, respect for animals and other humans, and spiritual liberation are all profoundly interconnected. As we endeavor to embody the universal principles indicated by the six Paramitas, we are working at the roots to help build a more kind and harmonious world for all.




Everything You Think You Know About Animals Is Wrong

Came up in conversation recently, worth a repost…

Everything you think you know about animals is wrong  

by Sophie McAdam in the True Activist

32591_400243056747447_1374908357_n-300x221Human beings are the most intelligent, and therefore important, of all the world´s species, right? We deserve our superior status over other animals because of the following scientific truths: that only humans are self-aware and feel empathy, that we are unique in our abilities to use language and tools, that only we can recognize ourselves in a mirror and understand the passing of time.

But advances in cognitive ethology (the scientific study of animal intelligence, emotions, behaviors, and social life) have now disproved these ´truths´, showing that many other creatures also display a complex range of emotions, highly evolved communication skills, compassion for others, and even intelligence that rivals- or surpasses- our own. These ground-breaking studies force us to ask some uncomfortable questions about our place in the world, and have caused leading experts to call for a radical rethink of the way we treat other animals.

Communicative mice, kindly rats and compassionate chickens

Among the findings are that yes, fish do feel pain , and not only that but acidic water actually makes them nervous. Chickens are not only very intelligent, they can also feel  each other´s pain and demonstrate physiological signs of concern and distress at the suffering of their young.

Similar conclusions were drawn in a cruel study of mice who were doused in acid. Not only were the empathic rodents more sensitive to the pain of their peers than to their own agony, but researchers also suggested they “might be talking to each other” about their pain, too. Take a moment to let that sink in….

And while rats don´t have the best of reputations, there is much research to suggest they too are compassionate, communicative and highly intelligent. One group of scientists found that, given the choice, rats prefer to free others from a cage rather than help themselves to candy. What´s more, the rats had not been taught to open the cages in advance. Researcher Peggy Mason noted: “That was very compelling … It said to us that essentially helping their cagemate is on a par with chocolate. He can hog the entire chocolate stash if he wanted to, and he does not. We were shocked.”

Older studies from the 1950s and 60s found that both rats and rhesus monkeys will refuse to pull a food lever if it results in an electric shock for another group member. One monkey went without food for 12 days rather than hurt one of his peers. Another researcher who was attempting to free two baby mice trapped in a sink noted how the stronger rodent showed concern for his exhausted friend, even carrying food to him until he was strong enough to move.

Some of the most heart-warming tales of expressive love and empathy come from the great apes, our closest relatives. Moral philosopher Mark Rowlands recounts the following:

Chimps in the Cameroon mourn the passing of their friend Dorothy, October 2009. But why does this ´human-like´behavior surprise us? CREDIT: Monica Szczupider, Daily Mail

Chimps in the Cameroon mourn the passing of their friend Dorothy, October 2009. But why does this ´human-like´behavior surprise us? CREDIT: Monica Szczupider, Daily Mail

“Binti Jua, a gorilla residing at Brookfield Zoo in Illinois, had her 15 minutes of fame in 1996 when she came to the aid of a three-year-old boy who had climbed on to the wall of the gorilla enclosure and fallen five meters onto the concrete floor below. Binti Jua lifted the unconscious boy, gently cradled him in her arms, and growled warnings at other gorillas that tried to get close. Then, while her own infant clung to her back, she carried the boy to the zoo staff waiting at an access gate.”

He also tells the story of Kuni, a captive Bonobo chimpanzee in the UK: “One day, Kuni encountered a starling that had been stunned during some misadventure. Kuni picked up the starling with one hand, and climbed to the top of the highest tree in her enclosure, wrapping her legs around the trunk so that she had both hands free to hold the bird. She then carefully unfolded its wings and spread them wide open. She threw the bird as hard as she could towards the barrier of the enclosure. Unfortunately, it didn’t wake up, and landed on the bank of the enclosure’s moat. While her rescue attempt didn’t succeed, Kuni certainly seemed to act with good intentions, and tried to make amends by guarding the vulnerable, unconscious bird from a curious juvenile for quite some time.”

Love, empathy…and some strange animal friendships

Rowlands argues that humans absolutely do not have the monopoly on moral behavior (if we ever did). The sheer number of incredible stories to back up his claim is impossible to detail in one article, but here are some more examples, summarized by Marc Bekoff Ph.D, award-winning scientist, author and co-founder of Ethologists for the Ethical Treatment of Animals : “A teenage female elephant nursing an injured leg is knocked over by a teenage male. An older female sees this happen, chases the male away, and goes back to the younger female and touches her sore leg with her trunk. Eleven elephants rescue a group of captive antelope in KwaZula-Natal; the matriarch elephant undoes all of the latches on the gates of the enclosure with her trunk and lets the gate swing open so the antelope can escape. A male Diana monkey who learned to insert a token into a slot to obtain food helps a female who can’t get the hang of the trick, inserting the token for her and allowing her to eat the food reward. A female fruit-eating bat helps an unrelated female give birth by showing her how to hang in the proper way. A cat named Libby leads her elderly deaf and blind dog friend, Cashew, away from obstacles and to food. In a group of chimpanzees at the Arnhem Zoo in The Netherlands individuals punish other chimpanzees who are late for dinner because no one eats until they’re all present.”

Animals can have surprising bedfellows CREDIT: xaxor.com

Animals can have surprising bedfellows
CREDIT: xaxor.com

“Do these examples show that animals display moral behavior, that they can be compassionate, altruistic, and fair?” Asks Bekoff. “Yes, they do. Animals not only have a sense of justice, but also a sense of empathy, forgiveness, trust, reciprocity, and much more as well.” Interestingly, he adds, these “good emotions can be shared by improbable friends, including predators and prey such as a cat and a bird, a snake and a hamster, and a lioness and a baby oryx.” Other cases of strange friendships include a cheetah and a retriever, a lion and a coyote, a dog and a deer, a goat and a horse, and even a tortoise and a goose. Cats have been known to adopt and feed chicks and baby hedgehogs, while one recent case centered on a disabled dolphin who was adopted by a family of sperm whales.

It seems that compassion has no boundaries. Clearly, co-operation in the animal kingdom is not only common, it´s a crucial survival strategy which humans would be wise to learn from. Charles Darwin himself wrote: “Any animal whatever, endowed with well-marked social instincts…would inevitably acquire a moral sense of conscience, as soon as its intellectual powers had become as well-developed…as in man.”

Is this what is happening now, throughout the animal kingdom? According to experts, all birds and mammals, as well as octopuses and too many other species to list, appear to be a whole lot smarter than we ever gave them credit for. The following is an excerpt from the Cambridge Declaration of Consciousness (a prestigious, official recognition of animal sentience) signed in England in 2012 by 15 leading scientists, and overseen by Stephen Hawking himself.

“The field of Consciousness research is rapidly evolving…and this calls for a periodic reevaluation of previously held preconceptions in this field…Birds appear to offer a striking case of parallel evolution of consciousness. Evidence of near human-like levels of consciousness has been most dramatically observed in African grey parrots. Mammalian and avian emotional networks and cognitive microcircuitries appear to be far more homologous than previously thought. Moreover, certain species of birds have been found to exhibit neural sleep patterns similar to those of mammals, including REM sleep and, as was demonstrated in zebra finches, neurophysiological patterns previously thought to require a mammalian neocortex.”

Superhuman chimps…and crows

A Caledonian crow called Betty demonstrated human-like intelligence a few years ago by making complicated hooked tools from bits of wire to fish items out of tubes. To put this into perspective, it´s something chimpanzees (and most humans) are unable to do.

And like Betty, chimpanzees are also cleverer than us in some areas. In a Japanese study to test short-term memory, numbers were shown on a computer screen before being hidden by white squares. The five-year-old chimpanzees (who were taught to count from 1-9 in advance) beat adult humans hands-down in remembering where each number was hidden. Another study of long-term memory in chimpanzees also gave impressive results, proving the average human is not so special after all.

Apes can also learn and understand sign language, and there is evidence that parrots don´t just repeat words; they also understand meaning. Dogs who wait patiently by the door five minutes before their owners return from work are not only expressing an awareness of time, but evidence of a sixth sense too (as a side note, canines even align themselves to the Earth´s magnetic field when doing their business). Scientists have also recently discovered that not only are dolphins math geniuses,

Teenage dolphins have been filmed ´getting high´ on pufferfish..it´s not big but it is clever CREDIT: deviantart.net

Teenage dolphins have been filmed ´getting high´ on pufferfish..it´s not big but it is clever
CREDIT: deviantart.net

but that juveniles also like to chew and pass around pufferfish for no other reason than to ´get high´ with their buddies- not dissimilar from rebellious youth behavior in our own species!

Furthermore, magpies, dolphins, great apes and elephants can recognize themselves in a mirror just like us, and many studies show a clear awareness of death in some species. One of the most compelling (and tragic) from Bekoff´s colleague Jane Goodall is detailed here. The behavior of this young chimp who lost his mother and died three days later of a broken heart leaves no room for doubts about his understanding of death.

Depression, grief and mourning affect many animals in exactly the same way as us

Other researchers from Kyoto university witnessed two grieving chimpanzee mothers carrying their dead infants for 68 and 19 days respectively after death, as though they couldn´t bear to say goodbye. To Berkoff, it´s simply “arrogant and wrong” to assume we are the only species in which grief has evolved: the only part we don´t yet know is the why. Elephants are especially known to grieve after the loss of a loved one. They mourn the dead by touching the bones or circling the body. Some researchers have suggested they may even relive memories and understand death in just the same way we do.

Videos of animals exhibiting ´human-like behavior´ have gone viral on YouTube. Among them are a herd of buffaloes who get ´revenge´ on a pride of lions, a heroic dog who risked his life to drag his unconscious companion from the freeway, a baby elephant who cried real tears for five hours after his mother attacked and rejected him, and a cat mourning the loss of a friend.

But skeptics warn against anthropomorphism, the misguided attribution of human-like qualities to animals. They claim we must always look for another, more basic, explanation before claiming other creatures are as complex as us. A skeptic might suggest, for example, that if a rat does not want to hear its companion being tortured, this is simply because the rat is averse to the sound of squealing. Rowlands offers a good debunking of this kind of argument, though. He points out that he, too, is averse to the screams of a tortured man, but it is precisely because he feels empathy that the sound is so unbearable.

“It´s widely accepted that many animals display and feel a wide array of emotions including joy, happiness, pleasure, love, empathy, compassion, sadness and profound grief,” Bekoff states. But, he argues, these are not human expressions at all, they are animal expressions. And the reason we share them with so many other species is because we are animals too, whether we like to admit it or not. “We must never forget that our emotions are the gifts of our ancestors, our animal kin,” Bekoff points out.

Animal rights….or Animal equality?

Yet historically, mankind has always treated animals with great disrespect and cruelty, as nothing more than chattel to be exploited for food, work, ´sport´, protection, entertainment and experimentation. Judaism, Christianity and Islam alike all teach that humans were given the right to use (and abuse) God´s lesser creatures, rather than preaching a sense of responsibility and stewardship towards them. The idea that we are not alone in feeling pain, anxiety, shame and depression is therefore highly uncomfortable for humans. If we accept this, how can we continue to treat animals as we do, or go on believing we are superior?

And in any case, some may ask what right we have to superiority? We are the most destructive and violent species on Earth. As animal rights activist Steven Best rightly argues: “We cannot overlook an amazing paradox. It is an odd but revealing phenomenon that a species which so arrogantly prides itself in its alleged unique skills in reason and communication has not yet attained an accurate understanding of itself. This advanced “intelligence” of humans, moreover, is in the advanced stages of exterminating our closest biological relatives, along with millions of other animal and plant species, thereby ensuring that Homo sapiens will die as it was born – in ignorance of its own nature and the other animal species vital for an accurate self-understanding.”

It´s not what we want to hear, but maybe it´s what we need to hear. But where next? Berkoff is more positive. “We need to work for a science of peace and emphasize the positive, pro social side of other animals and ourselves. It’s truly who we and other animals are.

“People who claim nonhuman animals are inherently aggressive and warlike are wrong,” he goes on. “When they use information from animal studies to justify our own cruel, evil behavior, they’re not paying attention to what we really know about the social life of animals. Do animals fight with one another? Yes. Do they routinely engage in cruel, warlike behavior? Not at all. When people say, ýou´re behaving like an animal, it´s actually a compliment.”

Berkoff adds that we also need to “debunk the myth of human exceptionalism once and for all. It’s a hollow, shallow, and self-serving perspective on who we are…of course we are exceptional in various arenas, as are other animals.”

Sophie is an award-winning feature writer, investigative journalist, campaigner and author. She is a staff writer for True Activist on issues of peace, justice, society, environment and activism. You can find out more or contact her here.