Life After Death–revisited

The fascination with the nature of reality, the existence of a soul, an after-life, of continuation of consciousness after death–does not diminish.  After all, the belief in such has an enormous impact on how we live our lives.  From our views on our personal death, to those we love, to our notion of a higher purpose for our lives–all these and much more are affected by our core metaphysical belief.

A recent book by Deborah Blum, GHOST HUNTERS–William James and the Search for Scientific Proof of Life After Death is a fascinating exploration of this topic.  It is a historical description of the work of William James MD, a true giant in the archives of American intellectual achievement, and his ‘scientific’ approach to the issue of life after death.  Living during the later half of the 19th century and into the first quarter of the 20th century, James encountered considerable Resistance and disdain from the scientific community of his day.  Science had demonstrated its potency with the discovery and promotion of electricity, the internal combustion engine, the telegram, the telephone, the photograph,anesthesia and other accomplishments.

Darwin had astounded the intellectual world with his convincing theory of evolution, religion was on the defensive and science seemed to offer the only path towards true knowledge.

James had been a Harvard trained physician, philosopher and the first American psychologist.  Yet his willingness to follow the truth wherever it led him, offered enormous challenges to his reputation as an intellectual.  He was a vigorous proponent of psychical research including the study of mediums. He was one of the founders of the American Society of Psychical Research, the cousin of the earlier British Society.

Their approach was based on a critical appraisal of the information that could be obtained from mediums.  They were instrumental in uncovering a great deal of fraud among so-called mediums.  Yet, there were several whose statements and information proved impossible to deny.

James and other well respected scientists and professors  studied one medium, Mrs. Leonore Piper extensively for many years.  The details of their work are outlined in the book. Despite the existence of charlatans and frauds, the existence of one true medium would clearly have an enormous impact on what we could know about the nature of reality and life after death.

In his often quoted words, James noted, If you wish to upset the law that all crows are black…….it is enough to prove one single crow to be white’.  …’My own white crow is Mrs. Piper….’  For James, the existence of Mrs Piper and her phenomenal reporting of information that she could not possibly have known, was enough for him to continue his research.

He was critical of those scientists who dismissed his research because it did not fit into a scientific category.  Their paradigm for truth was their own set of guidelines–the scientific method.  By believing that  the only path to truth was through scientific exploration, they were essentially dismissing any other approach.  They were defining reality, then expecting reality to conform to their own definition.

Those readers who have been fascinated by their personal experiences with psychics and mediums should keep this in mind.  Science has unquestionably contributed to our state of being.  Know one would deny its value and success.  It would be dangerous, I believe, to be closed to alternative ways of knowing.

It is interesting to note, however, that science may find itself in a more humble position in the early stages of the twenty-first century than it did one hundred years ago.  Now it must deal with the realities of quantum theory, relativity theory, superstring theory, chaos theory, dark energy, quantum uncertainty and others.  Science is leading us into realms which defy logic as we know it.  The ‘universe as machine’, understandable and predictable is gone.  We are being led into a reality in which perhaps physicist James Jeans is correct, the universe begins to look more like a great thought than like a great machine.  Or as physicist Paul Davies noted A rational explanation for the world in the sense of a closed and complete system of logical truths is almost certainly impossible.  We are barred from ultimate knowledge….We have to embrace a different concept of understanding. …Possibly a mystical path is the way to such an understanding…

To fellow metaphysicians–feel free to explore with an open-minded skepticism.  Read and wonder. Think for yourselves and enjoy the ride.

Explaining Metaphysics–

Readers of my blog, students of mine from past classes, and anyone within earshot of my expressed verbiage will confirm my ‘obsession’ with the notion of metaphysics.

It is a term that has been misunderstood, misrepresented and the source of much confusion. Hoping to shed more light than darkness, I will attempt to explain my fascination with the concept.

The word is derived from the body of writing of the Greek philosopher and early scientist Aristotle which was ‘discovered’ or compiled by a later scholar, Andronicus of Rhodes. These series of writings, which Aristotle referred to as his ‘First Philosophy’ were uncovered ‘after the works on the physical world [physica]’ and therefore became known as the metaphysica.

The subject matter was discussed and debated long before Aristotle because it attempts to face the most challenging, baffling, confusing yet primary questions that confront the human mind:  what is the nature of reality, is there a God, is there a purpose for existence?

The need to make sense of the world around is reflected in the Book of Genesis itself.  Adam and Eve risked everything including immortality in order to taste of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil.  Although portrayed by some traditionalists as the origin of original sin and man’s fall, later Kabbalists understood this event to represent the dawn of human consciousness, an event that God knew would occur.

Considerable confusion exists because metaphysics has a popular connotation of the study of the occult, paranormal, spiritual and other New Age topics.  This notion is disturbing to formal academic philosophers.

As I see it–philosophy, science and religion each seek to explain existence and in this most basic sense all three are metaphysical approaches to knowledge-but each with strikingly different methods and approaches. 

Philosophy [which claims metaphysics as its discipline] attempts to view reality through the workings of thought, reason and the rules of logic.

Religion addresses the great questions of existence by appealing to divine revelation through the pronouncements of spiritual writings and enlightened prophets who claim communication with the divine.

Science, on the other hand, claims that empirical information, experimentation, peer review elevate it to the highest and most valid form of knowledge about the universe.

I would claim that much of humanities artistic endeavors [art, music, literature]  often expresses metaphysical intent as well.

A fascinating aspect of the debate on metaphysics involves the relationship between philosophy and science.  As science grew in stature as a source of truth about the universe, philosophers themselves began to question the validity of metaphysics as worthy of study.

Philosophers such as David Hume, Immanuel Kant in the 18th and 19th century, Bertrand Russell, A.J Ayers in the 20th century declared metaphysics to be clearly inferior to science as a source of knowledge.

‘Science tells you what you know, philosophy [metaphysics] what your don’t know’ was expressed by Russell. Intuition, subjective personal experiences, spiritual and paranormal encounters were rejected by philosophers as useless and invalid.

Ironically, with the introduction of relativity and quantum theory into 20th century science, there emerged a paradoxical but fascinating body of metaphysical writing by some of the world’s most prestigious physicists.  Men such as Albert Einstein, Erwin Schrodinger, Sir Arthur Eddington, Sir James Jeans, John Wheeler and others were led by their discoveries from science began to write about their profound awe at the true nature of reality.  Their writings became extremely metaphysical in their subject matter and even verged on the mystical.

Psychologist Lawrence LeShan and later philosopher Ken Wilber collected many of these comments and demonstrated how closely they resembled the thoughts of mystics from a variety of religious traditions.

Everyone who is seriously involved in the pursuit of science becomes convinced that a spirit is manifest in the laws of nature–a spirit vastly superior to that of man.  This statement by Einstein certainly did not reflect all scientists at the time or in the present.  Many refrain from making such statements.  Others affirm a strictly atheistic interpretation of reality.  My point is this–even THAT position is ultimately metaphysical.

Any summation, conclusion, or comment on the ultimate nature of things is metaphysics regardless of its source and content.  Our species is clearly compelled to make sense of the world around us as well as the mind within us. This effort can be the source of great comfort as well as confusion and grief.

The Road Not Taken—-Taken

Many times in my metaphysical journey I have been reminded of the Robert Frost poem THE ROAD NOT TAKEN.  I will not represent the entire poem here but it begins with the well known,

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood, And sorry I could not travel both….  Ending with I shall be telling this with a sign somwhere ages and ages hence: Two roads diverged in a wood, and I–I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.

English majors and scholars may debate exactly what Frost was trying to say but to me my switch from a Religious Study undergraduate major into pre-medical and then a medical profession was a decision that profoundly impacted the rest of my life.  I took the road that led to a more financially secure and more highly accepted position within society.

The road not taken for me would have been to continue with Relgious Studies and eventually acquire a Ph.D and  teach college.

My decision to study Kabbalah in 1998 followed by my initiation into the personal spiritual and paranormal experiences of ordinary individuals led me back along the road that I had previously NOT taken.  I saw that venture as a complete diversion, a retracing of steps, a return to a totally different intellectual and spiritual approach to life that have been abandoned when I became a physician.

What is so fascinating to me now, with minimal hindsight, is that this diversion which, at the time, felt like a right angle turn away from my life as a physician– was anything but that.  The ‘road not taken’ became the road of return.  This small, barely visible path slowly and unmistakably led me to a greater understanding of healing than I could possibly have imagined.

I now understand what is meant by the phrase, nothing occurs by accident.  What may appear as a diversion, a nuisance, a ‘waste of time’ is nothing of the kind.  What appears as an event or circumstance that takes you away from your goal will later be understood as necessary for you to reach that goal.  What you learn, what you overcome by virtue of that ‘diversion’ allows you to grow into the final version of yourself that you were seeking in the first place.

So have respect for the ‘road not taken’. Do not reject it because it appears to delay your ego’s presumptions–what it desires to accomplish within some fictious, arbitrary time frame. You may need to meander a bit down that untrodden trail.  It may be the path towards enlightenment.

Reading the Break–

This may actually be my first posting regarding the grand metaphors of life that golf supposedly provides.  Putting is perhaps the most perplexing of all golfing skills. Its competency continues to elude me.

Firstly it necessitates visualizing the slope of the green between the ball and the hole. This is, in itself, quite challenging. Secondly, the golfer must actually strike the putt with the correct amount of energy precisely on the correct ‘line’ to accomodate the break. It must be struck with sufficient force to get the ball to the hole, without sending it too far past the hole assuming [all to frequently] that it does not find the bottom of the cup.

Professional golfers will always walk slowly around the green, viewing the break and slope of the green from a variety of angles. Frequently, their impression of the speed or slope of the green will be changed by changing their position.  Many amateurs [myself included] will not take the time to ‘line up’ the putt and view it from all angles. 

The point to this golf story [assuming you are still reading] is that we need to look at a situation/problem from more than one angle. First impressions are often the equivalent of taking a quick look and deciding on the nature of the putt.  They are not always correct.

Intuition aside, we are often wrong about people we meet for the first time.  Now, many of us will swear that our first impressions are correct.  This may be true quite often.  But time and again we will be fooled.

There are many variables that go into that ‘first read’ of a person.  They may be on their ‘best behavior’ or, on the contrary, be upset with other personal issues at the time that they meet us.

The individual may remind us of someone we either like or dislike.  We often carry that over to our immediate impression of the new individual.  This is usually not accurate and not fair.  An extremely shy individual may appear unfriendly and uninteresting only to slowly reveal a side of their personality which is quite appealing.

Our society tends to place all of us on the defensive. This requires a degree of patience and committment in order to explore the real nature of the other individual.

Our first impresson may reflect our own moods.  What else is going on in our life.  We may actually be emitting a ‘vibe’ which is not our usual state of being either. The other individual is forming their opinion of us as well and we may tap into their memory banks in an manner which flavors their impression as well.

All this to say something quite simple.  Don’t rush to judgment regarding the character and personality of others. Hopefully they will be adept at ‘reading your break’ from all sides as well.

Age of Addiction

For those who consider themselves free of addictions……don’t be so sure. Addiction is another term for habitual behavior which we adopt in order to relieve anxiety and frustration.  Certainly our society labels certain addictions more dangerous/damaging/unacceptable than others.  To demonstrate the truth that we are defined by our society and times–think back [assuming you are old enough] ten or twenty years ago. Smoking may have been recognized as potentially dangerous to the smoker but they were hardly vilified or considered outcasts. I recall when people were allowed to smoke at the back of an airplane.

Addictive behavior is often viewed as the path of the emotionally and intellectually weak.  Yet certain chemicals are known to be particularly ‘addictive’, creating extremely uncomfortable symptoms upon attempts at withdrawal.

Still, addictions tend to be a mixture of physical and emotional dependency.   The addicts that seem particularly difficult to ‘treat’ are those with a long history of abuse of a variety of substances over many years. Their habit is to reach for something, a substance, food, alcohol, even sexual experience which will substitute their ‘bad’ feeling for a ‘good feeling’.  For the moment they can lose themselves in the pleasurable experience. 

Ironically, this may be one example in which ‘living in the moment’ is not helpful whatsoever.  It is truly an escape from the future, of consequences, of facing being discovered, of having to come to terms with that which is being avoided.

The lesson for healing is clear.  Avoidance, repression of painful feelings is not the path to wholeness. Such temporary episodes require the use of external substances in order to go on.   However, acceptance of these painful experiences ‘face on’ is extremely difficult if not traumatic as well.

The path of mindfulness meditation offers a healing alternative.  Miriam Greenspan in HEALING THROUGH THE DARK EMOTIONS as well as Jon Kabat-Zinn,and other Buddhist writers such as Pema Chodron in WHEN THINGS FALL APART, Mark Epstein MD in GOING TO PIECES WITHOUT FALLING APART, Sharon Salzberg and others promote this method as extremely useful.

As noted in prior postings, this meditation technique centers on an awareness of the breath, the flow in and out, while allowing thoughts and emotions to flow in and out of our attention.  We remain ‘present’ and aware of these thoughts and feelings but do not ‘attach’ to them. 

We assume a position as witness to these thoughts and feelings.  By not denying or repressing them, they lose their power over us, our need to escape them through potentially addictive behavior. By witnessing them, we can stand aside and not be overwhelmed by them.  It is a healing modality which we could all benefit from.

COLON CONSCIOUSNESS–

Is humanity one step away from colonic self-destruction? If one were to make assumptions based upon the number of info-mercials and on-line web sites devoted to the colon and bowel function, the answer would be a resounding, yes!

Readers of my blog and web articles are aware of my sincere desire to promote the awareness  that human beings are a hositic amalgam of mind, body and spirit. In this light, I am deeply committed to the exploration of the claims of holistic, spiritual healers as well as the world of alternative healing. I do so from the perspective of the open-minded skeptic as proposed by none other than Sidhartha Gautama, the Buddha.[see earlier blogs]

What frustrates me more than I can convey, however, are the practitioners of alternative healing who consciously or out of profound ignorance propose theories and therapies which are irrational, illogical and totally opposed to scientific truths.  Again, this is not to paint myself as a blind defender of scientific studies as ultimate truth. They are the product of human interpretation of data as well. Science, however, does allow itself to be corrected over time by the reproduction of results and conclusions.

I base my belief system on empirical observation–weighing the risks and benefits of various therapies and continuous monitoring of their effects on individual patients.  There must, however, be some rational underlying notion of reality to these therapies.

What science has repeatedly, over many studies, over decades proven to be true, however, must be acknowledged and recognized.  My point is this–the doctrine that we become ‘poisoned’ by our own fecal residue is total nonsense.  This arises from pre-scientific thinking, perhaps thousands of years old, but promoted in the early twentieth century in the theory of ‘autointoxication’. 

The term Death begins in the colon, ascribed to Russian Nobel Laurete Ilya Mechnikov and 1908 has become the phrase adapted by a number of practitioners, advocates of ‘colon cleansing’ which features both oral and anal approaches.

The consequence of such thinking led to the widespread use of laxatives, purges, enemas and the unecessary pre-occupation with bowel ‘regularity’.  A mega-billion dollar industry promoting this mind-set has been sustained by such pseudo-scientific thinking.

Just as an example, the following was obtained by a random search for websites devoted to ‘colon cleansing’.  The colon is a sewage system but by neglect and abuse it becomes a cesspool. When it is clean and normal we are well and happy.  Let it stagnate and it will distill the poison of decay, fermentation, and putrefaction into the blood poisoning the brain and nervous system so that we become depressed and irritable; it will poison the heart so that we are weak and listless; poison the lungs so that the breath is foul; poison the digestive organs so we are distressed and bloated; and poison the blood so the skin is shallow and unhealthy….[ascribed to Dr. Bernard Jensen, 1974]

Such pronouncements might even ‘sound’ even rational to the uniformed.  However, I have been a practicing gastroenerologist for over 27years.  Believe me–there is no truth at all to this statement.  The concept of autointoxication from the colon is just false. 

Now, the reader must also know that constipation can be an annyoing, upsetting and debilitating problem for millions of individuals.  Much of this can be traced to poor eating habits, lack of fluids, exercise and a diet deficient in fiber.  Also, many of todays pharmaceuticals have side-effects which worsen constipation.  I spend many hours a day dealing with these issues.

Fecal impaction [hard stool in the rectum] can even produce a colonic obstruction and potentially a perforation with subsequent peritonitis [a true colonic ‘poisoning’] . Yet what is being promoted is the vigorous cleansing of what is a natural colonic function–the storage, transportation and elimination of normal and natural fecal residue.

My objection is to the misinformation which leads to the promotion of expensive and at times dangerous ‘alternative’ therapies. I have no argument with many of the holisitic, herbal preparations for oral ‘colon cleansing’.  Most of them are expensive, ‘doctored’ forms of fiber therapy anyway.  Some contain natural laxatives. But what disturbs me greatly is the obsession with colonic enema therapy.

Info-mercials which reveal the ‘casts’ of colons and claim that residue accumulates over years are absolutely wrong!  Having performed approximately 30,000 colonoscopies in my career, I have found NO evidence of colonic ‘casts’ of long-term residue.  Also, even after the strong laxatives that they must use prior to their procedures, my patients have NEVER described any bizarre casts or formations being ejected by their colons.

So, let the dialogue continue along the lines of rational yet empirical explorations of what produces healing. Let us be open to new and even paradoxical thinking.  But let the buyer beware–there is much ‘out there’ that sounds reasonable, even scientific,  but is not.

A Running Meditation–

Can one meditate and run at the same time?  Does attempting to ‘do’ two activities simultaneously contradict the meaning behind being ‘present’ in the moment? I don’t believe so.

Truthfully,  I have had difficulty in developing a practice of the type of mindfulness meditation I have described previously. Even sitting for ten minutes, focused on my in and out-breath, allowing thoughts to flow in and out but returning to the present, is nearly impossible for me.  I am checking my watch to see how much time I have left–hardly the state of consciousness that one would hope for.

I know meditation is important–it is a mind-training and something that is woefully lacking not only personally but in the vast majority of my fellow human beings. We are all the ‘victims’ of chaotic thinking/feeling that sweeps over us and seems to drag us down, inhibiting the creative, liberating thinking/feeling we all desire.

Couple this with the difficulty that we usually face in maintaing our physical exercise regimens as well.  I run on a treadmill, 3.5 miles in around 30 minutes, three to four times a week.  I am happy to continue this distance at this rate.  Like most, however, I attempt to distract myself while exercising in order for the time and distance on the displays to advance to my goal.  Watching TV, attempting to count in my head, thinking are all such distractions.  I try NOT to glance at the distance display which reflects one hundredth of a mile advances.  Yet when I do so, I am always disappointed that I have not run further.

But I believe that I have uncovered a secret that will facilitate both meditation [mind-exercise] and running.  I decided not to avoid staring at the distance read-out.  In fact, what I now do is to stare AT it.  I observe the number that is present.  Be it 0.001 all the way to 3.50.  Each number becomes the only number that I care about, the only ‘place’ in which I desire to inhabit. I know this sounds quite strange.  It may even be difficult to imagine what I am doing.

Each number becomes my place of refuge, of peace, of contentment.  While I am running, [and by the way, I do not regard this activity as running but rather as meditating] my entire mind is focussed on that one number.  I have no goal in mind, no end to achieve. I am not anticipating the next number nor awaiting the completion of the experience.  I am present in that one moment while that one number exists.  I relax into that number.  I do not resist the urge for my mind to wander a bit.  I allow it to do so.  I can notice when the three digits form an interesting pattern such as 2.34 or 1.01 or 3.33 or 3.21.  But I only remain with that number until the next one appears.  Then I remain present with that number as well.

What is so fascinating is that the numbers ‘seem’ to fly by.  When I don’t try to force or exert my will over these numbers, they ‘seem’ to move quickly from one to the next.  It is an extraordinary example of the relativity of time as our minds experience it.

I can even observe for brief moments how pleasantly surprised I am at this experience and then gently return to just watching the numbers. At times I will allow thoughts such as ‘peace’, ‘shalom’, ‘place’, ‘present’,’now’ to arise in my consciousness.  I might even encourage them for a few moments and then slip back to just witnessing the numbers.  Each time I focus on being with the number on the display, not the number that just passed, or the one that is anticipated.

If I should slip for a moment and anticipate the next number, then time seems to slow precipitously, the number on the display seems not to move for a ‘long time’.

Is this actually meditation?  I believe so.  The physical exercise component becomes a secondary component.  The main beneficiary, I believe, is the mind.  I have been doing this for a rather short time–yet I now look forward to the experience rather than find excuses to avoid it.  It is too soon to proclaim some kind of ‘breakthrough’, but I will honestly try to assess how this practice develops. Perhaps others will offer their own feedback as well.