Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Leonardo and Mirror Writing

Leonardo da Vinci's Notebook

This post details my experience with Mirror Writing, which I learned from Leonardo da Vinci. This aspect of the great Leonardo’s habits has been a mystery that have influenced my experiences, thoughts, and reflections (no pun intended – or is it a pun at all?).

Starting out
In 1974, I dropped out of school, or into life, whichever you prefer. I was reading all the books I couldn’t read in Chem 1A, Freshman Calculus, and Honors Literature at UC Berkeley. A friend loaned me a biography of Leonardo Da Vinci and I, of course, read it.

I was interested to read that da Vinci attributed his artistic preeminence to the fact that “He sketched with his left hand and painted with his right.” Of course, we all learned in school that Leonardo wrote from right to left with his left hand (didn’t we?).

I have never shown any innate artistic abilities. Literature was my thing: poetry, novels, narrative prose. I asked myself, “How could I apply Leonardo’s practice to myself?”

By now, most of us have heard that the brain is not symmetrical left-right. Different higher order functions are found on different sides. As he was in so many other ways, was da Vinci ahead of his time in realizing the brain’s asymmetry?

If sketching for da Vinci was form, and painting was color, then he was implying that form is found in the left hand-right brain and color is found in the right hand-left brain. Neuroscientists may argue this particular description of brain function, but you must give da Vinci credit: he is one of the greatest painters and scientists of all time.

I reasoned that form in writing was analogous to organizational structure, whereas color was analogous to poetic expression. I decided to try da Vinci’s approach: first I would write the structure, the organization of an essay, with my left hand from right to left, and then come back and write the final draft with my right hand from left to right.

I trained myself to write with the left hand from right to left, starting with the alphabet. I found that the physical act of mirror writing is easier than reading it. My hand trained fairly easily; my eyes adapted with greater difficulty.

Our Flip-Flop Nervous System
If one loses a hand in an accident, the other hand can substitute fairly quickly. This is because the actions ordered by the brain to one hand can pass through the corpus callosum — the interconnecting nerves between the brain halves — and go to the other side of the brain and then to the other hand. The bio-mechanical equivalent of writing left to right with the right hand is writing right to left with the left hand.

When we write with the right hand from left to right, we are extending our right arms. When we write with the left hand from left to right, as a typical left-handed person does, the left arm is flexing. The action in the left arm that mirrors the actions of the muscle group in the right arm is extending the left arm, writing from right to left, mirror writing, or writing “backwards."

Thus the transfer of neurological instructions from right arm to left arm through the corpus callosum is only identical in mirror-writing. For this reason, it is fairly easy to learn to write left-handed from right to left, if one is ordinarily right-handed. If one reads it in the mirror, it looks normal.

When I write with my left hand from right to left, my conceptual flow improves. My analytic brain is sharper when writing that way. While in college, after mastering the technique, I began to take notes in class this way and my grades went up from Bs to As.

It is also true that the eyes are left-right oriented, but in this case each eye’s field of vision is separated left-right. In other words, the left half of each eye’s vision goes to the right brain, and the right half of each eye’s vision goes to the left brain. Thus glancing to the left stimulates right brain function, while glancing to the right, the signals go more to the left brain.

The lens of the eye focuses an image on the back of the eyeball that is upside down and backwards. My hypothesis is that in order for the brain to take the visual signals from the photoreceptor and optic nerves of the eyes and convert it to a real image, it needs to invert and reverse the image it receives. This is achieved by the reversal of the nerve bundle as it enters the brain from the spine, i.e. it flips.

Otherwise, we would only see the world as an upside down and backwards imprint, since our nerve sensors can only show us a reversed imprint of the object, not the object itself.

For example, if we grasp a stone, we do not feel the stone in the brain. We feel the reverse imprint of the nerves of touch in the hand, just as the eyes get a reversed and inverted visual image. The only way we get a real image is by the reversal of the nerve bundle. Thus, the left brain controls the right side of the body and the right brain controls the left.

The idea here is that there is not a brain processing center that uses algorithms to interpret reality. Rather, the reversal and inversion are accomplished in the neurological pathway. Isn't Nature efficient in accomplishing such elegance in the physio-neural layout itself?!!

The only part of our sensory apparatus that does not reverse as the nerves pass through the vertebrae and up through the spinal cord is the sense of smell which enters the brain through the forehead. Smell has no spatial orientation. Hence, the old saying, “The nose knows.”

The muscular skeletal system is indeed bilaterally symmetrical, the same on both sides of the body. The cardio pulmonary system is also, with some allowance for the heart. But the gastro-intestinal system is definitely not bilaterally symmetrical. It should not surprise us that parts of the brain are not bilaterally symmetrical either.

Thoughts that originate in the left side of the brain control the right side of the body, and vice versa. Since writing, painting, and other higher order functions of the brain must interface with the muscular-skeletal systems in order to find expression in the world, they use the parts of the brain that are the same left and right.

So, if form is in the right brain, then the nerve signals find a more efficient path traveling directly to the left hand, rather than traveling through the corpus callosum and then to the right hand. Conversely, if color is in the left brain, then it is more efficient neurologically for color to be expressed by the right hand. Whether these distinctions between form and color are the same in all human brains, I can only confirm that my experience and da Vinci’s are similar.

Another expression of this idea is in Logic itself. In Logic theory, the inverse of something is not necessarily true, nor is the converse necessarily true, but the inverse of the converse, the contrapositive, is necessarily true. It is the same as the senses – the inverse of the converse is a real image.

For example, let’s assume the premise, “If it rains, I will stay indoors.” The inverse, “If I stay indoors, it will rain” is not necessarily true. Nor is the converse, “If it does not rain, I will not stay indoors,” but the contrapositive, “If I did not stay indoors, it did not rain” is necessarily true.

How can we explain the fact that mental Logic operates according to the same principles as our senses? This is a mystery yet to be plumbed. Yet it should not surprise us.

Another perhaps more surprising aspect of this discussion is in the parting of hair. Parting the hair emphasizes the part of the brain at work by favoring one field of view over the other. Does this mean that parting the hair indicates a philosophical/mental predisposition?

From my years of observing this question, I believe that it does. Some may argue that this silly little habit is meaningless.

I believe in the idea that everything means something. Nothing is without meaning. There must be a reason for the choice of hair parting.

It may reflect or promote the use of the left brain over the right, or vice versa. I will stick my neck out and argue that those who part their hair on the left tend to rely on theory, and those who part their hair on the right tend to rely on data. Of course, in a centered world the neutral center finds the balance of the two. As Dan O’Neill, the cartoonist known for his Odd Bodkins series, once observed, “A bird can’t fly without two wings, and it can’t fly at all without a heart.”

East and West
Another corollary is in the way language is written. Arabic, Hebrew, and phonetic Chinese are written from right to left. Does this affect culture, emphasizing the right brain instead of the left?

These are unconscious choices that were made at some point in history. Perhaps there is a dialectical relationship between the mental habits that are adopted, and the way in which language is written. Perhaps the Eastern proclivity for collectivism is right-brained while the Western tendency for individualism is left-brained.

To this day, I take notes in business meetings with my left hand, prewrite organizational structures with the left, and write poetry with the right. I have found this makes a significant difference. My experience as a film critic bears this out.

Some years ago, I wrote a weekly film review column for a small newspaper. After watching a film, I would outline my piece with a structure left-handed and fill that structure in with detail. Then I would rewrite the piece right-handed, adding “color” to what would be an otherwise dry bit of writing.

It became a popular, a well-liked column. One week I didn’t have time to prep the structure, so I wrote straight from the right hand and did my best. After I submitted it the editor said to me with disappointment in his voice, “This is not your usual stuff.”

My Column - mirror on right

Friday, December 27, 2013

Neuroscience and the Spiritual

As someone who considers herself to be spiritual, to say that I have no interest in neuroscience would not be accurate. I take a very keen interest in neuroscience and have long thought that much of what is taken for spiritual experiences, if not caused by, are definitely related to the brain and nervous system.

Having been born with uncorrected right eye amblyopia (lazy eye) and having struggled academically at school whilst being sensitive and intuitive, it was not until I began having spiritual experiences that I looked for a rational explanation, sure that there was one, since, otherwise, these types of experiences are commonly attributed to mystics or saints.

My investigations into amblyopia and its possible effects on the brain led me to form the hypothesis that the lack of stimulation to the left side of my brain through my lazy right eye caused the right side of my brain, which has historically been associated with spirituality, to work harder. This hypothesis has been borne out by Jill Bolte Taylor’s account of her left brain stroke and her observing hyperactivity in her right brain which resulted in what we would recognize as spiritual/mystical experiences.

I studied and practiced Buddhism for almost 10 years, not because of karma, but because of a natural attraction. I was drawn to it, the theory came easy; the practice, well, that’s another story, I struggled with that, but an intuitive understanding of the Buddhist sutras came easy. Then in 1998, and again in 1999, I experienced the rising of energy that we call Kundalini on this Consortium.

Thinking about my experiences, there were two possible origins: I could attribute them either to benevolent karma left over from a previous lifetime or to a neuroscientific explanation. I can remember the day I was walking through my local park asking myself the question "why me" and "why did these experiences happen to me" and getting a straight three word answer "right brain dominant" and then feeling a little deflated that it wasn’t caused by more loftier, more spiritual activity, but this is what came through and I wasn’t going to go against it.

walking through my local park

Thus began a period of writing to both psychologists and opthamologists to learn more. Most never replied to me; those who did dismissed my hypothesis. I was amazed by their reluctance to accept a rational scientific explanation. Things were said to me like, "If you don’t stop looking for a reason, you will lose the gift of the peace and calm that you have been given." In the end, I gave in and shelved my neuroscientific explanation. Even as I was doing so, I felt it was not the right thing to do. I am keenly aware of what goes on in the laboratory of own body: my thoughts, feelings and actions are very much guided by this awareness. However, on this occasion, I ignored an inner feeling of uneasiness and started reading all the books I could find on mysticism and spirituality.

In the days following this decision, I noticed that life was not flowing as well as it had been. I felt lost and ungrounded in a way I never had while attributing my spiritual experiences to being caused by my brain and nervous system. I got ego inflated. I started to believe I was in some way "chosen." And the longer it went on the more superior and ego inflated I became whilst giving the impression of being the opposite. Then I crashed. (I write more about this in my book so I don’t want to elaborate here.) Let’s say that my spiritual balloon was well and truly burst, and I came back down to earth with a bang.

central nervous system
I decided to return to my neuroscientific explanation and trust that if this was wrong, it wouldn’t be other people who would turn me away from this path again, but the Divine. Immediately, life began to flow and harmonize once again. I am much stronger than I had been previously, able to defend the possibility of a link between neuroscience and spirituality. For me, it’s now a very simple equation. I have a neuroscientific explanation for my experiences, and life works and flows.

As I said earlier in this post, I believe there is a correlation between spiritual experiences and "something" going on in the brain and nervous system. I am not saying that it is causative. To say that it is causative is to display a breath-taking arrogance. I am not a neuroscientist, so I cannot speak cause and effect. However, I do speak of correlation because I often ask myself, "If I had two proper functioning eyes, would I have had the kind of experiences I have had?" Not just the experiences, but their transformative physical, mental, spiritual effects, as well.

Spiritual experiences are common. That they happen is no longer in dispute as they are now reported so frequently. What is less understood is how effective they are in bringing about permanent transformation, i.e., a permanent abiding peace and harmony, not only for those who undergo these experiences, but in the lives of those around them.

A famous spiritual teacher once said that he evaluated the effects of his transmission on his devotees not only by the changes in their minds and bodies, but also by the changes in their lives and the lives of those around them. Something about this resonated. Authentic spiritual experiences are those that result in such an outflow of peace and compassion that those around them cannot but be touched. The true purpose of spiritual experience is transformative, both individual and global. And while many people are now reporting energy rising episodes, the world has not yet manifested evidence of transformation. Something is awry.

Why is it that with so many people reporting spiritual experiences the world is not transforming? Again, to give a definitive answer would be arrogant. Nevertheless, I suggest it's due in part to the temptation to inflate one's ego that accompanies many spiritual experiences — unless the subject is vigilant.

I say this based on my own experience. The spiritual ego distorts the nature and quality of such experiences. It does this by taking ownership and making it "my experience" and then following it with an "I am special" and a "I must teach/be a guru." I don’t believe this is the way of authentic spiritual experience. The Tao behind these experiences is to become even more ordinary (which the ego hates). False spirituality wants us to be SOMEBODY; the real is happy being NOBODY. The irony of the process is that you have to desire to become SOMEBODY before you realize that you are NOBODY and NOTHING. With that realization, you become — not by looking for it — a SOMEBODY who can transform, not only yourself, but more importantly the world.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Kundalini and Literary Criticism

Some folks may think we’re stretching it a bit to relate Kundalini and literary criticism. Please bear with us.

The following is a comment on a book review of Peggy Payne’s self-styled Kundalini novel, Cobalt Blue.

"Many thanks for this interesting review. Despite repeated searches, I’ve been unable to find recent fiction on the theme of kundalini – when I’ve looked for novels on ‘spiritual awakening’ they’ve seemed to be more general, and aimed at the spiritual seeker rather than the literary reader. Hats off to Peggy Payne for what appears to be a sexed-up, highly imaginative work of commercial fiction, [Cobalt Blue]. The only novel explicitly dealing with kundalini that I’d ever read, The Serpent Rising (1988) by Mary Garden – about a vulnerable young woman’s hellish exploitation by an unscrupulous guru in '70s India – has since been republished (2003) as the harrowing autobiographical account that it is.
"For some reason, anything kundalini-related seems to get grouped with new-age/spiritual or, conversely, mental illness titles, which as far as I can see, renders the phenomenon more or less invisible in any mainstream literary context. I suppose this is also somewhat true of the theme of out-of-body and/or near-death experiences (outside of the fantasy or horror genres); though with regard to films, Clint Eastwood’s excellent and perhaps covertly political Hereafter strikes me as an exception. One person indirectly involved in triggering my own journey of awakening, a teacher of yogic practices, used to read sci-fi & watch fantasy movies – to find, I assume, analogies for his own, atypical experience of reality. I wonder if you have any thoughts as to what might account for the seeming invisibility of kundalini-related fiction?"
My first reaction was to ask: Why read fictional accounts of Kundalini by persons who have never experienced it when there are so many excellent real life non-fiction accounts? But then I got to thinking about the nature of literature and literary criticism, and what it really consists of.

Where are Books Headed?
I projected myself back to high school and a term paper I wrote on Sinclair Lewis. My approach to this type of project left a lot to desire. If I read the book — many times I didn’t — I then went through a haphazard process of trying to figure out what the theme was and to build a credible case around what I decided it was, flavoring the whole with plot summaries and a few timely quotes from the text. We weren’t taught concepts like premise, character, and conflict. All we had was plot and theme. Not that our teachers weren’t intelligent; they were. They just didn’t know about those concepts, and either did I until I read Lajos Egri’s book, The Art of Dramatic Writing, well after graduation.

So how does Kundalini enter into literary criticism, or the understanding of human nature? Let’s take Sinclair Lewis’ novel, Dodsworth. It’s a story about a midwestern couple, set in the late 1920s. Rather than write my own summary, here’s Wikipedia’s excellent excerpted version:

"Samuel 'Sam' Dodsworth is an ambitious and innovative automobile designer, who builds his fortunes in Zenith, Winnemac. In addition to his success in the business world, he had also succeeded as a young man in winning the hand of Frances 'Fran' Voelker, a beautiful young socialite. While the book provides the courtship as a backstory, the real novel begins upon his retirement. At the age of fifty and facing retirement as a result of his selling of his successful automobile company (The Revelation Motor Company) to a far larger competitor, he sets out to do what he had always wanted to experience: a leisurely trip to Europe with his wife. His forty-one-year-old wife, however, motivated by her own vanity and fear of lost youth, is dissatisfied with married life and small town Zenith, wants to live in Europe permanently as an expatriate, not just visit for a few months to allow Dodsworth to visit some manufacturing plants looking for his next challenge. Passing up advancement in his recently sold company, Dodsworth leaves for Europe with Fran but her motivations to get to Europe become quickly known.

"On their extensive travels across Europe they are soon caught up in vastly different lifestyles. Fran falls in with a crowd of frivolous socialites, while Sam plays more of an independent tourist. 'With his red Baedeker guide book in hand, he visits such well-known tourist attractions as Westminster Abbey, Notre Dame Cathedral, Sans Souci Palace, and the Piazza San Marco. But the historic sites that he sees prove to be far less significant than the American expatriates that he meets on his extensive journeys across Great Britain and continental Europe. He eventually meets Edith Cortright, an expatriate American widow in Venice, who is everything his wife is not: self-assured, self-confident, and able to take care of herself. As they follow their own pursuits, their marriage is strained to the breaking point. Both Sam and Fran are forced to choose between marriage and the new lifestyles they have pursued. Fran is clearly Lewis' target here while Sam ambles along as a stranger in a strange land until the epiphany of getting on with his life hits him in the last act. Sam Dodsworth is a rare Lewis character: a man of true conviction and purpose. Purpose and conviction can be relied on significantly as the book (and film) concludes with the two main characters going in quite different directions.

"Set from late 1925 to late 1927, the novel includes detailed descriptions of Sam and Fran's tours across Europe. In the beginning they leave their mid-Western hometown of Zenith, board a steam liner in New York and cross the Atlantic Ocean. Their first stop is England. They visit the sights in London and are invited by Major Clyde Lockert to join a weekend trip to the countryside. Later on, when Lockert has made an indecent proposal to Fran, they depart for Paris, where she soon engages in a busy social life and he takes up sightseeing. When Sam decides to go back to America for his college reunion in New Haven, Fran spends the summer months on the lakes near Montreux and Stresa, where she has a romance with Arnold Israel. Once Sam has picked her up in Paris, they agree to continue their travels together, touring France, Italy, Spain, Austria, Hungary and Germany. Their marriage comes to an end, when she falls in love with Kurt von Obersdorf in Berlin. Whereas she stays on with her new love, he criss-crosses Europe in an attempt to cope with his new situation. When Sam happens to run into Edith in Venice, she persuades him to accompany her on a visit to a village in the vicinity of Naples. As Fran's fiancé calls off the wedding, Sam joins his former wife on her voyage back to New York. Only three days later he is back on the next ship to meet Edith in Paris."
My high school paper on Dodsworth was very primitive. I don’t recall much of it. I do recall reading it and other books and wondering where and how to begin my paper. Even with the books I liked, this was difficult. We were told plot and theme, but not to use too much plot because the book itself contained the plot and there was no use regurgitating it. So how was I supposed to analyze a book without summarizing plot points?

I didn’t understand that stories — whether in book, film, or theater form — were studies in human nature and you could get from character to conflict to premise by examining each character’s nature. And how each character's nature — his/her compulsions and desires — inevitably precipitated conflicts with other characters. And that the character's compulsions were emotions usually stirred by incoming chatter of the senses. Subliminally, perhaps I understood these dynamics, but I didn't have the fancy labels — conflict, character and premise — through which to examine them. 

What are the character issues in Dodsworth? Who are Sam, Fran, Edith? If you look for the character’s motives and desires, this leads you to the conflicts with others, within themselves, with the Gods, etc. Get the conflicts, and you come up with a premise: Vanity — especially in middle-aged individuals — leads to degradation.

No point in going through the conflicts and the cross purposes in this book. All books are pretty much the same: victims, persecutors, witnesses ever at each other, changing roles from time to time. No point in tallying the fatal character flaws that lead characters to their ultimate destruction — because they're basically the same: MacBeth, Othello, Raskolnikov, Sister Carrie, Anna Karenina, all prisoners of their senses and their compulsions.

We may learn about human nature by reading, attending plays, and viewing films, but the foibles usually amount to the same kind of triangular relationships detailed in Eric Berne's Games People Play. In fact, you can use his model to break down most personal relationships, if that's what you goal is. The problem is: Human nature isn't much improved since the first novel was written, since Shakespeare's King Lear, since FW Murnau's 1927 silent film masterpiece, Sunrise.

The question is not: when will we see an improvement in human nature? We won't; not anytime soon. The question is: If we were to somehow cast out all our devils, remake ourselves in God's image, what would that do to the literature, film, and theater industries? Which brings us back to the Kundalini novel, in which we are no longer trying to rectify human nature, but are attempting to enhance consciousness. Where is the conflict in spiritual novels? What might their premises be? Certainly not the same as various games characters have played in novels, plays, and films up to now. The Kundalini — or spiritual novel — would have to do away with the three-cornered persecutor, victim, witness relationships that mark most fiction. Or would they? If these types of novels don't yet exist, how can we determine what they will or will not consist of?

Nevertheless, it seems to me that great novels have already incorporated spiritual elements to a certain degree. The Russians are best at this: Crime and Punishment, Anna Karenina, The Brothers Karamazov. And Shakespeare, of course.

Is there a spiritual component to Dodsworth, an element of enhanced consciousness that takes the characters beyond their shortcomings to some sort of transcendence? Each of the principles goes through changes. Fran regresses from accepting housewife to vain social-ingratiator, acquiring very little self-awareness along the way. Edith is self-assured to begin with and doesn't want anyone in her life that would introduce problems. Sam is creative, yet his creative abilities have been affected by his attachment to Fran. Once he ends that relationship, he is free to explore new creative ideas. Let's hope that Sam and Edith won't get on each other's nerves at some point in the future and repeat the previous scenario. As for improved consciousness, perhaps not, even though they may attain a high level of material accomplishment.

Is there spiritual progress in Cobalt Blue? Although the main character is quite self-aware, the fact that the author misunderstands how Kundalini functions ultimately dilutes any significant spiritual growth. Had she applied Kundalini correctly, Andie Branson, the heroine might have been dealing with sexual sublimation rather than nymphomania. But that would have been a harder novel to write: sexed-up trumps doctrinaire adherence to fact every time. The theme? Writing about Kundalini without experiencing it produces mixed results.

Writing is an intellectual process, and therefore, perhaps, less susceptible to ecstasy. At least compared to music, which is an immediate, more "soulful" means of expression. Whether it be John Coltrane, Gustav Mahler, Mozart or Puccini, the transcendent themes of their music reverberate in your body; you feel them viscerally. The writing process makes it difficult to incorporate transcendental experience because it demands more intellectualizing — writing and rewriting. Is there a type of "soul" writing in our future? A style/process that communicates more directly — soul to soul — rather than filtering content through the mind?

Saturday, December 21, 2013

More NDE and Kundalini

There are thousands of accounts of Near Death Experiences (NDE) and Kundalini Experiences (KE) that reveal an energy continuum outside the present bounds of Western science. What’s so special about these accounts? Why should we take them seriously? They occur irrespective of cultural, linguistic, geographic or religious influences. In other words, yes, they are anecdotal in nature, but, at the same time, asynchronous, disconnected in time and space. In fact, so disconnected it would indicate that the subjects (the individuals undergoing the experience) were in no way influenced by others undergoing similar experiences. Similar enough for any serious investigator to keep an open mind about the subject and to focus on proving/disproving the existence of this hypothesis — that the energy continuum exists.


Instead, neuroscientists tell us that the NDE is an hallucination. In a recent Scientific American article the author argues that Dr. Eben Alexander’s book Proof of Heaven is not an account of consciousness existing separate from the mind, but only an hallucination.
“The reason people turn to supernatural explanations is that the mind abhors a vacuum of explanation. Because we do not yet have a fully natural explanation for mind and consciousness, people turn to supernatural explanations to fill the void. But what is more likely: That Alexander’s NDE was a real trip to heaven and all these other hallucinations are the product of neural activity only? Or that all such experiences are mediated by the brain but seem real to each experiencer? To me, this evidence is proof of hallucination, not heaven.”
Notice how he uses the pejorative term supernatural as opposed metaphysical, a more respectful, scientific term. But that’s what the conventional wisdom does: ridicule new hypotheses, instead of investigating them. In addition, the article was originally published under the title Proof of Hallucination, before it was subsequently changed to the current title, Why a Near-Death Experience Isn’t Proof of Heaven. More misplaced ridicule, and very unscientific, because the article no more proves that NDEs are hallucinations than it proves that consciousness cannot exist outside the mind.

The only convincing point Shermer makes in the article is that Alexander did not see heaven. That much we agree on. But from Alexander’s descriptions in his book, I do believe he “visited” the energy continuum, just like Jill Bolte Taylor did.

As for the argument that all NDEs are hallucinations, why do all NDE subjects have basically the same hallucination? Despite the differences of culture, etc? If they were hallucinations, it would seem to me that they would differ. One subject would see himself in a poker game, another charging up San Juan Hill, still another making love to the Empress of China, and so on. I know my dreams are different each time. Why are all NDE accounts virtually the same?

How is the NDE is related to Kundalini? That the two share a set of similar effects is certain. That up to now, there is no empirical proof that either phenomenon can be scientifically observed is also accurate.

That makes it easy to discard, (even ridicule), the numerous anecdotal accounts of these phenomena. Yet, this disdain is so Western-centric, so Scientific-American, totally ignoring centuries of research that has taken place in other laboratories. Namely, the laboratory of the practitioners' bodies, those who have practiced a variety of esoteric, consciousness-expanding disciplines through the ages.

To devalue these practices is to say there is no other way of unlocking the secrets of consciousness, except through experiments performed in the labs of Western scientists, especially the cabal of neuroscientists who proclaim that consciousness does not exist outside of the brain, that the brain is like a computer motherboard, which, once it shuts down, is no longer of any use. The human body is not a computer.

These individuals approach all consciousness research with a set of foregone conclusions; they know what they are looking for and proceed to find it in their data. Quelle surprise!

They’re as close-minded as the so-called experts who opposed Dr. Barry Marshall when he declared that ulcers were caused by bacteria. But that’s the way much of science works. By resisting new ideas until they become so clearly corroborated that resistance finally topples over of its own inert dead weight.

Yes, Dr. Alexander got carried away. Better to have titled his book One Small Step in Proving the Existence of an All-Encompassing Consciousness.

Nevertheless, Kundalini and the NDE are real, not just it’s-all-in-your-mind accusations leveled against New Age babblings. Consciousness exists outside and beyond the human brain. That we don’t have the tools or methods of demonstrating this to Western scientists at this time doesn’t mean we never will.

Right now, research could focus on how the practice of Kundalini activation techniques sheds light on the NDE, bolstering and supporting by separate experimentation thousands of NDE and KE accounts.

If we don't know what consciousness is how can we presume to say what it isn't? So let's keep our minds open until we can — one way or the other.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Kundalini strikes again....This Time an Eminent Neurosurgeon

A couple of weeks ago I submitted a draft paper for my MSc in Consciousness, Spirituality and Transpersonal Psychology to my personal tutor for his comments before submitting the final paper in early December. In his feedback, he wrote that it might be useful to look up the work of Eckhart Tolle, Katie Byron, and Dr. Eben Alexander. Eckhart's work I am familiar with, having read The Power of Now and A New Earth many times. Byron I am less familiar with, but know the system she has developed called, The Work, is based on questioning our thoughts and asking, "Is this thought true?" I haven't read any of her books or attended any of her trainings. However, I have heard both her and Eckhart speak when I was a volunteer at a mind, body, spirit center in London some years ago.

Dr. Eben Alexander's NDE
Proof of Heaven by Dr. Eben Alexander
Dr. Eben Alexander, however, I knew nothing about. I hadn't even heard his name until my tutor put it in his comments. All my tutor gave me was his name so my first stop was Wikipedia which I realize isn't the best academic source, but I wanted to get a general flavor of what he is claiming and what he is claiming shocked me. He is claiming nothing less than Proof of Heaven, which is the title of his book about his near death experience (NDE). Historically, I have been ambivalent about reports of NDEs. I feel intuitively that they stem from brain activity — particularly right brain temporal lobe activity triggered by spontaneous Kundalini. However, the fact that this account was written by a well-respected neurosurgeon (Dr. Alexander), who knew a great deal about neuroscience, got me to thinking. If my tutor recommended this research and expected to see some reference to it in my final paper, I had better knuckle down and find out more about it.

On my way to work I stopped off at a bookshop and asked if they had Proof of Heaven: A Neurosurgeon's Journey into the Afterlife in stock. I was in luck; the shop assistant picked the last copy from the shelf. Glancing briefly at the cover I saw that it had a butterfly on it which holds personal significance for me. So feeling intuitively that there was something in this book which was going to be important, I thanked the shop assistant and left.

When I returned home from work that evening I opened the book and began to read. Dr. Alexander claims that e-coli bacterial meningitis shut off the neocortex of his brain which resulted in his coma and subsequent NDE. I am no neuroscientist/neurosurgeon so I can't comment on this.  However, the description of the pain he endured and the associated physical symptoms screamed to me, "Kundalini."

On page 13 of the book, he writes, "I shifted slightly in bed and a wave of pain shot down my spine." In the next paragraph, "Instantly the pain ratcheted up another notch — a dull, punishing throb penetrating deeply at the base of my spine." On page 16, he says: "Pushing open our bedroom door, she (Eben's wife) saw me lying in bed just as before. But looking closer she saw that my body wasn't as relaxed as it had been, but rigid as a board. She turned on the light and saw that I was jerking violently. My lower jaw was jutting forward unnaturally, and my eyes were open and rolling back in my head."

On pages 17-18 he continues: "When the EMTs wheeled me into the Major Bay 1 of the ER, I was still convulsing violently while intermittently groaning and flailing my arms and legs. They went to work on me, I was squirming like a six-foot fish pulled out of the water. I spouted bursts of garbled, nonsensical sounds and animal-like cries."

Reports of NDEs often feature a bright, but enveloping, benevolent light I hold the Buddhist view that there is nothing in the inner world to be afraid of and while I haven't had the rich intense vivid visual experiences Dr. Alexander had, the convulsions are something I identify with. For many weeks and months after raising Kundalini, my body would convulse just before sleeping. It still happens occasionally, but I have learned to trust and surrender to the energy and when the episode ends I am left feeling calm and relaxed.

After reading his account, I googled Dr. Eben Alexander and kundalini to see if anyone had connected his experience to Kundalini, but the combination only resulted in a few articles. Had I expanded my search to include near death experience and kundalini I would have found many links. I am very aware that the connection between the two, although rather commonplace, has not been extensively explored. Nevertheless, those of us who are more experienced with this energy need to read Dr. Alexander's account, as well as the many other NDE accounts. If the consensus is that NDEs are driven by the spontaneous eruption of Kundalini energy, it solidifies the hypothesis for research around the connection between Kundalini and NDEs.

However, as interesting as his book is, I'm not sure his experience constitutes proof of heaven. He needs more time to assimilate his experience, more time to research it, more time to think about it in scientific terms before conferring religious status on the states he passed through.

It would be useful to hear the accounts of those who treated him in the ER and to know more about the drugs they administered. Will he dig deeper into the physical causes and the anatomical processes that induced the experience?

Has Dr. Alexander ever heard of Kundalini? And if so, will he pursue the connection to NDE, specifically to his experience? Does he understand that both Kundalini and NDEs take time to integrate? It took Gopi Krishna 20 years before he was able to write about his Kundalini experience. JJ Semple needed almost thirty years to be able to write about his experience. Will Eben Alexander continue to write about his? Or is his first book a "one and done?"

At the Kundalini conference which I organized and facilitated in April 2013, one of the speakers, a Kundalini Yoga Master, was asked the question, "Is Kundalini dangerous?" His reply was, "I think it is dangerous to ignore Kundalini."

Intuitively, I feel that Kundalini is the vehicle that is shifting certain people's consciousness. Why these people and not others I don't know? Nevertheless, we should be aware of the relationship between Kundalini and the NDE. That the two phenomena share enough commonalities for us to conclude that they are related.

Perhaps, Dr. Alexander's account is most notable because of his standing in the medical community as a respected neurosurgeon. Is he now considered a renegade because he ventured beyond the accepted confines of science? What do his colleagues think? He and his book have received a torrent of backlash from atheist neuroscientist, Sam Harris, who sees Dr. Alexander's book damaging the argument that consciousness is a by-product of the brain. Will Dr. Alexander recant?

As of this writing, it appears he no longer agrees with the neo-atheist position. It appears he now believes consciousness to be independent of the brain. What will he believe 20 years from now? What do you believe?

Monday, December 9, 2013

Mandela and Azania

South African leader, Nelson Mandela
Nelson Mandela
In 1976 I was a freshman at the University of California at Santa Barbara. I was walking past the student plaza when Peter, a young man standing behind one of the literature tables near the student union building, chatted me up. He told me about life in South Africa for its 87% majority Native African population, and the tiny European immigrant minority that ruled the country.

As he spoke I felt an empathic rush for the victims of this ethnocracy half a world away. With me that usually means watch out! I am about to get deeply involved in a social cause that will draw my focus, my time, and my involvement. This was no exception.

The fact that caught my attention most severely was that the leader of the Christian Nationalist Party, Pik Botha, had spent time in jail during WWII as a Nazi sympathizer. After the war the Christian Nationalist Party seized control of the South African government from the British party that had been in control for decades. The Christian Nationalists were really the Dutch Afrikaaners who descended from Dutch settlers of many years before.

I became aware of the extensive system of segregation, aka apartheid that pervaded South African society; of Stephen Biko, a student leader who had been killed in detention; of the political leader Nelson Mandela who had ben imprisoned on Robbin Island since the sixties. I read the UNESCO documents that anatomized apartheid: three kinds of schools — for whites, blacks, and mixed race or coloreds; no voting for Africans, the pass laws requiring documents to be carried at all times, and many, many more laws restricting life for the South African natives.

I joined the UC Santa Barbara branch of Campuses United Against Apartheid, a multi-campus organization. Our goal was to get the University of California to pull its investments out of companies doing business with or in South Africa. For the next five years I worked on this issue.

I started a radio show, Southern African Perspectives, at the campus radio station. KCSB had a 10,000 watt transmitter, no slouch, and then-candidate Reagan could get us on his ranch on the ridge behind the campus. Peter became my partner and we interviewed local and visiting professors, labor leaders from South Africa, journalists such as Dumisani Kumalo and others.

The next year I expanded the show to African Report, and we covered the whole continent of Africa. At that time there was a southward trend of colonial liberation in Africa as the British left Rhodesia and Southwest Africa, now Zimbabwe and Nambia, and the Portugese left what is today Mozambique. Finally, only South Africa represented the European colonial power in Africa, and it was a vicious and brutal regime that clung to minority rule.

The new UCSB Chancellor, Robert Huttenback, had written a book called Gandhi in South Africa. We interviewed him on our show and learned that Gandhi, as a young lawyer in South Africa, developed his nonviolent resistance that was so effective against British rule in India. The Indians who traveled within the British Empire before liberation were as powerless as the native Africans.

During my last year at the University, the PBS show World Press was cancelled. I produced my own version of it which came to be called Third World News Review. It featured Cedrick Robinson, head of the Black Studies Department at UCSB and our moderator; Gerard Pigeon, a professor from Senegal reading Le Monde; Simeon Kanani, a graduate student who followed the Kenyan newspaper, The Nation; Bagaar Habibi, an Iranian triple major who listened to Radio Tehran; and Shubash Rae, a doctoral student from India who tracked the Times of India. I read the Johannesburg Star and Peter read the London Times.

During these years we marched across campus and occupied the Chancellor's office. We led a march through the Bank of America in Isla Vista, the local student town, and demanded the disinvestment by the bank and the University, and led countless actions on campus against apartheid. The disinvestment strategy was supported by the Native South Africans.

By the end of 1980, I graduated and moved north, back to my roots in Sonoma County. I left the show in the capable hands of Corey Dubin, our engineer, and heard that Pacifica wanted to syndicate the show. Years later I saw that Cedrick Robinson had migrated the show to local television.

From all of this I learned a great deal. One labor leader, Zola Zembe, told us that when the revolution in South Africa came, it would"...make the French Revolution look like a tea party." Yet, that didn't happen.

The disinvestment program during the 80s eventually worked. The government of South Africa became a pariah and was forced to compromise. It was a great event.

There was no bloodbath. Instead, we saw a Truth and Reconciliation Commission that aired the pain and horror of years of murder and brutality by the state. The work of Mandela and Bishop Desmond Tutu triumphed and what could have been a tragedy of extreme proportions instead stands out as an extraordinary moment in human history. Mandela won the Nobel Peace Prize.

Mandela went on to become President. Representative Ron Dellums, the primary advocate for South African disinvestment in the US Congress, stayed in Congress until the end of the 90s, and I went on to environmental issues like electric transportation and solar energy. Now Mandela has passed away at 95. Such a noble man has not been seen in a long time in politics.

President Obama said yesterday that,"Mandela no longer belongs to us. Now he belongs to the ages." Like Gandhi, Cesar Chavez, Martin Luther King, and others he will be remembered as the heartbeat of human nobility. I will remember him as the man that changed human history and turned a potential bloody disaster into a great exercise in compassion and forgiveness.

The following is a poem I wrote during the movement in the late 70s. Azania is the native name for South Africa.

Azania, the native name for South Africa

Azania is seldom heard of
From Eastern Asia to Western Norse.
Ever since the sailor’s coming
Joy has floundered on the shores.
Disgrace has happened to us all
On the south coast of the Moors.
Brutality cannot be brooked ...
Niagara menaces the Boors.
While Northern students strike and protest
Atlas the sleeping giant snores.

The slaved in rusted manacles
One single snap — the beast thrown o’er.
No longer will the native peasant
Yearn for freedom, digging ore.
The wives of workers will look

From washing buckets, bodies sore.
The umfundisis, seeking heaven,
Will kneel and pray to thank the lord.
Little children, breaking fast,
Will raise their bowls and ask for more.
Even the tropical jungle steaming
Speaks, it says "Let the rain pour
And drown the master race. Our friends
Have songs to sing and hearts that soar ...
Not plans to cut the greenness down."
It shuddered at the steel tractor.

South Africa, you foul diseased nation of excrement and gore
Be gone and do not dare return!
The land is taken back from your
Greedy grasp and racial hatred,
Foolish brand of social more.
The countryside returns to life:
Fishing, farming, hunting boar.
No need for that prosperity of warehouses of endless store.
You've sucked the blood from the veins
And mined the marrow to the core.