How to Stay Calm in the Face of Death

Bhante G, a buddhist monk residing in Washington D.C found out that his mother was gravely ill and would die sometime in the next few days. He immediately hopped on a plane and started heading towards his native Sri Lanka. After making a pit stop in Hawaii, he switched planes to a jumbo jet. Two hours into his flight over the vast pacific ocean, he looked out the window and noticed one of the engines was on fire!

The pilots voice came on over the intercom and said that they would be turning around immediately and would hopefully be making it back to Hawaii, giving instructions on what to do in case of an emergency landing. As you can imagine, there was panic on board. People weeping, couple’s kissing, the fear of death plastered over the faces of all the passengers. Except Bhante G.  Bhante G  was having a grand ol’ time.

Bhante G had reasoned to himself that if he was going to die, being afraid wasn’t going to prevent him from dying, so he might as well keep his mind calm and clear. He thought to himself that he bad been doing a lot of good deeds recently and didn’t have any regrets, he thought of the moment as a good opportunity to meditate on the concept of impermanence and let go of his attachment to life.

I’ll let Bhante G explain the rest in his own words from his wonderful book “Eight Mindful Steps To Happiness”. The most clear and modern explanation of the Noble Eightfold Path out there.

“I felt no fear.I actually enjoyed watching the flames come out of the engine at 39,000 feet! The flames were blue, yellow, and red. You seldom see such blue flames. Sometimes they were streaming out; sometimes they were low. They looked like fireworks or the aurora borealis. While I was enjoying the drama, the hundred other people on the plane were suffering terribly. I looked at the other passenger’s from time to time and saw the agony they suffered from the very thought of death. They seemed to be dead almost before they died….

…We did make it back to Hawaii and the plane made an emergency landing. We went out the emergency doors as instructed, sliding down the chutes. Going down the chute was an entirely new experience for me. Perhaps everyone else on the plane had at least down a playground slide in their childhood, but I had never done such a thing in the poor village where I grew up. Thus right up to the end, I enjoyed it all very much.”

 

Let’s recap what was going on in this man’s life..

1. His mother was on her deathbed and he was flying halfway around the world to see her die.

2. As he is flying over the largest ocean on the planet the plane catches on fire and there is a decent chance that it is going to go down and everyone will perish. Can you even imagine the terror you would be experiencing on a plane that was about to crash over the Pacific ocean? What would you be thinking about? All the things you have yet to do in life, how you don’t want to die, how your poor mother is not only dying, but she might find our right before her death that her son died in a plane crash on the way to see her. How you would never see x,y,z person again. It would be absolutely terrifying.

3. Yet this man has such strong control over his own thoughts and emotions that he rationalizes that negative thoughts aren’t going to help him and decides to instead keep a calm mind and focus on the beauty of the flames!

Oh the power of meditation! Keep this in mind the next time you are stuck in traffic, bogged down in work or think you are in some other situation that is ‘just awful’ and ‘couldn’t possibly keep a positive attitude’.  Just remember this story, think about the time that plane crash landed in Hawaii and of all the terrified passengers going down the slide, getting off and running away as fast as possible in case the engine blew up just as they were instructed. Meanwhile, here is this old, bald Sri Lankan man wearing the red and orange robes of a monk and he is going down the slide like “WEEEEE”..

 

The Inner Path

There are a few different ways to go about finding happiness in life. The most common one looks something like this…

Get a job–> make money–>acquire things–>keep up with the Jones’s–>get a spouse–>fall in love–>try and maintain connection despite obvious pitfalls of monogamy–>raise children–>hope children are successful

Along the way you may or may not find happiness. Those little moments when your kid takes his first step or you finally have time off your hectic work schedule to take a vacation.  Those moments are great, that is what most people live for. But in between there is generally a lot of stress, too much work, fights with your spouse, your kids get ill. Things just don’t go according to plan. I don’t have to tell you all about this, this is normal life for the vast majority of people on planet earth.

I call this the Outward Path, because it’s the path of trying to make things in your environment just right so that you can live a good life.

There is however a different way to approach life.

The Inner Path.

The inner path is in many ways the opposite of the outward path. The outward path finds happiness by trying to accomplish some goal, or do some activity that causes a positive emotional change within your body.  However, if things don’t work out the way you want them to, sadness and stress appear.  The inner path involves working with your own mind directly so that you can experience well-being regardless of the circumstances of your outward life.

The most popular and perhaps most effective style of the inner path is that laid out by Siddhartha Guatama (more commonly known as the Buddha) in India 2500 years ago. In the hundreds of years since the Buddha existed lots of myths and legends grew up around his life and his teachings and we don’t know exactly what is true. I personally don’t believe that he was in any way other than a normal human being who happened to gain through years of dedicated practice an immense understanding about the workings of his own mind.

In other words, he may have been the world’s greatest psychologist.

What we do know is that you can strip away all the miracles, karma, past lives, in a sense..all the religion that surrounds buddhism and break it down into a very secular philosophy and psychology on how to become happy.

Here is the path to enlightenment.

1.Morality

In buddhism morality is really about living a life that is going to allow you to have as little stress as possible so that you can get the most benefit out of meditation. Getting in fights with others, hurting people, stealing, killing, too much gossiping, or having a job that takes advantage of others all lead to a stressful mind from which it would be hard to meditate. Having greedy worldly ambitions for power, money and excess is also not going to lead you to a place of peace. But neither will a life of asceticism and poverty as the Buddha learned the hard way. That is why the Buddhist path is called “The Middle Way.” Sort out the conditions of your life in such a way that you are not going to be worried about the basics of food, shelter,health and good relations with others than get to practicing.

2.Concentration

Now down to the very enjoyable business of meditating.  Here is where the rubber meets the road.  The end goal of meditation is to see reality clearly, without any illusions, but to do this one needs have very strong powers of concentration to focus on whatever aspect of reality you are going to be looking at later on. Therefore it is mandatory to begin your meditation practice by training in concentration. Which I’ve already outlined how to do here..

Eventually when your concentration powers get super strong two things will happen. First you will be able to access incredibly joyous and sublime states of altered consciousness called jhanas. These states of deep absorption are better than sex.  And if you are really good at meditating than you can access these states of bliss whenever you want.

Second you now have requisite concentration powers for the third training.

3. Wisdom

Also known as insight meditation these forms of meditation allow you to focus on the reality that is going on within your own body and mind. You will look at the sensations that make up your feelings, thoughts, and even the nature of your sense of self and see more clearly what they really are and how they work.

There are three realizations that you will come to learn about the nature of reality.

A)Impermanence- Everything in life, and especially when we are talking about the sensations that make up your world of experience is transient. Sensations come and go, thoughts come and go, mental images come and go.  This is important to know because it chips away at the notion of a stable self or mind, that we all believe we have.

B) Suffering- When you really examine your mind, you will notice that desire leads to suffering. I’m not talking about gross levels of suffering such as depression and anxiety attacks, or intense desires such as to become a billionaire or take over the world, but the smallest little minute aspects of our moment-to-moment experience. The desire to overcome boredom, restlessness (think waiting for a commercial to end), the desire to get a word in during a conversation or desire to have this person think you have this quality or that quality. The desire for traffic to move faster. The desire to be pain free or the desire to win this or that or finish whatever it is you are doing so you can do something more enjoyable. When you get really good at meditating you notice there are even more subtle levels of desire than this. What you find is that the current way you view the world as a self and everything outside of you as other leads to inherent unsatisfactoriness the keeps you from being perfectly calm and restful.

You may think, oh but I’m actually happy, I don’t suffer! Well that’s great, but remember I’m talking about very subtle levels of dissatisfaction that you may not be aware of if you aren’t really paying attention to what is going on in your mind. In other words, you think you are happy but you really don’t know just how calm you could be..

C) No-Self.  Probably the most confusing aspect of buddhism, and one that I still haven’t completely wrapped my head around. But the illusion here is that there is a permanent, stable, “I” that exists instead of a series of transient phenomenon that gets weaved into a story of “Me,Mine,I.” To elaborate on this more would be take this post way too long and since my understanding of it is purely theoretical and not experienced (I am not enlightened..yet!) I will hold off for now..

What I can tell you is that this belief in a self..call it ..EGO..is the basis for all the desires we have that lead to the subtle levels of unsatisfactoriness that inhabit our moment-to-moment experience of existence.  “I” want this person to think I’m funny, “I” want xyz, I want to be successful, I don’t want this person to know this about me” etc. Once the ego is seen for what is it, an illusion, then it begins to drop away and so do the desires that cause dissatisfaction.

What’s left? What happens when you have have done all of this?

After all this meditating your conscious experience is completely transformed and the way you perceive reality has changed so that your natural state is that of inner peace. A peace that is just way beyond anything you could experience in common every day consciousness. This peace is also relatively independent of external conditions. It is just there, now. You sit at ease with the world, without the need to effect or manipulate it in any way so that you could be less stressed in that moment.  My friend Noah Elkrief, who has attained enlightenment said that even when his Dad was in a life or death surgery at the hospital he sat in the waiting room completely free of worry and at peace. If you want you can access those blissful states called jhana I mentioned earlier, states that are better than sex or any pleasure you come across along the Outer Path. You can do these whenever you want and they have no side effects to your health.

Author of “Mastering the Core Teachings of the Buddha”, (the legendary underground book that is hands down the best explanation of enlightenment by someone who reached it as normal every day person and not a monk)  Daniel Ingram wrote in response to the question “What is the point of all this?”

Very briefly:

The naturally clear mind is much better than the unclear mind, the semi-clear mind and the intermittently clear mind.
The awake mind is much better than the less awake mind.
The timeless mind is much better than the mind caught in the illusion of time.
The mind without any artificial boundary is much better than the artificially bound mind.
The mind that knows there is no mind is much better than the mind that believes there is one.
The directly perceiving mind is much better than the mind that filters things through and the sense that there is attention.
The mind that knows there is no perceiver is much better than the mind that believes it is perceiving.
The mind that is stainless is much better than the mind that is stained.
The mind that is the same as bare phenomena much better than the mind that is the same as bare phenomena but doesn’t know it.
The mind that is without extraneous noise is better than the noisy mind.
The mind for which all the world arises effortlessly, naturally, lawfully, causally, this is much better than the mind that pretends it is creating effort, creating thought, creating anything.
That fluxing, shimmering field of bare experience that occurs on its own, knows itself directly where it is, as it is, is totally ephemeral, totally fresh, totally natural: this is so much better than the world perceived some other way.
In that mode: there is nothing to want anything.
In that mode: there is nothing to know anything.
In that mode: there is nothing to do anything.
And yet, wanting occurs, as there is an animal that has needs from an ordinary point of view, which is still a valid point of view, but this wanting is just a natural part of the field.
There are preferences, but they are just causality functioning, shimmering, fluxing, doing what it does and always has done.
There is knowledge, but nothing that knows it beyond the shimmering, dancing, flickering little tingling bursts that make up knowledge.

This is vastly, immeasurably better than the other ways of perceiving reality. To prefer something less is madness. 😉

 

 

 

 

Meditation For Beginner’s

 

When I tell people about meditation and the numerous benefits it has brought me, I am often met with a skeptical eye. Aren’t you this big science junky? How could you believe in something like meditation, isn’t that kind of spiritual or new-age?  Or a I’m glad it works for you , but it’s just a placebo effect.

Meditation is legit.  The science behind it is at this point incontrovertible. People have been hooking up monks and novice meditators alike to brain scanning machines for a few decades now and the science is unequivocal. Meditation, done correctly, is very good for you.

 But what is meditation?

Meditation is actually a fairly loaded word, with different meanings in different contexts. What I am talking about here in this post is meditation as it is taught in the traditional Buddhist system.

Meditation is exercise for you brain. In the same way that you can workout your thighs by doing squats you can re-arrange the neurons in your brain to view the world differently.

There are three basic types of meditation. Concentration, metta, and insight. All three types of meditation have different goals, but at the same time the practice of one reinforces the others.  It is recommended that you do all three, however you begin with concentration.

In concentration meditation, also called one-pointedness or shamatha, the goal is fix your attention on a particular object and keep it there. The most common object to do this with is your own breath. Your breath is always there with you, wherever you go. So it’s the perfect object to use, although others will use things like a candle flame, or a spot on the wall, but really it doesn’t matter too much what object you use.  Inevitably, as you keep your focus on  your breath other thoughts will come up. Thoughts about your day, thoughts about other people, conversations you had or will have. Your mind is very busy. But when those thoughts come up the instructions for concentration meditation are to just let those thoughts go and return to the inhalations and exhalations of your breath.

What’s in it for you?

Have you ever lay awake at night with thousands of thoughts zipping through your head like a tornado? Well you may not realize it, but to a certain extent that is what is going through your mind most of the time.  Concentration meditation helps to curb this endless proliferation of thoughts. For the lay practitioner who meditates 20-30 minutes a day a noticeably calming effect will take place during and immediately after your meditation session that will last a few hours. After a few weeks or even months you will begin to notice this sense of calm creep into your being throughout the day. You will be more present and aware of the things you do in your daily life.

When you are doing concentration meditation you can mark your progress in terms of how often and with what intensity your attention remains on your object of meditation. In classic Buddhist literature there are 10 progressive stages of concentration meditation. In the first couple of stages it is unlikely that your full attention will be on your breath. In all likelihood other thoughts, sensations and feelings will be present in the background. You will also drift off into other thoughts frequently.  The more you practice, the better you will get. Eventually, during your sit your breath will become the main focus of your attention,  as other thoughts begin to fade away. After a few thousand hours of practice you may reach stage 10, which is called shamatha.  At this stage you will have effortless, focused attention on any object you desire for the duration of your sit.

Meditation teacher Upasaka Culadasa describes the 10th stage as follows:

 

This final stage is, of course, the last great milestone achievement of this process. It possesses the same characteristics of mental and physical pliancy as the preceding stages, combined with an almost imperturbable peacefulness and calm, joy and happiness, and profound equanimity.

At first these qualities begin to fade each time not long after arising from the sitting practice. But as practice continues, they persist for longer and longer periods after each meditation session ends, until before too long they become the normal condition for the meditator. The experience of strong desire is noticeably attenuated. Negative mental reactions to events rarely occur, and anger and ill-will virtually disappear. Others will observe this meditator to be generally happy and easily pleased, easygoing and very agreeable, non-competitive and uninterested in conflict, and perhaps even somewhat passive. He or she will be relatively immune to disturbing events, and will not even be particularly bothered by physical pain.

Posture

You don’t have to assume the full lotus position order to meditate. In fact, there are  only two rules that you should keep in mind when finding a posture to meditation 1) Keep your spine straight. There is a physiological reason for this. With a straight spine your are more attentive. With slumped shoulders your bodies falls into a slight stupor.  2) Assume a position that will be comfortable for you to remain still in for the duration of your meditation session. You don’t want body parts to start hurting or start going numb, or be shuffling around all the time. You want to keep your full attention on the breath. If you want to sit in a chair, you can sit in a chair. That is perfectly fine. Personally I like to lie on the floor and put my feet up on a chair. Or you can lie on the floor in a dead man’s pose. It’s up to you.

What to do with your mind.

As your breath goes in and out just keep your attention on your breath, watch the movement of the belly go in and go out. Note when it reaches it’s apex of the inhalation, the short time when your breath is full and that brief pause after exhalation when you no longer have any air in your body.

Don’t pull your breath. This is trickier than it seems. Don’t force yourself to breath slow, or more deeply so that the physical sensations become more palpable. Just let your breath be. Just watch it.

Inevitably, your mind will wander from your breath. And if you are just a beginner, this will happen very quickly. You will start thinking thoughts about your day, things you still have planned to do, a conversation you just had with someone or thoughts about your meditation. “Am I doing it right?” “I think I’m doing ok” “Just focus on the breath”. Whenever you catch yourself caught up in thoughts, just gently return to the breath. Don’t be frustrated that you were thinking. That will make it worse, just relax and go back to the inhalations and exhalations of your breath.

 

Does Serious Meditation Practice Make You Happier? Answers From High Level Meditators

Over at the Dharma Overground, a forum of high level meditators..(none of whom are monks, all of whom are lay men, normal people like you and me except that they have spent hours upon hours of their free time to a dedicated meditation practice) a thread was started on happiness.

The question was, “Has serious meditation practice made you happier?”

 

Here are the responses..

Nick:

I would not trade one day of this for a 100 years of being pre-all these brain changes. The life of tense restless unsatisfactory self-contraction has been gladly left behind. I would recommend actual non-stop practice of certain approaches and techniques … I highly recommend the route I took. It is worth practicing like your hair is on fire.

Mario:

      Well, so incredibly much better, I would say.
However, much of the answer really depends on what you mean by “happiness”; if you mean just the feeling of joy in everyday life, I can easily tell that it’s much more common, but that’s really not the more important aspect of the thing, just the top of the iceberg, I would say.
I think that, in the end, in terms of what feelings are arising -so, here I’m not talking from a pure insight point of view-, what’s not there anymore (i.e. an incredible amount of stress and worries created by little triggers that are amplificated by the tendency to react) is much more relevant for the general sense of wellbeing than the amount of joy that you may or may not experience.

 

Change A:

The difference between now and the time when I first started meditating is the same as between almost pitch black and a bright sunny day.

 

Wylo:

 

Incredibly happier, and this is coming from someone that if asked in the past “Are you happy?” I probably would have said, “I suppose yea”.

The reason it makes people so happy is because we realize unhappiness is something we make up ourselves.

 

Jason B:

I was thinking about this the other day, and surprised myself to realize that I am happier than I’ve ever been in my life. It’s just an understated kind of happiness. As for milestones, most changes are kind of gradual. I remember working up to 1st path, just a couple months in, I started to notice that behavioral change was becoming a lot easier. I could drop some habits, like anger and frustration, just by being more mindful of them. After 1st path a lot changed, but maybe the most concrete thing that other people would actually notice about me is that I completely stopped worrying about money, which I used to do every minute of every day. And I noticed that the past doesn’t bother me nearly as much. I just can’t get worked up, or even interested, in bad things that happened. Maybe for a minute here and there, but not like before.

I don’t think it’s a naive question. I used to have the impression that people were downplaying the benefits. Some seemed disappointed in enlightenment. I wondered if it was worth the trouble. Now, only half-way there, I don’t have any of those doubts. It’s awesome. Like the man says, can’t explain it; highly recommended.

(Edit: I forgot to mention, depression and anxiety have pretty much dried up too. Details, details. 😉

 

Tommy M

I can attest that the practices engaged in on this site are all helpful in making an unconditional happiness more apparent in everyday experience. Due to serious meditation, specifically bare attentiveness a.k.a. insight practice, the way in which I experience the world nowadays is way beyond what I could have even imagined. It also continues to become more and more refined, don’t let anyone tell you that this is a one-off thing, you don’t just realize this stuff and then you’re unconditionally happy forever, it’s a process which isn’t always easy and can make it seem like you’re heading in the opposite direction.

 

 

Daniel Ingram  (who is an arahat- someone who has reached the highest stages of enlightenment)

Vastly happier…

I can sit at peace, at rest, clear and silent: hard to explain how good that is, simply that, not fancy at all, yet oh so worth it. There is a direct sensate clarity that is vastly better than reality filtered through some other way of processing things. There is a lack of time pressure that is such a load off. Because the thing does itself, that takes all the work out of it. So many questions answered: priceless. So many extremely interesting experiences, fresh and natural, rich and whole: worth everything it took and so much more. The integration of the field without boundaries or special aspects: truly remarkable.

Cliff Jumping: The Effects of Danger and Safety Reliance on Depth of Friendship

This is an imaginary experiment I came up with for a graduate school class. It  deals with the lack of danger, and hence lack of opportunities in modern society to form deep bonds..

 

Cliff Jumping: The Effects of Danger and Safety Reliance on Depth of Friendship

 

Me, jumping off a cliff

 ABSTRACT

This study examined the effects of danger and cooperative safety dependency on the quality of friendship amongst ten groups of three men.  The trio’s engaged in the highly dangerous activity of cliff jumping where they put their lives in danger and depended on each other in case of emergency.  The author hypothesized that the danger and safety reliance of the activity would strengthen their bonds of friendship.  The results of survey data confirmed the hypothesis.

 

The thunderous plodding of a woolly mammoth burrowing through the bush was contrasted by the quiet whispers of the fur clad cro-magnon.  “Olog voha mug.” With that Swift With Foot leapt out of his crouching spot and rushed toward the elephant, spear in hand.  The flint pierced the beast’s jogular. Letting out a gigantic grunt the animal bucked and knocked Swift With Foot to the ground.  It moved in for the kill, preparing to stomp the young hunter into the dirt. Flying Bear and West Wind moved quickly. They thrusted their spears into the elephants hide.  The mighty mammoth fell.

The three early humans let the scene engulf them in silence for a few moments before letting out rapturous screams and embracing each other feverously.  They were more than just friends, they were cousins who lived together in the same band of hunter gatherers.   Every day they risked their lives for each other and their success depended on their loving bond fostered through dangerous experiences.

People living under the relatively safe conditions of a modern urban society may suffer from a lack of deep friendships (Cosmides, 1996).  Because our environment rarely forces us to expose ourselves to dangerous situations with our friends, we may not feel the deep bond that can result from experience a high adrenaline situation with your friends. It also deprives us of situations in which we may need our friends to be there to ensure our survival.  Having a friend willing to step in and risk their own personal welfare to help you when the stuff hits the fan can create a deep bond amongst men (Buss, 2000).

The present studies aim is to examine the effects of two independent variables on the quality of male friendship.  For  the purposes of this study the author contrived two operational definitions. One called ‘danger’,  which is an activity with an inherent risk of injury. The other variable is called ‘safety reliance’, which is defined as having one’s safety dependent on others during a dangerous  activity.  This paper hypothesis  is that both variables, danger and safety reliance will have a positive effect on the dependent variable which is quality of friendship.

Method

Participants

Participants included 60 undergraduate male students from a large east coast university . They all volunteered to do the experiment through the acquisition of class credit. The students consisted of 20 separate groups of three friends.

Materials

A protruding rock face where cliff jumping into a deep river was popular was found.  A questionnaire was used to assess whether or not the experience had strengthened the bond between friends.

Procedure

A control group for the Danger variable of 10 trio’s of friends were taken to a local swimming pool and instructed to jump off a diving board on innocuous height. Ten trio’s of friends were taken to a local rock face 50 feet above a deep water river.  The boys were then given the instructions to jump off the cliff in order test the independent variable Danger.  Half of them were also instructed that if one of them should become injured during the fall, it was up to the other boys in the trio to save the wounded man and ensure his safety.  This was the IV group for Safety Reliance.  The 5 sets of boy in the control group for Safety Reliance were told that if something went wrong they would be saved by an EMT on hand.    Afterwards all participants were told to fill out a survey asking whether they felt their friendship had strengthened after the experience.   A follow up was done one month later to see if there were any lasting effects. The boys filled out the same survey. The survey included questions on a seven point scale ranging from  1 ‘highly disagree’ to 7 ‘strongly agree’ with statements such as ‘this experience has  made me feel closer to my friends’ and ‘I feel a stronger bond between my friends now after the experience.’

Results

Both hypothesis were confirmed by the results.  The ten trio’s of males in the Danger condition all reported to be closer friends after the cliff jumping experience and all five trio’s of friends in the Cooperative Safety  responded that the danger of the experience and the safety reliance cooperated towards this bond, both immediately after the jump and during the follow up one month later.

                                                        Discussion

It is a problem of modern society that you can never know who your true friends are. The whimsical nature of the modern friendship leaves people with a sense of insecurity. The purpose of this study was to see if events more closely simulating the danger and safety reliance of our ancestral times would deepen the bond of friendship amongst males.  The results of the studied showed overwhelming evidence that engaging in a dangerous experience with a group of friends that involves reliance on another for personal safety deepens a bond of friendship.

There were of course some limitations to the performance of this study. At first the IRB did not approve as the danger to the participants was perceived to be too risky. However, a small bribe in the form of a ‘donation’ was made to the right people that ensured the committee’s approval.  Also amongst the first groups of boys to jump from the cliff included a rather rotund boy weighing in excess of three hundred pounds.  It was feared that upon impact the gluttonous fellow might empty the river of its precious liquid. Luckily these concerns were unfounded and the boy merely had to be saved from drowning once it was discovered he was unable to swim.

REFERENCES

Buss, D. (2000). The Evolution of Happiness. American Psychologist , 15-23.

Cosmides, T. &. (1996). Friendship and the banker’s paradox: other pathways to the evolution of adaptations for altruism. Proceedings of the British Academy , 119-143.

 

 

If You Could Have Any Wish in the World Granted, What Would it Be?

*The following story is my adaptation of a buddhist tale of the thai forest tradition

Five kids were playing in the woods. Picking up sticks, throwing rocks, looking at flowers and pretending they were Indians. All of a sudden a little man in a green coat bounded out from behind some bushes. Startled at the site of the children, he pranced off in the opposite direction. But those kids were fast! They chased after him and soon had him surrounded.

“Aye! You’ve caught me”, yelled the tiny man with the Irish accent.

“Are you a leprechaun?” asked one of the children.

“Why that I am my child. Will you please let me go now? I must be on my way.”

“You are a leprechaun and we’ve caught you! That means you must grant us a wish before we let you go!” piped a second child.

“Ah. This is true. I may grant you one wish. But only one of you.”

“But all of us caught you! We should each get a wish!” said a child.

“I can only grant one wish. The way this will work is that each of you children will tell me a wish. Whoever has the most clever wish will be the winner and I will make that wish come true! Now who is first to tell me their wish!”

The first child said, “If I had a wish I would wish for a brand new slingshot!” Since he was terrible at throwing rocks and hadn’t hit anything all day long.

The second child said,”If I had a wish, I would wish to own a Toys R Us. Then I can have a sling shot and an XBOX and all the other toys I want!” The first child became sad, realizing how silly he was to wish for only a single toy while the other child’s wish was so much better.

The third child said, “My wish is for a billion dollars. With a billion bucks, I can buy my own Toys R Us, a candy store and whatever else I want! Maybe even my own house too, that way I’ll be able to play video games and eat chocolate all day and my Mom won’t be able to stop me!” Now the second child felt dumb, clearly this third child had the superior wish and was much smarter than he. How silly it was of him to wish for a Toys R Us when he could have wished for a billion dollars.

The fourth child was a girl, and a very sharp one at that. “If I had a wish,” she said, “Then I would wish for three more wishes! With my first wish I’d get my Toys R Us, with my second wish I’d ask for a billion dollars, and for my third wish I’d ask for three more wishes! That way I can go on wishing forever!” Now even the child who had wished for a billion dollars felt sad. The girl was clearly a genius.

The four children then looked over to the last remaining child standing there quietly. Surely there was no chance of him to win, for what could possibly top an infinity of wishes?

But the fifth child proved to be the most clever of them all. He said, “If I had a wish, I would wish that I was so content that I would never need any more wishes!”

With that the leprechaun smiled, and granted the last boy his wish, and he became enlightened.

Stress Check App For Your Phone

I just downloaded a pretty cool app called Stress Check by Azumio. This app measures your levels of stress by taking what is called a Heart Rate Variability measurement. By putting your finger near the lens of your phone, the app is able to measure your heart beat. Physiological stress levels are then calculated by taking your heart rate and analyzing the variability between your heart beats. Apparently while under greater stress your heart beats will show less variance.

The test lasts about two minutes and you are instructed to remain still during the reading. Unfortunately for me a bug landed on my face about 30 seconds in. I tried to remain still and hoped it was just a fly. Of course I was wrong and it was a mosquito and as soon as I felt the itch I coolly crushed it with my right hand while keep my left hand still holding the phone.

My reading showed I had a stress level of 14%. Which according to Azumio is very low and reflects a restorative state of relaxation and calm.

Pretty cool App as far as I’m concerned. I just wish I didn’t have this huge red mosquito bite on my face.

Edit: just took it again. No mosquito interference. 0%..

Took it a third time while stuck in traffic on the way home. 0%.

Guess I’m pretty calm these days.

 

Download the App and tell me your readings!

 

People With Down Syndrome Are Happier Than Normal People

My Down Syndrome cousin Cody

If you wanted to be born into an ideal situation to live a happy life, would you rather be born

A) Good looking, intelligent and to a wealthy family

or

B) With mental retardation, stunted growth and a slew of abnormal facial characteristics advertising that you have down syndrome?

I’m sure it took you all of half a second to choose option A.

My Down Syndrome Cousin Cody, relaxed and content on Lake Placid

But you would be wrong..

A slew of recent studies has shown that people with Down Syndrome report happier lives than us ‘normal’ folk. Even happier than rich, good looking and intelligent people.

Talk about counter-intuitive, huh?

Findings from a study published in the American Journal of Medical Genetics surveyed 284 people with Down syndrome ..the results were as follows..

The average age was 23, and 84 percent were living with one or both parents/guardians. The findings:

  • 99 percent said they were happy with their lives
  • 97 percent liked who they are
  • 96 percent liked how they look
  • 86 percent indicated they could make friends easily
  • 4 percent expressed sadness about their life.

 

I spent 2 years studying the relationship between money and happiness in a grad school laboratory and I can guarantee you that wealthy, intelligent, good looking people don’t report anything close to those numbers. Those numbers are absolutely remarkable.

And it’s not just that a larger percentage of people with Down’s are happier than average, but people with DS experience a sense of joy and contentment with life above that of even normal happy people as this study showed.

 

The Big Question..Why are people with Down Syndrome so happy?

If I had to guess I would offer the following two hypothesis..

1) People with down syndrome are loved and cared for. Studies show that 79% of parents with those with down syndrome said their outlook on life had improved since having their child and that 94% of siblings of those with down children were proud of their DS brother or sister.

2) People with down syndrome don’t overthink. With the absence of stress caused by excessive rumination, people with down syndrome live more in the present moment and are able to enjoy life.  They aren’t bugged by the constant worries that plague the mind of the average person.

Not that DS people don’t have their troubles, they obviously do. But the degree to which their moment-to-moment consciousness is filled up with worries about traffic, bills, being late to work, getting everything done in time, imaginary conversations with people, etc etc, is likely less than of a normal person.

This would lead further evidence to my hypothesis that happiness is the default state of the human mind, it is only with the unnatural stress of modern life that our minds become overactive and we become unhappy.  People with Down Syndrome, by way of their cognitive disability, have protection from these burdens..

I have a cousin with down syndrome, and I can tell you he has few scruples about what people think of him, a sort of freedom that I envy.

Of course, things aren’t always perfect for those with down syndrome, life still has it’s challenges, like when your kayak overflows with water and begins to sink….

 

And then struggle to get back on..

 

 

A Day in the Life of the Hunter-Gatherer Typee Islanders

Today Herman Melville is best known as the author of the literary classic “Moby Dick.” During his life, however, he was known as the man who lived amongst the cannibals. Melville was filled with wanderlust and an independent streak from a young age. Wanting to be free of family support and make a life for himself that included adventure and traveling a 20 year old Melville signed up to be a crew member on the Acushnet, a whaling ship that would go on an 18th month journey through the Pacific Ocean before Melville, sick of the long trip and the unfair treatment he thought the workers received, decided to escape the ship while it was docked in the Marquesas Islands of the South Pacific.

Island of Nuku Hiva, where Melville escaped and lived amongst the cannibals.

 

He and a fellow ship mate made their daring escape from the boat and headed for the hills of the tropical Island.  They underestimated their ability to survive on their own in the wild though and after a few days found themselves hungry and without reliable shelter to protect them from the heavy rainfall.  What they needed to do was to seek refuge amongst the Island’s natives. This was potentially problematic however, of the two main tribes that inhabited that Island there was the Happar, known for being friendly and cordial and then there was the Typee, by reputation a group of cannibals who would surely feast on the Americans white flesh if they so happened to run into them.  There was no way of knowing which of the tribes they would encounter first, it was a life or death coin flip as far as they were concerned, but starving and cold they had no choice but to follow a beaten path through the forest that would inevitably take them to the village of either the Happar or Typee.

The path led to the Typee village. 

Miraculously, he was received by the locals with open arms. The duo were given food to eat, a thatched roof to sleep under and even a personal assistant. A man named Kory Kory helped Herman adjust to the leisurely life of those in the valley. One of Kory Kory’s duties was to carry Melville, who had injured his leg during his escape through the jungle on his back wherever he went. In fact, Melville was treated so well that he worried that the Typee might be fattening him up for better eating!

In reality Melville would spend three weeks living amongst the Typee before leaving the valley to return on the sea life upon another whaling ship. While he may have taken a few creative liberties in turning his adventure into the semi-autobiographical “Typee,” the work that he was most known for his during lifetime there can be little doubt that his description of the Typee people and their way of life is accurate. His account is corroborated by his fellow shipmate as being truthful and the descriptions of that Natives match those given by other explorers who had visited the Marquesas Islands.

Melville described the average day in the life of the Typee, which he said “Nothing can be more uniform and undiversified than the life of the Typees; one tranquil day of ease and happiness follows another in quiet succession.” The Typee were not early risers and would wake up well after the sun had risen.  The first thing they would do is head on down to the stream and bath in the cool waters and fresh air, frolicking about for 30 minutes or so before heading back to the house for breakfast, which was a light affair consisting of fruit and coconuts. The residents of the house would sit around on the mats and engage in cheerful conversation as they ate.  After this pipes were lighted and the tobacco smoke was passed around, although each person only took a few puffs.

From there people went their own way, some would go back to sleep, others would head out into the groves to collect fruit or fibres of bark. Some of the girls would spend time adorning themselves with flowers and lathering their bodies with oils.  Men could use this time to sharpen their spears or carve some wooden design.  After the morning’s light work, the afternoon was a time for a glorious siesta in which everyone partook.  This usually last about an hour and a half before rising, and then another smoke before preparations for the largest meal of the day.  Melville would often eat his afternoon lunch with the rest of the bachelors in a place called the “Ti” which was reserved for men only, the ‘savage’ version of a boys only club where he dined on roasted pork. “The Ti was a right jovial place. It did my heart well, as well as my body, good to visit it. Secure from female intrusion, there was no restraint upon the hilarity of the warriors, who, like gentlemen of Europe after the cloth is draw and the ladies retire, freely indulged their mirth.”

As evening approached Melville would take a canoe out on the lake with a pretty young native lady that he fancied or bath again in the waters stream with the others.  When the sun went down, torches were lit  and the natives gathered to engage in chanting, stories were told and ‘all sorts of social festivities served to while away the time. The young girls very often danced by the moonlight in front of their dwellings.” Finally, everyone would retire to the house where they slept, doze for a bit, before waking to eat the final meal of the day, pass around the tobacco pipe on more time before collapsing into a deep sleep. “The Native strength of their constitution is in no way shown more emphatically than in the quantity of sleep they can endure. To many of them, indeed, life is little else and an often interrupted and luxurious nap.”

Top Ten Tribal Principles

 

 

Here are the Top Ten principles of the Tribal Way in order to live a life endowed with a sense of vitality and well-being.

 

 

 

1.  Foster Close Social Bonds.

Our ancestors grew up in small bands of people who counted on each other for their survival. Contemporary studies on well-being show that what separates very happy people from the rest of us is the strength of their social and romantic relationships.

2.  Be Physically Active.

The daily grind on the African Savanna involved walking great distances in search of food, carrying heavy buckets of water back and forth from the stream to the campsite, fetching firewood, and the occasional fight or flight with a dangerous animal.

3. Eat Healthy

Hunter-Gatherer’s ate a diet consisting of fresh, whole natural foods such as game meats, vegetables, fruits and nuts. There was no processed food to go around back then and consequently they enjoyed a robust health unimaginable by today’s average person.

4. Sleep

Sleep comes in a variety of different ways around the world, especially outside of western culture.  Whether you have to get your sleep all in one go, like taking an afternoon siesta, enjoy polyphasic or even sporadic sleep like some hunter-gather cultures, the important thing is to get plenty of it. While those of us in the West are often sleep deprived, hunter-gatherer’s chief complaint was sleeping too much!

5. Get Out In Nature

A variety of studies have shown the benefits of being immersed in nature range from improved health to a calm mind and better concentration. Our ancestors lived amongst the flora and fauna like a wild animal. Flowers, trees, landscapes, camp-fires, sunsets…soak it all up.

 

 

 

6. Calm Your Mind

According the Laboratory of Neuro Imaging at UCLA the average person thinks 70,000 thoughts per day. Constantly wrapped up in this tornado of worries, thoughts of the future and past is stressful and exhausting. Hunter-Gatherers in contrast lived almost entirely in the present moment and had a remarkable lack of worry or stress.  Hunter-Gather’s are said to be the first meditators, staring at the flames of a burning fire and letting their thoughts drift away. Meditation, Yoga, and relaxation techniques such as slow breathing should be used daily.

7. Less Work, More Leisure

Meaningful work, not too much. That is the key to a happy profession. Hunter-Gather’s spent 20 hours a week or less foraging for food. Most of their day was spent in abundant leisure activity, playing games, singing songs, gossiping with friends and family and taking naps. Figuring out how to accomplish this in our workaholic modern world is the big challenge. If you have any ideas please write them in comments section below!

8. LIve Adventurously!

In the Maasai tribe of Africa, a boy is not considered a man until he has killed his first lion. With a spear….

Can you even fathom the amount of courage this takes? Nietzsche famously said “Whatever does not kill you, makes you stronger”.  The Tribal Way doesn’t recommend you becoming adrenaline junkies, but occasionally pushing your boundaries, taking risks, and exploring new horizons can imbue one with a sense of competence and confidence.

9. Enjoy Art

Tribal societies regularly engaged in community dances and rituals. They sang songs, painted their bodies, wore masks, adorned themselves with jewelry and had a great sense of fashion.

 

10. Explore the Occasional Altered State of Consciousness

The happiest people to ever walk the face of this planet are the Shaman’s of hunter-gatherer societies and the enlightened monks and yogi’s from East.  While the safest way to reach these higher states is through advanced meditation techniques, this also takes the longest. Psychoactive plants such as magic mushrooms, peyote, Kava, and marijuana have a long history of use in tribal societies. The more intense psychedelic trips should be only explored under the supervision of an experienced user as they are in these tribal cultures. If done right and safely, these trips can create a life changing glimpse into the magic of reality. The high doesn’t last however, and that is why we here at the tribal way recommend hardcore meditation so as to be able to achieve these amazing states of mind safely and on command.