Sunday, November 15, 2020

Humanity & Community

 So far we have talked about our elemental nature beginning with stars and planets, then the basics of life with the life forms of plants, fish, reptiles, birds, mammals and so forth. Next we explored the nature of God, or Higher Power, our spiritual nature. This is followed by the various aspects of our human nature of child, adult, and parent, or leader. Each one of these is an amazing and glorious story in itself, a smaller universe of intelligence, wonder, and beauty. 

Yet if we group them together and explore them in the light of their relation to each other and as a whole they become an ever more incredible and fantastic story. For instance, if we look at basic nature in all the life forms across the earth and time in it's diversity, abundance, tenaciousness, and beauty we can't help but be awestruck. So too our human nature, not only as we grow from child to adult and parent, but as tribes, communities, societies, cultures, races, and nations. 

Mankind has done so many wonderful things, we have a multitude of reasons to be proud of our accomplishments. If we look to the arts of architecture, sculpture, literature, painting, music, performing, and film, or the sciences of astronomy, biology, ecology, chemistry, geology, psychology, and physics we find even more worlds of amazement to be explored and appreciated. These are the realm of human nature, and help us understand our relationship to each other and the world. 

The Sanity Files are structured to deal with these in two parts. The first part is organized first as creation of the universe, then life, and then our various human natures. The Higher Power that came first and created everything is placed in the middle, as the center and source of all else.The second part of the Sanity Files that follow are also aspects of human nature, but these are activities such as art, music, and science. These are our toolbox of what we use to express ourselves to celebrate and share this wondrous gift that is humanity.

The story of humanity is long and complicated, and although there have been innumerable wonderful achievements, unfortunately our history has a large number of things to be ashamed of as well. Hopefully as our world shrinks due to the transportation, information, and communication revolutions we will summon our better angels to carry us forward. That is what Cowboy Dharma is all about, and in the second half of the Sanity Files we hope to find more ways to do just that. All aboard!

Monday, September 14, 2020

Do Plants, Insects, Reptiles, and Fish Think?

An article in Science magazine by Elizabeth Pennisi entitled: "Once considered outlandish, the idea that plants help their relatives is taking root" states that for people and many other animals, family matters. "Look at how an ant will ruthlessly attack competing ants but rescue an injured nest mate. Family feelings may stir in plants as well. Plants lack the nervous system that enable animals to recognize kin, so how can they know their relatives?

The notion that plants really do care for their peers in a quiet plant-y way is taking root. Some species constrain how far their roots spread, others change how many flowers they produce, and a few tilt or shift their leaves to minimize shading of neighboring plants, favoring related individuals. Plants not only sense light or dark, but also with whom they are interacting with.  One practical application is a Chinese study that reported that rice planted with kin grows better and improves crop yields".

Another researcher found fir trees feed kin and warn them about insect attacks. Researchers proved that plants distinguish their roots from others, and then found they could also pick out and favor kin. With strangers the plants greatly expanded their root system to maximize using resources, but with relatives, they held competitive urges in check to leave more room for kin to get nutrients and water.

Injured sagebrush was found to release volatile chemicals that stimulate neighbor bushes to make chemicals that are toxic to their shared enemies. Ecologist Richard Karban says "We are learning that plants are capable of so much more sophisticated behavior than we had thought, it's really cool stuff!" Forestry researcher Suzanne Simard found Birch and fir trees communicating underground in the language of carbon, nitrogen, phosphorus, water, defense signals, and other chemicals and hormones.

An article in Greater Good Magazine by Alex Dixon and Jeremy Smith shows how cooperation is very often a stronger influence than competition.  In the article Danny Grunbaum, an oceanographer and pioneer in revealing the ways that ocean life cooperates in order to survive stated: "Violence in evolution is greatly overestimated. We see animals fighting with each other in lots of nature documentaries, but we are really only seeing a small sliver of time. Much more of the time they're cooperating with each other and respecting boundaries. Cooperation doesn't mean the absence of conflict. It means rules for negotiating conflicts in a way that resolves them."

The article further states there is a tremendous amount of cooperation in nature. In fact cooperation is part of our nature, and right down to the cellular level. The reason being that it is one of the most important and beneficial behaviors on earth. From biological building blocks, cooperation goes to every level of the animal kingdom.

For instance, ants have evolved a three lane two-way traffic system. Two lanes going out and one returning in the middle so they don't have to cross oncoming traffic. They can move faster and thus forage much better this way. These ants inspire robotic scientists in their designs, including extra-terrestrial probes, cleaning floors, and moving products in a warehouse.

Birds help each other by calling when predators are near. This makes them a more vulnerable target so other birds come and mob the predator. Those birds who try and cheat the system are eventually ignored. Bats must feed every two days to survive but hunger is rare because they share - but only if the favor is returned. By sharing only one in four bats die each year (rather than four out of five).

Research suggests that even for humans our first instinct is to cooperate, not compete. In the 21st century, our need to cooperate is more critical than ever. That is because our society is becoming so much more integrated communication is happening much more quickly all over the world.

An article in Nature magazine by Alison Abbott entitled "Animal Behavior: Inside the Cunning, Caring and Greedy Minds of Fish", she reveals that fish cooperate, cheat and punish.  In the article she describes how Redouan Bshary has challenged ideas about brain evolution:

Fish cooperate by smaller fish cleaning larger ones. Sometimes the small fish will take a bite of their hosts mucus skin and the hosts will chase the cleaner to teach him a lesson. But if reprimanded for bad behavior they will massage the backs of their host with their fins to regain favor. Cleaner fish would also have better behavior if they are being watched by other potential hosts. He also found the cleaner fish would work much more fairly in mated pairs as the male will chase the female if she slacks off.

He also found grouper fish will entice eels from their lairs to swim together. The eel will flush fish out of the reef so they both can catch more fish. He tried a test for primates that presents food on differently colored plates, one of which was permanent and the other temporary. The challenge was to eat the food on the temporary plate before it disappeared. A big surprise came when he switched which plate was temporary and the fish actually learned more quickly than the primates which one was best.

Following this revelation, primate scientist Frans de Waal of Emory University was compelled to say, "Primate chauvinism has declined somewhat as we now have to recognize that many species have smart intelligence". 

What is the lesson here? That yes, plants, insects, fish, perhaps all life cooperate with each other. So instead of "Survival of the fittest" we can also see life as "Survival of the kindest".  Charles Darwin came to this conclusion later in life as he watched his children grow up and saw cooperation become apparent in nature. This is good news for all of us, a good reason to believe love does conquer all.

The Adult State

 The adult part of our human nature has executive powers to "put plans, actions, or laws into effect." The ideal is for the adult to be and act intelligently, rationally, and reasonably, in a word wisely. This is also the ideal of the parent state but it is influenced significantly by the parenting received as a child so  thinks and acts from past learning and experience. The adult is anchored in the present so decisions and actions are unprejudiced by the past.

For example the parental part of us might look upon co-workers in the middle of a project amidst a sea of clutter and think "This is outrageous, these people need to clean up this mess and or they won't get anything done! The adult (and wise parent/leader) focuses on results so has less concern about the process used as long as progress is made and goals are achieved.

We use our adult abilities to reason, organize, evaluate experiences, and gather information to help us be adaptable to situations, make the best decisions, and take appropriate actions. The adult deals objectively with life based on education and experience to avoid problems and mistakes and achieve success. It's never too late to add to our education and seek meaningful and useful experiences.

We need to take care our best choices aren't contaminated by our parent, child, or "lower" life form (lizard brain etc.) energies, but also keep open to valuable input from these energies as well. Here an inner child might cause problems by being selfish or withdrawn, or conversely give us extra energy and enthusiasm to lighten our load and keep a lighthearted perspective. The downside of the adult state could be that it lacks these positive attributes, so can act overly rational and under emotional like Spock from Star Trek.

The key is to recognize these varying aspects of our True Self and welcome them to be an active part of us whenever they are needed. We are wise to hold each one gently but firmly so none of them takes over and denies the others, or jump from one to another wildly and uncontrollably. For each there is a time and place. There is no guideline or rule, but a balance of head and heart with a deep knowing which is right and true in each moment to allow appropriate expression of the total personality.

One of the great benefits of a strong adult state is to act as a go between or referee between our various selves and pull from the best of each while avoiding their downsides. We then find we can be as natural as an animal, playful as a child, smart as an adult, and nurturing as a parent all at the same time. The key is as always to first be aware, then come to really know and love the different parts we play, and know they are all a part of us in an ancient, deep, and real way.

Monday, August 24, 2020

UnDo It! - Four Steps to Health and Happiness


In 1998 Dean Ornish published the book Love and Survival: The Scientific Basis for Healing Power of Intimacy. In it he showed how diet, exercise, medication, and intimacy can slow, halt, reverse, and prevent many chronic illnesses, diseases, and dysfunctions. This included heart disease, type 2 diabetes, early prostate cancer, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, obesity, early-stage dementia, autoimmune conditions, depression, and anxiety. Quite an amazing finding, in fact hard to believe, but forty years of work and study has proven it to be true.

He has written six very popular books but his new book, "UnDo It!" brings it all up-to-date and shows the  practices to make the necessary changes and achieve remarkable results. I don't often promote books or programs but Love and Survival changed my life and set me on the road to recovery, and the second book is really frosting on the cake. Both books show how to create a lifestyle that makes life much healthier and happier. It's not often fast, easy, or painless but so very worth it.

Because a systems approach is used, changes can lead to major improvements across the board. Like most things in life, the harder you work at it the more improvements you'll see. Besides the diseases listed above, the program also helps emotional stress, depression, lack of sleep, arthritis, Alzheimer's,  dementia,  and the microbiome of the gut. Stress is rampant these days, and bad news because chronic physical and emotional stress can cause up to 90% of chronic diseases including heart attacks and strokes. There is good news though, as stress comes not just from what happens, but how we react to it.

Many people try to escape the stress, depression, and loneliness through social media and other apps, but unfortunately they are addicting and lead to even more unhappiness, loneliness, and stress in the long run. Ornish recommends stretching, relaxation, guided imagery, meditation techniques to relieve stress from the body, mind and emotions. At Cowboy Dharma we leave the exercise, stretching, and yoga to others who specialize in those fields, but we are very big on Prayer and Meditation so please check out those Sanity Files.

As a side practice in benefits of meditation dr. Ornish mentions accessing the inner voice, also of utmost importance at Cowboy Dharma. We see the still small voice of our Higher Power as the center, source, and access to all the love, peace, joy, beauty, and wisdom of the universe. We are all children of God and so heirs to this birthright. The other inner voice is our True Self, also hard to hear among the barrage of busyness and bullshit of the world.

To protect ourselves from the abuse, abandonment, and other abuses a false self arose within us and took over. It's time to take ourselves back and be the big, bright, brave, bold, and beautiful person we really are. To help you access the infinite power of the universe check out the Higher Power Sanity File. And to at last recover the True Self that was lost and stolen as a youngster check out the Inner Child and True Self Sanity Files

After detailing the importance of 1. eating well, 2. moving more, and 3. stressing less, dr. Onish moves to the most important point of all, loving more. Why? "Because love, intimacy, and positivity are healing. Loneliness, isolation, and depression are deadly. Loneliness and depression exert negative influences through every organ system and biological mechanism. In fact people who feel lonely, depressed, and isolated are six times more likely to die from all causes."

Anything that brings us closer together in authenticity and vulnerability is healing. We find it in romantic love, family or friends, even a pet. This love can be transcendent, as we realize deep connection that tells us we are all in this together. In the past intimacy was practically forced upon us as we lived with extended family for many years in the neighborhood where everyone knew us and all our secrets, we had jobs that were secure and long term, and worshiped together with many of the same people. For most of us those days are long gone. Families are fractured, jobs come and go, we move often, and worship attendance is way down.

"Group support allows us to directly experience how good it feels to be authentically and deeply connected with others, and is often a transformative experience and profoundly healing. It creates a safe place for us to talk intimately about what is really going on in our life, and to express our authentic feelings without fear of being judged, abandoned, or criticized. Although this part of life is one that many people have the most difficulty with and believe to be the least important, we find it to be the most important, meaningful, and transformative of all".

Social support helps us not only live longer but much better. We are hardwired to love and be loved but somehow got short-circuited. It's time to make the connection again. Now that you hopefully  have a better understanding of why intimacy  is so healing it's time to ask how and where do we find it ? Many areas have support groups and counseling available for a fee. This is great if you can afford it and highly recommended, but there are many other choices available at basically no cost. This is the incredibly helpful and powerful 12 step programs. No one knows the alcoholic better than another alcoholic; all of their secrets, difficulties, and shame.

This has now expanded to over a hundred different programs to help all kinds of addicts, smokers, overeaters, children of dysfunction, workaholics, even clutterers anonymous, and many more. Regular meetings are available throughout the week in person, by phone, or teleconferencing. People meet to share their feelings and thoughts openly, authentically, and intimately. This is just what we need to heal. If you want to recover your true self, make awesome friends, heal your life, and have fun again check out the Twelve Step Recovery Sanity File.

The next practice dr. Ornish recommends is gratitude, as it is an antidote to overwhelm, irritation, impatience, and exhaustion. Hear we can turn the tables to take the focus off of the negative and instead focus on the things that really bring us joy and happiness. This can create a self-perpetuating cycle as we realize more and more things to be grateful for. We can do this by making a gratitude list or writing things out in journals, another very helpful practice.  For more inspiration look to the Attitude of GratitudeSanity File.

The next tool outlined in the book is forgiveness, and with that comes loving kindness and compassion. A Tim McGraw song says "We've been holding in and holding on to all the pain, it's like carrying around the past in a hundred pound sack, I'm gonna Let It Go!" It really comes down to doing whatever it takes to realize love for ourselves first, then others. Cowboy Dharma covers this all-encompassing and hugely important topic in the Love Is The Answer Sanity File.

To show just how connected we are dr. Ornish quotes a Harvard study of 12,000 people that found if one of your friends is obese you have a 45% higher chance of obesity, if they have a friend that it is 20% higher, and if they have a friend you still have a 10% higher chance! This pattern is also seen with smoking, depression, happiness, and altruism.

When we slow down and quiet down enough we can realize the transcendent connection with our Higher Power, others, and all of life and creation. As we learn to keep the vision of this "One Life" in mind amidst all of the division, polarity, and strife, we are much better be able to enjoy life as it is. He quotes Einstein as saying "A human being experiences himself as separated from the rest. This delusion is a prison for us. Our task must be to free ourselves by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures in the whole of nature and its beauty".

Another study of a 148 million tweets showing language patterns reflecting negative relationships, disengagement and negative emotions, especially anger, predicted heart disease mortality better than risk factors including smoking, diabetes, hypertension, and obesity. "This way of viewing the world is the antithesis of love, compassion, and healing. When we hurt others, we hurt ourselves. For the same reason, when we help others, we help ourselves. 

Compassion naturally flows when the divisions that separate us begin to fade, and it helps to free us from anger and chronic stress. The connection with one another and with our soul and spirit is already there behind the drama of our lives. When our hearts begin to open, we are able to feel it, like opening a window shade and letting in the sunshine that's been there all along, waiting patiently be revealed"   (All quotes by dr. Dean Ornish unless otherwise noted)