You are on page 1of 7

PREFACE

Though at one level, stress is the running thread of this book, its scope is muc
h wider. The larger focus is to forge acquaintance with one s self by understandin
g its constructs of feelings, thoughts, memories, and why one behaves the way on
e does. It is an exploratory journey in our inner world, where the roots of our
aspirations, ambitions, pride, and prejudice lie. We go through myriads of joys
and sorrows in the long course of life, but hardly have the patience to pause an
d ponder over the reasons that make them.

Does it matter? Yes, much more than perhaps one realizes.

Stress should not be seen as an isolated issue. It betrays the quality of indivi
dual self in its ceaseless action of living. We have one and only life the most pr
ecious thing we happen to possess, and it is but natural that we struggle hard t
o do our utmost to make it a wonderful experience. Stress, in its overt or cover
t forms, works as a persistent factor that undermines the spontaneity, joy, and
beauty of life.

In this competitive and complex world, one faces countless factors of stress tha
t are unavoidable and immutable, including illness, accident, or death. There ar
e some other factors that can be altered through efforts, which play a more deci
sive role in life. These are individual attitude, mental tendencies, and ways on
e interacts with external world. There is much truth in the saying, Life is 10 pe
rcent what happens to you and 90 percent how you react to it.

An objective understanding of these individual factors means that half the battl
e of tackling stress is won. Hence, the book seeks to help the reader face and u
nderstand the workings of inner self and its intricacies without resorting to ps
ychological escape or suppression.

Yet an objective understanding is only the first step. It does not resolutely ch
ange our mental habits and conditionings that are hardwired in the brain. The ne
gative emotions that fuel stress and anxiety have unyielding force, often not am
enable to reason. Similarly, drills of positive thinking and self-hypnotism thro
ugh beliefs and ideologies accrue only temporary solace and euphoria that wears
off sooner than expected.

This suggests the need to go beyond the remedies prevalent now and look for fund
amentally new avenues for solution. In such effort, this book explores the possi
bility of using the power of consciousness to rewire the brain and tackle stress
and emotional afflictions in a lasting manner. Let me add that this approach do
es not involve any religious or mystical beliefs. read more
CHAPTER 2: MEMORY: THE PRIME MOVER
In the arduous pursuit of daily life, we hardly have the time and energy to paus
e and look inward to figure out the roots of our actions and why we behave the w
ay we do. If we carefully peer into our mind, the following scenario might emerg
e. Even though our thoughts, feelings and memories are mediated by external and
internal stimuli, they seem to work in an autonomic mode, as if having their own
willpower. Like some factory workers, they are seized with the frenzy of their
work, jostling and cooperating with each other. The end products of their labor
are our aspirations and dreams, our pride and prejudice, our anxieties and worri
es, which get manifested, rather packaged, in the externalities of our behavior
and actions. As devoted workers, they service promptly the demands of our body our
desires for joy and comforts, our urges of hunger, thirst, and love.

The modern neurologists also paint a somewhat similar picture of self that is fr
agmentary and disorienting. They tell us that the brain cells called neurons are
the actual workers that manufacture our feelings, emotions, thoughts, and memor
y. The human brain has billions of neurons that communicate with each other by m
aking synaptic connections. They constantly fire electrochemical signals in sync
hronized fashion and thus create these mental processes in our brains. In other
words, the patterns of neural firings are the actual correlates of our feelings,
thoughts, and memory.

In the opinion of some neuroscientists, our subjective experience of self is not


hing but the constant interplay of vast neural assemblies in the brain. While ob
serving the neurons with electronic scanning gadgets, they were astonished by th
e hectic pace of their firing actions, which reminded of a noisy fish market bus
tling with activities.

It might shock someone s aesthetic sense to find description of the brain activiti
es in such metaphoric idiom of the commercial world. ......... . Let that be as
it may; but it does make the very significant point that behind the vital world
of our thoughts, emotions, and feelings lies the neural infrastructure that is i
nherently mechanical, material, and driven by electrochemical impulses. read mor
e

CHAPTER 3: THOUGHT: THE ERRAND BOY


Memory that we talked about in the previous chapter is a quiet and sneaky operat
or in the arena of mind in contrast to thought. Memory lies in the subterranean
realm of our inner world and has to be evoked and ushered on to the conscious st
age for experience, while thought prefers to work in the daylight of conscious m
ind. Thought represents the tip of the iceberg that is visible, while memory for
ms the part of its submerged and unknown segment. The significance of thought is
, therefore, quite apparent and self-evident, but its absence would be akin to b
eing plunged into a dark vacuum. The empty darkness without the light of thought
makes many persons very uncomfortable, and some compare it with a sort of near-
death experience.

No wonder Descartes said, I think therefore I am. Thought is construed as a hard a


nd explicit evidence of our being alive. Though widely prevalent since the days
of Descartes, it is a mistaken notion. On the contrary, the fact is that I don t th
ink, yet I am. Not only in the state of coma or dreamless sleep where the thinkin
g faculty is not operating, but in the perfectly healthy state of the awake mind
, thought can be absent when one is immersed in profound inner awareness or tran
celike experience. Even during the surge of intense feelings of wonder, joy, sor
row, or anger, thought is absent at the initial stage, though the next moment it
joins and takes over the stage of the conscious mind.

In all fairness, however, Descartes quote was not made in the absolute sense that
in the absence of thought, one is dead. It was meant to highlight our daily exp
erience that thought for us is the synonym of our conscious state, our sense of
being alive. Hence, I think therefore I am . Most of the time, our conscious sta
te is overwhelmed with the omnipresence of thought, though in conjunction with f
eelings and emotions. It is a moment-to-moment reminder of our life in action. T
hought is, no doubt, our lifelong companion and friend in need or otherwise. We
get annoyed with it, quarrel with it, hate its intrusive tendency or love its se
nsual contents and enjoy its smooth and caressing touch. In sum, whether we like
it or not, thought is always with us even in our dreams. read more

CHAPTER 5: CONSCIOUSNESS
What is consciousness? This question has bothered humanity for centuries. Even i
n modern times, despite the spectacular achievements in science and technology,
the answer to that has remained elusive and vague, and might continue to be so i
n the foreseeable future. One of the hurdles, being faced by scientists and expe
rts, is the fact that they cannot place the phenomenon of consciousness under th
eir microscopes for scientific scrutiny.

Nonetheless, many scientists and philosophers have expounded conceptual ideas on


the nature of consciousness; and entering into that debate would be like daring
to enter a wild forest fraught with dangers. This debate is characterized by a
broad divide with many finer shades on both sides. One group of experts believes
that consciousness, though enormously complex, is computational and can be expl
ained like any other phenomenon. They have offered different perspectives of con
sciousness as a cognitive phenomenon or perceptive phenomenon. Many of them foll
ow a step-by-step approach or what is termed in science as a reductionist method
.

The more well-known expert among them is Dr. Francis Crick, the Noble laureate w
ho unravelled the secrets of DNA. In his book The Astonishing Hypothesis: The Sc
ientific Search for the Soul , he has put forward the view that our sense of sel
f, our joys, sorrows, memories, ambitions and free will are nothing but the beha
vior of vast ensembles of nerve cells. We, as a psychic entity including our con
sciousness, are just a bundle of neurons. Personally I see much truth in what he
has stated. It is time to demystify and bring down from the high pedestal mind
and consciousness that are commonly believed to be nonmaterial mysteries.

Dr. Crick feels that if we can adequately understand all integrated processes of
how one sub-faculty of the brain functions, such as vision, that would make it
easy to move ahead and unravel the secrets of the entire brain and consciousness
. ........ However, he admits some real problems being faced in grasping the hol
istic dynamics of not only the more complex issue of consciousness, but even the
sectoral functions like vision, smell and other perceptual processes.

There are several other experts who feel that consciousness can be understood by
explaining how cognitive and behavioral functions are performed by our brain. B
ut, they have not made spectacular headway in resolving the issue. They encounte
r mysteries of the integrative globality of consciousness as well as the propert
ies of awareness and understanding.

In contrast, the experts on the other side of the divide hold the view that cons
ciousness is noncomputational and any physical account of mental processes, sect
oral or otherwise, cannot explain the mysteries of consciousness. read more

CHAPTER 6: EXPANSION OF INNER AWARENESS


The majestic beauty of great mountains has the awesome power to immobilize our m
ind by knocking off the swarms of thoughts and anxieties, which ceaselessly haun
t us. During my stay of a few years in Geneva and Vienna, I often drove around t
he enchanting mountains and lakes. It was an escape that I passionately looked f
orward to, from the verbose but non-communicative world of diplomacy. The scenic
beauty of the Alps is captivating from a vantage point in the city of Montreux
overlooking Lake Geneva. A drive farther south in the mountains is simply unforg
ettable. Also in Austria, the Alps and the serene lakes particularly in the sout
hwest of Salzburg are gorgeous and a treasure of cherishable memories.

It was, however, my encounter with the Himalayas in Nepal that left me speechles
s. I drove from Kathmandu on the road winding up the hills to reach a lonely tea
house ahead of Nagarkot, a small village. It is the closest point about fifty ki
lometers from Kathmandu for watching the sunset in the Himalayas. It was my firs
t trip to the place, though I did visit it several times later during my three-y
ear stay in Nepal. When I reached the place, the sun was about to go down, and t
he sky was absolutely clear without a speck of cloud. The top of the hill I stoo
d upon was overlooking a misty valley that spread across the cascading foothills
. Above the deep, misty valleys rose the mighty Himalayas in a panoramic magnifi
cence of innumerable snowy peaks. Beyond the foot hills, the long chain of mount
ain peaks filled the entire horizon in a semicircular expanse. The peaks pierced
the deep sky with their astounding heights. Some of the snow-clad peaks had sta
rted to glisten in orange and light pink with the caressing touch of the soft su
n.

Though this description is gleaned from the memory, my actual encounter was a un
ique experience. My mind was totally submerged, and it became one with the immen
sity of the awesome beauty unfolding beyond the stretch of the misty valleys and
the cascading chains of foothills. Soon with the approaching twilight, the dark
blue sky, the majestic mountains, the valleys, and I appeared to melt into an i
nfinite oneness. The utter silence of the place immobilized my mind, wiping out
even the noise of thought. I could feel the sound of the footsteps of time in th
e midst of the immense space, which engulfed the identity of everything around.
One time or the other, most of us have encountered such overwhelming awareness t
hat wipes out our thoughts and memories for some moments. In the fullness of its
primordial sentience, our consciousness immerses in the splendour and charm of
the scenic beauty silencing the mind totally. read more
CHAPTER 7: BENEFITS OF AWARENESS MEDITATION
In the next chapter, we will go into the details of how meditation actually work
s and accrues extraordinary benefits of stress-reduction. However, let me mentio
n at least one aspect that is quite relevant here.

While scanning the brain at the time of deep meditation, it was observed in seve
ral independent studies that the frontal lobe and parietal lobe were deactivated
in terms of reduced levels of blood flow. The frontal lobe is the seat of our r
easoning power, thoughts, ability of anticipating future, and planning. It also
generates some of the secondary emotions peculiar to humans such as guilt, pride
, sympathy, wonder, and compassion. On the other hand, the parietal lobe process
es the sensory data from the external world and orients us to our surroundings.
It is also responsible for our sense of time and space. Under stress, the fronta
l and parietal lobes operate in frantic pace or fight-or-flight mode.

During meditation, the activities of the frontal lobe and the parietal lobe are
practically stopped and the sensory signals from them, which cause anxieties and
stress, are not transmitted to other parts of the brain, including those respon
sible for primary emotions of fear, sadness, anger, and aggressiveness. The deac
tivation of the parietal lobe detaches the meditators from the sense of time and
space or the external world and induces a feeling of timelessness and oneness w
ithout any boundaries. The deactivation of frontal lobe results in dissipating w
orries and anxieties as well as the me-ness with its psychological baggage, which
is bothersome and nagging. All these factors prevent stress and bring about deep
tranquillity of mind.

This explains why meditation accrues the antistress benefits. A curious question
, however, arises: What is the difference between psychological suppression of p
ainful feelings and such reduction of the sensory inputs from those areas of the
brain? read more

CHAPTER 8: REWIRING THE BRAIN


The advent of consciousness in evolution bestowed upon the human species the pow
er of conscious behavior and more intelligent action, which meant a large measur
e of freedom from reflexive and predetermined behavior. It meant a good deal of
liberty from the biorobotics that governed life in the earlier phase of our evol
ution. Unfortunately, there is no room for complacency because there are some fa
ctors that might threaten our innate liberty of consciousness.

One factor is the restrictive nature of thought per se that operates in a narrow
periphery. The second is the fact that we are increasingly submitting ourselves
to habitual and fossilized patterns of mental activities and thus surrendering
the precious freedom of enlightened and conscious action. We are under the belie
f that thought is our free and conscious action an expression of our intelligent C
hoice. That is true, but not entirely! Unfortunately, our thoughts and emotions
have become more habitual and have acquired a greater degree of reflex and auton
omic patterns than we realize. It means that the limited periphery of our consci
ous thought and intelligent willpower is further curtailed.

Our minds are fettered with numerous conditionings that are caused by individual
actions, hereditary factors, and the external world, including social and cultu
ral influences. Of course, certain reflexive tendencies are evolved to cope with
the circumstances of individual life, while others are passed on genetically as
the self-protective adaptations in the course of evolution. One cannot find fau
lt with such self-protective reflexive behavior. For instance, the impulsive fea
rs of reptiles and insects are still useful, though these were prewired in the e
arly evolutionary phase when reptiles ruled the planet.

Many of our social and cultural rituals and beliefs also fall into this category
of outdated relics of past, which include our superstitions, hierarchical behav
ior, aggressive postures, the tendency of domination over others and violence. T
he feelings of tribalism, racial hatred, and even patriotism are also evolutiona
ry baggage of old herd instincts. Of course, patriotism and nationalism have pra
ctical values of governance and social order. Our prejudices and social division
s that cause violent conflicts are nothing but slavery to habitual ideas and emo
tions.

How do we change and create the human society that is more enlightened, liberal,
and not divided? ........... read more

CHAPTER 9: A SECOND BRAIN AND ANXIETIES


At one time or another, all of us have experienced butterflies in the stomach wh
ile approaching a challenging task like an interview for employment, or when one s
name is announced for the stage as the next speaker. Such fl uttering sensation
s of nervousness or sinking feelings of fear are also felt in the stomach when o
ne has to face something ominous. Has it ever surprised us that though our brain
is in the head, such feelings are felt in our stomach?

Such immaterial action of the stomach is not limited to sinking or fl uttering f


eelings. It occasionally performs another task of the brain, namely, the intuiti
ve action. We use expressions like a gut feeling or gut reaction to indicate an in
stinctive feeling or action. Such expression is not a cliché, but it describes the
actual action performed by the gut. One wonders how the gut possesses the abili
ties, which normally belong to the dynamic entity of the brain.

Scientists reveal to us an astonishing fact that every human being has two brain
s: one in the head and other in the gut. Dr. Michael D. Gershon , a professor of
anatomy and cell biology at the Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center in New Yor
k, wrote a book in 1998 entitled The Enteric Nervous System: A Second Brain. Thi
s book attracted worldwide attention and praise. Not only Gershon, but a few oth
er scientists have observed that the fluttering sensations, sinking fears, and t
he intuitive actions are caused by the second brain. These findings have opened
a host of new avenues for research in the vast subject of gastrointestinal probl
ems as well as the emotive interdependence of the two brains.

Scientists theorize that at the dawn of our evolution when we were very tiny cre
atures stuck to the rocks waiting for food to pass by, we had only this tiny bra
in. As life evolved with larger biosystems, animals needed a more complex brain
for survival. Consequently, a brain inside the skull along with the central nerv
ous system was evolved. However, the ancient brain was preserved as an independe
nt circuit, which is referred to as the enteric nervous system (ENS). .... read
more