It’s never too late to learn

Did you hear the news item about Leo Plass? He’ll be turning 100 years old in a couple of months but he hasn’t been spending his time in a rocking chair waiting to die. He’s been going to school and just received his college degree!

Leo was finishing something he started back in 1932, when he left college just shy of graduation to take a job offered by a friend in the logging industry. The job paid $150 a month, far more than he was making as a teacher. “It was the Great Depression,” Plass said Tuesday. “That was a lot of money – a lot of money.”

He went on to have a “good family, good life, good food,” he admitted, but finally decided to get the one thing he missed out on: his college degree. He returned to school at Eastern Oregon University in La Grande and earned his associate’s degree.

“Never dreamed of something like this happening to me,” said Plass. “It’s out of this world.”

Most of us can’t imagine living until we’re 99, let alone returning to school at that age. But Leo serves as a reminder that we’re never too old to learn new things and have new adventures.

Learning truly is a lifelong process, and thankfully most of the learning we do as adults isn’t in a classroom. The whole world becomes our school and we pick and choose our topics. Best of all, no one’s going to grade us!

I’ve always been in awe of people who learn a new language, start playing a musical instrument, or begin a new career in their adult years (and the older they are, the greater my ‘awe’ level is). I’m not sure if I’m ready to take up the trumpet or study Chinese at this late date, but I’ve decided to keep an open mind about everything else.

An open mind is definitely a prerequisite for lifelong learning, as is a “half empty” one. When we think we already know all there is to know about something, that we have the total truth, we’re like the guy with the teacup in the Zen story about the student and the monk. You know the one. The student goes to the monk and says he wants to learn but all he does is talk and talk about what he already knows. All the time, the monk keeps pouring tea into his cup, until it overflows and spills onto the floor. Finally, the student notices the monk, who’s still pouring, and asks, “What are you doing?” The monk stops pouring and tells the student, “You are like this cup – so full that there is no room for more. To see the light of wisdom, you must first empty your cup.”

Our mental cups should never be so full they can’t hold more knowledge. Like the 99-year-old Leo Plass, we can always learn more, achieve more, have more fun. Every morning, we should jump out of bed thinking, “What new things can I learn today?” What a way to start the morning!

Using our ‘brain-world interface’

Wheel chair controlled by brain waves
The wheelchair developed by Toyota that is controlled by user brain waves

A couple of years ago, a Japanese company developed a wheelchair that could be controlled by the user’s brain waves. The announcement kindled a wave of “brain-machine interface” (BMI) devices that clearly demonstrated the energy output of the brain was sufficient to have a direct and visible effect on our material world. Today, engineers and scientists have taken that technology a step further and are developing wireless neural interfaces – “wifi” for the brain. They have even had success with a “thought-to-speech” device where a person can transmit thoughts and have them translated into synthesized speech.

Users control the machines by concentrating their thoughts on the action they want to take. They think about MOVING FORWARD, or they focus on the words they want to convey. In other words, they hold in their minds their intention, and their bioenergetic field translates that intention into action.

Despite the quickly accumulating wealth of research and evidence proving that the human body is a powerful energy system, science has been slow to accept the next logical conclusion: that we have, and can fully develop, our own natural BMI that allows us to control our bodies and surroundings just as directly as the “brain-machine interface” controls the wheelchair.

Most scientists and medical researchers are reluctant to talk about the body’s energetic fields because they’ve been ridiculing the notion for so long. Concepts of chi, chakras, and prana have been around for millennia but they have been dismissed as unscientific. They had no place in the scientist’s worldview and definitely not in the realm of medical treatment. Old wives tales. Quackery. Crackpot pseudo-science. Superstitions.

No wonder they can’t admit there’s any validity to the idea of the body’s subtle energy fields. Or, when their own research forces them to admit the power of the mind, they feel it necessary to disguise the concept with terms like psychophysiology, psychoneuroimmunology, and cognitive and affective neuroscience.

But that’s okay. Maybe it’s time to stop expecting or even needing the “old” science to validate new concepts – or revitalized ancient ones. We need to be our own scientific research unit, accumulating knowledge with open minds and positive intentions. We need to apply what we learn to our everyday lives and be mindful of the effect our thoughts have on our health, happiness, and spiritual development.

There’s an easy experiment we can all perform. Spend the next five days keeping your mind focused on positive thoughts and intentions. If you find yourself thinking of problems, or dwelling on unpleasant situations, flick your inner mental switch to something else (if you can’t control your own thoughts, who can?). If you catch yourself carping and complaining over something or someone, flick the mental switch. It doesn’t matter if you have to do this a hundred (or a thousand) times a day, keep doing it.

Of course, five days of emitting thoughts on a positive frequency may not automatically change your entire being, which is the result of a lifetime of thought transmissions, but you may be amazed at the results you see and feel.

A Harvard research study conducted by psychologist David McClelland measured the antibody Salivary Immunoglobin-A in subjects before having them watch a film showing Mother Teresa tending to orphans. Watching the film not only touched the subjects emotionally but it also elevated the SIG-A levels in their body, strengthening their immune response.

This shouldn’t be surprising. After all, using the BMI, the wheelchair responded to brain waves in as little as 125 milliseconds. Using your built-in brain-world interface, your body and surroundings are capable of responding just as rapidly. And, thankfully, you don’t need electrode implants to make your BMI work!

Guest Post: The Selfishness of Unselfishness

Dr. Frank Bowling

The AA principle, which has since been applied to every kind of addiction, dependency and compulsive behavior imaginable, is in some ways similar to the one we affirm in our weekly meetings of the local Rotary Club, where we always close with the motto, “Service above self – he profits most who serves best.” It also brings to mind Norman Vincent Peale’s simple formula for success, “Find a need and fill it,” or Zig Ziglar’s famous quote, “You can have anything you want in life if you will help enough other people get what they want.”

And yet, there is a difference. The people in addiction and dependency (12 Step) programs, though they come from every background imaginable, have one common bond – they’ve hit bottom, or as close to the bottom as they ever want to be. They’re desperate. They’re grasping at straws. They’re willing to try anything to get better. When they gather together, if they speak at all, they speak from the heart. They have nothing to hide. Their passion is palpable.

Passion. It’s something I’ve chased after forever. I’ve thought and written about it a lot. I think it’s the key to a meaningful life. If a man can find something he can be passionate about, and figure out a way to live there… well, to me, that sounds like heaven on earth.

Heaven. Now, there’s another deep subject. It has always seemed to me that more wars are fought and people killed in the name of God than for any other reason. Yet old Bill W., the hero of our story, seems to have had that figured out, too. A central requirement in his program was –  and is – to turn one’s will and one’s life over to “a Power greater than ourselves.” Each individual is free to interpret that in his or her own way.

BJ Palmer, developer of the chiropractic profession, tried to live his life and make his choices, one moment at a time, based on his ability to “tune in” and align his conscious awareness with his own “Innate Intelligence.” I believe if old BJ were alive today and we could ask him, he’d say that Innate Intelligence is the part of God that resides within each of us, the part that will always steer us toward right decisions and right action if we can relinquish control of our will and our life to that Higher Power.

I recently wrote an article about being all we can be, in which I advanced the idea that we have only to stay focused on that “divine essence,” that “inner perfection,” and our lives will tend to more closely approximate the ideals we all hold in our hearts. But perhaps there’s more to it than that. Maybe what we really need is to realize the inseparable nature of our relations with one another.

Perhaps we need to take the revelation that Bill W. received in that hotel in Akron, Ohio to another level, and understand that so-called “unselfish” action is the key to our own self-realization. That the only true solution, not only to our problems, but to our dreams and aspirations, is to live with a passion for one another. That the truest and best way, perhaps the only way, to get to heaven is to get there together.

Wishing you health, happiness, and peace.

NOTE: Dr. Frank Bowling is received his undergraduate training at Rose-Hulman Institute and Indiana State University in Terre Haute, and his chiropractic education at Logan College and Life University. He’s been practicing chiropractic for 32 years. Active in both chiropractic and civic organizations, Dr. Bowling is a Diplomate of the National Board of Chiropractic Examiners, a member of the International Chiropractors Association (ICA), and First Vice President of the ICA of Indiana. Locally, he is President of the Washington Rotary Club.

He and his wife Mary Sue have a son and a daughter, Eli and Sarah, ages 25 and 23 Their first grandchild, Annabelle Grace Driller, daughter of Sarah and Brent, was born on December 19, 2008, and Sarah is expecting their second in January of 2011.

Meditate rather than medicate!

No matter how busy we are, we should all MAKE time to meditate

Years ago, I’d spent hours at a time in meditation. With today’s hectic schedule, who has time? I often don’t even get a chance to fit a short meditation break into my day. But an article in a recent issue of Psychiatry Research: Neuroimaging, is a powerful reminder of how beneficial meditation can be.

According to the study published in the Jan. 30 issue of that journal, participating in an 8-week mindfulness meditation program appears to make measurable changes in brain regions associated with memory, sense of self, empathy and stress. (abstract)

“Although the practice of meditation is associated with a sense of peacefulness and physical relaxation, practitioners have long claimed that meditation also provides cognitive and psychological benefits that persist throughout the day,” says Sara Lazar, PhD, of the Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) Psychiatric Neuroimaging Research Program, the study’s senior author. “This study demonstrates that changes in brain structure may underlie some of these reported improvements and that people are not just feeling better because they are spending time relaxing.”

We already know, from previous research, that there are actual structural differences between the brains of experienced meditation practitioners and individuals with no history of meditation. A thickening of the cerebral cortex in areas associated with attention and emotional integration has been observed.

For this study, MR images were taken of the brain structure of 16 study participants two weeks before and after they took part in the 8-week Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) Program at the University of Massachusetts Center for Mindfulness. In addition to weekly meetings that included practice of mindfulness meditation – which focuses on nonjudgmental awareness of sensations, feelings and state of mind – participants received audio recordings for guided meditation practice and were asked to keep track of how much time they practiced each day. A set of MR brain images were also taken of a control group of non-meditators over a similar time interval.

Meditation group participants reported spending an average of 27 minutes each day practicing mindfulness exercises, and their responses to a mindfulness questionnaire indicated significant improvements compared with pre-participation responses.

The analysis of MR images, which focused on areas where meditation-associated differences were seen in earlier studies, found increased grey-matter density in the hippocampus, known to be important for learning and memory, and in structures associated with self-awareness, compassion and introspection.

Participant-reported reductions in stress also were correlated with decreased grey-matter density in the amygdala, which is known to play an important role in anxiety and stress. Although no change was seen in a self-awareness-associated structure called the insula, which had been identified in earlier studies, the authors suggest that longer-term meditation practice might be needed to produce changes in that area. None of these changes were seen in the control group, indicating that they had not resulted merely from the passage of time.

“It is fascinating to see the brain’s plasticity and that, by practicing meditation, we can play an active role in changing the brain and can increase our well-being and quality of life.” said Britta Hölzel, PhD, first author of the paper and a research fellow at MGH and Giessen University in Germany. “Other studies in different patient populations have shown that meditation can make significant improvements in a variety of symptoms, and we are now investigating the underlying mechanisms in the brain that facilitate this change.”

Amishi Jha, PhD, a University of Miami neuroscientist who investigates mindfulness-training’s effects on individuals in high-stress situations, says, “These results shed light on the mechanisms of action of mindfulness-based training. They demonstrate that the first-person experience of stress can not only be reduced with an 8-week mindfulness training program but that this experiential change corresponds with structural changes in the amydala, a finding that opens doors to many possibilities for further research on MBSR’s potential to protect against stress-related disorders, such as post-traumatic stress disorder.”

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Maybe it’s time for me to get back to my meditation habit!

Accentuating the positive

In recent months, my main personal objective has been to – in the words of the old song – “Accentuate the positive … Eliminate the negative.” Negative thinking simply blackens the soul; causes physical, mental and emotional dis-ease; and puts insurmountable hurdles in the path of progress. But it’s important that we do more than just ignore the problems in the world. We have to take steps to make things better.

I have taken to heart the attitude expressed by Mother Teresa when she stated: “I was once asked why I don’t participate in anti-war demonstrations. I said that I will never do that, but as soon as you have a pro-peace rally, I’ll be there.”

I read this on the ECOLIFE Foundation website and it definitely struck a chord with me, so I wanted to share it:

“Around the world so many predictions for the future are very dark. On any given day, news is dominated by topics such as climate change, water and food shortages, stories of forest loss and dust bowls. When there are trashcans filled with food, how can there be food shortages? With richly landscaped desert homes, how can there be a water shortage? The answers are easy as we step back and look globally at our world. Each continent and island shares an ocean with someone else. No country survives without exports and imports. No matter what your politics or desires – we already live in a global community where all of our activities are ultimately linked.

“ECOLIFE Foundation is dedicated to resolving conflict between conservation needs and community needs. For example, ECOLIFE looks for a sustainable balance between conserving a forest and providing local communities fuel wood or construction supplies for survival.

“Our approach to conservation and humanitarian work is holistic. ECOLIFE believes that there is still space and resources for all people and wildlife that hold this fragile web of life in place. We believe conservative use of our resources will allow more people to improve their quality of life, better manage family sizes and ultimately allow us to live in greater harmony.”

Notice they never say they’re “battling” a problem or “fighting” a negative practice. Instead, they’re taking POSITIVE actions to make our shared earth better for all. Specifically, their “wish list” of actions includes:

• Saving butterflies
• Giving young women access to education
• Planting trees
• Reducing water-related conflicts with wildlife in Kenya
• Reducing our carbon footprint
• Reducing our water footprint
• Reducing deforestation
• Reducing the incidence of death due to water borne diseases
• Protecting our watersheds
• Helping to ensure a healthy and prosperous future for our families and friends

Now that’s what I call POSITIVE thinking!

I hope you’ll check out ECOLIFE Foundation and support them in reaching their goals!