Sunday, December 2, 2012

Taming the mind - Part IV

In the dark of the night
As moonlight filters through many a tree
The misty air reflecting the moon’s light
Life seems still as the deep blue sea

As the sun rises up on the horizon’s east
The misty darkness gives way to life at dawn
The mist condenses into dew drops of nature’s feast
Dew drops trickle down blades of grass as tender as fawn

The nectar of life nourishes both man and beast
As the sun arches across the sky to the west
The dance of life goes on forgetting it’s leased
Till the sun sets and the blade of grass goes to rest

To the worldly man, the fiery sun is the spice of life
To the wise man, the cool moon is bliss of life

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Taming the Mind - Part III

Excerpts from a talk given at the First Presbyterian Church, Sarasota 10-18-2012

The sound of a human heartbeat is the same in every part of the world, regardless of race, creed or color. Despite all our differences, what we have in common with every other human being is the sound of a beating heart. Both our friends and enemies have this heartbeat. Despite the mind’s ability to produce various types of emotions such as happiness, sorrow, anger, fear etc., the heart is considered to be the seat of emotion. Most of the different emotions that we experience in the mind are in response to something in the outside world. Unconditional love, the most important human emotion, arises spontaneously from within ourselves. This emotion is found in a pure heart.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Taming the Mind - Part II

On August 25th 2012, one of the greatest American heroes, the astronaut Neil Armstrong died. He left behind a legacy of pioneering space exploration that may one day lead to a manned mission to Mars. He is immortalized in the words he uttered on stepping onto the lunar surface, "That's one small step for [a] man, one giant leap for mankind." These simple words hold a great meaning. Having achieved what no human had done before, he dedicated this to all of mankind, not one individual or a group of people. Herein lies his greatness. When the thought of putting man on the moon was first conceived, it may have seemed far fetched. Similarly, all great discoveries or inventions started as a simple thought in the mind of man.

Several hundred years after we understood the force of gravity, we were finally able to come up with a rocket having sufficient thrust to overcome this fundamental force in nature. Just as the physical body is subjected to gravitational forces that keep us from flying off the surface of the Earth, the mind has strong instinctual thoughts that keep us from going deeper within. If life on Earth suddenly became very difficult and uncomfortable, mankind will have no choice but to make the most of it. Currently, we have only rudimentary capabilities of extraterrestrial survival.  On a mental plane, life alternates between periods when things seem very comfortable and other times when life is very uncomfortable. Although the mind does not have physical limitations, we create a finite world within our minds and remain rooted to the oscillating feelings of happiness and unhappiness. 

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Turning stress into positive energy: The inner alchemy

Based on a talk given in Bradenton, FL on Sept 20, 2012

Stress is an ubiquitous part of the fabric of life. It is a subjective phenomenon and it is difficult to quantify. The effects of stress on the body and mind can be perceived by everyone, the triggering factors leading to stress can also be identified. The fundamental source of this energy however, is difficult to pinpoint. It originates deep in the mind. Just as gravity is an inescapable fact of life as long as earth retains its mass, stress is inescapable as long as there is life in the mind and body. It is helpful to look at stress in the form of energy. Energy can be beneficial or destructive. Even destructive energy can be contained and channeled in the right direction. Everyday life offers plenty of avenues to channel this stress energy in a positive and beneficial direction. 

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Taming the Mind

Recently, a mobile, one-ton nuclear powered science lab safely landed on the surface of Mars. This miracle of modern science has started sending data to receiving stations earth which is over 150 million miles away. This surely is one of the great achievements of the human mind. Mars is thought to have been a planet with plentiful water billions of years ago, today it is a dry, dusty and desolate world making human inhabitation practically impossible. If humans were to go to Mars, they would need a very robust space suit to protect against lethal radiation, lack of oxygen and extremes of temperature.

We don’t however have to land on Mars to consider ourselves space travellers. We inhabit a spherical globe we call Earth, that is hurtling through space at a speed that would cover the distance between the Earth and its moon in about 4 hours. Our awareness of the concept of life is limited to the time between the metaphorical curtain raising up heralding our birth and the curtain falling down signalling our death. Behind this curtain is a mysterious darkness that the conscious mind cannot perceive, hence no living proof of what lies beyond. When mankind finally makes the trip to Mars, the pioneering astronauts would have to carry specialized spacesuits for survival. The hard shell of a space suit protects a living being inside. Unlike manufactured spacesuits that can be replaced at a cost, this specialized spacesuit called the human body is irreplaceable.  The human body has a hard bony skeleton that supports living cells. Although life in the cells evaporates rather quickly in the matter of years, the bony skeleton can be preserved for millions of years. Going to a natural history museum and seeing skeletal remains of now extinct dinosaurs is a fascinating experience. It brings the massive scale of time into perspective. 

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Getting to the heart of a stroke - Part II

Based on a talk at the HOPE stroke support group July 2012

The word ‘stroke’ is derived from the Greek word apoplexia which means “to strike”. The first written descriptions of sudden paralysis appeared in the writings of Hippocrates, the father of modern medicine. Before the word stroke became popular, the term apoplexy was commonly used to describe this disease.

From a structural standpoint, the brain can be thought of as a house with three levels. The first floor or the lowest level is called the hindbrain. The second floor or the middle level is called the midbrain and the top floor is the forebrain. The hindbrain or the lowest part of the brain controls vital bodily functions such as breathing, heart rate and digestion. This part of the brain is connected to the spinal cord and controls many bodily functions that does not need approval from the higher centers in the brain. There is a certain amount of autonomy that is given to this part of the brain. The midbrain controls posture, movement and reflex eye movements. The midbrain is a small structure that connects the forebrain and the hindbrain. The forebrain is the largest part of the brain and most of it taken up by what is called the cerebral cortex. Of all the earthly creatures, humans have the largest cerebral cortex. The cerebral cortex fills most of the space under the skull and is divided into two halves that are interconnected. Although the two halves of the brain appear similar, they have very different functions. The right brain controls the left side of the body and the left brain controls the right side of the body. 

Getting to the heart of a stroke - Part I

Based on a talk at Dr. Purser's wellness group, July 2012.

What do economists and physicians have in common?  The world we now live in is straddled with economic woes. In the eyes of an economist, there is a sickness going around and that illness is ‘debt’. Economists make forecasts and propose fixes for the monetary structure. They look at debt from this perspective. Everyone would agree that economic growth is the best way to get out of debt. In politics, the word debt is looked at differently depending on who you talk to. One end of the spectrum, debt stands for ‘Do Everything But Tax’ and at the other end of the spectrum, ‘Do Everything By Tax’.  

The word debt has also crept into human physiology. This is an entirely different kind of debt, the kind that draws the line between health and disease, life and death. In  the human body, the stakes are a lot higher. This debt is called the oxygen debt. In simple terms, cells use oxygen. If the supply of oxygen to individual cells is interrupted, the cells don’t immediately die. They survive by other means and the cells go into debt, called the oxygen debt. If the cells don’t repay this debt by replenishing itself with fresh oxygen, cellular ‘default’ occurs. The cellular equivalent of bankruptcy called cell death then slowly sets in. Depending on the location in the body, cellular death is called different names. For, example, if cells in the heart are deprived of oxygen, a heart attack ensues and similarly if oxygen supply to the cells of brain is interrupted, brain cells die resulting in a stroke. 

Sunday, July 1, 2012

The Genie and the Mind - Part V

The young man held up the two glass statues after dusting them off with the old piece of cloth in which they were wrapped. “I have carried these with me everywhere I have gone. I look at them every morning wondering what is concealed behind the coloring on the glass surface.” The statues were about a foot long each and weighed a pound.

When the wise old man was handing over the statues, he told the young man, “I want you to discover what is inside these statutes without breaking them. These two statues are actually keys to a lock. That lock can only be opened if you have them both.”

The young man’s curiosity was aroused and he asked, “Where is the door that has the lock?”

Sunday, June 10, 2012

The Genie and the Mind - Part IV

On hearing that the young man had a clue about where the treasure was, the Genie’s master expressed a huge sigh of relief. The young man, the Genie and his master sat down next to the container to plot their next move.

The young man said, “There were several things that the wise old man told me. As I remember them, some of what he said back then makes sense now in the context of the treasure and other things are very much a riddle. In fact, most of what he spoke was misunderstood by people who came across him. Since he had a reputation of being a kind old soul who did not expect anything from anyone, he was left alone without being ridiculed. I once asked him why he did not speak in a manner that would be easily understood by everyone.”

The wise man replied, “The knowledge of the truth that I have acquired is freely available to anyone who seeks it. The price I paid for this knowledge of the truth that pervades everything is complete detachment and deep introspection.”

The young man asked, “What path did you follow?”

Sunday, April 15, 2012

The Genie and the Mind - Part III

Continued from previous post...

As the children settled in their chairs facing the old man and the visitor, the two Genies belonging to the old man and the visitor were busy counting up to a hundred and back to one in an adjacent room. Although the both of the Genies were in the same room, each one ignored the other and continued on tirelessly.

The old man said “Children, you are about to witness something very exciting, the likes of which you may never see again. Your grandfather and I share a wonderful secret.” The old man then called out and waved his hand in the direction of his Genie, hidden from view by a wall separating the two rooms. When his Genie did not respond, the old man then commanded his Genie in a louder voice, giving the children an impression that something magical was about to transpire. As if on cue, the visitor then shouted out for his own Genie. Hearing an order to stop counting, the two Genies slowly made their way into the other room. 

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

The Genie and the Mind - Part II

The Genie and the Mind - Part II: continued from previous post.

"It is a long story, do you really want to hear the details?" the visitor exclaimed. The old man offered him a comfortable chair in the den and the children were asked to play outside while the two men talked. The room was dark, the darkness punctuated by a table lamp that lit up a desk that was covered with assorted books and papers. The wall behind them had a large bookshelf adorned with ancient looking books, some of which had etched gold lettering that was hard to discern in the dark. The visitor asked the old man what he had done for a living and if he read a lot. The old man said that his life was generally made easy by all the things that the Genie brought him. His professional life as a  salesman was overshadowed by an easy and rich material life the Genie had brought him. Now, what little spare time the Genie left him with was spent looking back at his life and pondering the 'what ifs'.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

The Genie and the Mind

A young boy and his parents moved into a house that they bought from an old couple who had lived there for many years. The little boy was very curious and right away set out to explore the house. He stumbled upon a hidden spiral stairwell that appeared to have been unused for a long time. The boy climbed the narrow steps that led to a small attic. Once his eyes got accustomed to the darkness in the musty attic, he came upon a pile of old and dusty toys. As the boy combed through the collection of metallic objects that may have entertained children a couple of generations back, there was a loud clatter caused by an ornate lamp that rolled off one of the creaky wooden rafters. The boy was enchanted by the glitter of the metal and the ornate stone inlay work. The lamp seemed to emanate an other worldly glow beckoning him to pick it up. As he picked up the lamp, everything around him blurred as if the attic was suddenly covered in smoke. 

Friday, February 24, 2012

The Aspirin Controversy

Based on a talk at Dr. Purser’s wellness group, Bradenton, FL

Aspirin, a widely used and easily available drug is as ubiquitous as Jell-O, both products got their present name around the same time in the year 1897. Ever since its formulation, aspirin has courted its share of controversy. Aspirin contains salicylate, which is derived from the Willow plant. Hippocrates, regarded as the father of Western Medicine first described the pain killing properties of Willow bark. These observations were also made by other civilizations down the ages until they were scientifically proven with modern day methods. The active pain killing ingredient in the Willow plant was isolated in 1826, which was then modified over the course of the next several decades. In 1897, Felix Hoffmann, a German chemist working for Bayer formulated aspirin in its present form. It almost did not make it to the market. A competing drug, heroin, was about to be launched by Bayer as a cough remedy. Luckily, someone important at Bayer was convinced of its healing properties having tried it on himself. Aspirin then made it to the market as a pain reliever. Several decades later, scientists discovered that the chemical innovations that led to the formulation of aspirin from salicylic acid were instrumental in aspirin’s role in preventing strokes and heart attacks. 

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Know your VEINS

Talk given at Heart to Heart: A Women’s Health Forum on February 4, 2012, Lakewood Ranch FL.

February is Heart Month. You will likely hear a lot about cardiovascular diseases with a special emphasis on risk factors such as smoking, high cholesterol, sedentary lifestyle, and diabetes. One or more of these risk factors may contribute to blood vessel blockage that can have catastrophic consequences such as heart attacks and strokes. However, this is only part of the story. 

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Digging Deep

Geologists have a fairly accurate idea about the structure and composition of the earth’s interior. It is several thousand miles to the actual center of the earth. In comparison to the deeper layers inside the earth’s interior, namely, the mantle and the outer and inner core which extend a few thousand miles in depth, the outermost layer or the earth’s crust is not more than 30 miles in depth. Sending a man made object to the center of the earth is in the realm of science fiction. No man made object has ever penetrated beyond the earth’s crust. An ambitious drilling project several decades ago by the Soviets was stopped after reaching just over 7 miles into the earth’s crust. An inhospitable climate of heat and pressure may deter future attempts to get even deeper.

A classic science fiction novel written in the 1800s by Jules Verne, Journey to the Center of the Earth, is an adventurous story of a professor and his nephew who find an ancient map that guides them to the center of the earth through a volcanic tube. The obstacles, difficulties and the unexpected wonders the two adventurers face could be construed as allegorical references to our own mental journey to the core of our being. Just as we have not made it, as yet, to the center of the earth, there are no scientifically proven first person accounts of people finding the soul, which could be thought of as the fundamental basis for human life. 

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Stress and the heart

Stress is commonplace, especially in these challenging times. Repeated bouts of stress can have lasting effects on the body. Brief interludes of relaxation help the body recover from stress. The human heart, the seat of emotion, is Ever in MOTION. Due to this perpetual motion of the heart day and night, the effects of repeated bouts of stress on the heart may impact our longevity. The heart has spare capacity to increase its workload in times of stress. This happens through certain chemical messengers, such as adrenaline, that signal the heart muscle to work harder. The heart has plenty of receptors, or parking bays, for these messengers. Just as a factory may increase its production in response to a demand by increasing its workforce and by expanding the assembly line, the human heart is a factory that has the ability to increase production of a vital product, oxygen rich blood. Chemical messengers like adrenaline are the workforce that drive the heart to pump more blood to meet the higher metabolic demands placed on the body by stress. An easily quantifiable measure of this increased workload is a higher heart rate and a higher blood pressure. Just like an earthquake that starts deep underground and damages buildings on the surface many miles from its epicenter, this higher blood pressure that originates in the heart may cause damage in other organs such as the brain potentially resulting in a stroke. 

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Time, Money and Fulfillment

Since the dawn of civilization, exchange of goods and services has been a tool for growth. Prior to the advent of money, the value of this exchange of resources was informally set in the barter system. At some point, the concept of money then took over, attaching a certain monetary value to our daily economic transactions. Over the last several thousand years, the material form of money has evolved from cattle, grain, shells, metal coins, leather notes, gold, paper notes to the present day electronic money.

Although the bartering system is for all practical purposes non existent in the modern day world, this concept is a recurring theme in our mind and thoughts. At the level of the mind, we are constantly trying to barter for happiness by jumping from thought to thought in the hopes of finding one that fulfills this need. We also “barter” our time for money that we earn by working and in turn “barter” this money for happiness in the form of physical comforts. The sense of happiness relative to time and money is a moving target. Money may buy an object that brings happiness today, that same object may become a source of misery in the the future. Just as wishing for money does not make one rich, wishing for happiness does not necessarily make one happy.