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Refugee Explorer


San Francisco
Last Active
San Francisco
  • Grief

    My alabaster jewel of fire,
    your prismatic blades of light
    cut into my hands
    as I carry you into the desert
    where your pedestal awaits,
    unique amidst countless others.

    Worry not, my jewel,
    I am not leaving you.

    One day I will return,
    when the winds and sands
    have softened your searing gleam.

  • Re: Thinking about meditating while meditating.

    You ARE observing what your mind is doing, and that IS the practice.

    This is helpful feedback. You're right. Through meditation, I have become more familiar with the machinery of my own mind, and more intimately familiar with the realization that it is just that: machinery. Intellectually I believed this, but to believe and to see are two different things entirely.

    This has helped me deal with unpleasant mind states. Throughout my life I have spiraled into depression, struggled with paranoid thoughts, obsessive compulsive tendencies... you name it, I've been there. The first tool I learned to use in order to counter these mind states was logic and intellect, and thus these are my most developed faculties. "Your intellect is your sword," a psychologist noted to me.

    Afraid of flying? Learn everything in the world about planes.

    Panic attacks that feel like a heart attack? Become a walking textbook on human physiology.

    Depression? Time to become an armchair neuroscientist.

    My vocabulary and writing style has become kind of strange because I spend so much of my time reading PubMed. I'm losing my fluidity with metaphor and simile because I'm feeding myself technical literature and little else.

    Yet I find myself now in a stage of life where I have dealt with most of my acute problems and challenges and find myself lacking interest, ambition, motivation, and hope. Life is comfortable but meaningless. This is not a problem that I can solve with intellect or willpower. I am utterly consumed by philosophical questions relating to the meaning of life. I recognize this as the mind's machinery trying to solve the problem of a sense of aimlessness and meaninglessness, and I know that it will turn and turn and ultimately fail.

    If I can just get out of my head for even a few moments, if I can step outside the realm of information, logic, thought, and cognition... I know that the answers are inside of me. I can sense the wholeness that lies within. I remember what it was like when I was a child. As a child, I had not yet built up layers and layers of false identity and layers and layers of preconceptions. When I looked at a flower, I saw it. Something so simple as naked observation... that is what I yearn for.

    As for a teacher... I am not ready for that. The thought evokes a sense of a door slamming firmly shut, and unlike many doors inside, this one will not easily budge. This is not a manifestation of arrogance suggesting that I know best... it is something else. Something related to emotional wounds, a fragile sense of self. Let's call it a firewall. I don't know it yet for exactly what it is, but I recognize it as a defense mechanism.

    This response ended up being far longer than I intended. I just started writing and the words came flowing out. For whatever reason, I can never seem to write journal entries, but I can write a response to a forum with no difficulty at all. I've tried pretending that I'm writing to someone else when I open the journal, but it feels hollow. Perhaps the mental image isn't strong enough, or perhaps I am so married to "truth" that I am losing my ability to pretend. Hmm.

    Well, in any case, if anyone ended up reading all of this, sorry that I ended up journaling at you. Maybe I should start an online journal or blog.

  • Re: How do you regain the Beginner's Mind?

    I think most people are going to come at this from a mental and spiritual perspective (which is important), but since that part is going to be covered better than anything I can say, I'll chime in with something completely different.

    Let's talk neuroscience. How do we keep the brain young?

    The brain has this feature called plasticity, which is the degree to which it changes in response to external stimuli. While this plasticity tends to decrease with age, with a major synaptic pruning occurring during the early twenties, it is never lost. From the moment you are born until the moment you die, your brain is growing new cells, forming new synapses, and laying down new myelin sheaths.

    Your brain's degree of plasticity determines how quickly you learn.

    So the question becomes, is there any way to increase this?

    Answer: Yes.

    First: exercise. Cardio. Lots of it. Thirty minutes a day five days a week at 85% of your maximum heart rate.

    Wait. How does that make sense?

    I can tell you a few things.

    1. After people hit their thirties or so, they start losing around 1% of their brain volume every year. Regular cardio completely offsets this effect.

    2. Cardio increases expression of a protein called brain derived neurotrophic growth factor, or BDNF. This stuff is basically fertilizer for the brain. It increases the likelihood that new synapses will form, it encourages myelin formation, and it increases the rate of new brain cell birth.

    3. Running outdoors, if you're up to it, is a cognitively demanding task. Regular runners demonstrate visible growth in brain areas involved in self-monitoring, strategic decision making, emotional regulation, and planning.

    There is no more powerful way of keeping the brain physically young than regular cardiovascular exercise.

    Second: nutrition.

    You are not a mind in a jar. Chronic inflammation from a poor diet and lack of sleep will dramatically impair brain health in invisible but very real ways. The brain needs protein, healthy fats, stable blood sugar levels, and a variety of vitamins. If you eat a healthy diet, you're probably replete with most of what you need, but the majority of folks who eat a great diet are still mildly deficient in magnesium and Vitamin D, both of which are very important for cognitive functioning. Iron deficiency is also common, and you need iron to form myelin and make dopamine. The brain also needs DHA and EPA, which are Omega 3 fatty acids predominantly found in seafood and generally lacking in the typical Western diet.

    Third: sleep.

    Sleep is incredibly critical, and a lot of people don't get enough of it.

    Fourth: learning.

    Effortful learning increases BDNF. Combined with exercise, it's a combo punch. Meditation helps. Doing something like learning a new language or going through a textbook is great mental exercise.

  • Re: Is sentient same as conscious?

    Paraphrasing something I read as an adolescent that resonated with me:

    The difference in cognition between men and animals is one of degree and not of kind.

  • Re: Is Buddhism just like the others?

    Looking at Buddhism from a historical perspective, it is easy to find commonalities between Buddhism and other religions. Are there elements of faith present in many Buddhist sects? Unquestionably yes. Just as the Christian saints are often polytheistic gods in disguise (St. Brigid of Ireland, for example is likely a Christianization of a Celtic goddess), so too does every Buddhist tradition have its own degree of corruption. It is inevitable.

    I am not a religious person. But you don't have to be a religious person to consider the ideas, thoughts, and perspectives that are presented in a particular faith. You can weigh them yourself and see what makes sense to you. Most Buddhist sects in particular are open to this sort of secular inquiry. Unlike the Abrahamic religions, Buddhism welcomes scrutiny, questioning, and critical thinking.

    You do not have to believe in nirvana or enlightenment to agree with the idea that the mind creates the world we inhabit, that craving leads to suffering, and that it is possible to achieve a state of mind where these influences are lessened or eliminated.