“It is time for a return to childhood, to simplicity, to running and climbing and laughing in the sunshine, to experiencing happiness instead of being trained for a lifetime of pursuing happiness“… L.R. Knost
Sam Harris is very much a skeptic, which is obvious from the very first chapter of ‘Waking Up: A Guide to Spirituality Without Religion’. Even the Dalai Lama, whose book on secular ethics ‘Beyond Religion’ is of the same ilk, cops criticism – where the doctrine of His Holiness doesn’t agree with Sam’s. But Waking Up is a study of applications of Mindfulness so as to enhance our spiritual awareness. Sam argues that mastery of self, to the point that there is no longer a ‘self’, is the way to happiness.
There go all the self-help books into the recycling bin.
It’s not a popular idea today – the selfie is still seen as essential to capture the present moment, and the passing of our lives. A 21C version of the hand’s outline painted in caves!
Integrative Medicine teaches consideration of spirituality as vital in understanding patient environment, in order to work with beliefs and use the support of religion in adjusting to palliative care or end of life. Nearly 900 years ago the first mental hospital run by a monastic community was built, and only recently has psychiatry supplanted the nuns and priests responsibility to care for those suffering. Defining spirituality as distinct from religion is enlightening ( fastrack road to Nirvana 🙂 ) in the modern age. Most medical degrees now incorporate mindful meditation – even if just for the sakes of practitioner wellbeing, and 86% of Vienna graduates are prepared to discuss these issues with patients.
Koenig’s definition “Spirituality is distinguished from all other things… by its connection to that which is sacred, the transcendent… that which is outside of the self” was used for a systematic review of the research evidence for the influence of religion or spirituality upon overcoming illness or encouraging healthy behaviour. It’s positive overall, apart from weight – but that issue excepts Jews and Buddhists. Justification enough for the introductory mindfulness classes exercise in studiously eating one raisin, as the Kabat-Zinn MBSR course does.
Disappearing into a Himalayan cave to meditate is considered by Sam, due to success stories in attaining higher understandings of consciousness. Even sitting under the bodhi tree gave the Buddha his “Whoa, dude” moment. Never having done a retreat I fear that my insight into ultimate reality will be that it’s not a cushion, but actually a rock that I’ve been sitting on. Which is uncomfortable. And will never be a cloud upon which I can levitate. #notYogi. Carole’s experiences have been fruitful however.
A previous blog pointed to the importance of Connection to community in subverting commercialism, having benefit without consuming product. Volunteers already know that service to others brings happiness. This is perhaps just a blocking of one’s own suffering, as Florence Nightingale famously found out. CFS/Fibromyalgia Awareness Day 12th May is her birthday, since it’s believed that she was afflicted. And so to the inspirational source of this blog, results from an intervention described in the Journal of Mindfulness and Compassion 2016.
Attachment-Based Compassion Therapy trial results for a group of fibromites, which is a poorly understood pain condition, were recently published. The program was developed in recognition that mindfulness alone, while beneficial, was inadequate in turning around the crippling symptoms of pain, fogginess, and fatigue. So rather than jump into self-awareness, it begins with compassion for others – defined as:
- recognizing and understanding the universality of suffering,
- feeling emotionally connected with others’ suffering,
- tolerating uncomfortable feelings aroused as part of remaining open to and accepting of others’ suffering, and
- being motivated to act to alleviate suffering
The Effect Size improvement in functioning of 1.4 compared extremely favourably with that from Psychotherapy of 0.4 (per gold-standard Cochrane review CD001980). Of course, in order for compassion to underpin relationships, forming of attachment is considered. And this is the beauty of blending psychology <-> with spiritual self-sacrifice <-> with mindful practice. They all work together, without incurring interaction risk such as may occur with mixing of medications.
The opening quote points to childhood as instructional in mindful attention to the present moment. A child’s attachment to their parent is helped by the entrusting of their care to another. In the religion most Australian’s have experienced, Jesus instructed that “… unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matt 18:2)
Without any detail on this place, it can be more easily understood as a state of mind. Adopt a child’s innocence, enter bliss. Seems too simple, doesn’t it?