Friday, June 15, 2012


Watch A New Genetic Map That Could Make Your Skin Crawl on PBS.
See more from PBS NewsHour.

We're outnumbered ten to one by these microorganisms and yet less than 10% of them have ever been isolated and studied.
Eric Green

I really am excited by this.  It's worth getting past the ad and listening to the interview.  This is going to change how medicine is practiced in the future.  Understanding the metabolism of these bacteria is like discovering a new organ(s) in our bodies.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

The Human Microbiome

Petri Plate 5 by Seeking Tao
Petri Plate 5, a photo by Seeking Tao on Flickr.
The human body contains about 100 trillion cells, but only maybe one in 10 of those cells is actually human. The rest are from bacteria, viruses and other microorganisms.
The human we see in the mirror is made up of more microbes than human.

NPR reporter Rob Stein and Lita Proctor of the National Institutes of Health

So began the radio report on the results of the Human Microbiome Project the first catalog of the bacteria, viruses and other microorganisms that populate every nook and cranny of the human body as reported by 200 scientists in some sixteen articles published in four journals.

The definition of a human microbiome is all the microbial microbes that live in and on our bodies, all the genes, and all the metabolic capabilities these microbes bring to supporting human health and also human disease. The scientists had taken samples from 200 healthy adults in 18 different sites both on and in the body.

The factoids of the findings are truly amazing:
10,000 different species annotated, 8 million different genes, that’s 300 times the number of human genes by the Human Genome Project.
There were discoveries of entirely new species which have the scientists speaking in terms of opening new territory – a rainforest with new butterflies or mammals… except they’re speaking of bacteria. Those foreign little buggers  that we mostly try to sanitize away.

Well, all this info, however stunning in the moment (and I got very excited yesterday), isn’t all that new. Because, you see, the symbiosis in the human body is actually quite fractal, the pattern repeating on different levels, in different ways on subtler, more microscopic levels.

I think of Evie fighting cancer. Well, actually her Hodgkins tumors are  composed of only about 10% cancerous cells. The cancerous Reed-Sternberg cells recruit a host of immune cells that symbiotically support the cancer. And in turn within each of these human cells, both benign and malignant, respiration occurs in small organelles – the mitochondria – that are descendents of swallowed-up bacteria that symbiotically created the cells we know today as "human".

When I discovered this fact about mitochondria back in 1969, I shivered with a thrill. I’ve quoted Lewis Thomas before because the impact went so deeply into me and he expresses his own feelings that so well echo mine:
there is the whole question of my identity… It is a mystery.
There they are, moving about in my cytoplasm, breathing for my own flesh, but strangers. They are much less closely related to me than to each other and to the free-living bacteria out under the hill. They feel like strangers, but the thought comes that the same creatures, precisely the same, are out there in the cells of sea gulls and whales, and dune grass, and seaweed, and hermit crabs... Through them, I am connected… This is a new kind of information, for me.

Lewis Thomas

And, I guess until a deeply non-dual awareness is established, I shall continue to be shaken to my core by such incontrovertible evidence that the boundaries I draw around myself are actually quite arbitrary and ultimately rather artificial.

It seems that experience is a very dualistic affair. Experience, we are taught early in life, has a personal inner observer who gets in touch with outer objects through the means of the senses, and communicates through language to other inner observers. There is an impassible barrier, we are taught, between in and out. …
This subject /object duality is perhaps the most fundamental duality of all. How you see yourself affects how you see the object of your experience. “What you be” determines what you see.

Greg Goode, How to Stand as Awareness

Monday, June 11, 2012

Into the Great Silence

When we discuss akedia, we are discussing the mystery of why people fall out of love.

Miek Pot was interviewed recently on Conscious TV. The episode is entitled Into the Great Silence and it perked my ears up because Silence has so very often crashed upon my consciousness heralding a shift. Miek Pot tells her story of discovering this Silence, which she equates with God, upon entering a
Carthusian monastery. This was the women’s version of the monastery of the Grand Chartreuse that was the subject of the 2005 documentary film, Into Great Silence. The Silence in that film was so powerful that many people simply fled the theatre within the first few minutes. And while I squirmed at first, I stuck with it and discovered beauty.

But, as I listened to Miek Pot describe her experience this morning I was stunned for a different reason. When asked, Let’s talk about “the demon of the eleventh hour.” Pot replied: Akedia… someone hanging around, but formerly, I didn’t know the name. But, in the monastery I learned to give it a name. It is something that is with me in my actual life again… Life is boring. There are no changes [or] new things. And then, Akedia is coming. Akedia is different from depression. Depression is something you know like a mental illness, while Akedia is more a no caring. It is a hardening of the heart. It’s like indifference.

Akedia! I leaned forward and tried to listen more closely to what exactly she was saying. Acadia? Could that be right? Acadia? A demon called Acadia? No!

This is the forest primeval. The murmuring pines and the hemlocks,
Since I was a young girl these words have meant Acadia to me. But today when they came to mind I was only confused since they are from the poem, Evangeline. I puzzled over their link to Acadia having long forgotten the next lines:

This is the forest primeval; but where are the hearts that beneath it
Leaped like the roe…
Where is the thatch-roofed village, the home of Acadian farmers…
Darkened by shadows of earth, but reflecting an image of heaven?

No. Today I heard Acadia and then was told, “It’s not depression.”

I have been asking myself about depression for some time now. “Is this depression?”
And always I have concluded, “No.” It seems like something else; some not quite integrated way of being in this largely “life of solitude” I have fallen into. I wonder if I need to make more friends, find a partner once again, do volunteer work – do something, anything to not feel this discomfort of somehow missing out on Life, of somehow not connecting. And yet, I know all those supposed solutions do not hold the answer and offer no appeal. Basically, I simply want to sit – and yet, I don’t. Still, I feel the answer lies inside myself. I know I must go deeper and find happiness within. I know I cannot pull away from feeling ANYTHING. Whatever arises, I must feel it and accept it. I must come to peace with everything.

And so, when Miek Pot says that it is a hardening of the heart, I know she is correct. And I know she is describing things from something of a different angle and I want to understand. I think of the anonymous comment someone left at one of my blog entries. It urged me to cultivate devotion to God… even if that seems a dualistic activity for someone into nonduality. I think of Adya telling me of the flaming heart putting an end to the isolation of the witness.

So, I Googled this new word, unsure even of the spelling, and found:
Acedia: Spiritual torpor and apathy; ennui.
Acedia was originally noted as a problem among monks and other ascetics who maintained a solitary life. Its spiritual overtones make it related to but distinct from depression. It can lead to a state of being unable to perform one's duties in life...

because one no longer cares. Suddenly, I was reminded of Adya’s comment in his interview at BATGAP. He mentioned that there’s a “dirty little secret” in non-duality in which people can become “spiritual shipwrecks.” They get lost in the not doing and the not caring. Maybe, this is just another flavor of what’s been called spiritual bypassing. But, as in comparisons with depression, there is a notable difference.

Acedia is essentially a flight from the world that leads to not caring even that one does not care.
For Aquinas, acedia is "sorrow about spiritual good in as much as it is a Divine good."

The demon of acedia holds an important place in early monastic demonology and psychology. Evagrius of Pontus characterizes it as "the most troublesome of all" of the eight genera of evil thoughts. Evagrius sees acedia as a temptation, and the great danger lies in giving in to it.

Aquinas's teaching on acedia contrasts with his prior teaching on charity's gifted "spiritual joy" to which acedia is directly opposed. As Aquinas says, "One opposite is known through the other, as darkness through light. Hence also what evil is must be known from the nature of good."

Hum. I found this all quite interesting. But, the real lesson here, I think, goes back to the Silence and how many people actually fled the theatre not even wanting to deal with it on film, let alone real life: Darkened by shadows of earth, but reflecting an image of heaven …
The polarity is too great. Intuitively, we know that more is required of us than we are willing to give. We become afraid and we contract. We either freeze or run away.

At another site I found this explanation of Akedia as one of the Seven Deadly Sins. (I have taken liberties with ellipsis… and yes, this is a very Christain explanation involving “sin” – a word I like to define as “that which separates us from God” and thus a useful concept for the serious non-dualist.)

The pattern of sin we are going to discuss today is very different from the other patterns of sin we have discussed in previous weeks… Other sins treat something bad as a good thing and run after it… But are all sins defined in terms of things we do?
What about sins that are problem because of things we don’t do?

Because our culture is focused on action, we are very quick to look at outward actions and pass judgment …[but] When my sin lies in the fact I don’t act, there is no outward action to give me away.
No one will see that my heart was wrong and this led me to refuse love’s claims…
The early church believed that not acting because one refused to do what love asked of us was the deadliest and most dangerous of sins.

They called this sin akedia (“indifference,” “spiritual apathy”).

When we discuss akedia, we are discussing the mystery of why people fall out of love.

Wow, The Mystery! – now, there’s a word that keeps coming to my mind these days. I find I do not feel I can really understand anything these days. Last blog I wrote about these spiritualize migraines where my vision becomes uncoupled from thinking. It’s almost like a sensory version of Life becoming more and more “ungraspable.” The mind cannot hold onto vision. The mind cannot grasp hold of Life in the way it once did. It no longer makes all that much sense. Someone is here and then they’re not. How can that be? What does a Life mean? What is its weight? And can you waste it? Do I waste it?
Who am I, anyway?
It is a Mystery.
And now, there is this mystery of why people fall out of love - And that is called akedia.

Falling out of Love. Refusing to do what Love asks of us.
How is that possible? For is not Love another word for God? - which is just another word for Silence and The Mystery. The impossible is happening and how is that possible?

It’s a hardening of the heart. It’s like indifference. For me when it comes, it is for me to find a way to go into my heart and it’s by my [inner] child… and then all that hardening, that indifference… falls away, collapses. And then, I am in my heart and acedia is away.
Miek Pot, Into the Great Silence

Saturday, June 09, 2012

What is Pain

In order for there to be pain, there also has to be something else, a story, resistance, or fear…
There’s the sensation and then there has to be an idea about it…
When the sensations are strong you can suffer with even a little bit of story.

For years now I’ve had bouts of migraines, but during the past year they have gradually changed into something I’d not even label as a migraine if I’d hadn’t seen the gradual evolution of the symptoms.

What began as head splitting pain, nausea and vertigo has become a painless slight nausea shakiness and rather transcendent buzz.  In many ways it feels as if I have jumped up out of a deep meditation and my body feels shocked.  Something happens to my vision.  At first, cloudy or blurred seem descriptive but then I’ll realize that’s not it.  More accurately, it seems as if the process of vision, seeing, has become uncoupled from a neural circuit that usually processes visual information.  Usually, what I see goes through a loop that adds a story.  I see something and then think about it with words.  During these migraines now, I simply see.  If I am at work following written instructions, thinking things through becomes an almost impossible task.  I go home and fall asleep immediately.

I think that this shifting in quality of the migraines has been caused by the calcium channel and beta blocker medication I take for high blood pressure.  But, as the shift has become more pronounced it has seemed less and less a physical phenomenon and more and more like some spiritual experience, some adjustment that allows life to be lived with a bit less story.

We all experience pain.  Here, Nirmila finely draws out the mechanics of its arising.  May it help us all live with less pain in the future.