Saturday, 11 October 2014

What Science Can Learn From Breathwork

Keynote Lecture at the Global Inspiration Conference (GIC)
of the International Breathwork Federation (IBF)
in Ireland July 2014

Dr. Wilfried Ehrmann  and Dr. Wolfgang Fellner

(For personal use only, please do not quote!)


For our practical work with clients, we do not need science. Scientists are scientists, and breathworkers are breathworkers. But we use science whether we want to or not. Science operates in the background of our presence, our interventions and our communication. Science is part of the world we live in and so it is a formative part of us, whether we know it or not, and whether we use it or not.

As a consequence, it can only be beneficial for us as individual breathworkers and for the whole community of breathworkers to have a clear relationship with science.  And, as we will see later, science would benefit from listening to the insights of breathwork and learning from them. A discourse between the two can help breathwork to become more accepted in society and it can help science to broaden its knowledge of man and, as we will see, its own methodology.

Breathworkers can use science to clarify their view of reality and make clear distinctions between knowledge and fantasy. There are things which can be known as they are accessible by our outer senses and by communication, and there are things which are created inside ourselves, as product of our associative brain. It is an important quality for all therapists to be able to make a clear distinction between reality and fantasy, as only with this quality they can help their clients to develop a sober sense of reality themselves.

Finally, science and breathwork have a common goal. They are both aimed at creating a peaceful world with free/self-determined people and at striving for it by their means.

What is needed for creating a fruitful relationship between breathwork and science?

We need a framework of epistemology. Epistemology belongs to the realm of philosophy of science and basically deals with the question of what man can know about the world.

Secondly, we need a framework of methodology. Methodology signifies a theory on how to produce valuable and useful insights about reality.

Thirdly, we need methods and complementary concepts of how to make the findings of research applicable for healing work in practice.

All of these goals can be met in close cooperation between practice and theory, between breathwork and science.

First Person Perspective and Third Person Perspective

When we talk about science, we conventionally mean science based on a Third Person Perspective (3PP). This is science based on objective data and conclusions based on rules which are based on established and broadly accepted rules of reasoning. Scientific results are supposed to be valid and replicable (reliable), to be checked by other members of the scientific community. This is the principle of falsification as formulated by Karl Popper.

Although this is the usual form of science we know it is not the only one. What is science based on a First Person Perspective (1PP)? Its data are subjective and are accessible by the inner senses. Consequently, they are singular and unique. There is no possibility of reduplication and falsification in the traditional sense. Yet its data and theories derived from them can be communicated, evaluated and compared.

When science started to conquer the world of cognitions, 1PP-science was as important and approved in society as 3PP-science. Yet, in the course of the 20th century, 3PP-science became dominant, and dictated the "gold"-standards for science, thus ousting 1PP-science to the edges of the world of cognitions. Additionally, 3PP-science gained a leading role in society and politics by claiming the central role in explaining the world and in delivering the basics for reasonable decisions in the life of individuals as well as of states.

The advantages of 3PP are obvious and belong to a common-sense notion of truth. 3PP-knowledge is derived from data received by the outer senses: view, sound, touch, smell, etc. In these ways we perceive objects. The perception of objects is shared by everyone: Those who have been to Paris can state that there is an Eiffel tower. Those who have not been there can go there and prove the perception of others. But they also can believe in what others report, "I have seen the tower with my own eyes." This becomes a reliable truth when a certain number of people agree.

When one person says, "I have seen a spaceship landing in my garden," we would only believe this person if a sufficient number of others stated the same. Then we could form a consensus about the objective existence of the spaceship. If one person comes and cannot see the object, we can question his senses or mind. Yet, when a sufficient number of people deny the existence of the object, we have to give up the objectivity of its existence. (By the way: 20 percent of US-citizens believe in alien abduction – just imagine that only those are included in that survey who have returned from abduction and could answer a questionnaire – and what will we do when the number rises above the magical 50%?).

So for a theory to be approved, the data and the conclusions from these data have to be approved by the scientific community. Without its blessings, any findings from research remain private speculation.

Members of scientific communities act according to scientific standards. They need a form of ethical integrity to stick to the rules of science and act accordingly. So a 1PP-standard is required for 3PP-science to function. To act scientifically is not a normal form of behaviour, but a very exclusive and extravagant way of interacting with the world. It requires thorough training and the discipline for studying objects with patience and without prejudgements. It means e.g. staring through a microscope or on a computer screen for hours, days and weeks.

Someone who is not willing to take up a discipline will not be able to reduplicate and falsify the theories of any discipline. So 3PP-science relies on 1PP-qualities to work the way it works.

By the end of the last century continuing into the new millennium, new tendencies have been arising out of science approaching the borders of 1PP. Neurosciences have made a considerable progress and continuously work along the interface of brain processes and experience, of objectivity and subjectivity, of 3PP and 1 PP.

Research on the placebo effect has produced paradoxical and contradictory results. These enigmatic phenomena can most likely only be explained when a 1PP is added.
Another branch of research work is based on the embodiment theory: Body and mind must not be seen separate. Any study of the human mind has to include the complementary processes in the body and consequently has to include a 1PP.

Epigenetics, another new brand of modern scientific research, has shown that genes constantly interact with their cellular environment adapting its functions to the actual needs of the cell and of the whole organism. Finding methods for regulating and modulating this interactive process for healing purposes can open a fruitful field of joint 1PP and 3PP research.

Other areas for a combination of objective and subjective science can be found in psychotherapy science and in new approaches of medicine like person-centred medicine.

So the theory of science has to consider new possibilities in the cooperation and integration of 1PP and 3PP.

Without losing the advantages of 3PP, which lie in a commonly accepted reliable way of generating objective insights and relative, useful truths, a scientific 1PP should be added as an indispensable access to data which cannot be retrieved by 3PP and are essential for a complete explanation of reality and for thoroughly understanding its functioning.

Therefore we see an inclusive form of scientific knowledge on the horizon. It will be needed for safeguarding human well-being on one side and of scientific reliability on the other side. It will have to include a 2-Person-Perspective as well, which is the knowledge arising from interhuman relationships, and a 1-Person-Plural-Perspective, which is the knowledge which can be found in collective insights, in the wisdom of groups, communities and larger societies.

We need to include these perspectives into scientific research, when we want to create a holistic scientific model of the world. Data from various sources of perception should equally contribute to the scientific progress as an equivalent to a democratic society. Then we also can find new approaches to the questions on health which can be accepted by people who have sceptically turned away from scientific thinking because of its lack of 1PP experience.

By establishing this inclusive scientific knowledge about the world in general and about humans opens up new perspectives on the important questions: What is health? What is man? What is the self as horizon for inner growth?

Excursus: Ontology

In this excursus, we will look into the basic concepts about the reality of reality. How can we understand the nature of reality? By simplifying, we can describe two polar alternatives: Materialistic reductionism and constructivism.
The pure materialistic view is that there is just matter and nothing else. The world is outside without any relevant inside.
Radical constructivism states that reality is created by the mind, so there is no matter but just information. The world is inside without any relevant outside.

We propose a mediated or intertwined view: Any phenomenon consists of matter and of information. All there is, needs both to exist: matter and information. These two aspects can only be seen from different perspectives although they are basically the same. So everything in reality has an inside and an outside and can be understood and studied only when combining a look on both sides. The nature of reality and of our interaction with it can only be grasped when 1PP is included which provides the access to the area of information. A central aspect of information is meaning which can only be read by 1PP. Information without meaning is useless.

Since the beginning of modern times, the systematic exclusion of 1PP has served as success formula for 3PP-science to gain a position outside religious limitations in the first place and later on beyond the social and political discourses. The price was the denial of its foundation and origin, which is the search for meaning based on 1PP-insights. By this, science has moved into a secluded corner by limiting the possibilities of transferring science back to society when it does not systematically include the meaning-giving 1PP.

One side effect of this ontological position is the possibility of marking a clear distinction between science (including 1PP) and esoterics which is characterised by category fallacies as it usually bases 3PP on 1PP, reduces 3PP to 1PP or camouflages 1PP as 3PP.

Complexity and Simplicity

Furthermore, we look into the concept of complexity. "Ideal science" requires simple objects, so one goal of scientific research is the reduction of complexity. Yet, every reduction loses details which might be important for other scientific purposes. The basic reduction used by 3PP-science seems to us the omittance of 1PP. We consider this exclusion as detrimental for humanity on the long run.

Simplicity has the advantage of an easy transfer from knowledge to practical conclusions. With one simple cause of every form of cancer, treatment would be simple, as only one method would be required. Yet the reality of cancer is not that simple, so cancer treatment has become a highly complex field of specialisation. Humans are complex, and as elegant as simple theories can be, as many of them are needed to approach an all-inclusive description and explanation.

Simple models of cause and effect serve the need for control and safety but appear naïve and illusionary when the complexity and variety of humans comes into play. With more complexity, more perspectives have to be included to complete the picture. As humans have the 1PP always with them, they only can apply science in their life when it is combined with their inner senses. Insofar as science starts including this perspective, it will increase the benefits for humanity.

Inclusive Science and its Standards

Modern science succeeded by promising the ultimate control over nature and by granting safety and wellbeing for a growing population on the ground of simple cause-effect models. It also succeeded in exorcising mysticism by this “throwing the baby out with the bathwater”, as a German proverb goes. One goal of these reflections is to draw a clear line between fear-based superstition and mind freeing mysticism.

For a useful methodology of an inclusive science, we need to work on the following topics:

•    Which methods are appropriate for a certain field of research resp. for a certain scientific question?
•    Different groups of science according to the complexity of phenomena:
Science of nature, science of humans

  • How can we refine the 1PP from a purely subjective and arbitrary function as it appears in the stream of consciousness model of literature or in esoteric speculations? What are methodological requirements for the 1PP as science?

A holistic science of humans has to include 1PP, otherwise it runs the risk of commodification or reification, which means to turn processes into objects. Reification serves to found and legitimise ideologies but not scientific research.

    Criteria for Inner Research

    Here is a list of requirements which allow a controllable way of inner research and make 1PP comparable to 3PP:
    • A high degree of self-reflection and ethical integrity as an entrance criterion for the scientific community: 1PP is prone to charlatans and swindlers
    • Discernment between sensations, feelings, fantasies and interpretations: A researcher of the inner world has to be trained in differentiating/discriminating between different classes of inner information related to different material processes in the organism.
    • Reproducibility and comparability: Researchers who enter a certain state of inner awareness with the help of standardised procedures come to the same or to comparable results.
    • Systematic abstraction of experiences: Research data from standardised introspection can be combined to produce theories which then can be applied in the healing work in practice.
    • Criteria for plausibility: Due to economic reasons, many phenomena cannot be researched up to a point of "absolute" certainty, to a point of evident scientific proof. Yet, research work combining 1PP and 3PP can reach a high level of plausibility which allows for further testing the theories in practical work. In addition, plausible results of research can enter the general discussion and media communication as what they are: plausible findings. This could be a new category which can serve our needs for orientation similar to the category of scientifically proven results.
    • Standardised training: As any scientist needs training in methodology and in objectivity (which is a 1PP-quality), 1PP-scientist need training in systematic introspection which can be standardised. For example, to gain the ability to differentiate inner sensations, a training in awareness, mindfulness or conscious breathing is helpful. After a certain amount of training with these methods, certain skills are acquired which then also can be measured with 3PP-methods like EEG or MRT.
    • Rules for translation processes: Information from inside the organism which only can be accessed by a 1PP appears in different "languages": e.g. the "language" of body sensations, the "language" of feelings etc. The rules for translating between these structures of information have to be explained and standardised.

    As addition to the last point: We can distinguish between two directions of translation:

    1) Bottom-up: From the "language" of the organismic processes to the language of mental concepts and words. There are several distinct steps in this direction of translation: Body sensations (the basic form of information to experience consciously), feelings, symbolisations, words, sentences, ideas.
    2) Top-down: From mental concepts to organismic processes. This direction includes the skills of mental concentration, visualisation, body scanning, affirmation work, mindfulness practices etc. It is an important aspect of any therapeutic work.

    Inner vs. Outer Knowledge

    Inner Knowledge is self-evident and immediate. As it is only accessible by the experiencing person, it is subjective and needs to be translated into verbal language for intersubjective use.
    Outer knowledge can be verified by virtually everyone. This qualifies for objectivity and a high degree of reliability. It can be communicated, but needs contexts for acquiring meaning.

    The Role of the Breath in 1PP-Science

    Breathing has a special and singular position in the field of inner research. When we observe our breathing, we notice a movement in our upper body which can also be seen from outside (3PP). At the same time, we notice a movement on the inside, e.g. the movement of the diaphragm. This movement can also be made visible from outside via supersonic or X-ray. Observing the breathing, connects the inner and the outer senses. So it provides an interface between 1 PP and 3 PP. As easily as with breathing, there is no other way to enter into a direct conscious experience of an organic process "in real time".

    So training the inner sense by observing the breathing, as it is taught in many schools of meditation as well as in breathwork, has not only beneficial results by calming the mind and balancing the nervous system, but also for building up skills which are valuable for systematic scientific research

    In this way, we can consider breathwork as a method of scientific research and breathworker as scientists, when they are willing to use their skills for these purposes. They are experts in tracking the pathways of inner experience, which is the only way to collect inner knowledge. They are also trained in refining these pathways and in deepening the levels of experience so that the earliest traces of the cellular memory can be brought to consciousness for evaluation. They also know about the rules of translation between the different levels of inner experience.

    By standardising these skills, breathwork can find a sound and publicly acknowledged position between esoterics and materialism.

    Friday, 15 August 2014

    Why Birth was Hospitalized

    Childbirth is not a disease. On the contrary, it is a process of enhancing and furthering life. So it seems strange that it became part of hospital life - hospitals invented for the sake of curing ill people. Homebirth became a rare exception in modern countries, and in developing countries, everyone who can afford it, goes to hospitals for birth.

    To understand this process, we should keep three aspects in mind, which obviously work together in squeezing birth into hospitals throughout the world in the last decades.

    One viewpoint: The medical establishment has gained more influence in society since it started to cooperate with modern science. Preventing risks for individuals became a major goal in politics and society, and science based medicine offered its services for this purpose. Due to great successes in conquering many diseases, modern medicine proved its power in helping people to improve their lives and keeping risks at distance. Finally, it also took over the role of providing the best care for mother and child at birth - what should be a risk, when you had all the experts with their instruments and machines around while giving birth to a child?

    Second viewpoint: The growth of stress in modern society especially affected birth as a very sensitive phase in life. In addition to that, insecure attachment patterns created an atmosphere of unsafety around birth, so pregnant women started to distrust their instincts and to entrust doctors to better know what is needed when a baby is born. 

    Third viewpoint: The economic system of capitalism is based on the exploitation of human (and natural) resources. It requires individuals who are used to stress. So it is in the interest of this system, that individual life starts under stressful circumstances.

    Patriachalism and the Alienation of Childbirth

    Midwives lost their independent role as experts of childbirth and were placed between doctors and mothers, as part of the medical establishment, subordinated under the regiment of doctors educated at universities.

    It is a strange development that male doctors became the experts in childbirth, dismissing the emotional and intuitive female expertise of mothers and midwives which had worked good enough to keep up human life for millions of years. This can be seen as a late victory of patriarchalism not only over the traditional female knowledge about birth, but also about nature. Birth was transferred from a natural environment to an artificial one in hospitals. New life is created in maximum distance to nature. (You only need to walk into a modern hospital to experience this distance, e.g. in Vienna's biggest and best equipped hospital almost all rooms do not have any access to natural light.)

    These doctors are not trained in emotional and intuitive knowledge, but only in montoring scientific data and applying "proven" methods designed for avoiding or managing situations of danger. Although by far the most procedures in hospitals have never been scientifically proven, the magical power of the white coat works in entrusting the doctors with a leading role in childbirth, attributed equally from the mothers and from the society as a whole. Pregnant mothers relinquish their intuition and their experience from nine months of pregnancy to the superior knowledge of studied medicins. So childbirth tends to become unemotional, unempathic and unintuitive, standardised and mechanised, resembling more a birthing factory or a highly risky operation than a mystical process as a wonder of nature.

    As consequences, cesarian births have multiplied by ten or more in the recent decades, and medication and surgery became regular procedures in the birth process. New risks arise because of the mechanised and sterilised environment of the hospitals. Children are born into a world of machines, artificial light and stressed professionals. Anxiety is the only emotion allowed in the sterile birthing rooms. Every trace of nature is carefully eliminated, is kept outside, so that in this germfree environment the baby has no chance to interact with nature.

    Stress and Unsecure Attachment

    Under these circumstances it is extremely difficult for the mother and the father to establish a loving bond with the newborn being, as emotions are excluded as much as possible. The whole apparatus is not interested in fulfilling emotional needs but only in taking care of the risks which can be externally witnessed and measured.

    The historical trend behind this development has to do with the emancipation of women out of their traditional role as housewives and childreerers. By entering the world of paid labour, women took over the external stress ruling capitalsm. They had to make this step out of the general need to leave behind the confinements of fate in a hopeless class of poverty administered by birth. For a family to escape this fate, the industrialized society of the 19th century (in Europe) and later in other parts of the world offered the possibility of paid work in factories. The income of the family father alone was not sufficient to provide for  the needs for survival and sustainance. So mothers start to work to afford a better life and find an escape from poverty. The price was that women adopt the stress of modern labour which was added to the stress produced by child raising. It is a stress different to the stress in agricultural societies. 

    This means that children are born into an environment imprinted with industrialised stress. They receive stress from very early on and chronify it unconsciously, passing it on to the next generation. Babys who have already become used to stress in their prenatal phase are then born under stress. Mothers whose own prenatal time and birth was stressful will again have stressful births of their children. 

    As a consequence of stressful births, the bonding between mother and child becomes a problem. Medication, surgery and cesarian section have massive influences on the mother and the child. The emotional energy needed for coping with these hardships reduces the possibilities of establishing a secure relationship on both sides. So the hospitalisation of the birth process can also contribute to the development of insecure attachment patterns which produce habitual ways of avoidant or ambivalent relationships throughout the life of an individual and transferring these patterns to the next generation. These patterns reduce the ability to relate empathically and to feel the needs of others and of oneself. The focus stays on the outside and so help is generally expected from outside. Mothers, who have experienced a lot of stress during their lives and especially during their own birth, feel incompetent about giving birth. So they seek support by external professional helpers, by experts, namely doctors in their white coats. 

    Internalising Stress From the Start

    Seen from the other side, a society dominated by the economic values of capitalism requires working people who can tolerate a maximum amount of stress and are willing to give their life substance up to the point of exhaustion. Capitalism, fuelled by the urge to maximise profit, has the indispensible tendency to exploit all resources, including human life energy. Exploitation causes stress, and the world of capitalism only tolerates people who are ready to give it all and who are tough enough to cope with excessive demands and can live with the compensations offered by the system.

    So capitalism needs people who are used to stress, so they do not notice when they transgress their limits of health. Such people are created by starting their lives in stress and emotional hardship. Thus stress becomes internalised. This is the optimal setup of humans for a world of exploitation and excessive demands. 

    By internalisation of stress we mean: When external source do not longer exist, like the whip in slavery, stress becomes internalised. The internal whip is created: You are not good enough, you have to work more, you have to perform better.A child born in the sterile circumstances of a hospital has to quickly give up all expectations of what he or she considers as essential and as normal: A mother full of wonder and joy about her child, people around her who support her needs and the needs of the baby, in a loving and caring atmosphere. Instead, stress reigns, and the baby has to cope with this stress by taking up the assumption about him- or herself: I am not good enough for this world to receive what I need and deserve. I have to improve, I have to become better. If capitalism were a person it would exclaim: "Yes, this way I want you, you are welcome to the world of exploitation."

    Back to Nature in Birth

    So two sides work together in hospitalising birth: The social dynamics of the age of modern industrialisation as an objective force and the drive of individuals to create a safer and better life in the framework of this economical system, contributing the subjective side of this process. Science plays the seemingly innocent role of supporting this development with facts to prove the necessity of medical control of childbirth. But by suppressing the emotional and relational impact of this development, it just serves the needs of the capitalistic society. Science becomes the cognitive reassurement and affirmation of the instrumentalisation of childbirth, thus transforming into an ideology with pseudo-religious influence.

    It has to be mentioned that scientific medicine helped to reduce mother's and children's mortality rate and other dangers involved in birth, but that it also contributed to an increase in emotional stress causing other impacts on physical and emotional health with lasting consequences.  

    To escape the vicious circles created by the institutionalising of birth, "nature" has to return to childbirth as much as possible: Nature in form of the emotional intelligence and ancient expertise of women and in the form of friendly and relaxed environments so that the normal birth becomes a norm again, which is a birth without need for institutionalised help but just a wonder of nature creating a beautiful new being, celebrated by openhearted people.

    Tuesday, 25 March 2014

    Early Traumatization Modifies Genes

    Abused children are highly at risk of getting distored by fear or temper as the impacting high stress can alter the regulation of their genes permanently. Scientists of the Max-Planck-Institute of psychiatry in Munich could document for the first time that some variations of the FKBP5-gene get epigenetically changed by early traumatization. In people with this genetic disposal, the trauma causes a permanent dysregulation of the system of stress hormones. As a consequence, people have to deal with a life long disability in coping with difficult situations, often leading to depression and anxiety disorders as grownups. Medical doctors and scientist expect from the actual findings methods of treatment adjusted to the respective patients but also enhanced public attention to protect children from trauma and its consequences.

    Many human diseases result from an interaction of individual genes and influences from the environment. Traumatizing events especially during childhood are strong risk factors for the occurrence of psychiatric diseases later in life. Whether the early affecting stress actually becomes pathogenic, decisively depends on the relevant genetic endowments. 

    So teamleader Elisabeth Binder of the Max-Planck-Institute of Psychiatry examined the genetic material of nearly 2 000 Afro-Americans who had been heavily traumatized as grownups or also as kids several times. One third of the trauma victims were ill and suffered from a posttraumatic stress disorder. The scientists wanted to clear up the mechanism of this gene-environment interaction by comparing the genetic sequences of diseased and not diseased trauma victims. The investigation showed that in fact the risk of posttraumatic stress disorder only increased with the heaviness of abuse only in persons with a specific genetic variation of the FKBP5-gene. FKPB5 determines how effectively the organism reacts to stress hormones and thus regulates the whole stress hormone system. 

    In experiments with neurons, the Max-Planck scientists could further prove that the discovered FKBP5-variation actually makes a physiological difference for the respective people. Extreme stress and by this  high concentrations of stress hormones cause a so-called epigenetic modification: From the DNA, in this place a methyl group gets separated which significantly increases the activity of FKBP5. This permanent modification of DNA is mainly caused by traumatization at the age of childhood. With participants of the study who had been solely traumatized as grownups no disease associated demethylization of the FKBP5-gene could be found.

    Torsten Klengel, scientist at the Max-Planck-Institute of Psychiatry explains the findings of the study as follows: “Traumas in infancy leave permanent traces in the DNA according to the genetic endowments. Epigenetic modifications in the FKBP5-gene enhance its efficiency. The presumed consequence is an ongoing deregulation of the stress hormone axis in these persons which can end up as a psychiatric disease. But it is decisive for the infant trauma victim that the stress induced epigenetic modifications can only appear when the victim has this specific DNA sequence.”

    The study improves our understanding of psychiatric disorders as a consequence of the interaction of environmental and genetic factors. The findings will help to treat people individualized who have suffered from early traumatization and bear a significantly higher risk of disease.

    Link to the source

    Tuesday, 25 February 2014

    Our Internal Concepts

    The model of closed and open concepts is not only applicable to organizations and groups. We can also find it when we turn towards our inner world. Our inclination to certain systems in the social, cultural, political and religious world can be connected to systems we carry inside of us. Closed systems exist wherever its core, which is its central value, is unconscious.
    For instance, we react angrily when someone talks derogatively about our home country. The anger is fuelled by a value, which we deem important and which we want to defend with this emotion. Internally, we are identified with a value, which often resides in the unconsciousness. Still, if it were conscious and we had collected a lot of reasons for defending this value when attacked, it is an identification with a center which we do not want to give up at any cost.

    Each of these closed concepts, even if are they are small and inconsiderable, has a center. This is the part of the concept which has to be true without questioning, so without lightening up its background, roots and development.

    When we reject a person and collect all the bad things about her and turn off all the good things, we build up a closed system. Presumably, its center bears an unconscious unpleasant experience, still undigested, of which the person reminds us. We are unaware of this connection, which is drawn by our unconscious mind. For as soon as we realize that there is an experience connected with emotions behind this rejection, the system opens up and the person appears in a different light. Suddenly we can admit that this person also has good sides.

    Absolutized Values

    In case we want to find a way out of the closed concepts of our inner world, it is important to spot the relevant center. Only then we can start to explore why it is so important to us and why we have absolutized it, why we have put it out of question. What would happen if we would not take it so seriously? What would happen if we would turn an absolute truth into a relative one? Would we lose or win on freedom?

    Does this mean that we should get rid of all our values as soon as we have discovered them? For sure we need values to secure our orientation in a world of divergent interests and values. It is important to take a stand here and there where values are presented, which ignore the dignity of man and the integrity of nature. For this stand, we do not need absolute values, but values for a flexible use. These can keep us in line with a basic orientation, which is inherent in our lives.

    This basic ethical orientation is not part of any ideology but is sustained by the innate wisdom of nature and mankind as part of it. It can only vaguely be translated into single values or concepts like freedom, justice and so on. The closer we look at a certain problem, the clearer we get the kind of value best to apply to that situation.

    The inner way, which is a way towards growing up and ripening, a way to one’s own power and clarity, is a way towards enlargement and opening and includes the continuous release of our unconscious habits of valuation and judgement and of closed mental systems. We can only succeed in this undertaking by bringing them to consciousness. We have a hell lot of closed systems and concepts in grand variety inside our complex inner world. We can detect them as they show up anytime something bothers or irritates us and when we draw the conclusion of an act we do not like to the person we start to devalue in consequence. Someone shares an opinion we do not like, and we start to think in a negative way about this person – this is a closed system dominating us in this moment.

    Closed Concepts and Orientations

    “The inner way includes the continuous release of our unconscious habits of valuation and judgement and of closed mental systems.” Is this sentence from the context above in itself a center of a closed system, thus with absolute truth? We can turn it into that by permanently and consequently following it and by teaching other people to do that as well and by pointing out to them what the consequences would be in case they do not follow our insight. So we can use this sentence as the foundation of a teaching and gather people around us as followers. We can say that this sentence is true at any time.

    But we also can say: We use this sentence as an orientation, as an indication for self-inquiry and self-reflection and consider the effects of this form of inner work. We can say: With the help of this sentence or the meaning expressed by it, we check our inner concepts, opinions and beliefs. We search for their centers and ponder whether we need them any longer or not.

    So we use the sentence as a tool or a methodological guideline and not as an absolute truth. We inspire other people to use it the same way when we notice that it is helpful for us. But we leave them their total freedom to take the advice or leave it or to make something else out of our suggestion. Thus, we have won an open concept which can help us to transform closed concepts inside ourselves and become a more and more open human being.

    Sunday, 23 February 2014

    Closed Systems and Their Centers

    Closed systems circle around a center. This center contains something which is not allowed to be put in question, criticized or changed. The center is absolutized and removed from the sphere of relativity. It gets surrounded with a sphere of faith. On the threshold to the center, knowledge ends, and the access is limited to those who believe unconditionally.

    Revealed religions contain their revelations in the center. This is where God spoke to the humans, and what he said there has absolute truth and cannot be relativized in any way. In (other?) cults it is often the word of the founder which has to be accepted without criticism, even when he orders out of divine inspiration that all members of the group have to kill themselves.

    Closed systems have an absolute center and everything around it is relative, related to this center. The center decides what is right and what is wrong, and these decisions have absolute power and validity. The center is perfect and everything else is incomplete and deficient. Often, there is a hierarchy among the relative, which states that the closer someone is to the center, the closer they approach completion. Those who stick to that rule, can make their carrier (e.g. in the closed system of a dictatorship), those who neglect it have to face bad consequences (e.g. a prolonged visit to hell in the case of Christianity or Islam).

    The center generates rules which keep the closed system closed, although time moves on and the system is constantly affected by new influences. In the Catholic Church, there was the sentence in place: "Roma locuta, causa finita." - When Rome has spoken, the case is closed. Within a closed system, differing opinions are allowed as long as the center has declared the truth, and after that everyone has to be silent and to obey. The closeness has been restored.

    For the Catholic Church, Rome, which is the Pope in person (as representative of Jesus Christ on earth) figures as center. In the 19th century, he was entrusted with the gift of infallibility about doctrines. From such a center, all the rules flow which the believers need for leading their lives in the right way. Every new influence has to be checked and be either approved or repudiated. So there was an index of prohibited books, dogmas which were defined by labelling every disbeliever as heretic, inquisitive and painful procedures against members who have opinions of their own, condemnations of thoughts or ideas, which came up outside of the church and against which the believers have to be warned - defensive measures with the aim of protecting  closeness.

    Of course such a gigantic task cannot be fulfilled in a world of growing complexity. So it seems that the new Pope has chosen a new direction to primarily take care of the people in need instead of keeping up doctrines, a direction promising more openness.
    Martin Luther had stood up against this centralism, which had also caused the split with eastern European Christians in the 11th century. It was one of the concerns of Protestant reformation to blast the Roman center of papacy and to replace it by the sole center of the written revelations. Luther hoped for more opening by establishing an abstract form of a center, but this was no basic escape from closeness. As a consequence, this sector of Christianity had to face an enormous fragmentation. Every new Protestant movement tried to escape the forming of a center by creating a new center of an "even truer" Christianity. Obviously, this caused a dynamics to absolutize the center even more as smaller as the system got. The most segregated Christian fundamentalisms can be found in these evangelical secessionist churches of the US Middle West. An example of the rigid belief systems of these closed circles can be found in the discussions around creationism, an ideological system formed to prove the creation of the world by God as a scientific fact. 

    Also in the area of politics, sacrosanct centers are part of the game. Many political movements gather around a central idea which is declared as untouchable. For its realization, all means are justified, as the end justifies the means. Robespierre is a striking example of this delusion when he proclaimed a cult of reason at the peak of the French revolution. All those who were considered of endangering this highest value were handed over to the machinery of execution without mercy.

    A plain look at today's crisis and wars does not only show the massive and deplorable destruction of lives, demolitions and dehumanizations happening there. It also gives insights into the center of the relevant ideologies which drive the conflict and war parties. Sometimes, the historical threads in these ideological centers are so densely interwoven that they seem quite complex. Yet, we basically find fears of survival, out of which the respective ideologies promise a sole exit. They also name the main adversary and enemy, who has to be defeated.

    Also within the smaller context of the growing plurality of searching for sense, forming of centers play an important role. Although many of these approaches explicitly proclaim opening, they all to easily overlook their own basic presumptions, which stay out of the experiential area in which the insights can be found and which have to be believed. These phenomena can be found in various schools of self-help, psychotherapy, esoteric and spirituality.

    In the field of psychotherapy, it is often the personality of the founder who is established as unquestionable center. Their concerns and insights are kept in this center like a sanctuary, against which every new insight or method has to be measured. There are also guiding concepts, which a therapist has adopted once because they were helping him and which he then applies with every client without taking care whether they are applicable or not. So a constant self-enquiry and self-reflection is important to keep ideologies out of therapy. The guideline to invent a new therapy together with every client helps to get out of tendencies towards closed concepts, as it encourages to constant openness for the experience of the moment.

    The exoteric scene is virtually defined by gaining supporters via hidden ideas of centers. Trust your experiences but believe everything which is offered as explanation for them. When you had a good experience, the respective system will explain to you thanks to which angel, alien or ascended master you had received it. In case you had some doubts at these occult centers of the teaching, you get a diagnosis of lack of maturity and consciousness. The only remedy to these ailments can be found in the center.

    Spiritual teachers should mark a distinction to esoteric marketing by advising their students to rigorous self-enquiry. “Look for all that is true for you in our innermost core and free yourself from all models and concepts.” Such encouragements are open as they do not pretend to know about the outcome of the search but leave it up to the student in total freedom.

    Still, many spiritual teachers have their sanctum, a core of their teaching, and all too often they demand from their adherents to adopt their concepts without willingness to open up the centers of their beliefs. Wherever dependencies and power issues arise in spiritual communities or movements, an underlying center is the cause of the struggle.

    By entering into a systemic form of consciousness, we face the challenge to learn to live without absolutized centers. Hence we become aware of the importance of recognizing and naming such centers when we encounter closed systems, and to outline alternatives of how to live without them.

    We are used to the idea of an unchanging and always true core inside of us, which always grants us the right direction. This idea gives us inner and outer safety. Yet we have the power and inner strength to lighten up the illusions, which these seemingly safe core concepts and orientation markers claim to provide us with. For any of these illusions we can say good-bye to, we receive a precious piece of inner freedom in exchange.

    Saturday, 22 February 2014

    Open and closed concepts

    We bear a lot of concepts inside ourselves (opinions, beliefs, explanations, argumentations etc.). Some of them are conscious, and we have thought about them, had discussions and have accepted them for ourselves. Others are unknown to us although they influence our thinking and acting. They are abstractions and generalizations from experiences, which we have already forgotten.

    When we have open concepts at our disposal, we have access to more inner openness. The opposite is true in both dimensions: The more inner openness, the more liberated concepts we are able to understand and integrate; the less inner openness we have, the more we are looking for narrow concepts to build into our thinking and to argue with others.

    Our wish to grow implies the need to change and open our concepts. The more fears we have, the simpler our concepts will be. A narrow and plain concept will best give us the safety we are looking for. A closed system provides us with the alleged assertion to have an antidote for any risk and any problem.

    Our mind is basically a service institution. It creates concept – connections of thoughts, lines of arguments, philosophies and ideologies -, which fit best to the inner climate of feelings. Closed concepts serve for founding and supporting a narrow emotional atmosphere, e.g. the concept that the world is governed by evildoers, or the concept that life is strenuous. This asserts our actual feelings (helpless or burdened) and enforces the momentary mood we are suffering from.

    It is easier to adopt open concepts when we feel relaxed and free inside. When we feel connected to life, we love concepts like: Everything is fine the way it is, or: There is something good in every bad experience.

    In such times it is also easier for us to look at our own concepts in a self-critical way and to let go of thought patters which do not seem helpful any more. With open concepts, we can meet the world and our companions more tolerant and accepting, while from the viewpoint of closed mental forms, the outer world can only be perceived distorted and limited. Open systems allow inner growth, and the outer perception becomes ample and encompassing.

    Closed Concepts

    Closed Concepts are marked by the alternative to be either inside or outside. A simple closed concept is: When you are not for me, you are against me. There is one and just one truth. Those who share it can take part, those who do not, are heretics, ignorants or idiots. This is how closed systems can be easily spotted: Those who question or criticize them will be attacked and prosecuted. For these persons are seen as a menace for the concept and have to be brought to silence in one way or the other.

    Closed systems have preformulated explanations for everything.  Whatever happens had to come according to the concept. As people live in sin they have to be punished by a catastrophe. As they have improved their ethics, they have been spared from a worse breakdown.

    Such closed systems own a kind of explanation generator, which is able to produce explanations appropriate to the rules. It takes care for the concept to stay sacrosanct under any possible circumstances.

    Take the example of thought is creating reality. What we think becomes real. What is real, is real only because we thought of it. I think of someone, and the person calls me. The rule has been proved. I think of someone, but the person does not call me. So I have not thought of her clear or intensive enough or had an unconscious barrier against being called. The rule has been proved again, with the help of additional rules generated from the basic rule. Whatever surprises me in the world of real experiences, because I had not thought of it, serves as proof for the rule.

    Another example: Someone advocates a certain method of healing or a certain remedy. It has been helpful for him and now he wants to help someone else, whether for money or not. This person gives a try but gets no benefits. So one could assume that the method or the remedy do not work for everyone and for everything. In this case, the system stays open: Research can explore the conditions for healing to take place. When the system is kept closed, the message is that the person has made a mistake in the application or has not had a strong enough belief in the healing powers.

    Spirituality and Religion

    The world-wide civil society has to move beyond the interpretation courts of single religions as they are full of defensive and aggressive closed concepts. The notion of spirituality, which is on the way of slowly transcending religion, is an indication for that necessity. From the viewpoint of spirituality, there are no significant differences between religions on the level of deeper truths, which are the open concepts within each religious system. Rather, it seems that every religious tradition approaches the sanctuary on a different path and describes it in a unique language by highlighting certain aspects mor distinct than the others.

    If we are to find a form of spirituality adequate for the whole of mankind, we need the most open concepts we can find. We have to attune them in a way that the differing formulations can be heard as part of a common and generally shared inner sound.

    The Inner Way to Open Concepts

    We only can adopt truths when we are ready for it internally. Otherwise, they would threaten us on an unconscious level, and we reject them. Only when our soul has been liberated from these fears which adhere to our limiting concepts, we can put a concept into practice which we might have understood intellectually before. We need the inner vastness of liberty from fears to be able to carry a grand truth.

    When we grasp an idea before being able to carry it, it can serve us as guiding star, as motivator for bringing it to fruition. Concepts can prepare for a change by providing the mental fundaments. They can hurry ahead and be comprehended before the inner change happens. They can provide the power needed for facing the fears which we have to encounter. We read a book or listen to a presentation, we get inspired and our inner conceptual world changes and enlarges. This motivates us to give new perspectives a try.

    On the other hand, we can use ideas to deceive ourselves. For concepts which are more open than those we used as fundaments of our lives so far, endanger the correspondent emotional scheme. For instance, the concept “You do not need faith to be happy” can encounter the fear about how to live without faith, especially with someone who had used a system of faith as supportive backup. The idea questions a rigid conviction which so far had been a crucial element of inner safety.

    So it is also important in the transition to opened and enlarged concepts as we need them in a worldwide civil society, to take care of the emotional inhibitions and restraints and to work on them. Only then can we turn an idea into a living reality with more wideness and openness.

    Wednesday, 5 February 2014

    Two Truths and Language

    Language develops in the sphere of conventional consciousness. Generally, verbal communication serves the purpose of taking care of sharing a common view of reality. "Is this the sun?" asks the child. "Yes, this is the sun," replies the father. "Do you love me?" asks the person freshly in love. "More than anything else," is the answer which transforms the own prospect of reality into a shared one. Many of our verbal remarks come from this need for reassurance. They start with an insecurity, and by talking this insecurity either diminishes or grows, depending on how secure or unsecure the addressed person reacts.

    "Do you understand me?" asks the grown up and means: "Can I feel safe in the relationship with you?" When the answer comes: "No, not at all," then the insecurity grows and the wish comes up to go on talking till safety is restored.

    So language serves also serves as an instrument of the ego to reassure itself about itself, in an effort to reduce its fears. By talking and sharing it wants to create safety. This is why people like to talk so much and so often. For instance, when a few people attend a concert or a movie, everyone is focussed on oneself during the performance. Afterwards, the need for talking arises on how to create the understanding necessary for restoring a shared reality after a time of singular experiences, and thus restore social security. It is as if the storage of safety is used up after some time, so that we have to rebuild and reload it now and them. Our egos need the coordination with the other egos to be able to relax.

    Thinking as Inner Talking

    Large parts of mental activities are internalized talking. E.g., when I write a text like this, an inner voice talks the sentences prior to writing them down. Each change I want to make is first discussed in an inner discourse. Also here, thinking acts as protection as what I write should make sense for others. When someone told me that my writing is incomprehensible or silly, this creates an insecurity in my ego which I want to prevent by writing as clearly as possible.

    It is obvious as well that I become unbalanced when reading a text which I consider as uncomprehensive or silly. By such a labelling I try to create safety again. By asking someone else to share my opinion I can even do more to it.

    The sphere of speechlessness

    We do not need language in the sphere of ultimate truth. Here, everything is crystal clear and does not need any explanation. We do not have any insecurity of doubts so we are not dependent on reassurement. We even cannot communicate what we experience as it cannot put into words, according to all mystics. To talk about the unspeakable is trying to translate the absolute into the world of the relative. In any, even the best translations from one conventional language to the other, lot of the original meanings get lost.

    Yet in this case, even the undertaking of translation is bound to fail from the beginning. For it attempts to transfer nonlingual experience into language. This would mean to press the infinite into the form of the finite. Timelessness should fit into the framework of time.

    So as soon as we are talking about the states of experiencing the absolute, we are already back in the world of conventional consciousness. Here, some share our understanding, some don't. Some affirm our view, others devaluate us. The more we talk the more we get entangled in the complex pitfalls of the conventional world, which are sodden with fears and mistrust.

    The  problem of esoteric

    Mysticism lives in a communicative nowhere land due to the difficulties and misunderstandings connected with expressing mystical experience with the means of language. This is why mystics in all societies got into problems as soon as language became a media of accusation and justification in the course of history. To share experiences which question the conventional consensus and to state additionally that these highest insights are only available in a certain framework of experience, has been a scandal which caused prosecution and severe punishment. As a consequence, many teachers passed their wisdom only to inaugurated students which again fed the distrust of the outsiders.

    The mystic would say, "When you want to understand what I mean you have to enter the same realm of experience in which I am." This realm is not easily accessible of anybody, so it is "esoteric" which means only open for insiders. Yet anybody can become an insider and it is not necessary to become part of a school, cult or secret society. Still, everyone enters this realm by his/her unique entrance.

    The critic of esoteric might demand: "So tell me, what there is inside." The mystic might answer, "I cannot express it in words." This will cause the critic to frown and say, "What a nonsense. Everything can be expressed in words. How should I or anyone else otherwise understand what this is all about?" The mystic will reply, "You can find this truth only inside yourself. By closing your eyes and exploring inside yourself it will become apparent to you." When the critic follows the suggestion he will probably become a meditator, when he refrains from it he will stick to his skepticism and talk disapprovingly about the mystic and about mysticism.

    This is the border between the rational and the transrational area, the border between the conventions and the ultimate. For crossing it, the conventions of language have to be left behind as well, including the ideas of general validity based on them. Spiritual insights gain their validity in the sphere of introspection and who knows this world can easily communicate with someone who is familiar with it without any need of conventional language. Those who do not know it will not have any use for verbal descriptions similar to explaining colours to a blind person.

    The differing accesses

    Some people need a teacher or guide, others find themselves suddenly and spontaneously in the sphere of the absolute. Some stick to a certain method for a longer period of time, others change from one practice to the next. Some collect the insights into the infinite like pieces of a puzzle, to others a gigantic door opens up at once. Some of the experiences are singular and fleeing, others return in a similar form, some stay permanently, others can be recalled by will.

    Some reach the sphere of the absolute via language. They hear words or read texts which send them on the journey. But as soon as they have found a place where they know that they have arrived, they realize that they do not need language any more for being able to stay in this place, and that they do neither need language to return to it. So silence which is also the freedom from words, becomes a steady companion. Slowly and persistently, the power of silence becomes stronger than the talkativeness of the conventional world.

    Some of the saints like to talk and like to talk a lot. They want others to take part in their experiences true to the quote: "For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of." (Luc 6, 45)
    Some of the listeners are taken away by such speeches as the words are soaked in a spirit which lets them make out what is meant. It is the clarity and power of the speech and not the words which convey the good message. They are permeated by a sense of not-wanting which comes from inner freedom.

    There are ears used to only hearing what they expect and to reject anything challenging the habits of listening. They will have difficulties in being touched by the talk of a saint. They will perceive power instead of surrender, craving for approval instead of love and stubbornness instead of freedom. The tenser the ego is, the tenser its range of receptivity (chronical stress stiffens the muscles which move the auditory ossicles, thus limiting the ability to hear certain frequencies). The fearful ego only hears what it wants to hear, which is mainly itself with its anxieties and cravings. When hearing has been opened and expanded, it becomes easier to hear the frequencies of the final truth and to resonate with it.

    Listening consciously to music (not just allowing it as a kind of background noise or just listening to one's favorite hits repetitiously) changes habits of hearing. So this can serve as a good preparation exercise for leaving the areas of convention behind and gaining a taste of the absolute. This is why many musicians feel close to the absolute.

    There are mystics who do not talk at all or just converse about trivialities of daily life. They are only present with those who want to be together with them in silence. And there are others who only look deeply into the eyes of people and embrace them.

    These are some of the possibilities of hinting at the great mystery, which beyond conventional talk awaits everyone who want to open up to it.

    "These words are for someone who needs words to understand. But someone who understands without words - how would he need words? ... Someone who hears a low tone, how would he need talking and screaming?" (Rumi)

    Two Truths

     “The conventional and the ultimate these are accepted as the two truths. Reality is beyond the sphere of the intellect; intellect is called 'concealing'.”
    “Relative and absolute - These the two truths are declared to be. The absolute is not within the reach of intellect, for intellect is grounded in the relative.”
    (Santideva, Bodhicharyavatara 9.2 – in two translations)

    This classical text from the Mahayana-Buddhism written in the 8th century reminds us of an important distinction which most likely has been encountering us on our inner search and by dealing with its resistances since its beginning. This distinction will be used for a series of articles on this blogsite using it for different issues related to spiritual serach.

    Conventional and final truth point are two ways which we as citizens of this planet have to go through in one form or another and more or less always simultaneously. The ultimate truth is also the original truth. It is like the amniotic fluid which has been surrounding us from the beginning onwards. We take everything it offers us for granted and as straightforward. As soon as we are born, our parents tell us this and that, and we trust them blindly. Thus, our conventional thinking is formed, our criterion for right and wrong. When we believe what brain researchers say it guides 95% of our behaviour, of our decisions and thoughts.

    Conventional truth can be accessed by our outer senses as it says in the Buddhist scriptures. It derives its contents from objects and processes we perceive, like the sun and the moon, the clapping of hands, the smell of peppermint. It trusts in anything which is presented by the outer senses.

    It acts like the doubting Thomas in the New Testament: “Unless I see in His hands the imprint of the nails, and put my finger into the place of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe.” Conventional truth needs proof from the visual and haptic reality, otherwise it remains skeptical. It is only the outer perception which guarantees safety. All which comes from inside fosters doubt and could always be different. With thinking, it has an instrument at hands which is always able to negate by creating the opposite to everything which exists, and can even negate its negation and so one into infinity.

    The Absolute

    The final truth we experience by directing the feeling to the inside. This sense is part of us from the beginning of our existence. It connects us with the organismic flow which is the basics of our lives. The experience of this flow of life provides us with the genuine experience of final truth.

    Later in our lives, when we are filled up to the top with conventional truths, we are only able to experience the final truth in specific moments in which we feel totally connected to life. This can happen by simply being in nature, by meditating and very often, when a deep going inner process of healing could resolve fears which were in the way of entering this level of experience.

    The ultimate truth is simple, clear and convincing in itself. It does not need a proof, it simply is there. We feel connected with all, we are in the moment, time and space is not important. We do not have questions or doubts, the mind is very calm and the head is empty.

    We can experience this sphere of the absolute in different nuances, and probably every individual has his/her own entrance to this realm. Apart from that, it seems that there are many different categories of experiencing the final truth. This is why we can name different peak states as opposed to "one" state of enlightenment as assumed by some teachers. The absolute can meet us as overwhelming experience of nature, as opening of the heart, as shower of light or deep inner silence and in many more other forms. All these experiences have a boundless feeling of inner freedom in common.

    They also have in common that they are bodily experiences. Even though our body may feel different compared to the usual self perception - probably hollow, weightless, flooded by light or transparent, we still have a conventional consciousness about it at the same time, which becomes obvious when we for instance visit the toilet in such states of consciousness. This criterion forms an important distinction to dissociative states which we experience in a situation of traumatization. According to the necessities of the situation, we can switch from a state of absolute truth to a process of relative truth without being exposed to shock, aggressive feelings or disorganization.

    The art of switching between the levels of truth

    As much freedom we can gain, as much freedom is given to us – we are not spared of having to cope with the realms of the relative truth and make our living there. We live in our three dimensional and timely bodies with its processes, diseases and weaknesses. We live with our mixed feelings and changing moods. We live in this society with its people and structures. For all these areas, genuine strategies, genuine knowledge and multiple skills are needed which we can derive from the conventional truths.

    The more we dive into the realms of the absolute truth, and the more we have learned of the art of switching from one level to the other, the more of the higher realm of the sphere of inner freedom will flow into the realm of the relative. We become more equanimous towards the challenges of daily life, we get less and less entangled in fears and worries and find easier to the hearts of other people.