Science of the Spirit


Communicating with care in your heart: The practice of love

In all communication, there is one thing that each and every one us requires. We all want to be appreciated, honoured, and respected. None of us want to feel criticized, rejected, ignored, or manipulated. To reduce it to its simplest terms, we each want to feel loved. I do not mean love in a romantic sense, or some outpouring of emotion, but simple caring. This is the universal bottom line of every human relationship. We all want to feel cared for.

If each of us would like to be treated with care and respect, then it should be our intent to do so for others. But what often happens is the exact opposite. Instead of trying to ensure that the other person feels loved and appreciated, we end up in a vicious circle of recrimination and attack.


The unexpected gifts of imperfection

By confronting our scarier emotions — vulnerability, fear, and shame — we can learn to lead a more "wholehearted" life. Brené Brown shows us the way.

The toughest moments in life rarely feel like gifts. Whether it's losing a job, struggling through a foundering relationship, or witnessing the death of a loved one, experiences that bring us to our knees tend to trigger our defenses, not our wisdom.

And yet, when we humble ourselves enough to open up during awful times — accepting that we're vulnerable rather than lashing out or collapsing in despair — we're primed to receive "the gifts of imperfection," explains best-selling author Brené Brown, PhD, LMSW.

Take 2

Reverend Billy & The Church of Stop Shopping: 'Blessed are you who rise from your chairs and face the world'

In this particularly fraught holiday season, Rev. Billy and his Church of Stop Shopping have returned to New York to preach against our shoot-and-buy, state-sanctioned religion of extreme shopping and argue that we have become "not witnesses to the world (but) consumers of it." In recent years, the good Reverend - aka activist and performance artist Bill Talen - has broadened his social criticism to tackle not just consumerist culture but its connections to racism, police brutality, climate change and global capitalism, with corresponding actions at the Ferguson protests, Monsanto, Starbucks and Wal Mart. Last week, he did a gig at New York's Joe's Pub where he invited a dozen homeless New Yorkers, including kids, to share their stories of life on the street and urge audience members to, "Talk to us, don't talk about us."

Comment: Black Friday 2015: Rampant and violent consumerism
Amazingly enough, even with the countless videos acting as a mirror and showing the horrid nature of this human behavior, it continues every year. If Americans got as upset over the crimes of their government as they do over cheap plastic goods with built-in obsolescence, we would have colonized Mars by now.


Happiness comes from giving and helping, not material success

Materialism doesn't lead to well-being, but altruism does.

So many of us strive so hard for material success that you might think there was a clear relationship between wealth and happiness. The media and our governments encourage us to believe this, since they need us to keep earning and spending to boost economic growth. From school onwards, we're taught that long term well-being stems from achievement and economic prosperity - from 'getting on' or 'making it', accumulating more and more wealth, achievement and success.

Consequently, it comes as a shock for many people to learn that there is no straightforward relationship between wealth and well-being. Once our basic material needs are satisfied (i.e. once we're assured of regular food and adequate shelter and a basic degree of financial security), wealth only has a negligible effect on well-being.

Comment: See more:
  • The pathology of the rich white family
  • The pain of modern life: Loneliness and isolation


Nurse reveals the top five regrets people make when faced with their own mortality

For many years I worked in palliative care. My patients were those who had gone home to die. Some incredibly special times were shared. I was with them for the last three to twelve weeks of their lives. People grow a lot when they are faced with their own mortality.

I learnt never to underestimate someone's capacity for growth. Some changes were phenomenal. Each experienced a variety of emotions, as expected, denial, fear, anger, remorse, more denial and eventually acceptance. Every single patient found their peace before they departed though, every one of them.

Comment: See more:
  • Inside the alternative death care movement: What's a Death Midwife?


Spending time in nature may improve social cohesion, reduce crime

© Lucas Jackson / Reuters
Spending time in nature, even in urban areas like Central Park, is associated with a greater degree of social cohesion and lower crime rates.
A wealth of research shows that just being in nature, even a city park, can make us feel better, both psychologically and physically. Such contact with nature can improve mood, reduce pain and anxiety, and even help sick or injured people heal faster.

But what effect does it have on groups of people and society at large? New research suggests that nature can actually improve the degree to which people feel connected to and act favorably toward others, specifically their neighbors, says Netta Weinstein, a senior psychology lecturer at Cardiff University in Wales.

Weinstein and colleagues conducted a large and wide-ranging study of 2,079 participants from throughout the United Kingdom. They asked each person a bunch of questions, such as how much time they spend in nature and how many parks and how much vegetation is found in their neighborhoods. They also queried them about how much they cared about and felt connected to their neighbors. The researchers also looked at each person's socio-economic status, the crime rate in the area, and other measures.

The study, published November 25 in the journal Bioscience, found that contact with nature accounted for a small, but significant increase in the degree to which people felt socially connected. Experience in nature was also tied to a reduction in local crime rates.

Comment: For more information on the benefits of spending time in natural settings, see:


Brain structure may be biological basis for apathy

© Oxford University
Can't be bothered to read on? It might be due looser connections in your brain

When brain scientists at Oxford University studied apathy, they didn't expect to see less motivated people making more effort. Their results suggest that for some people traditionally perceived as lazy, it's biology - not attitude - that might be the cause.

A team of neuroscientists at Oxford, funded by The Wellcome Trust, decided to study young people to see if there were any differences in the brains of those who were motivated compared to those who were apathetic.

Masud Husain, Professor of Neurology and Cognitive Neuroscience, explained: 'We know that in some cases people can become pathologically apathetic, for example after a stroke or with Alzheimer's disease. Many such patients can be physically capable. Yet they can become so demotivated they won't be bothered to care for themselves, even though they're not depressed. By studying healthy people, we wanted to find out whether any differences in their brains might shed light on apathy.'

Forty healthy volunteers completed a questionnaire that scored them on how motivated they were. They were then asked to play a game in which they were made offers, each with a different level of reward and physical effort required to win the reward. Unsurprisingly, offers with high rewards requiring low effort were usually accepted, while low rewards requiring high effort were less popular.

When volunteers played the game in an MRI machine, so that researchers could study their brains, a surprising finding emerged. Although apathetic people were less likely to accept effortful offers, one area of their brains actually showed more activity than in motivated individuals. The pre-motor cortex is a key area involved in taking actions. It becomes active just before those areas of the brain that control our movement. Paradoxically, in more apathetic people it was more active when they chose to take an offer than it was in motivated people.

Comment: Equality, empathy and psychopathy

Blue Planet

The real effects that 'Earthing' can have on your body

Grounding, or 'earthing,' as some people call it, involves placing your feet directly on the ground without shoes or socks as a barrier. The logic behind this practice relates to the intense negative charge carried by the Earth. This charge is electron-rich, theoretically serving as a good supply of antioxidants and free-radical destroying electrons.

Dr. James Oschman, a PhD in biology from the University of Pittsburgh and an expert in the field of energy medicine, notes:
Subjective reports that walking barefoot on the Earth enhances health and provides feelings of well-being can be found in the literature and practices of diverse cultures from around the world. For a variety of reasons, many individuals are reluctant to walk outside barefoot, unless they are on holiday at the beach. (source)
It makes sense if you think about it; in our most natural state, we wouldn't really be wearing any sort of cover on our feet. Putting your feet on the ground enables you to absorb large amounts of negative electrons through the soles of your feet which, in turn, can help to maintain your body at the same negatively charged electrical potential as the Earth.

Comment: Earthing: Health Benefits from being Grounded

2 + 2 = 4

Why lonely people stay lonely

© SuperStock/Corbis
Nobody likes feeling lonely, and some recent research suggests that the ache of isolation isn't only a psychological problem; unwanted solitude impacts physical health, too. Loneliness increases a person's risk of mortality by 26 percent, an effect comparable to the health risks posed by obesity, according to a study published this spring.

And because of this new evidence of the serious ramifications of loneliness, some researchers are investigating what it is, exactly, that makes lonely people stay lonely. In particular, could some behavior be at the root of their isolation? One long-held theory has been that people become socially isolated because of their poor social skills — and, presumably, as they spend more time alone, the few skills they do have start to erode from lack of use. But new research suggests that this is a fundamental misunderstanding of the socially isolated. Lonely people do understand social skills, and often outperform the non-lonely when asked to demonstrate that understanding. It's just that when they're in situations when they need those skills the most, they choke.


Palo Santo: The effects of sacred wood

Bursera graveolens, also known as Palo Santo or Holy Wood, is a sacred tree that holds a fascinating place in history and now, perhaps even in modern medicine. For centuries, it has been used by shaman and ancestral medicine practitioners during prayer, ritual, divination, and healing. Not unlike its relatives Myrrh and Frankincense, Palo Santo is rich in brain oxygenating terpenes including a-terpineol and limonene, which explains the inspiriting, energizing effects that it's known for.

Palo Santo's history dates back to the ancient Incan Empire where it was used in the form of essential oil to soothe, relax, and promote spiritual purification. The shaman of Peru burn Palo Santo sticks in preparation for meditation as the aroma is said to clear misfortune, negative thoughts, and evil spirits. It is also burned by South American natives to shed bad energies around them and in their homes with the naturally therapeutic fumes.