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Consciousness

Scientists Show How Gratitude Literally Alters The Human Heart & Molecular Structure Of The Brain

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In Brief

  • The Facts:

    Scientists have discovered that feelings of gratitude can actually change your brain. Feeling gratitude can also be a great tool for overcoming depression and anxiety. Furthermore, scientists have discovered that the heart sends signals to the brain.

  • Reflect On:

    Every time we struggle with depression, why are we constantly encouraged to take prescription medication when mindfulness techniques actually show more promise?

Gratitude is a funny thing. In some parts of the world, somebody who gets a clean drink of water, some food, or a worn out pair of shoes can be extremely grateful. Meanwhile, somebody else who has all the necessities they need to live can be found complaining about something. What we have today is what we once wanted before, but there is a lingering belief out there that obtaining material possessions is the key to happiness. Sure, this may be true, but that happiness is temporary. The truth is that happiness is an inside job.

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It’s a matter of perspective, and in a world where we are constantly made to feel like we are lacking and always ‘wanting’ more, it can be difficult to achieve or experience actual happiness. Many of us are always looking toward external factors to experience joy and happiness, when really it’s all related to internal work. This is something science is just starting to grasp as well, as shown by research coming out of UCLA’s Mindfulness Awareness Research Center. According to them:

Having an attitude of gratitude changes the molecular structure of the brain, keeps gray matter functioning, and makes us healthier and happier. When you feel happiness, the central nervous system is affected. You are more peaceful, less reactive and less resistant. Now that’s a really cool way of taking care of your well-being.

There are many studies showing that people who count their blessings tend to be far happier and experience less depression.  For one study,  researchers recruited people with mental health difficulties, including people suffering from anxiety and depression. The study involved nearly 300 adults who were randomly divided into three groups. This study came from the University of California, Berkeley.

All groups received counselling services, but the first group was also instructed to write one letter of gratitude to another person every week for three weeks, whereas the second group was asked to write about their deepest thoughts and feelings about negative experiences. The third group did not do any writing activity.

What did they find? Compared to the participants who wrote about negative experiences or only received counselling, those who wrote gratitude letters reported significantly better mental health for up to 12 weeks after the writing exercise ended.

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This suggests that gratitude writing can be beneficial not just for healthy, well-adjusted individuals, but also for those who struggle with mental health concerns. In fact, it seems, practicing gratitude on top of receiving psychological counseling carries greater benefits than counseling alone, even when that gratitude practice is brief. (source)

Previously, a study on gratitude conducted by Robert A. Emmons, Ph.D. at the University of California, Davis and his colleague Mike McCullough at the University of Miami randomly assigned participants to be given one of three tasks. Each week, participants kept a short journal. One group described five things they were grateful for that had occurred in the past week, another group recorded daily troubles from the previous week that displeased them, and the neutral group was asked to list five events or circumstances that affected them, but they were not told whether to focus on the positive or the negative. Ten weeks later, participants in the gratitude group felt better about their lives as a whole and were a full 25 percent happier than the troubled group. They reported fewer health complaints and exercised an average of 1.5 hours more. (source)

Researchers from Berkeley identified how gratitude might actually work on our minds and bodies. They provided four insights from their research suggesting what causes the psychological benefits of gratitude.

  • Gratitude unshackles us from toxic emotions
  • Gratitude helps even if you don’t share it
  • Gratitude’s benefits take time & practice. You might not feel it right away.
  • Gratitude has lasting effects on the brain

The brain part is very interesting. The researchers at Berkeley used an fMRI scanner to measure brain activity while people from each group did a “pay it forward” task.  During the task, the participants were given money by a “nice person.” This person’s only request was that they pass on the money to someone if they felt grateful.

They did this because they wanted to distinguish between actions motivated by gratitude and actions driven by other motivations like obligation, guilt, or what other people think. This is important because you can’t fake gratitude, you actually have to feel it. If you don’t feel grateful or practice trying to feel grateful by taking the necessary steps like keeping a gratitude journal, you may not experience as much joy and happiness.

In a world where emotions aren’t really taught in school and the importance is put on striving for high grades, it’s not abnormal to have difficulty feeling grateful. This is especially understandable if you’ve been brought up in the western world, which is full of consumerism and competition, a world where we’re constantly made to feel we are lacking so we need to strive for more.

Participants were asked to rate how grateful they felt toward the person giving them the money and how much they wanted to pay it forward to a charitable cause as well as how guilty they thought they would feel if they didn’t help.  They were also given questionnaires to measure how grateful they felt in general.

We found that across the participants, when people felt more grateful, their brain activity was distinct from brain activity related to guilt and the desire to help a cause. More specifically, we found that when people who are generally more grateful gave more money to a cause, they showed greater neural sensitivity in the medial prefrontal cortex, a brain area associated with learning and decision making. This suggests that people who are more grateful are also more attentive to how they express gratitude.

Most interestingly, when we compared those who wrote the gratitude letters with those who didn’t, the gratitude letter writers showed greater activation in the medial prefrontal cortex when they experienced gratitude in the fMRI scanner. This is striking as this effect was found three months after the letter writing began. This indicates that simply expressing gratitude may have lasting effects on the brain. While not conclusive, this finding suggests that practicing gratitude may help train the brain to be more sensitive to the experience of gratitude down the line, and this could contribute to improved mental health over time.

It’s also interesting to note that a recent study just discovered a brain network that “gives rise to feelings of gratitude. The study could spur future investigations into how these ‘building blocks’ transform social information into complex emotions.” (source)

What About The Heart?

The work and research above is great, but where do we actually experience these feelings? They are clearly not a product of our brain, they are products of our consciousness, and when we feel them the brain responds.  Researchers are now discovering that the heart also responds and that it might actually be the heart that’s responsible for sending these signals to the brain.

A group of prestigious and internationally recognized leaders in physics, biophysics, astrophysics, education, mathematics, engineering, cardiology, biofeedback, and psychology (among other disciplines) have been doing some brilliant work over at the Institute of HeartMath.

Their work, among many others, has proven that when a person is feeling really positive emotions like gratitude, love, or appreciation, the heart beats out a different message, which determines what kind of signals are sent to the brain.

Not only that, but because the heart beats out the largest electromagnetic field produced in the body, the Institute has been able to gather a significant amount of data.

According to Rolin McCratey, Ph.D, and Director of Research at Heartmath?)

“Emotional information is actually coded and modulated into these fields. By learning to shift our emotions, we are changing the information coded into the magnetic fields that are radiated by the heart, and that can impact those around us. We are fundamentally and deeply connected with each other and the planet itself.” (source)

Another great point made below by the Institute:

“One important way the heart can speak to and influence the brain is when the heart is coherent – experiencing stable, sine-wavelike pattern in its rhythms. When the heart is coherent, the body, including the brain, begins to experience all sorts of benefits, among them are greater mental clarity and ability, including better decision making.” (source)

In fact, the heart actually sends more signals to the brain than the brain sends in return. What’s even more amusing is the fact that these heart signals (from heart to brain) actually have a significant effect on brain function.

Research findings have shown that as we practice heart coherence and radiate love and compassion, our heart generates a coherent electromagnetic wave into the local field environment that facilitates social coherence, whether in the home, workplace, classroom or sitting around a table. As more individuals radiate heart coherence, it builds an energetic field that makes it easier for others to connect with their heart. So, theoretically it is possible that enough people building individual and social coherence could actually contribute to an unfolding global coherence. –  McCratey

So far, the researchers have discovered that the heart communicates with the brain and body in four ways: neurological communication (nervous system), biophysical communication (pulse wave), biochemical communication (hormones), and energetic communication (electromagnetic fields).

“HeartMath research has demonstrated that different patterns of heart activity (which accompany different emotional states) have distinct effects on cognitive and emotional function. During stress and negative emotions, when the heart rhythm pattern is erratic and disordered, the corresponding pattern of neural signals traveling from the heart to the brain inhibits higher cognitive function. This limits our ability to think clearly, remember, learn, reason, and make effective decisions. In contrast, the more ordered and stable pattern of the heart’s input to the brain during positive emotional states has the opposite effect. It facilitates cognitive function and reinforces positive feelings and emotional stability.” (source)

Gratitude and Positive Feelings Can Change The World

It gets deeper:

Every individual’s energy affects the collective field environment. The means each person’s emotions and intentions generate an energy that affects the field. A first step in diffusing societal stress in the global field is for each of us to take personal responsibility for our own energies. We can do this by increasing our personal coherence and raising our vibratory rate, which helps us become more conscious of the thoughts, feelings, and attitudes that we are feeding the field each day. We have a choice in every moment to take to heart the significance of intentionally managing our energies. This is the free will or local freedom that can create global cohesion. – Dr. Deborah Rozman, the President of Quantum Intech (source)

Overall, this type of work suggests that human consciousness in general can change the world.

One study, for example, was done during the Israel-Lebanon war in the 1980s. Two Harvard University professors organized groups of experienced meditators in Jerusalem, Yugoslavia and the United Sates and asked them to focus their attention on the area of conflict at various intervals over a 27-month period. Over the course of the study, the levels of violence in Lebanon decreased between 40 and 80 percent each time a meditating group was in place. The average number of people killed during the war each day dropped from 12 to three, and war-related injuries fell by 70 percent. (source)

Another great example is a study that was conducted in 1993 in Washington, D.C., which showed a 25 percent drop in crime rates when 2,500 meditators meditated during a specific period of time with that intention.

This type of information is heavily correlated with quantum physics, as many experiments in that area as well as parapsychology (telepathy, remote viewing, distant healing) indicate similar findings. (source)

This holds true as far back as 1999. Statistics professor Jessica Utts at UC Irvine published a paper showing that parapsychological experiments have produced much stronger results than those showing a daily dose of aspirin helps prevent heart attacks. Utts also showed that these results are much stronger than the research behind various drugs like antiplatelets.

This type of work has statistically significant implications, yet is heavily ignored and labelled as pseudoscience simply because it conflicts with long-held beliefs we have trouble letting go of … But times are changing.

“For many years I have worked with researchers doing very careful work [in parapsychology], including a year that I spent full-time working on a classified project for the United States government, to see if we could use these abilities for intelligence gathering during the Cold War… At the end of that project I wrote a report for Congress, stating what I still think is true. The data in support of precognition and possibly other related phenomena are quite strong statistically, and would be widely accepted if it pertained to something more mundane. Yet, most scientists reject the possible reality of these abilities without ever looking at data! And on the other extreme, there are true believers who base their beliefs solely on anecdotes and personal experience. I have asked debunkers if there is any amount of data that would convince them, and they generally have responded by saying, “probably not.” I ask them what original research they have read, and they mostly admit that they haven’t read any. Now there is a definition of pseudo-science-basing conclusions on belief rather than data!” – Utts, Chair of the Statistics Department, UC Irvine (Dean Radin, Real Magic)

The Takeaway

Emotions and other factors associated with consciousness have the power to transform our inner world in ways we don’t fully understand yet. These findings show how consciousness can actually transform the physical/material world, and that’s huge. This validates the idea that if we can change our inner world through gratitude, empathy, compassion, and meditation, we can make our outer world more peaceful.

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Consciousness

Studies on Plants Suggest Consciousness Exists As A Separate Entity From The Brain

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In Brief

  • The Facts:

    Monica Gagliano, a thirty-seven-year-old animal ecologist at the University of Western Australia has conducted multiple experiments with plants that suggest they are a living, thinking, feeling and emotional beings.

  • Reflect On:

    Does consciousness reside in all things? Is a brain necessary to posses consciousness? Is consciousness dependant on a brain?

When it comes to the topic of consciousness, it’s something, in my opinion, all living life forms posses. Including plants, and I believe there is conclusive evidence for that. In fact, the question of whether consciousness is something that resides outside of the brain, or is a product of it, has long been the subject of scientific debate. Parapsychological studies, which have gone through rigorous testing and according to statistics professor, Dr Jessica Utts at UC Irvine, have tighter controls than any other area of science, hint to the idea that consciousness is not solely located within us. This is evident by the fact that humans have the ability to “perceive” remote locations regardless of geographical distance (remote viewing) and it’s also evident by the fact that human thoughts and intentions can alter physical material reality at a distant location, at both the quantum level and at the human level.

For example, a paper published in Physics Essays explains how the double slit experiment has been used multiple times to explore the role of consciousness in shaping the nature of physical reality. The results clearly indicated that human intention, via meditators, were able to collapse the quantum wave function in that experiment, similar to the way observation or measurement does. The study received a 5 Sigma result, the same result that was given to CERN when they were awarded the Nobel Prize in 2013 for finding the Higgs particle, which turned out not to be Higgs after all).

I also like to point towards this document I found in the CIA’s electronic reading room titled “Research Into Paranormal Ability To Break Through Spatial Barriers” as another example that goes beyond the quantum scale.

Again, the point I am trying to hammer home is that I don’t believe biology is necessary for consciousness, but perhaps sometimes acts like a vessel for it without consciousness being dependant on biology. Near Death Experiences (NDE’S) are also a great great example hinting to the idea that consciousness is not dependant on biology, and perhaps one of the best.

But what if plants are conscious? But they don’t have a brain. Would that destroy the idea of the brain being a vessel of consciousness?

What comes to mind instantly here are the books written by hypnotherapist Delores Cannon. She has hypnotically regressed thousands of people with regards to supposed past lives, and found that many people have experienced past lives on our planet as well as on other planets as multiple different life forms, including trees, animals and plants. Now, how would one in a regressed state access these experiences? Where are they stored? These are questions that remain unanswered. The regression sessions are legit in the fact that the patient is actually in a hypnotic state sharing these experiences, there is no question about that, but we have no way of knowing whether or not what they are sharing is real, but the consistency with regards to past life regression among thousands of subjects is interesting. Many children also share stories that can even be verified regarding their past lives.

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When it comes to plants, I’ve always thought that they were living, thinking, breathing, conscious beings. Grover Cleveland Backster Jr., was an interrogation specialist for the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), who became well known for his experiments with plants using a lie-detector machine. Through his research, he believed that plants feel pain and have extrasensory perception (ESP). Author Michael Polan describes his experiments quite well in a piece he wrote for the New Yorker a few years ago regarding plant intelligence:

(Cleve) hooked up a galvanometer to the leaf of a dracaena, a houseplant that he kept in his office. To his astonishment, Backster found that simply by imagining the dracaena being set on fire he could make it rouse the needle of the polygraph machine, registering a surge of electrical activity suggesting that the plant felt stress. “Could the plant have been reading his mind?” the authors ask. “Backster felt like running into the street and shouting to the world, ‘Plants can think!’ ”

Backster and his collaborators went on to hook up polygraph machines to dozens of plants, including lettuces, onions, oranges, and bananas. He claimed that plants reacted to the thoughts (good or ill) of humans in close proximity and, in the case of humans familiar to them, over a great distance. In one experiment designed to test plant memory, Backster found that a plant that had witnessed the murder (by stomping) of another plant could pick out the killer from a lineup of six suspects, registering a surge of electrical activity when the murderer was brought before it. Backster’s plants also displayed a strong aversion to interspecies violence. Some had a stressful response when an egg was cracked in their presence, or when live shrimp were dropped into boiling water

His (Backster’s) work on this was published in the International Journal of Parapsychology. 

Poland also describes the work of  Monica Gagliano, a thirty-seven-year-old animal ecologist at the University of Western Australia. He describes an experiment she conducted with the plant Mimosa pudica, a fast moving plant that can be seen by the naked eye, kind of like the Venus Fly Trap.

Gagliano potted fifty-six of these plants, and had a system that dropped them from 15 centimetres every five seconds. When they are in danger, these plans curl up, and close their leaves. The plants did this after a few drops, but then realized that the drops weren’t really harmful so they remained open after that. It wasn’t just fatigue either, when the plants were shaken they closed up, and furthermore, the plants retained this knowledge because Gagliano tried again a month later and got the same response.

Gagliano said, imagining these events from the plants’ point of view. “You see, you want to be attuned to something new coming in. Then we went back to the drops, and they didn’t respond.” Gagliano reported that she retested her plants after a week and found that they continued to disregard the drop stimulus, indicating that they “remembered” (source)

Clearly, they learn, remember and apply that knowledge. These are all factors associated with consciousness and thinking. There has to be something or someone in there that’s responsible for that learning.

Fascinating isn’t it? Brains and neurons don’t seem to be a necessary requirement for factors associated with consciousness. What makes us assume that we need brains and neurons to be conscious? Why can’t we see any other type of possibility?

It sort of reminds me of the idea that planets have to be “Earth-like” to sustain or have life. How do we know? How do we know there aren’t beings that breath some sort of gas we’ve never even discovered? How do we know there aren’t beings that don’t need to breath?

Humans and their assumptions/limited imaginations…We are conditioned to ‘see’ things a certain way.

In the video below, in the second half of her interesting talk, Gagliano describes another experiment that suggests “someone” is in there. She conducted a similar experiment as Pavlov did with his dogs and makes some very interesting points.

“There is someone in there.”

The Takeaway

Consciousness is not limited to humans and animals. It’s something that extends to plants, trees, insects, perhaps even the soil we walk on and much more that we take for granted. Perhaps our entire planet is awake and aware in ways we have barely yet to understand, perhaps our entire universe is?

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Awareness

50 Things You Could Be Doing Instead Of Staring At A Screen

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In Brief

  • The Facts:

    The average adult spends as much as 12 hours a day in front of a screen while at home.

  • Reflect On:

    How much of our screen time is providing value to our lives? Is our screen time benefiting us or taking time away from doing what we love and spending real, quality time connecting with friends and family?

There is no doubt about it, screens have become a central part of many of our lives. From the moment we wake up and turn off our alarms and do a quick check of Facebook, Instagram and/or Twitter notifications, email, and other apps — screens have the capacity to suck us in, right from the start of the day. The act of checking our screens has become so common nowadays that many of us spend the majority of our waking lives staring at various screens including smartphones, tablets, and computers.

There are some people who argue that before smartphones and tablets, it was the television set, and before that, the radio, and before that, the newspaper. However, we can’t ignore the fact that it is currently an epidemic, as many people (myself included at times) are so sucked into this virtual reality, they do not realize that it is a potentially harmful addiction.

Some believe that this type of technology is just a natural part of human evolution and that in may ways it benefits our lives. To a degree, this is true, as there are many amazing perks of technology and it absolutely can be used to benefit our lives — being able to access any information we are seeking, learning a new language, instrument, or practically anything we want, attending online courses, webinars or education programs, connecting with loved ones that are far way. But really think about your screen time and how it’s spent. Is it benefiting your life in any way? Or is it a compulsive habit? Whenever you have a spare moment–waiting in line, in an elevator, whenever you feel that you are bored–is that when you reach for your phone? Are you mindlessly scrolling through your Newsfeed, photofeed or Twitter feed? Potentially comparing your life to others, getting lost looking at the pictures from people you hardly know? Obsessing over celebrities and “influencers” that actually provide no value to your life? Sometimes we might have the T.V. on, watching a show, whilst at the same time mindlessly scrolling through our feeds. This is a double screen-time wham-o! Essentially getting lost in whatever is available to take you away from yourself and basically inhibit your ability to give love, care and attention to yourself.

We Are Wasting Valuable Time

Many of us, again often including myself, have dealt with a deep dissatisfaction with our lives — maybe we are not happy with our careers or our relationships, or perhaps we lack purpose, passion and drive. Yet, instead of doing something that could benefit ourselves, we instead choose to escape those feelings. We reach for our screens in a desperate attempt to get our next “fix,” our dopamine hit that gives us temporary relief from our dissatisfaction with our lives. This IS an addiction and it is important to be aware of that. What would happen if instead, we leaned into our feelings of discomfort and spent time in deep reflection about what is working in our lives and what’s not?

Using Tech To Help Moderate Our Use Of Tech

A great tool for me has been an app called “Moment” that basically tracks your screen time and how much time has been spent on each app. Without consciously trying to change your screen time habits, I challenge you to download this app and check out your screen time at the end of each day. Much like I was, you may be surprised to learn how much time you might be completely throwing away on social media.

After all, “Lost time is never found again.”

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If you’re like me, you may be thinking, “Well, what the heck else am I supposed to be doing?” And you may still enjoy spending some time on social media, but as with pretty much everything else in life, moderation is key! You may want to try setting a daily limit for screen time for yourself and sticking to it. If you can’t, then you know you may have a problem worth exploring.

50 Things You Can Do Instead Of Staring At A Screen

Below I have provided a list of 50 things you could be doing instead of scrolling or staring at a screen. While some of these are going to seem extremely obvious, you may not always think of them when you are sucked into the glowing light of a screen. This is meant to be a quick reference, it may be even beneficial to print this list off or copy it onto a physical piece of paper so that you ironically don’t need a screen to view it.

  1. Read a book
  2. Read a magazine
  3. Go for a walk
  4. Go for a hike
  5. Clean out your closet
  6. Write in your journal
  7. Play an instrument
  8. Play with your pet
  9. Practice a new language
  10. Listen to a podcast
  11. Draw a picture
  12. Paint a picture
  13. Literally sit and do nothing
  14. Meditate
  15. Stretch
  16. Do yoga
  17. Go to the gym
  18. Workout from home
  19. Call up a friend (use headphones or speakerphone to chat)
  20. Write a letter you intend to send
  21. Write a letter you don’t intend to send
  22. Plan out tasks you intend to accomplish within the next week
  23. Bake something
  24. Cook something
  25. Meet a friend for tea
  26. Play a board game or cards
  27. Go swimming
  28. Do a massage exchange with a friend
  29. Redecorate your home
  30. Give yourself an opportunity to really feel your feelings
  31. Notice the urge to reach for your phone
  32. Practice grounding
  33. Volunteer your time
  34. Go to a comedy show
  35. Listen to music
  36. Color
  37. Write a list of 10 things you are grateful for
  38. Go to the library
  39. Try something new
  40. Sit in quiet reflection
  41. Study something that sparks your interest using books
  42. Get clear on your vision for the next 5 years of your life
  43. Go to a Meetup group
  44. Dance around your living room
  45. Practice eye-gazing with yourself in the mirror, or with someone else
  46. Clean out your fridge
  47. Take a cold shower
  48. Have a bath
  49. Downsize your belongings
  50. Repair something that is broken

Bonus* Make a list of things that you’ve always wanted to do, but felt like you haven’t had the time.

Much Love

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Consciousness

Parables For The New Conversation (Chapter 15: The Mayor)

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The following is a chapter from my book ‘Parables For The New Conversation.’ One chapter will be published every Sunday for 36 weeks here on Collective Evolution. (I would recommend you start with Chapter 1 if you haven’t already read it.) I hope my words are a source of enjoyment and inspiration for you, the reader. If perchance you would like to purchase a signed paperback copy of the book, you can do so on my production company website Pandora’s Box Office.

From the back cover: “Imagine a conversation that centers around possibility—the possibility that we can be more accepting of our own judgments, that we can find unity through our diversity, that we can shed the light of our love on the things we fear most. Imagine a conversation where our greatest polarities are coming together, a meeting place of East and West, of spirituality and materialism, of religion and science, where the stage is being set for a collective leap in consciousness more magnificent than any we have known in our history.

Now imagine that this conversation honors your uniqueness and frees you to speak from your heart, helping you to navigate your way more deliberately along your distinct path. Imagine that this conversation puts you squarely into the seat of creator—of your fortunes, your relationships, your life—thereby putting the fulfillment of your deepest personal desires well within your grasp.

‘Parables for the New Conversation’ is a spellbinding odyssey through metaphor and prose, personal sagas and historic events, where together author and reader explore the proposal that at its most profound level, life is about learning to consciously manifest the experiences we desire–and thus having fun. The conversation touches on many diverse themes but always circles back to who we are and how our purposes are intertwined, for it is only when we see that our personal desires are perfectly aligned with the destiny of humanity as a whole that we will give ourselves full permission to enjoy the most exquisite experiences life has to offer.”

15. The Mayor

One warm summer day the arborist and her daughter were busy transplanting potted saplings in the village park on the island of Allandon. A portly gentleman who was casually picking up trash noticed them and said brightly: “Good morning ladies. Beautiful day isn’t it?”

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“Yes it is,” the arborist said.

Her daughter nodded, and moments later said to her mother: “Every time I see that guy he acts like he hasn’t got a care in the world.”

“Maybe he hasn’t,” said the arborist.

“Who is he anyway?”

The arborist laughed. “Don’t you know? That’s our village Mayor.”

“He’s the Mayor?” she asked incredulously. After pondering for a moment, she added, “Well, that’s very odd.”

“What is?”

“Well, what kind of Mayor is he? I mean, hasn’t he got more important things to do than pick up trash in the park?”

“Apparently not,” said the arborist as she continued to enjoy the scent of the young evergreens in their new home.

“So how did he become Mayor?” asked her daughter.

“He became Mayor because he’s a great leader.”

“What’s so great about him? I didn’t even know we had a Mayor. I always thought this village kind of ran itself.”

“Exactly,” the arborist replied.

Part of the evolution of consciousness we are going through today is a change in the way we see the leaders of our nations. We no longer put them on the pedestal we once did, nor are we willing to follow them blindly. The very word ‘politics’ immediately conjures up images in our minds of deception, corruption, and self-interest. We are convinced that hypocrisy is now built right into the system, and that someone who makes it to the top must be a person who owes a lot of secret favors and is good at making false promises that won’t be kept. We don’t believe any more that our leaders will do the right thing for us, for the community, the country, or the world. We have more than lost faith and trust. We have lost interest.

And I see this as a good thing.

Why? Because the time has come to be leaders ourselves—all of us. Instead of looking and listening for inspiration, it is time to be self-inspiring. Instead of waiting to be told what we have to do, it is time for us to decide how it’s all going to be. When Gandhi said, “be the change you want to see in the world,” he was exhorting each one of us to lead by example. He knew that lasting change does not happen by political decree but rather inside the minds of individuals, one at a time. Each time an individual has an insight, expands their vision, or learns something new, then the collective human consciousness that we all dip into is forever transformed.

Today our politicians don’t even try to influence the evolution of consciousness. The best they can do is react to it, and they are usually pretty slow at that. In fact our leadership and the institutions that support them may be the last things in our society to evolve as we move away from the outmoded belief that our leaders will save us and do what we actually came here to do.

In Ancient times leaders were considered far above the common people. Often they were not even considered people themselves, but gods, or at least having a direct link to divinity. In Egypt, for example, the faith that followers had in the divinity of their leaders was enough to move—or build—mountains. The great pyramids stand today as a testament to that. The rule was simple in those days: leaders command, subordinates obey. In this traditional master/servant relationship there was no place for conversation, debate, or differences of opinion. A hierarchy or chain-of-command passed edicts down in one direction, from top to bottom.

This format is the legacy of our modern institutions, not only in politics but in all spheres of life. The hierarchy of the church is a most obvious example. Followers were not capable of direct conversation with God but had to communicate through the priest, whose return message back to the follower was to be accepted as sacrosanct and beyond reproach. Our education system was founded on desks rigidly set in rows, with students uniformly dressed, all eyes forward and sitting in fear, as the teacher walked menacingly through the aisles, ready to slam the ruler down on the hand of any student not absorbing the immutable doctrines. Business was modeled after feudal society where the Lord had complete domain over the field workers underneath him. The Industrial Revolution’s production line only strengthened the conviction that workers were self-same cogs in the production wheel. And in the family, a man was the ‘king of his castle’, where his children ‘should be seen and not heard’ and his wife had to be subservient to his will.

This kind of leadership, which employs control and a reliance on unbending structure, is ultimately rooted in the perspective of the Ego Self. Since the Ego Self worries about being separate and insignificant, the leadership it sponsors drives leaders to try to elevate themselves above others. This way of being a leader means always being right, and never showing any doubt or hesitation. Ever afraid to reveal that they are not all-powerful and do not have all the answers, Ego-Self leaders tend to be rather inflexible and dismissive of contrary opinion.

Even though our society has been politically democratic for some time, our institutions still tend to be run by this control-oriented hierarchical leadership. Subordinates are implicitly expected to conform, and are not encouraged to have a point of view. Much of the thrust of this leadership amounts to maintaining order and exercising power, which means making subordinates follow the leader’s vision.

This is not to suggest that it is easy to lead in a more open and inclusive way; the power implicit in leadership can corrupt the most well-meaning among us. Here’s an example that history has revealed to us before, in a variety of iterations: a dissident leader in an oppressed country, a true ‘man of the people’, starts off with noble intentions and a vision of equality for all. With the people’s support he succeeds in orchestrating the overthrow of a brutal tyrant. However once in power himself, this leader is slowly overcome by his new-found sense of self-importance. His vision of ‘equality for all’ takes a back seat to his growing vision of his own grandeur. Lacking a deeper self-awareness, he doesn’t even recognize that he is changing. Soon enough he is faced with an ever-growing discontent among the people, and has to fight mercilessly to keep power and suppress revolt. He often wonders why the people are no longer happy about his victory over tyranny until the fateful moment, perhaps as he is being put to death, when it finally dawns on him that he himself had become the brutal tyrant that he once loathed.

Since our society is dominated by the Ego Self, it should come as no surprise to us that our leaders may have gotten seduced by the idea that their perspective is the right one, and that in some ways they are better than those they lead. This is only exacerbated when they surround themselves with yes-people who will not challenge them.

The thing is that we are rather fed up of being yes-people, and it’s beginning to show. Leaders have noticed that we don’t seem to be following orders as automatically any more. We have become less afraid to challenge the status quo, and have started asking our leaders to consider our unique visions, our talents or our aspirations. While some are paying attention, others have reacted by leading in the only way they know how: by shouting louder and banging harder on the drum of obedience. This may give them some results in the short term, but they are only stemming a far larger tide that will not hold for much longer.

Our institutions are already showing cracks in their foundations where individual expression and influence are oozing out. The Church structure has begun to crumble, as increasing numbers of people are bypassing the need for an intermediary and establishing their own private and personal contact with divinity. In education the whole concept of the classroom itself is being questioned, where conformity and uniformity are more and more being seen as a hindrance to learning. Successful businesses are being forced to flatten out their hierarchies and move away from the strict command-and-control structure they once enjoyed, realizing that their companies are more productive when their employees take greater part in the decision-making and their individual talents are considered. And in the family, the roles and rights of both women and children have changed immeasurably in recent times, as has the very nature of the family itself. The husband/father can no longer simply ‘put his foot down’ to squash any challenges to his leadership.

As we gain awareness as individuals, our leaders will continue to evolve by necessity. More and more, leaders in our society will have to move away from feeding their own sense of self-importance and be willing to deflect the spotlight so that individual expression and contribution can shine. Leadership will increasingly be doing the work that goes on backstage and supports the roles of those who are performing. It’s gratifying that we may be finally heeding the words of Lao-Tzu, written over two and a half millennia ago:

The existence of the leader who is wise is barely known to those he leads. He acts without unnecessary speech, so that the people say, “It happened of its own accord”.

Enduring leaders of modern day like Ghandi, the Dalai Lama, Mother Theresa, and Nelson Mandela walked amongst the people, as one of them. They did not seek to be deified or given superior status. They did not feel themselves as having privileged access to the knowledge that their lives modeled, but believed that each person was worthy. Their humility was not forced: it is a natural byproduct of leading from the Dao Self where we are all equal parts of the One. Doing this requires a high degree of self-awareness because to be human means to feel the constant pull of the Ego Self.

Jesus was considered one of the greatest leaders ever because he was able to resist the temptation to lead from the Ego Self, symbolized by the Devil. When the Devil offered Jesus all the kingdoms of the world, Jesus chose instead to remain firmly in the Dao Self.[1] While maintaining his connection to the source of all things helped Jesus perform miracles, it was also the foundation of his conviction that anyone could do what he had done and even greater things.[2]

For those who could not understand, he tried to be a model in his life, and told people to follow him—not blindly, but as an example of how to live. While Jesus tried in every way to point each person back to themselves and their capacity to live from the Dao Self, most were not quite ready for it. The difficulty he faced is comically illustrated in Monte Python’s Life of Brian, a parody of the life of Jesus:

BRIAN: You’ve got it all wrong! You don’t need to follow me. You don’t need to follow anybody! You’ve got to think for yourselves. You’re all individuals!

FOLLOWERS: Yes, we’re all individuals!

BRIAN: You’re all different!

FOLLOWERS: Yes, we are all different!

BRIAN: You’ve all got to work it out for yourselves!

FOLLOWERS: Yes! We’ve got to work it out for ourselves!

BRIAN: Exactly!

FOLLOWERS: Tell us more!

BRIAN: No! That’s the point! Don’t let anyone tell you what to do!

The irony is not lost on us. Since he lived at a time when people had not fully individuated, and so were not fully self-aware, it was difficult for Jesus to lead them to the internal and personal experience of being in the Dao Self. Instead his followers sought to deify him, calling him their savior, abdicating responsibility for their own behavior in the process.[3]

Two millennia later, we are finally ready for leadership that comes from the Dao Self, not simply in the spiritual domain but in our politics, business, family and other human institutions. Leadership has begun to move away from commanding and towards facilitating. Rather than telling us what to do, leaders will have to engage each one of us in conversation, a conversation that leads us back to ourselves. This may come as a big relief to our leaders themselves, many of whom have become dissatisfied with the limitations of their command-oriented ways. Many will seize the opportunity to inspire rather than insist, to be authentic rather than simply do what is expected of them. And as the new conversation blurs the line between leader and follower we are all called upon to take up leadership positions, to support our individual expression while strengthening a collective voice that speaks for all of humanity.

[1] In biblical terms, this was expressed by the assertion that Jesus would only worship and serve God [Matthew, 4:9-10]. Jesus had absolutely no doubts that he was one with the One he called the Father, and the fact that he had fully embodied this knowledge meant that Jesus had reached the pinnacle of self-realization in human form.
[2] From John, 14:12. Salvation was possible for all people, not because of the miracles or even the death and resurrection of Jesus, but because every person has the latent ability to attain this Christ-consciousness, the absolute realization of oneself as the Dao Self. In Christian terms this is what it means to reach heaven.
[3] When we look back on the efforts of Jesus to spread the Good News we may conclude that the profundity of his message may have been too far ahead of its time. History tells us that over the past two thousand years the Church that stood in the name of Christ-consciousness was built on a foundation of control, intimidation, discrimination, and even killing, acts that are all sponsored by the Ego Self.

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