This blog is about both scientific, societal/political, and yoga-related issues - individually and considered as different aspects of the same problem/solution. A longer description is found in the first blog entry, and all old posts are found in a structured way here. The blog is an extension of my main home pages yoga-link.se and isbgroup.eu. Twitter: @gunnarcedersund
A few days ago we had a TED-evening here at yoga-link. We listened to and watched many inspirational videos, and I will describe them shortly in a later post (UPDATE: here). Already now, however, I can say that we watched a video we have watched also at an earlier event: a video by Barry Schwartz. He there speaks about the importance of virtue, and of celebrating moral heroes. I think that almost everybody nowadays agrees that Nelson Mandela is one of those moral heroes. He led South Africa, not only from apartheid to democracy, but towards healing and forgiveness. One of the my favorite Swedish politicians, Hans Corell, said that we need more statesmen in the world. Corell, who has worked as a top UN official directly under Kofi Annan for many years, then went on to say that "In my life I have met only a few real Statesmen, people who can lead an entire people through their unshakable integrity, sincerity and charisma. Nelson Mandela was one of them." As it turns out, he is now dead, since a few hours back. It is therefore up to us to become new Statesmen. New inspirers. To take his cape, and realize that we only live a short time here. That Mandela's time is over. And that our time has begun.
I therefore end this short post, to Mandela's honor, by celebrating a quote that often is associated with Mandela, one that has been hanging since many years on a wall directly to the right when you enter yoga-link. A quote that it is often said that he spoke in his inaugural address. This quote is one of my favourite quotes, and the fact that it actually wasn't said by him, makes it even more appropriate now: because it means that it will be easy for us who remain in our bodies to keep producing quotes like this. And to follow the spirit of them.
"Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that
we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that
most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous,
talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a
child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is
nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel
insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were
born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It's not just
in some of us; it's in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we
unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are
liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates
As humans, we are an intricate and indivisible part of nature. But we have also - to some extent - grown apart from nature, and are looking back to it, in different ways. Some of these ways are as a conqueror, a user, a destroyer. But we are also sometimes looking back with love and with fascination. One thing we have always had a strong fascination for is wild animals, wild predators - predators who potentially could have us on their menu.
In the above video you see clip of a young girl, less than 10 years old in pictures, who grew up in the wild, living with bushmen and wild animals. Her name is Tipi, and as you see in the video, she has an enormous sensitivity and communication with these animals - who let her do things with and to them that extremely few others are allowed to do. (more pictures and videos) She is playing with jeopards, she is paving the way for snakes, and she is riding on and playing in the water with real wild life elephants. All of those are animals with the potential to kill her in an instant, but she is amazingly unafraid, sensing and communicating with them that she just wants to play - and that they just want to play as well. Apart from that she also seem to have a unique connection with bushmen (you know, the ones that are depicted in the wonderful movies: "The Gods Must be Crazy") spending parts of her childhood with them.
Another thing that totally fascinates me with wild animals is when they are coupling together in unusual ways. In the below video (which you have to watch on youtube) you see examples of lions adopting antilop cublings, cats becoming friends and playmates with birds, and of a monkey who have become best friends with a dog. All of this means that companionship and love are truly basic needs within all of us, and that playfulness, friendship and physical closeness are things that resonate with what we want from life at a very basic level. I personally think that the theory of evolution explanations can come up a bit dry and beside-the-point in these kind of situations. Not that evoluation doesn't happen, and that it cannot explain many basic things we see in nature. But there are so many principles that are more central to day-to-day observations. Somehow we need to bring joy back into the equation of how we view life, and of what life is about.
I therefore end with a clip of a man who has learnt to have fun with a group of lions. He says that even though they might end up killing him: "if I would have the chance to come back again after I was killed - I would!" Because life is not about survival, and procreation of your species, or your genes. It is about joy, and love, and laughter!
And, somehow, our discovery of these unusual animal-animal and animal-human couplings serves as a very nice reflection of the fact that we as humans are rediscovering this fact now again - at last!
A completely ordinary traffic light in Buenos Aires. But everything ordinary can be used to do an inner journey. And sometimes when you are dissatisfied with your outer walk in life, perhaps it is better to stop and take an inner walk instead. This is what I did today.
Picture taken by me, 2013-03-08, as is the youtube/iPhone video below.
Sometimes when I am out to take a walk, and I am about to come home, I feel dissatisfied. I don't feel as refreshed as I hoped I would be feeling by then. My body or my mind is still out of balanced in one way or another, and I don't feel fresh and sharp - ready for action. In other words, the walk has not yet given me what I hoped it would give me. In such cases, I may get the urge to take a longer walk. To not go home, but instead take a detour, and go somewhere else first. However, it has become my experience over the years, that it is often enough - often even better - to instead start to walk slower. To become more present in the moment. To really be there in my body and in the surroundings for the walk I am already on. To be so present that there is not any space in my mind for any other thoughts. After just a short time with such walking - just slightly slower and slightly more conscious walking - I feel that I have started to move on the road I have been looking for. My mind starts to feel clearer, my energies are cleaning up, and pretty soon my body is starting to feel more and more refreshed as well. In other words: the outer walk is only there to stimulate the inner journey - which is the journey I usually am really after.
Today, I had a sort of similar experience, but here in Buenos Aires. I was sitting in a restaurant, and I wasn't feeling very well. Earlier during the day, I had gotten stuck in traffick, and hadn't gotten off to Montevideo as I had hoped. My body was feeling stiff and tensed. And most of all: I felt that I had been wasting my time here. I had been here almost a week, but I hadn't really seen anything - I had just been spending my time in a small hotel room, or in a very small vicinity outside of it, or in the university area. I was about to leave, and I hadn't really been here yet.
I left the restaurant in a similar shape, not hungry, but still dissatisifed. The way from the restaurant to my new home (a nice little youth hostel) was short, but I had to cross the road, and this time that meant that I had to stand and wait for the traffic lights to change - the lights that are depicted in the picture above. As the light was about to change to green, I was reminded of a game I sometimes play with myself; to make use of small breaks; to not get annoyed by the red lights in my life, but instead use them as mini-breaks that allows me to get back to the feeling of "ahhh, I have time to spare". And it was probably this habit that gave me the impulse to do what I did: when the green light came, I didn't go, but stayed. And this was the start of an inner journey.
In this inner journey, in this inner walk, I didn't really do anything special. I was just standing and looking around me. In the beginning I was in exactly the same state as before: stressed, annoyed with everything, and generally dissatisfied with the situation. But...after just a little while, I started to get a little bit more present. To get a little bit more there, and a little bit less in my thoughts. But that was enough for me to recognize and sense what had started, and to let the process continue. First just to slightly less dissatisfied states. But since I knew what had started, I pretty soon started to get hopeful for more, and I knew that this was a good thing. And I started to feel the magic build up. Everybody else around me was moving, but I was standing still - I was choosing to stand still. But not completely still. I was starting to stretch my back a little bit. And a little bit more. I was starting to feel present in my body - and to feel the touch of the warm wonderfully humid and slightly cool evening air against my skin. And it was not only me that was changing: my surroundings was changing as well. In the beginning I had been looking at a sign of some play that was running, and had been annoyed about the thin story it seemed to pervey. But, now, in this new state, the thinness of the story was instead an inspiration - it was something I could change. I was here, I am here, to tell a new story. To write new books, and plays, which are based on a new vibration. My own presence, and my own beingness was starting to emerge more and more to the center of my attention. And I was present. I was there. And it was beautiful. Wow, I am in Buenos Aires. This is wonderful! I am here at last!
And it had taken less than 15 minutes. The only thing I had needed was to realize what was needed: an inner walk. And at the end of this walk, I had discovered at last that thing what had been all around me all the time.
Stockholm is, just like any city, full of paradoxes and co-existing contradictions. It is for instance, a city that is both very beautiful, with many wonderful places - but it also a city that is quite hard and filled with stress and an upbeat restlessness. Many of the people I know that are from Stockholm are also filled with this paradox: they are tough and cool on the outside, often more so than most, but also highly sensitive and tender on the inside - also that, often more so than most. This blog post will be about one of the first things that attracted me with yoga: the learning of a sound ability to combine sensitivity with robustness - the ability to be sensitive without having a tough outer shell to protect you.
Picture taken by me yesterday, on my last evening in Sweden for almost 4 weeks.
There are many polarities in life. One of them, and the perhaps most important one, is certainly that of love vs fear. There are also many other polarities that maps on to this one. In my understanding, many of those have to do with movements. Where fear makes you run and hide, in love you stay and shine. Where fear moves away from things it does not want, fear moves towards things it does want. Where fear shrinks, love expands, and where fear holds near, love holds dear. (I actually wrote a poem on this) This equivalence of essense in many polarities is probably what lies behind the classical concept of yin and yang.
However, unlike certain philosophies, I do not believe that all polarities map onto each other. I for instance do not think that up and down, right and left - and such divisions among essentially identical parts - can be mapped onto the love/fear polarity in a meaningful way. Most importantly, I do not think that the male/female polarity maps onto the love/fear polarity, and I therefore think that most discussions that have to do with what is truly male and truly female easily lead you astray from the most important question you can ask yourself in life: "What would Love do, if Love was standing in my shows?". However, there is one final important class of polarities in life: those that aren't really polarities at all, but only appears to be, due to lack of development. One such polarity is that between psychological sensitivity and psychological robustness.
Before I expand on this, I just want to say that sensitivity and robustness can be defined in a way that makes them true opposites. One of my colleagues, and one of the founders of my research field "systems biology", is called Hiroaki Kitano, and he has spent quite a lot of papers to defining these concepts in a meaningful way, which also allows you to understand life in a better way. The short story of this is that a property X is robust with respect to certain disturbances if those perturbations (called P) only lead to small changes in this property (i.e. if dX/dP is small). Otherwise the property is sensitive to those same disturbances (if dX/dp is big). An interesting property of such robustness, is that a system that designs itself to be robust towards a certain class of perturbations often does this at the price of being more sensitive to other perturbations. For instance, the disease that I have studied the most, type 2 diabetes, is the consequence of nature optimizing the system to be robust with respect to the historically most common perturbation, lack of food, and have therefore become sensitive to the opposite perturbation, long-term abundance of food (paper on this).
Now, however, I want to speak about sensitivity vs robustness from a psychological, or perhaps even a spiritual, perspective. In this setting, sensitivity is a common personality trait, and there is even a concept called highly sensitivity persons. Such persons are often spiritual seekers since they can be completely awed and profoundly inspired by seemingly normal things, like a beautiful flower or a the flight of bird. This ability to sense and be in ligth-filled and awe-filled states, the ability to respond to beauty in a profound way, is what I would call sensitivity. However, such highly sensitivity persons are often also bordering on being bi-stable, since they easily become out-of-balance when what they observe is unpleasing. This is because they lack robustness.
Now the key message of this blog post is that if psychological sensitivity and robustness would be like the scientific sensitivity and robustness, these highly sensitivity persons would be in an unstable situation that they would either i) simply have to accept or ii) they would have to "de-evolve" and descrease their sensitivity and become more mundane. However, with yoga this choice is not necessary. It is possible to be both robust and sensitivity at the same time. In fact, this could almost be defined as the goal with yoga.
The trick to learning this "sensitive-and-robust" state is to become aware of your thoughts, and to become an independent agent with respect to them. There are many approaches to this, but one of them is to learn to observe and change your thoughts. In this approach one takes the Hicks/Abraham approach of emotional bridging, and this means that one all the time picks a thought that is just a little bit better-feeling than the previous one. Then one can from any situation come to a good-feeling place (because your feeling is always the response to the thought, not to the circumstance). And then the high sensitivity is a constant blessing. Or as Hicks/Abraham says: "a high sensitivity with thought control is a wonderful thing, but a high sensitivity without thought control leads to trouble".
The other approach is to learn to become the observer of the thoughts. To say - and feel - that I am not this thought, I am the one observing it. If you can learn this technique, you can become robust to any thought, to any experience, that may happen, in meditation or in waking life - without loosing any of the sensitivity. This yoga goal is sometimes described as being both in the being and in the becoming at the same time. Or to be both the observer and the observed, rolled into one. Finally, to learn this observing aspect is the principle behind the Antar Mouna meditation, which I am teaching at the intensive summer courses, and also at this semester's advanced/intermediate course. I will, however, also outline the basic principles and the first steps here at this blog. So look forward to that! :)
Forgetmenots, one of my favourite flowers. Picture from Wikipedia.
from fear to lovePosted by yoga-link.se Mar 20, 2012 22:24 One of the things I really love is to have a more zoomed-out look at our culture, to see what we can learn - and change - about our cultural myths, since it is these myths that underlie all our other decisions.
On this, I want to re-post a comment from facebook, which I made a few months ago. It was after watching a wonderful filmatization of the musical version of Charles Dicken's "A Christmas Carol". This is the classic story where an old greedy geezer, Ebenezer Scrooge, gets a flash of self-awareness, when he on Christmas eve is visited by the three ghosts: of Christmases past, of Christmases present, and of Christmases yet to be. What makes this, and so many other similar stories so engaging is the stark contrasts, and the evoluation of character. It is because everything is so dark in Scrooge's life, and in his heart, that the opening of his heart is so beautiful. It is because he sees life as he had forgotten how to, that the re-awakening into caring again is such a strong experience. It is a bit like Martin Luther King said, in his last speech (called "I've been to the Mountain Top"): "Only when it is dark enough can you see the stars." Or another classical attitude is this: condemn not evil, but be a light unto it.
In this picture, to the left we see a young and still vibrant Scrooge dancing with his
sweetheart Emily (Jennifer Love Hewitt) on the night when they got engaged. To the right we see
old geezer Scrooge (Kelsey Grammer, aka Fraiser) reliving the memory, through the graze of the "Ghost
of Christmas past", who stands behind. This is the scene where old
Ebenezer's heart starts responding to things again - a truly wonderful
However, the scene I really wanted to show you is the following: This is a little bit later in to the same movie, when Emily is breaking up the engagement. She says that he only loves his gold. He says that he is collecting all the money to keep them both safe and secure. She replies
that she never wanted anything but his love.
misunderstanding says something very profound about the most common
mistake there is - and which is very much affecting our world
also today. An unsoundly cautious search for safety and security will
almost always lead you astray, and away from love and freedom. We see it
in all the recent surveilance laws that are poisoning our democracy so
much these days: they are very often argued for in terms of "increased
security". Base a decision on fear, and the search for security, and it
will almost always lead you wrong. Base a decision on the search for
freedom, *true freedom*, and it will almost always lead you right.
This particular trend we are seeing right now is of course not new. My
favority quote on the topic is probably by Ben Frankling, the ingenious
founding father of the US declaration of independence: "Those who would
give up Essential Liberty to purchase a little Temporary Safety, deserve
neither Liberty nor Safety [and will lose both]"
I am a yoga-teacher in the tantric tradition, but also a scientist, and an engaged citizen. Politically, I am engaged in e.g. democracy, internet freedom, human rights, alternative economic theories, and environmental issues. Scientifically, I am working with systems biology, and the study of complex systems on all levels (isbgroup.eu). Yoga-wise, I am teaching and interested in classical yoga, where you take a holistic view, and merge not only physical exercises with breathing exercises and meditation, but also those things with karma yoga (harmonious working), dancing, music, sex, and all the rest of it. See http://yoga-link.se Twitter: @gunnarcedersund