Archive for November, 2012

Oryoki Form, Oryoki Essence (Part 1)

Friday, November 30th, 2012

oryoki meal

Knowing when enough is enough is really satisfying.

Dao De Jing

A meal is an event. Eating is the process behind it. Paying attention to the process of eating is both self-fulfilling and self-emptying. As such, a meal that involves focus on the process is not just a nutritional event but also a meditative event. Buddhists have long understood this. Let’s learn from them—in essence, but not necessarily in form.

Oryoki Form

Oryoki, which is Japanese for “just enough,” is a form of eating meditation—a highly choreographed, protocol-driven practice that follows a strict procession of cues to keep the mind focused on the process of eating. On the technical side, an oryoki meal involves a set of nested wooden bowls (jihatsu), with the largest bowl (zuhatsu) being called the Buddha bowl and a set of eating utensils that are wrapped up, burrito-style, into a cloth. Oryoki has built-in pauses for chanting prayer and expressing grace or gratitude, and a formal opportunity for the donation of leftovers. Oryoki is a great example of a total reinvention of the meal! This ancient tradition is still alive and well in some circles. It’s still practiced in Zen monasteries and some Buddhist retreat centers.

Converting the Dining Hall into a Meditation Hall

Why did the oryoki meal evolve? Here are a few lay speculations of mine: Imagine yourself as a medieval Zen master charged with managing a Buddhist monastery. Day in, day out, you get a bunch of folks banging on your door seeking admission, refuge, protection—in other words, room and board. Unable to read minds and screen out dharma bums from sincerely motivated seekers, you come up with a brilliant scheme. You decide to turn the dining hall into a meditation hall. You come up with a highly codified eating protocol that emphasizes a precise sequences of movements that includes stopping when one is full, cleaning up after oneself, and liturgical chanting. This brilliant administrative solution kills several birds with one stone. First, you’ve got a captive audience: a hungry stomach means an attentive mind. Second, insisting on mindful …

Einstein in Plural

Thursday, November 29th, 2012

There is a video today on CNN about Einstein’s brain, about how neurologically convoluted Einstein’s brain was…

This framing of the issue (“Einstein’s brain”) is the lingo of the old paradigm.

Here’s the NT lingo  (Neural Tribe perspective) on this gray matter:

- Einstein didn’t have a brain: Einstein was the brain.

– A brain isn’t an organ to be had, to be owned, to be possessed; a brain is an organization of neurons that we ourselves are; we don’t have our neural selves, we are our neural selves.

– Einstein wasn’t a guy with a big, highly convoluted brain: “Einstein” is the name of a well-developed, large-surface neural colony.

– There was no one Einstein: there were a hundred billion or so stand-alone Einsteinian neurons (each separated from its fellow neurons by a synaptic gap, yet working collectively as one “Einstein” that we came to know).

– There was nothing special about these Einsteinian neurons: a neuron is a neuron is a neuron (be it in a human or in a hamster); but there was something special about the size and topology of the neural colony called “Einstein.”

– Genius = neural size (of a given neural colony) + its connectivity + myelination (info-processing speed).

– Neurally speaking, all is one, one is all.

See the difference?

Neural Tribe: What We Are

Talking Heads of Pattern Interruption

Monday, November 26th, 2012

A few pattern-interruption points from Talking Heads (from 1984):

“There is a finite number of jokes in the universe.”

“There is no music in space.”

“Cats like houses better than people.”

“Schools are for training people how to listen to other people.”

“Violence on television only affects children whose parents act like television personalities.”

“Table manners are for people who have nothing to do.”

“Civilization is a religion.”

“People will remember you better if always wear the same outfit.”

“In the future we will all drive standing up.”

“Adults think with their mouths open.”

“Passport pictures are what people really look like.”

“In the future it will be a relief to find a place without a culture.”

“When everything is worth money then money is worth nothing.”

“In the future love will be taught on television and by listening to pop songs.”


The future is, of course, always now.  And the pattern-interruption advice from Talking Heads reveals the path to the present moment:  “Stop making sense.”

Take yourself to the river of the now and drop your mind into the water of whatever is.

Break the pattern to resume your flow.

Pattern Interruption


Metabolize This

Saturday, November 24th, 2012

mindful eatingWe tend to think of metabolism in purely  physiological terms.  I’d like to help you broaden your view of  metabolism a bit.  I invite you to think of metabolism as information  processing.  Let’s take the act of eating, for example.  We can think of  eating in purely physiological, metabolic terms… or we can think of  eating as an informational process in which an act of tasting is an act  of knowing.

I describe this Info-Experiential view of eating in my new book, Reinventing the Meal, but here’s a similar perspective from Dr. Hari Sharma, MD, a Western trained proponent of ancient Vedic approaches to healing:

“When  the taste receptors first experience the different taste and textural  properties of a meal, an enormous amount of information is delivered  through the body (primarily through the limbic system), triggering basic  metabolic processes.”

“The body eventually metabolizes the  molecular constituents of the food, but it first metabolizes the sensory  experience of taste.”

“Long before the food is digested, its  influence has spread throughout the body.  A delicious meal is more than  a treat; the taste can be nourishing in itself.”

“The body  metabolizes the emotional content of every experience that it has,”  writes Dr. Sharma.  And that includes the experience of taste.

In sum:

to taste is to experience

to experience is to feel

to feel is to know

to know is to process information

to process information is to attend to the moment

to attend to the moment is to live mindfully.

Metabolize this!

Resource: Reinventing the Meal

Woman tasting photo available from Shutterstock

VENs & the Mirror of Identification

Thursday, November 22nd, 2012

Waiting[Neural Tribe series]

The ability to recognize yourself in the mirror is a behavioral index of self-awareness.  As part of extending the radius of identification to all of our neural brothers and sisters (regardless of their animal form) we – as a Neural Tribe – have to redefine what constitutes self-awareness.  Why?  Because the current mirror-based criterion for self-awareness draws an arguably rigid delineation between those of us who are self-aware and those of us who are apparently not.  Most recently this delineation has been advocated on the basis of the so-called VENneurons (or von Economo Neurons).

I propose a far more basic test of self-awareness: self-awareness is functionally synonymous with self-preservation: any life-form that exhibits self-preservation is obviously aware of itself as being separate from its environment.  Poke an amoeba with a needle and it will react in defense by moving away.  Place a few pellets of starch in its vicinity and it will move towards them licking its “pseudo-lips” in appetitive anticipation.  Any functional pursuit of wellbeing – be it flight-or-fight or metabolic pursuits – is evidence that a given neural organization (that inhabits a given life-form) wants to continue to be what it currently is.

This self-preservation is the basis of all life, it’s called autopoiesis. Autopoiesis is self-awareness. All life runs on a basic self/non-self duality.  And this self/non-self duality is the basis of self-awareness whether you can recognize yourself in the mirror or not.

I call this autopoietic criterion of self-awareness or skinthink.

Are neurons self-aware?  Put differently, are neurons self-preserving?  Of course, they are.  Dendritic competition is evidence of single-neuron self-awareness.  To compete, any life-form – whether it is multicellular or unicellular – any life-form has to distinguish self from its competition and pursue its metabolic (and arguably conscious) wellbeing in a zero-sum manner.  Would a neuron recognize itself in a mirror?  it does, doesn’t it?!  After all, when “you” look in the mirror who sees “you”?  Your liver?  Your ankle?  Of course, not.  Neurons see themselves.  But even if they didn’t, …

Liquid Logic

Wednesday, November 21st, 2012

Blue StreamEdward de Bono offers a distinction between water logic and rock logic.  Water logic is when you deal with the situation in real time, in a case-specific manner: no rules, just intuition and spontaneity.  Water logic flows with the moment without crystallizing into the overgeneralizations and rules of rock logic.

Rock logic is rules.  Role logic biases the mind in advance, creates pre-conceived notions and re-action pathways long before the actual, moment-specific reality unfolds in front of you, requiring a fresh, original, non-cliché response.  Rock logic doesn’t flow, it stumbles upon reality, it stereotypes reality, loses touch with what is, and gets you stuck and boxed into categories.

Rock logic is like writing on water: good luck with that!

In contrast, water logic creates no eddies, no fixations, no rumination.

Water logic is the logic of a mind that is free and in touch with the actual reality of what currently is.   It’s the logic of survival, a logic of surviving the actual here-and-now moment of reality rather than a logic of idealism (which busies itself with judging reality against what should be).

A tip of one of my six thinking hats* to you, Ed!

Read E. de Bono: a truly liquid mind.

*Six Thinking Hats

Creative Commons License photo credit: `James Wheeler

No Separation, No Evil

Wednesday, November 21st, 2012

“There is no such thing as evil.  The concept of evil is a crutch.  We will not heal until we toss away the crutch.  […]  To perceive something as ‘evil’ is to imagine that that object, that person, is not a part of me.  He’s something else.  To perceive ‘evil’ is to attempt to deny that we are all one.”

Paul Williams, Das Energi

Truer words have not been spoken: no separation, no evil.

Related: There is No Evil

Paul Williams

Thanksgiving Dinner: Harvest the Moment!

Wednesday, November 21st, 2012

ways to give thanksThe act of giving thanks is more than just a gesture of gratitude.  It is a unique teaching moment.  Indeed, by expressing appreciation for this or that we teach the world about what matters to us, about what is existentially significant for us.  With this in mind, let me ask you this: what contributions to your well-being will you be reinforcing this year with your gratitude?  Will you be showing gratitude for financial, material, logistical help you have received this year or will you be emphasizing the importance of the contributions of support, friendship and companionship?

If you are not sure, I have just a suggestion for you.  But, first, let us go on a brief etymology safari by looking into the history of the words involved.  Thanksgiving Day is a celebration of harvest.  The English word harvest derives from the Sanskrit verb kerp which means “to gather, pluck, harvest.” (1) If the verb kerp (in the meaning of “harvest”) rings the bell, it’s because it is part of the oft-used Latin phrase carpe diem, which, of course, means “pluck (capture, harvest) the day (while it is ripe).”

Carpe diem is not just an invitation to make use of the moment; it is also a message of mindfulness, an invitation to harvest the here-and-now poignancy of the moment.  I propose that this year you celebrate the harvest of mindfulness.  If being mindful is, in fact, an existential value of yours, consider using your gratitude to express a special appreciation to those who helped you be more present and grounded during the year.

And as you accentuate the importance you place on mindfulness, consider giving mindfulness back.  Thanksgiving dinner is an excellent starting opportunity for this.  Indeed, Thanksgiving is the beginning of the national season of binge-eating which, of course, culminates on the New Year’s morning with various dieting resolutions.  Let it be different this time.  Model mindfulness during the Thanksgiving dinner with the help of social savoring.  Instead of loading up your dish with favorites, sample the unfamiliar and invite a mindful …

Human Form, Neural Essence

Wednesday, November 21st, 2012

We are human only in form; in essence, we are neural, regardless of the animal form we are.

We are used to noticing the form-figure of who we aren’t, we need to learn to notice the essence-ground of who we are.

NT perspective is a new gestalt about who we are and who we aren’t.

More on Neural Tribe: What We Are

[pic source]

Self-Anthropomorphizing Neurons

Tuesday, November 20th, 2012

One possible critique of the Neural Tribe perspective is that it… anthropomorphizes the lowly neurons.

Hell yeah! The Neural Tribe perspective is a purposeful attempt to humanize that which makes us human. The NT perspective sets out to anthropomorphize anthropos-the-essence, not anthropos-the-form, our neural presence, not the body-forms that we inhabit.

The NT perspective sees an anthropos (“man” in the connotation of “human”) in each and every neuron, whether this neuron is to be found in a human body-form or in a medusa or in a stink bug.

Bottom line: neural is personified human and human is personified neural.

What other part of our body should we identify with instead? With our bones? Of course, not: our skeleton is just a clothing hanger for the flesh that hangs on it. Should we identify with our own muscles or organs or tendons? Of course, not: all these parts – some now, and with time, all of them – can be swapped around/transplanted and/or prosthetically/artificially substituted. As such, these parts of our selves are too superfluous to the neural essence of what we are to count. So, when you strip away all of these inconsequential layers of the bodily onion, all that’s left is a colony of lowly neurons. So, what else is there to anthropomorphize?!

We are – paradoxically and recursively – self-anthropomorphizing neurons.

Related: A Conscious Neuron


Select books by Pavel G. Somov, Ph.D.:
Mindful Emotional Eating Reinventing the Meal
Present Perfect
Eating the Moment

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