Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Who Am I?


Remember you come here having already understood the necessity of struggling with yourself - only with yourself. Therefore thank everyone who gives you the opportunity. - G. I. Gurdjieff

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Quote of the Day


Some days, it’s not about passion and courage. It’s not about heroism and drama. It’s not about slaying dragons or conjuring exotic visions... Some days, it's simply about the delicious act of doing simple things, simply. - Jack Ricchiuto, American Designer and Writer

Friday, March 19, 2010

Happiness Is a Journey...

...or how Zen can help us to stay focused and calm in adverse circumstances

Happiness can mean so many different things. It is one of those ephemeral categories that elude definition in absolute terms. People seem to set their individual standards for happiness and make judgments from their own point of view. And while some people run ceaselessly from one experience to another in hope of finding the ultimate happiness, others appear to be quite content with what they have. But what happens when apparently happy people experience adversity?

In February a cupboard in my kitchen came off the wall and crashed on the floor together with my china and my collection of glasses. I was in the bathroom. I heard some noise, but thought that my neighbor had dropped something. Later, when I went to the kitchen, I could not believe my eyes. I could not enter the kitchen because the entrance was blocked by the damaged piece of furniture and the china and glass that was scattered all over the kitchen floor. Interestingly, I stayed completely calm. I looked at the spectacle and tried to assess the damage. In the sink I saw a plate, a Roswell mug from my husband, a tea cup and a saucer, and a water glass. I was busy writing in the morning and maybe a bit too lazy, so I did not wash these things right after my breakfast. And there they were. Intact.

The kitchen was a mess and the cupboard would have to be moved away and repaired or replaced. I had my few things left, so I did not have to run out to a store right away. I knew though, that sooner or later, I would have to go shopping to replace the broken china and the glasses and I would have to spend money that I originally intended to spend on something else. Moreover, the timing of this incident could not be worse because I was really busy and did not have the time to take care of the mess. But when actually is the best time for a little disaster in our lives? If we could, we would make them disappear before they even occur, but this is not how things work. Some things cannot be prevented. They just happen. There are people who believe that things happen for a reason so that we can learn from them and grow. The most important lesson you can learn is to stay calm and detach yourself from the event. Accept what has happened, clear the mess, and move on.

Years ago I might have had a minor nervous breakdown at the sight of my favorite china lying crushed to pieces on my kitchen floor. A bowl that could never be replaced. A favorite tea cup. Elegant wine glasses. Even though I knew that things did break or could get lost, but could actually be replaced, a loss would make me sad, sometimes even unhappy. I would have been sad for days reminding myself how horrible it was not to have that particular object, or a pet, or a person in my life anymore. But not this time. Not after years of preoccupation with Buddhist philosophy, yoga, and meditation. Not after years of a life in the present. Not after the realization that everything is transient, impermanent, and illusory.

Very often we define ourselves through our possessions. Our possessions often have a particular meaning to us and their loss may be very painful. The more emotions or memories are associated with the object, the more unique and irreplaceable it becomes to us. We perceive the loss as something unbearable. There is no consolation. And definitely, there is nothing that could ever replace it in our hearts. Or is there?

In our day to day existence, no matter how happy and fulfilled, we have to face situations that sometimes are beyond our control. Some of us become completely overwhelmed, while others face the adversity with determination to find a solution. They refuse to give up or become victims. They do not delight in their pain and do not ruminate incessantly on their problem. Instead, they demonstrate incredible resilience. They acknowledge what has happened, accept it, calculate the consequences, look for a solution, and move on. It does not mean that they do not feel anything when adversities occur in their lives. Their emotions may be very intense, but they have learned that to worry about things that cannot be undone, prevented, or influenced in any possible way, is a waste of time and precious energy they could rather use to find a solution or to heal their own pain. The glass may appear to have a wrong size, but it is never empty. To accept what happened does not mean to resign oneself to the circumstances. Resistance and refusal to accept creates more tension and pain. To accept means to see the situation as what it really is and let go.

We are never completely helpless. We may not always be in control of the circumstances we are in, but we can always consciously chose the way how we respond to them. Herein lies the difference between those who feel truly happy and fulfilled and those who see themselves as helpless victims of bad luck, higher injustice, or some kind of punishment they deserve anyway. A shift in perspective would make a great difference, but it does not come as easily as one may wish. It involves mental and emotional discipline and most importantly, the realization that it is futile to hold on to things. Buddhism teaches us that everything is in flux. Nothing lasts forever. Because our minds need some kind of permanence in the floating world, they create an illusion of continuity. Sometimes the illusion is shattered like the china in my kitchen and whole worlds collapse. Yet, to those who live in the moment and savor its essence, the cracks in the surface are as impermanent and illusory as everything else. 

Happiness is a journey, not a destination. Travel well...

By Dominique Allmon


Buddhist Philosophy: Essential Readings 

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Happiness is a journey... by Dominique Allmon is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Restore Your Balance with Chakra Meditation

"The Chakra System is a map for the journey through life. Its seven rainbow colors represent the full spectrum of human possibility that stretches from the ordinary to the extraordinary, from Earth to heaven, forming a bridge and describing the steps between them. The map is an archetypal formula for wholeness that addresses the full spectrum of human possibility. To navigate its territory is to take an exciting journey of awakening - in body, mind, and spirit." From Chakra Balancing Workbook by Anodea Judith
The chakras were first mentioned in the Upanishads - ancient Hindu texts written down somewhere between 1,200 and 900 BC. In Sanskrit chakra means wheel or a vortex. Chakras are important energy centers in the human body. They are not to be understood as physical organs, but rather as energy "junctions". They are the aspects of our consciousness that are responsible for the energy flow within our bodies as well as our interaction with the outside world. They cover the entire spectrum of consciousness and can be described as spinning energy vortices within the subtle body. They are visualized as such during meditation. Subtle body is understood as our energy field where emotions, feelings, desires, habits, and experiences are seated.

Chakras are energy centers where the dominant patterns "crystallize" into the predominant traits of personality. Chakras draw in and process the external energy internally and then, express it externally. They are the centers in which the life force energy is received, assimilated, and expressed. They are like energy "engines" that mitigate everything we think, experience, or do. They are the portals that allow the exchange between the outer and the inner worlds. For a better understanding of the concept, some authors compared chakras to spinning discs that store all the information that is being constantly exchanged between the outer and the inner worlds. Our physical and emotional well being depend on the harmonious flow of energy in the chakras and between them.

There are many chakras in the body, but seven of them are considered to be the major ones. (Some systems of thought have a more complex systematization and include minor chakras as well as chakras existing outside of the physical body.) The seven major chakras are aligned along the spine beginning at the perineum and ending at the crown of the head. Each chakra governs particular aspect of life and is related to a particular set of emotions and behaviors. A chakra can be either overactive, under-active, or completely blocked. Because our well being depends on a properly functioning chakras, it is important to keep the open. Open and well functioning chakras contribute consciously to our awareness. Blocked chakras, on the other hand, obstruct the energy flow in the body and create psycho-physical "complexes". We might develop a physical disorder in a particular organ, or a pattern of behavior, or a set of emotions that corresponds with the anomaly in the affected chakra. Chronic disease is often seen as a result of imbalance in one or more chakras and lack of alignment between them.

The seven major chakras:

* Muladhara - Root chakra located on the last bone of the spine and corresponding to the perineum area is associated with our survival. Its tendency is self-preservation. Its goals are stability, physical health, prosperity, and trust. Pathological emotion here is fear. Excess of energy in this chakra leads to sluggishness, monotony, obesity, greed, hoarding, and materialism. Under active root chakra leads to fear, lack of discipline, restlessness, lack of grounding, and underweight. This chakra characterizes our physical identity and manifests our right to be and to have.
* Svadhisthana - Sacral chakra corresponding to ovaries and prostate is associated with sexuality and emotions. Its tendency is self-gratification. Its goals are pleasure, healthy sexuality, and emotions. Pathological emotion here is guilt. Excess energy here leads to sexual addictions, excessive emotionality, poor boundaries, and obsessive attachments. Lack of energy in the second chakra manifests itself as frigidity, impotence, emotional indifference or numbness, and fear of pleasure. This chakra characterizes our emotional identity and expresses our right to feel and to desire.
* Manipura - Solar Plexus chakra located in the navel area is associated with will and power. Its tendency is self-definition. Its goals are vitality, spontaneity, purpose, determination, and self-esteem. The pathological emotion here is shame. Excess energy is visible as tendency to dominate and control, aggressive behavior, and incessant activity. Deficit in energy here leads to weak will, lack of self-esteem, passivity, sluggishness, and fearfulness. This chakra characterizes our ego identity and expresses our right to act.
* Anahata - Heart chakra located in the center of the rib cage is associated with love and relationships. Its tendency is self-acceptance. Its goals are balance, compassion, self-acceptance, harmonious relationships. Pathological emotion here is grief. Overactive heart chakra leads to codependency, possessiveness, jealousy, and poor boundaries. Lack of energy here produces shyness, loneliness, isolation, bitterness, criticism, inability to empathize. This chakra characterizes our social identity and our right to love and be loved.
* Vissudha - Throat chakra corresponding to the throat and neck area is associated with communication. Its tendency is self-expression. Its goals are clarity of communication, resonance, and creativity. Pathological emotion is tendency to lie. Overactive Vissudha is characterized by excessive talking and inability to listen. Lack of energy here leads to fear of speaking and poor rhythm. speech disorders are associated with this chakra. Our creative identity and our right to speak and be heard lie here.
* Ajna - Third Eye corresponding to pineal gland located on the forehead between the eyes is associated with intuition. Its tendency is self-reflection. Its goals are psychic perception, imagination, accurate interpretation, and clear vision. Pathological emotion associated with this chakra is illusion. Overactive third eye chakra leads to headaches, nightmares, hallucinations, delusions, and poor concentration. Lack of energy here leads to poor memory, poor vision, lack of imagination, and denial. Our archetypal identity is embedded here as well as our right to see.
* Sahasrara - Crown chakra located at the top of the head is associated with cognition. Its tendency is self-knowledge. Its goals are wisdom, knowledge, consciousness, spiritual connection. Pathological emotion here is attachment. Overactive crown chakra leads to spiritual addiction, extreme intellectualism, confusion, and dissociation. Lack of energy here results in learning difficulties, spiritual skepticism, materialism, and apathy. Crown chakra expresses our universal identity and our right to know.

Chakra meditation

Energetic deficiencies in the chakras and the overall imbalance in the energy flow can be alleviated with a special form of meditation and with a set of physical exercises. Stagnant chakras can be set into motion, overactive ones can be quieted down.

There are different techniques that can be used to align the chakras:

    * yoga postures
    * breathing exercises
    * bio-energetics
    * visualization
    * meditation
    * color therapy
    * aroma therapy

Chakra meditation is designed to balance and align the chakras and to allow the individual a full expression of his or her potential. Unlike for instance Zen meditation that requires practitioner to empty his or her mind, chakra meditation allows things to come up and enter the stream of consciousness.

There are many forms of chakra meditation that assign different colors and sounds to the chakras. There is no universal understanding of a chakra system and therefore it is sensible to learn the chakra meditation under the guidance of a compassionate, qualified teacher, especially if one does not have any previous experience with meditation. Experienced practitioners and yogis may not have any difficulty in learning the chakra meditation from a guide book or a DVD. However, caution is advised. Repressed emotions that are locked within a particular chakra may surface and enter awareness causing discomfort. Chakra meditation is a shadow work and may have a powerful impact on individual's emotional state. In some severe cases a psychotherapy may be necessary to work through the complexes that were released in the process.

It is possible to meditate upon a single chakra to open or enhance it, although in my opinion such meditation does not make much sense. This could crudely be compared to an athlete who is trying to exercise only one group of muscles in his body. The preferable and probably more effective form of chakra meditation begins at the root chakra and ends at the crown chakra in one session. It is like a journey through all the aspects of one's being. The meditation is usually done while sitting comfortably on a chair, although some people meditate in a cross legged position on the floor. I personally prefer to lie down comfortably on a flat surface. In this position I can feel the energy flow and my chakras spin.

Chakra meditation may help you clarify old emotions and discover hidden abilities or develop new ones. It may help you heal your relationships and find your place in life. Regular practice will help you develop higher awareness and connect with other people on a more profound level.

By Dominique Allmon


*This article was written for educational purposes and is not meant to diagnose or cure a disease

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Restore Your Health With Chakra Meditation by Dominique Allmon is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

Increase Pain Threshold with Zen Meditation

Zen meditation helps lower sensitivity to pain by thickening a part of the brain that regulates emotion and painful sensations, according to a Montreal study published in February, 2010.

University of Montreal researchers compared the gray matter thickness of seventeen Zen meditators and eighteen non-meditators and found evidence that practicing the centuries-old discipline can reinforce a central part of the brain called the anterior cingulate.

"Through training, Zen meditators appear to thicken certain areas of their cortex and this appears to underlie their lower sensitivity to pain," lead author Joshua Grant said.

Building on an earlier study, the researchers measured thermal pain sensitivity by applying a heated plate to the calf of participants.

This was followed by scanning the brains of subjects with structural magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).

The MRI results showed central brain regions that regulate emotion and pain were significantly thicker in meditators compared with non-meditators.

"The often painful posture associated with Zen meditation may lead to thicker cortex and lower pain sensitivity," Mr Grant said.

The study was published in a special issue of the American Psychological Association journal, Emotion.

In the previous study, the researchers recruited Zen meditators with more than thousand hours of practice and non-meditators and measured their respective tolerance to pain.
Several of the meditators tolerated a maximum 53C produced by a heating plate.

They appeared to further reduce their pain partly through slower breathing: 12 breaths per minute versus an average of fifteen breaths for non-meditators.

"Slower breathing certainly coincided with reduced pain and may influence pain by keeping the body in a relaxed state," Mr Grant said in the earlier study.

Ultimately, Zen meditators experience an eighteen per cent reduction in pain sensitivity, according to the original study.

Article source here

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Does Memory Reside Outside the Brain?

By Leonardo Vintiñi
After decades of investigation, scientists are still unable to explain why no part of the brain seems responsible for storing memories.

Most people assume that our memories must exist somewhere inside our heads. But try as they might, medical investigators have been unable to determine which cerebral region actually stores what we remember. Could it be that our memories actually dwell in a space outside our physical structure?

Biologist, author, and investigator Dr. Rupert Sheldrake notes that the search for the mind has gone in two opposite directions. While a majority of scientists have been searching inside the skull, he looks outside.

According to Sheldrake, author of numerous scientific books and articles, memory does not reside in any geographic region of the cerebrum, but instead in a kind of field surrounding and permeating the brain. Meanwhile, the brain itself acts as a “decoder” for the flux of information produced by the interaction of each person with their environment.

In his paper "Mind, Memory, and Archetype Morphic Resonance and the Collective Unconscious" published in the journal Psychological Perspectives, Sheldrake likens the brain to a TV set - drawing an analogy to explain how the mind and brain interact.

“If I damaged your TV set so that you were unable to receive certain channels, or if I made the TV set aphasic by destroying the part of it concerned with the production of sound so that you could still get the pictures but could not get the sound, this would not prove that the sound or the pictures were stored inside the TV set.

“It would merely show that I had affected the tuning system so you could not pick up the correct signal any longer. No more does memory loss due to brain damage prove that memory is stored inside the brain. In fact, most memory loss is temporary: amnesia following concussion, for example, is often temporary.

This recovery of memory is very difficult to explain in terms of conventional theories: if the memories have been destroyed because the memory tissue has been destroyed, they ought not to come back again; yet they often do,” he writes.

Sheldrake goes on to further refute the notion of memory being contained within the brain, referring to key experiments which he believes have been misinterpreted. These experiments have patients vividly recall scenes of their past when areas of their cerebrum were electrically stimulated.

While these researchers concluded that the stimulated areas must logically correspond to the contained the memory, Sheldrake offers a different view as he revisits the television analogy:  “… if I stimulated the tuning circuit of your TV set and it jumped onto another channel, this wouldn’t prove the information was stored inside the tuning circuit,” he writes.

Morphogenetic Fields

But if memory does not live in the brain, where does it reside? Following the notions of previous biologists, Sheldrake believes that all organisms belong to their own brand of form-resonance - a field existing both within and around an organism, which gives it instruction and shape.

An alternative to the predominant mechanist/reductionism understanding of biology, the morphogenetic approach sees organisms intimately connected to their corresponding fields, aligning themselves with the cumulative memory that the species as a whole has experienced in the past.

Yet these fields become ever more specific, forming fields within fields, with each mind - even each organ - having its own self resonance and unique history, stabilizing the organism by drawing from past experience. “The key concept of morphic resonance is that similar things influence similar things across both space and time,” writes Sheldrake.

Still, many neurophysicists insist on probing ever deeper into the cerebrum to find the residence of memory. One of the more well known of these researchers was Karl Lashley, who demonstrated that even after up to 50 percent of a rat’s brain had been cut away, the rat could still remember the tricks it had been trained to perform.

Curiously, it seemed to make no difference which half of the brain was removed - lacking either a left or right hemisphere, the rodents were able to execute the learned actions as before. Successive investigators revealed similar results in other animals.

Picture This

The holographic theory, born from experiments such as those of Lashley, considers that memory resides not in a specific region of the cerebrum but instead in the brain as a whole. In other words, like a holographic image, a memory is stored as an interference pattern throughout the brain.

However, neurologists have discovered that the brain is not a static entity, but a dynamic synaptic mass in constant flux - all of the chemical and cellular substances interact and change position in a constant way. Unlike a computer disc which has a regular, unchanging format that will predictably pull up the same information recorded even years before, it is difficult to maintain that a memory could be housed and retrieved in the constantly changing cerebrum.

But conditioned as we are to believe that all thought is contained within our heads, the idea that memory could be influenced from outside our brains appears at first to be somewhat confusing.

Sheldrake writes in his article Staring Experiments:  “… as you read this page, light rays pass from the page to your eyes, forming an inverted image on the retina. This image is detected by light-sensitive cells, causing nerve impulses to pass up the optic nerves, leading to complex electrochemical patterns of activity in the brain.

All this has been investigated in detail by the techniques of neurophysiology. But now comes the mystery. You somehow become aware of the image of the page. You experience it outside you, in front of your face. But from a conventional scientific point of view, this experience is illusory. In reality, the image is supposed to be inside you, together with the rest of your mental activity.”

While the search for memory challenges traditional biological understanding, investigators like Sheldrake believe that the true residence of memory is to be found in a non-observable spatial dimension.

This idea aligns with more primal notions of thought such as Jung’s “collective unconscious” or Taoist thinking that sees the human mind and spirit derived from various sources both inside and outside the body, including the energetic influences of several different organs (except, or course, the brain).

In this view, the brain does not act as a storage facility, or even the mind itself, but the physical nexus necessary to relate the individual with its morphic field. 

Image and article source


Spring Detox Program

 Master Cleanse

Change of seasons is a good time for reconstruction and renovation. As Winter comes to its end, we should consider a detoxification program for our bodies. This will help the body not only to remove the toxins accumulated during the cold winter months, but also to shed pounds and prepare immune system for the coming spring when many allergy sufferers are affected by the pollen released from the plants coming back to life.

You might already have your own detoxification routine, but if this is your first time, take a special care of doing it gently as there is a chance of so called Herxheimer Reaction or a healing crisis. The healing crisis occurs when the body is detoxifying too rapidly and toxins are released faster than the body can eliminate them. Nausea, headache, vomiting and overall malaise are the most common symptoms. To avoid such reactions you should prepare your body for your detox program. More about this later.

In our daily life we are exposed to thousands of man-made chemicals and the number is on the rise. Our environment, our food and water supplies are flooded with damaging compounds that negatively affect our bodily functions, suppress our immune system and disrupt our hormonal balance.

Most health problems are related either directly or indirectly to toxicity and over-acidity of the body. The food we eat and the water we are drinking regularly may not be supplying our bodies with alkalizing substances necessary for detoxification and the body, unable to process and detoxify all the noxious substances, is storing them in our fat tissue. Often weight gain is the result. Detoxification begins with nutrition. Now is the time to scrutinize your eating habits. To avoid the healing crisis you should gradually remove sugar, caffeine and alcohol from your diet, as well as all the unnatural and processed foods that contain additives and preservatives. Choose organic produce whenever you can and add more fresh fruit and vegetables to you diet. Especially when consumed raw, fruit and vegetables contain vitamins, alkalizing minerals and enzymes necessary for the proper function of all bodily systems, as well as fiber necessary for the stimulation of the bowel elimination. Regular bowel movement is important and necessary for the elimination of toxins via the digestive tract.

It is also vital that you examine what you are putting on your skin. Unless certified organic, most personal care products contain dozens of harmful, often cancerogenic chemicals. Check the labels carefully and discard everything that may cause more harm than good. If unsure, visit Skin Deep Website to find out how safe the products you are using are.

There are also excellent household cleaning products and detergents that will help you to reduce the exposure to harmful chemicals in your own home. To help the kidneys to function properly, drink 10 - 12 glasses of purified water. 

Start your day with the Master Cleanse: a glass of hot water mixed with the juice of half organic lemon, one teaspoon of organic maple syrup and a quarter teaspoon of cayenne pepper. This will activate your liver's detoxifying function and help alkalize your body.
Skin brushing, sauna, steam baths, alternate hot and cold showers will help your blood circulation.

To get your lymph moving some form of exercise is necessary. Refrain from heavy workout during your detox program. Try yoga, tai qi or walking, instead. Mini trampoline jumping is considered to be the best lymph flow stimulating exercise. Be gentle to your body as it is working hard to remove and eliminate the toxins that were stored in the tissues for too long.

To support the detoxification process and help eliminate the healing crisis, you may want to use the foot detox patches. This is an excellent non-invasive product that removes the toxins from your body while you sleep. It is a well known method of detoxification in Asia, especially Japan, based on the ancient poultice formulas. The product stimulates blood circulation and the lymph flow and draws the toxins out of the body. The patches should be used every night, on both feet for the course of three to four weeks.

Although you should eliminate as much medication as possible and only take what is absolutely necessary for your condition, you may consider taking natural supplements to support your body's detoxifying processes. There is a multitude of products out there and it may be difficult for you to chose the right ones.

Remember to relax and get a good quality of sleep. Detoxify your mind from all the negativity and stress.

Stress is one of the most misunderstood toxic factors. An unnatural tension that is present in the body over extended periods of time has negative side effects like hyper-acidity and toxic colon, that are felt throughout the entire system. Proper relaxation is necessary for your body to perform the detoxifying action.

Good health is attainable. It is within your rich, but you have to commit yourself to supporting your own body and make some lifestyle changes. Detoxifying and cleansing your body from inside out on regular bases, at least twice a year, will help you eliminate many ailments and lose weight if you need to. And you will see the results immediately: increased energy, improved cognitive function, strong immune system. You will not only lose some unwanted weight, you will look and feel younger, your skin will have a better tone, and you will have more energy to enjoy outdoor activities.

By Dominique Allmon  


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Spring Detox Program by Dominique Allmon is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Behind the Scenes: Technology in Avatar Movie

 James Cameron - The man who dances with the computers

James Cameron began writing the script for the "Avatar" movie in 1994, but knew that he could not realize his project at that time without a completely new technology. The director who is well known for his technological innovations which he introduced in films such as "The Abyss" or "Terminator 2", had to wait for many years for the adequate technology to be developed. The viewers who saw "Avatar" in 3D suspected that there was something very different about this movie. The visual effects were just breathtaking and the viewers had a sensation of being completely immersed in the world of the Na'vi. 

“This film integrates my life’s achievements,” Cameron told Dana Goodyear of the New Yorker Magazine. “It’s the most complicated stuff anyone’s ever done.”
What makes "Avatar" so special is the innovative use of the 3D technology and the use of spectroscopic cameras that were specially designed for this movie's production.

To create depth perception, Cameron used 3D Fusion Camera System. To achieve the desired effect, two cameras were "fused" into one camera body. The line of sight of the lenses could be adjusted so that the director was able to angle them closer together to focus on close objects, or farther apart for those in a distance, just the way our eyes do when we look at objects.The camera allowed Cameron to control the aesthetics of the steroescopic space. 

The set itself was wired with technology. There were more than 90 cameras hanging around the perimeter of the sound stage where the movie was shot. Later on computer-generated landscapes and structures replaced the studio walls. The amazingly beautiful landscape of Pandora came to view.

The visual effects were created by a New Zealand company called Weta Digital. The company used Linux system and Linux based advanced software to create the wonderful fauna and flora on Pandora moon. The creating of visual effects required more than one petabite of storage. (1 petabit = 1015 bits = 1,000,000,000,000,000 bits) In comparison, movies such as "Transformers" required only about 140 terabits. (1 terabit = 1012 bits = 1,000,000,000,000 bits). The final footage of Avatar occupied 17.28 gigabits per minute. A company called Industrial Light & Magic (ILM) joined in to help create the battle sequences together with the Weta Digital so that the movie could be made on time.

Cameron also used his own virtual camera system. In Cameron's own words: "It's like a big, powerful game engine. The system displays an augmented reality on a monitor, placing the actor's virtual counterparts into their digital surroundings in real time, allowing the director to adjust and direct scenes just as if shooting live action."

An innovative motion capture technology was used to shoot the movie. It was more advanced than any technology previously used. Facial expressions and eyes movements of the actors who wore specially designed head gear, were transmitted to a dozen computers which translated the data into the facial expressions of the digital characters. The new technology made it possible to transfer the entire physical performance of the actors into computers. The Na'vi fascinated viewers with their mimicry. They looked almost "humane" on the screen.

Independently from its "ideological" content and the quality of the script, Avatar is a technologically unique movie. Its technology set a new milestone in cinematography and opened new vistas for movie directors in the science fiction genre. It definitely deserves its Oscar for the visual effects.

By Dominique Allmon


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Behind the Scenes: Technology in Avatar Movie by Dominique Allmon is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

Albert Einstein's Brain

Albert Einstein 14 March 1879 - 18 April 1955

By Allan Bellows 

"Dr. Albert Einstein died on April 18, 1955 at Princeton Hospital in Trenton, New Jersey. In accordance with his wishes, he was cremated without ceremony on the same day, and his ashes scattered at an undisclosed location. But the body that arrived at the cremation oven was not quite complete… it was lacking its brain.

That’s because Einstein’s brain was sitting in a jar of formaldehyde in Dr. Thomas Harvey’s office. Dr. Harvey was the pathologist who performed Einstein’s autopsy, and while doing so, he removed and kept the brain for his own study. Some say that Einstein volunteered his brain for research, but the executor of his estate denies this, saying that it was Einstein’s son Hans who made the decision to have it preserved. But the press soon learned that Einstein’s brain had been set aside for study, and antagonized Einstein’s family with unwanted attention. 

Dr. Harvey became very protective of the brain, and divided it into 240 sections, which he kept in jars at his house. Despite being in possession of the organ for years, he never published any findings, saying that he was unable to find anything unusual about it. But over the years he gave away samples of the brain to various researchers, and one such recipient, Dr. Marian Diamond from UC Berkeley, studied the brain and discovered some interesting features.

A brain’s network of neurons are fed and nourished by cells called glial cells. Dr. Diamond compared the percentage of glial cells in Einstein’s brain to that of other men who died at the age he did, and found that his contained about 73% more than the average. This indicated that Einstein’s neurons probably had a greater metabolic need; they needed and used more energy. 
For years, Dr. Harvey toted the rest of the brain with him every time he relocated, until in 1996 when he moved back to New Jersey. There, Dr. Harvey surrendered the remaining pieces of Einstein’s brain to Dr. Elliot Krauss, the chief pathologist at Princeton Hospital. Soon the brain was subjected to some serious scientific scrutiny. Scientists from McMaster University were given access to it, and they discovered that Einstein’s brain was remarkable in several other ways. 

The researchers found that Einstein’s brain was 15% wider than average, due to the fact that the inferior parietal regions on both hemispheres were much more developed than most. This would have given Einstein some powerful visualization skills, given that these regions of the brain are largely responsible for visuospatial cognition, mathematical thought, and imagery of movement. They also found that Einstein’s brain lacked the groove which usually runs through part of this area, which suggests that the neurons might have been able to work together more easily given their proximity.

During his life, Einstein was quick to downplay his own intellect, being heard to remark, “The contrast between the popular assessment of my powers … and the reality is simply grotesque.” On another occasion, he said, “I have no special talents, I am only passionately curious.” But his achievements during his life and the examination of his brain after his death have indicated that he possessed a mind capable of great leaps of insight and visualization. 

These days, Einstein’s brain spends most of its time sitting in jars of formaldehyde at Princeton Hospital, no doubt waiting to unlock even more insight into the mysterious construction of a genius mind. “The fairest thing we can experience is the mysterious,” Albert Einstein once said. “It is the fundamental emotion that stands at the cradle of true art and true science.”

Friday, March 12, 2010

Anxiety and the Buddhist Concept of Impermanence


Ilya Prigogine made an assertion that uncertainty is inherent cosmic expression deeply embedded in the core of reality. For a human being this uncertainty can result in anxiety. This isn't a modern phenomenon. The Buddha discussed the matter and taught detachment.

In our fast-paced lives change seems to be the only tangible constant. Everything is changing, sometimes faster than we would wish to. We never know what may come next. We try to hold on to things, images, feelings, people... But nothing really lasts unchanged long enough and we are never certain how things will unfold. This uncertainty creates anxiety. Uncertainty is deeply embedded in the core of reality. We intuitively understand that we cannot hold on to things and yet, wish that they last at least a little longer if not forever. We want that they remain unchanged unless, of course, they are painful and "bad" for us. Then, they should go away quickly. The good things seem to never last long enough, the bad ones are interminable. But just as the desirable phenomena pass away, so do the undesirable ones. Holding on to any of them causes unnecessary pain and anxiety.
"One day some people came to the master and asked: How can you be happy in a world of such impermanence where you cannot protect your loved ones from harm, illness or death? The master held up a glass and said: Someone gave me this glass. It holds my water admirably and it glistens in the sunlight. I touch it and it rings! One day the wind may blow it off the shelf, or my elbow may knock it from the table. I know this glass is already broken, so I enjoy it - incredibly." The Venerable Achaan Chah Subato
Impermanence is one of the central Buddhist concepts, especially in early Buddhism. The world that we know is inherently impermanent. In fact, we experience ourselves as impermanent, ever changing, transient beings. We are not the same persons that we were in our childhood, in our teens, or even a year, day or a minute ago. Every instant of our existence changes us. The minute changes take place on cellular level and in our psyche. The very fact that we breath, eat, and drink constantly changes of our body chemistry. Cells die making space for new ones. Every event, every thought, every emotion leaves an imprint on our personality, on our belief system, on our physical body. We can see and feel the changes and yet, we are trying to create something permanent within us, something we can identify with, something precious we can hold on to.
"That nothing is static or fixed, that all is fleeting and impermanent, is the first mark of existence. It is the ordinary state of affairs. Everything is in process. Everything - every tree, every blade of grass, all the animals, insects, human beings, buildings, the animate and the inanimate - is always changing, moment to moment." Pema Chödrön, American Buddhist nun.
The very realization that we ourselves are transient causes pain and anxiety. We know that like everything we too will pass away, but have no knowledge or certainty on when and how this will happen. The older we become, the more fearful our existence, that is, unless we realize that our existence happens in the moment and we are a part of a bigger dimension called life.

Vietnamese Zen master Thich Naht Hanh offers a solution to our anxiety. He encourages us to think of ourselves as waves in the ocean. The simple characteristic of a wave is its transitory nature. It lasts only a moment just like we do. We live and die with every breath we take. Everything we ever do, we do it for the first and the last time in our lives. And one day we too will pass away and then, it will be as if we had never existed. So, why not accept the reality as it is and enjoy what we have right now? Incredibly!

We can learn to transform our anxiety and enjoy our lives to the full. The very understanding that we are just as transient as everything that surrounds us may open a new perspective. Instead of holding on to our castles in the air, we begin to live on a deeper level and consciously accept the fact that uncertainty and impermanence are inherent dimensions of reality.

By Dominique Allmon

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Anxiety and the Buddhist Concept of Impermanence by Dominique Allmon is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Quote of the Day

The most important characteristic of the Eastern world view is the awareness of the unity and mutual interrelation of all things and events, the experience of all phenomena in the world as manifestations of a basic oneness. All things are seen as interdependent and inseparable parts of this cosmic whole - as different manifestations of the same ultimate reality. - Fritjof Capra in The Tao of Physics

Saturday, March 6, 2010

The Buddhist Parable of the Raft

The Parable of the Raft is probably one of the most famous parables taught by the Buddha. He compared his own teachings to a raft that could be used to cross the river, but should be discarded when one made it safely to the other shore.
A man is trapped on one side of a fast-flowing river. Where he stands, there is great danger and uncertainty - but on the far side of the river, there is safety. But there is no bridge or ferry for crossing. So the man gathers logs, leaves, twigs, and vines and is able to fashion a raft, sturdy enough to carry him to the other shore. By lying on the raft and using his arms to paddle, he crosses the river to safety.
The Buddha then asks the listeners a question: “What would you think if the man, having crossed over the river, then said to himself, ‘Oh, this raft has served me so well, I should strap it on to my back and carry it over land now?’” The monks replied that it would not be very sensible to cling to the raft in such a way.
The Buddha continues: “What if he lay the raft down gratefully, thinking that this raft has served him well, but is no longer of use and can thus be laid down upon the shore?”
The monks replied that this would be the proper attitude.
The Buddha concluded by saying, “So it is with my teachings, which are like a raft, and are for crossing over with — not for seizing hold of.”

This is a very simple teaching that actually does not require much explanation. But like many simple teachings, this parable has caused some misunderstanding. Some of the interpreters suggested that the raft in this parable was to symbolize morality. This, however is not the case. The Buddha considered his teachings, Dharma, to be a means of practice and not something to be held as a dogma and worshiped, but he never suggest that morality as such was something to be abandoned once Enlightenment was attained.

Buddhist teachings are neither the "map" nor the territory to be traversed. They rather present the means to progress on a path towards the final goal of Enlightenment. Like the raft in the parable they should be discarded when one achieved his or her goal. There is no need for them anymore. They are of no use "on the other side". An adept must understand that after the teachings have served their purpose they should be discarded. They are no longer useful for the individual who made it to the other shore. An enlightened person possesses wisdom of his or her own and does not have to venerate the teachings that made his or her Enlightenment possible. But enlightened existence is not an existence beyond the good and evil. Morality still applies here, probably even more so because the enlightened person achieved a higher understanding of the complexities of life within a society. But like everything else, our personal ethics undergoes evolution as we grow spiritually. Moral systems of the societies tend to evolve with time as well. What was once vehemently rejected as immoral may be widely accepted by a society that seems to have matured to another stage of development. The same is true for values that were once accepted, but are no longer valid. Therefore, holding on uncritically to any set of rules or teachings after they fulfilled their role is futile.

The raft in the parable does not only symbolize the religious or moral dogmas that were given to us by a great teacher. They may also symbolize our personal beliefs. Every day of our lives we learn and experience new things that have to be incorporated into our personal belief systems. Some facts are simply rejected because they contradict our philosophies, others seem to be compatible with our beliefs and confirm that we are on the right track. They become ours and we hold on to them. In life, we not only tend to hold on to things that are dear to us, but we also cherish the beliefs that passed the test of time. And we do not only create our own dogmas, we also accept the dogmas created by others. Like the man on the one shore, we gather our twigs and branches and create our personal raft that carries us through the currents of life over to the other shore and forget to discard it when we get there safely. 

Our philosophies and belief systems help us not only to navigate the most difficult life situations, they help us grow and mature. But very often, what served us well until we moved on to where we are right now, may not be as useful as it was before we got here. And yet, we adhere to such outmoded belief systems without even acknowledging the possibility that they may hinder our personal advancement in the future. Worse, we not only rigidly adhere to our own set of beliefs, we accept beliefs or ideologies of others, often without much questioning. They all become the raft that we carry around even if we do not need it anymore or perhaps, never needed, in the first place.

The tragedy lies in the fact that most of us are too frightened to give up the beliefs that may no longer be serving us. The fear of the new and the fear of change prevent us from growth just as much as the rigidity of the mind that got stuck in the old paradigm. Without even considering that old beliefs may not be serving us anymore we become trapped and deny ourselves the chance to experience the world from a new angle. The raft is not only heavily weighing on our backs. It obscures our vision and narrows the view. If we want to grow, the beliefs that have served us once must be revised over and over again and discarded if they hinder our evolution.

By Dominique Allmon

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The Buddhist Parable of the Raft by Dominique Allmon is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.

Jorge Luis Borges

 Jorge Luis Borges 24 August 1899 - 14 June 1986

Who am I, you ask? I don’t know, my friend. I am all the languages I ever spoke, I am all the places I ever lived, I am all the people I ever met, I am all the women I ever loved, I am all the writers I ever read; I am all my ancestors – but at least they had the decency of never thinking of themselves as writers. Who am I, you ask? I don’t know, my friend; I don’t even know who is writing this page. - Jorge Luis Borges

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Wednesday, March 3, 2010

The Wolves Within


One day an old Cherokee was teaching his grandson about life. He said, "There are two wolves fighting inside all of us - the wolf of fear and hate, and the wolf of love and peace." The grandson listened, then looked up at his grandfather and asked, "Which one will win?" The grandfather replied, "The one we feed."

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