Friday, February 7, 2014

Well Being

The brain is a powerful pattern-seeking device, always looking for meaningful patterns and associations between the information it is receiving and what is already stored.  The brain can even use co-incidences to create or discover patterns. It simplifies what it finds and reports the info to us as if it was a story.

Basically, consciousness is the unfolding story that the brain tells itself about its own existence. But the brain is aware of much more sensation than what it weaves into the story of the "now" for each person. That story may interweave with events that happened previously as well as events that might happen in the future, but the "now" is the story of consciousness at each moment.

Approach and avoidance is essentially about avoiding danger and finding food and a suitable mate. But the higher brain function also helps us in dealing with more transcendent themes.  There are those with transcendent causes who dedicate themselves to a sense of honor, a life of courage, and a commitment to something greater than themselves.

"A transcendent cause must be truly heroic, timeless, and supremely meaningful.”  - Robert Lewis

According to Daniel Kahneman there are two concepts of happiness. In a presentation on TED TALKS  he referred to a story about a man who attended a concert of beautiful music, which he enjoyed very much. But at the very end there was a horroble screeching sound. The man said it had ruined the experience for him. This points out that there are two distinct parts to our experiences: the experiencing self and the remembering self.

Memory delivers a story for us. How this story turns out is often about its ending. The experiencing self lives its life continuously from moment to moment, and most of these moments are lost after a few seconds or minutes. So they are not transferred into long term memory, and are ignored by the remembering self. Yet, in a sense, these moments are our life in real time.

Kahneman says the remembering self is the one that makes the decisions. We actually don't choose between experiences, we choose between memories of experiences and anticipated memories. There is a kind of tyranny of the remembering self, because it chooses whatever seems less bad. And actually we make future plans in the service of the remembering self.

Industrialization has changed everything profoundly and rapidly, and the pace of change continues to accelerate. Stress levels are increasing along with increasing population, and complexities of the environment, and the economy. Many people are dealing with health issues complicated by addictions, violence, pollution, inadequate nutrition, and more. About half of the population is expected to get cancer and one-third to have diabetes.

A toxic lifestyle significantly contributes to poor health and various disorders, causing body and mind to function less than optimally. Low energy, frequent or chronic sickness, irritability, allergies, trouble sleeping and mood problems are only a few symptoms. Bad air and water are also big factors, and soil depletion means food quality is seriously declining. Compounding the problem most of us eat highly processed or fast food which is usually grown with pesticides and herbicides, and likely preserved, colored, and flavored with synthetic chemicals, and high sugar, salt, an fat content. The brain is particularly susceptible to toxic chemicals, heavy metals, and inadequate nutrition.

Factory food is ever more likely to be irradiated, or laced with antibiotics, synthetic growth hormones,  pesticides, and diseased animal parts, stimulants and even tranquilizers . Also, we are continually exposed to toxic household cleaners, skin care and body products made from chemicals, chlorinated and fluoridated water, and tens of thousands of untested synthetic chemical and plastic inventions.

 Most people don't even get much exercise, and readily turn health responsibility over to insurance companies, HMOs, and conventional doctors who may have had little or no education about stress or nutrition. Which leaves the use of prescription drugs as the only option available.

In the U.S about 77 % of people  regularly experience physical or psychological symptoms caused by stress. Psychological therapy, empathy, and love have too often been replaced by drugs. Over 60 million Americans are prescribed tranquilizers each year for anxiety and sleep disorders. After using the drugs, many users find that they can’t achieve happiness and relaxation without tranquilizers, and they become dependent on the substance. That helps explain why Pharmaceuticals Rank as The Most Profitable Industry, and are some of the most influential and richest companies in the world. The annual turnover in the pharmaceutical industry for prescription drugs is estimated to be worth 700 billion dollars - or $ 100 for each person on earth!

Even with a prescription, tranquilizers are not recommended for long-term use. Addiction rates are soaring. Millions of tranquilizer addicts exist in our world today. This potentially dangerous class of drugs used to induce states of relaxation and feeling of artificial tranquility. The National Institute on Drug Abuse identified Barbiturates—a type of tranquilizer—as a factor in approximately one-third of all reported drug-related deaths.

To some extent, toxic living is a lifestyle choice. But the problem is hugely complicated by a whole paradigm based on synthetics. Multinational corporations, governmental agencies, medical authorities, and the media combine to expose us to various harmful chemicals, and drugs prescribed to manage resultant conditions, creating even more toxicity and disease.

We are hard wired to continually scan the environment for any threat of danger. Anything in that category gets our immediate attention and automatically takes priority over other sensory input. People who create movies and TV shows know a lot about how to use this to their advantage because advertising companies have spent big bucks on research about how to get your attention and sell stuff.

The media is very negative. Perhaps you have noticed that as TV screens get bigger they also get noisier and more violent. The idea is to keep you riveted so you can't look away, just like when there is a car wreck, and traffic slows way down to do some gawking. But this has led to an toxic competition of "can you top this?"  Sensationalism and gratuitous violence has run amuk. Research indicates that media violence has not just increased in quantity; it has also become more graphic, sexual, and sadistic.

Adam Curle writes that  much modern violence stems from peoples' alienation from their societies and from their sense of common humanity. And an antidote to alienation might be a positive response to contemporary violence.

Not only is there a lesser focus on objective journalism in favor of a profit motive, but is also dominated by a type of editorial bias in which events and topics in news stories and pieces are dramatically over-hyped to increase viewership or readership numbers. This media violence is desensitizing the mind to violence and leads to more real-life violence. The American Academy of Pediatrics reports that by age 18, the average American child will have viewed about 200,000 acts of violence on television alone.

Many people think that violent media have no effect because they’ve never killed anyone after watching a violent TV program or film or after playing a violent video game. Of course violent media isn’t the only thing people enjoy that might harm them. There are many other examples, such as French-fries, chocolates and other unhealthy food, alcohol, tobacco, and street drugs. Researchers have consistently found that people believe the media have a much stronger effect on others than on themselves—called the third-person effect. People may also believe that media violence may affect some “susceptible” people (e.g., the mentally ill), but it will not affect them personally. But hundreds of studies conducted over several decades have shown that violent media are in fact harmful.

"A cynical, mercenary, demagogic press will produce in time a people as base as itself." - Joseph Pulitzer

In America. Rarely does the public gain a glimpse of how tightly controlled is the entire media establishment. 6 Corporations Control 90% Of The Media.  Hollywood, the television industry, big-time sports, and the commercial publishing houses are mostly run by the same few people. Concentration of media ownership (also known as media consolidation or media convergence) is a process whereby progressively fewer individuals or organizations control increasing shares of the mass media. All of the media industries experienced significant corporate reorganization, beginning in the 1980s, as they became concentrated under the ownership of fewer and fewer companies.

"Following the same course that virtually every other major industry has in the last two decades, a relentless  series of mergers and corporate takeovers has consolidated control of the media into the hands of a few corporate behemoths. "The result has been that an increasingly authoritarian agenda has been sold to the American people by a massive, multi-tentacled media machine that has become, for all intents and purposes, a propaganda organ of the state."   -David McGowan

The top one percent of the population now own about 40% of all wealth in the US, including half of the country's stocks, bonds, and mutual funds. The top five percent own an additional 29%. The Institute for Policy Studies illustrates this massive disparity in financial investment ownership, noting that the bottom 50 percent of Americans own only .5 percent of these investments. Only 147 Companies Control Everything (Forbes). In fact, only one percent owns half the world.

The weapon of media silence....An iron curtain has been drawn in front of Western audiences who are maintained in a state of ignorance about important current events....   Manlio Dinucci

And as a result, their operations have been almost totally deregulated which has allowed media conglomerates to become even bigger Goliaths. They've been given substantial public assets at no cost and with few obligations to the public. Because a vigorous and vigilant media is essential to a democracy, Bill Moyers has devoted significant reporting time not only to press coverage of specific issues, but also to ways in which media's impact and journalistic power have been diluted by media consolidation, government deregulation. Moyers and others believe that "Dollarocracy" is Destroying America through a lethal combination of big money and big media which is sabotaging our elections and government in general. Big Business Has Taken Control of the U.S. Government.

The Tyranny Of  The Remembering Self works on a subconscious level. When the brain doesn't  find a conscious pattern we're just "going by our gut," unconsciously. There are so many stressors and global problems that as individuals the temptation to despair may become overwhelming.

Avoidance is instinctual self-preservation, while approach is learned, except for the basics such as food and sex. Happiness and well being are very different. The remembering self is narrow minded and only wants happiness. But the experiencing self is better able to be objective. The problem is that in today's world there is much to be avoided.

What ordinary consciousness does is to act as our guide through time and space, telling us what to approach and what to avoid. But conscious is more than just combining bits and bytes of data like a computer, because it also integrates emotion and even intuition. Higher consciousness or "mindfulness" is where we begin to become aware of consciousness itself. This shift into higher consciousness is helpful in learning what makes us happy or unhappy.

 As an alternative to escaping reality, mindfulness is a state of active, open attention to the present. When you're mindful, you observe your thoughts and feelings without judging them good or bad. Instead of letting your life pass you by, mindfulness means living in the moment and awakening to experience. Mindfulness has various approaches, but a good start is to unplug or better manage media intrusion into your personal serenity.

If we focus on the endless problems of the world, our sense of  being overwhelmed can immobilize us. But rather than seeking to escape reality, we need to find a positive approach. The more negativity we experience, the more we need a coping strategy. If we take baby steps, we begin to move forward again.
  •  Avoid negativity (especially in the media) - it only drags you down.
  • Look for what is right, not for what is wrong.
  • Practice optimism and hope. 
  • Experience positive emotions fully and show some self-compassion. 
  • Believe in something bigger, something better.
  • Remember your dignity when making choices.