An experiment in interconnectedness

IntegratingScienceExperimentJune15You know that I write mostly on subjects like the mind-body connection, self-love, my dog Oscar who passed away last year, as well as kindness and compassion and the science of how they affect our health. But also, from time-to-time, I write on more ‘out there’ topics, like synchronicities, the nature of consciousness, and interconnectedness, as I have covered all of these subjects in some of my 8 books.

OK, so this is one of those. It’s an experiment in interconnectedness – how we are connected through space.

Quantum Physics has shown us entanglement, where the state of one particle is correlated with the state of another, irrespective of distance (and now time, it seems). Numerous studies have also show correlations between the physiological or neurological states of two people even if they are separated in space.

In June, I unexpectedly participated in such an experiment. I was running my annual 5-day ‘Integrating Science’ event, where I show people how to integrate science into their own practices. I host the event at my favourite holistic centre, Lendrick Lodge, in the Scottish countryside. As well as mainstream topics like the placebo effect, meditation, visualisation, emotional contagion, the effects of compassion and kindness on the brain, heart, and inflammatory process, I also cover more ‘out there’ subjects.

On the third evening of the course we (the participants and I) were having a discussion about the interconnectedness of life and discussing some of the scientific evidence of it. We discussed experiments that seemed to show the connections using MRI or EEG. These experiments note correlations between the neural states of people who are separated by a distance; that is, as one person’s state changes, it seems to correlate with a change in state of the other person at precisely the same time. We discussed how these correlations tend to be strongest when two subjects (people) in an experiment share an emotional bond.

One of the participants (Ann) suggested that we try our own experiment, given that by this stage of the course, the group had emotionally bonded really well. I happened to have my heart monitor with me, a device called ‘emWave’, by Heartmath, so Ann suggested we connect one of the participants to the device and then the rest of the group would ‘send’ loving and kind intentions from another room.

Another of the participants (Rebecca) volunteered to be connected to the device. I sat with her in the teaching room while the group gathered in the dining room where they would then ‘send’ their intentions to Rebecca.

When we first decided on the experiment, we had simply discussed seeing if the group could collectively focus on Rebecca and we’d see if this correlated with a change in Rebecca’s heart rhythms (as measured by the heart monitor), so I assumed they were going to focus on Rebecca within a minute or so. Unknown to me, Ann suggested to the group that they modify things.

She later told me, “I reckoned you were too attached to the outcome of the experiment so opted to try something different from what you thought we were going to do.”

So they decided to do an ‘on-off-on’ kind of experiment, where they would ‘send’ loving-kindness to Rebecca – then stop – and then start again. Ann spent some time (9 minutes) going through the set-up with the group, explaining they that would do a loving-kindness meditation directed towards Rebecca, or whichever each individual felt most comfortable with, and they’d do it for 2 minutes. The loving-kindness meditation is a Tibetan Buddhist meditation also known as ‘metta’ that has been shown to have a whole range of positive health benefits.

Following this they would do a 1-minute disconnect, where they would withdraw their focus from Rebecca and focus on something stressful in their own lives for a period of 1 minute. Following a short 15-second calm period to refocus, they would again focus on sending loving-kindness to Rebecca for another 2 minutes. So, all in, they would do 2 minutes on – 1 minute off – followed by 2 minutes on, hence ‘on-off-on’.

Throughout the whole time, Rebecca simply closed her eyes and relaxed. I sat beside her and did the same. At the end of the time the group came back into the teaching room.

We were all stunned by the results. As you can see from the charts below, the rhythms of Rebecca’s heart correlated extremely accurately with the state of the group. At the point when they first ‘sent’ loving kindness, there was an immediate and dramatic increase in the coherence of Rebecca’s heart rhythms.

OK, first a wee bit about what the heart monitor shows. It measures Heart Rate Variability (HRV), which is the difference in your heart rate as you breathe in and out. Mostly, your heart rate should increase a little as you breathe in, as the sympathetic branch of your autonomic nervous system (ANS) kicks into gear, and then it should decrease a little as the parasympathetic (vagus) branch of your ANS kicks in, initiating the ‘rest and relax’ mode. The difference between the high (on the increase) and the low (on the decrease) is called heart rate variability. When HRV is very ordered and stable (or smooth) it is referred to as coherence.

IntegratingScienceExperimentJune15At the precise moment when the group sent loving-kindness to Rebecca (at 9 minutes), there was a huge increase in the coherence of Rebecca’s heart rhythms. If the group were indeed affecting her then their collective intentions were actually affecting Rebecca’s ANS and her heart rhythms!

The group sharply withdrew their loving and kind focus on Rebecca after 2 minutes (at 11 minutes on the chart), and as you can see from the chart, this correlated with a sharp decrease in the coherence of Rebecca’s heart rhythms.

For the next 1 minute, the group did a ‘disconnect’, where they focused on something (or someone) stressful in their lives. During this time (from 11 minutes to 12min 15 seconds), Rebecca’s heart coherence dropped significantly, as you can see in the chart.

What about that extra 15 seconds? At the end of the 1-minute disconnect, the group paused for about 15 seconds to gather their focus before beginning a second 2-minute period of loving-kindness focusing on Rebecca (at 12min 15seconds). Again, this correlated with an increase in Rebecca’s heart coherence.

I find the timing up to this point really quite astonishing. The synchronisation between the intentions of the group and the changes in Rebecca’s heart rhythms is to within a few seconds.

The final 2-minute period didn’t correlate quite as well, although Rebecca’s heart rhythms remained coherent for one and a half of the two minutes (from 12min 15 seconds through until 13min 45seconds). If we were indeed seeing a connection between Rebecca and the group, which I believe we were, then there could be any number of reasons for this. Only repeats of the experiment, perhaps with more ‘on-off-on’ periods would prove for sure what we were seeing.

So assuming we are seeing true interconnectedness, what does this tell us? It tells us that we are far more connected that most of us assume. It suggests that maybe we can have health-giving effects on our loved ones even when we’re not in their presence, simply by holding an idea of them in our hearts and minds and filling this idea with love, kindness, and compassion.

On the contrary, how often do we lose ourselves in the frustrations of life? Could we be having subtle negative effects on people we mentally focus our frustrations on? Maybe. Maybe not. I’m not so sure, to be honest. We didn’t measure the negative side of things. The group didn’t send any negative intentions towards Rebecca. That would not have been right. Instead, they simply removed their positive intentions.

My gut feeling is that loving intentions are more powerful than ones based in fear. If it were the other way around, I doubt our species would have survived this long.

Connections also seem to be stronger when there is an emotional bond present, and I’d suggest that bond needs to be a warm bond, infused with empathy, compassion, love, kindness. From my reading of other experiments, I’d say empathy is key as it’s from empathy that other positive and loving intentions arise.

So I personally think people in our lives would benefit more if we tried to think of them in their best light. It can be difficult, especially when we have a lot going on and when we have issues with some people, but then almost everything can be improved with practice. Perhaps, believing that our intentions can help others could serve as motivation to practice.

And the positive emotions benefit you as well. Heartmath say that, “When you intentionally shift to a positive emotion, heart rhythms immediately change. A shift in heart rhythms, from chaotic to coherent, creates a favourable cascade of neural, hormonal, and biochemical events that benefit the entire body. The stress-reducing effects are both immediate and long-lasting.”

So here’s my advice. It’s pretty simple, really. Here it is: Try to see the best in people.

You never know what’s going on in a person’s life (or has happened in their past) that causes them to behave in the way they do. Let this simple idea guide you to at least trying to see the best in people.

 

Big thanks to:

Rebecca Ryder, Ann Hutchison, Ann Ayton, Julie Barbour, Hazel Bridgewater, Millicent Grant, Anne Hainan, Tracy Harrison, Joe Hayes, Debbie McLeod, Leslie Moultrie, Sandra Paterson, Annie Pownall, Heather Salter, Adargoma Sanabria, Carrie Sanderson, Jo Sawkins, Rosie Stevens, Sian Withers.

Thanks, also, to Lendrick Lodge, and Stephen & Victoria Mulhearn.

Do you have a 6th sense?

woman meditating in sunDo you ever feel that you have a 6th sense?

I often wonder why it’s such a taboo subject. As a child growing up in the 70s, I learned that anything extraordinary was to be feared, that it was supernatural. That’s quite a normal attitude in western society.

But we all have a 6th sense, even if society at large, or even science, sometimes tells us otherwise.

For instance,

-We can and do sense some future events.

-We sometimes sense when someone we love is suffering or needs help.

-Our intentions can impact people at a distance, especially when they are compassionate and directed towards healing.

-We sometimes feel larger, like we’re at one with the whole universe.

-We also know, deep down, that love is our essence and that it really is what makes everything work.

Most people have experienced a premonition of some sort, whether it was of an accident or disaster, or even of something they felt was going to happen in their lives. Research into ‘presentiment’ has even found the human (and animals too) nervous system reacts to future events before they occur.

During a period of depression back in the late 90s, where I was really struggling in my life, my Mum could sense that something was wrong. Even though I lived 250 miles away, she would call me up very early in the morning or even late at night, saying she just had a feeling that something was wrong but that I wasn’t telling her. Many people have experienced such a connection with a loved one.

MRI and EEG studies now even seem to confirm this connection. In a typical experiment, one person is placed inside an MRI scanner while the other person is in a different room. Once that person is given an experimental shock (like a light flashed in their eye, for instance) the brain of the one in the MRI scanner reacts.

Even more, studies on ‘distant intentionality’ reveal that actual intentions of one person can impact another person at a distance. Some research even shows changes in real-time MRI scans, or even in heart rhythms, in one person while another one sends compassionate healing intentions to them.

In some ways, the gap is closing between science and what we think of as ‘out there’ ideas and phenomena. Electrons (subatomic particles) can be thought of as being simultaneously everywhere in the universe at the same time, that is, until they are ‘observed’. In a physics lab, that means to set up an experiment to study the behavior of electrons. In the absence of observation, an electron is everywhere – past, present, and future. Does the same apply to us?

I guess that depends on your definition of ‘us’ – body … or mind / spirit / consciousness as larger than, or even separate from, the body, which takes more of a spiritual view of existence.

The above kinds of research suggests that consciousness is not actually inside your head, but in reality, You (your being, essence, consciousness) is in fact larger and, perhaps, just like the electron, everywhere. But in daily life we are always ‘observing’ ourselves, so we’re always, well, in the body. But people who have experienced transcendental states, or even had near death experiences (NDEs), when they are very much not observing (focused on) the body, tell us that our being/consciousness/spirit is indeed much larger and is very much spread out over the whole universe.

Many of them also tell us that love is what life is all about. Perhaps that’s why we all search for it. We’re even biologically wired to need love. If ‘we’ really are everywhere, in spirit, and love seems to be everywhere in society, then maybe the love we see everywhere is in fact you, I, and everyone else expressed.

I look at the world this way. I find it gives extra meaning to what we do in our lives. If we conclude that we really are much more than our human bodies, with abilities, perhaps, more than we have come to believe, then surely it will benefit us all if we remember that love is what it’s all about and so channel some of our energies towards making life even a little bit better for those around us.

I try to think only kind thought about others. It’s actually not as difficult to do than you think. The motivation to do it makes it easier and helps us through situations that would otherwise test us. Thinking that you can’t is self-fulfilling. Try it out – just for today – and see how you get on.

It’s not a failure if you slip up. That’s to be expected. The fabric of life is very much lumpy, filled with ups & downs and successes & failures, but we get better with each attempt.

And the funny thing is, the more we think kindly of others, the better we feel inside … and eventually we come to realise that peace and happiness is a product of our minds. It’s in the thoughts we think.

And as we think, so we also impact everyone and everything else.

 

References:

All references cited above can be found in, David R Hamilton PhD, ‘Is Your Life Mapped Out?: Unravelling the mystery of destiny vs free will’ (Hay House, 2012) Check out the book here

An intuitive search for my lost dog

Oscar in new garden
Oscar

On Sunday last week, I was about to start teaching the final day of a 3-day ‘I Heart Me: The Science of Self-Love’ workshop. I was a little early so I had just popped into a coffee shop and sat down to enjoy a warm mug before walking to the venue.

The workshop was being held in Bridge of Allan, the village in central Scotland we moved to a few months ago.

Elizabeth had driven and dropped me off as she and Oscar (our 13-month old Labrador) were going for a walk up in the woods.

After about 20-minutes I received a frantic phone call from Elizabeth. All I heard at first was heavy breathing. My heart began to race. Then Elizabeth cried out, “I’ve lost Oscar.” He’d got the scent of a female dog in season and, well, just bolted. At first she thought he had just run a little bit ahead, as he often does. We usually just shout his name or blow on the whistle and he comes straight back. But this time he didn’t.

Elizabeth was distraught. By the time she phoned me he had been lost for almost ten minutes. I immediately got up from my table, left my bag, laptop and notes lying there, and sprinted out of the door with a passing shout to the waitress that I’d be back.

It’s funny what you can do when adrenalin is pumping. I used to be a sprinter and long-jumper in competitive athletics so I suppose I have a decent technical running style when I sprint. I took off, in full sprinter style (it attracted funny looks, given that I was wearing jeans, shoes, and a leather jacket), and ran at about 90% pace for around 600 metres, with the last part being up a steep hill. Yes, it’s amazing what you can do at these times.

When I was half way up the steep hill, the pace I’d been running at registered in my body and my legs felt like they’d suddenly turned to concrete. I could hardly move. Then I heard Elizabeth’s whistle – I wasn’t far away – and just gritted my teeth and started running again. It never ceases to amaze me how much the mind can over rule the body.

Once I reached the woods, we moved together for a hundred metres or so before we thought it best to spread out. Despite the stressful situation, I felt a strange sense of knowing that everything was OK. On one level, I knew I needed to be strong to help Elizabeth keep it together. But there was something else. I just knew he was safe and I also felt I knew where to find him.

Elizabeth moved off in the direction of the road, in case Oscar took that route. She worried that he might have gone that way and then get run over, as he does have this thing about chasing cars. My instinct was that Oscar was much higher up in the woods.

Of all the multiple interlocking paths leading upwards, I went on intuition alone, hardly thinking, like a dog with its nose to the ground following a scent, just following what seemed to be the right path.

After about 5 minutes I found him playing with a small female spaniel. He’d been there the whole time. Since he hadn’t gone away the owners had begun to back track down through the woods, following the route they had taken. They suspected that the dog (Oscar) had got lost so decided it best to go back the direction they’d come in the hope that they could find the owners.

I was so relieved. And thank goodness for mobile phones! I rang Elizabeth, who broke down in tears of relief, and we arranged where to meet.

By the time I got back to the workshop, I was only ten minutes late. Fortunately I’d met one of the participants as I had earlier bolted out of the coffee shop and briefly relayed what had happened, and asked if she could explain that I’d be there as soon as I could.

The group were so nice. When I arrived, one of them carried my bags through to the seminar room and someone else offered me coffee and some water.

I’ve often said that I’ve felt like a parent since we got Oscar (we don’t have children yet) so I suspect many people who read this can relate to what we were feeling. It’s a scary experience but I’m just glad my intuition was guiding me that day.

Funnily enough, one of the self-love meditations I taught through the weekend was imagining yourself as a being of light, connected to all things. The more we acknowledge that we are connected to everyone and everything, the more connected we feel, and the more those connections can guide us at the most important of times. Sunday, for me, was one of those times!

A lucky escape – premonition, guidance, or both?

Butterfly flyingI often wonder about the timing of events.

Just the other day Elizabeth and I were walking our dog Oscar (now ten and a half months old, if you’ve been following his progress 🙂 ) towards the park in the morning. We were walking along a street when a pane of glass fell out of an upstairs window and smashed on the ground just 10 metres in front of us. It would almost certainly have caused us serious injury had we arrived a few seconds earlier.

The thing is, when we were leaving our house a few moments earlier, Elizabeth had to go back in to collect something she’d left on the table. This slowed us down by a few seconds.

Had Elizabeth not gone back into the house, we would probably have been right underneath the glass when it fell.

We were stunned at what happened and got to thinking how lucky we were.

I wondered afterwards, did Elizabeth have a premonition – a presentiment – and so cause us a delay that meant we missed the falling glass?

It’s a subject I’ve often thought about and I even wrote a chapter of my book, Is Your Life Mapped Out: Unravelling the mystery of destiny vs free will, on the research into presentiment. Basically, research seems to show that we ‘feel’ events before they occur. That’s what presentiment is – a pre-feeling. I believe that Elizabeth did receive a presentiment.

Another way you might look at it is that we were guided to slow down by guardian angels, spirit guides, our higher selves, or even deceased relatives.

It might seem strange for a person with a background in science to say he believes that angels or spirit guides exist, but why not? I am of the opinion that consciousness is not inside our heads, which is where I deviate from the mainstream scientific opinion of consciousness. I believe consciousness is fundamental to nature; it’s part of reality itself, and the brain (& heart) act more like aerials that receive it, much as your TV receives movies.

If consciousness is not inside your head then where is it? Everywhere!

I believe that the universe as we know it arises out of consciousness much as a sapling arises out of fertile soil. A field of consciousness, therefore, is the basis of all reality.

I doubt very much that human consciousness is the only color, or shade, of consciousness then. Just as pure white light can be split by a raindrop to present a rainbow of colors, so perhaps pure consciousness also splits into different colors, with human consciousness being one colour and angels, guides, etc, being another.

And if their consciousness is of a higher energy (or frequency) than human consciousness, just as violet is higher energy than red, then this might give them the ability to watch in on human life and guide us from time to time. That is what I believe.

Were we guided to avoid the falling pane of glass? I believe we were. Did Elizabeth also receive a presentiment of it? I believe she did.

Interestingly, Oscar received a sharp cut to his mouth earlier in the morning. We were playing and I kicked a hard rubber ring (one of his toys) and it knocked his food bowl and water bowl into each other, causing his food bowl to break. He lunged into the broken pieces of porcelain to get the ring and cut the inside of his mouth.

Strange things happen in our world and I believe events are connected. That Oscar received a cut to his mouth, was he taking on the energy of a glass cut that somehow spared us from being cut by the falling glass? Some people say that dogs can absorb energy, deflecting it away, in a sense, from their owners. Or was Oscar being cut somehow a manifestation of a presentiment of the potential for us to be hit by the glass?

Some might say there is no connection and that these were just random events, that we connect events together to give meaning to our lives. I don’t think we should always be quite so quick to dismiss things as random. We are far more connected than we think. In Sanskrit, the words ‘Aham Brahasmi’ mean ‘the core of my being is the ultimate reality, the root and ground of the universe, the source of all that exists’.

If consciousness is the core of reality, then it seems to me that we, and the events of our lives, are far more connected than science would have us believe. Our lives are intertwined, where people and events are connected in space and time.

Forces exist that pull people together for a ‘reason, a season, or a lifetime’ and lead us to events that are meaningful for us.

So all things considered, I do think were we meant to avoid the falling glass and I’m very grateful for that.

The 3 Paths of Intuition

The human brain
I "See" You

I think I’ve been really quite intuitive lately – from making the right choices to even guessing (to the second) when the oven timer was going to beep – so I decided to share what I knew about intuition, how it works, even why we have it.

There seems to be different types of intuition, or at least 3 different mechanisms regarding how it works. Here’s the 3 that I’m aware of:

 

 

1) Spotting Visual and Auditory Cues

On a really obvious level, most people would agree that we tend to be more intuitive when we are in a good mood. Psychology professor, Barbara Fredrickson’s ‘Broaden and Build’ theory suggests that positive emotion increases creativity and that it also makes us more alert to opportunities that present themselves.

In this creative, alert state we pick up more of the visual cues around us. If you have a goal, and you are creatively alert in this way, you are more likely to spot signs and pick up snippets of conversations that can help you in the pursuit of your goal.

2) Mirror Neurons

The second route of intuition is present when we are in someone’s company. The human brain is highly adept at reading emotions. It’s also highly adept at telling when someone isn’t being truthful. This is facilitated by an interconnected network of cells in the brain known as mirror neurons.

When a person shows emotion it is written all over their face, as they say. Happiness can be recognised as smiling, anger or sadness with a frown. These displays of emotion move particular muscles. Happiness flexes the zygomaticus major muscle (it pulls your lips into a smile) and the orbicularis oculi muscle (at the sides of the eyes), while anger flexes the corrugator supercilli (between your eyebrows). This is where mirror neurons come in.

The MNS (mirror neuron system) mirrors the muscle movements we see in others. Being with a happy person is a sure fire way to get stimulation of your happy muscles. So how does this relate to intuition? Well, if a person is pretending they are happy but actually they’re sad inside, your mirror neuron system will mirror not only their (pretend) smiles but also the subtle facial muscle movements that reflect how they really feel.

When a person says an untruth, flashes of emotion appear on their face but they might only last for a few milliseconds, too fast for the human eye to detect. But not too fast for your MNS though! It mirrors the expression and feeds back into the emotional circuits in your brain, causing you to gain a subtle (intuitive) feeling of how they are feeling. When you sense someone is sad, even though they are acting happy, you might be getting an accurate picture of how they really feel.

Some people are very sensitive in this way and others are less so, which isn’t surprising as we all have innate differences in skills.

Lie detector tests work on the same premise. When a person says an untruth their nervous system shows subtle levels of stress. This can be detected using devices that measure skin conductance, which changes with micro amounts of sweating.

3) Entangled Minds

The third route of intuition is the one that might invite a little scepticism from people but I’d suggest that it is a very real mechanism, perhaps predominantly masked by the other two.

A body of scientific evidence suggests that we are connected through some levels of our minds. One of my favourite pieces was where researchers at Bastyr University in Seattle worked with ‘emotionally bonded couples’ – couples who shared a strong emotional bond.

One was placed inside an MRI scanner while the other was in a separate room. When the one in the room was startled with a visual stimulus, the MRI picked up a ‘flash’ in the visual cortex of the partner in the scanner. Similar experiments with EEG have suggested that the ‘interconnectedness’ is stronger between people who share a strong emotional bond, which correlates with a lot of people’s personal experience. Many people feel connected to loved ones no matter how far apart they are, and would agree that they get a sense when something in wrong.

This kind of thing is even apparent with some animals. In his compelling book, ‘Dogs that Know When Their Owners Are Coming Home’, Rupert Sheldrake describes experiments where he had sent a text to a dog owner and asked her or him to now make a decision to leave the office and head home. At the instant they made their decision, a video camera set up in the home showed their dog becoming excited and moving to the window.

This kind of evidence suggests that there is some form of communication that takes place from mind-to-mind. As well as emotional connection being a factor, it’s likely that the effect is more pronounced under some conditions than others and also that some people are naturally more ‘in tune’, so to speak, than others.

Intuition, regardless of what path, is likely wired in us. It would have undoubtedly served an evolutionary advantage to our ancestors if they had a hunch that danger was near. Acting on that hunch would save their lives and thus increase the likelihood that they would pass their genes onto the next generation. In this way, nature would ‘select’ genes that are linked with intuition.

So maybe the lesson in this is that it might be a good idea to trust our hunches, but maybe only if we’re in a good mood. And of course, we also need to be a little discerning. I guess it’s all about balance.

 

References

For research on how positive emotion makes us more creative, see Barbara Fredrickson, ‘Positivity (Crown Archetype, 2009)

For mirror neuron research and a discussion of how emotions are contagious, see David R Hamilton PhD, ‘The Contagious Power of Thinking’ (Hay House, 2011)

For research into interconnectedness of consciousness, see Dean Radin, ‘Entangled Minds’ (Paraview Pocket Books, 2006)

Rupert Sheldrake, ‘Dogs that Know When Their Owners are Coming Home’ (Arrow, 2000)