As you know from my previous newsletter, my beloved dog, Oscar, passed away last month. Up until now I’ve not wanted to write too much about it but I now want to share an insight his passing gave me into the nature of time.
Oscar passed peacefully with Elizabeth & I by his side, stroking his ears and kissing him on the side of the head. We lay by his side for a while afterwards.
During this time I had a moment of utmost clarity. It was a sense that we were there with him on the ‘other side’. It all had to do with bendy time. Bendy time?
For us, on Earth, time runs forwards as a series of moments. Our experience of time, in large part, has to do with the way our brains process information as a series of moments. But the reality of time may be something quite different.
Over the past few years, physicists have succeeded in seemingly changing the past. They have shown that choices made in the present seem to affect what happened in the past. If you want more understanding of this and how it relates to us, I wrote about it in my book, Is Your Life Mapped Out? Unravelling the Mystery of Destiny vs Free Will. The experiments are known as, ‘Delayed Choice’ experiments, based on the theories of the physicist, John Archibald Wheeler.
Ultimately, the experiments show that time is interconnected – the past, the present, and the future seem to be all rolled into one and that movements are being made all the time from future to past, past to future, present to future and present to past.
Think of time like a piece of paper. To get from one side to the other you have to move across the paper, which takes time. But say you pierce a hole in each of the two ends of the page and then take those two ends and bring them together so that they’re touching. You can now move instantly from one side of the page to the other simply by passing through the hole.
Space and time both work like that. Such a thing is known in cosmology as an Einstein-Rosen bridge. It’s the idea that Star Trek ‘Warp’ engines are based on.
But how does this relate to our experiences?
In my books and in some of my blogs, I have made no secret of the fact that I believe our consciousness is not constrained inside our heads as a side-effect of brain chemistry. To this end, I also believe that our consciousness survives after we pass away. And I believe the same is true for animals. In fact, I believe that consciousness animates all matter and all life.
The brain acts more like a receiver, just as a TV aerial or a radio receives signals. The movie that you watch on TV is actually smeared out over the atmosphere as electromagnetic information. Your TV simply tunes to the signal and it then appears on your screen.
What you are – your nature, your essence, your being – is smeared throughout the universe. You are infinite in time and space. It only feels like you’re ‘in’ a body because you ‘have’ a body right now. When earthly life expires for them, people who pass away are free of the constraints of the brain and are able to experience themselves as more expanded and not limited in time or space. For them, our future is their present.
When Oscar passed, I had a sense that in some ways he didn’t even notice. That on the ‘other side’ he met Elizabeth and myself. He was freed from the constraints of time. It was as if the paper bent so that the time of Oscar’s passing was the same ‘times’ as our individual passings.
Freed from the constraints of the brain and its experience of time-as-a-series-of-consecutive-moments, our loved ones when they pass are free to move from one side of the page to the other, from one time to another, from the ‘time’ of their passing to the ‘time’ of yours. To them it’s the same ‘time’.
I sensed that Oscar wasn’t missing his Mummy and Daddy because he is with his Mummy and Daddy, even though that ‘time’ for each of us hasn’t occurred yet. Maybe when our time is up on this Earth, we are met not just by deceased loved ones, but by those who are still on earth. Perhaps as families we all enter the Earthly realm at the same ‘time’ and we all leave at the same ‘time.
Maybe my thinking around all this is just my way of coping with the pain of losing Oscar. Who knows? We all try to find a way to feel peace, to be happy. That’s what many self-help strategies are all about. They’re not just about changing your life, earning lots of money, getting your dream job, meeting the ideal partner, etc, but about helping you to find ways to emotionally navigate a course through your life.
Maybe that’s what I’m doing. Believing that Oscar is safe and well and with us on the other side brings me some comfort. I also know that many others see things differently, in ways that bring them comfort. Who is to say that one way is more correct than another?
It’s a little like religion. Who is to say that one path is better than another, or more ‘right’ than another. Each of us need to find paths that put us at ease, that help us to get the most enjoyment out of life.
I think this is why we can get so heated at times about our beliefs. Once we have the experience of a way of thinking working for us, we believe it is The way, that others are missing something. Yet others find enjoyment in different ways, through different ways of looking at life. Christian, Buddhist, Muslim, Hindu, Atheist. There are happy people who call themselves by any of those names.
Personally, I find comfort and happiness by taking a spiritual view of life. Mine is not particularly associated with any religion. I also find comfort in science and thus my views fuse spirituality with science.
Therefore, whether anyone agrees with my view and how I cope with Oscar’s passing doesn’t matter so much to me. I simply felt like sharing my thought process, partly because writing about things brings me greater clarity, and comfort, and a sense that Oscar is OK, and also in the hope that these insights might help some others to find a little comfort when they lose a loved one.
Judging by the brain scans in the image, it doesn’t seem so. The scans are from one of my favourite pieces of research.
Volunteers were asked to play a simple sequence of piano notes each day for five consecutive days. Their brains were scanned each day in the region connected to the finger muscles. Another set of volunteers were asked to imagine playing the notes instead, also having their brains scanned each day.
The top two rows in the image show the changes in the brain in those who played the notes. The middle two rows show the changes in those who simply imagined playing the notes. Compare this with the bottom two rows showing the brain regions of the control group, who didn’t play nor imagine playing, piano.
You can clearly see that the changes in the brain in those who imaged playing piano are the same as in those who actually played piano. Really, your brain doesn’t distinguish real from imaginary!
It’s pretty obvious when you think about it. The stress response evolved in humans to give us the ability to fight or flee when faced with danger. Chemicals including cortisol and adrenalin help kick start the body, pushing blood towards the major muscles to give you strength.
But the exact same stress response kicks in when you imagine danger, also producing cortisol and adrenalin and pushing blood around the body. The same chemistry is produced regardless of whether the danger is real or imagined.
What does all this mean in real life? It means that what you imagine to be happening is actually happening as far as your brain is concerned.
Earlier this year I spoke at a corporate conference, something I enjoy doing as I get to share science that gives extra credibility to self-improvement strategies. Sally Gunnell spoke first. She won the 1992 Olympic Gold medal in the 400m hurdles. Sally explained that winning gold was 70% mental. After failing to win at the 1991 world championships she started practicing visualisation. She did it every day, imagining sprinting, hurdling, and even having the strength to hang on in the home straight.
Through visualising like this, her brain would have undergone changes that improved her muscles, giving her body the capacity to do what she had been imagining.
You can apply the exact same technique in your own life to improve your ability in sports, and even in rehabilitation after illness or injury should you need to. Several studies on stroke patients, for instance, have shown that visualisation speeds up recovery.
Even if you imagine eating, the brain thinks you are eating and there is evidence to suggest that it turns on the ‘I’m full’ signals afterwards. In a simple experiment, scientists showed that if a person imagined eating, if they imagined the entire chewing and swallowing sensations as clearly as they could, they had less appetite for more food afterwards, just as the same would be true if you had actually eaten. This has obvious implications for weight loss strategies. (See my blog, ‘How to Think Yourself Slim‘)
People all around the world also use visualisation to imagine themselves healed or healing from illness and disease. The strategy involves focusing on wellness instead of illness.
You can even use visualisation to give you extra confidence. You can imagine yourself in a situation where you would usually be lacking but see yourself acting with confidence, conveying the body language of confidence.
Whatever you apply visualisation to, you have more of an ability to shape your brain circuits and the physiology and health of your body than most people think.
You probably know that when you do a kind act, the impact goes farther than the person whom you have helped. But I suspect you hadn’t considered that each simple act of kindness you do might actually be affecting around 16 people.
So how do I come up with that number? Well, it’s based research into kindness contagion, aka – the ripple effect of kindness.
Research suggests that an act of kindness spreads out through 3 social steps.
That means that when you help a person, that person then helps other people, and these people, in turn help other people. I call it the ‘3-Degree Ripple Rule’. It’s Pay it Forward in real life.
So let’s do a wee bit of maths. Say you help a person out who’s struggling in some way. You raise that person’s spirits. Chances are that person will help a few other people out, even if it’s a simple thing like a few words of encouragement, holding a door open, letting a person in front in a queue or even letting a person in front in traffic. Often, they will do more. Let’s say that person, through the sheer number of interactions they have throughout the day, shows kindness to 4 people as a consequence of feeling lifted by your kindness to them. That’s a bit of a conservative estimate, but we’ll go for 4 to make it easy. That’s 4 people and we’re at 2-degrees.
So to continue with the same rate of kindness, each of these people are kind to 4 others. That’s 4 times 4 equals 16 and we’re at 3-degrees. Chances are many acts of kindness go farther.
And suppose you did 4 kind acts one day. You’d have impacted 64 people!
This, to be honest, is a very conservative estimate. Social networks are quite complex and many people have a lot of interactions throughout any given day, from family members to people at work, people in shops, and even with random strangers. And it’s unlikely that acts of kindness stop at 3-degrees. That’s just what some research shows where it averages over a number of people. In practice, a single act often ripples farther.
In fact, there’s evidence of ‘kidney donor chains’ that stretch the length and breadth of a country, altering the lives of several families. It’s where a Good Samaritan walks into a hospital and makes a donation of a kidney to whomever needs it.
With donor chains, a potential recipient will register along with a family member who wanted to donate one of their kidneys but wasn’t a match; for instance a man might need a kidney and his wife wants to donate one of hers. If she’s not a match for her husband she pledges to donate one of her kidneys to someone else as soon as one is found for her husband, in a ‘pay-it-forward fashion. Once a recipient is found for hers, that person’s partner or other loved one then donates one of theirs, and so on.
The longest kidney donor chain so far recorded involved 30 donors and stretched throughout 17 hospitals in the United States.
It began with a Good Samaritan who donated a kidney at Riverside Community Hospital, in Riverside, California, zig-zagging across the country and eventually finishing in Loyola, in Illinois, forever altering the lives of 30 families.
So don’t ever underestimate the effects you have each day. I’m not suggesting you go out and donate a kidney, although if you feel drawn to you will be saving lives, but each of us makes a difference even with the small acts of kindness we do.
Imagine how many people you could be positively affecting every day. I think it’s quite empowering to know that we can make a difference in more people’s lives than we think. Random acts of kindness every day can set a lot of balls of kindness rolling.
You are affecting the world in many more ways than you think. Most kindness is inexpensive but the net gain to the world is breathtaking.
It’s the simplest of my philosophies for life: Be kind!
I’ve felt that on several occasions, usually with a friend or family member, and I’m sure they have felt the same in my presence too when I’ve tried to pretend that I was better than I really was.
We should rely on our senses more often. Part of the intuition equation is how the brain ‘reads’ emotion from facial expressions. It’s quite automatic, and relies on the mirror neuron system (MNS).
When you’re around someone who is happy, your brain copies, or mirrors, the movements of their smile muscles. Similarly, when you’re with someone who is sad, your brain mirrors the movements of the muscles that convey sadness. But your brain doesn’t stop there. It also replicates the movements of their smile or sadness muscles in you (why you smile around happy people, for instance) as well as the emotion that goes along with it (why you feel happy around happy people). It’s called ‘Emotional Contagion’.
When a friend says, “I’m fine” and she or he is really not, your brain picks up the tiny movements of the muscles that convey stress and sadness, ultimately causing you little, momentary, flashes of stress or sadness. So when they keep on saying everything is great, it results in you just getting a feeling that something isn’t right.
One of my favourite studies in this area was done in 1992. Researchers at the University of Hawaii asked volunteers to watch videotapes supposedly of Polish factory workers being interviewed at high school reunions. (View a PDF of the paper here)
Ensuring that none of the volunteers could speak Polish, they dubbed the voice and played an audio of the supposed translation, spoken by an actress who simulated a computer-like voice to ensure that she wasn’t conveying any emotional information; you know, like when you’re happy and your voice goes up. Of course, it wasn’t the real translation they played.
The volunteers were shown four clips:
a) The Happy-Happy clip. This is where the voiceover fake ‘translation’ had the worker describing a happy event and this was true; she was describing a happy event.
b) The Happy-Sad clip. This is where the voiceover fake translation was describing a happy event, but the worker was actually describing a sad event.
c) The Sad-Happy clip, where the voiceover was saying the worker was sad, but she was actually happy, describing a happy event.
d) The Sad-Sad clip, where the voiceover was saying ‘sad’ and she was, indeed, describing a sad event.
If there was no emotional contagion and we just took what people said at face value, we would just rate people’s emotional state according to what they tell us. But I think you know what’s coming.
The volunteers were asked to rate the emotional state of the factory worker in each clip on a simple scale. If there was no emotional contagion, the volunteers would give the same scores in videos (a) and (b), because the voiceover was of the worker describing a happy event. But, in actual fact, they rated her happiness much lower in clip (b), because the facial expressions betrayed how she was really feeling.
What’s more, through emotional contagion, their own emotional state also moved in the direction of sadness when they watched clip (b), according to measurements taken before and after. In other words, despite what the voiceover was saying, the people watching the clip actually ‘caught’ her real emotion.
The same kind of thing was found looking at clips (c) and (d). The voiceovers described sad events, yet in (c) the worker was really describing a happy event. Indeed, the volunteers rated her happiness higher than they did for video clip (d), and their own emotional state was happier than it was after watching video clip (d).
So, in other words, the study suggests that if you watch someone say they’re happy but really they’re not. Their facial expressions will give away how they really feel. Even though they try to make their faces appear happy, muscles ‘flash’ with emotion faster than the conscious mind can usually override them.
Usually, the flashes last no more than a few one thousandths of a second. But that is more than enough for the rather sophisticated mirror neurons in your brain that literally work ‘faster than the eye can tell’.
So, I guess, my advice would be to trust your intuition more.
Reference: C. K. Hsee, E. Hatfield, and C. Chemtob, ‘Assessment of the emotional states of others: conscious judgments versus emotional contagion’, Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, 1992, 11, 119-128
While I was waiting in line at a coffee shop earlier, a woman drove alongside the queue in a mobility scooter. There was only a narrow space between the line of people and the tables, which she attempted to drive along. She drove over my foot and faintly looked back. She didn’t apologise.
I had a fleeting thought that I expected she would have apologised, but then I just dismissed it and got back to the more important task of selecting which pastry I was going to have with my coffee. For the record, I chose a blueberry muffin, which I suppose isn’t really a pastry.
The lady and I ended up sitting at adjacent tables. She was on the end of a row, so that she could park her scooter. After about half an hour or so, when she had finished her coffee, she got up and back onto her scooter. It wouldn’t start. She tried to turn the key several times before telephoning the place she purchased it from.
An engineer turned up within 5 minutes. The place must have been local. I couldn’t help overhear because they were only a few feet away from me, but it turned out she had only just collected the scooter that morning. This was her very first outing in it, and the first time she had ever driven a mobility scooter. She’d come to the coffee shop for a stress-rest.
I heard that she felt really self-conscious, that she wasn’t at all confident driving it. She certainly wasn’t used to its speed, nor its width, and this combination made it quite stressful when she had to drive it through narrow gaps.
I felt such compassion for the lady. It really hadn’t bothered me at all that she’d driven over my foot. But I had made an assumption, however, that a person doing that should apologise, that an apology is the norm. But says who?
That assumption also assumes a level playing field, that everyone has the same degree of stuff going on in their lives. But we all know that’s not true?
How many times have you felt judged by someone and you only wished they knew what your life was like right then? Or you wished they knew what you had to weigh up in your mind before making a choice or decision that affected them?
We can’t ever know what’s going on in a person’s mind when their behaviour hurts or offends us unless they tell us.
When the lady turned around after driving over my foot, I suspect she wanted to say something, but a mixture of feeling self-conscious, embarrassed, plus afraid that she might drive over someone else’s foot as she navigated along the narrow space between the queue and the tables, made her channel all her energy into just looking forward and keep going in a straight line.
Next time you’re about to judge someone, pause for a second and remind yourself that people have judged you without knowing what was going on in your mind or your life.
You might have heard of telomeres! They’re the little end-caps on DNA that stops it unraveling, a bit like the little plastic caps on shoelaces that stop them from unraveling.
Telomeres have become popular because they’re closely linked with the age of the body. Short telomeres tend to mean faster ageing.
Lots of research has now shown that meditation can slow ageing. I’ve written about some of the research in some other blogs. See: (Harvard Study Finds that Meditation Impacts DNA) (Can Compassion Beat Botox in the Anti-Ageing Stakes?)
One of my favourite meditations is the Buddhists’ Loving-Kindness Meditation. It helps you cultivate a sentiment of love, kindness, and compassion for yourself and others. It always leaves me feeling warm inside.
I am pleased to learn that scientists have now studied the effect of the Loving-Kindness Meditation on the length of telomeres. Fifteen practitioners of the Meditation were compared with 22 people in a control group. They were all around the same age. Each person had their telomeres measured.
The study found that the practitioners of the Loving-Kindness Meditation had longer telomeres than the control group. Basically, it meant that even though they were all around the same age, the people who practiced loving-kindness were physiologically younger.
And if you’re a female reading this, you’ll be very pleased to know the following: Female Loving-Kindness Meditation practitioners had the longest telomeres of all! The meditation seems to effect women more than men.
You have two ages. There’s your chronological age, which is your actual age. So if you were born in March 1960 your chronological age is 54 (I’m writing this in August 2014). Your physiological age, on the other hand, is the age of your body and it is affected by diet, lifestyle, stress, attitude … and clearly love, kindness, and compassion.
An unhealthy diet, lifestyle, or lots of stress, all tend to age the body faster. A person whose chronological age is 54 but who leads a very unhealthy lifestyle might have a physiological age of 68. Another person with the same chronological age but who leads a very healthy life might have a physiological age of 37.
The length of your telomeres is a good estimate of your physiological age.
So the Loving-Kindness Meditation basically reduces physiological age. You really can grow younger! You can’t become chronologically younger, but it’s your physiological age that ultimately matters.
How to do the meditation:
You can use the following set of statements:
May ____ be filled with loving kindness, be well, peaceful and at ease, happy, and free of suffering.
Where I’ve put a ____, insert first yourself and repeat it three times, then choose a loved one, and again repeat three times, followed by someone emotionally neutral to you, again three times, then a difficult person in your life; that’s someone from the present or past who causes or has caused you stress and you still have a negative emotional charge towards. Again you wish them the sentiments three times. Then you finish by wishing the sentiment to all sentient beings, again three times. That’s one cycle.
You can do as many or as few cycles as you wish. Some people like to do a few so that they can focus on their closest loved ones. Some people focus on the same difficult person on all of their cycles. There is no rule that says you have to do it in any particular way. What matters most is the sentiment of love, kindness, and compassion.
Have you ever had one of those dreams that felt so real that it was more than a dream?
I had one a few weeks ago, shortly before I got up. It was a strange dream. I was with two men. I seemed to be in some kind of military service. We were in a room and knew that an explosion was imminent and we were about to die. I seemed to believe that I would still exist afterwards.
Seconds later, the explosion came. I felt warmth. No pain! Just a warmth on my skin. Then I was in a bright white place that was filled with soft, warm, white light. I remember noticing that I had no form (body). I was also aware that I was on the ‘other side’ and a little pleased that, even though my body was gone, I was still alive.
Then I heard a female voice whispering to me. It kept saying, over and over again, “Your thoughts create! Your thoughts create! Your thoughts create.” Then it became, “Your thoughts create your world! Your thoughts create your world.” I remember the whisper so clearly. I can hear it now as I write these words.
I learned later that day that my Dad’s aunt Lizzie had died that morning. Might my dream somehow have been a communication from her? I thought so.
Kyle asked the angels about my experience. He then told me that, because of my sensitive perception, my soul knew Lizzie was passing and it reminded me that, no matter what we way go, we just return to an ever-present love and peace. He then told me that Lizzie was acknowledging what I’ve known all along, so that I’d have a more personal experience of heaven. He said my mind basically created a scene of going to heaven so I could see that it was all love.
Wow! … was my response. I trust Kyle very much and have been on the receiving end of his astonishing skills of other-worldly communication on more than one occasion. I believe in what he said. It feels right to me.
Some might think that a scientist has no place talking about angels. I would disagree strongly. I do not subscribe to the notion that consciousness is inside the head, nor produced by brain chemistry. Such a notion doesn’t account for the wealth of research that demonstrates correlations between the neural states of people separated by a distance. I believe that consciousness is fundamental to reality and that, in a sense then, everything is animated with consciousness.
In some ways, the brain acts like an aerial that tunes to a frequency, that extracts from reality what you know of as yourself.
My belief is that that just as different shapes, forms, textures and colours of life exist, so different shapes, forms, textures and colours of consciousness exist too, some of which we might interpret or know as angels, guides, or deceased loved ones.
Could my Dad’s aunt have visited me for real? Her consciousness? I believe so. I believe that after her brain ceased to function, her consciousness was no longer identified with her physical body. She was then able to be anywhere and, in my case, she was able to communicate with me.
Fortunately, I ‘heard’ her and appreciate the reminder!
My personal experience of visualization is that it is highly powerful for a few different reasons. And it’s good to know why! Maybe that’s just my science training, where I need to know the how’s and the why’s. But, honestly, there is no question that understanding the how’s and why’s actually bring you more belief in yourself and in the process of what you are doing. That’s why I’ve written this short blog about the reasons why visualization is so powerful.
Whether you are visualizing on a health goal or a life improvement one, visualization helps a lot … for the following reasons:
1) It makes you feel empowered
When you visualize on better health or achieving a goal, it brings you a sense of inner empowerment. This is because you start to notice small changes in your life as you move in the direction you want to go in.
With health, you start to see improvements and it brings you a belief in yourself and in the process of what you are doing. The effect of this is that it shifts the sense of power away from the outside world, where you often feel powerless, to the inside, where you feel you are more in control of what happens. And this makes all the difference because it breeds motivation, creativity, and positive emotion.
With life goals, you start to realize that there is actually a lot you can do to move yourself in the direction you wish.
2) Your brain doesn’t distinguish real from imaginary
Research shows that if one person does something and another person visualizes doing the thing, the same brain areas are activated in both of them. And if they keep doing the thing or imagining doing the thing, their brain regions undergo actual physical change (called neuroplasticity) to the same degree.
You can harness this for health. A growing body of research shows that when you visualize improving health, the body moves towards health. And you can harness it for life goals. When you imagine living your dream, your brain processes it as if it is happening now. In fact, afterwards, to your brain, it’s a memory.
3) It focuses your willpower
Regular visualization helps to focus your mind on what you want. One of the problems many people face when aiming for goals is that they lose focus, becoming distracted by the goings on of life. When you visualize on a regular basis, especially if you set aside some definite time each day, it focuses your mind. It trains you to hold your focus despite what else is going on.
And as you stay focused you spot opportunities to move towards your goal. If it’s a health goal, you tend to learn extra insights that can help you. If it’s a life change goal, you’re more likely to be in the right place at the right time.
4) It has health benefits
Countless people all around the world use visualization to help facilitate their recoveries from illness and disease. The most common strategy is where they imagine changing a picture of illness into a picture of wellness, and they do it over and over again, 2 or 3 times a day.
And you can get as detailed as you like. Some people visualize cleaning individual cells, restoring them to health and wellness, and others simple visualize a whole body region in perfect condition. Both scenarios work equally well.
There is now a growing body of research that shows this working. Whether it is through a harnessing of willpower, a sense of empowerment, or that the brain processes what you are imagining as real, or a combination of all three, there is no question that visualization for better health has positive benefits.
5) If you believe in visualization, it works even better
Belief carries great power! The placebo effect shows us that belief can heal. Belief changes brain chemistry and brings about immune, hormonal, and physiological changes throughout the body.
When one person takes a painkiller and the other a placebo, for instance, brain scans look strikingly similar. This is because the person’s belief produces its own chemistry that brings about what they expect to happen – ie., a reduction in pain. In this case, the brain produces natural painkillers (endogenous opiates).
When you do anything and believe in yourself, your ability is enhanced. Any elite athlete will tell you that. When you visualize better health, believing that what you are doing has powerful effects, your own belief amplifies the power of what you are doing. The same is true with life goals; your own belief brings you more energy, motivation, and helps you spot opportunities when they arise.
Oh, and one final point: You don’t need to be a great ‘visualizer’. It’s the quality of your intent that matters most. Some people ‘see’ clearly, others just have a vague picture. Some people see out of their own eyes, others imagine looking at themselves from outside. All of these different versions work equally well. We’re all different and we all have different ways of doing things.
My experience is that your intention matters most. If your mind is pointed towards where you want to go, then you’re doing it right.
As an ex-pharmaceutical scientist, I enjoy reframing the term ‘side-effects’. We typically think of side-effects in the negative, as in the side-effects of drugs. But many of our positive behaviors also have side-effects.
Below are 5 side-effects of compassion.
1) Compassion Wires the Brain
In some ways we can think of the brain like a muscle in that as we exercise certain regions they grow, just as muscles do when we exercise them.
Compassion causes growth on the left side of the brain’s prefrontal cortex region, which is the bit above the eyes. The effect of this is that we find it easier to be compassionate and kind. Compassion begets compassion through creating actual changes in the brain.
2) Compassion is Good for the Heart
Compassion fosters warm emotional contact. When we connect with others in this way, we produce the hormone ‘oxytocin’. One of its key roles is in the maintenance of cardiovascular health. It dilates the arteries and reduces blood pressure and also helps clear out potentially disease-causing agents.
3) Compassion Slows Ageing
Research shows a strong correlation between compassion and ‘vagal tone’, which is a term that describes the health and fitness of the vagus nerve, much as muscle tone describes the muscles.
The vagus nerve controls the body’s inflammatory response (knows as the Inflammatory Reflex). As we increase vagal tone, we improve the body’s ability to reduce inflammation. Research indeed shows that a practice of cultivation of compassion, where volunteers practiced the Loving Kindness Meditation, actually reduced inflammation.
As inflammation is one of the major agers of the body, compassion, through its affects on the vagus nerve, slows ageing.
4) Compassion Improves Relationships
Research shows that compassion improves relationships. It fosters emotional connections between two people. A structured practice of compassion meditation improves the quality of personal and professional relationships.
Compassion also breaks down barriers in relationships with people who challenge us. When we see someone suffering and we are moved to help, we forget reasons why we might have a difficulty with the person as our natural tendency to care takes over. In these moments, we see only good and express only good. Compassion brings us back to ourselves.
5) Compassion Motivates Kindness
When we see someone suffering we feel empathy. Empathy is ‘I feel with you’, as we imagine and share someone’s pain. Empathy evolves into compassion, which is ‘I feel for you’, as we not only share the pain but we want the person’s suffering eased. Compassion quickly evolves into kindness, where we are moved to do something to ease the person’s suffering.
I think of empathy – compassion – kindness as the growth of a flower from a seed. Empathy is the seed that grows into a stem of compassion, which then fully blooms into an act of kindness.
References: David R Hamilton, PhD, ‘Why Kindness is Good for You’ (Hay House, 2010).
Imagine the scenario: There’s 2 patients. One is connected to a morphine drip while he’s reading a book and the other is being given a morphine injection by the doctor. They’re both given morphine at the exact same time. One is aware of it but the other isn’t.
You’d think they’d both need the same amount of the drug, wouldn’t you? Well, it turns out that how much they actually need depends on whether they know about the morphine or not.
On average, people receiving morphine for pain need about 12mg to get the painkilling effect. But that’s only if they don’t know they’re getting it. If it’s administered in full view, they don’t need nearly so much to get the same effect.
The same kind of thing has been shown with diazepam. People sometimes get diazepam for anxiety after an operation. It turns out that the diazepam only works if the patients know they’re receiving it. If they don’t know they’re getting it then it doesn’t work. Weird isn’t it?
The reason is that it’s all in your mind!
Chemistry will play itself out in exactly the same way a hundred times out of a hundred in a test tube. But once you put human consciousness in the test tube, in other words the test tube is technically the human body, the chemistry is swayed left or right, so to speak, depending on what’s going on in your mind, depending on what you believe.
It’s true. What we believe shifts chemistry in our brains and bodies. If a person is given a placebo instead of morphine, but believes that it’s morphine and therefore believes in the pain killing effect, their brain produces a natural version of morphine to carry out the job of giving them what they are expecting to happen, i.e. a reduction in pain. The natural versions are known as endogenous opiates.
So when a person is receiving morphine from the doctor, who is administering it in plain sight, their belief in what morphine does produces endogenous opiates. So because the endogenous opiates are there to provide part of the pain killing effect, the patient doesn’t actually need as much morphine.
Imagine what it could mean for medicine if we could harness the placebo effect like this.