August 10, 2013

Err in the Direction of Kindness

Posted in Experiences, Inspiring Stories, Philosophers at 9:08 am by tiffanyannbrown


kindnessI read a great piece this this morning from New York Times bestselling American writer George Saunders entitled  “George Saunders’ Advice to Graduates,” which has apparently gone viral.  In reading through the address, there was one section in particular that stood out to me:

So let me just say this.  There are ways.  You already know that because, in your life, there have been High Kindness periods and Low Kindness periods, and you know what inclined you toward the former and away from the latter.  Education is good; immersing ourselves in a work of art: good; prayer is good; meditation’s good; a frank talk with a dear friend;  establishing ourselves in some kind of spiritual tradition – recognizing that there have been countless really smart people before us who have asked these same questions and left behind answers for us. Because kindness, it turns out, is hard – it starts out all rainbows and puppy dogs, and expands to include…well, everything.

What I enjoyed about this portion of the speech is that Saunders focuses on what luminaries like Gandhi, Lao Tzu, and Mother Teresa have known for centuries: that kindness expands to include everything.  Because that is such a large statement, below are a couple of quotes on kindness from notable people across the centuries, which offer some insights into this concept:

  • “What wisdom can you find that is greater than kindness?” ― Jean Jacques Rousseau
  • “Kindness in words creates confidence. Kindness in thinking creates profoundness. Kindness in giving creates love.” ― Lao Tzu
  • “Three things in human life are important: the first is to be kind; the second is to be kind; and the third is to be kind.” ― Henry James
  • “My religion is very simple. My religion is kindness.” ― Dalai Lama XIV
  • “No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted.” ― Aesop
  • “The simplest acts of kindness are by far more powerful then a thousand heads bowing in prayer.” ― Mahatma Gandhi

The more wisdom achieved, the more likely it is for people to come to the realization that kindness plays a much more important role in this world that one might initially think. While this goes against most of which is unconsciously taught in American culture (“every man for himself”), kindness is something that I believe each person inherently knows has value, and is something each person must work out on his own and experience for his or herself before understanding the true rewards and dividends it pays.

An Amazing Example of Kindness

Of the many “enlightened” people I know who have caught on to the concept of and true importance of kindness, one example stands out above the rest. I have a co-worker currently battling her third round of cancer who has maintained a blog about her experience for years now. In a recent post, she discussed how she celebrated her 38th birthday. In light of cancer, the way she chose to spend her birthday was not with a fancy dinner or wild weekend getaway. Instead, she decided to perform 38 random acts of kindness for her 38th birthday. She writes:

Today was honestly the best birthday I’ve ever had! I realized that it is so easy to bring joy and smiles to other people. I’m so grateful that I was able to complete this list and I encourage everyone to try doing something life this. Today was the greatest gift of life!

And to better illustrate her continued plight toward incorporating kindness in her life and its unspoken benefits, just last week she wrote a post about attending a Dave Matthews concert in which she talked about the many neat things that happened at the concert. Despite being very sick and encouraged not to travel, she wrote: “on the ride I told everyone they had to give one random act of kindness at some point during the night to get our karma back in balance. Apparently that worked because I met a few random angels that night … more to come.” You can read that post here.

Kindness is Catching On

I’ve been fascinated for some time now about how the concept of  how “kindness” is catching on across America. First and foremost the concept of “conscious capitalism” comes to mind, which is a movement in the business world whereby companies have begun to incorporate as “Benefit Corporations.” According to the B Corporation web site, benefit corporations give business leaders legal protection to pursue a higher purpose than profit, and they offer investors and the public greater transparency to protect against pretenders. In short, benefit corporations are manifestations of corporate-level kindness and an example of how business leaders are realizing the importance of kindness at a higher level.

From the Conscious Capitalism web site, there is a quote that reads:

Pioneering naturalist John Muir observed that ‘when you tug at a single thing in nature, you find it attached to the rest of the world.’ Such is the case with business, which is an intricate and interconnected web of relationships.

In short, businesses are recognizing the interconnectedness of the world around us and seeing that kindness, or giving back rather than taking from, is the basis of what makes the world go round.

Think Kindness 

In a similar fashion, there is an organization based in Reno, Nevada known as “Think Kindness” that also continues to intrigue me. The founder recently gave a TED talk where he talked about how he went from working a “suit and tie job” to founding a non-profit based on the concept of “kindness.”  You can learn more about his story, here (begin at 4 minutes and 25 seconds):

While the goal of the Think Kindness organization is simply to inspire acts of kindness around the world―of which you can read more about the many ways in which it is doing so through its web site―there are also now tangible ways of tracking kindness for those wanting to incorporate more kindness into their lives, or for those wanting to track the ripple effect that random acts of kindness have throughout the world for themselves. Learn more about “kindness cards,” here.

Practicing Kindness

There have been many studies done recently linking the practice of kindness and compassion to such health benefits as less stress and anxiety, a strengthened immune system, lower levels of harmful stress hormones, and increased vagal function, which has been associated with efficient regulation of glucose and inflammation, as well as lower incidence of heart disease and diabetes.  For these reasons and all of the others listed so eloquently in  the George Saunders speech noted above, why not kindness? When all else fails, err in the direction of kindness.

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June 4, 2013

Oprah’s Super Soul Sunday Series

Posted in Experiences, Inspiring Stories, Philosophers, Science and Relgion, The Mystics, Theologians tagged , at 7:51 pm by tiffanyannbrown


It’s been nearly two years since I last wrote a post on this blog – hard to believe. Around the time I wrote my last post, I recall that Oprah was just getting ready to launch the first episode of her new self-help and spirituality series known as “Super Soul Sunday,” which premiered on the OWN Network back in October of 2011. At the time, I had been listening to her Soul Series podcast on iTunes and thinking about how neat it was that Oprah was giving some air time to such interesting and progressive thinkers as Eckhardt Tolle and Jill Bolte Taylor. But I didn’t realize how soon she would be taking everything so mainstream (and to her credit, for these are important topics).

As might be expected from any modern day media mogul, in approximately two years time, the original podcast has extended into an extremely popular TV series supported by a flashy web site that includes a blog and catalog of videos, which has also led to a strong social media following with nearly 50,000 followers on @SuperSoulSunday’s Twitter account and 119,000 likes on the Facebook page. She also has a great list of books that have been featured on the series, which you can explore in more detail here.

Super Soul Sunday FB

According to a recent press release about the series, Super Soul Sunday features exclusive interviews and all-new conversations with top thinkers, authors, filmmakers and spiritual leaders. Exploring themes and issues including happiness, personal fulfillment, wellness, spirituality and conscious living, Super Soul Sunday presents an array of perspectives on what it means to be alive in today’s world.

If you haven’t had the chance to check out the show yet, I highly recommend that you do. As of today Oprah has hosted dozens of speakers on her series, people I originally first heard about mainly through Tami Simon’s “Insights at the Edge” podcast and other non-traditional avenues like the Omega Institute and the Institute of Noetic Sciences. The discussions she hosts not only raise important questions and new ways of thinking about the world, but bring certain well-accomplished, lesser known, and thoroughly inspiring individuals to the forefront of mainstream dialogue.

August 25, 2011

Insights at the Edge

Posted in Experiences, Inspiring Stories, Science and Relgion, The Mystics tagged , at 11:31 pm by tiffanyannbrown


Earlier this year I came across a goldmine of content when I happened upon the web site located at www.soundstrue.com. While searching for podcasts related to school assignments on iTunes, I stumbled upon some episodes of “Insights at the Edge” with Tami Simon that caught my attention and eventually found a link that provided dozens of free podcasts showcasing some of the world’s foremost authorities on the topics of health and healing, self-empowerment, and spirituality and consciousness. According to the web site:

Sounds True is an independent multimedia publishing company that embraces the world’s major spiritual traditions, as well as the arts and humanities … Sounds True was founded in 1985 by Tami Simon with a clear mission: to disseminate spiritual wisdom. It is in this spirit that we present this podcast, a series of interviews with the world’s leading spiritual teachers, visionary writers, and living luminaries about their newest work and current challenges—the “growing edge” of their inner inquiry and outer contribution to the world.”

Whether it be driving to and from work, running errands, shopping at the grocery store, or on a walk, I’ve managed to log countless hours of listening to these thoroughly introspective and addicting interviews.

Some of the aspects I have most enjoyed about Insights at the Edge have included the caliber of the speakers, the quality of the discussions, and the range of content. While some interviews focus on more practical subjects, others can be highly obscure and complex, bordering on the realm of “out there,” but Tami always has a way of bringing the conversation back to a level of common understanding. Never have I come across such a wide range of specialists, spanning so many disciplines, providing such an array of provocative thinking in one place.

In addition to interviews with such speakers (that I already know and love!) as Peter Russell, Bruce Lipton, Stanislov Grof, Gregg Braden, and Fred Wolf, below is a sampling of some new individuals I came across through this show and would like to hear more from in the future:

  1. Ken Wilber – Ken Wilber is the author of over a dozen books, including The Spectrum of Consciousness; Up from Eden; and Grace and Grit. The Spectrum of Consciousness, written when he was twenty-three years old, established him as perhaps the most comprehensive philosophical thinker of our times. Credited with developing a unified field theory of consciousness—a synthesis and interpretation of the world’s great psychological, philosophical, and spiritual traditions—Ken Wilber is the most cogent and penetrating voice in the recent emergence of a uniquely American wisdom.
  2. Caroline Myss is a five-time New York Times bestselling author and internationally renowned speaker in the fields of human consciousness, spirituality and mysticism, health, energy medicine, and the science of medical intuition. After completing her Master’s degree, Caroline co-founded Stillpoint Publishing and headed the editorial department, producing an average of ten books a year in the field of human consciousness and holistic health.  Caroline developed the field of Energy Anatomy, a science that correlates specific emotional/psychological/physical/spiritual stress patterns with diseases.
  3. Sandra Ingerman – Sandra Ingerman, MA, is the author of eight books including Soul Retrieval, Medicine for the Earth, Shamanic Journeying: A Beginner’s Guide and How to Heal Toxic Thoughts. Sandra is a licensed Marriage and Family therapist and Professional Mental Health Counselor. She is also a board certified expert on traumatic stress as well as certified in acute traumatic stress management.
  4. Anodea Judith, Ph.D. is the founder and director of Sacred Centers, and a groundbreaking thinker, writer, and spiritual teacher. Her passion for the realization of untapped human potential matches her concern for humanity’s impending crises — her fervent wish is that we “wake up in time.” She holds Masters and Doctoral degrees in Psychology and Human Health, is a 500 hour registered yoga teacher, with lifelong studies of healing, mythology, history, sociology, systems theory, and mystic spirituality. She is considered one of the country’s foremost experts on the combination of chakras and therapeutic issues and on the interpretation of the Chakra System for the Western lifestyle.
  5. William Buhlman – William Buhlman is America’s leading expert on out-of-body experiences. The author’s four decades of extensive personal out-of-body explorations give him a unique and thought provoking insight into this subject.

While it’s important to take each interview with a grain of salt, there is always wisdom to be uncovered and connections to be made when listening to new and engaging perspectives. What have you got to lose?

September 28, 2010

An Exploration of Noetic Science

Posted in Experiences, Science and Relgion tagged , , , at 11:17 pm by tiffanyannbrown


What do Harvard-trained neuroanatomist Jill Bolte Taylor, Nasa-trained astronaut Edgar Mitchell, and spiritual guru Deepak Chopra all have in common? If you haven’t already guessed it’s that they all share a background firmly grounded in science—neuroanatomy, engineering, medicine—but due to one circumstance or another have all come to question traditional Western science with respect to their understanding of the world in light of a significant personal experience. In short, they are all explorers of noetic science.

So, what is noetic science? According to one definition, it is “a multidisciplinary field that brings objective scientific tools and techniques together with subjective inner knowing to study the full range of human experience.”

In 1996, Jill Bolte Taylor suffered a massive stroke in the left hemisphere of her brain, causing her to re-think her entire approach to brain research, while also opening her mind up to the possibility of other types of existence. She has written a book documenting her experience called My Stroke of Insight: A Brain Scientist’s Personal Journey, in 2008 was named one of TIME Magazine’s 100 Most Influential People in the World, and has also appeared on Oprah. From an interview with http://www.vision.org, she discussed what happened to her sense of reality when the stroke occurred:

I lost the cells that defined the boundaries of my body, where I began and where I ended. In the absence of that information I had the perception that I was at one with all that is: I am blended with all of the atoms and mind, because the brain chatter was gone, so there was this absolute silence … We have a group of cells inside our brain that tell use we are solid. Okay, I’m a solid. But for eight years I did not exist as a solid; I existed as a fluid entity in a fluid environment. This was a marvelous experience-to be that enormous in the absence of the distraction of language that has to label everything in my world. Its absence put me in a position to simply experience the energy dynamic of all particles around me, and it was a beautiful experience.

The full interview can be read here, and below is an excerpt from one of her interviews with Oprah.

With Edgar Mitchell, it was an otherworldly experience in space that led to his questioning of the nature of reality and resulted in a decision to start The Institute of Noetic Sciences, a nonprofit research, education, and membership organization whose mission is advancing the science of consciousness and human experience to serve individual and collective transformation.  From the biography on his web site:

Trained as an engineer and scientist, Captain Mitchell was most comfortable in the world of rationality and physical precision. Yet the understanding that came to him as he journeyed back from space felt just as trustworthy—it represented another way of knowing. This experience radically altered his worldview: Despite science’s superb technological achievements, he realized that we had barely begun to probe the deepest mystery of the universe—the fact of consciousness itself.

In his own words, below is a summary of Edgar Mitchell’s personal experience in space.

As for Deepak Chopra, an endocrinologist and former Chief of Staff at the New England Memorial Hospital in Stoneham, Massachusetts, it was a general unhappiness with Western medicine that prompted him to change his approach from pill-prescribing to mind-body healing. To date, he has written 56 books ranging from alternative healing practices to topics on consciousness. He is currently the Medical Director of the Sharp Institute for Human Potential and Mind-Body Medicine in La Jolla, California, and lectures and teaches worldwide.

Throughout his research, Chopra has been led to believe that consciousness is more than just a byproduct of one’s brain but rather something more fundamental, non-local, and independent of space and time. See the below video for more details.

Despite coming from different scientific backgrounds, it’s interesting to see how the three above-mentioned individuals have all reached similar conclusions after having traveled three very different paths to obtaining such knowledge. For more information on noetic science, please visit Dr. Mitchell’s web site, www.noetic.org.

September 8, 2010

The Ecstatic Experience

Posted in Experiences tagged , at 10:09 pm by tiffanyannbrown


In the words of Emily Dickinson, “The soul should always stand ajar, ready to welcome the ecstatic experience.”

Everywhere I looked this past week I saw “Burning Man” and frankly, the beckoning has become a bit tiresome. For those of you who don’t know what Burning Man is, read on.

If it wasn’t for seeing a constant stream of well-decorated RVs and dust-covered vehicles adorned with bicycles passing through Reno, it was being parked next to one while filling up my tank at the gas station. If it wasn’t running across old “Burning Man” email exchanges pondering the cultural significance of the event with my favorite professor in college, it was running into the story “Burn Baby Burn” by Charlie Johnston while flipping through this month’s issue of Nevada Magazine. If it wasn’t hearing about the general care practitioner who rescued me from excruciating pain at a gymnastics class after dislocating my elbow in 2008 that got married at Burning Man last week (who also happens to be an acrobat that used to perform with Controlled Burn), it was having Burning Man photo essays bombard my desktop while filtering through the daily Reno Gazette Journal business headlines. It was noticing that certain people from my office were visibly missing in order to take part in the festivities, again. It was my 50-something-year-old daycare provider telling me she had just returned from the ‘vacation of a lifetime.’ It was seeing the memorizing pictures pour in throughout the week on my friends’ Facebook accounts, capturing their unique and individual experiences.

So what is Burning Man? According to one of my favorite professors, it is “as convincing a demonstration of the power of ecstatic experience as the world has ever seen.” In a 2008 he sent me an email describing the event and why he thought I needed to attend it. He wrote:

With about 50,000 people expected this year, the event has basically doubled in size just since I started going in 2002.  Preparations are taking some hours each week already.  For others, the building of art cars and palatial camps is well underway in warehouses and garages across the country.  It is as convincing a demonstration of the power of ecstatic experience as the world has ever seen, I think.  All of the preparation tells us that it is not about a formless or purely entropic ecstasy.  There is obviously direction and intent in this, so the ecstasies are in a sense structured.  This is a bit paradoxical, but poetry is like that also … Burning Man is obviously contrived, but it really propels you some distance.

After reading this I wondered more about ecstatic experience. According to the book “The Mystic Experience: a Descriptive and Comparative Analysis” by Jordan D. Paper:

The ecstatic experience of self-loss, the mystic experience, is often understood as a union of experience as well as an experience of nothingness. Far more frequent are unitive experiences without the loss of self. In other words, we experience a union with God or the cosmos or a merging with a larger entity, but we remain aware of ourselves being so conjoined; that is, the union is not total, for we still exist, in some sense, and remain cognizant of the union …

What causes these experiences? From the reports, there seem to be many so-called triggers. These would include near-death experiences, the effects of meditation, the experience of childbirth, the effects of intense prayer or meditation, the use of psychotropic substances. An intense aesthetic experience, often of nature—a sunset, a beautiful scene, flowers, music, a painting, and so forth—may lead to a unitive experience or simply an experience so intense that it is, in itself, ecstatic. For those theologically inclined, ecstatic religious experiences are due to the grace of God.

Clearly, the ecstatic experience that is Burning Man lies at the core of what makes the event so special to the thousands of people who attend the event each year from all walks of life. (From a Northern Nevada Business Weekly article entitled “For a week, Gerlach joins Las Vegas, LAX as busy air destination,” a spokesman for the airport said carriers would bring an estimated 15,000 air travelers from 34 nations to Reno for Burning Man.)  It’s why those who attend the festival return to everyday life devoid of the language necessary to capture the essence of the experience. It’s why you hear about how the event “blew their mind” or “changed the way they now see the world” and why they will most certainly return again the following year. In the words of my professor:

The irony is that I now think of Burning Man as my most reliable week of sanity each year. In my case, it was not an acquired taste; the moment the greeter at the gate uttered the ritualistic ‘welcome home’ I knew right where I was … sooner or later the participation in anything worthwhile means letting go of the already and diving into the not yet, getting into the swing of it on one’s own.

In closing and on a much lighter note, click here for a 2 minute clip from Comedy Central’s Reno 911 poking a little fun at Burning Man.

Or, you can click here for a link to a video attempting to describe one individual’s experience on YouTube.

No matter which way you look at it, Burning Man is certainly an event of cultural significance worth exploring, assuming you can see past all of the fanfare and distractions through to the essence of what it truly is.

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