The fact that death is as natural as birth in no way lessens our fear or denial of it.
And yet, our sadness or grief in the face of loss is a testament to our enduring interconnectedness. It confirms the sacred continuation of relationship beyond the longevity of our physical form.
The timeless bonds between beings are not just limited to humans. Elephants have been observed to perform burial rituals for their dead and to return to the place of the death even after removal of remains. Other animals such as dolphins, whales and baboons have been found to carry dead offspring with them for days.
Among many animals, emotional attachment after death is evident in the behavioral changes that surviving family members exhibit (Safina 2015), even though there may be great variation across and within species in the experience vs expression of emotion (Ristau 2016).
In people, acknowledging grief in its various forms and phases has been found to help with acceptance and recovery from loss. Studies of mourning rituals have shown that, in the wake of the death of a loved one, people benefit from such rituals (Norton and Gino 2014). Not only does ritual provide a sense of control, but more importantly perhaps, honoring the deceased reminds us of the ever-present quality of love itself: that love does in fact survive the harsh physicality of death.
“Loved and Lost” is an online platform created by Manchester based documentary photographer Simon Bray that posts photos of individuals with their loved ones who have died, and the life stories that accompany the photos. Bray invites participants to revisit the location in which the photograph was originally taken and to reflect on their memories and experience of love and loss.
Bray states: “May this be a process through which a loved one can be remembered and through which memories can be re-lived. Even though the pain of the loss may remain, may this go some way in relieving the hurt and the stigma of death.”
Check it out: http://www.lovedandlostproject.co.uk
In the academic halls and laboratories of graduate school, I remember how extreme busyness had been a badge of honor. The busier one was with their research, their teaching, their committees, the more successful or valued the student or faculty member appeared to be.
I soon discovered this same type of standard (the busier the better) evident outside of school as well – within the climate at the medical center where I worked, on the playground with parents championing unsustainable extra-curricular obligations on behalf of their children, and even at the meditation center with practitioners shoe -horning in a steady stream of day-longs and residential retreats into an already spiritually-bursting calendar.
Busyness, defined not by hard work but by multitasking (e.g., Charlton 2006), has been promoted by our culture and internalized by individuals as a yardstick for self-worth. And yet, cognitive science has shown that busyness and multitasking come at a cost (Courage et al 2015). For example, attending to two or more tasks at once can impair one’s performance. And, simply living near a busy road has been found to correlate with an increased risk of cardiac disease and hypertension (Pindus, Orru and Modig 2015)!
On the other hand, increased mindfulness of one’s experience (e.g., paying attention to one thing at a time) as well as acceptance of it has been found to reduce biological stress reactivity, lowering cortisol levels and systolic blood pressure (Lindsay et al 2018). Slowing down and savoring events in the present moment has been found to enhance positive experiences (Quoidbach et al 2010).
The Slow Movement was launched in the late eighties, emphasizing a thoughtful pacing and savoring of life in its many expressions such as in food, fashion, media, counseling, travel, gardening, education, among others. The movement prioritizes the spirit in which life is lived above the speed in which it is executed, the quality and sustainability of experience over the quantity of output.
Bravo to the Slow City or CittaSlow Movement that has expanded to included ten countries around the world promoting the following mission:
“The recurrent theme of Cittaslow is identity: the soul of the local communities engages with modernity without being unduly influenced by globalization. Our responsibility towards the natural world and the coming generations requires us to be frugal and concerned for Mother Earth. Rediscovering Slowness means choosing a future of quality, for ourselves and, in the spirit of solidarity, for others.
Working towards sustainability, defending the environment and reducing our excessive ecological footprint mean committing ourselves to rediscover traditional know-how and to make the most of our resources through recycling and reuse, applying the new technologies. The final objective is lasting development (not synonymous with growth) and peace between peoples. This is what the Slow mayors do every day through hundreds of projects throughout the world.”
Check it out: www.cittaslow.org
It’s odd to say, but there’s something very compelling about being in the waiting room at the pet emergency clinic. Like many, I’ve had to drive there at various times of the day and night for my feline children’s digestive and urinary crises. I look around at the blurry-eyed people, reflecting the fatigue and worry I feel, and notice on their faces a raw vulnerability and tenderness.
At Pet Emergency, a poignancy comes forward, of people stripped of their defenses. An undiluted caring is revealed, in the gentle stroking of animals and murmurs of encouragement, that warms the cold room like a woolen blanket.
Clearly, we are capable of such whole-hearted attachment to other beings. The expression of the same uncomplicated love between humans, though, tends to get obscured through various defense mechanisms, tests and trials and power dynamics. It appears easier at times to unconditionally love one’s dog than one’s relative!
Neuroscience has begun to identify how interconnected we are across species, evident in the way the brain responds when people observe the pain of others. An individual, for example, will experience distinct neural reactivity in the face of another’s suffering. This type of interconnectivity is not only activated with human suffering; the same activation in the same neural regions occurs when one witnesses pain and harm inflicted upon other biological entities, specifically animals and nature. And human brains are not the only ones who respond in this way (Mathur et al 2016).
“Dogs on the Inside,” a 2014 American documentary film, profiles a Massachusetts minimum security prison program in which inmates foster stray or neglected dogs.
The development of trust over time enables positive changes to take place in the dogs’ behavior as well as in the nature of the inmates who care for them. The pairings of prisoner and dog allow both to transform: the prisoners are reminded of their capacity for empathy and love and connection with another being, and the dogs’ disrupted faith in people heals.
Nature is our home. No matter how urban our existence may be, no matter how far away we may live from anything resembling moving water or a green patch on the ground, we carry within us a hard-wired healing response to the natural world.
Plenty of studies have documented the psychological benefits of time in nature. A simple walk in the woods has been shown to decrease blood pressure and anger as well increase positive mood and ability to concentrate (Berman et al 2012; Hartig et al 2003). The positive potency of nature is such that even watching a ten minute film about it (as compared to a film about an urban setting) has been found to have beneficial effects on heart rate and stress reduction (Ulrich et al 1991).
You can just look at nature out the window and benefit from its healing resonance! A study of residential rehabilitation patients found that an unobstructed window view of a natural setting was associated with improvements in mental and physical health as compared to views blocked by buildings (Raanaas et al 2012).
Our bodies and minds appear to have a deep attunement to or kinship with the outdoors, reflecting perhaps that we live not only in relation to the natural world, but also as an intrinsic expression of it.
Bravo to the Canadian Government who announced this year that admission to all national parks, historic sites, and marine conservation areas would be free for its youth:
“By making admission free for youth under 17, Canada is celebrating families and the importance of our protected areas. We understand that by connecting with nature, youth will gain a better understanding of our urgent need to not only protect it, but maintain it for future generations.”
Parks Canada Agency News Release 12/21/17
Welcome to the no-self help blog!!
I’m delighted that you found this site and eager to have you check out what I hope shall become regular blog postings. As this is the very first entry, here is some information about the basic what, why, where, and how of this blog:
The no-self help blog aims to highlight developments in positive news and science. The “no-self” part refers to who we are beyond our individual selfhood, that is, the story our mind tells us about our identity as limited individual beings. The “help” part refers to how we can help get past such a story and discover what lies beneath it. No-self help is about humanity reclaiming its birth right as an interconnected, kind, and ever-evolving consciousness.
I decided to write this blog, first, to feel better. Demoralized from relentless exposure to negativity in the news profiling what’s wrong with people, I wanted to focus on what’s right about people. Though not always well-exemplified in the media or even in the social sciences, there’s a great deal to be said about humanity at its best. To balance out the picture, this post focuses on what inspires us to transcend the epidemic despair and isolation of our times, not just how to cope with it or get through it. In this blog, I hope to illuminate what gives meaning, joy and resilience to us as students of this unique and often challenging human curriculum.
Is there another agenda to this blog? Yes! I believe that, collectively, when people start seeing past the limits of their individual personhood (as the minds construes it), they can begin to access a wider intelligence, creativity, and sense of connection. People are more likely to see underlying truth and beauty in themselves and in others, and feel moved, as a result, to invest in the greater good. This blog is intended to help motivate such a shift in consciousness.
I am a regular person who feels called to share my voice in this age of platforms and social media. While somewhat shy by nature, I have decided to step out of my comfort zone of privacy, not wanting silence or a lack of participation on my part to collude with the current underrepresenting of what is positive and possible in this world. If you’d like more information about me professionally, you can go to my website: www.kategustin.com
The contents of this site intend to reference material from reputable sources: peer-reviewed published journals, valid internet news content, and other publically available resources based in fact. That being said, my opinion and personal subjectivity clearly drive the choice and discussion of each topic. I welcome your comments and, though I may not always be able to respond, please know they are valued and can contribute to the co-authoring of cultural change.
Here! The blog site is on www.no-selfhelp.com . Notices and links to it can be found via the no-self help facebook page: No-selfHelp@NoselfHelp or KR Gustin. Other links will become available as I slowly increase my knowledge of on-line technologies. Please let friends know about this web address if you think they’d be interested. If you would like to be notified of new posts or of no-self help events, please sign up on the contact page on this website.