Archive | February 2016

Lene Lovitch & Nina Hagen – Don’t Kill The Animals

Activism at its best… This is a true classic – great artists collaborating for a great cause!!!


Valentine’s day prediction

Valentines day The most prominent alignment of planets this month, although not an exact one, is between the two slower moving planets Saturn and Uranus. Because of their gradual pace, the alignment lasts for a couple of weeks, but really gets close around Valentines day. Saturn and Uranus come to within two degrees of a trine aspect. The reason why the alignment doesn’t eventually become exact, is because Saturn, although the faster moving planet, is slowing down on its way to becoming stationary and retrograde. Then Uranus will pull away in the night skies, leaving Saturn behind.

Even though there is a two degree orb or gap in the alignment, anything within five degrees could be considered already beginning to have influence. Of course the attempt at conjunction is close but stopped within a hair’s breadth. Not indefinitely though, for Saturn does eventually catch up and align with Uranus exactly to the minute and second of arc time on Christmas day curiously enough. So we may have to wait until then for the full effect of what we are attempting now to really take effect. That’s Ok. Patience can be a theme for the year. Everything comes to those who wait. Our is it those who want it badly enough?

As to the Saturn – Uranus trine, we are talking about two very conflicting planets archetypally speaking. Saturn was the stern old father god of the Roman pantheon who was so serious and restrictive that he even devoured his own two children, of whom Uranus was one (and Neptune the other.) With Saturn being synonymous with the stern father or headmaster figure, Uranus paradoxically is the Awakener, the archetype of innovation, revolution. He is the “lightning fast” compared to Saturn’s “old Father Time”. So they are not the most familiar relatives, despite actually being family – in a cosmic sense. Fortunately the alignment is a more harmonious trine, where both planets are in mutual fire signs. So for a change we can potentially see some sort of harmonious interplay between these planets. What that means astrologically is that we could actually find a window of opportunity for stability or creative balance between the old and the new in our lives. We should feel the ability to engage in new and stimulating experiences and ideas, even while obliged to do it within a structure of sorts. For example new tech or activity at work could be creatively fruitful for you. The fire signs involved – Sagittarius and Aries – facilitate new, spirited, creative projects, visionary ideas, even educational opportunities, things that can expand the horizons or the mindset. Besides that, orderly change can occur. Superiors, like the boss or landlords could be appreciative of your creative output or technical input, as well as a disciplined approach to work, and original ideas will be welcomed too. Any projects that require long and disciplined application, like learning and applying a new skill, or simply putting in overtime, should be favoured or rewarded. Even if it means waiting until Christmas until really reaping the rewards.

Besides that it would do us well now not to fall into a rut. Even change can actually become routine if we merely go around in circles. Then when even more challenging alignments between Saturn and Uranus occur in years to come, the forced changes may be more inconvenient or challenging. In other words now is a good time to make harmonious shifts, by the end of this month. Otherwise we will have to wait until Christmas, as I mentioned earlier for the same – and in fact improved – favourable winds.

Help keep cancer at bay by avoiding these chemicals

Avoid these chemicalsScientists are only beginning to investigate how certain chemicals may contribute to cancer development.

But given that we live in a sea of chemicals, it makes sense to begin reducing exposure to those that have been found to disrupt cancer-related pathways — known as cancer hallmarks:

1. Bisphenol A (BPA)

An industrial chemical used to make plastics that are used in food and beverage containers and the linings of most food and beverage cans.

How to avoid:

Read more


What is astrology really – an existential deconstruction

AstrologyAmongst astrologers – as amongst lawyers – there is no truth, only opinion. Even in science, half of what is being taught today will become irrelevant or actually incorrect in a few years. This is particularly true of the social sciences like psychology and sociology. And astrology may want to fit itself into that category. If even in science, which is a matter of evidence, half of what we know today will be wrong tomorrow (just look at the history of science up until now) then what can we say about astrology, which continues to use systems thought scientific over two thousand yeas ago?

Yet still we pursue astrology as if it were a source of enlightenment based on truth. Of course, the fundamentals of the astrological art have remained the same and always will. The 12 signs, four elements, etc, are the cornerstones of the system since the time of Ptolemy or Jaimini. Nevertheless, modern research and advancement in astronomy clearly shows that astrology is not scientific as such. As to who divided the stellar sky into the particular signs of the zodiac, designated certain quadrants of the heavens into their particular categories – the 12 houses – and so on… we can only presume that ancient scientists who ascribed these labels did so based on their observation of the planets positions and the events on the ground. And as further generations of observers came along, they added to that based on further observation. Even if the astrological fundamentals are written in sacred texts, the Brihad Parashara Hora Shastra for example, perhaps handed down from some transcendent source with greater insight than us terrestrials, still we can only fathom its depths according to our limited mind and senses. And in astrology there is so much room for speculation, interpretation and concoction. And there are so many variables and angles of approach or analysis that accuracy is never guaranteed. Yet still astrologers prognosticate, people inquire and blindly accept what is presented, despite not knowing the validity of the source of the information being presented. Any arbitrary website can sprout predictions about your day ahead or speculate on the signs of the times, and we accept it for some unknown reason. Any quack can put on a white coat and prescribe medicine to you for your disease, but will you take it? Probably yes, if s/he has a good bedside manner or a skill with word jugglery. As the saying goes: ‘A little bit of knowledge can be a dangerous thing.” Ultimately it boils down to the person from whom we are hearing or receiving the knowledge or information. The placebo effect has been known to work wonders. In the Middle Ages, and even subsequently, Catholicism would occasionally stumble across a cave or deity that was apparently able to perform miracles. A person would go there, pray and be healed of their malady. The news would go round and before you know it thousands are flocking to the place looking for solace. And sometimes it worked. And so it will, perhaps more because of the faith of the seeker in the place or the person who gave them the knowledge, the conviction and belief, more than the cave or deity of Mary herself. And of course as the rumours of miracles increase, so does the faith of the flock, and thus the reputation builds. I’m not saying miracles don’t happen. I am a firm believer in miracles. But is it the object of veneration or is it more the eye and mindset of the beholder that is responsible? Religion, like astrology is all about faith. Put your faith in the doctrine, or more easily in the propounder of the doctrine, and you lay the appropriate foundation in the mind for a successful outcome. So often we are projecting onto the external environment our own inner subjective psychic focus, our attention, and then are amazed when the object reciprocates with us, fulfils our wishes or rings true somehow. Even the so-called “conversion experience” is a known psychological state of mind that can happen to anyone in any walk of life, like Saul on the road to Damascus. The triggers may be varied, but the psychic shift in consciousness can be just as healthy for the seeker on any path.

Don’t get me wrong, I love astrology. It spontaneously appealed to me as a teenager over three decades ago and so I took to it like a seeker to the philosopher’s stone. Our brains are all wired to seek and see patterns, to seek meaning, and religions and systems like astrology provide us with just that. So naturally they appeal. We also all want to know about ourselves, to see our future, so naturally astrology still appeals to many, but at the end of the day the dynamics of why such systems seem to work may be different to what we think. It may not be the system we have incorporated into our lives that is the source of our answers, but rather our own minds and what they read into the system. Based on my experience, I’ve realized that one cannot become a fundamentalist about any such abstract concepts or systems of thought. Many zealots over the millennia have had their magic spells and words of power, names of God and talismans, like fragments of the cross, tooth of a saint, etc and due to their faith those have worked for them, even when the names or totems were as diverse as the religions of the world. For example where is Athena today, that great goddess that was worshipped in Rome or Greece in past ages? Her devotees are no more. So does she still exist? What about Isis? I mean the original one, not the fake terrorist group created by the CIA and Mossad to destabilise the Middle East and loot resources for Nato. Similarly in the art of astrology, once practised by scientists and priests of old, much detail that was once used is now lost or forgotten. So how do we know that we are even using it properly, or making accurate predictions or assumptions when our knowledge is so fragmentary. And yet still it works today as a panacea for many who need psychological insight, perspective or meaning in their lives. In other words, the system may be arbitrary, fragmented or even imaginary (as in Chaos Magic), but if the bedside manner of the astrologer (or priest on any path) is appropriate, people will find solace, meaning, courage or whatever they need to grow as individuals and become better people for it.

And that’s my two Rupees worth on the subject. As much as finding the right source of your information is important, even amongst academics and scholars there is a tendency to redundancy with time, especially in science. And as much as going to the original texts may be preferable, even there, how do we know we have all the data, the correct translation, or that some Dead Sea Scrolls may not suddenly be discovered one day telling us Jesus our Lord was actually a married black vegetarian. So much has been lost in translation or the mists of time, including those traditions with a disciplic succession. Ultimately it boils down to the person from whom you are hearing on the day, as well as how you and your mind interpret and apply the information presented. And both are required and need to be potent, authentic and sincere for the magic to happen. The rest is just detail.

You are what you think

You are what you thinkDo we really believe the enhanced versions of ourselves that we offer up to the world? How accurately do we really perceive ourselves, especially when looking at our astrological horoscopes? In a survey of a million high school seniors, 25% considered themselves in the top one percent and only 2% considered themselves to be below average. Even amongst university professors 94% said they did above average work. Psychologists call this tendency for inflated self-assessment the “above-average effect” and it has been documented repeatedly in numerous contexts from driving ability to managerial skills. This kind of inflation has been found amongst all types of people, from military men to doctors and particularly in the corporate world, despite opposing opinions from their superiors, subordinates or patients. However, when we look at the texts on spiritual awakening, we see that it is humility which is said to be the greatest quality, the true symptom of progress. “One should be more tolerant than a tree, lower than the straw in the street” (Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, 16th century saint). This is because spirituality teaches transcendence of the ego. The symptoms of awakening are detachment from the false ego, from the temporary body and mind.

Nevertheless, in the mundane world the stronger the threat to feeling good about yourself, the greater the tendency to view reality through a distorting lens. In his classic book “How to win friends and influence people” Dale Carnegie described the self-image of famous mobsters of the 1930’s. Dutch Schultz, Al Capone and others simply saw themselves as business tycoons or benefactors of the people. Ironically people tend to recognise that inflated self-assessment and overconfidence can be a problem – but only in others. So what’s actually going on here? In 1959 the psychologist Milton Rokeach placed 3 psychiatric patients together in a state hospital. They all believed they were Jesus Christ. Since at least two of them had to be wrong, he wondered how they would process this idea. It turns out that one did relinquish his belief, the second saw the others as mentally ill, while the third managed to dodge the issue completely. So in this case two out of three patients managed to hang on to a self-image at odds with reality. The disconnect may be less extreme, but the same could be said to be true of many of us. We may even – if we simply bothered to pay attention – notice that our self-image is not quite in synch with the objective image that others have of us. Generally our ego fiercely fights to defend its honour. It used to be just lunatics, but today it is accepted by researchers in psychology that even normal healthy individuals tend to think of themselves not just as competent, but even proficient, even if they aren’t.

Consider in this analogy how the mind uses two ways to get to the truth: the way of the scientist or the way of the lawyer. Scientists gather evidence, form theories explaining their observations, then test them. Lawyers begin with a conclusion they want to convince others of, and then seek evidence that supports it, while attempting to discredit evidence that doesn’t. The human mind is designed to be both a conscious scientist seeking objective truth and an unconscious lawyer impassioned in the search for what we want to believe. And these approaches compete in our minds to create our world view. Ultimately the usual direction in thought processes consistently tends to point from belief to evidence, not vice versa. So it turns out the brain is a decent scientist but an outstanding lawyer. Thus when we paint our self-image, the unconscious blends fact and illusion, exaggerating our strengths and minimising our weaknesses. The conscious mind then innocently admires the self-portrait we create, believing it to be a work of photographic accuracy. Psychologists call this approach taken by our unconscious lawyer mind “motivated reasoning”. It helps us believe in our own goodness and competence, to feel in control, and to see ourselves in an overly positive light. Fortunately our minds have a great ally: ambiguity. This helps us build a narrative of ourselves, of others and of our environment that fuels us in good times and gives us comfort in bad. As a result our unconscious mind can choose from a whole menu of interpretations to feed our conscious mind. In the end we feel like we are chewing on facts, though we’re actually snacking on a preferred conclusion. In fact biased interpretations of ambiguous events are at the heart of some of our most heated arguments. Researchers have stated that “ The same sensory experiences emanating from life, transmitted through the visual mechanism to the brain…give rise to different experiences in different people…There is no such thing as life existing out there in its own right which people merely observe.” Even amongst scientists, people’s views of the evidence are highly correlated to their vested interests. Studies have shown that research physicians with financial ties to pharmaceutical companies are significantly more likely than independent reviewers to report findings that support the sponsors’ drugs and less likely to report findings that contradict it.

Researchers have mapped in the brain the differing literal pathways used in computing cold, objective analysis versus other pathways used on emotionally laden moral judgements. So what techniques of subliminal reasoning do we employ to support our preferred world views? Our conscious minds are not total fools, so “motivated reasoning” won’t work if it stretches credulity too far, for then our conscious mind would start to doubt and the self-delusion game would be over. The balance must maintain the “illusion of objectivity.” Of course in some spiritual circles, sometimes profoundly abstract or unreal scenarios are presented as gospel, and it is then that the adherents seem to apply what could be called “suspension of disbelief”. This is the same strategy used by the mind when watching a movie, for example. Even though we know we are safely seated in our chairs at home or in a theatre, still we become gravely fearful, or tragically sad, as if the scene were real. Similarly, even when we are told religious truths that totally contradict our knowledge and experience of reality, we don’t disbelieve them, but rather we suspend our usual disbelief and we take on board that very “truth”, sometimes for better, sometimes for worse.

We all like to bolster our preferred views. People find reasons to support their political candidate despite serious credible accusations of wrongdoing, but take even third-hand negative rumour about an opposing politician as proof of their incompetence. Similarly when we want to believe a certain fact, even numerous scientific researches to the contrary will not give us reason to disbelieve. This is exactly what happened in the climate change debate. Through “motivated reasoning” each side finds ways to justify its favoured conclusion and discredit the other, while maintaining a belief in its own objectivity. And so those on both sides of important issues may sincerely think that theirs is the only rational interpretation. Those who disagree with us are not necessarily duplicitous or dishonest in their refusal to acknowledge the obvious errors in their thinking. More important, it would be enlightening for all of us to face the fact that our own reasoning is often not so perfectly objective either. It is an old cliché, but the experience of walking in the other person’s shoes does seem to be the best way to understand their point of view. And research suggests that the subtlety of our reasoning mechanisms allows us to maintain our illusion of objectivity even while viewing the world through our biased lens. Our decision-making process does not break the rules, but it bends them and we perceive ourselves as forming judgements in a bottom-up manner, using data to draw a conclusion, while we are in reality deciding top-down, using our preferred conclusion to shape our analysis of the data. So when we apply “motivated reasoning” to assessments of ourselves, we produce that positive picture of a world in which we are all above average.

Taken a step further, even Steve Jobs, the founder of Apple, was famous for his ability to create what has come to be called a “reality distortion field” where he convinced himself and others that they could accomplish whatever they set their minds to. And everyone has this gift in their unconscious, built upon our natural propensity to engage in “motivated reasoning”. For, according to some, belief in oneself is ultimately a positive force in life. Our unconscious is at its best when it helps us to create a positive and fond sense of self, a feeling of power and control in a world full of powers far greater than the merely human. Psychological literature is full of studies showing the personal and social benefits of holding positive “illusions” about ourselves. “Motivated reasoning” enables our minds to defend us against unhappiness, and in the process it gives us the strength to overcome the many obstacles in life that might otherwise overwhelm us. The more we do it, the better off we tend to be, for it seems to inspire us to strive to become what we think we are. “Fake it ’til you make it”, as they say. Otherwise – ironically – studies show that people with the most accurate self-perceptions actually tend to be moderately depressed, suffer from low self-esteem, or both. Perhaps they would fit in with the spiritually aware who have realised their true nature and the fallacy of their ego. Yet psychologically speaking, overly positive self-evaluation, on the other hand, is considered normal and healthy. So apparently as we confront the world, unrealistic optimism can be a life vest that keeps us afloat. I wonder who is right. What do you think?

Subliminal – The new unconscious and what it teaches us; by Leonard Mlodinow (2012)
Caitanya Caritamrita; translation and commentary by A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami; BBT