Where does consciousness come from?


It seems to me that, whoever we are and whatever our convictions, there is a single question we all need to answer.  The way we answer may well underpin how we live our life.  The question is seldom made explicit, but is often implicit in both scientific and religious beliefs.  For my own part, I wish that people were encouraged to give it much more attention, because it really is fundamental to our experience of reality. That question is: where does consciousness come from?

The Western view, for much of the past two hundred years, has been largely based on materialism – that is, the idea that matter is all that exists.  According to this model, consciousness is a product of the brain (See my previous blog: Are mind and brain the same? (http://davidmichie.com/blog/2015/09/01/are-mind-and-brain-the-same/).

It should be stressed that this view is not a fact, but a hypothesis.  And it is a hypothesis that generally works until it is pushed to extremes.  What kind of extremes?  Well, if consciousness arises from the brain – in a way scientists cannot, so far, explain – then how is it that some very capable people with high IQs possess hardly any brain at all?

How is it possible that people whose brains have been badly affected by degenerative conditions, like Alzheimer’s, and who have suffered from dementia for months or even years, can suddenly return to periods of complete lucidity in the minutes or hours before their death?

Why is it that people whose brains are, according to all the evidence, no longer functioning, can have some of the most lucid and vivid experience of consciousness of their lives (see my blog on near death experiences: http://davidmichie.com/blog/2014/09/27/what-can-we-learn-from-near-death-experiences/)

In the following video, Dr Bruce Greyson, Professor Emeritus of Psychiatry and Neurobehavioural Sciences at the University of Virginia, asks the provocative question: Does Consciousness need a Brain?  It is a fascinating and thorough presentation and I highly recommend it!

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The material in this blog is discussed in much more detail in my book, Why Mindfulness is better than Chocolate.

Australia, UK and Kindle edition:

Chocolate front cover


USA and Canada:

US cover



(Thanks for the image to: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/consciousness-vibrational-frequencies-resonating-oneness-priya)

Can Buddhists celebrate Christmas?

Dalai Lama at St Stephen's Cathedral, Vienna

Can Buddhists celebrate Christmas – especially those of us living in the West?

Of course we can!

What is un-Buddhist about peace and goodwill to all men?  About practising generosity and showing kindness to family, friends and strangers?  All of these are in perfect accord with Buddhism, and it is wonderful to have a culturally-agreed season during which special emphasis is placed on these activities.

For Christians, the birth of Jesus holds a particular religious significance, and even here Buddhists can offer our support.  In Buddhism we have many different lineages.  There are the major Zen, Theravadan, Chinese, and Nishiren Shoshu traditions, to name only a few, and then within Tibetan Buddhism each of the four branches – Gelugpa, Kagyu, Sakya and Nyingma – have many lineages, which we can regard as being like many different branches of family trees.  We may know very little about what goes on even within closely-related branches of our own family tree, let alone others.  We may engage in different practices and rituals.  But what unites us is far greater than what divides us.  When we meet a fellow practitioner, even from a different part of the tree, we feel a sense of kinship.

The same with Christianity.   When we read what Jesus actually said, according to the Bible, we find nothing that contradicts the teachings of Buddha.  The essence of his message – love and compassion, focus on inner development not material trappings, lift your sights beyond this life alone – are the same foundational teachings that we have in Buddhism.  In fact there are those who say that Jesus was a lama, and that the three wise men from the East who appeared at his birth, were Buddhists from India travelling to check up on where he had been reincarnated.  (Those interested in exploring this subject further may like to read Jesus lived in India by Holger Kersten – an intriguing book).

Of course we will always have fundamentalists among us who, for whatever reason, like to claim that there is only one, valid spiritual path – which happens to be the one they follow.  However much we may value our own tradition, spiritual chauvinism goes against the advice of all the great spiritual teachers who emphasise the importance of humility: we really don’t know, what we don’t know.  In matters of ultimate reality, which all traditions agree goes beyond concept, what matters is not the characteristics of the finger pointing at the moon, but the moon itself.

So, as Buddhists in the West, let’s celebrate Christmas in the proper way.  Not as an orgy of consumerism but, in the stillness of meditation, to encounter afresh the love and compassion which is our own deepest nature – and to share this reality with all the beings in our lives.

I’d like to express heartfelt thanks to all my blog and book readers, and all my Mindful Safari travellers, for your support and encouragement in 2015!  May you have a really wonderful festive season and here’s wishing each one of you, all good things for 2016!

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How do you pronounce “David Michie”?

 mickey mouse

A few months ago, if anyone had said I’d be writing a blog on how to pronounce my name, I’d have told them they were mad.  Only a completely self-absorbed narcissist would think that a subject worthy of a blog.  And I’m not one of those.  Or am I?!

It’s true that most people mispronounce my surname in a variety of different ways.  But I’ve had decades to get used to it, and it really doesn’t worry me.

So why am I writing this blog?  I can answer that question in just two words: Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi.

I recently had the great privilege of meeting the legendary psychologist who, along with Martin Seligman, established the positive psychology movement.    Apart from having the most spectacularly un-spell-able surname, even his first name had me stumbling.  Was it ‘Me-hale-ee?’ or  ‘Me-high-lee’?  Was the ‘y’ silent?  Which syllable was emphasized?

In the Speakers’ Lounge at the conference where a number of us congregated,  it became clear that I was not alone in my uncertainty.  Approaching the great master to shake his hand, most people seemed to either swallow his name, or avoid saying it altogether.  Mihaly was unmoved by this.  But other people felt awkward.  And it occurred to me that being comfortable saying someone else’s name is a necessary first step in developing a relationship.

As it happened, a Buddhist nun gave me the key to his name.  ‘It’s Me-high, Cheeks-send-me-high,’ she told me laughing.  Easy when you know how.

So to cut to the chase, my surname is not any of the favourite mis-pronunciations – ‘Mit-chee,’ ‘Mike-ee,’ or ‘Mick-eye.’  It is, very simply, Mickey.  As in Mouse.

It’s a Scottish name, and Aberdeen is the only city in the world where everyone knows how to both spell and pronounce it because there are so many Michies.  To be purist, the Scottish pronunciation has the ‘ch’ part of the name patterning ‘loch.’  But since that’s a sound most English speakers don’t  make,  and when they do are liable to become phlegm-flecked in the attempt, it’s probably safer just to stick to the Disney version.

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That’s all folks!



Guest Blog from Cass Lane: Will you dare to live?


Having published nearly 100 blogs, I thought it might be fun to share a fresh voice on this blog from time to time.  My first guest blogger is an amazingly talented young woman I have recently been in touch with – Cass Lane. There’s something about the sparkle and vitality of her work which I find really appealing, and which I hope strikes a chord with you too. Check out her work at Happiness + Wellbeing Magazine and also the Fauna Philosopher. She designs and writes these beautiful sites herself – and she is tuned right into the zeitgeist.  You may also like to try out her Truth or Dare game!

About Cass Lane


Cassandra Lane is the happy Editor-in-Chief of Happiness + Wellbeing Magazine, designated Word Wizard at Wild Spirit Co. and Blogger Extraordinaire at the Fauna Philosopher. A quintessential daydreamer with a penchant for cloud-watching, reading, chocolate-drinking and crisp, mountain air (or really, nature of any kind, but mountain air sounded a lot cooler), she can usually be found with a book in one hand and a journal in the other. The pen, of course, will be tucked behind her ear and quickly forgotten as she floats though the rest of her day.

Will you dare to live?

In 2012 I found myself challenged by three gigantic, not-fun-at-all events. I was fired – by text message no less – and with the end of year holidays looming (combined with just a handful of jobs I could, and did, apply for), there really wasn’t much for me to do except  twiddle my thumbs and think things over. Well, and take care of my mother, who’d just suffered from three serious heart-attacks. And console my dad, who’d been told he had type two diabetes. 2012 was a jerk. But it was a jerk I’d needed to experience.

Because then something important happened. It was early 2013 and I was on my kitchen floor, knees tucked up against my mascara and tear stained t-shirt, talking to the ceiling:

Okay, I understand. I’m ready to listen.

With the fragility of human life fresh in my mind, it hit me that there really wasn’t any time to waste. Why was I applying for jobs that didn’t light me up? Why was I wasting my time existing when I could actually be living?

I’d heard the phrase ‘do what you love’ before. In fact, I’d heard it so often that, for a long time, it seemed meaningless. But when the three events of 2012 went down, it became my mantra. It was time to do what I loved.

Fast-forward six months and I was the exhausted, but proud, founder, creator and chief do-it-all of a blossoming online wellness magazine and a full-of-heart copy-writing business.

I’d listened. I’d pushed aside my fears and embraced a new life that was aligned with my passion and soul’s calling.

It was great. I loved what I was doing. People loved what I was creating. And it was all green juices, bliss balls and zen meditations for another two years.

Until one morning I woke up and realised that I’d done it again: I’d somehow transitioned from a life that I LIVED, to a life where I existed. I was stuck in a rut. And it was only though an abundance of journaling and meditation that I dug deep enough to understand why:

I was a theoretical explorer.

This is a term I made up, but it’s the best way of describing my approach to life. You see, I read, learned and embraced the theory behind practical concepts like happiness, bliss, inner peace, mindfulness and self-help … but never actually did anything with that information.

Sure, I’d adopted a handful of self-care practices, but I was still hiding out in my comfort zone. I was still playing small and allowing my fears to dictate how much I truly lived, expanded and grew as a human being. I still wasn’t showing up for life.

Because I’ve always been a bit of a bystander. It was the safe option. I couldn’t get hurt, picked on or ridiculed if I was the person in the stands rather than the player out on the field. And when I started my own self-discovery journey, I carried these theoretical explorer habits with me.

Again, I listened. Observed. Learned. Became so full of information that I finally felt like I had accomplished something. And sure, I’d learned how to be happy, well and filled-to-the-brim with inner-peace-inducing self-discoveries.

But I wasn’t doing anything with that information. I didn’t feel happier or more well.

I was still a bystander in my own life.

And so I made a pact with myself: no more wimping out of the whole ‘lifething. From now on, I would start living my life.

Which was how I found myself immersed in the bravest act of adventure I’d ever experimented with: The Truth or Dare Game.

The Truth or Dare Game

The Truth or Dare Game was a  game I played with my partner. Like the game you probably played when you were younger, it consisted of coming up with inventive ‘truths’ or a ‘dares’ for each other.

And because I’m a bit of a self-discovery nut, I wove in thought-provoking questions that shed light on our true, inner selves and what made us, us.

And because Brian is a bit of a cheeky adventurer, he set challenges that got me nudging my big toe outside of my comfort zone and back into the world of the living again, all while putting into action the things I’d learned about how to lead a happy, well and blissful life.

It took a few weeks, but before too long I was shedding my spectator cloak and donning shiny, new adventurer wings. I was living again. And finally, finally, I felt alive.

So – and following a life pattern of learning and then sharing – I decided to create a game that would harness the potency of the adventure Brian and I had enjoyed  while maximising the self-discovery and happiness potential as much as possible.

Today, the Truth or Dare Game is a 21-day online adventure for earthlings across the globe that want to play and interact with the world again. Designed to inspire real-world happiness and self-discovery, this online adventure has been deliberately crafted to help you:

  • Learn more about yourself in a safe, pressure-free environment.
  • Have fun (remember what that is?)
  • Engage and play with the world around you.
  • Step outside of your comfort zone – just a little bit – each day for 21-days.
  • Be brave … without pooping your organic cotton panties.
  • Illuminate your shadow self (the part of you that you’re ashamed of and hide from, but that always pops back up – and sabotages you! – when you ignore it.)
  • Befriend your higher – and true – Hint: She’s pretty freaking rad.
  • Digest bite-sized chunks of self-realisations and figure out what makes you, you … without falling into a self-discovery coma (and never wanting to explore the depths of ‘you’ ever again).

It’s all completely online (the daily challenges are sent by email) and it’s available from anywhere in the world.

It’s also, not even exaggerating, the best thing I’ve ever created. And this is coming from the girl who discovered that when you dip french fries into melted chocolate, it equals bliss. Don’t knock it until you try it.

You can check it out and enrol now at thetruthordaregame.com

Thank you for reading my story and I hope I’ve inspired you to stop existing and start living again.

Cass x



The unexpected joy of writing The Dalai Lama’s Cat series


After publishing Buddhism for Busy People (2004) and subsequent non-fiction books, I sometimes found myself talking to people who were voracious readers, and had a keen interest in the subjects I wrote about. They hadn’t read my books – and they didn’t plan to. The reason wasn’t personal, and was quite simple: they didn’t read non-fiction. They never went near the Self Help shelves of a bookstore. And they weren’t about to start now.

Among these people were journalists, accountants and other professionals. The nature of their various jobs had the same net effect: having to deal with enormous volumes of non-fiction as part of their working life meant that when it came to the weekend, or going on holiday, the last thing they wanted to do was read yet more non-fiction.

Novels, stories, entertainment, however, was another matter entirely: bring it on!

This got me thinking about how to weave key themes and messages into a fictional format. When I heard that the Dalai Lama once had a cat, being a pet lover myself, I immediately though of what an amazing life the cat must have. If only it could talk.

What if it could talk? Or even … write a book? That was the start of The Dalai Lama’s Cat series. One thing I hadn’t counted on was how engaged readers would become in the life of His Holiness’s Cat – or HHC, to give her official title. Because the simple fact is that characters and stories engage us at an emotional level, which most non-fiction books do not. Novels can speak not only to our minds, but also to our hearts.

This is relevant because perhaps the one word that sets Tibetan Buddhism apart from all other traditions is ‘bodhichitta.’ This is often loosely translated as meaning ‘loving kindness,’ but it actually derives from two words. ‘Bodhi’ means awakened, or enlightened. ‘Chitta’ means mind … but critically, also can be translated as ‘heart.’ Bodhichitta is the mind of enlightenment. But it is also the heart of enlightenment – and the main motivation of Tibetan Buddhists is to attain enlightenment in order to help all other living beings attain the same state.

Among the unexpected joys I have felt, writing this series, has been to discover how much little HHC, Snow Lion, or Rinpoche – she is a cat of many names – and the cast of characters around her, have engaged reader’s hearts as well as minds. This is important because both our compassion as well as our wisdom are necessary if we are to live truly purposeful lives.

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Here are some links to the three books in the series so far:

DLC cover pic

The Dalai Lama’s Cat: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1401940587/ref=s9_simh_gw_p14_d2_i3?pf_rd_m=ATVPDKIKX0DER&pf_rd_s=desktop-1&pf_rd_r=0T83FJJTV5TNMR5TDRA6&pf_rd_t=36701&pf_rd_p=2253014322&pf_rd_i=desktop

US art of purring

The Dalai Lama’s Cat and The Art of Purring: http://www.amazon.com/The-Dalai-Lamas-Cat-Purring/dp/1401943276/ref=pd_sim_14_2?ie=UTF8&dpID=41RbJ11U9BL&dpSrc=sims&preST=_AC_UL160_SR102%2C160_&refRID=1AWKQCF80MTYC75Y90B4

Meow US cover

The Dalai Lama’s Cat and The Power of Meow: http://www.amazon.com/The-Dalai-Lamas-Power-Meow/dp/1401946240/ref=pd_sim_14_1?ie=UTF8&dpID=51hqtNkmV4L&dpSrc=sims&preST=_AC_UL160_SR104%2C160_&refRID=0ZE2FWJW6FNWKECTBFRK

(NB Different countries sometimes have different covers, but the content is the same).


Shiny eyes: Join me on Mindful Safari in 2016




When was the last time you got shiny eyes? When you felt so excited by what just happened that you couldn’t wait to share it with others? When you felt gloriously lucky to be alive?

It seems to me that as we get older, the less we experience moments of genuine wonderment. But one place I saw lots of shiny eyes a couple of months ago, was on our Mindful Safari trip to South Africa. The eyes were those of people in their forties through to their seventies. Some had visited Africa many times. Others were newcomers. But each one of us felt the same awe, incredulity, and amazing privilege to encounter some of the world’s most magnificent wild animals, up close and personal, in their own territory.


Every game drive is its own adventure. You don’t know who you may encounter. A family of lions, just metres away, resting in the shade. A pair of giraffe grazing on thorn trees in the mid-morning warmth. A leopard feeding off its prey in the uppermost branches of a tree, in the cool of the evening. Sitting in the Land Rover, taking this all in, and/or filming it on our preferred devices, we almost held our collective breaths, hardly able to believe what we were seeing. And getting back home, there was a lot of laughter and excited chatter over the fire as people swapped notes about what they saw, smelled and touched out in the bush.


The fact that we started each day with a guided meditation, and have other mindfulness activities throughout the day, is a great advantage when game-viewing. Whether as a novice meditator, or a seasoned yogi, we are all coming to this in the same spirit of curiosity. And kindness. In fact, ‘Be Kind’ is our one and only rule.

Those who are single, and don’t want to miss out on travel, appreciate being able to eat, meditate, and take game drives as part of a group – but also having the chance to unwind and enjoy some personal space back in our rooms in the early afternoons – siesta time!

Safari 2015 - Koala 051Safari 2015 - Koala 068

Right now we’re planning Mindful Safari 2016. Because a couple of the people who came this year have already booked in for next, places are quickly filling. And we have only 10 beautiful chalets available. So if you’re interested, please contact Barbara Tuner, our travel manager as soon as possible. You’ll find her contact details, along with dates and prices at: http://www.davidmichie.com/safari.html

Join me on Mindful Safari in 2016 – and let’s get your eyes shiny!

(To check out some of the photos from Mindful Safari this year go to: http://davidmichie.com/blog/2015/08/25/photos-from-mindful-safari-2015/)

(My grateful thanks for some of the photos on this page to Claudia Schnell of Claudia Schnell Safaris who, along with her partner Robin, are our hosts on Mindful Safari: http://www.claudiaschnell.de/claudiaschnellse.html)


Mourning our pets: when grief turns destructive

prostrating cat - cropped

Many of us have loved and lost an animal companion.  It is truly one of life’s most harrowing ordeals.  When we have especially close relationships with our pets, they are members of our family, often as loved as human members.  Their passing creates a void we know can never be filled.

Immediately after the passing of our pet, during the seven week period in which his or her mind is said to be in bardo, there are useful activities we can engage in (see:http://davidmichie.com/blog/2015/02/24/how-to-be-with-your-pet-during-the-death-process-tibetan-buddhist-practices/comment-page-1/).  Even if we have doubts about the Tibetan Buddhist presentation of the death process, these activities have a therapeutic purpose in getting us to focus on the one who has moved on from this life, rather than on ourselves.

But what about after the seven week period, when our loved one has embarked on their new experience of reality?  What do we do then?

Several times recently I have heard people say things along the lines: “She wanted to get a dog, but she couldn’t bear going through the pain of losing another one.”  Or “He was keen to have another cat, but it could never have taken the place of Cleopatra.”

We wouldn’t be human if we weren’t heart sore over the loss of a much-loved pet.  But we also need to get real about the nature of prolonged grief.  This has nothing to do with the being who has died.  When we grieve, we are thinking about me.  What I think.  How I feel.  How my life is this, that or the other.  Like other negative mood states, we are in a place of self-absorption.

Buddhism has always held that there is no surer way to make ourselves miserable than to think about ourselves.  If our grief over a lost pet prevents us from adopting a new pet, it becomes destructive.  No matter what kind of mental acrobatics we may perform to try to justify our thoughts and actions, what we are doing robs not only ourselves of chances to be happy.  It robs others too. We don’t honour the memory of those who have died by dishonouring the living.

At any moment there are thousands of pets, shut away in rescue centres, yearning for freedom, normality, connection.  How terrible to keep them locked up because we can’t get over ourselves.   What a very much better option to open our homes – and our hearts – to a new pet.  They can never take the place of our previous companion.  Nor should we expect them to.  But they give us a fresh, other-centred focus, opportunities to practice kindness and compassion – in short, they offer us the gift of happiness.

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My most recent book in The Dalai Lama’s Cat series is The Dalai Lama’s Cat the The Power of Meow: 


Meow US cover







Meow - UK



The Dalai Lama’s Cat Movie – Exciting Update!

cats at movies

Following on my June update about The Dalai Lama’s Cat movie (http://davidmichie.com/blog/2015/06/27/

exciting-news-the-dalai-lamas-cat-movie/) I am very happy to let everyone know that a screenplay has now been delivered – and it is terrific!

You can probably imagine the trepidation a novelist feels handing over work to a screenplay writer to turn into a movie script: what if the characters in the movie come out bearing little resemblance to the ones you created? What if the themes so important to the book are glossed over or ignored? We’ve all been to see movies of books that we love – and have come away disappointed. What do you do to try to make sure that doesn’t happen when it’s your own book?

Well, I’m glad to say that Ileen Maisel, Sophie Gibber and the team at Amber Entertainment (www.amberentertainment.com/) went to some lengths to make sure that the right kind of screenplay writer was appointed – and that there was plenty of discussion about what the screenplay should look like before it was written.

Jon Tilley is an award-winning writer with a wonderful sense of what’s required to create a family movie that’s both hugely entertaining and also conveys important messages in a subtle but profound way.

The Dalai Lama’s Cat Movie is not a direct translation of any of the novels for the simple reason that the novels are episodic in nature, while a family movie demands an attention-grabbing beginning and a dramatic middle leading to a thrilling and happy resolution. Jon has written a script which does exactly this.

There has been much to-ing and fro-ing in recent months as Jon developed an outline, notes were exchanged and discussions were had, before he went on to write the full script. As of this week we have a screenplay we’re all very enthusiastic about – that includes the team at Amber Entertainment, and the movie’s Guardian Angel, Sid Maestre.

What next? Having provided the foundation required for any movie – a script – we’re now reaching out to a director with the relevant experience and passion to take this project on. Once a director is appointed, things progress to casting and financing stage.

For the moment, Amber are leading discussions with agents and contacts throughout the movie industry. As soon as I have further news, I’ll share it on this blog, so we can all share the journey of The Dalai Lama’s Cat Movie together. Won’t it be wonderful to see HHC and the wisdom she learns, find a place in the hearts and minds of people around the world through the medium of film?

May all beings have happiness and the causes of happiness.
May all beings be free from suffering and the causes of suffering.
May all beings abide in peace and equanimity, free from attachment, aversion, and free from indifference.

Tell me who you would like to see as director of The Dalai Lama’s Cat Movie – and why?! Use the Comment box below.

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(Image of cats at the movies from: http://khpethospital.ca/pet-health-resources/at-the-movies/)

The power of words on Mindful Safari


landrover at sunset cropped

Most of us can remember a few words that were spoken to us at a pivotal moment in our life which had a powerful impact.  The person saying the words may – or may not – have been important to us.  But whatever they communicated struck us with such compelling clarity that it made us see things in a different light.  Perhaps it became the catalyst for change.

Why is it that ideas can have such power at particular moments?  Is it the ideas themselves?  The way they are expressed?  Or the person who said – or wrote – them?

All of these may be factors.  But the most important factor is our state of mind.  Sometimes we are more receptive to messages than others.  Everyday stress tends to push most of us in one of two directions.  Either we try to multi-task, keeping an ever-increasing number of balls in the air, unable to pay proper attention to any one of them.  Or we go into tunnel vision mode, ignoring all but our most urgent priorities.  Neither of these responses are exactly conducive to a receptive frame of mind.  We may listen to many pearls of wisdom.  But what are the chances of us hearing them?

One of the wonderful things about spending extended time in nature, such as on Mindful Safari, is that we remove ourselves from the demands of our usual environment.  We deliberately put ourselves in a place where none of our usual concerns has any relevance.  Where restricted wi fi means we can give ourselves permission not to have to check our In box.  Where all our needs, and even our activities, are arranged for us.  Perhaps for the first time in a very long time, we can devote ourselves simply to being in a beautiful place, the home of many extraordinary creatures, spending time in nature, and following the gentle, daily routine of settling our minds.

We can draw breath.

A calm, relaxed and open mind is the optimal state for ideas to make an impact.  An analogy I like is that of throwing a stone into a lake in the middle of a torrential downpour.  The impact of the stone will be hardly noticeable.  Compare it to throwing that same stone into that same lake but on a peaceful day.  The stone may create ripples widening as far as the distant shoreline.

When we are on Mindful Safari, we create an invaluable punctuation mark in our life.   A time for review and recreation.  An opportunity to consider timeless wisdom with the openness of a tranquil mountain lake.

To find out how to book on Mindful Safari in 2016 go to: http://www.davidmichie.com/safari.html Please be aware that places are booking up fast!

For photos/blog about this year’s Mindful Safari, go to: http://davidmichie.com/blog/2015/08/25/photos-from-mindful-safari-2015/

To receive more blogs about mindfulness in nature, and related themes, please click the ‘Follow’ button on the bottom right hand of your screen now! 

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How West and East have converged in understanding the mind

yin yang cats

Having moved from the Renaissance idea of mind as soul, through the materialist notion of mind as brain, Western scientists are now deepening their understanding of mind as a flow of energy, capable of consciousness and cognition.

This explanation shares certain elements of the previous paradigms, while dealing with their more evident flaws. Like Descartes’s soul, the energy model is not synonymous with the body or, more specifically, the brain. Particle can still be labelled ‘particle’. Wave can be called ‘wave’. But they are two dimensions of the same reality. We don’t tie ourselves up in dualistic knots trying to account for how the mind and body can be separate yet be affected by each other. The one is an expression of the other.

Materialists, meanwhile, were correct to identify brain functioning as central to mental activity, but the energy model sees the role of the brain not so much as command central as more akin to a receiver, like a TV set, an important nexus between energy and matter. Removing different components from a TV set may have a variety of impacts on reception. Damage to one circuit may deprive us of colour. A different fault may cause us to lose sound. But these specific problems relate only to that particular TV set. Even a completely damaged TV, incapable of functioning, doesn’t equal the end of broadcasting—only a problem with that particular receiver. The idea that the broadcast continues despite the malfunctioning of the receiver is precisely the point made by neurosurgeon Dr Eben Alexander in Proof of Heaven, and Dr Pim van Lommel in Consciousness Beyond Life.

The notion of the brain having an energetic dimension has long been an accepted part of conventional medicine—it’s the basis of electroencephalographs (EEGs), which are widely used in medicine to monitor brain activity, of particular benefit in the diagnosis of conditions such as epilepsy, in measuring the depth of anaesthesia and in identifying brain activity in comatose patients. Consciousness and energy are, to some extent, already seen as synonymous.

This model of mind is fascinating for many reasons, not least among them that western science has brought us to much the same destination as eastern contemplative traditions.

In his introduction to Einstein and Buddha, meditation teacher and broadcaster Wes Nisker likens the earth to the two hemispheres of the brain. The West represents the left hemisphere, its most gifted thinkers searching for the truth about reality by looking outward, deconstructing and analysing the material universe, using the deductive powers of reasoning. The East represents the right hemisphere, its wisest people turning their attention inward, seeking truth in the nature of consciousness, the origin of mental events and the relationship between body and mind. Mind was the starting point, because experience is only possible through consciousness. You might say that while the East has traditionally been holistic, the West is more focused on identifying distinctions.

Nisker observes:

In our time, modern communications and travel have served as a corpus callosum, connecting the two hemispheres and revealing an astonishing agreement about the laws of nature and the structure of deep reality. Taken together, we now have what might be called ‘the full-brain approach.’

The paragraphs above are a lightly edited extract from my book ‘Why Mindfulness is better than Chocolate.’ I explore the nature of mind in much greater depth in my book ‘Why Mindfulness is better than Chocolate‘.

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(Image of the yin and yang cats courtesy of:http://www.dailycute.net/Cats/Kitty-Yin-Yang/9740