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Institute for Jedi Realist Studies - My philosophy paper- Mysticism Without Gods - Institute for Jedi Realist Studies

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My philosophy paper- Mysticism Without Gods

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Taijibum created the topic: My philosophy paper- Mysticism Without Gods

Darin A. Hamel
Theresa A. Catalano-Reinhardt
MCC Philosophy of Religion
Due Date: Dec 03, 2013

Mysticism Without God?
Do you need a belief in a god or gods to explain mystical experiences? It is my intention to show traditional Western mysticism with its "god-centered" three ways of purgation, illumination and union, from a strongly-rational and materialist point of view, in order to argue that it is materialistic psychological processes and not a gods grace that initiates and determines the process of mysticism. It is my argument that supernatural forces do not cause the mystical experiences of advanced meditators and that they have their source in neuroscience, or perhaps in some advanced, but not yet discovered cosmological physics.

Defining "Mysticism"
In the Western mystical tradition, which comes to us from from the Neoplatonic school through St. Augustine and Pseudo-Dionysius, we are told that there are three stages in the process of mystical union (Garrigou-Lagrange, 2002, Intro. pg X), and it has been associated with seeking a direct experience of God through Gods grace. It is taught that we do not initiate our seeking God on our own, but that it is God who calls us and we answer. Our answer to Gods call is to cooperate with grace and reform our character as well as pray and meditation on the life of Christ.
The traditional divisions in the mystical life go by the names of purgation, illumination and union. Purgation begins the traditional Western mystical life. Most often it starts with a personal tragedy or some other powerful and profound reason to seek the meaning of life, a direct experience of something divine or enlightenment. Daniel Coyle writes in The Little Book of Talent (2013, pg 3), a manual on skill development that,
Talent begins with brief, powerful encounters that spark motivation by linking your identity to a high performing person or group. This is called ignition, and it consists of a tiny, world-shifting thought lighting up your unconscious mind: "I could be them."
At this stage we most often seek out a religious guide who teaches us the basic prayer techniques and meditation of our religion. Religions East and West begin with focusing on something such as your breathing or a word repeated over and over. Buddhist's have their Mala beads and Catholics have their Rosaries, but they serve the same purpose. This is called concentrative meditation and it is the easiest part to learn and also the most crucial. The main difficulty with meditation is when a person is told to count their breaths from one to ten and then from ten to one for twenty minutes, there is no way to observe their level of attention unless they are being observed by an fMRI or other brain scanning device. What happens is the meditators may sit there and not do the work. That is why those who have a profound reason to meditate most often get the best results.
Phase two on the purgative path and the beginning of the Dark Night of the Senses is the movement from focused meditation to mindfulness meditation. The reason behind the necessity of focused meditation before mindfulness meditation seems to be to strengthen the ability of the mind to hold its attention. Otherwise meditation is just daydreaming, or worse (Johnston, 1973, pg. 53-61).
After a period of mindfulness meditation the mind begins to let go of things. This is a painful period where we actively eliminate from our lives things that are not in line with our newly chosen vocation of mystic. Moral virtues are increased and our character flaws are decreased. Strictly speaking, the Dark Night of the Senses is the period after the happy, wondrous, thrilling and euphoric inner mental experiences beginners get in mindfulness meditation fade and they are left with nothing consoling or rewarding. This is just a baby crying for milk. As can probably be surmised, this is a painful process for the beginning meditator to go through.
Illumination is the stage that begins with the vision of ultimate reality. Thomas Traherne perhaps gives us one of the best examples of this vision of ultimate reality in Centuries of Meditations (1908) and Dr. Richard Bucke who wrote the book calls it Cosmic Consciousness (1901), also has a detailed description of the vision of illumination. What the reports of the vision of illumination seem to have in common are three things:
1. Illuminated Visual Perception- Vision changes from seeing the the surface or outer appearance of things to seeing the totality of a thing, inside and out. A sort of living, intelligent light is seen as the source of the existence of all things.
2. Serenity of Emotion- The emotional state of the mystic changes to serenity. All things seem to be in their proper place and it is "good" and this seems to be related to the feeling of timelessness. Instead of knowing you are so many years old you now feel eternal.
3. Revelation of Knowledge- Discursive thinking stops and all knowledge is revealed. Often the mystic actually states that all the study and books read seem insignificant to what is known in this state of being.
What follows the vision of Ultimate Reality is the Dark Night of the Soul, and it is this soul rending experience that separates the natural mystics such as the poets from the mystic masters like St John of the Cross, Jesus, and Buddha. While on the path of Purgation, the mystic felt the pain of withdrawal from the things of this world as they actively try to purify themselves. Now, on the path of Illumination, the mystic feels the pain of withdrawal from the sense of self and passively endures the self-abnegation that is happening without conscious effort on the part of the mystic.
This Dark Night of the Soul is the result of the withdrawal of the vision of Ultimate Reality. From here the ecstasies happen less and less until they finally cease as the Dark Night of the Soul comes into full effect. It is at this point that most mystics quit the mystic way and fall back into their past character flaws and suffer temptations such as have not been felt since before they began the path of Purgation.
The Dark Night of the Soul is the psyche reorienting itself to find a stable center after the mind-blowing experience of illumination. The vision of Illumination is not just a visual event. Illumination is an overload of knowledge, love and every other sense perception that we have including the knowing that we are just small finite beings in an infinite cosmos. In a very real sense, the Dark Night of the soul is our minds reorientation to the directly experienced fact that we are nothing. (Underhill, 1990, pg. 380-412)
The way of Union begins slowly after the Dark Night of the Soul. When at first the mystic desired to see God or experience Ultimate Reality, now the mystic simply seeks to be. The Dark Night of the Soul, if passed through, becomes the furnace that has removed all the impurities from our sense of self. It is at this point that the mystics say, "I am nothing", but at the same time, they become brilliant engines of creation. At first they may have hidden away and sought solitude, but now they fully engage the world in whatever work the world seems to need at the time.
We can only observe from the outside looking in on what this stage is like. Here the consciousness of the mystic is advanced to the point that communication with other people is difficult. The mystic in "Union" will often speak in parables, koans or in the case of Socrates, in questions. It seems at this level the mystic has as his or her only purpose the uplifting of mankind. They do not teach truths like mathematics, but they are passed to other people in whatever way that is expedient so the other person discovers the truth for themselves. Union is the stage where the mystic is made one with God and deified as it is said, God "assumed humanity that we might become God" (Athanasius, 1989, sec. 54).
The final end to those in the true state of union is called ascension. In the Western mystical tradition, a person need look no further than the Judeo-Christian scriptures to find incidents of ascension. The first being Enoch (Genesis 5:22-24), the second Elijah (2 Kings 2:11), and the third was Jesus (Acts 1:9-12). In the Western mystical traditions this last stage has fallen out of favor.

Does Meditation Cause "Mystical" Visions?
I will be using the following definition of meditation as, "a family of techniques which have in common a conscious attempt to focus attention in a non-analytical way, and an attempt not to dwell on discursive, ruminating thought" (Shapiro, 1980, p. 14).
The answer to does meditation cause "mystical" visions, may lie in the psychological studies of perception. As an analogy, take the hollow face illusion, which a concave mask of a human face appears to our visual perception as a normal convex face. The late Richard L. Gregory, formerly Emeritus Professor of Neuropsychology at the University of Bristol, in the article, Knowledge in Perception and Illusion (1997) says, "The strong visual bias of favoring seeing a hollow mask as a normal convex face is evidence for the power of top-down knowledge for vision." What this means is that our eyes are unaccustomed to seeing a concave face, so our minds fill in the gaps and turn it inside out so we see something familiar. Our brain is literally superimposing what it wants us to see upon what we are actually seeing.
There is a striking exception to this rule. At the Hannover Medical School in Germany and several other neuroscience institutes it was discovered that people with schizophrenia seem to be immune to this illusion. It seems that in healthy people the connectivity between the parietal cortex, the top-down control center, and the lateral occipital cortex, the bottom-up control center, increased during the visual test. In the group that had schizophrenia, this same communication between cortexes did not occur and it has been suggested that this disconnection is what makes them immune to optical illusions.
I am not suggesting that mystics are suffering with the illness called schizophrenia. What I think this suggests is that what the mystics teach us about the world being one unified living being is in fact entirely possible. Perhaps we do not see this fact because our minds hide that reality from us. Schizophrenics often report that the can feel the walls are breathing and watching them. Perhaps those with schizophrenia are just open to ultimate reality, but in an unhealthy way. Mystics often spend years preparing themselves for the mystic vision of union, whereas a person with schizophrenia may have the vision thrust upon them without warning and completely out of context.
Another exception to the optical illusion are those under the influence of drugs that mimic the symptoms of psychosis, such as THC, according to Dr Jonathon Roiser of the UCL Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience, and this may be because THC causes the same disconnection between the lateral occipital cortex and the parietal cortex, just like those with schizophrenia.
Dr Michael Persinger is a cognitive neuroscience researcher and university professor at Laurentian University, who has done ground breaking work in the area of neuroscience as it relates to mysticism. In the article, Quantitative Discrepancy in Cerebral Hemispheric Temperature Associated with "Two Consciousnesses" is Predicted by NeuroQuantum Relations,(2008), suggest that in normal living our left brain hemisphere is dominant and we get our sense of self from this hemisphere as well as our normal intellectual processes. Intrusions from our right brain hemisphere are noted in intuitions and in rare instances, during "mystical" experiences. At such times the sense of self is altered from a left brain discursive cogito ergo sum, to a right brain non-discursive intuitive timelessness and non-judgmental awareness of self.

Are Mystics just Experts in the Soft Skill of Meditation?
In order to define mystics as experts of meditation in any meaningful way we need to apply some type of metric to the word "expert". For example, in chess there are standard deviations and rankings which define a players ability from Class C with a ranking under 1600 up to a Grandmaster with a rating over 2600. 200 rating points differentiate each ranking of which there are seven and they are listed in this order; Class C, Class B, Class A, Expert, Master, Senior Master and Grandmaster.
Chess is considered a hard skill, meaning you need training to learn it. Soft skills are those skills that need minimal training such as soccer or public speaking. No game or vocation is totally one skill or the other, of course, and deliberate practice is required to master both types of skills. Those with a basic understanding of chess and who have sufficient motivation may enter a tournament. They enter at a ranking of 1600 and depending on how they do, either increase or decrease their ranking. With deliberate practice, experience and enough time, a person may advance from a Class C player to a Grandmaster.
There was a study on chess by Chase and Simon, (1973), that reported its findings of it taking an average of ten years to advance to the level of Grandmaster and further suggested it took a similar time frame in other areas of learning, such as the violin. Ericson, Krampe, and Tesch-Romer (1993) found that top level violinist practiced an average of 10,000 hours to reach their status. Progression through these seven levels of rankings occurs over time with experience and deliberate practice. Deliberate practice is defined as purposeful, engaged and intense. This is the type of practice where we consciously improve our ability instead of the rote, automatic practice we find in those who are content with their level of skill.
According to Fitts & Posner (1967), it takes only about 50 hours to become proficient in soft skills such as tennis or driving a car. You start with just learning the basic requirements of the activity. You focus on doing the activity, but mistakes are common and it is slow going. In the second phase of learning mistakes become rare and it is relatively easy to maintain the activity without too much thought and the activity becomes automatic. This is where most people stop progressing and enter a comfort zone. Those who progress to the realm of expert and mastery enter the third phase and continue learning after this point using deliberate practice.
Therefore, an expert by my definition, is someone who has spent approximately ten years or 10,000 hours in deliberate practice of a skill and they are seven levels of standard deviation above the median norm of ability, as it is normally tested.
What this suggests is that meditation as a soft skill that may be increased to levels far above normal levels of the average. These expert meditators may have access to ways of perception and thinking that normal people do not, much in the same way that an international grandmaster chess champion sees the chess board differently than someone who just started playing.

Conclusion
In ancient times, humans looked at the sun, stars and even storms and said, "These must be gods." Later, people became more sophisticated and did not say things were gods but looked at the entire universe and said, "What ever made all this, must be God." There have even been so called "mystics", who practiced ascetic practices such as fasting and meditation, and although they gained deeper insight into human consciousness and the universe, they once again pointed at visions or experiences they did not understand and said, "This (fill in the blank) must be God", and think that these experience prove the dualistic nature of the universe and the existence of God. I think they do just the opposite.
If these reports are true they suggest a universe that completely materialistic, however complex it may be. The mystic's perception is opened to experience more of the universe and not another "separate" universe as the dualists claim. It is much like the light spectrum that we can normally see and the much greater portion that we can not see. When the scientist builds a machine to look into the infrared spectrum or builds a radio telescope to detect gamma rays he is not detecting another universe. What the scientist is seeing are levels of our reality that just normally go unseen, but they are still part of this material universe. In the same way, when the mystic perceives the universe as a single living-mind, they are perceiving a deeper aspect of our material universe that normally goes unnoticed. Therefore, we do not live in a dualistic or idealistic universe, but a full-spectrum materialistic one.



Bibliography
Athanasius, Saint. (1989). On the incarnation. Crestwood, NY: SVS Press.
Bucke, R. (1901). Cosmic consciousness: A study in the evolution of the human mind. Innes & Sons, Penguin Books. 1991 edition.
Chase, W. G. & Simon, H. A. (1973). Perception in chess. Cognitive Psychology, 4, 55-81.
Coyle, D. (2013). The little book of talent: 52 tips for improving your skills. New York, NY: Bantam
Ericsson, A. Charness, N. Hoffman, R. Feltovich, P. (2012). The cambridge handbook of expertise and expert performance. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press
Ericson, Krampe, and Tesch-Romer (1993). The role of deliberate practice in the acquisition of expert performance. Psychological Review. 100(3), 363-406
Fitts, P., & Posner, M. I. (1967). Human performance. Belmont, CA: Brooks/Cole
Garrigou-Lagrange, R. (2002). The three conversions in the spiritual life. Rockford, Il: TAN
Gregory, R. (1997) Knowledge and perception in illusion. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society London B: Biological Sciences. 352, 1121 - 1128
Hick, J. (Ed.) (1990). Classical and contemporary readings in the philosophy of religion. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice-Hall, Inc.
Johnston, W. (1973). The cloud of unknowing. New York, NY: Doubleday.
John of the Cross, Saint (1542-1591). The collected works of st. john of the cross. (K. Kavanaugh and O. Rodriguez, Trans.) Washington, DC: ICS Publications
Kohn, L. (2010). Sitting in oblivion: The heart of Daoist meditation. Dunedin, FL: Three Pines Press.
Persinger, Meli and Koren (2008). Quantitative discrepancy in cerebral hemispheric temperature associated with "two consciousness" is predicted by neuroquantum relations. NeuroQuantology. 4:369-378
Peterson, M., Hasker, W. Reichenbach, B., Basinger, D. (2013). Reason and religious belief: An introduction to the philosophy of religion. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.
Shapiro, D. H. (1980). Meditation: Self-regulation strategy and altered state of consciousness. NewYork: Aldine.
Traherne, T. (1908). Centuries of meditations, London: private publication.
Underhill, E. (1990). Mysticism: The preeminent study in the nature and development of spiritual consciousness. New York, NY: Doubleday
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Kol Drake replied the topic: My philosophy paper- Mysticism Without Gods

Nice paper.

Mind if I chew on some facets?
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Taijibum replied the topic: My philosophy paper- Mysticism Without Gods

Go ahead. Its an early start on what will eventually turn into my graduate dissertation. Any criticism will help me with the final paper.
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Kol Drake replied the topic: My philosophy paper- Mysticism Without Gods

Taijibum said I should post this so anyone can read it... so here it is -- a 'knuckle ball scan and commenting on his paper'. Since I spent a few years 'chewing over' (researching info and proofing papers) for my ex while she was pushing for a second Masters... I like to think I have 'an eye' for general editing but I am willing to take as much 'editorial blue penciling' as I have given. And, I bet Mr. T would appreciate reviews and comments to aid in honing his coming thesis chops. So... blue editing pencils ready and.... go!




Mysticism Without God?

Do you need a belief in a god or gods to explain mystical experiences? It is my intention to show traditional Western mysticism with its "god-centered" three ways of purgation, illumination and union, from a strongly-rational and materialist point of view, in order to argue that it is materialistic psychological processes and not a gods grace that initiates and determines the process of mysticism. It is my argument that supernatural forces do not cause the mystical experiences of advanced meditators and that they have their source in neuroscience, or perhaps in some advanced, but not yet discovered cosmological physics.


The initial bullet title was catchy. It immediately wanted me to read more. Now, the actual sentence of 'what I am going to discuss'... almost lost me in the wording. Sometimes just doing a bit of 'word rearranging' outloud can make it flow better and better 'get to the point'.


Defining "Mysticism"

In the Western mystical tradition, which comes to us from from the Neoplatonic school through St. Augustine and Pseudo-Dionysius, we are told that there are three stages in the process of mystical union (Garrigou-Lagrange, 2002, Intro. pg X), and it has been associated with seeking a direct experience of God through Gods grace. It is taught that we do not initiate our seeking God on our own, but that it is God who calls us and we answer. Our answer to Gods call is to cooperate with grace and reform our character as well as pray and meditation on the life of Christ.



A promising start but it can also be noted -- the adjective “mystical” was not used widely until the 16th or 17th centuries. Before this time, the term “mystical” was used to refer to a depth of experience of God, but it was something expected of all Christians. Simply, the path of the mystical tradition was a way of recognizing one’s fundamental receptivity before God and of entrusting oneself to God’s Spirit. Since that time, psychologists, philosphers, religious scholars and others have put forth various definitions...

These days, 'mystic/mystical' is usually thought to mean -- one who has moved from mere belief systems or belonging systems to actual inner experience.

All spiritual traditions agree that such a movement is possible, desirable, and available to everyone. In fact, Jesus seems to say that this is the whole point! (See, for example, John 10:19-38.) Some call this movement conversion, some call it enlightenment, some transformation, and some holiness. It is Paul's "third heaven," where he "heard things that must not and cannot be put into human language" (2 Corinthians 12:2, 4).

Might have to decide which 'definition' fits your researches best...



The traditional divisions in the mystical life go by the names of purgation, illumination and union. Purgation begins the traditional Western mystical life. Most often it starts with a personal tragedy or some other powerful and profound reason to seek the meaning of life, a direct experience of something divine or enlightenment. Daniel Coyle writes in The Little Book of Talent (2013, pg 3), a manual on skill development that, Talent begins with brief, powerful encounters that spark motivation by linking your identity to a high performing person or group. This is called ignition, and it consists of a tiny, world-shifting thought lighting up your unconscious mind: "I could be them."

I have not really run across this triune of 'mystical life stages' before but it does tend to follow the more literal separation of 'stages' noted in many psychological dissections of ... aging, psychosis, recovery, etc. ... so, probably something that's been tossed about quite a bit over the last couple of centuries.

The 'triune' I am more familiar with in regards to 'mystic' is as follows --

***

Three men stood by the ocean, looking at the same sunset.
One man saw the immense physical beauty and enjoyed the event in itself. This man was the "sensate" type who, like 80 percent of the world, deals with what he can see, feel, touch, move, and fix. This was enough reality for him, for he had little interest in larger ideas, intuitions, or the grand scheme of things. He saw with his first eye, which was good.

A second man saw the sunset. He enjoyed all the beauty that the first man did. Like all lovers of coherent thought, technology, and science, he also enjoyed his power to make sense of the universe and explain what he discovered. He thought about the cyclical rotations of planets and stars. Through imagination, intuition, and reason, he saw with his second eye, which was even better.

The third man saw the sunset, knowing and enjoying all that the first and the second men did. But in his ability to progress from seeing to explaining to "tasting," he also remained in awe before an underlying mystery, coherence, and spaciousness that connected him with everything else. He used his third eye, which is the full goal of all seeing and all knowing. This was the best.

***
Third-eye seeing is the way the mystics see. They do not reject the first eye; the senses matter to them, but they know there is more. Nor do they reject the second eye; but they know not to confuse knowledge with depth or mere correct information with the transformation of consciousness itself. The mystical gaze builds upon the first two eyes -- and yet goes further. It happens whenever, by some wonderous "coincidence," our heart space, our mind space, and our body awareness are all simultaneously open and are nonresistant. What some like to call presence. It is experienced as a moment of deep inner connection, and it always pulls you, intensely satisfied, into the naked and undefended now, which can involve both profound joy and profound sadness. At that point, you either want to write poetry, pray, dance about the room or be utterly silent.

***
In the early medieval period, two Christian philosophers at the monastery of St. Victor in Paris had names for these three ways of seeing, and these names had a great influence on scholars and seekers in the Western tradition. Hugh of St. Victor (1078-1141) and Richard of St. Victor (1123-1173) wrote that humanity was given three different sets of eyes, each building on the previous one. The first eye was the eye of the flesh (thought or sight), the second was the eye of reason (meditation or reflection), and the third eye was the eye of true understanding (contemplation).

***


I would be negligent if I did not toss out an opinion that in today's world it seems the separation and loss of these three necessary eyes is the basis of much of the short-sight-edness and religious crises of the Western world. Lacking such wisdom, it is very difficult for churches, governments, and leaders to move beyond ego, the desire for control, and public posturing. Everything divides into oppositions such as liberal vs. conservative, with vested interests pulling against one another. Truth is no longer possible at this level of conversation. Even theology becomes more a quest for power than a search for God and Mystery.

One wonders how far spiritual and political leaders can genuinely lead us without some degree of mystical seeing and action (how can they preach / profess if they have never experienced a single 'mystical' moment?).

It is hardly an exaggeration to say that "us-and-them" seeing, and the dualistic thinking that results, is the foundation of almost all discontent and violence in the world. It allows heads of religion and state to avoid their own founders, their own national ideals, and their own better instincts. Lacking the contemplative gaze, such leaders will remain mere functionaries and technicians, without any big picture to guide them for the long term. The world and the churches are filled with such people, often using God language as a cover for their own lack of certainty or depth.

Sorry... the old soapbox is hard to totally toss into the closet...


***
The third-eye person has always been the saint, the seer, the poet, the metaphysician, or the authentic mystic who grasped the WHOLE PICTURE. There is more to the mystical gaze, however, than having "ecstatic visions." If people have ignored the first and the second eyes, their hold on the third eye is often temporary, shallow, and incapable of being shared with anybody else. One may only hope at the IJRS 'we' might nurture a rank of true Jedi 'mystics' who see with all three sets of eyes, not eccentrics, fanatics, or rebels. The true mystic is always both humble and compassionate, for he/she knows that he/she does not know. (( heh.. a little Zen with your christianity... :p ))

***

This struck me as a 'topic change'. We went from talking about the definition of mysticism and hopped over to 'how meditation can help induce a mystic experience'... with all the implied stages you mentioned in the beginning. Maybe just needed a defining 'break' sentence or another topic header title.

VVVVVVVV


At this stage we most often seek out a religious guide who teaches us the basic prayer techniques and meditation of our religion. Religions East and West begin with focusing on something such as your breathing or a word repeated over and over. Buddhist's have their Mala beads and Catholics have their Rosaries, but they serve the same purpose. This is called concentrative meditation and it is the easiest part to learn and also the most crucial. The main difficulty with meditation is when a person is told to count their breaths from one to ten and then from ten to one for twenty minutes, there is no way to observe their level of attention unless they are being observed by an fMRI or other brain scanning device. What happens is the meditators may sit there and not do the work. That is why those who have a profound reason to meditate most often get the best results.


I've read a few books and science articles on using machines to study brain activity during meditaiton, prayer, etc. -- most with the idea that they would show how specific parts of the brain were the 'god centers' or at the least, the emotional 'trigger points' to induce euphoric 'mystical' experiences. At times, it becomes more of a 'is the dog wagging it's tail or is the tail wagging the dog' situation. While the brain activitiy occurs in various regions (( and not conclusively enough to point to one spot or set of regions... )) it is unclear if they are actually measuring 'the experience' or only the memories of the experience or the emotions attached to the memories. Been a good dozen studies on meditating monks and praying nuns since the late 90s - present to generate another whole book -- let alone a paper!


Phase two on the purgative path and the beginning of the Dark Night of the Senses is the movement from focused meditation to mindfulness meditation. The reason behind the necessity of focused meditation before mindfulness meditation seems to be to strengthen the ability of the mind to hold its attention. Otherwise meditation is just daydreaming, or worse (Johnston, 1973, pg. 53-61).


After a period of mindfulness meditation the mind begins to let go of things. This is a painful period where we actively eliminate from our lives things that are not in line with our newly chosen vocation of mystic. Moral virtues are increased and our character flaws are decreased. Strictly speaking, the Dark Night of the Senses is the period after the happy, wondrous, thrilling and euphoric inner mental experiences beginners get in mindfulness meditation fade and they are left with nothing consoling or rewarding. This is just a baby crying for milk. As can probably be surmised, this is a painful process for the beginning meditator to go through.

Illumination is the stage that begins with the vision of ultimate reality. Thomas Traherne perhaps gives us one of the best examples of this vision of ultimate reality in Centuries of Meditations (1908) and Dr. Richard Bucke who wrote the book calls it Cosmic Consciousness (1901), also has a detailed description of the vision of illumination. What the reports of the vision of illumination seem to have in common are three things:

...1. Illuminated Visual Perception- Vision changes from seeing the the surface or outer appearance of things to seeing the totality of a thing, inside and out. A sort of living, intelligent light is seen as the source of the existence of all things.

...2. Serenity of Emotion- The emotional state of the mystic changes to serenity. All things seem to be in their proper place and it is "good" and this seems to be related to the feeling of timelessness. Instead of knowing you are so many years old you now feel eternal.

...3. Revelation of Knowledge- Discursive thinking stops and all knowledge is revealed. Often the mystic actually states that all the study and books read seem insignificant to what is known in this state of being.


What follows the vision of Ultimate Reality is the Dark Night of the Soul, and it is this soul rending experience that separates the natural mystics such as the poets from the mystic masters like St John of the Cross, Jesus, and Buddha. While on the path of Purgation, the mystic felt the pain of withdrawal from the things of this world as they actively try to purify themselves. Now, on the path of Illumination, the mystic feels the pain of withdrawal from the sense of self and passively endures the self-abnegation that is happening without conscious effort on the part of the mystic.


This Dark Night of the Soul is the result of the withdrawal of the vision of Ultimate Reality. From here the ecstasies happen less and less until they finally cease as the Dark Night of the Soul comes into full effect. It is at this point that most mystics quit the mystic way and fall back into their past character flaws and suffer temptations such as have not been felt since before they began the path of Purgation.


The Dark Night of the Soul is the psyche reorienting itself to find a stable center after the mind-blowing experience of illumination. The vision of Illumination is not just a visual event. Illumination is an overload of knowledge, love and every other sense perception that we have including the knowing that we are just small finite beings in an infinite cosmos. In a very real sense, the Dark Night of the soul is our minds reorientation to the directly experienced fact that we are nothing. (Underhill, 1990, pg. 380-412)


The way of Union begins slowly after the Dark Night of the Soul. When at first the mystic desired to see God or experience Ultimate Reality, now the mystic simply seeks to be. The Dark Night of the Soul, if passed through, becomes the furnace that has removed all the impurities from our sense of self. It is at this point that the mystics say, "I am nothing", but at the same time, they become brilliant engines of creation. At first they may have hidden away and sought solitude, but now they fully engage the world in whatever work the world seems to need at the time.


We can only observe from the outside looking in on what this stage is like. Here the consciousness of the mystic is advanced to the point that communication with other people is difficult. The mystic in "Union" will often speak in parables, koans or in the case of Socrates, in questions. It seems at this level the mystic has as his or her only purpose the uplifting of mankind. They do not teach truths like mathematics, but they are passed to other people in whatever way that is expedient so the other person discovers the truth for themselves. Union is the stage where the mystic is made one with God and deified as it is said, God "assumed humanity that we might become God" (Athanasius, 1989, sec. 54).


The final end to those in the true state of union is called ascension. In the Western mystical tradition, a person need look no further than the Judeo-Christian scriptures to find incidents of ascension. The first being Enoch (Genesis 5:22-24), the second Elijah (2 Kings 2:11), and the third was Jesus (Acts 1:9-12). In the Western mystical traditions this last stage has fallen out of favor.



Does Meditation Cause "Mystical" Visions?

I will be using the following definition of meditation as, "a family of techniques which have in common a conscious attempt to focus attention in a non-analytical way, and an attempt not to dwell on discursive, ruminating thought" (Shapiro, 1980, p. 14).


The answer to does meditation cause "mystical" visions, may lie in the psychological studies of perception. As an analogy, take the hollow face illusion, which a concave mask of a human face appears to our visual perception as a normal convex face. The late Richard L. Gregory, formerly Emeritus Professor of Neuropsychology at the University of Bristol, in the article, Knowledge in Perception and Illusion (1997) says, "The strong visual bias of favoring seeing a hollow mask as a normal convex face is evidence for the power of top-down knowledge for vision." What this means is that our eyes are unaccustomed to seeing a concave face, so our minds fill in the gaps and turn it inside out so we see something familiar. Our brain is literally superimposing what it wants us to see upon what we are actually seeing.


There is a striking exception to this rule. At the Hannover Medical School in Germany and several other neuroscience institutes it was discovered that people with schizophrenia seem to be immune to this illusion. It seems that in healthy people the connectivity between the parietal cortex, the top-down control center, and the lateral occipital cortex, the bottom-up control center, increased during the visual test. In the group that had schizophrenia, this same communication between cortexes did not occur and it has been suggested that this disconnection is what makes them immune to optical illusions.


I am not suggesting that mystics are suffering with the illness called schizophrenia. What I think this suggests is that what the mystics teach us about the world being one unified living being is in fact entirely possible. Perhaps we do not see this fact because our minds hide that reality from us. Schizophrenics often report that the can feel the walls are breathing and watching them. Perhaps those with schizophrenia are just open to ultimate reality, but in an unhealthy way. Mystics often spend years preparing themselves for the mystic vision of union, whereas a person with schizophrenia may have the vision thrust upon them without warning and completely out of context.


The use of the study of schizophrenia is good. Might want to do some more thinking about 'why this suggests'... I mean, you kind of shot out two sentences which are your 'reason for this stance' without a lot more to go on or to show. Might have to add some on the whole 'mystic seeing the universe as one unified, living being' -- or it sounds more like an association with the Gaia Theory then a 'unified field theory' (of experience). While I *do* 'get it' -- it is because I linked those sentences with your later reference in your conclusion about light and light spectra, etc. Might have wanted to put that here to better emphasize the 'there but not seeing it' aspect to strengthen the stance.

Again, sometimes some sentence or paragraph re-arranging can make a 'stronger statement' just by virture of placement as much as what is actually stated.


Another exception to the optical illusion are those under the influence of drugs that mimic the symptoms of psychosis, such as THC, according to Dr Jonathon Roiser of the UCL Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience, and this may be because THC causes the same disconnection between the lateral occipital cortex and the parietal cortex, just like those with schizophrenia.
Dr Michael Persinger is a cognitive neuroscience researcher and university professor at Laurentian University, who has done ground breaking work in the area of neuroscience as it relates to mysticism. In the article, Quantitative Discrepancy in Cerebral Hemispheric Temperature Associated with "Two Consciousnesses" is Predicted by NeuroQuantum Relations,(2008), suggest that in normal living our left brain hemisphere is dominant and we get our sense of self from this hemisphere as well as our normal intellectual processes. Intrusions from our right brain hemisphere are noted in intuitions and in rare instances, during "mystical" experiences. At such times the sense of self is altered from a left brain discursive cogito ergo sum, to a right brain non-discursive intuitive timelessness and non-judgmental awareness of self.


***

Is the brain hardwired for mystical experiences? Can it be stimulated -- by drugs or electrodes or meditation?

Here are the words of an actual 'experience' --

I stood in my bathroom ready to go into the shower and realized I could no longer define the boundaries of my body, of where I begin and where I end. Then the chatter in my brain went silent. For a moment I was shocked to be in total silence… I felt enormous and expansive, and my spirit soared. I remember thinking: “There is no way that I can squeeze the enormousness of myself back inside my tiny body.”

Instead of a continuous flow of experience that could be divided into past, present, and future, every moment seemed to exist in perfect isolation…On this special day, I learned the meaning of simply “being”


Wonderful experience, right?

Maybe it’s even the start of an enlightenment experience?

Nope.

It was the start of a stroke!

The stroke happened to brain scientist Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor. She suffered a severe stroke in her thirties. In the course of four hours, she noticed her brain functions shut down one by one: motion, speech, memory, and self-awareness. Her stroke disabled the left hemisphere of her brain. It took her eight years to recover and she now predominantly uses the right side of her brain.

This is how Dr. Taylor's describes the difference between both hemispheres :

The right hemisphere functions like a parallel processor, while the left hemisphere functions like a serial processor. So they process information differently, they think about different things, they care about different things, and I would say that they have very different personalities.

Our left hemisphere thinks linearly and methodically. It’s all about the past and about the future. It’s designed to take that collage of the present moment, and pick out details after details, categorize them, associate them with all of what we have learned in the past, and project into our future possibilities. It thinks in languages. It’s the internal chatter that connects us to the external world. It’s the calculating intelligence that reminds me when I have to do my laundry. And most important it’s the voice that tells me “I am”

Our right hemisphere is all about this very moment, right here right now. It thinks in pictures, Information in the form of energy streams in simultaneously through all of our sensory system and then it explodes into what this present moment feels like.



(From her TED TALKS videos... VERY worth watching!)
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***

One might be struck by the way her language parallels the focus of meditation. Figure at the IJRS (and just about any meditation instruction) is forever encouraging the student to let go of internal chatter, of linear thoughts, and of ideas about the ‘self’. To embrace the present moment, just as it is.

Suppose, depending on where the stroke (or multiple stroke sites) occurred, it might be stimulating the same 'spots'/regions of the brain as you spoke of above... with the fMRI lines. One has to wonder why more folks who are 'stroking' do not speak of similar experiences... while most who took LSD in the 60s spoke of very similar experiences.

Might look up the research/papers by Professor Richard J. Davidson who is looking into 'left / right' aspect in his researches into the brain’s response to meditation.

Also the brain research performed by Andrew Newberg and the late Eugene D’Aquili earlier this decade. Using SPECT (Single Photon Emission Computed Tomography), these two scientists identified the neuroanatomy underlying our ability to have a spiritual or mystical experience.

Or, the Director of the Center for Spirituality and the Mind at the University of Pennsylvania, Dr. Andrew Newberg. He examined the brains of Tibetan monks during peak meditation, Franciscan nuns during ecstatic prayer, Evangelicals in the throes of glossolalia — all with an eye towards understanding how brain function produces mystical experience. (( I've read one of his books from arond 2001 -- the research was interesting as were the brain scans but.. some of his 'conclusions' got a bit more hand wavy then even *I* thought appropriate ---- and you know how much *I* like hand waviness! ))

or read over this site page... it seems right in line with what you are looking into --

www.icrcanada.org/research/kundaliniconsciousness/brainortranscendent



Are Mystics just Experts in the Soft Skill of Meditation?

In order to define mystics as experts of meditation in any meaningful way we need to apply some type of metric to the word "expert". For example, in chess there are standard deviations and rankings which define a players ability from Class C with a ranking under 1600 up to a Grandmaster with a rating over 2600. 200 rating points differentiate each ranking of which there are seven and they are listed in this order; Class C, Class B, Class A, Expert, Master, Senior Master and Grandmaster.


Chess is considered a hard skill, meaning you need training to learn it. Soft skills are those skills that need minimal training such as soccer or public speaking. No game or vocation is totally one skill or the other, of course, and deliberate practice is required to master both types of skills. Those with a basic understanding of chess and who have sufficient motivation may enter a tournament. They enter at a ranking of 1600 and depending on how they do, either increase or decrease their ranking. With deliberate practice, experience and enough time, a person may advance from a Class C player to a Grandmaster.


There was a study on chess by Chase and Simon, (1973), that reported its findings of it taking an average of ten years to advance to the level of Grandmaster and further suggested it took a similar time frame in other areas of learning, such as the violin. Ericson, Krampe, and Tesch-Romer (1993) found that top level violinist practiced an average of 10,000 hours to reach their status. Progression through these seven levels of rankings occurs over time with experience and deliberate practice. Deliberate practice is defined as purposeful, engaged and intense. This is the type of practice where we consciously improve our ability instead of the rote, automatic practice we find in those who are content with their level of skill.


According to Fitts & Posner (1967), it takes only about 50 hours to become proficient in soft skills such as tennis or driving a car. You start with just learning the basic requirements of the activity. You focus on doing the activity, but mistakes are common and it is slow going. In the second phase of learning mistakes become rare and it is relatively easy to maintain the activity without too much thought and the activity becomes automatic. This is where most people stop progressing and enter a comfort zone. Those who progress to the realm of expert and mastery enter the third phase and continue learning after this point using deliberate practice.


Therefore, an expert by my definition, is someone who has spent approximately ten years or 10,000 hours in deliberate practice of a skill and they are seven levels of standard deviation above the median norm of ability, as it is normally tested.
What this suggests is that meditation as a soft skill that may be increased to levels far above normal levels of the average. These expert meditators may have access to ways of perception and thinking that normal people do not, much in the same way that an international grandmaster chess champion sees the chess board differently than someone who just started playing.


I'm just cranky so this ticked me off... since I've done chess and tennis and various forms of art creation. I suspect if you have anyone put in '10,000 hours' -- you are going to get a more refined skill set. And one can 'get lost in' any activity they are intently focusing on. Even to 'losing time' due to that narrowing of attention.

Seems a bit arbitrary (to me) to claim one action/skill is 'hard' while another is 'soft'. I bet you would get the same argument from the top tennis champs in the world who put in several hours a day of 'doing the basic moves', week after week, to reach the top of those world class tourneyments. Or (I am pained to use this example since I do not 'see' it as a 'sport' but... ) even NASCAR or Formula 1 racers might contend that it takes more then 'just' 50 hours to be an expert in their respective fields.

As for 'expert meditatiors' which can then have mystical experiences?
Perhaps... though there are some folks who have one on their first try. And others who have one without ever go into a meditative 'squat' at all. My ex has had a few 'moments of timelessness surrounded by a golden light' over her life... and none were meditative moments per se... though I suppose one might say they were pensive, 'quiet' moments.

I had one such time but it was not an 'enlightenment moment'... just a magical one -- standing in a backyard... trees scattered about as the sun was starting to set. Golden sunlight streamed near horizontally to me -- making the shadows of the trees seem unreal and well defined in the hazy, pollen filled air... time and thought 'stood still'... just because it was so beautiful to 'see' in the moment.

I once knew a kid who was all of 13 who had a major 'satori' moment -- and it took him a good month to recover from the experience -- and he had not done drugs or any form of meditative practices. And for a 13 year old... it was a life altering experience to say the least.

All that said, not sure how 'time spent' really helps to prove or dis-prove your contention that 'meditation generates mystical experiences' or that mystical experiences are a psychological (organically induced) phenomenon... at least not from the above.


Conclusion

In ancient times, humans looked at the sun, stars and even storms and said, "These must be gods." Later, people became more sophisticated and did not say things were gods but looked at the entire universe and said, "What ever made all this, must be God." There have even been so called "mystics", who practiced ascetic practices such as fasting and meditation, and although they gained deeper insight into human consciousness and the universe, they once again pointed at visions or experiences they did not understand and said, "This (fill in the blank) must be God", and think that these experience prove the dualistic nature of the universe and the existence of God. I think they do just the opposite.


ANY activity can indue those deeper insights... not just asectic practices. It's why dervishes whirl. Intense dancing can induce. As can singing or music (listening or making it) or... gluttony or fasting. Seems 'triggers' are easier to find and 'define' then the experiece they help induce.

Humans ... are natural mystics with an inborn genius for effortless self-transcendence. If you ever "lost yourself" in a beautiful piece of music, for example, or felt "swept away" by a rousing patriotic speech -- you have tasted in a small but revealing way the essence of mystical union. If you have fallen in love or have ever been wonder-struck by the beauty of nature, you know how it feels when the ego slips away and for a dazzling moment or two you vividly understand that you are a part of something larger.

Like all experiences, moods, and perceptions, these unitary states are made possible by neurological function. More specifically, they are the result of the softening of the sense of self and the absorption of the self into some larger sense of reality that we believe occurs when the brain's orientation area is deafferented, or deprived of neural input.

Seems you could find some research/papers to highlight this stance... which is parallel to yours... that the brain can 'make' it's own experiences and not 'have to be' religiously / Deity based.



If these reports are true they suggest a universe that completely materialistic, however complex it may be. The mystic's perception is opened to experience more of the universe and not another "separate" universe as the dualists claim. It is much like the light spectrum that we can normally see and the much greater portion that we can not see. When the scientist builds a machine to look into the infrared spectrum or builds a radio telescope to detect gamma rays he is not detecting another universe. What the scientist is seeing are levels of our reality that just normally go unseen, but they are still part of this material universe. In the same way, when the mystic perceives the universe as a single living-mind, they are perceiving a deeper aspect of our material universe that normally goes unnoticed. Therefore, we do not live in a dualistic or idealistic universe, but a full-spectrum materialistic one.



***

The above paragraph seems to take a turn -- I like it but I'm not certain it reinforces your initial contention. And, without more 'meat' on it, it is a ball out of left field when trying to tie it to "mystical experiences are organic/psychologically induced reactions to stimulii (in this case, meditation practices).



***
***

Mysticism, in its essence, is about the experiential. It points to direct experiences of that which others have then sought to do the impossible with – to put those deeply felt and powerful experiences into the limiting vessel of words. We need words to try and convey something to someone else. But words will never enable another to truly get inside the experience.

Take the biblical account of the Burning Bush.
There are some who just do not believe in that account in a literal manner. A bush that burned with fire yet was not consumed. And a Voice spoke from out of the bush.

Here is what can be 'known' -- and I do not mean ‘know’ in the sense of historical accuracy, but rather in terms of what the essential message of that moment in the story conveys to us. Moses, who had left his people and could have spent the rest of his life tending sheep and living among the Midianites, has a life-course altering experience. He is ‘called’ to do something else with his life.   So powerful is the tug that he is willing to go back into the lion’s den, so to speak, to confront Pharaoh and lead his people with whom he has had so little contact.

Perhaps it was the earlier interaction that he had had with a slave driver that weighed on his conscience for all those years until he could bear it no more -- realizing that he had a responsibility to change the situation for the enslaved. Perhaps it was a dissatisfaction with his simple life and the question that had gnawed at him as he wondered what his purpose on earth truly was. Perhaps he was really really tired of the smell of 'old sheep' AND all those hours upon hours, day after day standing on a hillock watching fluffies chomping scrub let him get pretty 'zoned out' -- if not totally 'zennishly/meditatively 'mindless'... But out in the wilderness with his sheep he had a 'mystical experience' that caused him to entirely change the direction of his life and, with it, the history of an entire people.

***

(( side note: I wrote a paper waaaay back during high school -- early 70s -- where I was defining 'God' as just a form of energy -- so that 'the Voice' was energy made to excite vibrations in the air to make 'sounds' and 'a burning bush' was a display of energy that 'looked like' fire but was not... so the bush wasn't really burning at all but showing an energy discharge of some kind. All easy peasy for an Being of Energy... ))

Not that I am diss-ing disembodied voices or fire retardant plants. Such a 'sign' would be a nice wake up call (or reassurance) that we aren't all crazy in this monkey cage.

***

What is most 'mystical' is finding mystical moments in everyday life/living. A bit like the 'way' espoused at the IJRS by some -- a spiritual path made up not of great sacrifices or extraordinary experiences, but of trying to bring the Force (Love, Universal Energy, pick a term) to the most mundane, seemingly God-less situations and still being awed by the 'magic' of those moments of experience. Figure, everyday life is constantly presenting us with opportunities to respond with love rather than anger, irritation, or disgust.

And even when one falls into 'the darkness', one can persist (and persevere) in seeking/seeing the Force/Love/the Flying Spaghetti Monster in the everyday. This provides a path out of darkness through a focus on action, despite a lack of feeling (feeling the connection to the divine/ or the disconnection of same). And of course, ego -- most expect mountaintop spiritual experiences. imo, the Force works such that it helps motivate 'us' to embrace (perhaps 'love' though that is a sticky wicket term) the people we consistently live life with in a way that demonstrates our commitments more than makes the 'self' feel good. This is true even when, or maybe even especially when, we really do not feel like doing so.

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Taijibum replied the topic: My philosophy paper- Mysticism Without Gods

Thank you! That was a lot of work you did. I can see I will be making a few changes. It flowed better when it was longer but I cut it down from 22 pages to 11 and I probably should have cut it down to 6. I'll have to print this out and digest for a while. Thanks again!
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Taijibum replied the topic: My philosophy paper- Mysticism Without Gods

Still mulling this over. I think I might just take all the science stuff out of it and replace it with Jungian stuff.
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Kol Drake replied the topic: My philosophy paper- Mysticism Without Gods

Great Googly Moogly!

That 'science stuff' is there to help support your contention that the 'mystical experience' is an organic/physiological event and not something springing from a religious/deity based connection.

Jungian analysis would be cool but... talk about opening a hand wavy can o' worms -- trying to compare his observations from more then a century ago to the fMRI and SPET scans of today!

Then again, he really did have 'experiences' so he had a real basis for addressing what he was talking about -- unlike many current religious and 'spiritual' leaders...

and just to remind/let folks know who Mister J was --

Carl Jung
(1875 - 1961)

Swiss psychologist and major contributor to psychotherapy, Carl Jung cultivated the ability to have visions from deep imagination. Some would label these explorations as mystical experiences while others would say they are more akin to the sort creative thinking artists do.

In addition to these experiences, Jung had several spontaneous visions when he was recovering from a heart attack when he was 69. All of his visions are described in detail in his book Memories, Dreams, Reflections.


***

Of course, Jung was not the only 'known' person to have mystical experiences... there is a long line of notables

Charles G. Finney, Jane Goodall, Albert Hofmann, Jean Houston, Arthur Koestler, J. Krishnamurti, C.S. Lewis, Claire Booth Luce, Blaise Pascal, Henry David Thoreau, Alan Watts, Virginia Woolf

to name just a few.
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Taijibum replied the topic: My philosophy paper- Mysticism Without Gods

I am wavering between philosophy, psychology and neuroscience as a major. I was hoping this paper would help me decide.
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Kol Drake replied the topic: My philosophy paper- Mysticism Without Gods

hmmmm..... those 3 areas "for fun" (they intensely interest you) or for future jobs or a little of both?

Where can Philosophy Take Me?

Things to Do with a Psych Degree

(( me ex was working on a psych degree as a 2nd Masters... but they were emphasizing more 'social services'/psych therapy -- so she spent lots of time writing 'case study' write ups for some classes and even a mandatory 'summer session/work' thing. Make certain the program is focused on what YOU are interested in... Plus, if you are thinking of 'hanging out a shingle' -- you are still required to put in several hundred hours under a certified Psych and take the state tests before you can 'do' what you might really want to do -- sit and sleep while folks yammer on a leather recliner... :P ))

Jobs in Neuroscience


As with all of these (and especially with the second and third) -- if you can intern in the summer or do the 'work/write up/whatever' ... it gets you brownie points to look at a 'real job' with that same company later. Especially if you are shooting for a neuro research deal.

That and 'location location location' -- some places are going to have a better spread of opportunities (big cities) versus small town, of course.
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Taijibum replied the topic: My philosophy paper- Mysticism Without Gods

Thanks! I have done a ton of research on future job prospects with each. I want to write, teach and travel to speak, do workshops and seminars on internal martial arts and meditation. I have already done it for St John Hospital here in Detroit and I made some decent money speaking at hospitals and universities about alternative health programs.

With a philosophy PhD I will gain legitimacy in a writing and speaking career. I have no interest in any type of counseling or clinical work in psychology. My goal in psych is positive psychology to once again help a speaking and writing career. Neuroscience..... neuroscience is just so freaking cool!

I have already been looking around at graduate programs and how to get into the best graduate programs. In a perfect world I would want Notre Dame. It is rated in the top 3 in the philosophy of metaphysics department.

On top of all that, when I graduate from grad school in 2018 or 2019, I will be in my mid-fifties. Thats pretty close to retirement. I DO NOT want to teach at a college. Yuk! I just want to take what I have already done with promoting and teaching internal martial arts and crank it up a couple notches.

I got my paper back. I handed it in early because if I didn't do well I could get a do-over. I got a 98%! I copy pasted your advice and I will use it when I need to expand the paper. I want to add the research with the monks and nuns, and also the lady who had the stroke. That is cool and I heard about her in a brain biology class. I need to get that book.
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