Karma is not something that happens to you

karma, when translated, means action
Karma is one of those words we don't translate. Its basic meaning is simple enough - action - but because of the weight the Buddha's teachings give to the role of action, the Sanskrit word karma packs in so many implications that the English word action can't carry all its luggage. This is why we've simply airlifted the original word into our vocabulary.

But when we try unpacking the connotations the word carries now that it has arrived in everyday usage, we find that most of its luggage has gotten mixed up in transit. In the eyes of most North Americans, karma functions like fate - bad fate, at that: an inexplicable, unchangeable force coming out of our past, for which we are somehow vaguely responsible and powerless to fight. I guess it's just my karma, I've heard people sigh when bad fortune strikes with such force that they see no alternative to resigned acceptance. The fatalism implicit in this statement is one reason why so many of us are repelled by the concept of karma, for it sounds like the kind of callous myth-making that can justify almost any kind of suffering or injustice in the status quo: If he's poor, it's because of his karmaIf she's been raped, it's because of her karma. From this it seems a short step to saying that he or she deserves to suffer, and so doesn't deserve our help.

This misconception comes from the fact that the Buddhist concept of karma came to the West at the same time as non-Buddhist concepts, and so ended up with some of their luggage. Although many Asian concepts of karma are fatalistic, the early Buddhist concept was not fatalistic at all. In fact, if we look closely at early Buddhist ideas of karma, we'll find that they give even less importance to myths about the past than most modern North Americans do.

For the early Buddhists, karma was non-linear and complex. Other Indian schools believed that karma operated in a simple straight line, with actions from the past influencing the present, and present actions influencing the future. As a result, they saw little room for free will. Buddhists, however, saw that karma acts in multiple feedback loops, with the present moment being shaped both by past and by present actions; present actions shape not only the future but also the present. Furthermore, present actions need not be determined by past actions. In other words, there is free will, although its range is somewhat dictated by the past. The nature of this freedom is symbolized in an image used by the early Buddhists: flowing water. Sometimes the flow from the past is so strong that little can be done except to stand fast, but there are also times when the flow is gentle enough to be diverted in almost any direction.

So, instead of promoting resigned powerlessness, the early Buddhist notion of karma focused on the liberating potential of what the mind is doing with every moment. Who you are - what you come from - is not anywhere near as important as the mind's motives for what it is doing right now. Even though the past may account for many of the inequalities we see in life, our measure as human beings is not the hand we've been dealt, for that hand can change at any moment. We take our own measure by how well we play the hand we've got. If you're suffering, you try not to continue the unskillful mental habits that would keep that particular karmic feedback going. If you see that other people are suffering, and you're in a position to help, you focus not on their karmic past, but your karmic opportunity in the present: Someday you may find yourself in the same predicament that they're in now, so here's your opportunity to act in the way you'd like them to act toward you when that day comes.

This belief that one's dignity is measured, not by one's past, but by one's present actions, flew right in the face of the Indian traditions of caste-based hierarchies, and explains why early Buddhists had such a field day poking fun at the pretensions and mythology of the brahmans. As the Buddha pointed out, a brahman could be a superior person, not because he came out of a brahman womb, but only if he acted with truly skillful intentions.

We read the early Buddhist attacks on the caste system, and aside from their anti-racist implications, they often strike us as quaint. What we fail to realize is that they strike right at the heart of our myths about our own past: our obsession with defining who we are in terms of where we come from - our race, ethnic heritage, gender, socio-economic background, sexual preference - our modern tribes. We put inordinate amounts of energy into creating and maintaining the mythology of our tribe so that we can take vicarious pride in our tribe's good name. Even when we become Buddhists, the tribe comes first. We demand a Buddhism that honors our myths.

From the standpoint of karma, though, where we come from is old karma, over which we have no control. What we are is a nebulous concept at best - and pernicious at worst, when we use it to find excuses for acting on unskillful motives. The worth of a tribe lies only in the skillful actions of its individual members. Even when those good people belong to our tribe, their good karma is theirs, not ours. And, of course, every tribe has its bad members, which means that the mythology of the tribe is a fragile thing. To hang onto anything fragile requires a large investment of passion, aversion, and delusion, leading inevitably to more unskillful actions on into the future.

So the Buddhist teachings on karma, far from being a quaint relic from the past, are a direct challenge to a basic thrust - and basic flaw in our culture. Only when we abandon our obsession with finding vicarious pride in our tribal past, and can take actual pride in the motives that underlie our present actions, can we say that the word karma, in its Buddhist sense, has recovered its luggage. And when we open the luggage, we'll find that it's brought us a gift: the gift we give ourselves and one another when we drop our myths about who we are, and can instead be honest about what we're doing with each moment - at the same time making the effort to do it right.

The Physiology of JOY - Part Three

There is a light that shines above all things on earth.
Above us all.
Above the heavens; the very highest heavens.
This is the light that shines in our heart.


The Physiology of Joy 

Joy, like all emotions, is a physiological event. The limbic system is THE relay station in the brain. All incoming sensory signals pass through the limbic system to other parts of the brain, for processing. 

The cognitive functions of the cerebral cortex depend on the sensory and emotional information supplied by the limbic system; cognition depends on the acquisition and retention of memories, in which the limbic system is involved. 

Emotions are relayed to the organs of the endocrine system and the immune system through a shared link: the autonomic nervous system. As a result, emotions can affect the internal organs that control the immune system. A positive mental attitude (Basic Health Habit No. 6) has the ability to boost body functions and the resistance to disease. 

The Physiology of Joy

A healthy brain is 65% fat and 75% water. The brain monitors and regulates all of the body's actions and reactions. Your experiences and how you think, dream, reason, and act, affect brain structure and develops neurological pathways. In a healthy body, it takes about 45 days for a daily habit to create a new neural pathway. Basic Health Habits are essential for healthy brain structure and function; healthy habit formation, and healthy emotion.

Two neurons talking

Nerve Cells
The brain, spinal cord and nerves consist of more than 100 billion nerve cells, called neurons. Each neuron is connected to other neurons by as many as 40,000 synapses. A piece of brain tissue the size of a grain of sand contains 100,000 neurons and 1 billion synapses, all talking to each other.

The nervous system functions as a communication system, transmitting messages along neural pathways. There are 5 trillion chemical operations every second. Information travels at about 268 miles per hour in a healthy brain.

Neurons gather and transmit electrochemical signals. They have the same characteristics and parts as other cells, but the electrochemical aspect lets them transmit signals over long distances and pass messages to each other. 

Action Potential
The ionic activity of the Na+/K+-ATPase (sodium-potassium pump), which is an essential part of the action potential (and the resting potential) of neurons, requires a reliable supply and stable balance of electrolytes throughout the body.

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Neurons receive and send messages with the action of neurotransmitters in a one-way direction across a synapse. Many neurotransmitters are endogenous chemical messengers with an inhibitory or excitatory influence and are synthesized from plentiful and simple precursors such as amino acids, which are readily available from the diet and only require a small number of biosynthetic steps to convert them. Some neurotransmitters may be the size of larger proteins or peptides. Neurotransmitters and Their Functions 

Some neurotransmitters are hormones. A hormone behaves differently than a neurotransmitter which has its activity limited to a neuronal synapse. A hormone  is a class of signaling molecule produced by glands, transported by the circulatory system to target and communicate between organs and tissues - to regulate physiological and behavioural activities, such as digestion, metabolism, respiration, tissue function, sensory perception, sleep, excretion, lactation, stress, growth and development, movement, reproduction, and mood. The chemical structure of hormones includes fatty acids, steroids, amino acids, peptides, and proteins.

Neurotransmitter Imbalance
Neurotransmitter imbalances have been connected to the cause of many conditions and diseases, including Parkinsons, depression, insomnia, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), anxiety, memory loss, dramatic changes in weight, and addictions. 

All imbalances involve amino acids, which form neurotransmitters. The acids are made up of protein and without a sufficient amount the cells are not structured properly; therefore not functioning properly. Neglect of basic health habits, compounded by chronic stress, are the primary contributors to neurotransmitter imbalance. We can reduce the risks and impact of chronic stress by taking care of our Basic Health Habits.

Positive Feedback Loop
The vasomotor nerves arise in the sympathetic system, and in the cerebrum, which explains the tremendous influence of the emotions. The vasomotor nerves furnish nerve impulses to blood vessel walls, causing them to contract and expand, and are in direct contact with both the cerebral and sympathetic systems. Thus, it becomes clear why every emotion like hope or joy or love makes for health while fear, anger, and hatred make for disease. If the effect of emotions on the sympathetic system can stimulate the circulation and produce a sensation of health or disease, then the organ may get out of order, and affect the emotions adversely in turn. If mental strain, and depression can produce constipation, then constipation arising from other causes may and does produce mental depression and nervousness. This positive feedback loop is present in most nervous disorders. The Mental Highway - Thomas Parker Boyd

In a reduction to the smallest part, and to the simplest function, a positive feedback loop also exists between physiological structure and function, basic health habits, and emotion

Even though the brain and nerves are a highly specialized  system, in the end these specialized tissues are composed of the same basic chemical elements, and require the same basic care as every part of the body.

The brain, nervous system, internal organs, chemical neurotransmitters, hormones, and all of it connected to immune and digestive systems; is a complementary, co-dependent, and cooperative ecosystem, dependent on your basic health habits

Neglect of basic health habits leads to physical deterioration, malfunction, a cascade effect of health complications; including an adverse effect on emotion. 

Health = Joy


coloured SEM of neurons (brown) and glia cells (blue)

Glia cells or Neuroglia regulates homeostasis of the brain,  form myelin, surround and support neurons and hold them in place, supply nutrients and oxygen to neurons, insulate neurons from each other, destroy pathogens and remove dead neurons.

Glia had long been dismissed as the connective tissue that doesn't contribute to learning and memory, as do neurons. With a  new and popular view of the brain as a functional whole, and new methods of discovery, the developing field of neuroscience now recognizes that glial cells do have some effects on certain physiological processes like breathing, and in assisting neurons to form synaptic connections between each other. Studies of Einstein's brain conducted in the 1980s revealed that Einstein had an unusually large number of glia cells in his cerebral cortex.

Brain imaging indicates that when people learn new skills, from juggling to playing computer games, the structure of specific brain regions change. These changes may be due to the glia's formation of myelin, a fatty insulating substance, around axons (nerve fibers), which speeds the transmission of electrical signals from axons.

Neurogenesis is the production of new nerve cells (neurons). Adult neurogenesis occurs in the subventricular zone of the lateral ventricles and the subgranular zone of the hippocampal dentate gyrus. As detection methods improve, it is likely that other areas of the brain will also be considered neurogenic. Studies have shown that a variety of extrinsic factors stimulate neurogenesis

Endurance exercise activates a protein called brain derived neurotropic factor (BDNF) which is referred to by scientists as brain cell fertilizer. Hyperthermic conditioning of the body to heat stress through sauna use has also been shown to promote neurogenesis along with increased physical endurance and muscle mass. Phyto-cannabinoids have been proven to increase neurogenesis and to stabilize mood disorders. 

Nerve Growth and Regeneration
When nerves grow, they secrete a substance called nerve growth factor (NGF). NGF attracts other nerves nearby to grow and establish connections. When peripheral nerves become severed, surgeons can place the severed ends near each other and hold them in place. The injured nerve ends will stimulate the growth of axons within the nerves and establish appropriate connections. Scientists don't entirely understand this process.

For unknown reasons, nerve regeneration appears most often in the peripheral and autonomic nervous systems, but seems limited within the central nervous system. However, some regeneration must be able to occur in the central nervous system because some spinal cord and head trauma injuries show some degree of recovery.

Optogenetics is a technology that allows scientists to control brain activity by shining light on neurons, and initially relied on light-sensitive proteins that could suppress or stimulate electrical signals within cells. This technique required a light source to be implanted in the brain, where it could reach the cells to be controlled. 

MIT engineers have now developed the first light-sensitive molecule that enables neurons to be silenced noninvasively, using a light source outside the skull. This makes it possible to do long-term studies without an implanted light source. The protein, known as Jaws, also allows a larger volume of tissue to be influenced at once.

This noninvasive approach could pave the way to using optogenetics in human patients to treat epilepsy and other neurological disorders, although much more testing and development is needed. 
For more information: Optogenetics

Cortical re-Mapping: Every part of the body is connected to a corresponding area in the brain which creates a cortical map. The sensory or motor brain maps, located in the cerebral cortex, are topographical; areas of the body adjacent to one another are adjacent on cortical maps. 

Remapping can occur in the sensory or motor system as a result of amputation or a change in neuronal characteristics. The part of the brain that is in charge of the amputated limb or neuronal change will be dominated by adjacent cortical regions that are still receiving input, thus creating a remapped area.

If you keep a green bough in your heart 
then the singing bird will come. 
Chinese Proverb

Apple Woman by Maria Zeldis
Green Bough by Anahata Katkin

@ Pinterest
Pictured: A Neuromuscular Synapse - The acetylcholine-laden vesicles are carrying and releasing the neurotransmitter into the synaptic cleft. A few of the acetylcholine molecules bind to receptors on the muscle cell. The cleft itself is packed with many elongated proteins including laminin, collagen, perlecan and flower-like acetylcholinesterase molecules serving to render inactive the neurotransmitter. Illustrated by David Goodsell, Molecular Artist

The Physiology of JOY - Part Two

The Nervous and Endocrine Systems

The Brain and Nervous System

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The Physiology of Joy
Part One

Emotions are relayed to the organs of the endocrine system and the immune system through a shared link: the autonomic nervous system. As a result, emotions can affect the internal organs that control the immune system. A positive mental attitude (a basic health habit) has the ability to boost body functions and the resistance to disease. 

Emotions are, in part, a chemical event; therefore the physical environment that you create through your basic health habits supplies the building materials for the structural matrix and the chemical ecosystem for healthy physiological function and healthy emotion.

Organization of the Nervous System 
click to expand

Autonomic Nervous System

The autonomic nervous system, (also known as the visceral nervous system - although it only connects with the motor side), is a division of the peripheral nervous system which is the part of the nervous system that consists of the nerves and ganglia outside of the brain and spinal cord, that function as a control system (largely below the level of consciousness), over the function of internal organs. These functions include heart rate, digestion, respiratory rate, salivation, perspiration, pupillary dilation, urination, sexual arousal, breathing, and swallowing.

Within the brain, the autonomic nervous system is regulated by the hypothalamus, one of the main structures of the limbic system. Autonomic functions include control of respiration, cardiac regulation, vasomotor activity (dilation and constriction of blood vessels), and certain reflex actions such as coughing, sneezing, swallowing, and vomiting.

The Sympathetic and Parasympathetic 
Nervous Systems

The autonomic nervous system has two branches: the parasympathetic nervous system (PSNS), and the sympathetic nervous system (SNS). The sympathetic nervous system is often considered the fight or flight system, while the parasympathetic nervous system is often considered the rest and digest, or feed and breed system. In many cases, PSNS and SNS have opposite actions where one system activates a physiological response, and the other inhibits it. 

The sympathetic nervous system is a quick response, mobilizing system, and the parasympathetic is a more slowly activated, dampening system, but even this has exceptions; such as in sexual arousal and orgasm, wherein both play a role.

In general, the autonomic nervous system functions can be divided into sensory (afferent) and motor (efferent) subsystems. Within both, there are inhibitory and excitatory synapses between neurons (brain cells). 

Relatively recently, a third subsystem of neurons has been described as non-adrenergic and non-cholinergic neurons; they use nitric oxide as a neurotransmitter instead of the main two ANS transmitters: noreadrenaline and acetylcholine - and are integral in autonomic function; in particular, the digestive system, and the lungs. 

Most autonomous functions are involuntary, but they can often work in conjunction with the somatic nervous system which provides voluntary control.

Adrenergic nerve cells utilize epinephrine (adrenaline), norepinephrine (noradrenaline), or a similar substance as a neurotransmitter.

Cholinergic nerve cells use acetylcholine as a neurotransmitter.

Nitric oxide, the precursor to nitroglycerin, is only exchanged in the sinuses when nose breathing, and is another important reason why nose breathing is the best method for physiological health. 

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The brain, nerves and nerve tissue, internal organs, chemical neurotransmitters, connected to immune and digestive systems, are complementary, co-dependent, and cooperative systems, dependent on your basic health habits. Neglect of basic health habits leads to physical deterioration, malfunction, and a cascade effect of health complications; including an adverse effect on emotion, which is a physiological event. 

Spread Joy by Help Ink

Coming Soon:
  • The Physiology of Joy Part Three
  • HEALTH COACH TALKS with Olam Qatan Proprietor, and Scholar, Ya'qub ibn Yusuf, in Jerusalem, About Joy
  • Part Four: The Psychology of Joy
  • What is Joy?
    • Neurochemistry: Happy Hormones 
      • Tears of Joy
      • Is Joy an Extraverted Emotion?
      • Vulnerability
      • Emotional Intelligence
      • Affective Neuroscience 
      • The Next Evolutionary Stage For Humans Is Already In Progress
      • Basic Health Habits and Joy
      • A Practical Guide to Joy

      DO YOU KNOW?
      • Neurogenesis
      • Cortical Re-Mapping (Neuroplasticity )
      • How Storytelling Affects The Brain
      • Daydreaming
      • Mindfulness Meditation
      • Dopaminergic Society
      • And more...

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