This publication can be found online at http://awareness.media.mit.edu/pub/andre.
This is my last post for this journal - how to move on from here?
My wife is a dedicated scuba-diver. She says that scuba-diving has changed her outlook on life, since it teaches to have trust in forces that are more powerful than yourself. (Joi, maybe you can relate to this?)
I thought that this idea is a good way to close my journal. It connects with a precious insight that I have gained from attending this class: perhaps, awareness starts with the ability to trust.
To carry on the good flow that this class has given me, I have decided to obtain a scuba-diving license before I finish my Ph.D.

It’s amazing to experience the deeper effects of my daily qigong practice towards the end of this term. When I was working on my final papers last term, I felt like I was drowning in work - I was nervous and sleep-deprived. This time, my work load is exactly the same, but it feels like the exact opposite of drowning. I manage to do my daily qigong in the morning, to take long breaks in between very focused work times, to even spend a few hours with my daughter, and to go to bed before midnight. And still I am able to meet all the deadlines. It really feels like a victory for me.
If the body relaxes, the mind is able to relax, too - how simple this principle is, but yet it took me an entire graduate level course to understand.

How can one find access to nondualism? I imagine it can be difficult to find it through retreat, silence, and introspection alone, as I understand nondualism as an ideal of absolute interaction - vibrant, dynamic, and powerful. Meditation practices help to relax, and to gain a more positive outlook through increased relaxation. But I believe that they should be only considered as means, and not as goals. What really matters in the end are actions, that is: how you use your relaxed body and mind to improve your interactions with others.

What’s life and death to you?
In search for the meaning of nondualism, it became very important for me to think about death.
I wonder if, to some extend, dualist thinking is the consequence of a fear of dying. This fear can transform a simple flow of life into a struggle of surviving, creating modes of self-protection that make it hard to trust, to let go of control, and to open up to change - it may be this kind of fear that separates the ‘I’ from the ‘you’.
‘What’s Life and Death to You?’ is a blog I started with my wife several years ago. The project got neglected once we had a baby, and the quality of the photos is embarrassingly bad, but I would like to share the link, since this course has inspired me to start asking this question again:

Slack doesn’t seem to allow me to delete my thoughts once they have been posted - every entry, every correction, every deletion is registered and accessible, my present Self forever stuck in the cloud, and I might meet it again, or it might be haunting me, many years from now.
To me, awareness has a lot to do with embracing change - it’s the acknowledgement that both you and your environment are constantly evolving. So how to deal with one’s online presence?
Slack has made me think that, paradoxically, I might not be able to embrace change if I am constantly trying to update and delete my virtual footprints. Instead I want to learn to accept their existence.

Usually I practice Qigong before breakfast, but today I had to do it around noon. I was extremely impatient, unable to be in it, and later frustrated that it didn’t work as usual. There seem to be different energy levels at different daytimes, that are suitable for different activities. Instead of calling today’s Qigong experience a failure, I want to think of it as a productive insight: I have learned that my energy level around noon is not ideal for qigong or meditation. Instead of expecting myself to be able to meditate anytime and anywhere, it’s more about knowing the right timing that usually works best for oneself.

I am getting interested in exploring ethics through the lens of science - what can the laws of physics, for example, teach us about compassion?

What is integrated awareness? I imagine it to be not a specific thought or a theory itself, but as a perspective, a way of positioning oneself to the world, a mode of thinking, talking and acting, a way to love.

Is concentration a form of mindfulness? I love the moments when I am sitting in a quiet library and get into the flow of reading or working on a text. Thinking, reading and writing is quite the opposite of letting go - but it can feel like it when you are so focussed that you loose yourself in a thought.

I started to practice Qigong without the help of Peter’s instruction video. What a difference it makes to practice without guidance! In complete silence, the body, the environment, and even time become more present. Since I have internalized the Qigong moves I am able to enjoy this presence. However, I recognize that I am finishing up much faster without instruction. I wonder if this is my very own pace that I should follow that way, or if it’s a sign of impatience that I need to work on?

The paradox of practicing meditation in the form of a school task - I have to force myself to integrate it into a rigid schedule although it is supposed to help me retreat from the pressures of this very same schedule. How much does meditation work if it’s a task?

I have realized that there are so many moments during the day that I spend waiting for something - for the train to come, for the class to start, for being the next in line, etc. I used to check my iPhone in these moments, although I know that there is nothing to check. Recently, I started to allow myself to just be there and wait. I consider these situations as instant meditations.

During our meeting last week, we have discussed that most scholarship on nondualism has rather come to acknowledge the fact that it is impossible to grasp nondualism through the act of thinking. Writing my journal for this class, I can relate to this dilemma very well. As a consequence of my qigong and meditation practice, it has become more and more difficult to find accurate words for what I am experiencing. As soon as I am trying to reflect on my practice, I seem to have lost what I found. All I can honestly say is:
It is what it is.
For these reasons, I have either been writing about concrete physical experiences or thoughts that were inspired by the practice. My actual experience related to awareness, however, has remained elusive to the realm of words.
I am very interested in further exploring the idea of integrated awareness - the practical consequences of a heightened awareness. Is it possible to represent nondualism, or even to establish a theory that is in itself a form of integrated awareness?

More and more parts of my body become conscious - during today’s Qigong session, I have suddenly realized a constant tension in my abdominal muscles that I had not been aware of. It felt like a real sensation to be able to channel my thoughts through these muscles and allow them to relax - made me realize that the body is never in a ‘neutral’ state, but always active and reactive to one’s state of mind.

My favorite Qigong move: ‘Washing Yourself with Qi from the Heavens’. You let your hands rise up towards the sky and visualize a healing energy that you are washing your body with as your hands slowly descend again. This energy is supposed to run not only over your skin, but also penetrate and rinse the body from within. Every day, I intuitively visualize this energy in different ways - most of the time it’s a light in a specific color, but sometimes it’s more like a liquid or even a flow of abstract shapes or pieces. Today it was a shiny, dark green, viscous fluid, yesterday it was a grid of sparkling lights, the day before yesterday it was a shower of tiny rocks. I find it fascinating how my day-to-day wellbeing manifests intuitively in these visualizations.

The moment I moved my hands carefully through the air and became aware of a subtle friction - how come that air is so often mistaken for nothingness?

After talking about the loss of Self in our class, I began to wonder if the idea of integrated awareness allows to reconsider boundaries as well. At a first glance, nondualism seems to describe the absolute oneness of the Self and the environment, that makes any boundaries between the Self and the Other unthinkable. But I started to wonder if nondualism can be also understood in a more pragmatic way - a way of simply being in tune with the environment. Sometimes, it is easier to be in tune if we establish a firm sense of Self rather than loosing the Self - a sense of Self opens up to the possibility of becoming one with the Other through enjoying each other’s difference.

I attended James Doty’s talk yesterday, where he discussed topics from his book “Into the Magic Shop: A Neurosurgeon’s Quest to Discover the Mysteries of the Brain and the Secrets of the Heart”. Doty talked about his impressive life path from growing up in a poor and troubled household to becoming a successful neurosurgeon and philanthropist. He considers his encounter with a woman in a magic shop at the age of 12 as a life-changing event. Doty explained that he visited this woman every day over the course of a summer, and received lessons from her that helped him to manage stressful situations.
It seems that this woman was able to equip Doty with a sense of Self that is different from the circumstances he has been growing up in. She taught him how to live with these circumstances, without living them out himself. This combination of acceptance and emancipation set him free, and enabled him to move on.
On a related note, Doty mentioned in his talk that destructive emotions do not represent you - they rather represent unfavorable circumstances that you are in. He said that he has learned that such circumstances change automatically if you change your reaction to them. The key to such a change is self-acceptance - to understand your place and purpose in the world, including your past experiences, your present circumstances, as well as your future opportunities. When you are completely aware and accepting of these layers, you are free of self-doubts, which are the actual cause of fear and other destructive emotions and disrupt the ways we interact with each other.
Doty’s story made me contemplate that transformation on the scale of society is only possible if its individuals are able to transform from within.
In this regard, I think that his story also brings to light the tremendous but often underestimated relevance of psychological knowledge and counseling for improving the wellbeing of a society. The story is a proof that every person is able to be a confident, compassionate and genius being if he or she is able to make the profound experience of being fully recognized, understood and appreciated by another person. As I am raising a child myself, I think it is most of all the job of parents to make sure they have the capacity and insight to provide their children this experience on a lifelong basis. But I also consider it as a fundamental responsibility as a teacher interacting with my students to recognize and foster each and every one’s native genius. After all, Doty’s story shows that, even if someone cannot receive such a care at home, an attentive counselor, teacher, or friend can provide it retrospectively and change a person’s life forever.

The more my body gets used to the Qi Gong routine and the movements become intuitive, the more I can feel a mental ‘detox’ during the practice. It’s very much like daydreaming: my mind wanders and reflects all sorts of situations from previous days, but I’m not holding on to them. It feels like my mind and my Self are allowed to be independent from each other. While I am completely silent inside and out, my mind chatters, and I am OK with that.

What is entanglement?
My wife joined me in the 100 day Qi Gong challenge. We’re trying to wake up an hour earlier than usual and do the practice right after drinking a glass of fresh lemon juice mixed with water (since our daughter is being home-schooled, this is the only time we have for ourselves without disruption). We usually don’t communicate before and during the practice, so Peter is the first person who talks to us from the video after waking up.
Interestingly, on most of the days, when we catch up after the practice, we find out that we’ve been in the same state of mind - on some days we’re both more focussed than on others, on some days we feel our bodies more than on others, and on some days we even feel a strain in similar parts of our bodies.
How come that we are entangled this way? Are we synchronizing from within ourselves, or are we rather being synchronized through a web of mutual social and environmental conditions?

Before I started Qi Gong, I used to feel my body through its bones, almost like a framework. Now, since I have started Qi Gong, I rather feel the flesh, or whatever is in between my bones, what is holding them together. I feel more consistent, and solid.

I have been practicing Qi-Gong every morning for more than a month now. It is especially fascinating to feel a warm energy building up on top of my hand palms during the practice - on days I manage to be focused I feel this more, on days my mind wanders I feel this less.
When I used to live in Japan, I met several people who said that one’s body is surrounded by an aura. Some of these people even claimed to be able to see this aura as colors radiating from the body. All of them agreed that the happier you are the brighter is your aura.
I got very interested in the notion of aura and was looking for scientific research on this. There an interesting study that argues that different emotional states are associated with topographically distinct and culturally universal bodily sensations. In this study, participants were shown two silhouettes of bodies alongside emotional stimuli. They were asked to mark the bodily regions whose activity they felt increasing or decreasing while responding to each stimulus. It shows that people associate depression with a general decreased activity, and happiness with an increased activity of the body. How does this increased activity create a bright aura that some people claim to see? I am still looking for answers. (this is the study I am talking about: Nummenmaa, Lauri; Glerean, Enrico; Hari, Riitta; Hietanen, Jari K.: 'Bodily Maps of Emotions’. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. January 2014, Vol.111(2), pp. 646-51)
All of these ideas are an intuitive framing of the body as an energy field that is interrelated with one’s state of mind. I wonder how physical an emotion is, or if matter is charged with emotional energy. Is it possible to alter one’s ‘aura’ with increasing awareness?

Since I started exploring the body scan as a form of meditation practice, I have unintentionally become aware of my heartbeat in several situations - this sudden shift of focus is always quite shocking: the heart turns into a beating object I carry inside of me - an object that I am not able to see or actively control, but that keeps me alive within this body. It’s confusing to think of the body not as something that is alive and that I possibly choose to keep alive as a whole, but as something that is a sum of a vast diversity of alive parts. As I reframe my body as a complex system of fluids, chemicals, bacteria and many other actants - of processes, movements and flows - that go way beyond my control and understanding, I become both humble and curious: how and why am I always able to transcend this dazzling complexity and make sense of a coherent Me?

What if empathy is not an understanding of the Other, but rather a discovery of the Self in the Other?

walking meditation on a windy day:
It is not the things that are moving, but the wind that is moving them.
To live or to be lived - that is a good question.

Peter Wayne mentioned that consciousness is not only in the head, but everywhere in the body.
I imagine that consciousness is part of the fabric of matter itself - that matter thinks, acts, lives.
It is important to ask what something does rather than what it is.

An unidentifiable leaf in my salad - and my immediate decision to sort it out: an example of unconscious thinking in categories, and a mistrust towards anything that doesn’t fit in.
Maybe mistrust was and is a necessary strategy of survival (‘I have learned that these leaves are not poisonous, but what about that one?’). - But how much of this is needed, and healthy, nowadays?
I also wonder if it is actually possible to think without categories and what that would be like - isn’t there always a larger box surrounding the box you’re trying to get rid off?!

This week I went to bed at the same time as my daughter (9 pm). I wanted to let my body choose its own timing when to wake up - my daughter sleeps around 11 hours at night, so I thought my body would be given enough time. But this wasn’t the case - when my daughter woke me up 12 hours later, I barely got out of bed.
I repeated this experiment for the rest of the week, but I kept sleeping for 11 or 12 hours until my daughter woke me up. The longer I did this experiment, the more I got exhausted. My body and mind became heavy, blurred, drowsy. I know that having too much sleep is as unhealthy as not getting enough sleep. So I wondered why my body wasn’t able to wake up on its own?
For the four years since my daughter was born, my body has never been given the chance to wake up on its own timing - every day, I have been woken up either by the alarm clock or by my daughter. On busy days, I had around 6 hours of sleep, on good days 7 to 8 - not too bad, I believe. But this week I became aware of the profound impact of the habit (or necessity) to condition the body to wake and rest within a schedule that does not necessarily match one’s individual biological clock.
I believe that it is not only the amount of sleep, but also the timing when to sleep, that is crucial for physical wellbeing.

I was in the library and the sun suddenly shone through the window directly on my face. The light beam somehow captivated me, and I ended up gazing at the light with my eyes half open half closed for several minutes. All I felt in this moment was this white, blazing energy, while everything else became blurred. The longer I gazed, the less I paid attention to my body, its boundaries, its gravity, its friction. I sort of blended with the light - my accidental moment of ‘enlightenment’.
Later that day I attended a group meditation session at Harvard - the instructor did a body scan, which is a guided mindfulness practice to carefully focus on your different body parts one by one. What a great contrast to my previous experience!
Are there perhaps two different directions towards awareness? A becoming aware of the environment on the one hand, and a becoming aware of one’s physical and mental presence within that environment on the other?
The Self and the Other - it seems that these are two oppositional directions on the same cycle. You can only become aware of one by considering the other.
I am interested in further discussing the interdependence of ‘separateness’ and ‘relatedness’.

Since my daughter was born, I certainly have become more aware of the profound meaning of nondualism. The experience of raising a child has shaken my ego fundamentally - and it is breathtaking to realize how vast and paralyzing this ego can be. You think it’s the center you’re unavoidably spinning around, until there is another life that requires your attention. This experience has been especially intense with regard to sleep - the sleeping cycles of an adult and a baby are completely different, and I found it challenging to handle sleep deprivation.
There is me - a human being who is used to satisfying his needs. And there is her - a newborn human being who is in need of my help for physical - and emotional - survival. How much of your personal needs do you actually need to satisfy in order to live? - When I hear my daughter cry, I realize: far less than my ego allowed me to believe.
The experience of raising a child has emptied me - it challenges me to redefine the center I spin around. And the further I spin away from this ego, the lighter, and, surprisingly, the more complete I feel.
Is this experience - the moments of playing, of feeding, of comforting, of laughing together, short: of undivided attention - a form of mindfulness, or even meditation?
I am interested in liberating the idea of meditation from the context of ‘exercise’ and ‘retreat’. I would like to see if there is a threshold where meditation turns into a more practical, lived experience - a sphere of social interaction.
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Joichi Ito 4/22/2016
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How come that we are entangled this way? Are we synchronizing from within ourselves, or are we rather being synchronized through a web of mutual social and environmental conditions?
How come that we are entangled this way?
Interesting. Let me know if you find anything about this. Would be interesting to talk to Peter. Let me know if you want to email him.
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Andre Uhl 5/3/2016
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Private. Collaborators only.
  • Peter says that entanglement between couples is not uncommon, but he is not sure if this is directly linked with the qigong practice. It would be interesting to find out if there is some reseacrh on this from a scientific perspective.
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Andre Uhl 4/22/2016
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Private. Collaborators only.
That’s a great idea, Joi! I already had Peter’s email address and just sent him a message. I will let you and everybody else know if he’s got a comment on this.
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Joichi Ito 4/6/2016
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I am interested in further discussing the interdependence of ‘separateness’ and ‘relatedness’.
I am interested in further discussing the interdependence of ‘separateness’ and ‘relatedness’.
We should definitely discuss this more in class. It relates to the idea of nonduality that we’ve discussed a bit. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nondualism
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Andre Uhl 4/22/2016
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Yes! I would love to discuss the relevance of the concept of nondualism for contemporary scholarship and practice! Unfortunately I wasn’t able to attend our last meeting due to a scheduling conflict, but I hope we still have a chance to talk about this in the remaining sessions.