Impulse

Deferred gratification is the ability to wait in order to obtain something that one wants. This attribute is known by many names, including impulse control, will power, and self control. It is suggested to be an important component of emotional intelligence. People who lack this trait are said to need instant gratification and may suffer from poor impulse control.

Conventional wisdom considers good impulse control to be a personality trait important for life success. It has been argued that people with poor impulse control suffer from weak ego boundaries. This term originates in Sigmund Freud’s theory of personality where the id is the pleasure principle, the superego is the morality principle, and the ego is the reality principle. Poor impulse control may also be related to biological factors in the brain. Researchers have found that children with fetal alcohol syndrome are less able to delay gratification.

The marshmallow experiment is a well known test of the deferred gratification concept conducted by Walter Mischel at Stanford University. In the 1960s, a group of four-year-olds were given a marshmallow and promised another, but only if they could wait 20 minutes before eating the next one. Some children could wait and others could not. The researchers then followed the progress of each child into adolescence and demonstrated that those with the ability to wait were better adjusted and more dependable, scoring an average of 210 points higher on the Scholastic Aptitude Test years later. Mischel later found that easily explained tactics allowed children who had waited very short periods to wait for quite long periods.

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Mantra

A prayer wheel is a cylindrical object on a spindle made from metal, wood, stone, leather, or coarse cotton. Traditionally, the mantra Om Mani Padme Hum is written in Sanskrit externally on the wheel. Sometimes Dakinis, Protectors, and very often the eight auspicious symbols known as Ashtamangala are depicted. According to the Tibetan Buddhist tradition, spinning such a wheel will have much the same meritorious effect as orally reciting the prayers.

It is said that prayer wheels are used to accumulate wisdom and merit, and to purify negativities such as bad karma. The idea of spinning mantras comes from numerous Tantric practices where the Tantric practitioner visualizes mantras revolving around the meridian chakras such as the heart and crown. Therefore, prayer wheels are a visual aid for developing one’s capacity for these types of Tantric visualizations.

The spiritual method for those practicing with a prayer wheel is very specific. The practitioner most often spins the wheel clockwise, for the direction the mantras are written is that of the movement of the sun across the sky. Before, during and after the practitioner turns the wheel, it is best to focus the mind and repeat the Om Mani Padme Hum mantra, as this increases the merit earned by the wheel’s use. However, it is said that even turning it while distracted has benefits and merits, and that even insects that cross a prayer wheel’s shadow will gain some benefit.

Some prayer wheels are powered by electric motors. Thardo Khorlo, as these electric wheels are sometimes known, contain one thousand copies of the mantra Om Mani Padme Hum and many copies of other mantras. The Thardo Khorlo can be accompanied by lights and music if one so chooses. However, Lama Zopa Rinpoche has said, “The merit of turning an electric prayer wheel goes to the electric company. This is why I prefer practitioners to use their own right energy to turn a prayer wheel”.

The Dalai Lama has commented that animations on websites work just as well as other prayer wheels. As the animated image turns, waves of compassion emanate in all directions to the surrounding area. Some have suggested that the spinning of a hard drive at several thousand rotations per minute can act in similar function to a prayer wheel by saving an image of Om mani padme hum or other mantras on a local computer or server.

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Guidance

The Ganzfeld effect is a phenomenon of visual perception caused by staring at an undifferentiated and uniform field of color. The effect is described as the loss of vision as the brain cuts off the unchanging signal from the eyes. The result is “seeing black” or apparent blindness. The word is from German for “complete field”.

The effect is the result of the brain amplifying neural noise in order to look for the missing visual signals. The noise is interpreted in the higher visual cortex, and gives rise to hallucinations. This is similar to dream production because of the brain’s state of sensory deprivation during sleep.

The Ganzfeld effect has been reported since ancient times. The adepts of Pythagoras retreated to pitch black caves to receive wisdom through their visions. Miners trapped by accidents in mines frequently reported hallucinations, visions and seeing ghosts when they were in the pitch dark for days. Arctic explorers seeing nothing but featureless landscape of white snow for a long time also reported hallucinations and an altered state of mind.

In Tibetan Buddhism a dark retreat refers to advanced practices of isolation in darkness. The time period dedicated to dark retreat varies from a few hours to decades. Dark retreat in the Himalayan tradition is a restricted practice only to be engaged by the senior spiritual practitioner under appropriate spiritual guidance. This practice is considered conducive for navigating the bardo at the time of death and for realising the rainbow body. The traditional dark retreat requires stability in the natural state and is only suitable for advanced practitioners.

Ancient Egyptians and Mayans practiced a form of the dark retreat as well, traditionally lasting 10 days. Holy men would enter into the center of their respective pyramids, completely removed from light and sound, and have visions of the workings of the universe. Today, scientists have hypothesized that when the human body is deprived of visual stimulation, the brain produces a substance called Dimethyltryptamine (DMT), a tryptamine, which results in intense visions.

Primal

icon_02Dragons are legendary creatures that feature in the myths of worldwide cultures, typically with serpentine or otherwise reptilian traits. They are usually shown in modern times with a body like a huge lizard, or a snake with two pairs of lizard-type legs, and able to emit fire from their mouths. The European dragon has bat-type wings growing from its back. A dragon-like creature with no front legs is known as a wyvern. 

Dragons are often held to have major spiritual significance in various religions and cultures around the world. In many Asian cultures dragons were, and in some cultures still are, revered as representative of the primal forces of nature, religion and the universe. They are associated with wisdom, often said to be wiser than humans, and longevity. They are commonly said to possess some form of magic or other supernatural power, and are often associated with wells, rain, and rivers. In some cultures, they are also said to be capable of human speech.

Although dragons occur in many legends around the world, different cultures have varying stories about monsters that have been grouped together under the dragon label. Some dragons are said to breathe fire or to be poisonous. They are commonly portrayed as serpentine or reptilian, hatching from eggs and possessing typically scaly or feathered bodies. They are sometimes portrayed as having especially large eyes or watching treasure very diligently, a feature that is the origin of the word dragon, from the Greek drakein meaning “to see clearly”).

Some myths portray them with a row of dorsal spines. European dragons are more often winged, while Oriental versions of the dragon resemble large snakes. Dragons can have a variable number of legs: none, two, four, or more when it comes to early European literature. Also, some dragons in Greek literature were known to have millions of legs at a time. Modern depictions of dragons tend to be larger than their original representations, which were often smaller than humans, but grew in the myths and tales of man over the years. Following discovery of how pterosaurs walked on the ground, some modern dragons have been portrayed without front legs and using the wings as front legs pterosaur-fashion when on the ground.

Everything

Sunyata is a characteristic of phenomena arising from the fact, as observed and taught by the Buddha, that the impermanent nature of form means that nothing possesses essential, enduring identity. In the Buddha’s spiritual teaching, insight into the emptiness of phenomena is an aspect of the cultivation of insight that leads to wisdom and inner peace. The importance of this insight is especially emphasised in Mahayana Buddhism.

The teaching on the emptiness of all phenomena is a core basis of Buddhist philosophy and has implications for epistemology and phenomenology. It also constitutes a metaphysical critique of Greek philosophical realism, Abrahamic monotheism and Hindu concept of atman. Moreover, contrary to widely misconceived equation to the doctrine of nihilism, grasping the doctrine of sunyata is seen as a step to liberation.

Sunyata signifies that everything one encounters in life is empty of absolute identity, permanence, or an in-dwelling self. This is because everything is inter-related and mutually dependent – never wholly self-sufficient or independent. All things are in a state of constant flux where energy and information are forever flowing throughout the natural world giving rise to and themselves undergoing major transformations with the passage of time.

This teaching does not connote nihilism. In the English language the word emptiness suggests the absence of spiritual meaning or a personal feeling of alienation, but in Buddhism the realization of the emptiness of phenomena, at basic level, enables one to realise that the things which ultimately have no substance are trivial and not worthy of worry, conflict or antagonism. Ultimately, true realisation of the doctrine can bring liberation from the limitations of form in the cycle of uncontrolled rebirth.

One potent metaphor for Sunyata, often used in Tibetan art, is the sky. As the sky is the emptiness that offers clouds to our perception, so Sunyata is the space in which objects appear to us in response to our attachments and longings. The Japanese use of the Chinese character signifying Shunyata is also used to connote sky or air.

Interplay

The endless knot or eternal knot is a symbolic knot found in Tibet and Mongolia. The motif is used in Tibetan Buddhism, and may also be found in Chinese art as one of the Eight Auspicious Symbols.

The endless knot has been described as an ancient symbol representing the interweaving of the spiritual path and the flowing of time and movement within that which is eternal. All existence, it says, is bound by time and change, yet ultimately rests serenely within the divine and the eternal.

Various interpretations of the symbol are the inter-twining of wisdom and compassion, and the interplay and interaction of the opposing forces in the dualistic world of manifestation, leading to their union, and ultimately to harmony in the universe. The Endless knot iconography also symbolises Samsara, or the endless cycle of suffering or birth, death and rebirth within Tibetan Buddhism.

Endless knots as mystic and mythological symbols have developed independently in various cultures. A well-known example is the various Celtic knots. Since the knot has no beginning or end it symbolizes infinite wisdom.

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Wildness

The wild man or woodwose is a mythological figure that appears in the artwork and literature of medieval Europe. Images of wild men appear in the carved and painted roof where intersecting vaults meet in the Canterbury Cathedral, in positions where one is also likely to encounter the vegetal Green Man. The wild man, often armed with a club, was a link between civilized humans and the spirits of natural woodland.

The image of the wild man survived to appear as supporter for heraldic coats-of-arms, especially in Germany, well into the 16th century. Early engravers in Germany and Italy were particularly fond of wild men, wild women, and wild families, with examples from Martin Schongauer and Albrecht Dürer among others.

As the name implies, the key characteristic of the wild man is his wildness. Wild men were seen as beings of the wilderness, and as such represented the antithesis of civilization. Scholar Dorothy Yamamoto has noted that the “wilderness” inhabited by the wild man does not truly indicate a place totally beyond human reach, but rather the liminal zone at edge of civilization, the place inhabited by hunters, criminals, religious hermits, herdsmen, and others who frequent the margins of human activity.

Other characteristics developed or transmuted in different contexts. From the earliest times wild men were associated with hairiness. By the 12th century they were almost invariably described as having a coat of hair covering their entire bodies except for their hands, feet, faces above their long beards, and the breasts and chins of the females.

The medieval wild man concept also drew on lore about similar beings from the Classical world such as the Roman faun and Silvanus. There are several folk traditions about the wild man that correspond with ancient practices and beliefs. Notably, peasants tried to capture the wild man by getting him drunk and tying him up in hopes that he would give them his wisdom in exchange for freedom. This suggests a connection to an ancient tradition in which shepherds caught a forest being in the same fashion and for the same purpose.

Virtue

Virtue is moral excellence. A virtue is a character trait or quality valued as being good. Personal virtues are characteristics valued as promoting individual and collective well-being, and thus good by definition. The opposite of virtue is vice.

Personal virtues became known through Benjamin Franklin’s autobiography and inspired many people all around the world. Authors and speakers in the self-help movement report being influenced by him.

1. Temperance. Eat not to Dullness. Drink not to Elevation.

2. Silence. Speak not but what may benefit others or yourself. Avoid trifling Conversation.

3. Order. Let all your Things have their Places. Let each Part of your Business have its Time.

4. Resolution. Resolve to perform what you ought. Perform without fail what you resolve.

5. Frugality. Make no Expense but to do good to others or yourself. Waste nothing.

6. Industry. Lose no Time. Be always employ’d in something useful. Cut off all unnecessary Actions.

7. Sincerity. Use no hurtful Deceit. Think innocently and justly; and, if you speak, speak accordingly.

8. Justice. Wrong none, by doing Injuries or omitting the Benefits that are your Duty.

9. Moderation. Avoid Extremes. Forbear resenting Injuries so much as you think they deserve.

10. Cleanliness. Tolerate no Uncleanness in Body, Clothes or Habitation.

11. Tranquility. Be not disturbed at Trifles, or at Accidents common or unavoidable.

12. Chastity. Rarely use Venery but for Health or Offspring; Never to Dullness, Weakness, or the Injury of your own or another’s Peace or Reputation.

13. Humility. Imitate Jesus and Socrates.

Hinduism has pivotal virtues that everyone keeping their Dharma is asked to follow, for they are distinct qualities of mankind, that allow one to be in the mode of goodness. There are three modes of material nature as described in the Vedas and other Indian Scriptures: Sattva (goodness, creation, stillness, intelligence), Rajas (passion, maintenance, energy, activity) , and Tamas (ignorance, restraint, inertia, destruction). Every person harbours a mixture of these modes in varying degrees.

Christopher Peterson and Martin Seligman, two leading researchers in positive psychology, recognizing the deficiency inherent in psychology’s tendency to focus on dysfunction rather than on what makes a healthy and stable personality, set out to develop a list of  Character Strengths and Virtues. After three years of study, six broad areas of virtue were identified, having a surprising amount of similarity across cultures and strongly indicating a historical and cross-cultural convergence. These six categories of virtue are courage, justice, humanity, temperance, transcendence, and wisdom.

Presence

Inner Light is a concept which many Quakers use to express their faith and beliefs. Each Quaker has a different idea of what they mean by Inner Light, and this also varies internationally between yearly meetings, but the idea is often taken to refer to God’s presence within a person, and to a direct and personal experience of God. Quakers believe that God speaks to everyone, and that in order to hear God’s voice, it helps to be still and actively listen for it.

They believe not only that individuals can be guided by this Inner Light, but that Friends might meet together and receive collective guidance from God by sharing the concerns and leadings that he gives to individuals. In a Friends meeting it is usually called “ministry” when a person shares aloud what the Inner Light is saying to him or her.

It is important to note that many Friends consider this divine guidance distinct both from impulses originating within oneself and from generally agreed-on moral guidelines. In fact, a person can be prompted to say something in meeting that is contrary to what he or she thinks. In other words, Friends do not usually consider the Inner Light the conscience or moral sensibility but something higher and deeper that informs and sometimes corrects these aspects of human nature.

Historically, Friends have been suspicious of formal creeds or religious philosophy that is not grounded in one’s own experience. Instead one must be guided by the Inward Teacher, the Inner Light. This is not, however, a release for Friends to decide and do whatever they want. It is incumbent upon Friends to consider the wisdom of other Friends, as one must listen for the Inner Light of others as well as their own. Friends have various established procedures for collectively discerning and following the Spirit while making decisions.

Friends are not in complete agreement on the importance of the Inner Light in relation to the Bible. Most Friends, especially in the past, have looked to the Bible as a source of wisdom and guidance. Many, if not most of them, have considered the Bible a book inspired by God. But Quakers have generally tended to regard present, personal direction from God more authoritative than the text of the Bible.

Early Quakers did not believe that promptings which were truly from the Spirit within would contradict the Bible. They did, however, believe that to correctly understand the Bible, one needed the Inner Light to clarify it and guide one in applying its teachings to current situations. In the United States in the nineteenth century some Friends concluded that others of their faith were using the concept of the Inner Light to justify unbiblical views. These “Orthodox” Friends held that the Bible was more authoritative than the Inner Light and should be used to test personal leadings. Friends remain formally, but usually respectfully, divided on the matter.

Specialization

A polymath is a person whose knowledge is not restricted to one subject area. In less formal terms, a polymathic person may simply refer to someone who is very knowledgeable. Most ancient scientists were polymaths by today’s standards.

The term Renaissance man is used to describe a person who is well educated or who excels in a wide variety of subjects or fields. This idea developed in Renaissance Italy from the notion expressed by one of its most accomplished representatives, Leon Battista Alberti that “a man can do all things if he will.” It embodied the basic tenets of Renaissance Humanism which considered man empowered, limitless in his capacities for development, and led to the notion that people should embrace all knowledge and develop their capacities as fully as possible. Thus the gifted men of the Renaissance sought to develop skills in all areas of knowledge, in physical development, in social accomplishments and in the arts.

Since it is considered extremely difficult to genuinely acquire an encyclopaedic knowledge, and even more to be proficient in several fields at the level of an expert, not to mention to achieve excellence or recognition in multiple fields, the word polymath may also be used with a potentially negative connotation as well. Under this connotation, by sacrificing depth for breadth, the polymath becomes a “jack of all trades, master of none”. For many specialists, in the context of today’s hyperspecialization, the ideal of a Renaissance man is judged to be an anachronism, since it is not uncommon that a specialist can barely dominate the accumulated knowledge of more than just one restricted subfield in his whole life, and many renowned experts have been made famous only for dominating different subfields or traditions or for being able to integrate the knowledge of different subfields or traditions.

Today, expertise is often associated with documents, certifications, diplomas, and degrees attributing to such, and a person who seems to have an abundance of these is often perceived as having more education than practical working experience. Autodidactic polymaths often combine didactic education and expertise in multiple fields with autodidactic research and experience to create the Renaissance ideal.

Many fields of interest take years of singleminded devotion to achieve expertise, often requiring starting at an early age. Also, many require cultural familiarity that may be inaccessible to someone not born and raised in that culture. In many such cases, it is realistically possible to achieve only knowledge of theory, without practical experience. For example, on a safari, a jungle native will be a more effective guide than a scientist who may be educated in the theories of jungle survival but did not grow up acquiring his knowledge firsthand.

However, those supporting the ideal of the Renaissance man today would say that the specialist’s understanding of the interrelation of knowledge from different fields is too narrow and that a synthetic comprehension of different fields is unavailable to him, or, if they embrace the Renaissance ideal even more deeply, that the human development of the specialist is truncated by the narrowness of his view. What is much more common today than the universal approach to knowledge from a single polymath, is the multidisciplinary approach to knowledge which derives from several experts from different fields collaborating together.