Personal development for INTP people

So, I bought Steve Pavlina’s Personal Development for Smart People. Steve is a creative mathematical genius who has a passion for personal growth, and his book focuses on the principles behind any effective personal development program. So far, I’ve eaten up the first two chapters of the book, and I have to say that for someone looking for a framework behind all the disparate personal development ideas, I really like this book. It details 7 principles (really, three, but the next three are pairwise combinations of the first three, and the last is a combination of all three), as well as advice for strengthening one’s relationship to each principle. The principles are truth, love, power, oneness, authority, courage, and intelligence.

The think I like about this book is that it really gets to the root of personal development. It’s not about getting a better job, or meeting your perfect mate, or learning how to be better socially, although all of these positive benefits can follow from the advice in the book. The book’s about why we are here – our connections, our passions, the very things that drive us. When we strengthen our relationship to those basic seven principles we determine our own lives. To someone who has developed as an INTP, this is a great find.

The polio vaccine: friend or foe?

Before I launch into this entry, let me add the following disclaimer:

You and you alone are responsible for your health. This entry, and any other medical advice you read or get (even from doctors) with an honest, open-minded skepticism. Get the facts, and evaluate the evidence. Even doctors, and Ph.D. biostatisticians, make mistakes.

This entry continues a review of the book Vaccines: Are They Really Safe and Effective? by Neil Miller (2002 edition). I’ve already covered the tone of this book, and you might be able to guess it by its mere existence. It claims that vaccines, in general, are not safe and effective. This is a huge claim, but what makes this book different from other things you might read (especially forum postings and blog entries) is that the book is well-referenced. You can go to the source, at least in theory.

First, Miller tackles the polio vaccine. This vaccine is pointed to as one of the major successes of vaccination programs, taking polio from epidemic status to nonexistent. We even have the apocryphal story of Jonas Salk, leader of the research team that developed the first, inactivated virus vaccine, which was reported said to his celebrating team after their first victory with the vaccine in a trial: “We have to do this again.”

More below the fold.

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Vaccines, the preface

This part of the review of Vaccines: Are they really safe & effective? (Neil Miller) will be short, as it is about the preface.

I have to admire a person willing to go the distance to research an issue as important as vaccination. This man looked up newspapers, congressional testimony, and the scientific literature for answers. He basically concludes that vaccines are not safe or effective, and, contrary to popular opinion, have not been responsible for the decline of infectious disease in this country. I’ll have to see about that one as I get further into the book.

He goes a step beyond this claim, however. He claims that professors, drug developers, medical professionals, professional societies, and regulatory agencies (US and international) are part of some scheme to hide the facts from the public. This is a serious charge to make against a lot of people, and, I must admit, I find this charge a little hard to swallow. Miller continues the line of thought with medical professionals that turn down vaccines for their own children and doctors who require indemnification before vaccinations. But let’s take this conspiracy theory with a grain of salt and set it aside for a while.

Miller claims then that he is presenting facts so that parents won’t “religiously trust their pediatricians.” He’s presented a difficult-to-justify opinion so far, so let’s see what his facts can do.

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Vaccines – wading into the debate (a skeptical book review)

So far, with only a couple of exceptions, my children have had their vaccines on schedule. I have refused the chickenpox vaccine for my older child and will refuse it for my younger child. I also refused the 6-hour HepB vaccine for my second child, but he has received the others on schedule (and the HepB at 2 months, which is apparently becoming a standard policy in my area).

However, there’s been the nagging question in the back of my mind about whether this is the right decision. I understand the basic arguments on both sides: we need to contribute to “herd immunity” and keep some nasty diseases at bay. On the other side, we talk about side effects of childhood vaccines (including autism, but that will be a rather minor issue in this series) and whether we need vaccinations at all. Even if we do need vaccinations, some have questioned the vaccination schedule, preferring a less aggressive approach that will still accomplish keeping the worst childhood diseases at bay. Still others wonder if we only need a subset of the current childhood vaccines we receive now, and let the body take care of the other ones.

So, now I kick off a new blog entry series reviewing the book Vaccines: Are They Really Safe & Effective? Neil Z. Miller looks to be a medical journalist who compiled this information because he was faced with the issues of vaccinating his children. The book is about 100 pages of text and figures, with 916 references (including newspaper articles, congressional testimony, and scientific articles). Miller makes the following disclaimer:

The decision regarding whether or not to vaccinate is a personal one. The author is not a health practitioner nor legal advisor, and makes no claims in this regard. Nor does the author recommend for or against vaccines. All the information in this book is taken from other sources and documented in the Notes. If you have questions, doubts, or concerns regarding any of the information in this book, go to the original source. Then research this topic even further so that you may make a wise and informed choice.

I can certainly second that.

I realize that the topic of vaccinations is a very touchy one. The most active blog entries I’ve had to date was on the subject of thimerosal, and arguments coming from both pro- and anti-vaccine proponents are filled with emotion and, often, venom. This is understandable, as the stakes are very high. If anything, this issue can use illumination of facts, and I hope that my review of a well-referenced book on the matter can do that.

So, as I go through this series, my primary goal is to provoke thought. I don’t care about comments; in fact, depending on how much value is added (or taken away) to the discussion I might disable them. We’ll have to see, as I don’t want this blog to resemble some of the forum pages I’ve seen on the matter.

So, on an overview of the book, and my reason for reviewing it publically, is that it is very well-referenced. Well-referenced does not mean true, but it does mean that I can go to the sources and evaluate them for myself. I probably won’t do that with all 916 references, as I do have other things on my plate, but I can probably hit some of the main points and try to find counterpoints as well.

The overall tone of the book seems to challenge the notion that vaccines are necessary and safe. (As the series progresses, I hope to see if the challenge stands.) A skim through the book reveals data, quotes, and events that presumably back up this challenge.

The Power of Now

It took me a while to get to ??The Power of Now??, but I finally read it on the recommendation of Michael McAlister at “Infinite Smile”:

The book is very accessible, if a little repetitive. The repetition didn’t bother me that much because, as with most spiritual disciplines, it’s hard to understand the first time around. I appreciated Tolle’s nondenominational and inclusive approach to the deep mysteries of the great spiritual traditions and the way he touched upon such subjects as sexuality, drugs, health, and even karma (though he doesn’t mention that by name).

This book is definitely worth a second read, as I suspect that this is one of those books that has something new on each pass.

I can understand that there is possibly a large group of people that won’t get anything from this book. I think that’s ok. Spirituality is a deeply personal endeavor. Get the book and read it. If it appeals to you, keep it and read it again. If not, give it to a friend.

On yoga and the Anatomy of Hatha Yoga

I don’t write as much about yoga as I used to because, well, I haven’t though of that much to say. But given that I’ve been going on about alternative medicine recently, I should note that a simple “PubMed search”: reveals that yoga is being intensely studied as a complementary or alternative therapy to a lot of conditions:

* weight loss
* heart disease and risk factors
* pain management
* anxiety and stress
* psychological and physiological side-effects of cancer and the treatment of cancer

More often than not, yoga looks pretty good. Now, granted, it is nigh impossible to blind these studies. And for many of these studies, it’s hard to decide whether stepping on a treadmill and watching _Days of our Lives_ for a half hour each day would achieve a similar effect.

One thing is clear, though. Something is going on, and it’s caught the attention of researchers as well as a growing number of practitioners. I think much of the story can be told by the fact that yoga is an exercise that involves body awareness, mindfulness, and stimulation of both the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems (assuming you are doing savasana or meditation at the end — you _are_, aren’t you?)

At any rate, if you are a yoga teacher or serious yoga student, let me recommend ??Anatomy of Hatha Yoga?? by H. David Coulter. (Link to “Amazon”: page below.) It is very dense an laden with physiology, especially stuff that you think you might have once been taught in your biology class, but you are not sure. I certainly don’t remember all of it. However, it has information that is hard to find anywhere else on just exactly what happens inside your body when you are doing hatha yoga, or heck just about anything else for that matter. It breaks down processes such as reflexes, pain, and breathing, and explains how the muscles, connective tissue, and bones interact to support the body. It even explains what happens when someone’s arm “gives out” in an armwrestling match. But most important, it analyzes the different types of postures (back bends, forward bends, twists, standing postures, abdominal exercises, and a couple of inversions) and explains relaxation and meditation. Even given what little I’ve absorbed from the book, I’ve found it helpful to know what is going on inside my body so that I can select which postures to focus on and know what to avoid in my home practice.

Tantra: The Path of Ecstasy by Georg Feuerstein

This book isn’t recommended for everyone, but only those who may be interested in the philosophical aspects of Tantra (_e.g._ as found in some Shaivism philosophies, or, more popularly, Tibetan Buddhism). A lot of the book is rather dry and didactic, but provides excellent information that would otherwise be hard to find.

Note that Tantra is not a collection of sexual positions or other practices, though many schools of Tantra have rituals that involve sexual union. The primary idea that _nirvana_ and _samsara_ are one and the same, and, in fact, these two concepts are to be transcended. The sexual union then epitomizes the union of consciousness and manifestation, or idea and action, or the abstract and concrete, or the end of whatever false dualism you might be struggling with. And, incorrectly taken, these practices damage rather than guide one toward enlightenment.

If you’re a devoted student of Hatha Yoga, or if you’re interested in the subject, it’s well worth a read. Otherwise, skip it.

I Don’t Want To Talk About It

??I Don’t Want to Talk About It: Overcoming the Secret Legacy of Male Depression??

Terry Real’s ??I Don’t Want to Talk About It?? discusses how men cope with the unique pressure of manhood in our society. Depression has emerged as a seemingly feminine trait, perhaps to the detriment of all. Men are supposed to swallow their emotions and perform. This suppression of emotion (which, by the way, also suppresses important information) is the basis of a covert depression. This situation manifests in grouchiness, snappiness, inflexibility, inability to separate stresses from work from family, and other similar undesirable traits often found in men. The way to overcome this condition, says Real, is to bring the depression to the surface (overt depression), grieve, and let it go.

Whether you are depressed or not, an awareness of this condition is invaluable in handling people (especially men) who are and may not know it (or want to know it). Knowing how covert depression is caused, perpetuated, and cured is invaluable in maintaining mental health. Real covers the issue thoroughly and clearly from every conceivable angle, from psychology to religion to literature. Not only is the information interesting from an intellectual point of view, it’s application is clearly shown.

This book is heartily recommended.

(reprinted from “my old blog”: because something awful happened to the book reviews section)

Siddhartha by Herman Hesse

Ok, so I didn’t really read this book _per se_, but I did listen to it through the “”: service.

This is the story of a wayfarer, whose travels took him to the opulent riches of the Brahmans (ancient Hindu priests), the austerity of the ascetic “_sramanas_”:, the materialistic world of the merchants, and finally to a river.

Listening to the book is much like listening to an opera. Sure, there is plot, but the plot really only exists for a few important events. Years pass in one sentence, but then a whole chapter is spent on a conversation. This really takes some getting used to. What also takes getting used to is the cycle of hope, imperfection, and dragging down into despair that marks Siddhartha’s life, at least until the end. Yet despite the strange flow of the book, it’s not hard to relate to Siddhartha. After all, we are all striving for happiness and peace, are we not? We all think that if we can just get that promotion, or save up enough money, or graduate from school, we’ll have it made. And then we get to that point and see that we are only at a plateau, that there is a lot more work to do.

In time, maybe we decide that it’s not the milestones that are important, but the journey, the striving, the becoming of something better than we are or even the realization of perfection or union with God. Or perhaps we don’t want the journey to end, because that would mean death. And such are the decisions that Siddhartha has to face, and feels that he has to face them alone.

Whether you agree with the philosophy in _Siddhartha_ or not, an examination of the ideas within, and your own reactions to them, make the book well worth the time and effort, especially if you are interested in the Hindu and Buddhist philosophies (but even if you’re not).

I heartily recommend this book.

Finding Flow by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

??Finding Flow?? by Csikszentmihalyi is a companion book to “??Flow??”: Where ??Flow?? is much more theoretical, ??Finding Flow?? emphasizes and analyzes the way we spend our time. Both these books explore the flow phenomenon (also known in sports as “the zone”), but ??Finding Flow?? describes the when and how to get into the flow state in everyday activities.

I think this book should be required reading for high school and college students. Most of the material is accessible to the average 16 year old, and the lessons are important. Do your leisure activities support or hurt you? Why should you emphasize active leisure, such as sports, yoga, reading, and school clubs, rather than passive leisure, such as watching television? He even explores why people may prefer passive leisure over active leisure. What about work? How do you transform a dull, routine job into something that can induce flow or even enjoyment? How can you inject meaning into your daily activities?

I’m glad that Csikszentmihalyi doesn’t emphasize flow as a condition that’s always desirable, good, panacaea-like, or the savior of the world. Flow is the state where the environment is most ripe for personal growth, but it can also be draining and dangerous, as I “found out a couple of weeks ago”: It can also be addictive, as we see with the person who seeks thrills by driving dangerously or committing crimes or even the compulsive gambler.

What this book does not do is give a recipe for happiness, for no book can do that. Each person’s path of discovery is different. You may be able to walk away with some good ideas of how to improve matters, but applying the research in the book takes skill and perserverance. I certainly am not any good at doing it. Still, it’s highly recommended for its secular view on this important state of mind.