It must be somewhere

Study-of-Clouds-largeMUSIC
By Juhan Liiv

It must be somewhere, the original harmony,
somewhere in great nature, hidden.
Is it in the furious infinite,
in distant stars’ orbits,
is it in the sun’s scorn,
in a tiny flower, in treegossip,
in heartmusic’s mothersong
or in tears?
It must be somewhere, immortality,
somewhere the original harmony must be found:
how else could it infuse
the human soul,
that music?

Translated from the Estonian by H. L. Hix and Jüri Talvet  Source: Poetry (June 2011) http://bit.ly/kxfS8D

dorothy sayers wrote:

In the image of [the artists’] experience, we can ‘recognize’ the image of some experience of our own…. When we read the poem or see the play or picture or hear the music, it is as though a light were turned on inside us. We say: ’Ah! I recognize that! That was something which I obscurely felt to be going on in and about me, but I didn’t know what it was, and couldn’t express it. But now…I can possess and take hold of it and make it my own and turn it into a source of knowledge and strength.’

photo by Ron Ables

photo by Ron Abeles

This is really true for me. Listening deeply to certain poems, or viewing visual art, or listening to certain music can provide nourishment in my morning time of silence and contemplative prayer. It continues with me into the day. In a recent public talk, I was amazed at the deep hush that came over the room while I was reading the poems (by Heaney, Levertov, and Collins) . When I wrote the Spiritual Connection book I found myself constantly reaching for poems by good poets to illustrate ideas and experiences of the ‘more than’. And recently when doing a day of retreat for professional caregivers, reflection on the poems opened up conversations, and provoked us in new ways. Visual art, music, drama, fiction and dance all have the capacity to do what Sayers describes.

art and seeing

art by lynn

art by lynn

As I get ready to attend a workshop in Santa Fe, New Mexico, to revive my life-drawing skills, I was reminded of the following excerpt from the book Only the Lover Sings: Art and Contemplation by the German philosopher Josef Pieper:

“How can man preserve and safeguard the foundation of his spiritual dimension and an uncorrupted relationship to reality?  The capacity to perceive the visible world ‘with our own eyes’ is indeed an essential constituent of human nature. We are talking here about man’s essential inner richness…. To see things is the first step toward that primordial and basic mental grasping of reality, which constitutes the essence of man as a spiritual being.”

One of the things Pieper suggests is that we become active in artistic creation. ”Before you can express anything in tangible form, you first need eyes to see. The mere attempt, therefore, to create an artistic form compels the artist to take a fresh look at the visible reality; it requires authentic and personal observation. Long before a creation is completed, the artist has gained for himself another and more intimate achievement: a deeper and more receptive vision, a more intense awareness, a sharper and more discerning understanding, a more patient openness for all things quiet and inconspicuous, an eye for things previously overlooked. In short: the artist will be able to perceive with new eyes the abundant wealth of all visible reality, and thus challenged, additionally acquires the inner capacity to absorb into his mind such an exceedingly rich harvest. The capacity to see increases.”

In one of the classes I teach we end each semester with an art project – they have a chance to express something that reflected the spiritual and/or compassionate love, through a piece of art they would make (music, poetry, fiction, film, photography – one person even chose to create a meal for us). They are graded on effort and conception rather than skill. I wish I could share them all here, as most of them were so inspiring. Although many of the students initially resisted doing the project, most of them really enjoyed it in the end, and especially sharing their creation with others in the class.

We all have the capacity to create art – maybe some of it is pretty primitive- but the process of doing so can greatly enrich our capacity to see, and this can help us clearly perceive the world as it is in all its depth, spiritually infused, and that can enrich our lives.

Is there some kind of creative activity that you can begin to develop, or one that you have already developed but can continue to do more of? When we loosen the constraints of excessive critique, joy is there for us, and in the process we can become more in touch with reality.

resting places

drawing by lynn

drawing by lynn

We find rest in those we love,

and we provide a resting place in ourselves

for those who love us.

-Bernard of Clairvaux

messy yet glorious love

This sculpture is by Jay DeFeo, a beat artist from the 50’s/60’s/70’s, and I am sharing here a photo of it. The original of this work is approximately 11 by 5 feet, three-dimensionally rendered in oil paint with wood fragments and mica. The piece weights nearly 2,000 pounds and took over 8 years to complete, building layer upon layer, and is in the Whitney Museum in NYCity.  http://whitney.org/Exhibitions/JayDeFeodefeo_the-rose_Whitney museum

When it came time to pick a cover for a book I co-edited for Oxford University Press, I wanted something that would capture the ineffable and spectacular nature of altruistic love – giving of self for the good of the other – in close relationships and with strangers (and even in relationship with ourselves as “the other” that we want to flourish). My editor asked me to find something good. It was in the days before easily accessible art resources on the web, so I went down to the local art institute library and spent a happy afternoon going through art books and thinking about love.  Images were either only about particular kinds of love, or too sentimental, or had other problems. I wanted something that captured the transcendent nature of this other-centered love in many situations.  I finally discovered this piece of art and we ended up using it on the cover. The abstract touched the particular for me in a more universal way, and it has seemed to do so for many others.

This piece for me expresses much about compassionate love, love that facilitates flourishing, as it happens in the midst of our messy lives. Transcendent beauty shining over and through rough chunks and bits and pieces. If you look at this piece, and allow it to speak to you directly, what does it speak to you, what does it stir in you?  Is there any resonance with the way love is expressed in the midst of your life? My students have had to write a page of reflection of their emotional response to this piece of art, and many found it a useful exercise. You may be surprised what emerges if you just let yourself experience the piece and respond emotionally.

Mercy and Music

cello drawing by lynn

cello drawing by lynn

Mercy is a word that unfolds endlessly for me. Mercy touches me in ways that I cannot fully explain. I think some of it is the quality of acceptance in the midst of flaws and problems and mistakes and harms and hurts and difficulties. This mercy is there for all of us.  I recently encountered this piece entitled “Mercy” by Max Richter, composed at the request of the violinist Hilary Hahn.  Music can often speak in ways that words cannot. Tastes in music vary so much, but when students in my classes shared pieces with each other that touched them spiritually, I was impressed by how much communication could happen even if tastes were different. This music brings a restful peace to me, heightening my awareness of the presence of intense and all-embracing mercy.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5Kk-FJe43Aw

roots dangling

roots on_lynnunderwood

It is so much easier, when we speak to a group of people, to pretend to be someone we are not, taking the stance of the totally confident and sure expert. It takes courage to be who we are, warts and all. We think somehow if we seem perfect, then what we say will be more compelling, that people will take us more seriously. But it is when we stand with the mud adhering to our hands, and the roots dangling, that we speak authentically. I did this drawing to remind myself of this. In these days with airbrushing of photos and massaging of images on the web and in broadcast, “polished” seems to be the norm.  But who we really are, with roots dangling, mud clinging, imperfections sparkling in the eternal sun – that is real beauty.

Freedom

jean vanierJean Vanier inspires me. He started the L’Arche communities. They bring people who are marginalized and restless from lack of community and care, together with those who learn to care for them. They especially create small caring communities for those who have developmental disabilities.

I met Jean Vanier over 30 years ago while living in Belfast, Northern Ireland.  A small room of about 20 people had gathered to hear him speak and talk with him. Meeting him made a strong impression on me, and I followed up by reading anything by him I could get my hands on. He was from an important political family in Canada, had served in the Navy in WWII, and then pursued a PhD in philosophy.  It was after this that he came to establish the L’Arche communities. As he spoke of the gift that those who had mental developmental disabilities were to him in his life, it helped me to see that what I had most valued in myself up to that time, my intellectual abilities, were not the most important thing in my life. The communities he started were based on mutual respect – those with developmental disabilities have things to share with us, things they can teach us, things they can give us. His life demonstrated how he really valued all people. We all have different gifts, and discovering those is an opportunity for each of us.

In addition to his writings on disability and community, he has also described human freedom in ways that I have found worth pondering.  In his book, Being Human, he wrote:  “Aristotle talks of our passions as being like a horse which has a life of its own.  We are riders who have to take into account the life of the horse in order to guide it where we want it to go.  We are not called to suppress our passions or compulsions, nor to confront them head on, nor to be governed by them, but to orient them in the direction we want to go….We set out on the road to freedom when we no longer let our compulsions or passions govern us.  We are freed when we begin to put justice, heartfelt relationships, and the service of others and of truth over and above our own needs for love and success or our fears of failure….”

music, time and spirituality

In my Art Science and Spirituality course I share an interview with the South American composer Oswaldo Golijov. He describes the effects of certain kinds of music on spiritual experience in his life, and describes his response to Monteverdi’s Vespers. One of the concepts I address in that class is how both the arts and the sciences inform our understanding of time. How we envision time has a practical effect on us. Do we leave space for a more nuanced and eternal view of time?  This interview is only seven minutes long and is well worth listening to, and it contains excerpts of the music. http://www.studio360.org/story/106875-osvaldo-golijov/

He also describes inhabiting music like a cathedral, and how the way music and words are combined can enable the words to penetrate more deeply.

Moving towards resting places

abstrlynnunderwood2011brsrsz

drawing by lynn

“A body tends by its weight towards the place proper to it – weight does not necessarily tend towards the lowest place but towards its proper place. Fire tends upwards, stone downwards. By their weight they are moved and seek their proper place…. Things out of their place are in motion: they come to their place and are at rest. My love is my weight: wherever I go, my love is what brings me there.”

– St Augustine

 

Splendor

out my back window

out my back window

Let us come alive to the splendor that is all around us, and see the beauty in ordinary things.

-Thomas Merton

Silence and light

AWindGeth2012

photo by lynn

Simone Weil, a French philosopher and activist from the mid-twentieth century commented that one major, if not the major failure, is “our inability to feed on the light.”  I have just returned from my yearly weeklong silent retreat, something that has been a mainstay of my life for 15 years. I really needed it. I am much better able to feed on the light now, than before I left. And so many subtle and not so subtle changes have happened inside me. I know that for me the time in solitude and silence in the context of a monastic setting, routine, spiritual readings, nature and rich liturgy, not only revives and renews me, it re-sets my compass. Swaths of time in silent prayer/contemplation and hikes in the hills, are important parts of my retreat too. The effect continues to amaze me. Aaaah.

The Smile of the Soul

patience_ lynn underwood 2010In the Yes theme chapter (8) in the Spiritual Connection book, one of the things I reflect on is how we need to receptively allow life to unfold. In many ways, I think of myself as a patient person, but when I carefully look at my attitudes, I see impatience with myself in abundance. I did this piece of calligraphy a while back, a saying by Philippe Obrecht – “Patience is the soul’s smile…”  We can say yes to life as it is, ourselves as we are, as we wait in preparation for what is to come in its own time.  I am getting a strong message of patience right now – loud and clear.  I hope I can listen.

People on a parallel way

young man_lynn_underwood_cropcondensed

art by lynn

“There are people on a parallel way. We do not see them often, or even think of them often, but it is precious to us that they are sharing the world. Something about how they have accepted their lives, or how the sunlight happens to them, helps us to hold the strange, enigmatic days in line for our own living.”—William Stafford

One of the things I have found over the years in interviewing people about their ordinary experience of spirituality in daily life, is how different and varied each person’s experience is, even though there are definitely common threads.  Yet just being aware that others are feeling and experiencing the same light in different ways than I can, somehow illuminates my days.

Eternal moments

flowersgertrudecompressed_lynnunderwood

art by lynn

 
This Much I Do Remember
by Billy Collins
 
It was after dinner.
You were talking to me across the table
about something or other,
a greyhound you had seen that day
or a song you liked,
 
and I was looking past you
over your bare shoulder
at the three oranges lying
on the kitchen counter
next to the small electric bean grinder,
which was also orange,
and the orange and white cruets for vinegar and oil.
 
All of which converged
into a random still life,
so fastened together by the hasp of color,
and so fixed behind the animated
foreground of your
talking and smiling,
gesturing and pouring wine,
and the camber of you shoulders
 
that I could feel it being painted within me,
brushed on the wall of my skull,
while the tone of your voice
lifted and fell in its flight,
and the three oranges
remained fixed on the counter
the way that stars are said
to be fixed in the universe.
 
Then all of the moments of the past
began to line up behind that moment
and all of the moments to come
assembled in front of it in a long row,
giving me reason to believe
that this was a moment I had rescued
from millions that rush out of sight
into a darkness behind the eyes.
 
Even after I have forgotten what year it is,
my middle name,
and the meaning of money,
I will still carry in my pocket
the small coin of that moment,
minted in the kingdom
that we pace through every day.

From Billy Collins, Picnic, Lightning. University of Pittsburg Press, 1998. (This book is full of gems like this.)

Holidays, holy-days, wholeness

christswaglynnunderwood09compressed

art by lynn

The word ‘holidays’ comes from holy-days.  That’s hard to believe, as so much of the seasonal pressure and frippery seems the opposite of holy. Holy and whole in English are derived from the same root word.

The bustle of the holidays can be fragmenting, pulling us apart rather then enabling us to exist in an integrated whole.  What do you do during daily tasks and demands to “pull yourself together”?

I find that music helps.  Unfortunately the repetitive and commercial use of music at this time of year has weakened its ability to draw us towards unseen yet vital aspects of life.  But we can reclaim the music, find pieces that inspire us to see the holy, and feel whole in the holidays.

For many, the religious aspects of the holidays are not relevant, and the language of many of the songs does not speak to everyone in a literal sense, and can provoke reactions of alienation. But can you nevertheless find, sniff out, pointers to a wider mystery in some of the music? Many of the writers and performers are coming from a deep place within, beyond theological and religious and cultural constructs.  Notes of peace, joy, love, generosity, in the midst of ordinary life. Can you allow the music to wash over you and stir where it will?

I play music of the season on the piano from books that are dissolving with wear. My book of international carols especially connects me to the past and other parts of the world at this time of year. Participating in making music and singing stirs my heart.

Does some music of this season help you to find transcendent wonder buried in your days? Reminding you of wholeness, reminding you of the holy, here, now.

Joy

glassberrieslynnunderwoodcomp

art by lynn

I am easily able to see problems and flaws.  This can be a strength, and it has saved me from falling into some big holes.  But for some of us, problems seem to speak louder than beauty. Our attention is so often drawn to the one thing that is out of whack. It can take extra effort to notice the beauty shining in the midst of our days.  After an ice storm, this little branch was lying on the ground and I brought it home with me. This is a much needed reminder to me.

There are so many things during the holiday season that can seem not quite perfect:  family, travel, finances, not enough time for this or that.  I know that I need to give extra attention to the light on the snow, how cosy my warm sweater feels, the best of the music, good memories, the smell of good food, the people who are here now with me.  Question 14 in the Spiritual Connection book asks how often you experience joy that lifts you out of your daily concerns.  There is enough of our day dedicated to the flaws and problems – doesn’t joy deserve some of our time?

Stained Glass

art by lynn

We,
people
are living stained glass windows
Beautiful in ourselves.
Meant
too
for
light;
for color-bathing others.

Marlene Halpin OP

Healing Balm

In the midst of famine in Sudan in the 1980’s, everything was dry – grasses and foliage. To keep from focusing on hunger and distress, the women began to weave baskets from the dry grasses, beautiful baskets.  This weekend I heard, live, a beautiful piece of music. The Famine Song, by Vida, arranged by Mathew Culloton, that describes this. I find listening to this song deeply soothing somehow. It touches within me places of injury and distress and provides a healing balm.

Here is a link to a group singing this http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aKZN3JeyCPc

1979.20.112_a

Some of the beginning words of the song are :

Ease my spirit
Ease my soul
Please free my hands from this barren soil

Ease my mother
Ease my child
Earth and sky be reconciled

 

And at the end :

Weave my mother

Weave my child
Weave your baskets of rushes wild
Rain, rain, rain, rain, rain, rain

What are blessings anyway?

art by lynn

art by lynn

One of the questions in my Spiritual Connections book asks how often you find yourself being thankful for your blessings. When something horrible that I might have expected doesn’t happen, I find myself especially thankful. For example, when I have a close shave in traffic, and I come out unscathed. Or I find myself thankful when something that seems particularly nice happens to me. But I see people who are in such difficult circumstances still being thankful – circumstances of poverty or disease that I don’t think I could bear.  I am amazed at their continual appreciation of small things in life, and it is important for me to have that reminder.

Just think of the close shaves we all have each day that we are unaware of – the escapes from trouble that we don’t even see.  And even buried within the tough times are blessings we may never completely comprehend. What looks like disaster can somehow pave the way for future good for ourselves or others.

And we are alive: we taste food, we feel the softness as we touch a cat’s fur, we hear music that touches us.  All the lovely little things of each day.  Being alive, even when life is tough, has lovely moments – more of them than we can keep track of. They often go by unnoticed, like unwrapped presents. I am going to unwrap a few more today.

Compassionate Love: I, thou, and we

drawing by lynn

drawing by lynn

“The encounter between two people which leads to mutual recognition and the serious exchanges of friendship or love abolishes between them the third person which is the normal form of regard for another, and each becomes for the other a second person, a thou, and thenceforth they are together in the first person, a we. Each is present to the other and promises to be with the other always.  The intimate being of each is present to the other, and fidelity is the active cultivation and enjoyment of that presence always. Absence and even death does not destroy this presence, but is rather the proof of its veritability. For when one dies whose presence I have enjoyed in friendship or in love, either he becomes less than an object or else his presence (not a mere image or memory) remains as active within me as before. It depends on my willingness to continue to be truly present to him.”

Blackham, H. J. (1983). Six Existentialist Thinkers (Reprint.). Routledge. Chapter on Gabriel Marcel. P 76. Artwork Lynn Underwood

Conflict Resolution and Spiritual Connection Podcast

georgemasonlynnunderwoodThis summer I was invited to give a presentation on the Daily Spiritual Experience Scale at the School of Conflict Analysis and Resolution at George Mason University.  One of the uses of the 16 Daily Spiritual Experience Questions is in opening conversations to bridge differences in beliefs, and help in community building.  After the presentation and the lively discussion, Jacqueline Greiff, the Executive Director of their Center for Peacemaking Practice, invited me to be interviewed. You can listen to a podcast of this by scrolling to the bottom of the page at http://scar.gmu.edu/cpp/podcast

It excites me to see how useful the 16 DSES questions are for those from so many religions, as well as those who are not comfortable with religion.  The specific experiences that people have can bridge differences in belief and culture, often creating connections at a deep level between people. The resulting conversations do not reduce spiritual experience to mush, but create space for the marvelous variety and depth of experiences that sustain and enrich so many different people’s lives.

Leaves on the Ground at our Feet

leavesanna24lynnunderwoodcompressed  I noticed these leaves while out walking today, and picked up these two from the grey pavement to take home. I drew and painted them to help the beauty stick with me longer. As they sit here on the table together, I also find myself thinking about my relationships with those I am close to.

opening windows with art

OpeningWindowsWithArtGraphic

“Art in the spirit opens a window onto these transcendental realities of which the ancients called the Passio Entis, the “accidents of Being.” They are the Holiness of all that is. And from these transcendental involvements flow all the other humanizing values of our existence: love, compassion, simplicity, fidelity, forgiveness, freedom, justice, peace. For you see it is the function of art to open the human heart.”

Some food for my morning contemplative time these past weeks has been a beautiful book, Creation out of Clay: The Ceramic Art and Writings of Brother Thomas

(Ed. Rosemary Williams, Pucker Art Publications, Boston 1999, Eerdmans, Grand Rapids)

It is a large book full of luscious pictures of Brother Thomas’ pottery that make me want to touch them, and full of his essays, which include wisdom that feeds me.

beets

A high spot of summer for me is going to farmers’ markets. When I get there I become quite focused: What I will buy for what meal plan? But despite this focus I usually find that I get lost in the visual beauty of the fruits and vegetables and in taking in the smells. I bought these beets that looked rather ugly, yet when I got home, it was the beets I felt drawn to draw. At first they just looked brown and muddy, but as I painted/drew them, I detected the subtleties. I thought about the Yes! Chapter in the book, about how things that do not look great on the outside in our lives, can reveal beauty nevertheless. And I haven’t even cooked them yet.

heaney and the beauty of creation

The first of the 16 questions my Spiritual Connection in Daily Life book explores is, “Have you been spiritually touched by the beauty of creation?”

A favorite poet of mine, Seamus Heaney, died last week, and it seemed a good time to offer this  excerpt from my book, which includes part of one of his poems.

“Experiences of wonder are there for the taking. They are around us every day. Awe-inspiring colors and sounds and touch-sensations. Signs of and pointers to the transcendent. When we have these experiences, we touch the transcendent as obviously as we touch the chairs we sit on. It may seem even more real. These feelings can provide encouragement to us. When I look out over a lake, watch a sunset from a balcony, see the bud of a flower in a vase in my apartment, watch the flame of a candle, there can be for me a vivid sense of the “more than.”

“What do you see as the beauty of creation? Can you see it in tears? In faces? In the rough and the smooth?

“Poetry, through expert use of language, can capture this well, and call our attention to these experiences.”

Seamus_Heaney Seamus Heaney’s poem “Postscript,” is a great example of this, and I quote it in the book; you can read it now here on line.

After Heaney’s quotation, I continue in my book,

“If we live in the countryside or near water or spectacular scenery, this can seem easier. But even in an urban environment, evidence of this is there for the taking. Parks, the sky, plants in our apartment, the sound of water, the beauty of people’s faces. And on the other hand, we can miss the chance even in the midst of the obvious. While living in a village on a mountainside in Switzerland, the Alps were usually in view, but I could be so consumed by my own preoccupations that I just did not notice this awe-inspiring beauty. These experiences are not defined by the setting, although it may be easier to feel in some places. You may want to go somewhere that helps you to see this beauty. Do you find space in your life for “wow”? There is something about the very substance of life itself that can inspire us, keep our hearts from drying up. When are you aware of it?”

the dses and inter-religious and religious-secular dialogue

Presentation at the George Mason School for Conflict Resolution and Analysis

April 2, 2013

The Daily Spiritual Experience Scale: Uses for Inter-religious and Religious-secular Dialogue

http://scar.gmu.edu/event/center-peacemaking-practice-lunch-lynn-underwood

Abstract:

The kinds of things that help to give life meaning, purpose, and satisfaction are often grounded in concepts we term religious or spiritual, a sense of the “more than” in daily life. This can be the case for those who find roots in religion as well as those not comfortable with religious language. Spiritual and religious attitudes and values help to shape: how people view the world, what they consider important, what they do, how they act, how they feel, identity and affinity, and also why they may mistrust or hate other people.

The Daily Spiritual Experience Scale (DSES) is a set of 16 multiple-choice questions, psychometrically validated, which can be also be used in an open-ended way. It measures ordinary experiences of relationship with, and awareness of, the divine or transcendent. It measures experiences rather than beliefs, and the ordinary rather than the extraordinary. It has been used in over 150 published studies, linking it to many good outcomes for many kinds of people. Tens of thousands of people have taken the test, and it has been translated into over 30 languages. It has proven useful for most religions and in secular settings for those not comfortable with religion. The DSES is proving to be helpful for assessment, personal exploration, and communication in interpersonal, therapeutic, organizational settings.

This presentation and the subsequent extended discussion with faculty, students, and fellows, explored ways that the questions might be useful for communication between people of different beliefs, allowing them to share about things that are important in their daily lives. Exploring answers to the questions can allow people to connect with others about things that have value and meaning to them without coming up against the walls that discussion of beliefs can lead to. Common ground can be found in the depths of the discussion, even when beliefs differ. This can be helpful in the resolution of conflict, and building bridges in peacemaking process. DSES scores have also been linked to less burnout in practitioners of various kinds.

invited speaker united methodist association national conference

Presented “Spiritual Connection: A Resource for Professional Caregiving” as an invited plenary speaker at the 73rd National Conference of the United Methodist Association in Orlando, FL on March 5, 2013.

“philosophy talks” interview

I discussed  “Unconditional Love,” on “Philosophy Talks” Radio Program, Stanford University, December 9, 2012. Available as a podcast on itunes or at http://philosophytalk.org/

metaphor and the self

Metaphor and the Self: A Role for the Arts in Understanding Suffering and Treating the Person in Distress, Lynn Underwood, International Neuroethics Conference, Brain Matters 3: Values at the Crossroads of Neurology, Psychiatry, and Psychology, October 24-25, 2012

Abstract:

Research shows that the metaphors we use affect our behaviors and attitudes in significant ways. (Holding a cup of hot coffee rather than a cold drink can cause us to have a more friendly attitude towards those we meet; Boroditsky’s work showing how reading about a description of crime as a virus rather than a beast can influence our decisions on the best ways to control the same criminal behaviors.) These effects usually happen implicitly – we are not aware of them. The machine metaphor recurs in our descriptions of the brain and the overall functioning of the body and has become an automatic default. It can be useful in simplifying complex systems, and medical training encourages this. Even efforts to promote humanism in medicine slide in this direction, as communication, empathy and ethical decisions are formulated in mechanistic terms.

This kind of thinking can get in the way when we treat conditions for which no “physical” cause can be found. Self-reports made by the person and their experiences of suffering are essential to the identification of the roots of the problems and opportunities for treatment. However if one buys into the machine metaphor too much, the experience of the person is given less weight in the overall assessment, while objective features such as brain scans, blood chemistry and physiologically evident symptoms are given the final say. Measurements based solely on a machine model lead to interventions that presuppose a kind of person that is incongruous with the way we live our lives, and what is most important to us.

Visual art, film and literature can give insight into the nature of the human person that offers alternative metaphors for the human person, and opens opportunities for creative approaches to treatment and evaluation of outcomes. This presentation would elaborate on those, and give specific examples of how they can help yield more effective treatments and decisionmaking.

Return to “Recent and Current Presentations”

ethical implications of dses research

Ethical Implications of the Daily Spiritual Experience Scale, Bioethics Grand Rounds, Cleveland Clinic, September 11, 2012.

Abstract:

Recent research has asserted the value of incorporating the spiritual orientation, concerns and needs of the patient into the healthcare relationship, and accreditation requires attention to this aspect of the patient. Doing so raises a number of ethical issues, however. Use of the 16 questions from the Daily Spiritual Experience Scale (DSES) can help the health professional avoid some of these ethical problems by 1) focusing on experiences rather than beliefs, 2) using questions validated cross-culturally, 3) opening avenues for communication and understanding, and 4) emphasizing the spiritual aspect of life as a part of the whole person, rather than reducing it to a tool for improving physical health. The DSES questions also assist the professional in better delivering competent care that addresses this complex component of the human person.

The DSES is a 16-item, psychometrically validated scale, used in over 100 published studies and translated into over 20 languages. It measures reported frequency of such ordinary spiritual experiences as awe, compassionate love, mercy, divine closeness, sense of spiritual support, gratitude, and deep inner peace in daily life (www.dsescale.org). The research involved in its development used ethical principles such as respect for diversity to construct a scale that would reach many people substantively. It was based on extensive international qualitative research in multiple cultures, ages and socioeconomic status. It functions well for people from the various major religious traditions as well as for those who call themselves spiritual but not religious, and atheists. Higher scores have been linked with happiness, life satisfaction, less addictive behaviors, less depression and anxiety, better health behaviors, self-efficacy, less burnout, and improved relationships.

Return to “Recent and Current Presentations”

neuroethics course syllabus

INTD 381: Introduction Neuroethics
Introduction to Neuroethics
Syllabus
Spring 2008
Professor Lynn Underwood
INTD 381
Time: 9 30-12 30 Mon Tues Thurs Friday
Class Summary:

Ethical issues that relate to our brains and nervous systems are becoming of increasing importance not just for health professionals but for us all. In this class we will engage with ethical issues arising from new discoveries and technologies in Neuroscience and Cognitive Psychology. We will consider implications for individual action and general policies. We will be exposed to the technologies, philosophical assumptions, and conclusions of the research. Topics introduced will include: moral decision-making and the brain; the interpretation of insights provided by neural imaging (e.g. brain scans); legal responsibility and mental illness; pain and suffering; the effects of psychologically potent drugs and technologies and their appropriate use; the role of and appropriate use of enhancement of mental functioning via drugs and other technologies; and ethics of and mechanisms of brain manipulation by marketing, the media, and other non-medical sources. We will also reflect on how the scientific findings and potential interventions, when combined with other sources of knowledge, have implications for what it means to be human. The text for the course will be “Neuroethics: Defining the Issues in Theory, Practice, and Policy” edited by J. Illes. Films and websites will also be used for resources – one film introducing some basics of brain science through narratives of those suffering from brain diseases ( such as depression, Alzheimers, ADHD and schizophrenia), and a fictional film, “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind”. A class trip or visit from a professional in the field, such as a neurosurgeon or clinical bioethicist is planned. Grades will be based on class participation, short essays and class presentations, a final project (either a researched essay or a creative narrative project), and final essay exam.

Goals of Course:

To engage with the ethical issues that are arising in Neuroscience and Cognitive psychology
To develop opinions about where you stand on various complex issues in this field
To be able to articulate stands regarding policy options
To come to a clearer understanding of what exactly it means to be human by combining the findings of Neuroscience with those in other areas of knowledge
Text:
Neuroethics: Defining the Issues in Theory, Practice, and Policy,J Illes (editor), Oxford University Press, NY, 2006.

Additional readings: Two overview articles from Trends in Cognitive Science will be sent via email as attachments. There may be additional readings on Sakai, in the library, on the web, or sent to you via email. One key article will be: Farah, Martha J., Neuroethics: the practical and the philosophical, Trends in Cognitive Science 9:1, 2005. P 34-40

Also we will read and watch various stories in books and articles of those with Neuro and Cognitive impairments.
Class schedule

Monday Tuesday Thursday Friday

April 17 Film

April 18 Ethics overview
April 21 Brain disease overview

April 22 Film discussion

April 23 text/readings 2

April 24 discussion

April 25 Articles/Chapters as assigned
April 28 Articles/Chapters as assigned

April 29 Alzheimer’s Chapter 7

April 30 text/readings

May 1 Neurosurgery – Class visit Clinical Ethicist

May 2 Final readings/discussion
May 5Projects

May 6 last dayProjects

May 7 Exam

Weighting of assignments:
40% Class attendance, participation in discussion, quizzes, essays, and brief presentations
30% Final Project
30% Final Essay Exam

Final Project: This will be discussed more fully in class. However, you will take a key issue from class or readings. You will draw from the text and articles, do outside research, take a stand on how it needs to be addressed, and describe impact and relevance for action. You may also draw on philosophy, religious studies, literature, visual art, and film to more clearly make your points. This can be a didactic or a creative work. Use APA format for project if in didactic format. You will present on your project in class and lead discussion on the topic.

 

 

syllabus – understanding and interpreting human studies

Understanding and Interpreting Human Studies
INTD 381

Textbook:
Gehlbach, Stephen H. Interpreting the Medical Literature, McGraw-Hill, Amherst, Mass 2006.

There will be a Sakai site on Web4Students associated with this course, and you must be able to access it. Articles will be put up on the site for you to read online or download. It will be enable interaction for project selection.

Class times and schedule:
Class meets from 9:30 to 12:30

Course Summary: Studying people using scientific tools can actually help us and those around us to change behavior wisely and adjust our attitudes to better agree with the way the world operates. This course will introduce some of the key principles in the design of human studies primarily through reading and analyzing studies others have done. It is a challenge to study people. People are unfortunately – or fortunately – “messy”! By reading and interpreting studies of humans, we can make better decisions for ourselves and those we care about. To do that well, we need to know the limitations of the conclusions we can reach given the data presented. This course also addresses the ethical reasons to do research, and ethical concerns both in doing research and interpreting it. There will also be an opportunity to practice designing human research.

Goals:
This is an introductory course – we will work towards the following goals:
1) Be able to read a scientific paper on a human study, especially a medical study, and
a. identify key issues in study design
b. identify some fatal flaws
c. identify some of what you can and cannot conclude from the study
2) Through the reading of papers on human studies be able to identify some of the key factors involved in clinical and human research so that you can:
a. Begin to apply the results – personally and professionally
b. Design human research yourself or with others.
3) Identify some of the key ethical issues in doing human studies and presented when reading about the research of others
4) Apply the results of some specific research studies studied in class to your own life in practical ways.

Class attendance and participation is crucial
Missing even a single class is a real problem in this course. You are getting 3 hours credit for this course, so missing one class is like missing a week of class in the normal semester. Assignment materials will be handed out, and presentations and discussions cannot be made up easily. If you do miss a class it is your responsibility to obtain notes from someone in the class. The text is not a substitute for class participation.

Assignments:
a) Assigned reading. Keep notes on assigned reading. Keeping up with assigned reading is very important and it may also be evaluated by pop quiz or individualized class discussion assessment.
b) Specific project assignments. Make sure these are completed in accordance with the instructions, and submitted on time. Late assignments will not get full credit, and are a real problem as class discussion of assignment material happens the day it is due.
c) You are expected to spend substantive time outside class reading assigned materials and working on projects. The more you put into this course, the more you will get out of it.

Project Assignments:
The following are preliminary descriptions of these assignments. These will be presented in more detail, and possibly refined, as the class develops.

1) Project one
a. Summary – What was the central study question? Explain for the non-expert
b. Terms for Project one: Use these terms to examine the study
* Confounding
* Types of study: More important to describe the architecture of it than to name: Cross sectional, Intervention – (Experimental),Retrospective (Case control – or comparative sample),Variations, Prospective (followup or longitudinal)
* Definitions
* Measurement
* Classifications
* Outcomes
* Selection issues – Bias? Sample? Random?
c. What are the implications for action of this study? What limits keep it from being helpful for action? Discuss strengths and limitations.

2) Second project: Design a study
Think of a question you would like to answer about humans – be specific and clear
Design a study to answer that question.
What kind of study will work best: intervention, cross-sectional, retrospective, prospective, combo
What measures will you use… for each of the variables
How reliable are your measures?
Is there any way to make them more reliable?
How do they connect to the construct of interest- so they enable your study to be useful
How will you “control” the study so that you investigate your question, and not something else?
How will you select your sample?
Think about the various issues we have discussed to date in study design and incorporate them into your study plan.
This assignment will be critiqued by your peers in class.
You will also hand in a hard copy.

3) Final project:
I would suggest that you pick this published study early on in the class, and be collecting your info all along on it.
Take a question that you are interested in answering about human beings that might have practical application to your life or those you care about. Pick something specific.
Pick one original study on the topic in a peer-reviewed medical or social science journal.
Describe the study: Type, selection, measurements, likelihood of having false positive or false negative results…see Gehlbach readings and class notes for prompts for various additional points.
Use what you learned from feedback from project one to improve this project write-up. This project should be in more depth, as you will now know more.
Given the results, what would you advise regarding action and why?
Look at various problems in the study that limits what you can conclude?
Class presentation and hard copy to hand in.
Weighting of assignments:
There will be no final exam in this course
30% Project 1
30% Project 2
40% Project 3

 

using the dses to improve patient care

Using the Daily Spiritual Experience Scale to Improve Patient Care. Psychiatry Conference: Sympozion National al ARSP cu Participare Internationala. Lynn Underwood. Sponsored invitation to speak. Targu Mures, Romania. 31 May – 3 June, 2012.

Abstract:

Spiritual and religious issues and values can influence how people cope with disease, make decisions, and behave in ways that affect their health. Spiritual and religious attitudes help to shape how people view the world and what they consider important. They can provide resources for patients to draw on. These may be particularly salient for them in the midst of mental illness, chronic disease, addiction, times of medical crisis, and at end-of-life.  It is often challenging to communicate with patients about religious and spiritual values and issues without running headlong into beliefs that may polarize conversation and empathic understanding, and limit the caregiver’s capacity to attend to patient needs and desires.

The Daily Spiritual Experiences Scale (DSES) is a 16-item psychometrically validated scale that measures the frequency of ordinary experiences such as awe, compassionate love, mercy, divine closeness, sense of spiritual support, gratitude, and deep inner peace in daily life ( www.dsescale.org ).  The DSES was constructed based on extensive qualitative research in multiple cultures, religions and secular settings.  It has been used in over 100 published studies, answered by many thousands of people, put on longitudinal health studies, and translated into over 20 languages.  It is linked to outcomes such as less addictive behaviors, better mood, improved relationships, decreased hospital stays, positive health behaviors, and diminished burnout.  It has been used extensively in medicine, psychiatry, psychology and social work research.   It functions well for people from various major religious backgrounds as well as for those who call themselves spiritual but not religious.  It does not reduce the spiritual to vague positive features, rather it allows for the kinds of experiences that encompass religious and spiritual depth. It is not only a potential mediating variable but also a measure of a significant component of quality of life for many.

This presentation will discuss ways in which the scale can be used in health-care settings to enhance the caregivers’ capacity to communicate with the patient and to help those who are ill to mobilize their own spiritual and religious resources to better cope with illness.  Another use of the scale is as a self-exploration tool for caregivers themselves using a structured method to enhance self-understanding and their ability to communicate with others different from themselves.  Scores have predicted less burnout in a large hospital system in Hong Kong, as well as in a study of those in the US working in palliative care.

In addition to describing its use in research, and how spiritual experience interacts with biology, this presentation will describe how this psychometrically validated set of 16 questions can be used as a clinical tool to improve patient care.

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enhancing spiritual connection through poetry in a secular context

Enhancing Spiritual Connection through Poetry in a Secular Context. Lynn Underwood. University College London. Institute for Advanced Study, Senate House, June 29, 2012.

Abstract:

Poetry can open the mind to better grasp the complexity of the divine, the holy, and help make connections in down-to-earth ways, integrated into daily life.  The language of poetry and the use of metaphor and apparent paradox can expand our conceptual understanding.  The concreteness of poetry can also help ground this in the substance of our days.  This paper will give examples of specific poetry from Seamus Heaney, Billy Collins, Rainer Maria Rilke, R.S. Thomas, Jessica Powers and others, and point to specifically religious poetry from a variety of faith traditions, describing how they have been useful in the classroom for enriching capacity for sense of communication with the divine for those from specific faith traditions and those who call themselves “spiritual but not religious.”  Poetry provides words that can open doorways without reducing the spiritual to a meaningless common denominator – leading instead to the depths and richness of religious traditions.

Poetry can help those of faith and those not comfortable in a religious tradition to enhance sense of connection with God and become increasingly aware of that connection in daily life. It can bridge traditions and beliefs and has been used effectively by the author of this paper in a variety of secular college classroom settings and in small group work.  Approaching poetry in a contemplative rather than analytic way facilitates this engagement, and journaling encourages direct encounter with the poems themselves in written conversation.  Structured group discussion of personal responses to the poems can also provide mutual illumination of contexts and invitation.

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enhancing communication and understanding in health care

Enhancing Communication and Understanding in Health Care, October 20, 2012, American Society for Bioethics and Humanities, Lynn Underwood, Washington D.C.
Spiritual and religious issues and values often influence how people cope with disease, make decisions, and behave in ways that affect their health. These may be particularly salient for them in chronic disease, mental health, addiction, times of medical crisis, and at end-of-life. It is often challenging to communicate with patients about religious and spiritual values and issues of importance without running headlong into beliefs that may polarize conversation and empathic understanding, and limit the caregiver’s capacity to attend to patient needs and desires.

Abstract:

The Daily Spiritual Experiences Scale (DSES) is a 16-item psychometrically validated scale that measures the frequency of ordinary experiences such as awe, compassionate love, mercy, divine closeness, sense of spiritual support, gratitude, and deep inner peace in daily life (www.dsescale.org). The DSES was constructed based on extensive qualitative research in multiple cultures. It has been used in over 100 published studies, included in the General Social Survey and longitudinal health studies, and translated into over 20 languages. It is linked to outcomes such as less addictive behaviors, better mood, decreased hospital stays, positive health behaviors, and diminished burnout. It has been used extensively in medicine, psychiatry, psychology and social work research. It functions well for people from various major religious backgrounds as well as for those who call themselves spiritual but not religious, and atheists. It does not reduce the spiritual to vague positive features, rather it allows for the kinds of experiences that encompass religious and spiritual depth. It is not only a potential mediating variable but also a measure of a significant component of quality of life for many.
This presentation will discuss ways in which the scale can be used in secular health-care settings to enhance the caregiver’s capacity to communicate with the patient and to help those who are ill to mobilize their own spiritual and religious resources to better cope with illness. Another use of the scale is as a self-exploration tool for caregivers themselves using a structured method to enhance self-understanding and their ability to communicate with others different from themselves. Scores have predicted less burnout in a large hospital system in Hong Kong, as well as in a study of those working in palliative care. This presentation will describe how this psychometrically validated set of 16 questions can be used.

Return to “Recent and Current Presentations”

compassionate love publications by lynn underwood

The Science of Compassionate Love: Research, Theory, and Applications. Fehr. B. Sprecher, S, Underwood, LG, eds. Oxford England, Malden Mass: Wiley-Blackwell. 2009.

Altruism and Altruistic Love: Science, Philosophy, and Religion in Dialogue Post, SG, Underwood, LG, Schloss, JP, Hurlbut, WB, eds., Oxford University Press, 2002.

Articles/Chapters:

“Interviews with Trappist Monks as a Contribution to Research Methodology in the Investigation of Compassionate Love.” Underwood LG Journal for the Theory of Social Behavior, 35:3 (September, 2005), 285-302.

“Altruistic Love – Compassionate Love”. Underwood, L. In Harry T. Reis & Susan Sprecher (Eds.), Encyclopedia of Human Relationships. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage. (2009)

“Chapter 1: Compassionate love: A framework for research” Underwood, Lynn G. in Fehr, Sprecher and Underwood The Science of Compassionate Love: Theory Research and Applications, Blackwell. Wiley- Blackwell. Malden Massachusetts, Oxford, England 2009.

“Giving of Self for the Good of the Other: Science Research on Compassionate Love and Spirituality” Underwood, Lynn G. in The Love that Does Justice, Edwards, Michael and Post Stephen (eds), Cleveland, Ohio 2008, p 133-138.

“Compassionate Love,” in Post, Stephen G. ed. 2004. Encyclopedia of Bioethics, 3rd edition. New York: Macmillan Reference USA, 483-488.

“The Human Experience of Compassionate Love: Conceptual Mapping and Data from Selected Studies”, in Post, SG, Underwood, LG, Schloss, JP, Hurlbut, WB, eds. Altruism and Altruistic Love: Science, Philosophy, and Religion in Dialogue, 2002. New York City: Oxford University Press. 72-88.

“Concluding Summary and Future Research Needs on Altruism and Altruistic Love,” with Post, SG in ibid. 3-12, 379-386.

neuroethics, the arts, and the nature of the human person

Neuroethics, the Arts and the Nature of the Human Person. Lynn Underwood. Medical Humanities Conference, Western Michigan University, Kalamazoo, Michigan, September 29-30 2011.

Abstract

The arts and humanities are essential to effectively grapple with the questions that arise from advances in neuroscientific technologies and treatments. They are essential for medical practitioners as they make treatment and policy decisions. But even those not professionally involved with health care need the arts and humanities as we make decisions about what kinds of pharmaceutical and neurosurgical interventions are appropriate for ourselves and those we care for, policy decisions regarding issues such as human responsibility within health care and criminal justice, and decisions about how to regulate and respond to marketing of neurotechnologies of various kinds.

Also, neuroscientists and interpreters of neuroscience make claims about how ethics operates and the nature of the human person. The humanities can provide us with tools for doing the kinds of reflection necessary to effectively accept or discard these claims. The arts can help to reveal qualities and issues in novel and useful ways.

This presentation will lay out the scope of the problems, and highlight some particularly thorny issues.  Also, it will outline some of the ways to engage students, those in the health sciences and others, with these topics using the humanities and arts to better equip them for the particular challenges neuroscientific knowledge and technologies have brought to the fore. In this context the presenter will draw on four years of classroom experience teaching both Neuroethics and general medical humanities using these methods.

Examination of how we envision the nature of the human person is essential to adequately address many of the issues that increasing knowledge and technology in neuroscience has raised. Film, memoir and poetry, as well as insights from philosophy and religious studies, can usefully inform our decision-making and attitudes.  The visual arts, particularly portraiture and self-portraiture can give us special insight into the nature of the human person. The emergence of popular and scientific appreciation for the complexities of decision-making enable us to see why approaching a complex topic through the arts can give insight that can complement and enhance other kinds of analysis. The arts can enable us to enter into situations in ways beyond merely speculating on how we think we would feel in a given situation. Empathic engagement as well as enhanced sensibilities can result from the inclusion of the arts and humanities in these discussions.

The presentation will outline some of the issues and give specific examples of humanities and art resources that have been effectively used in teaching situations.

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the human person: possibilities for flourishing in dire circumstances

The Human Person: Possibilities for Flourishing in Dire Circumstances. Lynn Underwood. Hellenic Research Foundation, European Research Network. Athens, Greece, September 21, 2007.

Abstract:

Even in the midst of suffering there can be opportunities for the human person to flourish. Of course we do not seek suffering and continually seek to relieve the suffering of self and others. One positive aspect of dire circumstances is that various false illusions and assumptions do not hold up once exposed to situations such as disability, chronic disease, extreme suffering or experiences at end of life. These include various assumptions about apparent self-sufficiency, functionalism (seeing ourselves as “human doings” rather than “human beings”), the place of suffering, our delusions of control, and the fact of mortality. The exposure provided by dire circumstances illuminates the actual situation in such a way that the core or “heart” of the person can be more fully revealed. Science, the arts, theology, philosophy, personal experiences and relationships with others can also provide insights into the nature of the human person when in extremis that can not only help to bear the burdens found in these situations, but actually help to enable human flourishing. There emerge implications for actions that we might take to improve the lives of those in dire circumstances, help us to learn from these situations, and also better handle dire circumstances when we encounter them ourselves.

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human being as revealed in disability

The Human Being as revealed more fully in Disability and In Extremis. Lynn Underwood. European Research Network meeting: The human person in the 21st Century. Thessaloniki, Greece, April 22-25, 2007.

Abstract:

Interaction with people with severe disabilities and chronic disease, people at end of life, and people in other dire circumstances can inform our understanding of the human person.  This can happen through personal and professional interactions and in the context of scientific research. Direct experience of dire circumstances in our own lives can also contribute to insight. When combined with theological, philosophical and artistic explorations these interactions and experiences can lead to further reflection on the core, or “heart,” of the human being, revealing the nature of the human being more fully. This exploration could also provide us with some questions to pursue in greater depth using the tools of the sciences and the humanities.

Various illusions and assumptions do not hold up as people are exposed to situations such as disability, extreme suffering or experiences at end of life. These include assumptions concerning self-sufficiency, functionalism, the place of suffering, the ability to control and mortality. People with disabilities have learned that receiving help does not diminish who they are and that it can actually enhance the human person. Likewise, the disabled person is at a disadvantage in the world constrained by functional evaluations. This realization can expose the fundamental value of a human being as not necessarily identical with their functional status or their physical selves. Suffering can encourage people to draw on the religious sphere, and open sufferers and others to the reality of the spiritual and its intrinsic importance in life.  In the process of suffering one can see more clearly that there is more to a full life than superficial happiness and the pursuit of that happiness. When disabled,  suffering serious chronic disease or in other dire circumstances, it becomes obvious that we are not in control and we are forced to see that sense of control is a delusion.  The realization that death is inevitable affects how someone views life itself, and the fundamental nature of the human person.  Being faced with these situations in extremis can more fully reveal the full nature of the human person.

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