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January 12, 2007
Gaining Release: Healing Hands and Labyrinths

December 8, 2006
Tending to Spirituality's Physical Side: 2 Approaches

December 1, 2006
Rx for Heart Health

November 24, 2006
How Many Ways Can You Open Your Heart? -- Part 4

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Posted: February 17, 2006

Spiritual Caregiving

News to Use -- Blending Happiness with Inane

Blue Light for Happiness?

By Betsy Robinson

It's not new news that full-spectrum light is healthy. In 1956, renowned researcher John Ott discovered this when he was playing with time-lapse photography for Disney Studios. He even coined the term "malillumination" to describe the bad effects of standard lights (heavy on yellow with almost no blue) on plants -- effects he extrapolated to people. But now a team of Brown University researchers led by neuroscientist David Berson has shed even more light on the subject.

The researchers have discovered that a protein called melanopsin absorbs light and sets off a series of chemical reactions in eye cells, sending powerful signals to two brain centers, one of which has a direct functional link to the pineal gland, the so-called third eye gland that is regulated by light stimulation of the eye even when conventional photoreceptors are largely lost (Nature, Feb. 2005). In other words, due to melanopsin, even blind people have a working third eye.

Why is this useful? The pineal produces the hormone melatonin, which tells us when it's day or night, helps determine sleep cycles, and informs our moods and sexual activity. The less light the pineal receives, the more melatonin it secretes. During long periods of darkness, an overproduction is thought to cause Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). Berson's team analyzed the effects of various light wavelengths on melanopsin and discovered that blue light is most effective in exciting it into action.

Will sitting under a blue light then cure SAD? "If we're going to make a light source that's optimum for getting this system going, it makes sense to use the most effective light," says Berson. "But it's not as if blue is the only one that will activate melanopsin. Yellow can be just as effective as long as it is bright enough -- assuming melanopsin plays a role in the therapeutic effect of light on SAD. Nobody has demonstrated this is so. But my guess is that it is."

Are there spiritual ramifications to the benefit of blue light on the third-eye gland? "I'm intrigued by the history," says Berson, "but I'm not aware that the pineal has some special transcendent role in terms of consciousness." Still, one wonders if it's coincidental that in the classic "blue pearl" meditation experience, one is said to see the divine Self as a shimmering blue light.

The pineal gland is a small cone-shaped structure about the size of a pea located almost directly in the middle of the brain. Dubbed the "seat of the soul" by René Descartes, the pineal has for centuries been associated with paranormal phenomena, and has been viewed as an important chakra, or energy vortex. In 1918, Nils Holmgren, a Swedish anatomist, called it the "third eye" because its cells looked very much like retina cone cells. It's often referred to as the "sixth sense," or a direct connection to higher planes.


The One Word You Need to Know About the Future: Plastic

By Stephen Kiesling

In the sixties and seventies, when so many of the baby boomers became college graduates, an entire generation learned that lifestyles are plastic. We no longer had to become what our parents, our economic circumstances, or our religious backgrounds expected us to be.

In the eighties, we learned from the fitness revolution that our bodies are plastic: even those who opted out of PE found that marathon muscles could be made to grow at any age. In the nineties, we learned our brain cells are plastic. So long as we keep learning new skills and thinking new thoughts, we can keep generating new neurons at any age. Now, for this new century, the news is more mind-boggling: our genes are plastic as well. As science writer Sharon Begley writes in the Wall Street Journal, "the notion of 'innate' looks more and more inane."

Begley tells the story of water fleas that are raised in separate tanks. In one tank, researchers have added the chemical scent of a predator fish, and the fleas develop a helmet that makes them hard to swallow. In another tank, water fleas are raised without the scent of danger and develop without protective armor. The same genetics operating in a different environment creates radically different fleas.

In humans, researchers have found that a form of the MAOA gene makes men so much more prone to violence that it has been called the "violence gene." Now it turns out that the same gene can produce different outcomes: Boys raised in abusive households become violent. But in loving households, boys with the violence gene turn out fine.

Scientists are beginning to track down the mechanisms for turning genes on and off. In mice, for example, the amount of licking by the mother changes the chemistry of the "neuroticism gene." Well-licked mice turn out mellow and curious, while less-licked mice are fearful and jumpy.

What Begley doesn't mention is that we carry thousands of genes that used to be called "junk genes" because they don't appear to do anything. On the science fiction fringe is the idea that our DNA originated elsewhere in the universe, and that these silent genes might actually be activated by conditions on other planets. Even if that idea proves to be science fiction, the plasticity of our genes suggests that what humans become is determined by the world we create and perhaps, ultimately, by our imagination.

This article originally appeared in Spirituality & Health magazine, For subscriptions call 1-800-876-8202 or see Editor Stephen Kiesling and his staff contribute weekly columns, features and articles published every Friday as "Spiritual Caregiving" at Contact staff directly via email at

© 2006 Pederson Publishing, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Commercial use, redistribution or other forms of reuse of this information is strictly prohibited without the prior written permission of Pederson Publishing.

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