Friday, November 25, 2011 1:53 PM
It’s too soon to think about New Year’s resolutions. We still have the remains of Thanksgiving in the fridge, and there are the holidays to maneuver before we reach a bleary-eyed New Year’s Day. But the organizers at 100,000 Aspirations are asking us to pause and offer our best intentions for the world right now.
The beautifully ambitious group is collecting 100,000 aspirations that will be placed in a stupa—a monument to peace—being built in northern Vermont. Sponsored by the Sakyong Foundation, in collaboration with the meditation center Karme Choling, the stupa is “for people of all cultures, religions, and backgrounds to enjoy,” says the Shambhala Times.
Early submissions reveal a variety of good hopes: “I aspire to make sure no child feels unworthy,” writes one contributor; “I aspire to be as happy and carefree as a dog,” says another. And Josh Viertel, president of Slow Food USA, writes:
I aspire to live in a world where there are more school gardens than McDonald’s franchises, where it’s easier to feed our kids fruit than Froot Loops, and where we experience our profound connection to each other and the land through sharing work and sharing food.
You can add your aspiration on the 100,000 Aspirations website (it’s quick), tweet it, or submit a video aspiration to the project. Watch Buddhist teacher Pema Chodron offer hers here:
Sources: 100,000 Aspirations, Shambhala Times
Tuesday, November 01, 2011 2:35 PM
What would a month of meditation do for you? In the portrait series “Before and After,” Peter Seidler photographs participants on their first and last days of dathun, a 30-day group meditation retreat. He tells the Shambhala Times:
I set up the “Before and After” project to explore the observable effects on practitioners after long periods of intense meditation practice. The question is: what are the observable changes after a period of intense practice?
Each participant in the project was asked to simply sit for a portrait on first day of dathun.... I photographed them against a consistent background. Prior to the photograph, I asked each person to consider what they were looking for in the practice period ahead. This was on day number one. Then, at the end of the program, after approximately thirty days of retreat, I asked each participant in the project to sit in front of the same background and asked each to consider what the experience of mediation retreat had been for them.... It’s clear from the results that the person in every one of the portraits has undergone an important transformative experience. I leave it to the viewer to draw their own conclusion.
Some people who view Seidler’s images perceive increased contentment and happiness in the meditators’ eyes; others struggle to discern a change. What do you see?
Source: Shambhala Times
Images courtesy of Peter Seidler (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Thursday, August 11, 2011 10:34 AM
For those who strive for inner peace but don’t take themselves too seriously: A list of 20 thoughts to think while pretending to meditate.
What does a real life superhero look like? Photographer Peter Tangen will show you.
Is the story of finding Osama bin Laden a cover for the real story?
Before the EPA was a “Job-Killer,” Michele Bachmann thought it could bring “long-term benefits to…the economy.”
A smart young woman launches an activist website to help her parents’ native country, Yemen, in its grassroots battle to oust 33-year-dictator Ali Abdullah Saleh.
A 417 million-year-old oil deposit is drawing the oil industry to North Dakota, “the only state in the country that had more residents in 1930 than it does today,” Governing reports.
How fast fashion takes a toll on the earth.
High school girls earn ‘A’s for asexuality.
It’s no surprise that Kanye West and Jay-Z would make a collaborative album about how awesome they are. But, Grantland asks, is it any good?
Not to harsh your buzz, but Tom Wolfe’s book The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test is no longer the authoritative work of art on Ken Kesey’s psychedelic school bus ride.
From banjo to violin to blues guitar, street performers offer a primer on the art of busking.
Forget the book of love. Meet the kindly author who wrote the Book of Raunch.
With lots of enticing buttons, flashy animations, pop-ups, and hyperlinks, the Internet can be a pretty distracting place. How is anyone supposed to get any writing done? Answer: Head to QuietWrite, the web’s private writer’s nook.
Image by Drab Makyo, licensed under Creative Commons.
Friday, July 29, 2011 5:19 PM
It was the om heard ’round the world. Yesterday in 108 cities—from London to Los Angeles, Hong Kong to Houston, Barcelona to Birmingham, and more—“MedMob” groups participated in large-scale displays of meditation.
Playing off of the flash mob concept, in which strangers organize online, arrange to meet at a specific time and place, and then perform an unexpected public act, MedMob members delight in presenting meditation in a surprising, inclusive way, says Shambhala Sun. MedMob’s goals aren’t complex, but they are significant:
1. To create an environment for people from all walks of life to come together in meditation.
2. To expose the world to meditation through public display of meditation.
3. To come together as a global community to send positive intentions out into the world.
4. To show that leading by example is the best way to lead. Simple acts can stimulate major paradigm shifts in thinking.
The MedMob movement, which began in Austin early this year, is for everyone, reports David Telfer McConaghay for elephant journal. Telfer assures us that passers-by do not need to believe in “hippy-dippy feel-goodery” to participate in meditation, whether in a group or alone. “The goal is not to attain some state of illusory bliss, then wander around all day in a disconnected daze with a silly grin,” he writes. “The goal (if meditation can be said to have a goal) is to allow the naturally arising chaos and distractions of the mind to settle and fade so that we can act and make choices with greater intention and clarity.”
Below are a handful of blissful (and maybe even a little hippy-dippy) feel-good photos from the July 28, 2011 international MedMob event:
Long Beach, California (above)
Sources: Shambhala Sun, elephant journal
Images courtesy of MedMob. (The photo at the top of this post comes from Amsterdam.)
Friday, June 03, 2011 11:53 AM
My iPhone is telling me to take a deep breath. Thanks to a new application called The Mindfulness App, those of us who remember to check our email 87 times a day but forget to take a moment to center ourselves can be prompted to enjoy a peaceful moment.
The Mindfulness App, available for the iPhone, iPad, and iPod Touch, is designed to help users meditate and offers several customizable features: You can set notifications that gently alert you when it’s time to meditate. You can choose how many minutes you want to devote to meditation—3, 5, 15, or 30. You can select what you want to hear while you meditate—a guiding voice or silence interspersed with bell tones. Or, according to the app description, you can set your phone to call you now and then “to check whether you really are there.”
The application comes from MindApps, a Swedish company lead by mindfulness and yoga teachers Martin Wikfalk and Magnus Fridh. While it can seem counterintuitive to combine technology and spiritual balance, it may be just what the busiest among us need. “The Mindfulness App is a tool for increasing your awareness in life,” Wikfalk and Fridh say in a press release. “It helps you with the most difficult aspect of mindfulness practice—namely to remember to be mindful.”
The developers also report that The Mindfulness App is the fourth most popular iPhone app in their home country of Sweden—ranking right between two versions of Angry Birds.
Image courtesy of Mind Apps.
Thursday, April 07, 2011 4:53 PM
Finding time for meditation is tricky, but I steal a few moments for it whenever I can: while reclined in the dentist’s chair, waiting for the hygienist; while riding the pleasantly rumbling bus on a morning commute; and, on increasingly rare occasions, while sitting on my bedroom floor in half lotus position. At this woefully meager rate, however, enlightenment—or any of meditation’s benefits—seems miles away.
For devout meditators (some with more than 10,000 meditation hours under their belts), meditation provides clear rewards. Scientists have indicated that meditation can alter experienced meditators’ brains, changing their gray matter to improve concentration and mental health. Now, even the time-crunched masses can enjoy the positive results of meditation, reports Jason Marsh in Greater Good. A study published in the journal Psychiatry Research: Neuroimagingreveals that “meditating for just 30 minutes a day for eight weeks can increase the density of gray matter in brain regions associated with memory, stress, and empathy,” Marsh writes.
Researchers studied 16 participants in the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center. None of them were master meditators, yet their brains were changed by 30-minute meditation sessions.
“When their brains were scanned at the end of the program, their gray matter was significantly thicker in several regions than it was before,” writes Marsh. He continues:
One of those regions was the hippocampus, which prior research has found to be involved in learning, memory, and the regulation of our emotions. The gray matter of the hippocampus is often reduced in people who suffer from depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
The researchers also found denser gray matter in the temporo-perietal junction and the posterior cingulated cortex of the meditators’ brains—regions involved in empathy and taking the perspective of someone else—and in the cerebellum, which has been linked to emotion regulation.
Carving out even 30 minutes a day for meditation can feel daunting, but Marsh points out that every little bit counts:
The upshot of all this research seems to be: Small steps matter. Many of us can bring about positive effects on our brains and overall well-being—without an Olympic effort.
Source: Greater Good
Image by titanium22, licensed under Creative Commons.
Friday, March 19, 2010 2:10 PM
Death doesn’t have to be terrifying or even a disappointment. Many Christian, Confucian, and Classical philosophers have written and spoken about what it means to live and die with dignity, grace, or even good cheer. In an interview with Shambala Sun, the writer Simon Critchley relays this strangely charming tale:
There’s a wonderful story of a Zen Buddhist monk from the twelfth century who preached to his disciples and then sat in the Zen position and died. When his followers complained that he died too quickly, he revived and harangued them for a bit longer. Then he died five days later.
Source: Shambhala Sun (Article not yet available online)
Tuesday, February 23, 2010 7:41 AM
Interested in improving your attention skills after reading stories like “A Nation Distracted” and “The Focused Life” in our March-April 2010 issue? Evidence suggests that meditation is a good place to start—and, as luck would have it, the alternative press is chock full of assistance. Here’s a smattering of stories and resources to get you started:
In 2008, Utne Reader reprinted Brad Warner’s “Learn to Sit Still,” a humble and humorous explanation of the state of non-thinking from the Buddhist review Tricycle. Warner, a Zen Buddhist monk, is the author of Hardcore Zen and Sit Down and Shut Up.
“Got seat?” Jonathan Kaplan asks. Writing for Psychology Today, the clinical psychologist and founder of Urban Mindfulness describes how to get contemplative during your (not-car-driving) commute. “Meditating on the subway is probably not ideal,” he writes, “but it sure beats playing Brick Breaker on your Blackberry, messing with your iPhone . . . or skipping a meditation session altogether.”
Shambhala Sun has an excellent collection of meditation and mindfulness resources available online, culled from the venerable bimonthly’s archives. Yoga Journal offers an equally fine assortment of meditation stories and articles.
Although Penny Wrenn isn’t writing exclusively about meditation, in her piece for Natural Solutions the writer nonetheless makes some prudent observations about the efficacy of jumping headlong into a lifestyle change.
From the POZ archives, here’s a short and compelling piece about the health benefits of meditation for people living with HIV. Plus, a primer on types of meditation from “mindfulness meditation” to “centering prayer meditation” and get-started resources.
Sources: Tricycle, Psychology Today, Shambhala Sun, Yoga Journal, Natural Solutions, POZ
Image by D Sharon Pruitt, licensed under Creative Commons.
Tuesday, July 28, 2009 10:34 AM
With speculation swirling about which industries will weather the recession, and which will give way to a new economic order—there’s one that has a pair of writers at Vancouver Review mighty curious: the “yoga industrial complex,” worth an estimated $225 billion.
“In many ways, Western yoga can be seen as a subset of New Age culture, which is another way of saying ‘Don’t forget your wallet,’ ” Lalo Espejo and Patrick Pennefather write. “It’s no wonder that marketers covet the monied yoga demographic . . . which is unfortunate, because in India, yogis historically shared their knowledge free of charge. In our time and place, this spirit of humility has shifted from ‘free’ to ‘franchise,’ and ‘let’s follow that litigious asshole, Birkram Choudhury.’ ”
The popularity of teacher training has transformed the practice into “a kind of yoga Ponzi scheme,” the duo observes in their relentless roast. But this is no heartless skewering. For “insta-gurus now feeling the blunt agnostic edge of a tanking economy,” Pennefather offers up some of his Patented Yoga Poses for the Newly Poor. The article isn't yet available online, so here’s a sample:
Down ’n’ out Dog™: Mainly a facial exercise, let the eyes and mouth droop, then pull everything tight. Repeat. Works the face in a way not previously possible with botoxed cheeks.
The Potato Bug™: Can be practiced in a small space, with or without a mat. Find your secret place, lie on your side, and curl up into a little ball. Most effective under a desk or table.
The Ostrich™: Similar to Downward Dog, just stick you head in the sand. To be practiced upon hearing rumors of job cuts. Helps achieve a peaceful state of denial while smoothing out neck wrinkles, and helps you look youthful when your spiritual ass is for sale.
Source: Vancouver Review
Image by j / f / photos, licensed under Creative Commons.
Thursday, July 16, 2009 2:33 PM
Inside Google’s headquarters in Mountain View, California, employees take part in a meditation class called “Search Inside Yourself.” The program, profiled by Shambhala Sun, is the brainchild of Google employee number 107, Chade-Meng Tan. Now that Google’s success has made him rich, Meng is devoting his time to popularizing meditation worldwide, a goal that he believes will literally bring forth world peace.
The classes started as a stress reduction program, but Meng found that engineers and other Google employees weren’t interested in reducing their stress. Now the classes focus on teaching about emotional intelligence. Among the lessons, employees learn about “mindful emailing,” where people are taught to stop after writing an email, take three breaths, and visualize the recipient’s emotional and mental response before sending. Meditation experts have been brought into advise the proceedings and tackle the inevitable dilemmas involved in mixing spirituality with the corporate work environment, including “Will they truly serve the participants’ lives or just the company’s goals of efficiency and profits?”
Source: Shambhala Sun (article not available online)
Wednesday, July 15, 2009 11:38 AM
As Google’s self-proclaimed “Jolly Good Fellow,” Chade-Meng Tan works to reduce employee stress and bring peace to the workplace. Buddhist culture magazine Shambhala Sun features Meng's employee enrichment program Search Inside Yourself, which introduces Google employees to basic mindfulness through journaling, listening, and walking mediation.
Meng even teaches mindful emailing. It's simple: type an email and then take three breaths, looking again at the messgae and imagining the recipient’s emotional and mental response, then rewrite where necessary. Who knows, you might abandon the email altogether. One employee says he shocked a colleague when, after worrying his email would be misread, picked up the phone. A revolutionary act in today's quick-hit e-correspondence culture.
Source: Shambhala Sun (full article not available online)
Image by Yodel Anecdotal, licensed under Creative Commons.
Thursday, July 02, 2009 10:16 AM
The Buddhist magazine Tricycle (a 2009 Utne Independent Press Award nominee) has unearthed something quite precious from their archives: a 1991 interview with the Dalai Lama conducted by the late writer and monologue master Spalding Gray. The conversation is colored by the kind of blunt truths Gray was famous for. It's a great exploration of the fundamental tenets of Tibeten Buddhism, and it's also hilarious:
Spalding Gray: We’ve both been traveling these last weeks and the most difficult thing that I find on the road is adjusting to each location, each different hotel. And I don’t have the centering habits you do. I have a tendency to want to drink the alcohol, which, as you said in an earlier interview, is the other way of coping with despair and confusion. I have a feeling that you have other methods for adjusting. Just what are some of your centering rituals and your habits when you come into a new hotel?
The Dalai Lama:
I always first inquire to see “what is there.” Curiosity. What I can discover that is interesting or new. Then, I take a bath. And then I usually sit on the bed, crosslegged, and meditate. And sometimes sleep, lie down. One thing I myself noticed is the time-zone change. Although you change your clock time, your biological time still has to follow a certain pattern. But now I find that once I change the clock time, I’m tuned to the new time zone. When my watch says it’s eight o’clock in the evening, I feel sort of sleepy and need to retire and when it says four in the morning I wake up.
Spalding Gray: But you have to be looking at your clock all the time.
And then there is this gem:
The Dalai Lama: As a Buddhist monk, I usually have no solid meal after lunch, no dinner. So that is also a benefit.
When I passed your room last night, I saw six empty ice-cream sundae dishes outside your door.
Translator (after much laughter): It was members of the entourage.
Thursday, April 30, 2009 3:15 PM
What is the appropriate space for prayer? Landscape Architecture—an accessible, engaging magazine published by the American Society of Landscape Architects—offers some points to chew on in its coverage of the Pope John Paul II Prayer Garden, which opened in Baltimore last October.
Situated next to a parking ramp, surrounded with a cage-like security fence, and locked up at night, the location prompted Landscape Architecture editor J. William Thompson to wonder back in February: “Who chose this site for the Prayer Garden, anyway?” Thompson points to Matthew 6:6, which calls for keeping prayer to private spaces.
Readers fired back in April’s letters: “What better place to bear witness than a busy street in downtown Baltimore, a city whose street corners are sometimes open-air drug markets or refuges for the homeless?” Catherine Mahan and Scott Rykiel write. (Baltimore landscape architecture firm Mahan Rykiel Associates, Inc. designed the garden.)
“Although the prayer garden in Baltimore may not be conducive to quiet meditation or contemplation, any venue is fitting for prayer,” another reader writes. A reader completing her master’s thesis on designing spiritual spaces emphatically disagrees: “Would I pray in this garden? The answer is NO.”
So, I’ve got to ask (nursery-rhyme style): Mary, Mary, quite contrary / from where does true prayer flow? Would you pray in a public garden? Even next to a parking ramp?
Source: Landscape Architecture
Friday, April 10, 2009 5:01 PM
The intersection of spirituality and environmentalism is somewhere in Idaho—on a gravel road where a painted turtle is trudging across, making her way from one marsh to another. “My spirits soared,” Rick Bass writes in Shambhala Sun, “at the life-affirming tenacity of her journey, her crossing, as well at this most physical manifestation that indeed the back of winter was broken; for here, exhumed once again by the warm breath of the awakening earth, was the most primitive vertebrate still among us.”
Here’s to that awakening earth, and all the surging, ecstatic feelings it can conjure. For as much time as we might spend talking (and listening, reading, and thinking) about the need to protect the earth, to save our fragile, damaged world: We need to connect with it too. For Bass, it’s all in one: “For me, activism is a form of prayer, a way of paying back some small fraction of the blessing that the wilderness is to me.”
Source: Shambhala Sun
Image by Pvt. Pondscum, licensed under Creative Commons.
Friday, January 30, 2009 1:06 PM
In such depressing economic times, the phrase “money can't buy happiness” is at once wishful and trite. But it's worth a shot to at least try to let go of our national money obsession and instead focus on quality of life, isn’t it? That's why Yes! magazine has devoted their entire Winter 2009 issue to “Sustainable Happiness,” the balance between happiness for humans and the planet they inhabit.
Articles include one family’s success with a “no-buy” Christmas and a list of “10 Things Science Says Will Make You Happy” with basic-but-true ideas like “Savor Everyday Moments” and “Avoid Comparisons.”
Image by Sabrina Campagna, licensed under Creative Commons.
Monday, January 05, 2009 1:04 PM
In its January 2009 issue, Shambhala Sun is “Celebrating 30 Years of Buddhism in America” along with its anniversary (1978-2008). Among the thoughtful offerings: Senior editor Barry Boyce chronicles the dramatic changes Western Buddhism has undergone since it was introduced to the United States.
Marcia Z. Nelson reviews some of the most significant Buddhist books from the past 30 years, such as The Art of Happiness (1998), a Eastern-philosophy-meets-Western-psychology bestseller coauthored by the Dalai Lama and psychiatrist Howard Cutler. Nelson also singles out Wherever You Go, There You Are (1994) and Full Catastrophe Living (1991) as two books that brought mind-body meditation into the mainstream.
Another article—"What's Next?"—assembles thoughtful predictions from an array of Buddhist thinkers (excerpt only). “Just like pouring water from one container into another, this formless wisdom may be transmitted from one country, culture, and language to another by way of the cultural forms and conventions that contain it,” writes scholar and meditation master Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche.
Image by alicepopkorn, licensed under Creative Commons.
Friday, December 19, 2008 4:02 PM
Last September Forbes released a list of America's most stressful cities. Chicago came out on top, right above places like San Francisco and New York, due to issues like unemployment, population density, and low air quality. Many people, both in and outside of those communities, think it’s impossible to achieve mental tranquility within the city.
But contrary to a certain strain of popular belief, you don’t have to run off to the woods or to India to find a little peace. Common Ground magazine used Forbes’ list as a springboard to consult yoga and meditation experts, neighborhood bartenders, and doctors on how to deal with stresses like overcrowding, multitasking, and economic hardship. The result is practical, effective advice on beating "urban angst," good ideas that people often forget when they're caught up in the pressures of everyday city life.
Image courtesy of Joe Shlabotnik, licensed under Creative Commons.
Friday, December 05, 2008 1:07 PM
Researchers continue to explore the therapeutic benefits of meditation, and one new study on depression touts mindfulness exercises as viable alternatives to anti-depressants.
Just two months of Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) prevented relapses better than traditional treatments, according to researchers at the University of Exeter. Forty-seven percent of patients relapsed after MBCT, compared with sixty percent who relied on traditional treatment methods, and the MBCT test groups reported higher levels of satisfaction with their physical well-being and in their day-to-day activities.
In the MBCT trials, a therapist led small groups in focusing exercises, inspired in part by Buddhist meditation techniques. The exercises encouraged participants to concentrate on the present rather than past or future events. The therapy was designed for simplicity, allowing patients to practice independently after the study ended. According to Professor Willem Kuyken, who led the study, MBCT works because it “teaches skills for life.”
Interest in the therapeutic applications of meditation isn’t particularly new—Utne Reader recently covered the issue here and here. MBCT seems promising, though, as a realistic way to integrate mindfulness practices with more conventional forms of psychological treatments. MBCT is a potentially cost-effective option for treating depression on a large scale because it’s led by a single therapist in groups of eight to fifteen, patients learn to practice the techniques without oversight, and it appears to stave off relapses. The Exeter team, encouraged by the findings, has already announced plans for further study on MBCT techniques.
(Thanks, Shambala Sun.)
Monday, November 03, 2008 11:50 AM
The new website Intent.com is like the Huffington Post of the metaphysical realm, offering an online repository of mindful living writing. Started by Mallika Chopra, an entrepreneur and Deepak Chopra’s daughter, the site’s brand represents an amorphous mélange of business motivation, self-help, and Eastern spirituality. The site breaks down into the squishy categories of Health, Relationships, Success, Balance, Causes, Planet, and Spirit.
As the cornerstone of Intent.com, bloggers state their intent (“To laugh out loud every day!”, “Not to over indulge in candy or booze tonight!”, “To recognize and share the presence of life’s magic”) and users can register to add their own intents or to affirm others.
The site isn’t simply an unmitigated orgy of loving-kindness, however. Yesterday, Deepak Chopar posted an overtly political video blog about John McCain entitled, “War Hero or War Criminal, Who Decides?” In fact, there’s a generous dose of political content, most of it pro-Obama and against California’s Prop-8. There are also the sorts of diverting anecdotal pieces that wouldn’t be out of place at Slate, Salon, or, well, HuffPo.
Tuesday, October 14, 2008 2:52 PM
Considering the community they provide and the devotion they inspire, sports serve religious functions, Andrew Cooper writes for Tricycle. “Sports satisfy our deep hunger to connect with a realm of mythic meaning, to see the transpersonal forces that work within and upon human nature enacted in dramatic form, and to experience the social cohesion that these forms make possible,” Cooper writes.
For players, a form of spirituality is often experienced in the idea of the “zone,” according to Cooper. Players and announcers speak of a game-time “zone” mindset, where a player is able to forget himself and his surroundings and play almost unconsciously. Cooper writes that this experience is similar, though not the same, as the Buddhist idea of enlightenment. He writes, “a Zen perspective on the relationship between practice and enlightenment may help clarify structural issues in the relationship between self-effort and self-transcendence in sport.”
Ten examples of the transcendence in sports can be found on BeliefNet, where the editors have compiled the top 10 “sports miracles.” The website compiled 10 feats of athleticism that they call miracles because of their improbability.
Taken to the extreme, the parallels between sports and religion quickly become absurd. The Onion ran an article with the headline, “God Wastes Miracle On Running Catch In Outfield.” Rather than bringing peace to the Middle East or helping victims of natural disasters, the God of the Onion opts instead to meddle in a baseball games. No word yet on who God supports in the current Major League Baseball playoffs, unfortunately.
Image by Moazzam Brohi, licensed under Creative Commons.
Monday, October 06, 2008 1:06 PM
A controversy erupted recently in upstate New York, when public high school teachers tried to use yoga to help students relax before tests, the Associated Press reports. Parents and community members, including a Baptist minister, alleged that the program blurred the line between church and state and might indoctrinate students into Hinduism.
The immense popularity of yoga in secular society could render its religious provenance moot, but Mollie Ziegler at GetReligion points out, “whether or not yoga can be divorced from Hinduism, to the Hindu it certainly is a religious discipline.” Ziegler quotes yoga experts who argue that the practice’s secularization has stripped away its mental and spiritual components and focused solely on the body, robbing yoga of much of its power by re-branding it as a get-fit-quick regimen. The AP article hints at this tension, but never tackles it, causing Ziegler to write, “it's just a weak story all around.”
For more on the rocky relationship between yoga and the press, read Robert Love's "Fear of Yoga" from the March/April 2007 issue of Utne Reader.
Photo by Angela Sevin, licensed by Creative Commons.
Tuesday, September 23, 2008 10:10 AM
The Buddhist practice of mindfulness—the engaged awareness of the present moment, of one’s self and surroundings—has many practical applications in the modern, busy world. But many of us live in a loud, violent, crowded culture, and sometimes it’s hard to find room for mindfulness. “That’s all well and good for someone at a meditation retreat in the mountains,” an overwhelmed city dweller might sniff, “but it won’t work here.”
Andrea Miller, writing for Shambhala Sun (excerpt only online), anticipates that reaction and outlines five practical contexts where mindfulness can be practiced despite the odds against it. Miller describes mindfulness initiatives in health and healing, caregiving, education, prisons, and organizational leadership. “Not long ago seen as fringey and foreign, mindfulness practice is going mainstream.”
Image by mrhayata, licensed by Creative Commons.
Friday, July 25, 2008 1:43 PM
Buddhism prompts its adherents to face important but uncomfortable questions about dying. “Since death is certain, but the time of death is uncertain, what is the most important thing?” is one of Buddhist teacher Pema Chodron’s favorite inquiries. In the September issue of Shambhala Sun (article not available online), Chodron suggests that instead of focusing on death, it's more important to create “gaps” in our lives, pauses from constant worries and plans. We can’t always physically escape to a beach at sunset or a retreat center to get away from our worries, so calming our minds is essential. Taking three conscious breaths when you find yourself distracted is the foundation of Chodron’s pause practice, while “listening intently” and “put[ting] your full attention on the immediacy of your experience,” are other ways to break away, even if it means you’re listening to the sound of the copier in the next room and feeling an office chair against your back. “Find ways to create the gap frequently, often, continuously,” writes Chodron. “In that way, you allow yourself the space to connect with the sky and the ocean and the birds and the land the blessing of the sacred world.”
Image by Hans-Peter, licensed under Creative Commons.
Monday, December 31, 2007 3:36 PM
We blunder through our days asleep, our lives a dream, the true nature of reality obscured. And why not? It seems so hard to pierce the veil of everyday life to get to something sublime. Where would you even start?
The beginning is simple. You notice how you walk. You notice your breath.
That’s how you start Vipassana meditation. Also called insight meditation, Vipassana meditation trains the mind to notice sensations. From the simple act of observing your breath and your thoughts, your understanding can deepen. The idea is to get to the true nature of reality in which the self dissolves. And while that goal seems heady, it all begins with the basic act of breathing. Interested? The 2007 Utne Independent Press Award-winning Shambhala Sun is featuring a helpful step-by-step introduction from its archives by master Sayadaw U Pandita to get you started.
Monday, October 29, 2007 11:28 AM
By Brendan Mackie
John Porcellino has been churning out the seminal comic zine King-Cat for nearly two decades, making him one of the longest-running self-published authors out there. Over that time, the zine’s honest sensibility has garnered Porcellino armies of fans. Though the plots of King-Cat are underwhelming—memories of teenage crushes, stories about taking a walk on a beautiful night, dreams, illustrated Zen koans—Porcellino's simply drafted panels belie an inner weight. They’re more about expressing a particular feeling than they are about huge life-changing events. "The thing I was always interested in was this thing called Real Life," Porcellino explained during a recent talk at Minneapolis' Big Brain Comics.
Because of the zine’s personal nature, King-Cat has changed as Porcellino has matured. When King-Cat first started, Porcellino was a rambunctious young punk-rocker and his strips were wild. But somewhere along the line Porcellino started slowing down. He began meditating and reflecting more intensely on his life. Eventually, a more conscious tone resonated from King-Cat’s pages. Porcellino has just released a collection of the comic from 1989 to 1996, King-Cat Classix. Utne.com fended off a line of awkward hipsters clutching their own zines at Big Brain to talk to Porcellino about making comics, meditation, and “doing King-Cat.”
You've been making zines for more than 30 years, and King-Cat for 18. What do you attribute your longevity to?
Making zines is exactly what I want to do, not only the content of it, but the format, too. I just love the connection with people. And to a certain extent I'm just stubborn: I started something and I want to see it through as far as I can.
In your talk, you spoke about how the business side of King-Cat—the photocopying, the distribution—was as important to you as the actual writing of the zine.
To me, the process of writing isn't complete until this [zine] is in somebody else's hands.
How did you get into meditation?
When I was in my mid-twenties I came down with some health issues, and like a lot of people in that position I suddenly started taking a look at all these things I had taken for granted—my life and what I was doing and how I was doing it. I probably picked up a few books on Zen, and it made sense to me. The way I describe Zen, Soto Zen in particular, is that it's kind of like finding an old pair of shoes in your closet that you forgot you had. You put them on and they're beautiful, a perfect fit for you; they're all worn in, and you're ready to go. It connected with these interior feelings, these ideas that I'd idly felt below the surface but could never give voice to. Zen helped me fit those ideas together.
So much of your internal life is portrayed in King-Cat. As you started to change, did the comics change?
The change is reflected in the comics themselves. I was at a point in my life when I was naturally slowing down and paying more attention to things. To a certain extent I went through a period of withdrawal; I went into a more interior world about the same time when I was looking around at different ways of practice. The comics show that slowing down, and hopefully they show that I've been paying more attention. But you can also see it in that kind of unified approach that I have taken to King-Cat: For me, standing here talking to you is doing King-Cat as much as drawing it, writing it, putting it into the mail is. Doing the dishes or going for a walk can be doing King-Cat. I don't know how much of that shows up to the reader, but for me it's a big change.
How did your readers react to this change?
I heard that some people didn't like it, but I never really talked to a lot of them. There's a continuity and an underlying approach that's been consistent in King-Cat, even though I was a very different person back when I started it. I'm sure there are people who appreciated or enjoyed those older comics more, but at the same time there are a lot of people who have gone with it for the whole time.
Can comics be Zen?
There's probably something Zen to anything.
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