2/26/2010 3:22:03 PM
During Lent this year, some Christians will give up sweets or booze. Will Self, a secular humanist nonbeliever, is giving up art and culture. In an essay for the New Statesman, Self explains his decision to eschew the pleasures of books, music, museums, and the internet. He writes:
In a cultural desert, the mind begins to burrow deep within itself - just as, in an actual desert, a human body seeks shelter among the rocks. Perhaps in this harshly deracinated environment you will be driven to meditate upon the transcendent, a practice that has become dreadfully unfashionable in the present era, lacking as it does the requisite aestheticism.
Source: New Statesman
, licensed under
2/23/2010 7:41:44 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.
2/19/2010 5:08:31 PM
Care farms are places where some of society’s most vulnerable people join farmers in working the land, reaping a connection to social support, meaningful work, and the natural world, Lorna Howarth writes in Resurgence. The farms, which already play a significant role in the Dutch health- and social-care system, are gaining popularity in the United Kingdom as options for people with mental health issues, substance abuse problems, and difficulty in traditional schools.
While some farms are day-work oriented, others offer extended residential stays. One UK couple, for example, runs a care farm that offers a nine-month program for former drug offenders. Fourteen men, age 20 to 50, live on the farm and learn the forestry and livestock business. “But what they really love is being part of family life,” the couple told The Times. The UK farms, numbering around 100, have been so successful there’s talk of establishing a national farm care plan and accreditation system.
It’s a scheme in which all benefit, too: Farmers, many of whom convert from traditional operations, receive a daily stipend for each “farm helper” which helps cover staffing costs. The money comes from social or legal services or pupil referrals. Howarth also points out that the traditional farm life can be an isolated one, characterized by “intense lone working.”
“Feedback from farmers who have moved into care farming has been fantastic,” she writes. “The enjoyment and enhanced meaning brought to their lives through delivering care on their own farms taps into the huge passion they have for sharing their skills and cultivating both the growth of plants and animals, and that of fellow human beings.”
Sources: Resurgence, The Times
2/19/2010 4:19:59 PM
What’s the secret to stemming gang violence in Los Angeles? Get kids off the street and put them to work—but only if they want to. That’s been the mission of Father Greg Boyle, the executive director of Homeboy Industries, a nonprofit that claims to be “the largest gang-intervention program in the country.” Boyle’s organization has several businesses that offer job placement and other services (counseling, tattoo removal, etc.) to former gang members, all with the hopes of building community by having “enemies working together, earning a living.” Jen Kim interviewed Boyle for Psychology Today. Here are some excerpts:
How have you changed the community?
Gang related homicides in L.A. have been cut in half, and then cut again since 1992. Without a doubt Homeboy has been a part of that equation. We stand for an idea: What if we were to invest in people rather than just keep trying to incarcerate our way out of this problem? The first 10 years it was hard because the demonization of gang members was pretty full. But in the last 10 years, people are starting to get it—that this is in fact smart on crime. It’s not enough to just yell at people and say “no” to gangs. You have to offer an exit ramp off this crazy freeway.
Is it hard to convert gang members?
Out program is only for those who want it. We don’t go to them. We don’t recruit. So once they come in here, they have to fully cooperate in their own recovery.
Do any homeboys dislike Homeboy Industries?
Ninety-five percent of all gang members want what these folks have, which is a life. It’s like drug rehab. If you’re still using, you don’t begrudge somebody who’s in recovery. You may say, I’m not ready for that, but you don’t hate on them.
Source: Psychology Today (article not available online)
2/18/2010 3:37:14 PM
Window gazing—when you catch yourself doing it—can feel like a guilty distraction, a momentary lapse of attention that ought to be corrected by re-focusing on the task at hand. But what if we treated looking out the window as a purposeful exercise? Whenever Carly Stasko needs a break, she writes for Spacing, she does just that. Instead of turning to any number of the screens modern life offers as distraction, she sits and gazes out at a neighborhood intersection, observing the “pedestrian culture” she’s come to appreciate as an art form.
“Yes, this is voyeurism,” Stasko confesses, “but less creepy and with a dose of humanity. Instead of peeking into other people’s windows I’m gazing out of my own.” She reports that she rarely spends more than a few minutes—contrast that to the time-suck of TV or the Internet—and that the experience leaves her with a sense of interconnection and appreciation, rooted in her neighborhood.
Source: Spacing (article not available online)
Image by Olga Dietrich, licensed under Creative Commons.
2/15/2010 1:26:23 PM
Catholic nuns are using an Eastern healing technique known as Reiki to help people with spiritual and physical healing. The practice involves placing hands on people’s bodies to balance energies and restore vitality. The US Conference of Catholic Bishops, however, have labeled Reiki as a superstition incompatible with Catholicism. Religion and Ethics Newsweekly delves into the conflict inside the Catholic Church, interviewing nuns who have embraced the technique and bishops who are fighting against it. You can watch a video of that below:
Source: Religion and Ethics Newsweekly
2/12/2010 4:56:35 PM
The new issue of Bust magazine has a short-but-sweet profile of The Doula Project, an amazing volunteer-run group of abortion doulas: specially trained doulas who support and advocate for women “across the spectrum of pregnancy.” The group, which is based out of a public hospital in New York City, “keeps women company and provides relaxation techniques during abortion procedures for no cost,” Bust reports.
“To me, it seemed like a very intuitive idea,” says Lauren Mitchell, who co-founded the Project. “Why aren’t there doulas for abortions? It’s usually an uncomfortable procedure, it can be emotional, it encompasses a huge range—life, sex, death. It’s intense.” Sometimes the doula will hold a woman’s hand or rub her scalp to calm her; other times, she may crack corny jokes or trade dating stories. The doula also offers information on the procedure and can explain to the woman what is happening to her body.
According to Bust, the Project plans to expand within the New York City area this year; members are also developing a training kit “in the hopes that the idea continues to spread.”
Source: Bust (article not available online)
2/12/2010 4:31:15 PM
Loitering usually has a negative connotation as an act that authority figures frown upon. But at Harvard University students can sign up to loiter—in fact, there’s an entire class dedicated to it that we can all learn from.
In Art Lies, Carlin Wing explores the value in learning to loiter through professor Stephen Prina’s course in which students are given a number of tasks requiring them to break out of their usual patterns and explore new things—and then share their observations with classmates. “The assignments all involve a certain sort of destructuring of what an assignment can and should be,” Wing writes. “Meanwhile the acts of collecting evidence to present and produce conversation in class help assign serious value to wandering walks and the errant perusal of music and magazines.” Activities vary from listening to a new album you would pass over normally to visiting a new place and collecting evidence on the way there. Anything you wouldn’t gravitate toward on your own. Wing makes some big-picture observations about what results:
What is compelling about this class is less what happens in it and more how it stays with you once it is over. It follows at your heels when you head off to other climes. It bubbles up on street corners in Nashville or freeways in Los Angeles. Instead of defining itself as a space where art is produced, it defines every moment of your daily activity as one of potential research or production. That is the genius in it. It can potentially come off as a fucking around sort of class lacking definition and discipline. But while you are casually browsing the magazine rack and deciding to pick up a copy of antique cars for your assignment to read a periodical that you would not otherwise pay attention to, you are actually changing the way you are going to approach magazine racks and credit card receipts and layovers in the Chicago airport for the rest of your life.
Source: Art Lies (article not yet available online)
Image by borkur.net, licensed under Creative Commons.
2/11/2010 12:31:42 PM
A recent survey conducted by the Dana-Farber Cancer Center found that two-thirds of terminally ill cancer patients never hear the word death from doctors, Judy Bachrach reports for Obit. “And not just cancer patients,” she adds. “I have talked to Alzheimer’s specialists, internists, and surgeons—and their general consensus is: You’re better off not knowing.”
Bachrach, who also writes a daily advice column about terminal illness, paints a complex picture of medical professionals’ reluctance to deliver bad news: partly rooted in an institutional culture that frames a patient’s death as a “failure,” but also grounded in compassion and humility. No one can perfectly foresee the future, after all.
Here, however, is the twist: The survey also found that people who do have “candid end-of-life discussions with their doctor are no more likely to feel depressed than those who’ve been deprived of such discussions. They are also less likely to demand invasive, useless, and costly end-of-life care,” Bachrach writes. In the words of the oncologist who prepared the survey report, there are “cascading benefits” to frank talks for both terminally ill people and their caregivers.
“After being handed the gift of truth, the dying can tell those they trust what kind of end-of-life treatment they want—or don’t want. And relatives and spouses don’t have to feel ignorant (or, worse, guilty) about making medical choices for the terminally ill as the end approaches.”
Image from Seattle Municipal Archives, licensed under Creative Commons.
2/5/2010 5:27:02 PM
Writing for Christian Century, Paula Huston recounts her mid-life spiritual crisis, a period of awakening and conversion that derailed the writer and set her upon a new track. In the retelling, Huston shares some thoughts about the difficulty of coming to terms with a spiritual calling in a postmodern culture—where menopause, for example, at first seemed an easy explanation for the mounting disruption in her life. They’re keen observations worth checking out regardless of your spiritual or religious persuasion:
Many obstacles held me back, some of them mundane. One was simple embarrassment: I was nervous about what others thought, especially my university colleagues. It was bad enough that I’d become a Catholic after years of loyalty to secular liberalism. Most of them had forgiven me; with much eye-rolling they had accepted my wacky, medieval-sounding Christian pilgrimage. But could they handle whatever was coming next? I myself couldn’t imagine what this might be, only that it boded ill for my good name on campus.
I was also stymied by an overdeveloped sense of duty. I was a middle-aged adult, after all, a person with responsibilities. Who did I think I was, dreaming of solitude and silence and the clear blue air of Paul’s third heaven? I had students, classes, deadlines and wifely and parental obligations. In some ways, it felt sinful to even think about making the changes that I needed to make if I were going to respond to the calling I was hearing.
. . . Finally, I was impeded by a problem I never knew I had: my hidden but stubbornly entrenched skepticism about the existence of the spiritual realm. Like most postmodern Westerners, I grew up in a culture permeated with empiricist notions about reality. Philosopher Charles Taylor writes that often we consciously hold one set of values and assumptions but unconsciously live by another. . . . My hidden skepticism provided me with a hundred handy doubts right when I most needed them. Maybe all this disruption could be blamed on menopause after all. Maybe it was strictly a psychological event—the ego overcompensating for an inferiority complex? People delude themselves all the time, don’t they?
Source: Christian Century
Image by alicepopkorn, licensed under Creative Commons.
2/4/2010 5:32:47 PM
This past September, the United Church of Canada (UCC) commissioned four established aerosol artists to paint their interpretations of faith on a wall donated by a Toronto church, reports Sojourners. The vivid mural looks to be the first of many: The UCC has already scheduled a second “Paint Your Faith” event in Vancouver during April.
2/2/2010 5:09:50 PM
Priggish Bible-thumpers may use the Good Book to justify sexual conservatism, but the actual text of the Bible is anything but prudish. The book is filled with innuendo, bawdy behavior, and enough obscenities to make modern, HBO-inured adults blush. Religious scolds may never stop quoting scripture to call for sexual civility, but Tibor Krausz writes in a book review for Killing the Buddha, “sexual civility requires ignoring scripture.”
The bone taken from Adam to create Eve, for example, may not have been a rib bone, as is often taught in bible class. The word “bone” may have been a far more modern euphemism for male genitalia. And the word “testify” may have been pretty dirty, too:
In court we swear to tell the truth with a hand placed on the Bible. But in the book itself, Jacob, nearing death in Egypt, asks Joseph to swear an oath not to bury him there by “put[ting] your hand under my thigh” (Gen. 47:29). Earlier in Genesis, Jacob wrestles with God, who touches “the hollow of his [Jacob’s] thigh” (32:25). “Thigh” happens to be a biblical euphemism for male genitalia; it’s from Jacob’s “thigh” or “loins” that his numerous offspring sprang. The practice of swearing an oath while touching one’s or someone else’s testicles was common in the ancient Near East (Abraham also orders a servant to do just that in Genesis 24:2). Its linguistic memory survives in our word “testify”—
being the Latin both for “witness” and the male generative gland.
(Thanks, Marginal Revolution.)
Killing the Buddha
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