10 ways to control your anger - Professional expert’s advice

I am really emotional and excitable person. I think that there are two types of anger: constructive anger and a destructive one. In order to understand the anger phenomenon I decided to investigate the nature of anger, reasons of its appearing, key factors and anger management.

What does it mean this anger? Anger is a strong indignation feeling of our emotional sphere that is attended by self-control losing. Anger is a signal of our state. Glands produce an array of hormones that have a great and deep effect on all our body. The main participants of this process are adrenaline and cortisol. They activate cardiovascular system and consequently all organs. Adrenalin causes fast heart beating, rising blood pressure. These rich oxygenated blood streams to the places are responsible for reaction. Thus some extra energy is released.

There are 4 basic ways of anger expressions:

1. Straight and immediately (verbally or nonverbally) to show your anger. It gives an opportunity to free from the negative emotions.

2. To express anger in an indirect way. In this case usually suffer persons that are weaker, not dangerous and those ones who “come to hand”, usually they are our family and close relatives. Thus we hurt our dear ones. One of the best ways is to express your anger to the person who is the source of this very anger. If it is impossible- better find some compromise.

3. Restraining anger you “drive” it deep inside. So, negative emotions store will provoke a big stress sooner or later.

4. You may foresee situation of anger feeling, try not to expand this feeling but get to know the reason, understand and solve it. A Roman philosopher Seneca said: “When you are feeling of ascending “volcano”- stand still, not doing anything- not speaking, not moving.”

Anger is a normal and natural human feeling, especially nowadays as life is really fast and we have a huge amount of information to accumulate (in comparison with our previous generations). The range of anger is rather wide: from a slight annoyance to impetuous fury. Anger can be quick and long, lasting for years in form of bitterness, vengeance or hate. Anger can lead to health issues like depression, high blood pressure, hearth diseases, stresses, alcohol dependence and obesity. If you are anger- express it. If you feel discomfort from these “negative splashes”- then we can give some techniques how to manage your emotional anger:

  • 1. Take a deep and continuous breath. Count up to 50 or imagine your aggressor just naked, only in socks. This will help you to calm and smile.

  • 2. Have a walk. Look at high sky. Continue to breathe deep and easily. So you appraise the situation and calm down.

  • 3. Do some physical exercises. When you are angry- your body is very tensed and tough. If you stretch your muscles it will relax your body, as you will spill out all your negative energy into action. Your brains will get more oxygen and it assists to clear your thoughts.

  • 4. Write down all your thoughts. Write down that you are mad and why. Avoid being rational, logical or laconic. Write on paper all you are feeling this moment. Try to write all in details. The function of this technique is to shift all your anger out of your head on paper.

  • 5. Be grateful. Find someone to thank. Do you not forget about yourself. Thank that you have woken up today, thank that that the Sun is shining for you, that the sky is blue and the grass is green.

  • 6. Prayer. Ask God to be with you during this anger moment and lead you.

  • 7. Meditation. Close your eyes, look into solar plexus, and be all your anger, breathing deeply.

  • 8. Change of places. Move yourself on your enemy’s place. And look at situation from his point of view. Better look at the situation from the ceiling. Focus on details, especially on funny and absurd ones. Strive to forgive your enemy as well as forgive truly yourself.

  • 9. Go back to your childhood memories. Recollect state when you were angry. Hug this child and say: “All is ok. I am here. You are good child. I love you and I will not leave you.”

  • 10. Your values. What is the most significant thing in your life? Who are the most important people in your life? What kind of person do you want to be? Think and accept that point that you are living your life, and you are living your values. There is a good man inside you that wants to help you. I wish you good luck!

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Friday, February 27, 2009

Relations Between Different Religions and Cultures

Medical Care is Arranged for Illegal Immigrants in Hamburg -- Celibacy of Priests has Become a Controversial Topic in Poland -- Chinese Chan Continues to Thrive in Taiwan -- Catholic Pilgrims use Modern Means of Transport to Reach Santiago de Compostela

Undocumented immigrants have no civil rights and live in constant fear of deportation. But what happens when they get sick? Being undocumented means they usually have no health insurance, which can be a matter of life or death. The Organization of Medical Counseling of Refugees and Immigrants in Hamburg arranges medical care for undocumented immigrants. They estimate that 50,000 to 100,000 immigrants wihout papers are living in that big northern German port city.

(Report: Jana Pareigis)

Twenty years have passed since the end of communism in Poland and there are signs that the institution that inspired the struggle against the regime, the Catholic Church, is under threat in the democratic consumerist society. Under communism, becoming a priest was a step up the social ladder. But now the number of young men entering seminaries is falling and a recent survey says that more than half of the country’s serving priests want to do away with celibacy to have a wife and family. Twelve percent even admitted they were already living in stable relationships with women.

(Report: Adam Easton)

Chinese Chan is an Orthodox and puristic form of Buddhism with strict rites and abstinence from any beliefs in deities. Self-purification through the practice of meditation and the mission to bring harmony and peace into the world, mark the Mahayana Buddhism as it is practiced today. Although Buddhism was suppressed in China during the Cultural Revolution, it still thrived on the Pacific island of Taiwan, just 200 kilometers off shore the Chinese Mainland. Major centers of Chan Buddhism have been established here, which today spread their influence all over the world.

(Report: Antonia Sachtleben)

The road to Santiago de Compostela is as varied as the pilgrims who travel along it. Ever since the Middle Ages, the cathedral with the relics of St. James has been the goal of religious pilgrims. They came on foot, horse back or by donkey across the mountains to pay their respects to the Saint whose remains are still venerated in the Cathedral of Santiago. But modern pilgrims use modern means to travel the long road to the holy city. Today it is not unusual for pilgrims to use bicycles and some even arrive by train.

(Report: Mariana Schroeder)

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Masked dance climaxes Buddhist ritual

The annual eight-day Dayuan Buddhist Ritual of the Yonghe Temple in Beijing came to its climax Monday afternoon when the buzha dance was performed by the temple's lamas.

The buzha, or cham in Tibetan language, is a masked dance used in Tibetan Buddhism to exorcize devils. Wearing masks of skulls and various demons, the lamas of Yonghe Temple performed buzha to the accompaniment of traditional Tibetan instruments.

At the end of the dance, the lamas walked in a procession with a model of the devil and threw it into a fire, symbolizing the exorcizing of the devil and pacifying of the world. After the ritual, the lamas continue to chant sutras, while people got a small bag of sacrificial fruits and candies before leaving the temple.

"I feel peace inside me after the ritual," said 40-year-old lay Buddhist Tian Feng. "It drives away the evil spirits, and guarantees a peaceful year."

The Dayuan Buddhist Ritual, or "Buddhist Ritual of Great Vows" of the Yonghe Temple, is held every year from the 24th of the first lunar month to the first of the second lunar year, which is today. During the first five days, the lamas chant sutras from morning to evening, while on the seventh day, which is also the last day of the first lunar month, the buzha dance is performed. The administrative department of Yonghe Temple estimates that each year around 3,000 to 4,000 attend the seventh day of the Dayuan Ritual.

"I'm an ethnic Mongolian, and we believe in Tibetan Buddhism. I come to attend the Dayuan Ritual at Yonghe Temple every year, for it can clean away my worries," said Sarula, a female college student.

Today the lamas of Yonghe Temple will chant sutras while circling the temple. This year's Dayuan Buddhist Ritual will end around noon today.

Built in 1694, the Yonghe Temple, or the "Palace of Peace and Harmony", is a temple and monastery of the Geluk School of Tibetan Buddhism. Of the more than 100 lamas in the temple now, most are ethnic Mongolians. There are also lamas of the Tibetan and Tu ethnic groups.

By Mu Qian

Monday, February 23, 2009

Spirituality: Offer prayer, comfort in the midst of chaos

My mind drifted over the past three days here at the Air Force Theater Hospital in Balad.

The first day started with my visit to an Iraqi boy who was burned over most of his body from playing with matches and fuel. "They don't know 'stop, drop and roll' here," whispered the pediatrician, who was weaving bandages between the boy's toes.

I beamed a smile toward the boy's perfect and untouched face. He offered no emotion in return. Without much ability to talk to the family, I knew of only one way to offer respect.

I passed a copy of the Koran to the father. He placed his hand on his heart and gratefully received the book by kissing it and positioning it on the boy's pillow.

As we stood above the boy, we heard the PA crackle to life. "Trauma call, trauma call, trauma call times four."

Four Americans wounded by an IED blast were being brought into our emergency room by people who work a 72-hour week in other jobs but volunteer their spare time to help us.

During a trauma call, the frantic pace rivals the activity on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange. Amid this chaos, my assistant, Staff Sgt. David Pastorius, and I do our best to determine whether someone needs a priest.

Mostly, I stand alongside the medical folks as they work. I walk among the wounded and keep an eye out for those who might need to talk later. Some staff members are those who'd shed tears in the chapel service a few weeks back.

While most of the soldiers arrived in good shape, there would be tears again on Sunday, as one military member would go home without legs.

The rest of the day was quiet, but we try not to say that "Q" word among emergency staff. They are somewhat superstitious and jokingly consider the word "quiet" to be a jinx.

The next day, I was called for a committee meeting and hoped that meant a quiet day.

"Ethics Committee meeting," shouted the head nurse into the small space I share with my assistant. I exchanged questioning looks with Pastorius. These meetings are rare.

Our little burn patient wasn't doing so well. With burns over most of his body, he'd had a stroke and was septic. The Ethics Committee unanimously recommended the boy be allowed to die at home. We would send him home with maximum pain control so he could see a family that anxiously longed to hold him.

I left the meeting to find the pediatrician and the father rewrapping the boy's burns. The father loved this boy more than most of us could imagine and was taking the role of a nurse's aide alongside the doctor.

Sharing heavenward glances with the father, we both made the prayer gesture with palms pressed together. An hour later, the family left with their son, creating a torrent of staff tears in their wake.

During the next two days, someone must have jinxed us again with the "Q" word, because more trauma and more burn patients came to replace the ones to whom we'd said goodbye.

As I sat in the cafeteria, jets screamed overhead, helicopters fluttered in the distance, an occasional mortar struggled to penetrate our defenses, and this surgeon was asking me, "What do you do?"

I do what I also hope you do. In the midst of chaos, I pray. I share a laugh. I wipe a tear. I offer a shoulder. I lend an ear.

And at the end of the day - whether quiet or rushed - I strive to be a visible reminder of the holy to a place that desperately needs it.

Norris Burkes

The Path and Fruit of Buddhism

To have an ambition seems to be a natural phenomenon in the human make-up. Some people want to be rich, powerful or famous. Some want to be very knowledgeable, to get degrees. Some just want to find a little niche for themselves where they can look out of the window and see the same scenery every day. Some want to find a perfect partner, or as near perfect as possible.

Even when we are not living in the world, but in a nunnery, we have ambitions: to become excellent meditators, to be perfectly peaceful, that this life-style should yield results. There's always something to hope for. Why is that? Because it's in the future, never in the present.

Instead of being attentive to what is now, we are hoping for something better to come, maybe tomorrow. Then, when tomorrow arrives, it has to be the next day again, because it still wasn't perfect enough. If we were to change this pattern in our thinking habits and rather become attentive to what is, then we would find something to satisfy us. But when we are looking at that which doesn't exist yet, more perfect, more wonderful, more satisfying, then we can't find anything at all, because we are looking for that which isn't there.

The Buddha spoke about two kinds of people, the ordinary worldling (puthujjana) and the noble person (ariya). Obviously it is a worthwhile ambition to become a noble person, but if we keep looking for it at some future time, then it will escape us. The difference between a noble one and a worldling is the experience of "path and fruit" (magga-phala). The first moment of this supermundane consciousness is termed Stream-entry (sotapatti) and the person who experiences it is a Stream-winner (sotapanna).

If we put that into our mind as a goal in the future, it will not come about, because we are not using all our energy and strength to recognise each moment. Only in the recognition of each moment can a path moment occur.

The distinguishing factor between a worldling and a noble one is the elimination of the first three fetters binding us to continuous existence. These three, obstructing the worldling, are: wrong view of self, sceptical doubt and belief in rites and rituals, (sakkayaditthi, vicikiccha and silabbatta-paramasa). Anyone who is not a Stream-winner is chained to these three wrong beliefs and reactions that lead away from freedom into bondage.

Let's take a look at sceptical doubt first. It's that niggling thought in the back of the mind: "There must be an easier way," or "I'm sure I can find happiness somewhere in this wide world." As long as there's doubt that the path of liberation leads out of the world, and the belief is there that satisfaction can be found within the world, there is no chance of noble attainment, because one is looking in the wrong direction. Within this world with its people and things, animals and possessions, scenery and sense contacts, there is nothing to be found other than that which we already know. If there were more, why isn't it easily discernible, why haven't we found it? It should be quite plain to see. What are we looking for then?

Obviously we are looking for happiness and peace, just like everyone else is doing. Sceptical doubt, that alarmist, says: "I'm sure if I just handled it a little cleverer than I did last time I'll be happy. There are a few things I haven't tried yet." Maybe we haven't flown our own plane yet, or lived in a cave in the Himalayas or sailed around the world, or written that best-selling novel. All of these are splendid things to do in the world except they are a waste of time and energy.

Sceptical doubt makes itself felt when one isn't quite sure what one's next move should be. "Where am I going, what am I to do?" One hasn't found a direction yet. Sceptical doubt is the fetter in the mind when the clarity which comes from a path moment is absent. The consciousness arising at that time removes all doubt, because one has experienced the proof oneself. When we bite into the mango, we know its taste.

The wrong view of self is the most damaging fetter that besets the ordinary person. It contains the deeply imbedded "this is me" notion. Maybe it's not even "my" body, but there is "someone" who is meditating. This "someone" wants to get enlightened, wants to become a Stream-winner, wants to be happy. This wrong view of self is the cause of all problems that could possibly arise.

As long as there's "somebody" there, that person can have problems. When there's nobody there, who could have difficulties? Wrong view of self is the root which generates all subsequent pain, grief and lamentation. With it also come the fears and worries: "Am I going to be alright, happy, peaceful, find what I am looking for, get what I want, be healthy, wealthy and wise?" These worries and fears are well substantiated from one's own past. One hasn't always been healthy, wealthy and wise, nor gotten what one wanted, nor felt wonderful. So there's very good reason to be worried and fearful as long as wrong view of self prevails.

Rites and rituals in themselves are not harmful, only believing them to be part of the path to Nibbana is detrimental. They need not even be religious, although we usually think of them like that. Such as offering flowers and incense on a shrine, prostrating or celebrating certain festivals and believing that this will accumulate enough merit to go to the Deva realms. It's devotion, respect and gratitude to the Triple Gem, [*] which count. But this belief is not only confined to religious activities. Everybody lives with rites and rituals, even though we may not be aware of them. In human relationships there are certain prescribed ways of acting in respect to one's parents, one's children, one's partners. How one relates in one's job, to friends and strangers, how one wants to be confirmed by others, all is connected to preconceived ideas of what is right and proper in a certain culture and tradition. None of it has any basic truth in it, all is mind- made. The more ideas one has, the less one can see reality. The more one believes in them the harder it is to abandon them. As one imagines oneself to be a certain kind of person, one relates in that way in all situations. It doesn't have to be how we put flowers on a shrine, it can also be how we greet people, if we do it according to a certain stereotyped ritual and not the way an open heart and mind may dictate.

* [Triple Gem - Buddha, Dhamma, Sangha.]

These three obstructions fall away when a path and fruit moment has been experienced. There's a marked change in such a person, which is - of course - not externally visible. It would be nice to wear a halo and look blissful. But the inner change is firstly that the experience leaves absolutely no doubt what has to be done in this life. The event is totally different from anything previously known, so much so, that it makes one's former life, up to that point, immaterial. Nothing can be found in the past which has fundamental importance. The only significance lies in going ahead with the practice so that this minimal experience of the first path moment can be fortified, resurrected and firmly established in oneself.

The path and fruit moments recur for the Once-returner (sakadagami), the Non-returner (anagami) and the Enlightened One (Arahant). Each time they are not only deepened, but can be lengthened. One could compare this to having examinations at the university. If one is going through four years of university study to get a certain degree, one has to pass examinations at the end of each year. One has to answer questions each time, based on one's previously absorbed knowledge. But the questions become deeper, more profound and more difficult with each subsequent examination. While they are always concerned with the same subject, they require more depth and profundity of understanding each time. Until one finally graduates and doesn't have to return to university. It's the same with our spiritual development. Each path moment is based on the previous one and is concerned with the same subject, yet it goes deeper and further. Until one passes one's final test and need not return again.

The path moment doesn't have any thinking or feeling in it. It is not comparable to the meditative absorptions (jhana). Although it is based upon them because only the concentrated mind can enter into a path moment, it does not have the same qualities. the meditative absorptions have -in their initial stages - the ingredients of rapture, happiness and peacefulness. Later on, the mind experiences expansion, nothingness and a change of perception. The path moment does not contain any of these states of mind.

It has a quality of non-being. This is such a relief and changes one's world view so totally that it is quite understandable that the Buddha made such a distinction between a worldling and a Noble One. While the meditative absorptions bring with them a feeling of oneness, of unity, the path moment does not even contain that. The moment of fruition, subsequent to the path moment, is the understood experience and results in a turned-around vision of existence.

The new understanding recognises every thought, every feeling as stress (dukkha). The most elevated thought, the most sublime feeling still has this quality. Only when there is nothing, is there no stress. There is nothing internal or external that contains the quality of total satisfactoriness. Because of such an inner vision, the passion for wanting anything is discarded. All has been seen for what it really is and nothing can give the happiness that arises through the practice of the path and its results.

The Nibbanic element cannot be truly described as bliss, because bliss has a connotation of exhilaration. We use the word "bliss" for the meditative absorption, where it includes a sense of excitement. The Nibbanic element does not recognise bliss because all that arises is seen as stress. "The bliss of Nibanna" may give one the impression that one may find perfect happiness, but the opposite is true. One finds that there is nothing and therefore no more unhappiness, only peace.

To look for path and fruit will not bring them about, because only moment to moment awareness can do so. This awareness will eventually culminate in real concentration where one can let go of thinking and be totally absorbed. We can drop the meditation subject at that time. We need not push it aside, it falls away of its own accord, and absorption in awareness occurs. If there has to be an ambition in one's life, this is the only worthwhile one. All others will not bring fulfilment.

One doesn't have to force oneself to give up sceptical doubt. What is there to doubt when one has experienced the truth? If one hits oneself with a hammer, one feels pain and cannot doubt it. One knows from one's own experience.

Rites and rituals are brought to an interesting end because the person who has experienced a path moment will under no circumstance indulge in any role-playing. All roles are the ingredients of unreality. One may continue religious rites, because they contain aspects of respect, gratitude and devotion. But there will not be any rituals in how to relate to people or to situations or how to invent stories about oneself because the response is with a spontaneous open heart.

Letting go of the wrong view of self is -of course - the most profound change, causing all other changes. For the Stream-winner the wrong view of self can never intellectually arise again, but feeling-wise it can, because the path moment has been so fleeting. It hasn't made the complete impact yet. If it had done so, it would have resulted in Enlightenment. This is possible and is mentioned in the Buddha's discourses as having happened during his lifetime. All four stages of holiness were realised while listening to the Dhamma.

The initial fruit moment needs to be re-lived, one has to resurrect it over and over again, until the second path moment can arise. It's like repeating what one knows and not forgetting so that one can build upon it.

It is very useful to remind oneself in all waking moments that body, feeling, perception, mental formations and consciousness are all impermanent and have no core substance, changing from moment to moment. Whether one has had a direct vision of non-self (anatta) or just an understanding of it, either way one has to bring it back into one's mind and re-live it as often as possible. As we continue to do this, ordinary problems arise less and less. If we remain aware of the impermanence of all that exists, our difficulties seem far less important and the view of self subtly changes.

The view we have of ourselves is our worst enemy. Everyone has made up a persona, a mask that one wears and we don't want to see what's behind it. We don't allow anyone else to look either. After having had a path moment, that is no longer possible. But the mask, fear and rejection come to the fore. The best antidote is to remember again and again, that there's really nobody there, only phenomena, nothing more. Even though the inner vision may not be concrete enough to substantiate such a claim, the affirmation helps to loosen the grasping and clinging and to hang on a little less tightly.

The direction of the practice is certainly towards Stream-entry. However, there is nothing to get, there's everything to give up. Unless that is done, the moment cannot happen, and we will continue to live in the same way we always have. Beset by dukkha obstructed by dukkha, subject to praise and blame, loss and gain, fame and ill-fame, happiness and unhappiness. The usual problems -all caused by "self" - will arise again and again. The real change comes when there is a decisive alteration in the way we view ourselves, otherwise the difficulties remain the same because the same identical person is generating them.

Being mindfully aware in and out of meditation is the practice which will bring results. It means doing one thing at a time, attentive to mind and body. When listening to Dhamma, only listen. When sitting in meditation, only attending to the meditation subject. When planting a tree, only planting. No frills, no judgements. That habituates the mind to be in each moment. Only in such a way can a path moment occur. It's not in the distant future, it's possible here and now. There's no reason why an intelligent, healthy, committed person should not be able to attain it with patience and perseverance.

We have heard about disenchantment and dispassion as steps on the path to liberation and freedom. They cannot have meaning and impact unless there is a vision of a totally different reality, one which does not contain the world's manifoldness. When one sits in meditation and starts thinking, that's the temptation of diversification and expansion (papanca). The Nibbana element is one, not manifold. One could say that it's empty of all that we know. Until that is seen, the world will keep calling, but we need not believe it all. It is a difficult task. So one has to remind oneself often, otherwise one gets caught by temptation. One should not be surprised when one doesn't find happiness; manifoldness, diversification cannot create happiness, only distraction.

Certainly one can experience pleasure from the senses. If one has good karma there will be many occasions. Good food, beautiful scenery, pleasant people, good music, interesting books, a comfortable home, not too much physical discomfort. But do these bring fulfilment? Since it didn't happen in the past, why should it occur in the future? Path and fruit bring fulfilment because they are empty of phenomena. Emptiness does not change nor does it become unpleasant and it cannot lack peace, since there is nothing to disturb it.

When people hear or read about Nibbana, they are apt to say: "How can I want nothing?" When one has seen that everything one can possibly want is meant to fill an inner void and dissatisfaction, then the time has come to want nothing. This goes beyond "not wanting" because one now accepts the reality that there is nothing worthwhile to be had. Not wanting anything will make it possible to experience that there is actually nothing — only peace and quiet.

By Sister Ayya Khema

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Sleep Tight and Well

The quality of our life significantly depends on our mental and physical state of health. We have realized how important healthy food and physical activities are for our body. But we still underestimate the significance of our sleep process…

Sleep deprivation causes fatigue, irritation and low productivity. All these decrease your immune system and create perfect conditions for other diseases. Here are some tips to make your sleep deep and sound.
  1. Try to get up at a regular time even during the weekends.

  2. Go to bed only when you feel you are in a sleepy state but not too late - it is so easy to waste sleepless hours.

  3. If you cannot fall asleep during 20 minutes, leave your bedroom and do some chores. Do not allow yourself to fall asleep in another room. Go back to your bedroom when you are sleepy. Repeat the following as many times as it is needed during the night.

  4. Use your bedroom only for sleep, sex or when you get ill and need to stay in bed.

  5. Avoid irregular napping. If you feel you need it try to do it at a regular time and don’t nap more than one hour. The perfect time for napping is about 3 p.m.

  6. Organize a relaxing ritual before going to bed. It can be a warm bath, 10-minute reading or you can have some food to enhance your sleep. Avoid eating much before going to bed!

  7. Everybody knows that exercising provides a good night's sleep. But make sure you exercise in the morning or afternoon, not at night, to see the benefits while you dream.

  8. Do not drink or eat something containing caffeine 6 hours before sleep.

  9. Do not drink alcohol beverages when you feel sleepy or if you take some soporific draught. Even a little doze of alcohol combined with your fatigue can cause a big effect.

  10. Avoid smoking before going to bed or during the night.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Balm for a troubled world

An MIT-trained biologist has won a wide following counseling "mindful meditation" to heal body and soul.

It could have been a rock concert for the laid-back set. On stage at the Annenberg Center's Zellerbach Theater Feb. 6, Jon Kabat-Zinn played to a rapturous sellout crowd, there to absorb, even be transformed by, his prescription of hope for a troubled world.

Kabat-Zinn, 64, is the country's meditator-in-chief, the molecular biologist who introduced mindful meditation to traditional medicine back in 1979 and who, through the next three decades, ushered it into the medical mainstream. His five books, including Wherever You Go, There You Are, have been printed in 30 languages, and sold nearly 1.5 million copies in the United States.

The people in this audience, however, were academic types - teachers, principals and administrators who came to learn about the role of mindful meditation in education. It is only one of myriad disciplines to which Kabat-Zinn has begun to stretch his teachings. In a world that he says is spinning out of control, he considers meditation training essential for anyone seeking clarity and compassion in their lives and relationships.

Mindful meditation, simply, is attending to, being exquisitely aware of the present moment. Its practice, rooted in Buddhism, was meant to relieve suffering and cultivate compassion. It is compatible, proponents say, with any or no religion.

It begins with the willingness to set aside a half hour or so a day to practice formal meditation - sitting, standing or walking - at first just focusing on your breath. When thoughts of the past or the future intrude, as they inevitably will, subjects are told to return to their breath.

"The present moment, the only moment we have to feel or to think, is a hidden dimension for most of us," says Kabat-Zinn. "We are so absorbed with planning for the future or blaming people for what is over and done with that we lose the lives we are living. We die a thousand deaths wasting our energy on what was or what will be."

Kabat-Zinn, with his craggy, handsome face, high cheekbones and graying hair, has the audience mesmerized. He recites poetry by Emily Dickinson, quotes from Henry David Thoreau and injects shtick reminiscent of Jackie Mason: Do you know what I'm talking about? Anyone here have that experience? Those in the audience, laugh, grow silent or nod their heads collectively.

The key, he says, is that people who meditate handle emotions differently. They are not so judgmental and they learn how to let go of the past, to put aside how "somebody did them in. Stress comes from the way people react to things, and if you're not cultivating mindfulness, you're cultivating reactivity."

The real meditation practice is in how we live our lives. "It isn't sitting in a lotus position and pretending you're a statue in the British Museum," says Kabat-Zinn. "There are a thousand doors to mindfulness. You can cook mindfully, dance mindfully, walk on the beach mindfully, make love mindfully. It's all about being fully present in what you are doing. Formal meditation practice is merely the launching platform."

When Kabat-Zinn founded his clinic at the University of Massachusetts Medical School 30 years ago, his goal was to catch people falling between the cracks in the health system. After all, he reasoned, heart disease, diabetes, cancer and other chronic illnesses are often caused or exacerbated by lifestyle factors that can be altered. He believed he knew how to make that happen.

His first group included those with stress-related chronic illnesses for whom their doctors had exhausted their bags of tricks. He knew if he could restore their well-being, he'd be onto something big.

The results were extraordinary. People with headaches didn't have them anymore. Those with backaches learned to work around their pain. Those with high blood pressure saw the numbers drop. Mindfulness, which swings the body into balance, had led to symptom relief.

"Patients told me I had done more for them in eight weeks than their doctors had in eight years," says Kabat-Zinn.

Kabat-Zinn had been meditating for more than a decade, ever since he was a student at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1965. He remembers seeing a sign inviting students to a talk by Roshi Philip Kapleau, author of The Three Pillars of Zen. He knew nothing about Zen and was one of only four students who showed up. But he says, "it took the top off my head. It filled a niche in my assessment of what was missing in our culture, an authentic experience of being rather than doing. I realized you could learn how to be in a relationship with your thoughts and emotions. It satisfied something deep in me and I've been in love with it ever since."

Marrying medicine and meditation (despite their shared etymological origin in the Latin word mederi, which means "to heal") was not easy. Kabat-Zinn encountered what he calls "medical politics," yet experienced no insurmountable roadblocks. His molecular biology doctorate from MIT helped. "People figured that with that kind of pedigree, I must know something," he conjectures.

In today's world, where multitasking is a must, where technology, with its tantalizing smorgasbord of instant messaging, insistent e-mails, and vibrating cell phones, intrudes into each moment, Kabat-Zinn is not sure how people survive without something to ground them.

Without meditation, he says, he couldn't have gotten through eight years of watching his father, a brilliant biomedical scientist, lose his mind to Alzheimer's disease or tend to his mother, an accomplished artist, who had a stroke from the stress. "There is not a single aspect of my life where I'm not calling on meditation to keep me balanced," he says.

More than 18,000 patients have participated in stress reduction programs at his medical clinic, often with startling, clinically proven results.

Two studies of patients with psoriasis, a painful, often unsightly skin condition, revealed that those getting audiotaped meditation instructions while receiving ultraviolet treatments saw their skin clear up four times as fast as those who did not participate. In another study, in which influenza vaccine was given to volunteers, those who meditated had more antibodies than those in the control group.

But the focus of the two-day conference that followed Kabat-Zinn's address was applying meditation to learning. Kabat-Zinn believes that there are dimensions of our being that schools ignore. We are taught thinking and analysis, but we are never schooled in awareness. Learning, after all, has to do with perception, those eureka moments that can ignite passion.

If mindfulness were more a part of education, more young people would benefit, Kabat-Zinn believes. Parents are the first and most powerful teachers. They can be mindful by nurturing their children and themselves, by seeing things, as the young do, as if for the first time. President Obama is setting the tone by, amid his daunting responsibilities, choosing to eat breakfast with his children and take them to school.

A good teacher will take mindfulness to class. "Imagine the potential for teaching young children that they can inhabit the 'being' part of their lives, ask deep questions and maybe love learning," Kabat-Zinn says. "That's how kids become emotionally intelligent. They learn that life is the curriculum."

More than 200 medical centers in the world, 100 in this country, have integrated mindfulness in their curriculums. School districts from Oakland, Calif., to New York City's Harlem are inviting it into the classroom.

"We need to wake up a little more and liberate ourselves from our self-destructive habits - greed, hatred, racism and selfishness - what the Buddhists call ignorance, ignoring what is fundamental," Kabat-Zinn muses. "If we learn that when we are young, it can enhance joy and relationships throughout life. There is no reason to starve for well-being."

By Gloria Hochman

Healing Foods

Brenda Langton to launch course teaching cooking techniques for healthful, immune-bolstering food

Brenda Langton has an old saying she swears by: "If you don't take time to eat well, sooner or later you will to take time to be sick."

You will have no trouble eating well if you visit Langton's acclaimed restaurants — Café Brenda in the Warehouse District and Spoonriver on the riverfront near the Guthrie Theater. Both restaurants feature outstanding dishes made of organic and natural foods.

"This has been my lifelong goal — to get good food into people," Langton said.

Her restaurants have been one avenue for that cause. Now she has another — a new three-day course in March offered by the University of Minnesota's Center for Spirituality & Healing. In the class, "Healthy Eating/Healthy Living," Langton, a senior fellow at the center, will go over several healthful recipes for breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks to get you through the day.

Highlights include homemade hummus, buckwheat potato croquette, miso vegetable soup, creamy soft polenta, and coconut rice pudding with cardamom, almonds, and golden raisins. Some of the recipes are featured in Brenda's classic cookbook, "The Café Brenda Cookbook."

"My concern is teaching people how to cook very healthy, immune-boosting foods that are simple. For me, simple is of the utmost importance — simple and delicious," Langton said. "I'm trying to use foods that are more like whole grains, legumes and lots of vegetables, nuts — plant-based proteins and fish."

Mary Jo Kreitzer, director of the Center for Spirituality & Healing, said the course is a natural fit for the center.

"As we look at how to help people make healthy lifestyle changes, how we eat is such a big part of that. So many people have really just grown up with fast food, processed food," she said. "What I love about Brenda's approach is that eating natural doesn't have to be time-consuming, doesn't have to be expensive. The key to it is planning."

Langton, a Bryn Mawr resident, plans to go over grocery shopping tips, too. She's a major fan of the local co-ops and urges others to shop at them to stock up on fresh, local produce.

"People get in ruts. With a little bit of planning and grocery shopping and having several new recipes to get going, it's not difficult [to make changes]," she said.

Langton has been focusing on healthful foods for years. She opened her first restaurant Café Kardamena in the late 1970s at the age of 21. She opened Café Brenda in 1986, and her latest venture, Spoonriver, opened in 2006.

While eating well is second nature for her, she's concerned about people who haven't tuned into all the research about the impact of diet on health. She points to skyrocketing sugar consumption and the tendency for so many people to skimp on vegetables.

"There is so much information out there, scientific evidence that diet is really the base of our health," she said. "If we don't have a good diet, we don't have a good immune system. If we don't have a good immune system, then that's when problems set in."

In addition to managing her restaurants and teaching the new course, she's also working on creating a video for the Children's Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota. In the video, she goes over healthful-cooking tips with her daughter. In the spring, summer and fall months, she's busy with the Mill City Farmers Market. She is one of the founders of the market, which features a variety of local vendors devoted to providing organic and sustainable goods.

Clearly, there's a lot on her plate these days.

"Let's face it — we live at a very hectic pace. This is no joke," she said. "I have to feel good. I have to have energy to get through my day, and this is the way to do it — by eating good food."

By Sarah McKenzie

Thursday, February 12, 2009

How Do You Define Spiritual Growth?

I saw her after seven years, and she looked better. Carmen had lost weight, looked just as young as she did seven years ago, and was anxious to tell me how much she had grown psychologically and spiritually. I made the mistake of asking her how she was doing after all these years. We had attended the same church, been in the same recovery groups, and I knew her as a woman who definitely had "issues". She was a survivor of child abuse, had been married several times, but seemed to be genuinely interested in growth, especially spiritual growth.

Oh, April, I can't tell you how hard it's been since I last saw you. Jorge and I have been through absolute hell! I keep telling him to act like a man and he keeps wimping out. We went through marital counseling, and it just made things worse. The counselor actually told me I needed to accept Jorge as he was and quit trying to change him. Can you imagine?

She went on with hardly a breath.

I just couldn't stand being around him, so now we sleep in different bedrooms. And I took a job driving a truck so I could just get away from him. Since we don't believe in divorce, this was my only alternative, you know. And being away from him has given me the space I needed to grow! I've just grown by leaps and bounds in the Lord. It's night and day difference, I tell you!

I just looked at her in utter disbelief. "Growth"? Was she trying to kid me as much as she had deceived herself? I uttered some benign, polite remark and said I was on my way to an appointment. But I kept thinking about what Carmen had said. She actually thought by running away from obvious problems, she had "grown in the Lord." Unbelievable.

I've known others like Carmen. They confuse knowledge and growth. To be familiar with what the Bible says on issues because you've read it so many times is light-years away from k-n-o-w -i-n-g the truth of it. Truth needs to be "fleshed out" in our mundane daily lives.

Truth isn't truth until you have fleshed it out in your daily walk with God and your fellow human beings.

We are told in James 1:22-24
"Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.
Anyone who listens to The Word but does not do what it says is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like."

There are many who have been through biblical counseling and numerous Bible Studies, and they walk away feeling wiser, smarter, and bondage-free. Then a spouse, or a friend, or the children do something to displease or hurt us, and whoa! Away flies all the wisdom just "learned".

Growth is hard work! It is not knowledge alone. There are many self-perceived intellectuals who don't have a bit of common sense. And there are many so-perceived intellectuals who have no regard for others' feelings. To them, knowledge is power. (Where have we heard that before? I think it was in the 1960's.)

I know someone who prides himself in his expertise on a large variety of subjects, yet he is a doubt-planter with his knowledge. When asked how he knows things, his answer is always, "I have done mega tons of research on this." Actually, that could mean he watched a video on YouTube, read it on the internet, or listened to it on a fringe radio program. He takes great pride in his knowledge. Yet a conversation with him always leaves the other person feeling drained and doubting their own judgment because this "expert" is all-too-anxious to point out why their judgment is wrong. I have even heard him say, "Well, you are coming from a place of ignorance, so I'll let that comment go."

Christians are too quick to claim they have grown in the Lord!! I figure if you have to proclaim growth, it's not growth. If you have to prove how smart you are, you have much bigger problems you're not acknowledging.

I feel bad for Carmen, and even worse for her poor husband, Jorge. She has deluded herself and, as a result, has prevented any real growth. She has ruined her marriage, devastated her husband, and been a horrible example for her grown children. Worst of all, she calls herself a follower of Christ!

Maybe that's why a humble spirit is highly prized by the Lord. When I study the Gospels, looking at Jesus Christ as my example, I see that He had a strong sense of identity. He Who He was! Yet He humbled Himself throughout His life, bending to The Father's will. And His life on earth culminated in the ultimate act of humility: taking MY sins upon Himself and paying the price required of The Father for them. He did not deserve to die - He came to die as a blood sacrifice!

Meeting up with Carmen has made me put "truth" and "growth" in a new perspective. I pray I have the humility to actually flesh out whatever I learn as I continue on this earth journey.

By AprilLorier

Young Haitian-Americans turn to voodoo for cultural and spiritual connection

Ricardo Petit-Homme left Haiti when he was four, and was raised a staunch Catholic.

"From christening to penance and then confirmation, I did it all," the 30-year-old interior decorator said.

But not that long ago, he felt spiritually disconnected. He had dreams that needed to be interpreted, questions about his purpose and a burning desire to connect more deeply with his roots. He turned to voodoo.

"I like that, with voodoo, the spirituality comes from within," Petit-Homme said, as he joined in a voodoo ceremony in North Miami Beach, Florida. "I feel like I'm piecing together a puzzle."

Voodoo, also spelled vodou, is witnessing a resurgence among younger Haitian-Americans. In southern Florida, where the Haitian community is estimated to be close to 300,000, scholars and voodoo priests say more people in their 20s and 30s are finding the religion.

Voodoo blends African religions with Catholic saints. Followers believe there is one God and deities who manifest to serve different purposes, such as healing and protecting. The religion shares west African roots with Santeria practiced in Cuba, Obeah in Jamaica and Macumba of Brazil. Experts estimate that about 60 million people worldwide practice some form of voodoo.

It is hard to quantify the religion's growth since voodoo is often practiced in one's home, explained Elizabeth McAlister, a professor of religion at Wesleyan University, who has written extensively about voodoo.

But research shows the religion is becoming more prevalent among well-heeled first and second generation Haitians, as well as people of various backgrounds, she said.

Ruby LaCroix, 39, of West Palm Beach, became intrigued by voodoo when she began to study Haiti's history in college. She left Haiti when she was eight years old and had questions about some of the traditions she grew up watching her grandmother practice.
"I was looking to find out more about myself, about being Haitian and what that means," she said.

Gone, for most, is the shame that used to be associated with the stigmatised religion. Unlike some of their parents who practiced voodoo in secrecy, the newcomers to the religion invite friends to voodoo ceremonies, have altars in their homes and work to shatter the stereotypes.

Followers say Hollywood gave the religion a bad rap with representations of zombies, spells and dolls. They say those calling on spirits to do harm are practicing sorcery, not voodoo.

"A lot of people think voodoo is devilish. They think it's a doll with spirits but it's not that," said voodoo priest Erol Josue. "Voodoo is a way of life. voodoo is dignity, it's a celebration."

Referred to as a houngan, Josue, 38, does not fit the stereotypical image of a voodoo priest.

He's a musician raised in voodoo, with a MySpace page and a CD called Regleman, featuring voodoo music to a global beat. His CD was featured on The World's music segment on Public Radio International.

"We're not asking people to convert," he said. "But young people need to know where they came from."

On a recent Saturday, Josue hosted a voodoo cleansing ceremony at his house on a quiet street in North Miami, not far from the Aventura shopping mall. The ceremony, held at the beginning of every year, attracted people from West Palm Beach to Homestead, and lasted eight hours. Participants danced, sang and fell into trances.

Everyone began by dipping their hands in a white enamel basin filled with fragrant leaves, oils and water for good luck and protection.

The gathering of about 25 men and women ranged from teenagers to seniors, and included teachers, college students and artists.

Sherline Fontus, a 31-year-old mother who lives in Fort Lauderdale, said rediscovering the religion has filled her with a sense of freedom. "You feel like you're home."

The ceremony lasted through the night into the early morning, with the participants singing in call and response style, as Josue and others led them through richly textured songs in Creole.

"Ouve barye pou nou," they chanted - "open the gates for us."

Amid the singing and chanting, men drink beer as women hand out small cups of a Haitian soup with spinach, dumplings and meat.

The mood is relaxed, with bouts of intensity as people start to act out the characteristics of an invoked spirit. One woman, feeling moved by the spirit of the seas, sways like the tides of an ocean.

A table against the wall in the living room is filled with offerings for the spirits: eggs for Damballah, the fertile snake god of the waters; roses for Erzulie, the female spirit of love; a machete with a red handkerchief, for the warrior spirit Ogou - and bottles upon bottles of rum.

"Once upon a time everything connected to Africa was shameful, including skin colour and hair texture," said Dr Patrick Bellegarde-Smith, a professor of Africology at the University of Wisconsin. "But now you have a number of American scholars who are into voodoo."

Jacqueline Manigat, a 28-year-old kindergarten teacher from Miami, was always curious about voodoo. When she was young, her mom had a "secret room" where she communicated with voodoo spirits. At the beginning of the school year, her mom would pray over a white pot of water - calling for the ancestors to guide her children and make their year a success.

Six years ago, Manigat became a voodoo priestess. Now she consults the same spirits for guidance she watched her mother call upon.

"I like that there is tolerance," she said. "No matter who you are in voodoo, you are welcome."


Sunday, February 01, 2009

Gaia and the Meaning of Life

In and through community lies the salvation of the world.
- M. Scott Peck

Perhaps you remember when, in 1983, scientist Peter Russell published The Global Brain, a pioneering work on the role of connectedness, community, and social networks to the future of consciousness on planet Earth.

In it, Russell described how the connections of billions of neurons in the human brain led to the emergence of consciousness on the planet-something never before seen in our solar system. He then looked at the growing number of human beings on the planet, and made a startling prediction.

Building on James Lovelock's Gaia Hypothesis (the theory that the Earth itself is a living entity, complete with its own rhythms and processes) Russell speculated that, just as the connection of billions of neurons in the frontal lobes of the human brain coincided with the emergence of individual self-awareness on the planet, the intentional connection between billions of human beings would lead to the unfolding of a new consciousness-the awakening of Gaia as a whole.

Now, just two decades later, we're watching his predictions unfold.

Of course, since the 1960s we've seen a growing interest in spiritual, social and environmental awareness. While the growing numbers of those who understand the connection between personal and planetary well-being does represent an ongoing shift in the way we interact with the world, it's still a shift that started decades ago.

Today, however, something else is emerging-something that mirrors this internal shift. What's unique about this current change in our relationship with ourselves and our environment-the shift from an individualistic mindset to one of community, connectedness, and shared understanding-is that it's occurring not just within us, but on the outside as well.

Finally, our very technologies are playing a role in this transformation.

Think of it. Over the past few years, the Internet itself has undergone a drastic change. Once used just to trade information, the online world is transforming into what's known as Web 2.0-the social web. Today, instead of being used to transfer data, technology is being used in service of relationships-to join people around the world, to discover new connections, and to deepen our understanding and care of those on the other side of the globe. This shift-from connections driven by information to networks based in values-is exactly what Russell predicted.

And so the synergy of these two phenomena-that is, the profound internal shift driving the popularity of works such as The Secret and Eckhart Tolle's Stillness Speaks and the emergence of the social web-represents something never before seen. Earlier spiritual movements on the planet moved slowly, spreading from group to group in isolated pockets, or appearing in small pockets in certain nations, but what we're seeing today is an undeniably global phenomenon. Through the miracle of the Internet, we can immediately share not just information, but wisdom, care, concern, and compassion with those around the world.

We Are The Ones We Have Been Waiting For

It is possible that the next Buddha will not take the form of an individual. The next Buddha may take the form of a community…
- Thich Nhat Hanh.

Of course, it's not just science that has anticipated this awakening. The venerable Buddhist monk, Thich Nant Hahn, made the same prediction using different language when he wrote that "the next Buddha may be a sangha;" that is, that the next instantiation of an awakened being on the planet may not come as an individual, but in and through community. (And is it any coincidence that here in the United States we have just nominated a 'community organizer,' rather than a CEO or war hero, as our President Elect?)

Unlike science, though, spirituality gives us direction and suggestions for how to help ease this emergence. There are countless new spiritual books, like A New Earth and Conversations with God, that encourage us to look for answers not from some outside authority, but to push into our own hearts and divine our own unique purposes.

Those of us who take up this route frequently come to the shared realization that the call of our hearts and the call of the planet are the same-and that by tapping deeply enough into our deepest desires we'll discover they mesh perfectly with the needs of the world as a whole.

And so this awakening bodes well for our collective future. In any healthy, productive, and peaceful society, the actions of each member are naturally aligned with the needs of the group. This arrangement doesn't need to be planned or coerced. Instead, it's the simple result of a shared perspective among the group members-a perspective that includes a deep understanding of the interdependence between each person and the community as a whole.

It's always been easy to bring this about in small groups, but for the first time ever we're seeing it occur around the world. Something significant is unfolding.

But What Does it Mean? And What Next?

For a cell in our body to survive, it must understand its purpose. Neurons that lack connections with other cells in the brain eventually atrophy, and cells that can't find their place within the greater system whither away.

Similarly, for an organism to survive, it's crucial that each cell that makes it up understands its role. It's important that each connects with the cells around it, and 'understands' its place in the health of the greater system.

And of course, the health of the cell itself depends on the integrity and well-being of the larger organism. The one enhances and depends on the other, and vice versa.

So, it's crucial that each of us discover our own unique and irreplaceable role within Gaia, and that we each understand that we serve an important purpose on the Earth. This answer-which is necessarily as alive and flowing as each of us!-isn't going to come from a book or article, but from exploring the community around you and determining what needs to be done, and delving within yourself to see what you're most called to do. Because your discovery and pursuit of your passion and your path is important not just for your own health and satisfaction, but for the furthering of the whole human process, and for the life of the incredible sphere that we're each so inextricably a part of.

By: Gaia Community