Barefoot Zen?

Barefoot Zen?
Namaste, Y'all...

Saturday, September 24, 2011

A LovingKindness Smackdown

There's an article in the Religion section of last week's Huffington Post in which a Professor of Philosophy from Duke pontificates that American Buddhists "don't get it".  His assessment is that most of us are practicing a watered-down self-help version of something pure and bold that we can't begin to grasp.

The article both infuriated and intrigued me.  I get it.  Anyone nowadays who considers themselves 'spiritual but not religious' can embrace the loose fitting tenants of Americanized Buddhism.  Om size fits all, it seems.

Considering many American Buddhists look for wisdom from such respected teachers as the Dalai Lama, Thich Nhat Hahn, and Pema Chodron, I don't think the author's blanket criticism is fair.  Self-immolation and saffron robes are not a requirement for seeking a better way to live.

But here's the article.  Decide for yourself, if you're so inclined.  Me?  I've still got way too many miles to go down the Eightfold Path to let this guy trip me up.

Owen Flanagan, Ph.D.: Bourgeois Buddhists: Do Americans Miss the Point of Buddhism?

Thursday, September 22, 2011

A Dear John Letter to Jazz: To Hell with Loving You

As a person who loves jazz - and owns more than just "Take Five", "Kind of Blue", and "A Love Supreme", this was hard to read. It's a long, sobering glare in a mirror that reveals the painful truths of knowing that some people think Rod Stewart is now a 'jazz singer' or that Kenny G covering Louis Armstrong in anyway resembles authenticity.

But, like all great jazz, there's a touch of redemption at the end. And in this battered old world, I think that's all any of us can hope for.

Here's a link to the essay, from

A Dear John Letter to Jazz: To Hell with Loving You

Sunday, September 18, 2011

10 Spiritual Aspects of Running Barefoot (via Elephant Journal)

I found this article on the Elephant Journal website and it seemed like a good fit to share here.  Written by Angela Raines, a yoga teacher from Boulder, Colorado.  Elephant Journal, btw, is a pretty fantastic site for anyone interested in the kinds of things I write about here - physical/spiritual/emotional wellness.  Check it out at    Here's Angela's article, inspired by her encounter with "Born to Run" author Christopher McDougall:

Are your shoes making you an a$$h@le?                 Top ten ways to become a better runner and a better person. Simultaneously.

1. Get naked. Big, padded, expensive running shoes often cause more problems than they solve.  We run best when we let our bodies operate in as natural a condition as possible.  It’s all too often that we let our remedies become our maladies.  Starting from a more natural, authentic place is usually the best way to go, in your exercise routine, love life, or spiritual pursuits.

2.  Have fun. The Tarahumara, a tribe of legendary ultramarathoners, smile huge during the hardest parts of the race. We all do our best when we’re having fun. Notice and nurture what you enjoy, and pour a little whimsy into the hardest parts of your day.

3.  Get devotional: The Hopi and Navajo do ritual running as a prayer to give their own strength to those in need. What greatness could you achieve if you were devoting yourself to something greater, if you weren’t doing it all for your own ego?

4.  Get compassionate: While marathoners are often cutthroat, ultramarathoners, who run four times that distance, are shockingly generous, often helping eachother along the way. We seem to actually perform better when we’re cooperatively, not combatively, competitive. Compassion is far better fuel than greed.

5.  Get egalitarian:  While men trounce us ladies in sprints, longer distances completely equalize this difference. Aging also impacts distance running far less than it does most other sports. According to the theory that we evolved in running packs, it was important that women and elders kept up with the group on a hunt. Elders were given particular respect since they had the know-how to track animals, something that takes the better part of a lifetime to master. We post-moderns cherish the ideal of equality and respect for all — isn’t it stunning to consider that this respect might be an ancient birthright, that even helped us survive as a species?

6.  Speak your mind: Communication was essential between members of the hunting pack to ensure they were tracking the right animal. Our ability to relate to each other is nothing without our willingness to communicate. What can you contribute to your tribe by speaking up?

7.  Get imaginative:  There comes a point in tracking an animal, McDougall claims, where following isn’t enough, and you must begin anticipating its next move. This need for anticipation might well have led to our greatest gift of all, imagination. Our ability to look across a plain and envision a city, our ability to listen to silence and hear poetry, is what makes us quintessentially human. This capacity drives all creativity, and propels us into an ever more complex future. Celebrate your imagination, and use it wisely.

8. Get free: It’s awfully hard to run long distances weighted down by physical possessions — or emotional baggage, for that matter. Running light is the way to go, for your finish time and your soul.

9.  Get ZenJenn Shelton, one of Born to Run‘s most colorful characters, explains why she started running ultramarathons:
I thought, man, if you could run 100 miles, you’d be in this Zen state. You’d be the f@#king Buddha. Bringing peace and a smile to the world. In my case, it didn’t work.  I’m the same old punk ass as ever. But there’s always this hope that it’ll turn you into the person you want to be. You know, like a better, more peaceful person. And when I’m out on a long run, the only thing in life that matters is finishing the run. For once, my brain isn’t going ‘bleh bleh bleh bleh.’ Everything just quiets down, and the only thing going on is pure flow.
I’ve found a certain clarity during runs when I can get myself to stop resisting the pain and just be. It’s raw and real and just as meditative as anything I’ve experienced in a zendo [meditation hall].

10.  Get fearless: We’ve developped a strange phobia about running over the last few decades that McDougall finds preposterous. Running, he claims, “gets the machine operating the way it should be. End the baloney, the hysteria about running, that it’s dangerous — ‘Don’t do too much! Don’t take your shoes off!’ — Regain the use of your legs, get the engine off the block and running how it should be, and your whole bodymind will run more smoothly.” I don’t kow about you, but I make my biggest mistakes when I let fear paralyze or hypnotize me, and I’m at my best when I’m living courageously, heart at full throttle.
So, it sounds like running might make us better people, and being better people just might make us better runners. Too good to be true? Maybe. But as long as I get coffee before and an omelette afterwards, I just might give it a go.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

That's What "Friends" Are For...

So, most of you who know me well - my true friends - know that, aside from coffee, my biggest addiction is most likely Facebook.  It's a cyber social playground for me.  I can hone clever status updates, entertain others with funny responses, and keep up with people I know - or once knew - all over the globe.

But, alongside the love affair comes a very real disdain for what Facebook represents.  As much as it brings people closer, it also keeps us apart.  You've heard these arguments before, they're nothing new.  I agree wholeheartedly that, while I now have connections with many friends I've fallen out of touch with, I also have lost true face-to-face time with those closest to me.

The latest convenience from Facebook is particularly eye-opening.  You can now divide your Facebook "friends" up into categories, one of which they've designated as "Close Friends".  Well, once I saw the feature, is started to load my list up.  But then I stopped.  "Close Friends."  That's a mighty tall order.

Fact is, there are some people I've become very close to BECAUSE of Facebook, others who I have befriended on Facebook, having never met outside of this maddening lil' social network.  Others still have actually grown more distant from me as they've used the platform to express some rather small-minded or divisive beliefs.   But to define who I consider to be a 'close friend', well, those are the folks who answer that phone call at 2 a.m., who drive in the rain to pick you up at the airport when your car won't start, who don't just show up for the memorial service, but are at the hospital holding your hand as you feel more alone than you ever have before.

We could all flatter ourselves by filling up our "Close Friends" list with people who bring us the occasional smile or laugh.  But, in truth, if we can find three or four people to put on that list - the real list that doesn't live on the left column of a web page - then we've got cause to celebrate.

We live in a world that encourages convenience over authenticity.  But, when you log off and take a moment to live in gratitude, you'll be astonished that there are a handful of people in your life who would go to the wall for you.  Ride with you through your self-induced detours until the wheels fall off.  Tell you that you're acting like an idiot when you're, well...acting like an idiot.

To all the people in my life I consider friends, thank you for enriching my life and allowing me to do my best to return the favor.  You are a blessing.  But to that sacred handful of close friends who know what my greatest fear is right now, what moves me beyond mere words, and at least a dozen stories about me that I never want shared on any social media platform, I am humbled by you.  And I think I love you too much to put you in a category on Facebook.

Because that is not what friends are for...

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Learn to be Still...

I am spiritually akin to a 1960's Chevrolet.  I was built tough enough to endure, but I tend to stall out a lot.  You'll find me getting roadside assistance from time to time, but it's because I'm in for the long haul and refuse to remain in park for long.

It's also why it's a running joke amongst friends regarding where my dial has landed on the "Faith-o-Meter" any given year.  But I've really not wavered as much as it seems - the Chevy is still the same, I'm just taking it down different roads to see how it handles.  So, this Buddhist/Unitarian/Glass-Half-Full Agnostic who currently belongs to a Methodist Church is back on the road to Nirvana via meditation, both at the Shambhala Center and at home.

As I pounded the dust off my Zafu (that's a meditation cushion, you perverts) and lit up some incense, I also decided to do some reading on what might help me have a more consistent practice.  Low and behold, just yesterday, there was an article about this very thing at the Huffington Post site.  So, I thought I'd share, in case any of you are also starting (or restarting) a meditation practice.

Here ya go.  Enjoy the ride.

Susan Piver: 6 Tips for Choosing a Meditation Practice

CNN on 9/11 and Religion

This seemed particularly poignant after just writing the "Empty Sky" piece below.

Four ways 9/11 changed America's attitude toward religion – CNN Belief Blog - Blogs

What are your thoughts on America's post-9/11 attitudes toward faith?  Have we become more understanding or less tolerant?  Are we only hearing the voices of the extremes, or has the humble, grace-based idea of various belief systems (or non-belief systems) shone through?

Empty Sky

We all watched.  We all wept.  We searched for answers that never really came in any satisfiable manner.

There was a brief window - one of those where you know you've been taken to your knees, but you look around and everyone you know is there too, on their knees, struggling to rise to their feet, and you realize that - collectively - it can be done.  We can lift up each other, we can join hands and pull one another from the spiritual rubble that surrounds us and make a fresh start.

Maybe.  Just maybe, there would be a silver lining somewhere amid all the tears and blood.

But, it didn't last for most.  Soon, we had to take sides - maybe we were forced to, in many ways.  The division has never healed.

Culturally, we were told this moment in time marked 'the death of irony' and that we would soon see America flocking back to the comfort of such simple pleasures as "The Andy Griffith Show".  It didn't happen.  The pendulum just kept swinging the same direction, and we buried ourselves in more escapism, more reality television, and more trivialities that have soaked away our energies.

Unfortunately, some of the people who DID start asking the bigger questions came to divisive answers.  Quests for what unites us morphed into opportunities to demonize other religions, nations, and cultures.

I don't wanna say the bad guys won.  They didn't.  But, we have proven that our nature is - in the short term - to do good, to help those struck by tragedy, and to unite as a nation regardless of our vast differences.  But our long term approach seems more ego-based.  More self-serving.  More steeped in fear than forged from hard won awareness of our interdependence.

Most people would look around at our country ten years after the terrorist attacks and say 'we're a mess'.  They'd be right, in many respects.  But the seeds we planted back in the days that followed are still ripe for growth.  The seeds that could help us move toward a better understanding of one another, a bit more compassion, and maybe - just maybe - the ability to solve some of our greatest problems.

Many people said, a year or so after Autumn 2001, that we should be made to watch the towers fall every day on TV, to remind us of our resolve and who our enemies are and what they did.  That seems a little misguided to me.  Instead, I think we should see images of the heroes, the spirit, and the unity that took place in the days that followed.  I think we should hear the songs that played on the radio that week - ones that reminded us that we're all in this together.   Democrats and Republicans joining hands.  Hell, Yankees and Red Sox fans in full embrace.

My daughter once asked me why they haven't rebuilt the towers.  I told her mostly out of respect for what happened there.  But steel and mortar only result in symbolism.  True respect is in the actions we take - our leaders take - every day.  And the least we owe everyone who was touched by what happened that horrible day is to try and rekindle just a bit of that empathy and understanding toward one another.

The media will work hard to ensure we don't.  Our leaders on both sides of the aisles have no interest in breaking down the walls of partisanship.  So, once again, it's up to us.  You.  Me.  Us.

We are the ones who can fill an Empty Sky.

Bruce Springsteen - Empty Sky - YouTube