Living in Denver, with the Broncos going to the Super Bowl this year, I see lots of people dressed in the Broncos’ team colors, pages and pages of news coverage of the teams and their prospects, many parties being planned, and for a wealthy few, the anticipation of attending the game itself. At the risk of being asked what planet I come from, or being considered “un-American” because I am not going to watch the game (a fitness instructor in a class I attend actually said this), I’d like to explore some concerns behind the hoopla. When we look more closely at the Super Bowl, we see a waste of environmental resources, large amounts of consumers’ money spent on throwaway items, and a glorification of violence–all as part of an event priced so high that people of average income cannot even attend.
First of all, let’s look at the expense. According to ABC News, Super Bowl spending will top $15.5 billion for food, decor, and team apparel. In the buying of T-shirts, jackets, hats, scarves, gloves, pajamas, blankets, tote bags, glassware, banners, and countless other wearable and collectible items displaying the team colors, does anyone consider that it is wasteful of both the consumer’s money and the resources that go into making these items that will be worn or used only a very few times? I go back to the slogan: when you are considering buying something, instead of asking “Can I afford this?” ask “Can the planet afford this?” I even saw a tiny baby wearing a Broncos-themed outfit–her parents are already teaching her to consume frivolous, throwaway items that were probably shipped all the way from China.
Continue reading Why I’m Not Caught Up in Super Bowl Mania
No Mud, No Lotus: The Art of Transforming Suffering, by Thich Nhat Hanh. Parallax Press, 2014.
This short, easy to read guide offers practical suggestions, from a Buddhist perspective, on how to deal with the everyday suffering that arises for everyone. Nhat Hanh makes clear that it is impossible to avoid suffering, as that is part of living, but we can choose to keep it from overwhelming us. The book’s “Practices for Happiness” section includes breathing exercises, being present with strong emotions, practicing loving kindness toward ourselves and others, deep relaxation, mindfulness trainings and walking meditation.
To give an example of just one of those–being present with strong emotions–Nhat Hanh reminds readers that “an emotion is only an emotion, and you are much more than one emotion . . . An emotion is something that comes and stays for a while, and eventually goes away. If during the time of the emotion, you have that insight, that insight will save you.”
People caught up in stressful situations can find real support and encouragement here.
Waking Up: A Guide to Spirituality without Religion, by Sam Harris. Simon & Schuster, 2014.
Harris covers highlights of his own inner journey and what we currently know about the nature of consciousness, concluding with comments on evaluating gurus, investigating NDEs, and drug use as a possible path toward enlightenment. Meditation practice can be helpful to everyone as a means of reducing the personal suffering brought about by constant distraction, and needn’t have any religious component. Harris’ dedication to exploring the self, his considerable experience attending meditation retreats–a total of two years, including some three-month periods–plus his background as a neuroscientist give the book an unusual and authentic flavor. Definitely worth pondering.
10% Happier: How I Tamed the Voice in My Head, Reduced Stress Without Losing My Edge, and Found Self-Help That Actually Works, by Dan Harris. It Books (Harper Collins), 2014.
Here’s an unusual combination: an account of meditation and mindfulness practice combined with anecdotes of famous people, told from the viewpoint of someone who has met and interviewed them. Harris co-anchored Nightline and Good Morning America, was mentored by the likes of Peter Jennings and Diane Sawyer, and has filed stories from exotic places around the world. The two aspects–inward practice and outward celebrity–provide a good balance; I found it irresistible! Regarding mindfulness practice, I have undertaken several silent Buddhist retreats much like the one Harris describes in detail, so I was right there “with” him. (The Japanese Zen sesshin-style retreats I sat are actually even more demanding than the Vipassana retreat Harris chose; for example, having to eat meals while sitting on the floor and engaging in a very structured ceremony of serving, bowing, chanting, and cleaning one’s own dishes.) Stripped of off-putting metaphysics, mindfulness techniques have been used widely and successfully in hospitals and other therapeutic settings.
This practical, useful book delivers on what it promises: to help stressed-out people from all walks of life do what the subtitle says.
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, by Mark Haddon. Doubleday, 2003.
This easy-to-read engaging novel will help most readers deepen their empathy for people who are “different.” Told in the first person by Christopher, a teenaged autistic boy, we come to live inside his head and understand a little of what it would be like to view the world as confusing and overstimulating, people as untrustworthy, and advanced math as a refuge inside his mind against the discomfort of everyday life. We also view at close range the considerable difficulties that parents have in raising these kids who do not want to be touched, who have intense inexplicable preferences (e.g. Christopher hates anything that is yellow or brown), and whose behavior in public may include screaming, groaning and possibly wetting themselves.
By portraying Christopher sympathetically, and showing the boy’s amazing abilities in math and science, the author advances the cause of handicapped people everywhere.
Lying, by Sam Harris. Four Elephants Press, 2013.
Short and easy-to-read, but not lightweight. I continue thinking about the issues raised, although it has been several days since I finished reading it. I hadn’t thought about all the small “white” lies most people tell, and whether the effect(s) such lies have on one’s personal relationships is beneficial or detrimental. I’m intrigued by the question: Is it possible in our society to live a completely truthful life?
Gift from the Sea, by Anne Morrow Lindbergh. Random House, 1955.
This heartfelt little book was a big bestseller when it was published in 1955 and still resonates today. Who doesn’t need a reminder of the sanity of simple living and occasional solitude? She writes: “We seem so frightened today of being alone that we never let it happen. Even if family, friends, and movies should fail, there is still the radio or television to fill up the void … Even day-dreaming was more creative than this; it demanded something from oneself and it fed the inner life . . . We choke the space with continuous music, chatter, and companionship to which we do not even listen.” In these days of Facebook, Twitter, and other means of constant connectivity which Lindbergh could not have imagined, her words mean even more. And this: “Modern communication loads us with more problems than the human frame can carry.”
She also has thoughtful insights on accepting change, and on women emerging from what we look back on as a very sexist time period.
Aging As A Spiritual Practice: A Contemplative Guide to Growing Older and Wiser, by Lewis Richmond. Gotham, 2012.
This has much that will be helpful to the over-60 as well as to younger people who are caring for aging family members. The text is interspersed with the author’s reminiscences of studying in his youth with famed Buddhist teacher Shunryu Suzuki, and “Contemplative Reflections” that assist in looking at life in helpful ways quite different from mainstream viewpoints. Not just for Buddhists or meditators, though, the book provides comfort for anyone dealing with aging-related issues. The author, in his mid-60’s, has experienced severe illnesses himself, including two weeks in a coma, so writes with understanding of facing physical and mental difficulties, yet remaining positive.
A similar book to read alongside is This Is Getting Old: Zen Thoughts on Aging with Humor and Dignity, by Susan Moon (2010).
Active Hope: How to Face the Mess We’re In Without Going Crazy, by Joanna Macy and Chris Johnstone. New World Library, 2012.
Macy and her co-author provide a boost of encouragement to everyone worried about seemingly hopeless environmental and social crises. Practical as well as inspirational, the book includes numerous exercises to strengthen those qualities that will best serve us as we work toward a more life-sustaining world. Macy has been giving workshops on these ideas for many years, testing and refining her methods, and the book reflects the depth of that process. Continue reading Active Hope
The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined, by Steven Pinker. Viking, 2011.
I can’t stop telling people about this amazing landmark study of societal progress concerning violent behavior! Everyone I’ve talked to is cheered by the news that the 20th century was not the most violent; that with occasional exceptions, humans have been making solid progress in reducing violence; and that our treatment of “out-groups” of a different race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, age, or even species, has grown increasingly respectful. The author writes clearly and enlivens his descriptions of countless psychological studies, numerous graphs and, in the beginning chapters, grisly depictions of torture, with just the right amount of anecdotal passages to keep the reader engaged throughout its nearly 700 pages. For example, you’ve got to love that the concept of deterrence is explained using lyrics from the old Jim Croce song “You Don’t Mess Around with Jim.” Continue reading The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined