American Veda by Philip Goldberg

December 2015 Book of the Month

A couple years ago, I had the distinct pleasure of hearing Philip Goldberg, author of American Veda, speak to an audience at the University of Michigan. Sponsored by the Michigan Creativity and Consciousness Studies Faculty Committee, Goldberg told the mesmerizing story of India’s impact on Western religion and spirituality.

Goldberg was invited to U of M by his friend Ed Sarath. Professor Sarath, a well known musician, is the founder of the first program at a mainstream institution to significantly integrate meditation practice and related studies into an academic curriculum. There is no doubt that Sarath’s work has been profoundly impacted by the very themes explored in Goldberg’s book.

American Veda chronicles the story of the slow “Vedicization” of American spirituality. Ever since the first translations of Hindu text found their way into the libraries of prominent Americans, the science of consciousness studies has informed our poetry, literature, music and language. Goldberg outlines – in great detail – the impact this knowledge has had on broader cultural themes. For example, the massive shift in the collective understanding of the mind/body connection, the health benefits of meditation and yoga and the science behind “we are all one” statements.

Goldberg introduces the reader to every great saint, sage, philosopher and poet to take the stage in this conversation. His follows this east-west transmission of thought from the pages of Thoreau to the lyrics of the Beatles. American Veda shares the stories of the great leaders – from Swami Vivekananda to Ram Dass and every great yogi in between. As I listened to Goldberg speak, I could not help but feel the distance of how far we have come. Given my own experience of integrating transcendental meditation into the curriculum of a college course, I know that I am but one player in an on- going revolution of sorts. Consciousness studies, integral spirituality, contemplative practices are the “hot” topics on campuses around the country. There is no doubt this transformation of American thought has come in large part through the influence of eastern spirituality. I, for one, would argue that we are all better off as a result.

Molly Beauregard

a poem

 

There is an inherent sadness in humanity, this particular kind of turmoil
that spurs our uncertainty, from uncertainty.
It causes conventional men and women to cling recklessly to their egos
and self proclaimed artists to drown in their identity, desperate to be clever,
as if wit can do anything but breed with itself
when it lacks the concept of compassion.
My limbo generation slides in and out of consciousness,
with their standards distorted and excuses within reach.
Meanwhile a vast and endless universe opens its doors to anyone, anything
willing to be a part of it.
You may feel on top of the world
but in reality you are floating, only a speck, in everything,
and I wish you could see how beautiful you are.

Rachel Pendergrass

Zen Flesh, Zen Bones

November 2015 Book of the Month

Last week at the end of class a student handed me a slim book saying, “I think you might really like this. I keep it next to my bed and reread it whenever I have a chance.” Ah, sweet music to any teachers’ ears – a book that inspires in an age when the visual typically trumps the written word.

First published in 1957, Zen Flesh, Zen Bones, offers the reader a collection of accessible, primary Zen stories. I have spent all week reading one short story a night and must admit I understand my students feeling. The Zen tradition is partly practical, partly meditative and is traditionally learned under the guidance of a master. This lovely little book offers newcomers to Zen philosophy an inspirational collection of stories that illuminate the meaning behind the Buddhist philosophy of Zen.

Zen Flesh, Zen Bones includes 101 Zen Stories, a collection of tales that recount actual experiences of Chinese and Japanese Zen teachers over a period of more than five centuries; The Gateless Gate, the famous thirteenth century collection of Zen koans; Ten Bulls, a twelfth century commentary on the stages of awareness leading to enlightenment; and Centering, a 4,000 year-old teaching from India that some consider to be the roots of Zen.

The great accomplishment of this book is that it brings spirituality into the realm of the everyday. The stories shared in the book use very simple language and relatable metaphors that cause the student of Zen to think about profound and powerful truths. Zen is often described as a spirit of peace, understanding, compassion and contentment. As short bedtime stories this book infuses just a bit of sweetness into a night of good sleep.

Thanks for the recommendation, Chris! It was a good one.

Molly Beauregard

Breakfast With Buddha by Roland Merullo

October 2015 Book of the Month

I always told myself I would never use a Kindle. There is just something about going into the used bookstore by my house and peeling back the pages of an old book that I refuse to sacrifice. However, I now find myself in a different time and space. Wiggling 10 day old baby in my arms, propped up on pillows, hands full — so I’m tapping through the pages of Breakfast With Buddha on my mother-in-law’s Kindle. She and I first talked about this book two summers ago. I figure there must be a reason I’ve saved it for now.

Breakfast With Buddha (despite reminding me of the outside world) has allowed me to find pockets of time to go inward in this crazy feeling time. It’s reminded me of my favorite subjects, sociology and spirituality, and how the two may or may not link together.

“Otto Ringling is a straight-laced publishing executive with two kids, a lovely wife, a fine home in a fancy New York suburb, and a nagging suspicion that something’s missing. How, then, does he end up on traveling through Middle America with a berobed Mongolian monk? The real question to ask is, Why?

When his sister tricks him into taking her guru on a trip to their childhood home, Otto, a confirmed skeptic, is not amused. Six days on the road with an enigmatic holy man who answers every question with a riddle is not what he’d planned. But in an effort to westernize his passenger-and amuse himself-he decides to show the monk some “American fun” along the way. From a chocolate factory in Hershey to a bowling alley in South Bend, from a Cubs’ game at Wrigley Field to his family farm near Bismarck, Otto is given the remarkable opportunity to see his world-and more important, his life-through someone else’s eyes. Gradually, skepticism yields to amazement as he realizes that his companion might just be the real thing.

In Roland Merullo’s masterful hands, Otto tells his story with all the wonder, bemusement, and wry humor of a man who unwittingly finds what he he’s missing in the most unexpected place.” (text source)

Only halfway through the book, I’m getting more and more intrigued with each tap of the digital page. Join me.

Chelsea Richer
Director of the Tuning the Student Mind film

The Diminishing Value of Childhood

Could I climb to the highest place in Athens, I would lift my voice and proclaim, “Fellow citizens, why do you turn and scrape every stone to gather wealth and take so little care of your children to whom one day you must relinquish it all?” — Socrates

A few years ago while shopping in the children’s department at an unnamed location (think Big box retailer), I came across a size 6x “Hello Kitty” thong. I am still haunted by the sighting. For me, the sight of those teeny tiny panties confirmed my worst fears about the diminishing value of childhood in our culture.

Throughout history, the concept of childhood has remained malleable. Numerous scholars have confirmed that as a society experiences shifts in predominate values or norms, concepts of childhood are routinely affected. Despite the popular perception that childhood is a natural state of existence, science has confirmed that childhood is not biologically defined or distinctly uniform. In fact, it is a byproduct of culture. In reality, childhood functions as a manifestation of one’s social world and as such it is uniquely experienced by individual children.

As Max Weber wrote “culture is a finite segment of the meaningless infinity of the world process, a segment on which human beings confer meaning and significance.” The child of history serves not only as a mirror of our cultural values but also a creator of culture in his own right. Children behave to the expectations of our collective mind – acting out with precision our hopes, our fears and our beliefs about the nature of childhood itself.

We know that the role of the child in society has been reinterpreted continually throughout history. The behavior of children changes naturally as a result of these evolving ideologies. There is a natural intersection between what the people believe to be true and the outgrowth of finite behavior. Thus, we understand the example of a “Hello Kitty” thong for a six year old as representing both the growing trend toward the sexualization of children and giving the kids what they want.

I had a very insightful student write the following lines in a paper this fall: “. . . . .I shouldn’t have worried about fitting in so much. There was no point to rushing into a personality that wasn’t natural. At that point, I was only learning how to play the many roles of personality that I subconsciously play today. I needed much more practice back then.” As the great sage Winnie the Pooh once said, “Rivers know this: there is no hurry. We shall get there someday.”

All too often we push ourselves and our children to develop in a way that is not aligned with our natural selves. I believe that it is of utmost importance for parents, educators and the elders of community to ensure that children are brought up with both love and discipline. It is the collective responsibility of all of us to teach our children right from wrong, to keep them safe and to remind them daily of their own internal goodness.

Is childhood a social artifact worth saving? If we believe that it is then we must act responsibly to create a world worth living in. We must behave decently to one another. We must work to establish a language of values that supports and protects our children. We must create images that reflect our truest desires rather than our deepest fears. We must see the world as a beautiful sanctuary and our children as our most fragile flowers. Finally, we must feel our own inner goodness, innocence and fragility in a way that reconnects us with the most vulnerable in our midst.

All of my experience as an educator and parent leads me to conclude that a sense of reverence is necessary for the health of our children. If a culture is devoid of reverence, we deny ourselves inspiration. The entire experience of childhood should be about the art of awakening the natural curiosity of innocence. The preciousness of childhood should be savored. It would be a tragedy of untold consequence to allow the slow disappearance of this most human social artifact.

Molly Beauregard

 

 

The Disappearance of Childhood by Neil Postman

 September 2015 Book of the Month

In his seminal book,, Neil Postman argues that the invention of the printing press had a profound impact on society and the concept of childhood. Literacy reformed the adult world by creating a required skill set for entry into adulthood. Prior to the development of moveable type, few people in society could read well and the history of knowledge was oral. After the development of the printing press, reading became an adult skill. With literacy came adult “secrets,” information available only to adults who could read. In addition, literacy required schools to teach children how to read.

According to Postman the slow disappearance of childhood began with the advent of electronic communication. Rapid transmission of knowledge and a reliance on visual imagery verses thewritten word replaced the need for literacy. Watching TV requires no skill base. In fact it does not even require a decent attention span. A child watching TV can know everything about the world that an adult knows–sex, violence, commercialism, dirty words. Published in 1982 it is easy to see how prophetic Postman’s original hypothesis has turned out to be.

Here’s to fruitful, evidence based reading! Let’s put our heads together in 2013 and think about how to create a world capable of supporting both ourselves and generations to come.

The Essential Rumi

August 2015 Book of the Month

It’s that time of year again, and you may not want to dip into a novel right now. This should be a time of reflection and getting ready for the semester ahead. So we thought you might enjoy a book of poems by Rumi.

Our favorite method of reading a book of poems is to just pick it up and open to any page. The poem below is what we opened up to today. Sure seems fitting!

A Cleared Site
The presence rolling through again
clears the shelves and shuts down shops.

Friend of the soul, enemy of the soul,
why do you want mine?

Bring tribute from the village.
But the village is gone in your flood.

That cleared site is what I want.
Live in the opening where there is no door
to hide behind. Be your absence.
In that state everything is essential.

The rest of this must be said in silence
because of the enormous difference
between light and the words
that try to say light.

The Samurai’s Garden by Gail Tsukiyama

July 2015 Book of the Month

“Sometimes you can’t let go of the past without facing it again.”
― Gail Tsukiyama, The Samurai’s Garden

We thought everyone would enjoy escaping for a few hours with a cup of tea and a good read. The Samurai’s Garden, written by American author Gail Tsukiyama, is a beautiful book about love, loneliness, reverence and inner strength.

The book tells the story of a young Chinese painter named Stephen who is sent to his family’s summer home in a Japanese coastal village to recover from a bout with tuberculosis. While there he is cared for by Matsu, a reticent housekeeper and a master gardener. Over the course of one remarkable year, Stephen learns Matsu’s secret and gains not only physical strength, but also profound spiritual insight. The Samurai’s Garden offers the reader a lovely example of the grounding effect of devoting oneself to seeing the beauty in the everyday experience of being alive. It is a soulful book – quiet and tranquil, devoted to the exploration of beauty and love.

This book will offer students a strong contrast to the rushing current of school starting again soon. It is one of those books that literally transport’s the reader to a more gentle, life sustaining space. Sink in and enjoy.

Community is Shared

 

I am a sociologist by training. I love to think about culture, people, interactions, identity issues and patterns. Emile Durkheim, the famous French father of all things sociological, argued that one must treat ‘social facts as things’. These “facts” become the subject of study for sociologists. Further, Durkheim believed that collective phenomenon is not merely reducible to the individual actor. Society, he believed, is more than the sum of its many parts. It is a system formed by the association of individuals that come together to constitute a reality with its own distinctive characteristics. Let me think of an example: how about language? Language pre-exists our birth and it continues after our death. Perhaps some of us will have the honor of inventing some new recognizable slang (LOL, duh), however, most of us will go to our grave influencing language to a very limiting degree.

One of the many things I love about yoga and meditation is the feeling of community shared by the many practitioners of both. I love knowing that yoga long preceded my birth and will continue long after I am gone. I love knowing that practicing meditation will go on and on far into the future for my children and my children’s children. I love being a part of a community with shared values.

Like most sociologists, I believe that individual happiness depends on people finding a sense of meaning outside of themselves and connected to the larger society. Social integration is necessary for the maintenance of the social order. There is something so special about walking into a yoga studio and knowing that for one hour you will share a space with like minded people. There is something so profound about meditating with a friend and feeling the bliss of the shared experience. As any sociologist will confirm, we know ourselves through the mutually shared values, habits, routines and patterns of our culture. Building community at the yoga studio or meditation center sends a great message to the culture at large. It confirms the value of taking care of yourself and reminds you of the many people who hope to build a more peaceful, loving, health conscious society.

Molly Beauregard

The Universe is a Green Dragon by Brian Swimme

June 2015 Book of the Month

Presented as a classical dialogue between a young man and a wise elder, cosmologist Brian Swimme’s unique book, The Universe is a Green Dragon encourages readers of all ages to engage their imaginations when considering traditional models of scientific understanding. Reminding readers that curiosity, mystery and inspiration remain the underpinning of science, Swimme unfolds big ideas in bite size pieces of a larger narrative.

Swimme connects the human experience to cosmic reality both through scientific evidence and mystical thought. Integrating science and mysticism grounds his story in both inspiration and possibility. Importantly, Swimme empowers the reader to reimagine the role of personal existence and the expansion of the universe. According to Swimme, the awakening of the earth has a direct relationship to the growth and expansion of the human mind. “The Earth awakens through the human mind. You have to understand this from two different points of view. We have a humanity that awakens to its planetary dimension, to its planetary responsibility, and thus begins to provide the earth with a heart and mind. From the other perspective, we can see how the planet as a whole awakens through self-reflexive mind, which happens to unfurl through humanity (34-35).”

The Universe is a Green Dragon is a little book filled with BIG ideas. If you’re looking for a love story this summer, this book might be for you. While it’s not a traditional beach book, it certainly offers romance of the most cosmic kind!

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