Archive for the ‘Social Justice’ Category
With Thanksgiving coming up, here are a couple of items you might want to share with your more conservative friends and family:
One of the most moving documentaries about homelessness is now out on DVD. If you can please support the film makers. If not, rent/borrow and watch this beautiful film. The DVD has many special features that are also worth watching:
San Francisco based Samasource, is one of many companies who’ve taken the mechanical turk concept, and exported it to the developing world. These social entrepreneurs are not only providing jobs and opportunities to this generation of workers in the developing world, but they are helping companies in poor countries establish a foothold in the global economy. Look for them to start taking on increasingly more complex projects.
Below is a recent and inspiring BBC story about Samasource:
Introducing, South Korea’s Sung-bong Choi
[Seva Series: Profiles of seekers dedicated to the service of others.]
Krishnan Narayanan abandoned his promising career as a high-end chef, to devote his life to care for the mentally ill who live on the streets of his native Madurai, India. Besides providing food on a regular basis, Krishnan also takes care of other basis needs such as providing access to clean clothes and baths. He is also in the process of raising money to complete his dream project of providing housing for 400 of his regular “clients”.
These acts of kindness have serious implications for him personally. As a brahmin, he isn’t suppose to eat with, let alone bathe members of lower castes.
American yoga aspirants remain very much inside their own cultural universe and have minimal contact with Indian society, except for the commodified yoga they desire and receive. They cannot read any signs in the regional language, leam little about the politics or culture (“We’re only here for a few months”), and keep their focus upon their own practice of asana. The most appalling part of it is that many of them suffer from a smugness that is derived from having completed such a fine, advanced practice of asana early in the morming, entitling them to spend the rest of the day in idleness while bearing a feeling of superiority toward most any other person they meet during the day.
… Young people seeking fitness, older people wanting to regain youth, most of them self-absorbed with a focused effort to become or remain attractive, focus their energies intently upon what each of them term “my practice.” For one or two hours they direct their energies (and in many cases this energy is abundant and highly directed) upon themselves. Only themselves. Each breath is a celebration of one’s body electric. It may be beautiful, but the danger is that it easily reinforces egotism and self-centeredness at the very time that one’s practice of yoga should be eradicating the self, egoistically conceived. In all fairness, it may be said that a yoga practitioner will inevitably meet other practitioners who are more adept at asana or run up against the limits of his or her body. But a sense of inadequacy is not actually the opposite of egoism, since it is just another form of self-absorption. If Patanjali is to be believed, spiritual lessons are indeed to be gained from a correct practice of asana, but when the practice is distorted by what is already most abundant in the culture – vanity, pleasure-seeking, and self-absorption – is there a fair chance for its cultivation? The metaphor of the camel that is able to pass through the eye of the needle seems appropriate here.
* At least 11 of the 27 New Testament books are forgeries.
* The New Testament books attributed to Jesus’ disciples could not have been written by them because they were illiterate.
* Many of the New Testament’s forgeries were manufactured by early Christian leaders trying to settle theological feuds.
NOTE: Evangelical scholar Ben Witherington refutes the key arguments in his short review of Ehrman’s book.
… UCLA researchers Helen Lavretsky and Michael Irwin conducted an eight-week, randomized trial on the effects of meditation exercise on 49 people who were home-based caregivers of a loved one with dementia. About half of the caregivers listened to relaxation tapes for 20 minutes a day for eight weeks, while the other caregivers practiced Kirtan Kirya yoga, a meditation exercise. The study’s authors then conducted tests on mental and cognitive health, did brain scans and measured telomere length. Telomeres are sequences of DNA at the end of chromosomes that are protective of cellular health. Measuring telomere length can be used to determine how fast a person is aging.
The study found strong evidence that a meditative yoga routine improves both mental and physical health. While caregivers in both groups experienced benefits, the caregivers practicing Kirtan Kirya yoga had more improvements in quality of life, cognition and memory. Those study participants reported better sleep and less anxiety and said they felt care-giving was less of a burden than before they participated in the study.
Surprisingly, the telomere analysis showed meditative yoga also had an anti-aging effect.
(1) I highly recommend that paper: “With Heat Even Iron will Bend”: Discipline and Authority in Ashtanga Yoga by Benjamin Richard Smith, pages 140-160, in Yoga in the Modern World
In every case, the correlation between education and income is extremely strong. As I note in the magazine, the relationship goes both ways: more affluent people tend to produce more educated children, and more educated people tend to earn much more than less educated people. It’s one more reminder that the financial value of education has never been greater.
I had the honor of witnessing Lorenzo’s seven-month journey from convict to accounting assistant, watching as he became the young man God had in mind when he made him. But despite his remarkable turnaround and the many things he had to offer an employer, Lorenzo’s prospects for finding a job outside our program were dim.
Opportunities for second chances are few for people like Lorenzo. Homeboy Industries is about the only game in town. Most employers just aren’t willing to look beyond the dumbest or worst thing someone has done.
Another “homie” recently came to me for help after, for the third time, he was let go from a job because his employer had discovered he’d done five years in prison. He told me the boss said, “You’re one of our best workers, but we have to let you go.” Then, with a desperate sadness, the young man added: “Damn, G. No one told me I’d be getting a life sentence of no work.”
The business of second chances is everybody’s business. We lose our right to be surprised that California has the highest recidivism rate in the country if we refuse to hire folks who have taken responsibility for their crimes and have done their time.
Even in this alarming economic climate, where the pool of prospective employees is larger than ever, we need to find the moral imperative as a society to secure places in our workforce for those who just need a chance to prove themselves. This can’t be the concern only of a large gang rehab center; it must also be part of our collective response to keep our streets safe and our communities healthy.
As a society, we come up lacking in many of the marks of compassion and wisdom by which we measure ourselves as civilized.
We are among the handful of countries that has difficulty distinguishing juveniles from adults where crime is concerned. We are convinced that if a child commits an adult crime, that kid is magically transformed into an adult. Consequently, we try juveniles as adults. We still execute people. And we belong to a small, exclusive club of countries that brands felons forever and denies them voting rights, access to employment and, sometimes, even housing.
Delegations from all over the world visit Homeboy Industries and scratch their heads as we tell them of our difficulty in placing our people in jobs after their time with us. Americans’ seeming refusal to believe in a person’s ability to redeem himself strikes these folks as foreign indeed.
Eat, Pray, Love gets most of the attention, but below are a few other recent memoirs that I enjoyed even more than Eat, Pray, Love. (A side note: I thought Elizabeth Gilbert’s recent book, should have been the subject of a longish magazine article. A whole book on her vacillation about marriage got a bit long for me. I’ve also read Poser, and thought it was funny in parts, but I prefer the books listed below.)
- Slow Motion and Devotion, both by Dani Shapiro: Yoga types prefer Devotion, because it features Dani’s relationships with famed teachers Stephen Cope of Kripalu and Sylvia Boorstein of Spirit Rock, but I found Slow Motion to be more compelling.
- The Glass Castle:
- Radio Shangri-La (What I Learned in Bhutan, the Happiest Kingdom on Earth): This is an inspiring read, how a series of chance encounters can lead to a new mission in life. Like Eat, Pray, Love you get taken to an exotic country, but in Radio Shangri-La the author actually does something: she helps train young journalists in a country going through sweeping changes.
- Mennonite in a Little Black Dress (A Memoir of Going Home): By far the funniest and most entertaining memoir I’ve read in a long time.
- Women Conquering Holy Ground: BBC’s Heart and Soul profiles women from three major faith traditions who are venturing into traditionally male dominated roles — presiding over worship rituals.
- Hula HoopGirl:
Zamor is magnetic and incredibly talented, but what sets her apart from other Bay Area hoopers is her avid following, cultivated by Hooping! The Book!, an array of instructional DVDs and 72-hour teacher training program that has certified 570 instructors in 16 countries. Zamor is HoopGirl® — a persona that not only has allowed her to whittle her waist and tone her tummy but to explode into a fitness franchise.
… “I wasn’t really looking for hooping,” she says. At 27, Zamor was a UC Santa Barbara PhD student struggling to find academic support for her interest in ethnomusicology and drumming. Frustrated, she dropped out from her program after receiving a master’s degree, traveled to Senegal to study djembe, returned to the States, enrolled in Pacifica Graduate Institute’s master’s program in mythology and depth psychology, and began working as a personal assistant. Amid the confusion, she says she didn’t have the power to envision a life outside her studies. “I wanted to be a healer but didn’t know it,” she says.
… Next up, Zamor will be working on bringing that whole-body healing to women who may not be willing to step inside the hoop. She has expanded her business to include empowerment classes that honor the “divine, delicious feminine” and that will help women become a more supple, radiant, and luminous version of themselves, she says.
These classes in “hooping outside the hoop” are geared toward helping others uncover the empowerment and sense of self-worth that Zamor has found through HoopGirl. Of course, unless Zamor is planning on turning out hundreds of successful fitness revolutionaries with profitable book deals of their own, it’s hard to say whether her personal transformation will be replicable. But with one irresistible smile from Zamor, it’s easy to see that the hoop has worked for her — and difficult to resist the urge to run out and buy one for oneself.
- DIY Criminal Appeals Law: Sadly, this tragic story of an innocent man sent to prison for 21 years, is far from rare. (See for example this documentary on the Daryl Hunt case.) When overworked investigators and prosecutors rush to judgement, their mistakes end up sending innocent people to prison. Based on the many examples of botched investigations that have surfaced in recent years, there are probably many innocent people in death row. The self-taught investigator Carl King profiled in the story, personifies seva!!
- INSIDE OUT:
… is a large-scale participatory art project that transforms messages of personal identity into pieces of artistic work. Everyone is challenged to use black and white photographic portraits to discover, reveal and share the untold stories and images of people around the world. These digitally uploaded images will be made into posters and sent back to the project’s co-creators for them to exhibit in their own communities. People can participate as an individual or in a group; posters can be placed anywhere, from a solitary image in an office window to a wall of portraits on an abandoned building or a full stadium. These exhibitions will be documented, archived and viewable virtually.
- Margaret Atwood on the Publishing Pie: The ideas in this talk applies to all creative types, not just writers. For that matter, yoga and meditation teachers who struggle to make a living have a lot in common with writers and artists:
- Cartwheels In A Sari: Born into the organization of Guru Sri Chinmoy, author Jayanti Tamm provides an insider’s view into Chinmoy’s organization. As for Chinmoy himself, he “… comes off as a spiritual huckster both ridiculous and oppressive.”
- Yoga Teacher on a Pedestal: Not that we’re returning to the days when spiritual gurus were fashionable, but as Carol Horton points out, it’s easy to see how Yoga students end up idolizing certain teachers.
… A yoga instructor stands in a different cultural space than an aerobics teacher or sports coach. Even if students are only interested in “fitness yoga,” most recognize that for others, yoga can involve not only the body, but also the mind and perhaps even spirit as well. Even if it’s not necessarily taken seriously, the fact that yoga is a “body-mind-spirit” practice is a well-known part of its “branding” and appeal.
Conversely, yoga instructors aren’t considered spiritual teachers along the lines of priests, rabbis, lamas, or monks. Yoga, of course, is not a religion, so that’s appropriate. But it’s also true that yoga teachers are trained in so many different ways, and have so many different outlooks and commitments, that it’s impossible to assume anything about their orientation to spirituality – or any of the “big questions” – at all.
While this is great in that it allows for openness, innovation, and authenticity, it’s also confusing.
This is particularly true because yoga, by its very nature, offers people a path into deep psychological and emotional territory. Even if you start yoga simply because you want to exercise and/or de-stress, it’s very common that sooner or later, you’ll start to have much more intense emotional, psychological, and perhaps what you might call “spiritual” experiences anyway.
- Yoga, meditation program helps city youths cope with stress:
They found a 12-week yoga program targeting 97 fourth- and fifth-graders in two Baltimore elementary schools made a difference in students’ overall behavior and their ability to concentrate. They found students who did yoga were less likely to ruminate, the kind of brooding thoughts associated with depression and anxiety that can be a reaction to stress. The findings, which focused on a pilot program that took place in 2008, were published recently in the Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology. One program is still active, and researchers are now applying for federal funding to expand the effort into schools across the city.
… While many studies on yoga are limited, there is “intriguing evidence” that it can have a host of health benefits, she said.
To test their theories, Hopkins researchers used a curriculum designed by the Holistic Life Foundation, a Baltimore nonprofit founded in 2002 by brothers Ali and Atman Smith and their college buddy, Andy Gonzalez. Upon graduating from the University of Maryland, College Park, “the traveling yogis” as they called themselves, returned to their poor West Baltimore neighborhood looking for a way to give back.
… The traveling yogis combined various yoga disciplines, poses and breathing exercises to create their own blend of practice that emphasizes mindfulness, or awareness that emerges when one is present or “in the moment.”