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Recent notable Women’s memoirs

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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.)

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March 16, 2011 at 7:56 am

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  • 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.

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March 7, 2011 at 8:11 am

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  • 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.”

    http://pd.npr.org/anon.npr-mp3/npr/totn/2009/04/20090406_totn_03.mp3?dl=1
  • 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.”

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February 28, 2011 at 7:44 am

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February 14, 2011 at 6:18 am

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  • How to Deal with Criticism Well: 25 suggestions grouped into Personal Growth, Emotional Benefits, Improved Relationships, Time Efficiency, and Self Confidence.
  • Mindfulness meditation training changes brain structure in 8 weeks:

    … For the current study, MR images were take of the brain structure of 16 study participants two weeks before and after they took part in the 8-week Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) Program at the University of Massachusetts Center for Mindfulness. In addition to weekly meetings that included practice of mindfulness meditation – which focuses on nonjudgmental awareness of sensations, feelings and state of mind – participants received audio recordings for guided meditation practice and were asked to keep track of how much time they practiced each day. A set of MR brain images were also taken of a control group of non-meditators over a similar time interval. Meditation group participants reported spending an average of 27 minutes each day practicing mindfulness exercises, and their responses to a mindfulness questionnaire indicated significant improvements compared with pre-participation responses.

    … “It is fascinating to see the brain’s plasticity and that, by practicing meditation, we can play an active role in changing the brain and can increase our well-being and quality of life.” says Britta Hölzel, PhD, first author of the paper and a research fellow at MGH and Giessen University in Germany. “Other studies in different patient populations have shown that meditation can make significant improvements in a variety of symptoms, and we are now investigating the underlying mechanisms in the brain that facilitate this change.”

    Amishi Jha, PhD, a University of Miami neuroscientist who investigates mindfulness-training’s effects on individuals in high-stress situations, says, “These results shed light on the mechanisms of action of mindfulness-based training. They demonstrate that the first-person experience of stress can not only be reduced with an 8-week mindfulness training program but that this experiential change corresponds with structural changes in the amydala, a finding that opens doors to many possibilities for further research on MBSR’s potential to protect against stress-related disorders, such as post-traumatic stress disorder.” Jha was not one of the study investigators.

  • States Help Ex-Prisoners Find Jobs: It took a fiscal crisis to make public officials realize that compassion and forgiveness, does make sense in certain situations.

    All told, the 50 states and the federal government spend $69 billion a year to house two million prisoners, prompting many budget cutters to see billions in potential savings by trimming the prison population. Each year, more than 600,000 inmates are released nationwide, but studies show that two-thirds are re-arrested within three years.

    “An exorbitant amount of money is dedicated to incarcerating people,” said Nancy La Vigne, director of the Justice Policy Center at the Urban Institute. “There are ways you can go about reducing the number of people incarcerated. The best way to help them successfully integrate into society and become independent, law-abiding citizens is to make sure they get a job.”

    Pushed by faith-based organizations and helped by federal stimulus money, California, Michigan, New York and other states expanded jobs programs in recent years to give prisoners a second chance and to reduce recidivism. The nation’s overall jobless rate is 9.4 percent, but various studies have found unemployment rates of 50 percent or higher for former prisoners nine months or a year after their release.

  • Slow food meets mindfulness:

    Food can be a source of genuine pleasure and gratitude if approached in the right way, but usually we’re too busy doing other things or caught up in our own thoughts to even taste what we’re eating. (Audio below)

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January 31, 2011 at 7:54 am

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  • ABC News Beliefs program: This Shambala post highlighting an ABC interview with Matthieu Ricard led me to other videos from this ongoing series from ABC news. Here are episodes featuring meditation teacher Joseph Goldstein, and tensions between believers and the New Atheists.
  • The world’s disappearing food tribes: How traditional food production may offer the world a sustainable model. From this year’s Terra Madre conference:

  • Our Digital Afterlife: What happens to the bits you’ve generated and stored across many online services, after you pass away. I’ve actually been thinking about this topic a lot over the last few months. This NY Times magazine article and Forum interview (see audio below) should get more people motivated to start planning for the future of their digital assets. The services that exist at this point still seem rudimentary. For really heavy sharers (on Twitter, blogs, Facebook, etc.), I would love services able to produce digital biographies as well.

  • Sep/2000 Shambala interview with Jerry Brown: The interview was from a decade ago, but still, I’m hoping Jerry draws on some his past spiritual practices to govern California this time around.

    How serious would you say your engagement with Buddhism has been?

    I’d say that when I went to Japan it was very serious, because I practiced every day for six months and did four sesshins [traditional one week period of intense zazen]. This was at Kamakura; I did two sesshins under Yamada-roshi and two under Father Lasalle, a Jesuit at a Jesuit retreat house there.

    How much meditation do you do now?

    I haven’t been sitting lately, not like I should be. I have a cushion right in the middle of my room; it’s sitting there, but I’ve sat infrequently. It’s an intention, but not a strong enough intention! But definitely an intention.

    You visited Mother Theresa in Calcutta in 1987. What effect did this experience have on you?

    I spent about three weeks working there, mostly at her home for the dying, the Kalighat. I was very impressed and moved by the volunteers who came every day, by their presence and their serving attitude. People from around the world just showed up and helped bathe people, fed people, wash down the floors. It was a very good feeling to be involved in that.

    I experienced Mother Theresa as a person of really clear authority, something I hardly ever encounter. She was someone who spoke in such a way that I was inclined to listen, to follow. I felt this woman was speaking out of some enlightenment, some clarity in her way of seeing. When she said that this person lying on the floor from the streets of Calcutta is Jesus, and what you do for him, that is Jesus, well, it was not only supremely Christian, it was supremely compassionate. She manifested her being and was grounded in a way I’ve seen in very few people.

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January 17, 2011 at 7:51 am

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  • Buddhists in the US Military: Heart and Soul on how the US Military struggles to accomodate minority religions. Some Buddhist countries (e.g., Thailand) have robust militaries, so military service among Buddhist practitioners is “possible”. The challenge faced by non-Christians in the US Military is the large and vocal contingent of Evangelical Christians.

  • Healthy Alternative to China Gel: China Gel is popular among yoga practitioners, I myself have come to appreciate it.

    After a cardio-sculpt class involving repeated lunges with hand-weights or when I’ve had one asana too many, the last thing I want to slather on my aching body is China Gel.

    I realize that sounds kind of sacrilege, since China Gel’s considered the muscle remedy of choice at many New York City gyms and yoga studios. I can see why it’s popular: The topical pain reliever has a handful of ingredients that make sense—like menthol and ginseng. But it has way too many ingredients that don’t, like Triethanolamine (a skin, immune system, and respiratory toxin), DMDM Hydantoin (a formaldehyde releaser), and dyes like Blue 1 (CI 42090) and Yellow 5.

  • Mimi Silbert on Delancey Street’s rehabilitation model: As Jerry Brown starts his term as Governor of California, I’m hoping he listens to experts like Mimi Silbert. A SF success story, Delancey Street is now found in five other US cities.

    We take applications from people who have hit bottom, from prison, jail or walk-ins. Residents who have been at Delancey Street awhile interview all applicants. The minimum stay is 2 years; the average stay is 4 years. We have 3 rules: no drugs or alcohol, no physical violence, and no threats of violence. The goal is to learn to lead a productive crime-free, drug-free life of purpose and integrity. Everyone learns a marketable skill (the goal is 3 skills), and earns at least a high school equivalency degree. Advanced education is available.

    Silbert on Options for Dealing with Criminal Offenders:
    “I am going to describe two options. One option: you get put somewhere where you don’t have to work, where you don’t learn anything, where the government – the taxpayer – pays $40,000 to $50,000 dollars. Here’s the second option: the government pays nothing, you have to wake up at 7:00 am, you have to work eight hours a day, you must get educated, you must volunteer in the community… Which would you rather see?”

  • Thought-full Meditation: I’ve written about the scandal which engulfed Sally Kempton’s guru in the past, and I still haven’t found any indication that she’s distanced herself from some quotes attributed to her in the midst of it. Nevertheless, I look forward to reading her columns in the Yoga Journal! From the Feb/2011 issue:

    From the Yoga Vasishta text of high Vedanta: “Consciousness plus thoughts is the mind, Consciousness minus thoughts is God.”

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January 3, 2011 at 6:27 am

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