Thursday, October 30, 2014

Why meditate?

Thich Nhat Hanh, peace activist and meditation teacher.
From time to time, I still encounter someone with a negative attitude toward those who regularly practice meditation. The standard criticism is that "navel gazers" are so self-preoccupied they seldom contribute anything useful to society. The good news is that, despite naysayers, mindfulness meditation is catching on even in the Western world, long known for its competitive, multitasking environment. Alex Orlov at the Daily Beast writes:

Plenty of busy people are making time for meditation: Athletes like Kobe Bryant, Michael Jordan and Derek Jeter, successful entrepreneurs like Arianna Huffington and Russell Simmons, and even the U.S. Army is hoping veterans can reap the benefits of mindfulness-based training.

So, why should you join them? “Meditation impacts all areas of your life, from mental health to physical wellbeing, and there’s a growing body of scientific evidence to support this,” says (Andy) Puddicombe.

Why Impatient People Should Care About Meditation

Over 3,000 studies on mindfulness have demonstrated that meditating can lower anxiety, increase productivity, improve sleep and memory and reduce your risk of heart attack — in addition to a few dozen more benefits. But why is it especially important for people with little patience?

Well, if you’re plagued by indecision or prone to making poor choices, meditation might help you make smarter calls, faster. One study conducted by The Wharton School and INSEAD showed that just 15 minutes of meditating helped participants concentrate on making a business decision instead of getting distracted by irrelevant factors like sunk costs. The takeaway? Meditating could help you pause and think logically before your next big purchase or investment. 

Another study suggests that meditation might help improve academic performance. Compared to non-meditating classmates, students at a California university retained more information from lectures and scored better on quizzes when they had meditated before class.

Plus, did you know that meditation can change your brain composition — just like exercise can change your body? MRI images taken during one study conducted at Massachusetts General Hospital showed that eight weeks of meditation can increase the grey-matter density in a person’s hippocampus (an area crucial for learning and memory). The images also revealed that participants had decreased grey-matter density in the amygdala, an area that regulates stress and anxiety.

Ready to start reaping these benefits? In honor of the skeptical, fidgety, busy, over-committed and impatient people out there, we present this guide to getting the most from meditation.  

Read more:

Monday, October 27, 2014

The illegitimacy of fossil fuel profits

From the National Park Service source
"Photo was taken prior to installation of emission controls equipment for removal of sulfur dioxide and particulate matter."
Lately, I've been engrossed by Sue Monk Kidd's The Dance of the Dissident Daughter that suggests that the Earth is a manifestation of divinity and therefore sacred. So I was attracted this morning to Naomi Klein's piece titled The Polluters Must Pay, published in In These Times.  Klein, the author of The Shock Doctrine: the Rise of Disaster Capitalism, has got more than a word or two to say about the ongoing destruction of our planet:

When the call came in that the University of Glasgow had voted to divest its 153-million-pound endowment from fossil fuel companies, I happened to be in a room filled with climate activists in Oxford. They immediately broke into cheers. There were lots of hugs and a few tears. This was big—the first university in Europe to make such a move.

The next day there were more celebrations in climate circles: Lego announced it would not be renewing a relationship with Shell Oil, a longtime co-branding deal that saw toddlers filling up their plastic vehicles at toy Shell gas stations. “Shell is polluting our kids’ imaginations,” a Greenpeace video that went viral declared, attracting more than 6 million views. Pressure is building meanwhile on London’s Tate Modern to sever the museum’s longtime relationship with BP.

What is happening? Are fossil fuel companies—long toxic to our natural environment—becoming toxic in the public relations environment as well? It seems so. Galvanized by the Carbon Tracker Initiative research showing that these firms have several times more carbon in their reserves than our atmosphere can safely absorb, the city council of Oxford, England, has voted to divest; so has the British Medical Association.

Internationally, there are hundreds of active fossil fuel divestment campaigns on university and college campuses, as well as ones targeting local city governments, non-profit foundations and religious organizations. And the victories keep getting bigger.

In May, for instance, Stanford University in California announced it would divest its $18.7 billion endowment from coal. And on the eve of September’s United Nations climate summit in New York, a portion of the Rockefeller family—a name synonymous with oil—announced that it would divest its foundation’s holdings from fossil fuels and expand its investments in renewable energy.

Read more:


Sunday, October 26, 2014

Lundergan Grimes gets a boost in Kentucky race against McConnell

I like to boast now and then that my roots are in Kentucky, so it pleases me no end to learn that two major KY newspapers, the Courier Journal and the Lexington Herald-Leader, have endorsed Alison Lundergan Grimes for Senate over incumbent Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R).

 Mollie Reilly at the Huffington Post reports:

The Courier-Journal and the Lexington Herald-Leader both ran editorials Sunday in support of the Democrat, who currently serves as Kentucky's Secretary of State.

In its endorsement, the Courier-Journal's editorial board praised Grimes' stance on issues like the minimum wage and early childhood education, while accusing McConnell of "lacking a vision for Kentucky."

"[McConnell] lost his way to the point where he now is identified largely as the master of obstruction and gridlock in Washington," reads the endorsement. "Kentucky needs a U.S. senator who sees a higher calling than personal ambition and a greater goal than self-aggrandizement."

The endorsement also addressed Grimes' recent interview with the editorial board, during which she repeatedly refused to say whether or not she voted for President Barack Obama in 2012.
"Ms. Grimes, to her credit, was willing to appear before this newspaper's editorial board," reads the editorial. "She did this fully aware that Mr. McConnell's campaign could — and did — seize on snippets to use in political attacks." 

McConnell, the editorial board says, did not accept their invitation for a similar interview.
The Lexington Herald-Leader's endorsement strongly rebukes McConnell, who the editorial board says has "repeatedly hurt the country to advance his political strategy."

Read more:

Friday, October 24, 2014

"campaigns controlled by the rich, the secret, the few"

Hillary in Sept. 2014 (Wikipedia).
I'll be voting in the mid-terms - I always vote in national elections, usually for the more liberal candidates who are most often Democrats. This time around, I'm a little - shall we say amused - by the Democratic Party's sudden love affair with Hillary and Bill Clinton. Remember the 2008 primary when the DNC allied itself with the media to trash both Clintons? Six years later, Democrats are ironically turning to the Clintons to salvage the mid-terms for them. And the "power couple" is out there throwing their support to flailing Democratic candidates.

In the meantime, Timothy Egan at the NY Times makes some good points in his column aptly titled, The Disgust Election:

Justice Anthony Kennedy doesn’t strike me as the kind of guy I’d want to share a beer and a brat with, or be stuck next to on a long flight. But I would like for the most influential swing voter on the Supreme Court to step away from his legal aerie, and wade through some of the muck that he and four fellow justices have given us with the 2014 campaign.

How did we lose our democracy? Slowly at first, and then all at once. This fall, voters are more disgusted, more bored and more cynical about the midterm elections than at any time in at least two decades.

It’s so bad that Senator Mitch McConnell is paying people to show up at his rallies and pretend to be excited. There should be plenty of applicants; just 29 percent of the electorate said they were “enthusiastic” about voting this year.

Read more:

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

The relationship between health and mental health

A few days ago, I acknowledged Mental Health Awareness Week (Oct. 5-11) by cross-posting an item from Dee Lindblom’s blog. The founder of the Faith-Based Health and Wellness Network, Lindblom is known for advocating on behalf of the mentally ill. 

And just this morning, I came across Beth Merrill Neel’s moving piece at the Christian Century in which she describes the effects on her congregation of the death by suicide of a beloved member who “lived with a bipolar disorder.”

Neel writes:

We were talking about health and mental health the other day in staff meeting, and I asked why mental health issues couldn’t just be called health issues. After all, many of the diseases that affect one’s emotional life are caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain, a physical thing. And then I commented that physical health issues take their mental toll too, and confessed, I think for the first time, that I have been in pain every day for the last year. That takes a toll. I get down about it, I get frustrated and angry and discouraged.

We were talking about health because a member of our congregation—a beloved, vivacious woman—completed suicide a few weeks ago, and we are all pretty wrecked about it. She lived for years with a bipolar disorder that she chose to hide from many who knew her, and so her choice to end her life came as a shock to most of the congregation.

To say she was vivacious only begins to describe her: vivacious, hilarious, organized, fun, friendly, kind, thoughtful of so many. That was what she chose to show the world, and that was her authentic self. But I want to honor the fullness of who she was, and say that the withdrawn, sad parts were her authentic self too, but a part that she chose not to show most of the world. When she went into the valley of the shadow, she stayed home and hunkered down. A few of us knew that, and tried to support her as best we could. She left a note—organized person that she was, of course she left a note—and her sister read part of it at the memorial service. She assured us that there was nothing any of us could have done to stop her, that her decision had been made, that she knew how much we loved her and how much her death would hurt us.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Putting the Ebola crisis in perspective

The Ebola virus (courtesy of the Huffington Post).
Good morning, friends. I don't have much time to post this morning as I've got a lot of life stuff demanding attention, but this column by Frank Bruni at the NY Times caught my eye. Bruni succeeds in putting the Ebola crisis in perspective:

We Americans do panic really well.

We could use a few pointers on prudence.

Do me a favor. Turn away from the ceaseless media coverage of Ebola in Texas — the interviews with the Dallas nurse’s neighbors, the hand-wringing over her pooch, the instructions on protective medical gear — and answer this: Have you had your flu shot? Are you planning on one?

 During the 2013-2014 flu season, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, only 46 percent of Americans received vaccinations against influenza, even though it kills about 3,000 people in this country in a good year, nearly 50,000 in a bad one.

These are deaths by a familiar assassin. Many of them could have been prevented. So why aren’t we in a lather over that? Why fixate on remote threats that we feel we can’t control when there are immediate ones that we simply don’t bother to?

Read more:


Saturday, October 11, 2014

In recognition of Mental Illness Awareness Week (Oct. 5-11)

Photo courtesy of Trinity Presbyterian Church.
In recognition of the final day of Mental Illness Awareness Week, it’s my privilege to cross post this item from DeeLindblom’s blog. Founder of the Faith-Based Health and Wellness Network, Dee is known for her advocacy on behalf of the mentally ill. Dee serves as Administrator/Pastoral Care Coordinator at Trinity Presbyterian Church, in Woodbury, Minn.; Trinity received the "Faith Community of the Year award" from the National Alliance on Mental Illness in 2009.

by Dee Lindblom

(First printed in the South Washington County Bulletin and the Woodbury Bulletin)

Mental Illness Awareness Week (Oct. 5 – 11) is a national public awareness campaign that seeks to educate Americans to the reality of mental illness. It was established in 1990 by Congress to perpetuate recognition of what mental illnesses are and are not.

Serious mental illnesses are abnormalities of the brain that cause disturbances in a person’s thinking, feeling and moods; they are not caused by a lack of character or by poor parenting. An estimated one in four adults suffer from a diagnosable mental illness in any given year, affecting people of every race, ethnic heritage, gender, language, age and religious orientation. During the first week of October, mental health advocates and organizations across the U.S. join together to sponsor events to promote community awareness and discussion concerning mental illnesses such as depressive disorder, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia.

Unfortunately, both ignorance and fear continue to play primary roles in perpetuating the stigma that those with these brain disorders encounter, preventing many from seeking the treatment that they need. In addition, this stigma leads to underfunding of government services, discrimination by insurance companies, lack of appropriate housing and employment options, and pervasive media portrayal of persons with mental illnesses as violent, dangerous, or hopeless.

Advancing an end to stigma and advocating for mental illness treatment and recovery is not exclusively a secular venture. Religious communities have an obligation to offer nurturing environments for persons dealing with mental illnesses and their families and friends. Religious communities should unconditionally walk alongside those who are suffering with gentleness, compassion and love. Places of worship should impart the message of acceptance and hope that professionals cannot necessarily give. The ministry of the church is called to complement the healing associated with talking therapies, professional care or medication, as well as provide reassurance to people with the illness that they are worthy in the eyes of God.

There is often the misconception that a disease of the brain is a punishment from God, or that God is specifically giving them a cross to bear, or worse, that it is a sign of God’s lack of love for them. It has been inferred that those with a mental disease have brought the illness on themselves or that they possess inadequate faith, and, that they would become well if they would immerse themselves in Bible study and fervent prayer. Religious communities should replace these inaccuracies by helping families understand that “these diseases are not their fault,” and offer healing prayer that reflects the biological nature of mental illness just like any other disease. A congregation can be a supportive presence through the journey of recovery, praying for healing while encouraging the person to continue with sound medical practices.

For people who find no other welcome from society in general, being welcomed in a house of prayer by a concerned and caring populace can make a significant difference for those with mental illnesses and their families.