Zen Blog

This blog collects various internet feeds aimed towards information, experience and technique exchange in support of our shared spiritual journey.....

”Namaste - may the light in me, honor the light in you…”

Six Ways Relationships Help You Thrive

Every week, my wife and I have a meeting where we talk about what is going well in our family, but also what we could be doing better. She knows when I am giving less than my best, and she calls me out on it—which isn’t always easy to hear. But I know I’m lucky to be married to someone who always challenges me to work on myself and become a better person.

When we think about personal growth, we often envision a solo quest, like Don Quixote on a journey of self-improvement. We are advised to increase our self-control, get grittier, and develop a sense of purpose. So we hunker down, turn inward, and start the solitary task of reshaping our habits and behaviors.

And yet people who are thriving are usually doing so with the help of others. Peak athletes have coaches. Top executives have mentors. Great parents have parenting blogs and other great parents to bounce ideas off of. Even those contemplative Buddhist monks who seem to be at the pinnacle of self-transcendence are almost always surrounded by other transcendent monk friends. 

Research backs this up, suggesting that positive relationships can help us succeed, grow, and become better people. As my wife and I have experienced, romantic partners often encourage and support one another toward shared goals. When parents are highly involved in school, their children tend to do well academically. And positive support from friends, especially during adolescence and early adulthood, can encourage us to be more empathic and helpful toward others.

Across all different spheres of our lives, our relationships can not only help us feel good, but they can also help us be good. If you want to tap into these benefits, here are six simple ways to draw on your relationships to fuel your growth.

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Buddha Buzz Weekly: Looking Forward, Looking Back

Nothing is permanent, so everything is precious. Here’s a selection of some happenings—fleeting or otherwise—in the Buddhist world this week. 

Ladakh Celebrates Split from Kashmir

This past week India passed a bill that officially revoked Jammu and Kashmir’s special status as an autonomous region, dividing the territory into two states: Ladakh, and Jammu and Kashmir. Despite outcry from citizens in Kashmir and bordering Pakistan, the decision to repeal what was known as Article 370 in the Indian constitution was met with celebration by some officials in the primarily Buddhist region of Ladakh, who have long claimed that the special status was Kashmir-centric. According to Reuters, the bill transforms Ladakh into a distinct district with its own administration, effectively granting the region a “fresh identity” as India’s first Buddhist-majority territory. “We are very happy that we are separated from Kashmir. Now we can be the owners of our own destiny,” said Tsering Samphel, a politician from the Congress party in Ladakh. He indicated that the region could finally step out of the shadow of Kashmir, a majority Muslim area. Citizens in Ladakh hope that the change will spur tourism and help the Indian government counter China’s influence in parts of the western Himalayas. While Ladakh’s economy has traditionally depended on agriculture, in recent years the number of tourists visiting the area’s ancient monasteries has increased. (Tricycle hosts an annual pilgrimage to Ladakh.) Bordering Tibet, Ladakh is a highly mountainous area that spans about 59,146 square kilometers. 

Billionaire Says Dalai Lama Inspired $100M Donation for Compassion Research Lab

Saying that he was inspired by His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama, billionaire philanthropist T. Denny Sanford donated $100 million to the University of California San Diego to create a program to research the neurology behind empathy and compassion, according to a press release. Sanford said he came to the decision after meeting with the Dalai Lama in 2017, when the Tibetan leader gave a commencement speech at the school. “I have been inspired by the work and teachings of the Dalai Lama, whose interest in the intersection where science and faith meet is deep and profound,” Sanford said. “I have had the opportunity to see how grace, humanity and kindness can change people and the world. This gift extends that vision.” The founder of First Premier Bank in South Dakota, Sanford has said he wants to “die broke” and vowed to give away all of his money before he dies. He had already donated more than $1 billion as of 2018 but still had enough left over to appear that year’s Forbes billionaires list, his net worth increasing to $2.6 billion from $2.2 billion in 2017. 

Rare 2,000-year-old Buddhist Scroll Images Now Public

The Library of Congress recently made public a rare 2,000-year-old scroll from the ancient Buddhist kingdom of Gandhara, in what is now Afghanistan and Pakistan. According to CNN, the manuscript retains nearly 80 percent of the original text and has been in the hands of the Library of Congress since 2003, when it was purchased from a private collector. One of the most fragile pieces that the Library of Congress has ever worked on, it took specialists several years to devise a treatment strategy. (They even practiced unrolling techniques on dried-up cigars.) Yet the treatment of the text would not have been possible without the unique means by which ancient Buddhists preserved and worshipped the text in the first place. Gandharan scrolls like this one “were typically buried in terra cotta jars and interred in a stupa, a dome-shaped structure often containing Buddhist texts or relics,” said Jonathan Loar, reference librarian in the Asian Division at the Library of Congress. “Another reason is that the relatively high, arid climate of the Gandharan region helps preserve materials like manuscripts on birch bark.” The scroll offers a glimpse in early Buddhist history. Told from the perspective of Shakyamuni Buddha, the text offers short biographies of the 13 buddhas who came before him, information about his own birth and transformation into Shakyamuni, and a prediction of the future buddha Maitreya. The biographies contain details about the buddhas’ lifespans, the eons in which they lived, the social class they were born into, and some description of their assemblies of disciples and the duration of their teachings. Since the scroll’s fragility renders it unfit for public display, the Library of Congress has shared images of manuscript online

Submerged Thai Temple Reappears During Record Drought

A Thai Buddhist temple has resurfaced after being submerged when a nearby dam was erected 20 years ago, Reuters reports. A drought has dried up the reservoir in Lopburi, Thailand, where the Wat Nong Bua Yai temple is, and now monks and other tourists are flocking to the site to catch a glimpse before it ends up underwater again. A Reuters video (below) shows visitors exploring the ruins, placing flowers, and offering prayers. However, the temple’s resurfacing comes at a high cost. Thai meteorological authorities say that this is the country’s worst drought in a decade, and for the most hard-hit regions, the worst in 50 years, according to Live Science. Wat Nong Bua Yai also reappeared during a drought in 2015, but this year’s drought is more severe, with the reservoir at only 3 percent capacity. Farmers have been struggling as a result. Rice in particular has taken a hit as rainfall in the main growing regions was 12 percent below average this year. Thailand is the second largest exporter of rice, and industry officials, who have already lowered their yield estimates, believe they will need to further adjust their projections, according to the Japanese newspaper Nikkei

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Finding Groundedness in the Age of Anxiety

By Leo Babauta

We live in uncertain times.

Actually, things have always felt uncertain to the people who live in those times, but these days it might feel even more heightened, with the hyperconnectivity of the internet, social media and constant messaging, comparing ourselves to everyone else, and a very tense, divisive political situation (not just in the U.S., but in many countries).

It’s enough to drive anxiety through the roof for many people. I coach hundreds of people through my Sea Change Program and Fearless Training Program, as well as 1-on-1 … and anxiety seems to be a huge problem for many people I work with. I’ve seen it in my extended family and friend circle as well — anxiety seems to be on the rise, or at least it can feel that way to many.

So what  can we do to deal with this anxiety?

There isn’t one simple solution, but there are some habits we can form to help us cope — even thrive — in the middle of chaos and uncertainty.

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A Mindfulness Practice to Notice the Mind-Body Connection

Minds change bodies, and bodies change minds. I wouldn’t be surprised if you’re a little skeptical about this basic principle of mindfulness meditation. Let’s do a quick visualization to see how just thinking about something can trigger a change in your body.

Try This Guided Meditation for Body and Mind

For this practice, you can sit or you can stand, or you can lie down. Just get comfortable, with your back relatively straight, your body relaxed and your heart open.

I want you to imagine that you’re in your kitchen, you’re standing in front of a counter, and on the counter there is a cutting board, there is a lemon and there is a knife.Pick up the lemon, walk over to the sink, turn on the water and wash the lemon.The water is cool, and feel it against your hand, turn the water off, take a paper towel, dry the lemon, really feel the towel in your hand, feel the lemon and then walk back to where the cutting board is lying on the counter.Put the lemon down on the cutting board, keep one hand on your lemon and pick up the knife in your other hand.Feel the weight of the knife in your hand, it’s a little heavy because it’s a hefty knife, and now keeping one hand on the lemon take your knife and slice the lemon in half.When you slice through that lemon, a little bit of lemon juice squirts out and you feel it on your hand, and its cold.Now you’ve got half of the lemon in one hand, I want you to put that half down on the counter on top of the cutting board and I want you to cut through it again.A little more lemon juice squirts out and now you’ve got a wedge of lemon. Put your knife down on the counter, take the wedge of lemon and I want you to put it up just under your nose and take a deep breath in.Now take a bit out of that lemon—did anything happen, did your mouth water or did it pucker up?If like so many people your mouth watered or you puckered up just thinking about that lemon then you just had a mind-body response.

Noticing How the Mind Effects the Body

If just thinking about a lemon can make your mouth pucker, can you imagine how thinking about other things affects our bodies too?

Take a minute to reflect on other ways that your mind changes your body. When you’re about to speak in public, do you get butterflies in your stomach? Or maybe your hands sweat a little bit? Or maybe your knees shake? When you’re stressed out or upset, do you get a stomach ache? Or a headache?

See if you can make more connections like these, connections where even skeptics start to think ok, maybe there really is a connection between my mind and my body.

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Sole Searching: What’s a Mindful Pedicure?

As rose petals swirl around my feet, a voice instructs me to focus on the “tip of the right big toe, tip of the right second toe . . .”  My aesthetician, Alex, has made sure to get all conversation out of the way (“Round or square?” “Cut the cuticles or push them back?”) so I can close my eyes and spend the next half hour immersed in meditation. By my side is a mug of tea and peppermint oil to sniff if I need to re-center. Alex massages a sugar scrub into my heel while I try to both tune out and tune in: to be mindful of the sensations of the pedicure while focusing on “a wave of relaxation moving in through the soles of the feet, up through the body, and out the top of the head.” I’m trying to connect body and mind and wondering: Is this McMindfulness run amok, or is a guided meditation pedicure a legitimate path to the present moment?

Sundays Hudson Yards is one of a trio of Manhattan nail salons where clients are encouraged to view nail care as self-care. As part of this mission, sundays (styled with a lowercase “s”) offers a $5 guided meditation add-on to any service (the signature pedicure is $45, the signature manicure is $25). The six pre-recorded teachings, provided via an MP3 player and headphones, were designed and recorded for sundays by founder Amy Ling and MNDFL meditation teacher and native New Yorker Valerie Oula. “Meditating during a manicure and/or pedicure is unique in itself,” said Oula, whose own meditation practice is rooted in Kundalini yoga and influenced more informally by her work as a Reiki master teacher. “When Amy first mentioned the idea to me, I thought it was absolutely brilliant. You have a captive audience sitting still already. What an opportune moment to introduce a mindfulness practice.” Each of the sessions focuses on one of the salon’s values: clarity, focus, gratitude, grounding, letting go, and relaxation.

Photograph by Jeenah Moon

These are secular meditations targeted at beginners: the idea is that meditation doesn’t have to be intimidating. Longtime practitioners and Buddhists might find the instructions a bit hackneyed (“taking in light on the inhale”; “whatever feels right for you”; “tuning in to heart space”; “letting go of what no longer serves you”), though, of course, there’s nothing trite about following the breath. At either 12 or 17 minutes long, the meditations are brief enough that you can listen to two or three during your visit—especially because sundays does not offer machines to accelerate polish drying. For $28 you can purchase them on a wooden thumb drive designed for everyday use. In fact, nails are referred to only in the final mantra: “Now that you’ve taken a small step into wellness, you can begin to build upon it in the days and weeks to come. And maybe every time you notice your lovely nails, you can also feel good about that.” 

During a typical pedicure, there’s a vast distance between my feet and my mind—and I suspect this is true for many New Yorkers. Walk into almost any nail salon and you’ll find people multitasking. As nail techs bend over their hands and feet, they catch up on emails, read tips on fuss-free dinners, even flip open laptops or make business calls. Manicures imprison the hands—but that doesn’t stop some from texting with tinfoil claws or flipping through magazines with their elbows (or teeth!). I’ve been known to edit manuscripts as a coat of Unrepentantly Red is swiped across my nails.

Photograph by Jeenah Moon.

Sundays Hudson Yards’ Scandinavian-inspired space is designed to create a “hygge experience,” a Danish term for a feeling of coziness and contentment. The aesthetic is blond wood, rattan, pastels, and houseplants. Instead of Cosmopolitan, there’s a communal gratitude journal and a station for writing love letters—to yourself. Instead of water in a Dixie cup, there’s a “mindful tea bar.” Instead of remote-control massage chairs, there are armchairs with low-slung seats and throw pillows. The room smells of essential oil rather than acetone, the light is pink rather than fluorescent, and French jazz unspools from the speakers instead of Miley Cyrus. And in place of crusty OPI and Essie bottles, there is a battalion of nontoxic polishes created by the salon’s founder, Amy Ling Lin.

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