Posts filed under Winter 2014 Issue

Faster Than a Speeding Bullet: Freight Trains and the Art of Meditation

By Lenny Bass

It’s 4:30 a.m., and I’m sitting in the hot tub in the back of our little home at the edge of Delhi Park. A sliver of moon slides shyly between fast moving clouds, and off in the distance, a family of coyotes are howling away. It is not unusual for me to be up at this hour of day; it has become a habit of mine ever since I lived at the Zen Buddhist Temple in Ann Arbor in my late 20s. Now I am 53, and I’ve become wedded to this hour as a kind of prime time for my sitting meditation. The family is gainfully asleep. The streets are barren and pin-drop silent. And there is a kind of vibrational hush that draws me in and allows me to listen deeply to the spaces between my rambling thoughts.

Sometimes they are quick bursts, flashes in the pan, gone before the earth knows what hit it. Other times, they are like a long, thunderous ovation, squealing rails and the earth shuddering beneath a behemoth’s raucous stampede.

But on this particular morning, I am drawn to something other. Off in the distance, barely detectable to the human ear, a faint whistle can be heard. We live just a few blocks from the railroad tracks, and I know instantly that a freight train is headed our way. During normal, “sane” hours, we’ve learned to tell time by the regularity of the whistles that pass by our home. But these are trains with schedules, Amtrak trains coming from or going to Chicago. In the “off” hours, however, a random conglomeration of freighters have free access to the rails. Their timing is unpredictable, but I know in an instance what’s coming, and the only question I have is, how large? Sometimes they are quick bursts, flashes in the pan, gone before the earth knows what hit it. Other times, they are like a long, thunderous ovation, squealing rails and the earth shuddering beneath a behemoth’s raucous stampede.

I sit back in the tub and wait for my answer. Finally, the magnificent rumble is upon me and it goes on and on like some kind of primordial tantrum. The thing is massive and I’m instantly awed by the way its magnificent vibrato hits me square in the solar plexus from more than three blocks away. What incredible power we have come to wield, I’m thinking to myself as it passes by. The momentum and density of our existence have a kind of trajectory that seems virtually unstoppable. I imagine how long it would take to bring the thing to a halt by applying the brakes. A mile? Two miles? More?

It occurs to me that meditation practice is like this. It is just like trying to apply the brakes to a hundred car freight train in motion...with a tweezers no less!

It occurs to me that meditation practice is like this. It is just like trying to apply the brakes to a hundred car freight train in motion...with a tweezers no less! How long would it take to stop a train of this magnitude with a pair of ordinary hand-held tweezers? This, I believe, is meditation...in a nut shell. At least in the beginning, I would say.

When people first come to their meditation practice and sit for a while, often they are surprised to find out how hard it is to derail their thought processes.

When people first come to their meditation practice and sit for a while, often they are surprised to find out how hard it is to derail their thought processes. No matter how hard they try, the thoughts just keep on coming. I must not be doing it right, they might

think to themselves. But we have to imagine ourselves just like this freight train. Each of us brings to our practice the incredible weight and volume of our entire life history from the moment we separated from the womb and began buying into the notion of ourselves as individual beings. The ego — this separated sense of self — invests incredible amounts of energy in discerning its likes and dislikes, its wants, needs, tastes, aversions, goals, dreams, fears...on and on; it builds itself like a freight train, car after car after car. It motors itself up mountains, through valleys, across flatlands, using any and all available raw material to add to the case of its undeniable existence. How intense an undertaking, then, to imagine slowing the thing down. Could it even be possible to stop the thing altogether!

The ego — this separated sense of self — invests incredible amounts of energy in discerning its likes and dislikes, its wants, needs, tastes, aversions, goals, dreams, fears...on and on; it builds itself like a freight train, car after car after car.


Having done this a while, I don’t think it is much of an exaggeration to suggest that, at first, our meditation practice can have the feel of “applying tweezers to a freight train”. But rather than being disheartened by this realization or giving up on the practice altogether, it is better if we simply gain the awareness of what we are actually up against. The weight of our momentum is an awesome force. It has been this way for so many years. What makes us think that the minute we decide to sit down and meditate, everything will simply fall away?

When we first come to practice, it may be all we can do to simply “watch the train cars passing by.” We pull up a lawn chair, so to speak, and sit at the edge of the tracks, and...O. M. G...what an awesome contraption! The thing won’t stop. I tell it to stop. But it doesn’t stop. So, now, maybe I’ll just count the cars as they pass on by. Two- thousand five-hundred and eighteen, two-thousand five-hundred and nineteen....where does it end, we may wonder.

Little by little by little, sit after sit after sit we begin gaining an awareness of the space between the cars, that tiny blip of expansive fresh air between fast moving objects.

This very realization is a wonderful beginning point. For, once we see what we’re up against, then we can begin working with “the tweezers,” as it were, to slow it all down. Little by little by little, sit after sit after sit, we begin gaining an awareness of the space between the cars, that tiny blip of expansive fresh air between fast moving objects. The cars were moving so fast in the beginning, we didn’t even know it was there! But now they’ve slowed down just enough that we see it...a view of the horizon that goes on and on, seemingly forever. And seeing it for the first time....wow, how amazing is that!

Suddenly we have great hope and great impetus to continue onward, for that space between the fast moving train cars seems to bring us such peace. We’d much rather live there than on a fast moving train!

Finally, the freight train has passed (the real one, that is...) and I come back to my breath while sitting alone in the tub. Next, it is to my mat and cushion for a half hour of sitting before the family arises. My own thoughts will keep coming, just like the train that went by...but I’ll also see those vast empty spaces as well, more and more as my years of practice continue.

May we all derail our inner freight trains...with tweezers, forceps, clamps, tongs, whatever we can find! And may we all awaken to those spaces between the cars!


Lenny Bass is a long time meditation practitioner with deep ties to the Zen Buddhist Temple of Ann Arbor. His essay "Swaying in the Sangha of Trees: The 'Tree'-Quel" appeared in the January through April issue. You can read the first installment here. Leave a comment for Lenny below or contact him at oneononemeditation@yahoo.com.


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Posted on March 20, 2014 and filed under Winter 2014 Issue, Meditation.

Won’t You Sway...Just A Little Bit Longer: A couple more thoughts from the tree talking man...

By Lenny Bass

In the two articles I wrote for the Crazy Wisdom Community Journal entitled “Swaying In The Sangha Of Trees” (the second one being “The Tree-quel”), one of the basic ideas I was hoping to convey through my conversation with the tree was the possibility, through meditation practice, of cultivating the ability to persevere through difficult situations, whatever they might be. 

“When the storms come,” the tree told me, “we trees sway.  In this swaying, the soil beneath us is loosened and our roots are allowed to grow.” 

Human beings, of course, are very different than trees. When the storms come, trees have very little choice other than swaying. They cannot “get into their mobility carts,” as the tree liked to call it, and flee. Human beings, however, can do just that.  They can get into their mobility carts and flee whatever storms come their way. 

If you stop to think of it, the premise of this very country itself was built upon this simple formula. It is based upon a group of people — in this case Europeans — fleeing in their “mobility carts,” otherwise called boats.  They fled the hardships imposed upon them by an uncompromising monarchy and sought to create a better situation for themselves elsewhere. Somehow, somewhere in this country’s DNA since the time of its inception, is the notion that the way to make things better is to get into a mobility cart and flee. There are umpteen bazillion versions of this, if we really look with any amount of depth and honesty. 

It begins with a perception: what ‘is’ is not good enough. What ‘is’ could be made better. What ‘is’ makes us suffer. What ‘is’ is unsatisfactory.

It begins with a perception: what “is” is not good enough.  What ‘“is” could be made better.  What “is” makes us suffer.  What “is” is unsatisfactory.  And suddenly, we are off.  In our mind’s eye, we have a strategy for improvement; a better education, a better job, a better marriage, a better house, a better climate, more sun, less snow, and on and on.   

We create a plan — a life plan, if you will — and we are on a path to get there, wherever it is our mobility carts are taking us. 

The true gift of a meditation practice in which we become adept at learning how to sway is that it shows us in no uncertain terms the fallacy of the formula. If we track the process from beginning to end, we see the very same progression of events manifesting  time and again. At first, we are happy to have found a path through which life may be made better. We follow this path with all due diligence until we have achieved our goal. Suddenly, we have it...whatever “it” is.  We have the better job, the better house, the better husband or wife, the better climate.  And then...it is “honeymoon” time.  We happily relish whatever it is we have accomplished to make our lives better. Everything is wonderful and new and exciting. Then, continuing to track it, it grows, over time, to become “common place.” The sparks wear off, the cracks start to show.  The new boss is a jerk, the new wife has wrinkles. We’re sick of the sun and wish it would snow.  The new house has that much more maintenance we hadn't counted on. And so...we’re back to square one. How can we make it “better”? What is our new strategy? Move back to the old climate? Get a another new job? Find a new country to call home?

On and on it goes....until finally, somehow, sometime, we catch on. Getting into our mobility carts just isn't working. The process is always the same.  The outcome never lasts.  We’re always, time after time after time, back where we started. Dissatisfaction. 

It is from this place that I believe ALL true meditation practice is born. And, it starts with a kind of commitment NOT to flee. To hang in. To persevere with whatever it is that is dissatisfying.

It is from this place that I believe ALL true meditation practice is born.  And, it starts with a kind of commitment NOT to flee. To hang in. To persevere with whatever it is that is dissatisfying. In sitting meditation for long hours, the mind does everything it can think of to try to get us to flee. It’s boring. Our knees are hurting. It is a waste of time just sitting here doing nothing. It is “unproductive.” It won’t make things better. On and on, the mind keeps sending us these thoughts hoping to get us into another round of the formula we know just doesn't work. Sometimes we acquiesce; it is a habit, after all, this perpetual fleeing we have learned to do.  Learning to “sway” with our circumstance just isn't in our vernacular. It’s never been taught to us. It is counter intuitive to “do nothing” about a bad situation. 

And yet, as we continue to sit with whatever our circumstance happens to be, a transformation begins to unfold and a whole new way of life starts revealing itself to us. The longer we hang in there, the more we see it.  No circumstance in life will EVER make us happy, for it is in the very nature of a circumstance to always be the victim of impermanence.  Everything is forever changing.  Nothing lasts forever.  We are simply on a wild goose chase if we think our lives can be made better through a ride on a mobility cart.   

We awaken to the moment, whatever that moment may hold.  We embrace the moment,  with everything it has to offer, the goodness, the badness, whatever it happens to be.  Our circumstance is just a circumstance.  Whatever it is, whether we like it or dislike it, it will change.  Suddenly, we are free of the impulse to flee whatever it is.  We gain the capacity to simply work with it, deal with it, negotiate with it, dance with it.  By doing so, the circumstance itself becomes more pliable, more receptive, more amiable and amendable.  What we thought was so very awful transforms before our eyes.  Likewise, that hefty pot of gold becomes “eh, so what?” That too will change. 

This is the gift of learning how to sway that I think would make the world a “better” place to live in (there he goes again....I hear you say!)  Okay, maybe better isn't the right word. There is a temporary happiness that comes from changing a circumstance in our lives. There is a permanent happiness that comes from going beyond circumstances and embracing the moment. There are a thousand strategies to be temporarily happy....but just one to find a way that lasts. May we all learn to sway....just a little bit longer!  


Lenny Bass is a long time meditation practitioner with deep ties to the Zen Buddhist Temple of Ann Arbor. His essay "Swaying in the Sangha of Trees: The 'Tree'-Quel" appeared in the January through April issue. You can read the first installment here. Leave a comment for Lenny below or contact him at oneononemeditation@yahoo.com.


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Posted on March 11, 2014 and filed under Healing, Winter 2014 Issue, Meditation.

Last Lunch with Karl and the Evangelical Relationship with God

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By Richard Gull 

At our last lunch, Karl said that he was reading T.M. Luhrmann’s When God Talks Back: Understanding the American Evangelical Relationship with God. Karl said that finally someone had written a “smart, smart book” on born-again Christianity. In the week after our lunch, I read it and sent notes and questions about the book to Karl hoping there might still be time for some discussion; after all, I noticed on Facebook that he went to see the latest Fast and Furious movie that week. But alas it was too late. Two months after Karl died, I had lunch with his wife Dianne. Curious about what Karl thought about Luhrmann’s book, I requested and received Karl’s own copy of When God Talks Back. With a yellow marker I copied Karl’s underlining of passages into my copy. There was remarkable overlap in our respective under linings. But there was only one comment by Karl, written in the margin on page 312. Karl’s comment read: “Is this a good thing?”  The comment was next to the following paragraph:

This history tells us that the liberal Christian God has failed. The mainstream churches are often empty now, their pews unfilled, their hymns unsung, while the churches of the supernatural God blaze with life. For most Americans — and for many around the world — understanding God in a desupernaturalized way just doesn't keep them in their seats on Sunday morning. [The italicized text represents Karl's underlining.] But the lesson about the way conservative Christianity has changed is just as striking. For perhaps half or more of those that call themselves born-again, their God has become more supernaturally present than he was in the days when the fundamentalists first set themselves apart. The miracles are no longer only in the past. They are true now, and any congregant can encounter them.

“Two months after Karl died, I had lunch with his wife Dianne. Curious about what Karl thought about Luhrmann’s book, I requested and received Karl’s own copy of When God Talks Back. With a yellow marker I copied Karl’s underlining of passages into my copy.”

So Karl raises a question: Is the flocking to born-again churches from traditional Protestant churches a good thing?

Thinking back on my last lunch with Karl, he said something that is at least a partial response to his own question: “Luhrmann’s book is pure William James in Varieties of Religious Experience.  In fact, Luhrmann is more purely a pragmatist about interpreting religious experiences than James himself in that she argues against James’s claim that, since real causes have real effects, the universality of religious experience shows that God is real. Luhrmann denies this, saying that her work is about the nature of religious experience, but her methods cannot uncover a real God as the cause of these experiences. She uses Michelangelo’s Genesis to make the point:

In Michelangelo’s Genesis man reaches out for God and God for man, and their fingers do not touch. An anthropologist can describe the human side of that relationship, the way humans reach for God. I can describe the way a church can teach congregants to pay attention and learn to use their minds to help them make their experience of God real and concrete; I can describe the practice they develop, and the way they learn these practices and teach them to each other. I can tell what we know of the psychological mechanisms through which the mind can sense the presence of something for which there is no ordinary sensory evidence and the way those mechanisms are different from psychiatric illness. But my methods cannot distinguish between sensory deception and the moments when God may be reaching back to communicate through an ordinary human mind. (Luhrmann, p. xxv)

“But my methods cannot distinguish between sensory deception and the moments when God may be reaching back to communicate through an ordinary human mind.”
— T.M. Luhrmann, When God Talks Back: Understanding the American Evangelical Relationship with God

So Luhrmann is not claiming that the migration of Protestants to evangelical churches is in any way an argument for the reality of their conception of God, and so is not a “good thing” in the sense that it is evidence that the present, personal God of the evangelicals is more likely to exist than the supernatural, impersonal God of traditional Protestants.

But Luhrmann is claiming that the evangelical experience of God is more real than that of the traditional Protestant churches. The ways to experience God’s presence must be taught and learned. Faith in God in this sense is not an easier option than skepticism.

To experience God as walking by your side, in conversation with you, is hard. Evangelical pastors often preach as if they are teaching people how to keep God constantly in mind, because it is so easy not to pray, to let God’s presence slip away. But when it works, people experience God as alive.

Secular liberals sometimes take evolutionary psychology to mean that believing in God is the lazy option. But many churchgoers will tell you that keeping God real is what is hard. (“Conjuring Up Our Own Gods,” The New York Times, October 15, 2013)”

That evangelicals must learn to experience God’s presence through teaching and practicing a new state of mind shows that to be “born again” is not a leap of faith as Karl wondered back in Phil Campbell, Alabama. Faith in the evangelical sense according to Luhrmann is not a leap but is rather more like an effortful climb or a ripening or an achievement.  Not everyone is equally capable of it.

It turns out that the reason not everyone is equally capable of experiencing God’s presence is that this ability is a character trait that Luhrmann calls absorption. Absorption is “a disposition for having moments of total attention that somehow completely engage all of one’s attentional resources—perceptual, imaginative, conceptual . . . .”

In other words, you get absorbed in something, it seems more real to you, and you and your world seem different than before. That is why it is related to hypnotizability.” (Luhrmann, p. 199) [The italicized text represents Karl's underlining.] The more highly you score on the absorption scale, “the more likely you are to be a reader, and the more likely you are to immerse yourself in rich imaginative worlds; the more likely you are to be the kind of person who can lose him or herself in movies and literature, the kind of person for whom the story can feel more real than the everyday.”

“Absorption is ‘a disposition for having moments of total attention that somehow completely engage all of one’s attentional resources—perceptual, imaginative, conceptual . . . .’”
— T. M. Luhrmann

Evangelicals often feel culturally inferior to college-educated, secular liberals who often regard them as bumpkins. But according to Luhrmann their rock star intellectual is the tweedy Oxford author C.S. Lewis whose Tales of Narnia with its furry lion Aslan is a model for evangelicals of God appearing as a fictional character with whom they can have a personal relationship. C.S. Lewis writes: ”Nearly all that I loved I believed to be imaginary; nearly all I believed to be real I thought grim and meaningless.” God’s presence is a fiction that is more real than real. Religion becomes a game of “Let’s pretend.”  Luhrmann writes:

“Fiction . . . helps us learn what we find emotionally true in the face of irreconcilable contradictions. . . . Fiction teaches us how to think about what we take to be true. In the cacophony of an information soaked age, we need it.” (“C.S. Lewis, Evangelical Rock Star,” The New York Times, June 26, 2013)

“C.S. Lewis writes: ‘Nearly all that I loved I believed to be imaginary; nearly all I believed to be real I thought grim and meaningless.’”

The following are notes I sent to Karl after our lunch and after reading When God Talks Back: Understanding the Evangelical Relationship with God. Karl told me he wanted to discuss the book but he was not able to reply:

In your interview with Joe Summers, you and Joe agree that it is better to lead a spiritually alive life than not to have one. You have always led some version of that life and you have been an exemplar of it for me. I’m writing to you about When God Talks Back to feel close to you; it’s a prayer (although not in the evangelical sense), a way of reaching out, holding you in my heart, and saying goodbye — at least for now. I hope you get to read this and, even better, to respond. But if it doesn’t happen, so be it; I’ll finish this prayer for you anyway.                                  

Evangelicals and the 60s

What I called “America’s spiritual Reformation” in my article on Esalen began in the 1960s with the synchronistic origins of Esalen and the New Left with their anti- hierarchical notions of spirituality. Luhrmann is a regular guest contributor to The New York Times. She has also been a contributor to Esalen and appeared there last October for a seminar on modern religion with Jeffrey Kripal, author of Esalen: America and the Religion of No Religion. Luhrmann writes in Bibliographic Notes (p.369): “A book that captures the zeitgeist of the 1960s, though it has very little overtly to do with Christianity, is Jeffrey Kripal’s Esalen: America and the Religion of No Religion.”  Kripal is a professor of theology at Rice University and taught for years at Esalen. He claims that Esalen is an experiment in a uniquely American form of mysticism. Esalen, like the New Left, was a reaction to hierarchical religion, politics, and education.

“Both Esalen and the evangelicals use the idea of altered states as means to spiritual or religious experience.”

My essay “Esalen at 50” relies on Kripal’s account. But, as Luhrmann notes, Kripal’s book is not about Christianity. Luhrmann’s book, by contrast, is about evangelical Christianity but, like Kripal’s account of the rise of the New Age, sees the impulse behind evangelicalism as an anti-church, anti-hierarchy movement. And there are other fascinating similarities and differences. Both Esalen and the evangelicals use the idea of altered states as means to spiritual or religious experience.

Esalen in the 1960s was the site of experimentation with chemical mysticism but also other altered-state technologies like yoga, meditation, art, and encounter group experiences. Evangelicals learn to use the imagination to talk to or listen to God in an altered state of consciousness. But while Catholics see visions, evangelicals hear. And “theologically conservative Christians are careful to separate themselves from anything that evokes the non-Christian. . . . A Christian should not practice yoga lest Hindu influence creep into the body and corrupt the soul.”(p.167) (Karl, as both a Protestant churchgoer and a practicing Buddhist, what do you make of this division?) And evangelicals believe we cannot reach God without language: “In the beginning there was the word and the word was with God and the word was God. ”Jesus is that word and . . . without that word we find in our stilled minds no more than an empty vastness.” 

“Evangelicals learn to use the imagination to talk to or listen to God in an altered state of consciousness. But while Catholics see visions, evangelicals hear.”

So the evangelical cultivates the type of prayer called since the fifth century kataphatic allowing some understanding of the invisible divine through the imagination. The Esalen (or pan-Buddhist) practice, by contrast, is apophatic, a clearing out of the mind; its gnosis is pantheistic. Luhrmann notes that evangelicals distrust Jesuit Spiritual Exercises: To some “the Ignatian exercises and monastic practices are a soft slide into the demonic because just as in the churches, images are used to intervene between human and God.” But this kind of objection, going back to Luther, could be taken as anti-hierarchical, a democratization of our relation to the divine, similar to radical counterculture spiritualities.

“Both leftist authenticity and evangelical discipline require solidarity with others; for leftists it’s “the movement,” for evangelicals it’s the church.”

60s leftists took participatory democracy as their goal; you become authentic only by putting the cause of social justice above personal advancement. Evangelicals have a “participatory theory of mind, taught by the social world of the church.”(Luhrmann, 202) Preparation for hearing God requires self-transformation. Both leftist authenticity and evangelical discipline require solidarity with others; for leftists it’s “the movement,” for evangelicals it’s the church. “What we have seen in the last four or five decades is the democratization of God — I and thou into you and me — and the democratization of intense spiritual experience, arguably more deeply than ever before in our country’s history.”(Luhrmann, 35)

Huxley’s Pala prayer: “Give us this day our daily Faith, but deliver us, dear God, from Belief” is, in the Esalen gnosis, meant to detach religious faith from dogmatic finality. Evangelicals detach belief from faith by making belief secondary to the suspension of disbelief in order to experience the joy of God’s presence and to use fictions like Aslan to think about what they take to be true. This variety of the religious experience of God replaces the binary of belief vs. disbelief with the “not-quite-true-but-better-than-true” or “not-real but-more-than-real” quality of fiction. Mature evangelicals do not simply think of God as a Santa Claus answering prayers; God may not answer or may answer ambiguously. Luhrmann compares the relationship of the congregant to God to that of the psychotherapeutic relationship of patient to therapist:

The evangelical Christianity that emerged out of the 1960s is fundamentally psychotherapeutic. God is about relationship, not explanation, and the goal of the relationship is to convince congregants that their lives have a purpose and that they are loved. For that relationship to work, the congregant must be able to tolerate moments when it seems to fail. It is a psychotherapeutic cliché that failure in the psychotherapeutic relationship helps the psychotherapy to succeed, because the client learns to tolerate the therapist’s inadequacy and still experience the therapist as helpful, the client is able to act as if the helpful therapist is present despite his or her mistakes. (Luhrmann, 296)    

“Mature evangelicals do not simply think of God as a Santa Claus answering prayers; God may not answer or may answer ambiguously.”

The problem of evil and suffering, from this point of view, is not, for evangelicals, a philosophical problem that challenges their belief in God; it is a personal problem for which God is a comforting presence.

The evangelicals’ idea God’s presence makes the arguments for the existence of an invisible God irrelevant. The evangelical conception is at the other end of the intellectual spectrum from Spinoza’s intellectual love of God. Spinoza  (17th century Jewish, rationalist philosopher) rejects these “let’s pretend” products of the imagination as childish. Yet both are motivated by the same impulse in that both find the arguments for the existence of an invisible God separate from his creation unconvincing. But Spinoza opts for pantheism while evangelicals put the experience of God into the imagination of the particular mind.

Karl has inspired my interest in this subject. I’m in the process of writing a paper with the working title: “Fictitious Gods, Religious Atheists, and Spiritual Hunger Artists.”  I am interested talking about this subject with others who are interested — friends of Karl, evangelicals, clergy, anthropologists, philosophers, clergy, or critics. I have found that writing about my friend Karl has been a way of grieving for him.


Richard Gull is an emeritus professor of philosophy at the University of Michigan. Contact him at rgull@umflint.edu.


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Posted on February 27, 2014 and filed under Winter 2014 Issue, Philosophy.

What’s the Buzz about Paleo?

By Gary Merel

As a nation, we are dangerously unhealthy. According to the National Institute of Health, in the U.S. :

  • We have one of the highest rates of cancer in the world
  • Almost 70 percent of men and women over the age of 25 are overweight
  • 17 million Americans have Type II diabetes

Waiting for Spring

By Julie Jeffery Peale 

As we head into our third straight month of record-low temperatures and snowfall, I find myself torn between my love of the stillness and beauty of winter, and my yearning for the warmth and new growth of spring. I gravitate to soups, herbal teas, cozy blankets, and slippers to take the chill out of my body, and bundle up in warm coats, scarves, and hats to brave the elements. 

Posted on February 27, 2014 and filed under Healing, Health and Wellness, Winter 2014 Issue.

Childhood Obesity: A Rising Epidemic

By Gary Merel 

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According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), obesity now affects 17 percent of all children in the U.S. That’s three times the rate of only a generation ago. Scientists are tossing around a lot of hypotheses — from junk food ads to lack of physical activity to increasing proportion size. The truth is that it is a combination of these three things, and a whole lot more. In rare cases, even infants develop obesity, leading more and more scientists to ask questions about environmental toxicity and its impact on the development of adipose tissue. Childhood obesity will only continue to rise unless we do something.

What can we do to protect our kids? First and foremost, we must make sure that our kids eat healthy, unprocessed meals at home. Secondly, we must also lobby our schools to provide not only a strong mental education, but a strong physical education for our kids, rooted in exercise and complete meals. Finally, we need to ensure that our communities offer healthy options in hospitals, day cares, and other activity centers, and that our communities support policies that protect our families right to good, healthy food.

Protecting our kids from childhood obesity is critical to their long-term health. People with obesity are statistically more likely to suffer from Type 2 diabetes, depression, and autoimmune disorders. Stopping obesity before it starts in your family is one way to stem the tide of the epidemic. 


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Gary Merel, M.S., L.A.C., has a nutritionally-based acupuncture and holistic health practice in Ann Arbor. For more information about his practice go to www.annarborholistichealth.com or www.digestivehealth-annarbor.com.


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Posted on February 13, 2014 and filed under Winter 2014 Issue, Nutrition, Health and Wellness.

Let’s Talk About . . . Death

By David Lawson 

Now that I have your attention, let me tell you what a wonderful practice it can be to acknowledge to yourself that you and everybody else in this world are going to die! You may say, “Well, of course, I already know that. Why is it necessary to dwell on such a morose topic?” But as it turns out, we don’t really act as if we know it, do we?

The Value of Community

By Roshani Adhikary 

Author John Green once said, “In the darkest days, the Lord puts the best people into your life.” I’ve recently started leading yoga classes at the Cancer Support Community (CSC) of Greater Ann Arbor and have seen this for myself — how, in one’s most trying times, comfort can be found within a sense of community.

30 Days Later: More from Ari Weinzweig on Journaling and his New Book

When Bill at Crazy Wisdom published the interview Deborah Bayer did with me about the new book in the Zingerman’s Guide to Good Leading series, I agreed to contribute an additional small bit of an article every three months as a follow up. Bill left the subject matter very loose.

Posted on January 29, 2014 and filed under Winter 2014 Issue, Local Businesses, Writing.

The Man Who Talks with Trees Expounds. . .

By Lenny Bass

For those of you have read my previous essays about the on-going conversation I’ve been having with a Spruce Tree stationed in upstate New York near the heart of the Allegheny Mountains, I am inclined to further elaborate on some of the matters that were touched upon during these — how shall we call them — “episodes” of intra-species lucidity (others might be more inclined to call them “anthropomorphized psychosis”...to which I have little defense...)

Posted on January 29, 2014 and filed under Spirituality, Meditation, Winter 2014 Issue.

Accessing Your Inner Doctor

By Brian O'Donnell 

A fundamental shift of perspective is needed if we are to have access to the “inner doctor” that I referred to in the article Threading the Eye of the NeedleThis “inner doctor” possesses a much broader and deeper resourcefulness than the limited and fragmentary perspective of the everyday egoic mind.

Richard Gull Reflects on Karl Pohrt’s Life, His Religions, and Their Last Lunch

By Richard Gull 

“The belief that spiritual purity can somehow be translated into the physical body is widely held in many religious traditions. Carry this a bit further and you find people who hold that the body of a spiritually pure person can even transcend death.”

Posted on January 21, 2014 and filed under Philosophy, Winter 2014 Issue, Spirituality.