Friday, October 30, 2009

Another post on ONE CITY!

Here's another new post on One City - "Halloween Contemplation! How Dressing Up as Paul Stanley Might Provide Access to Buddha Nature."

Enjoy! *

Thursday, October 29, 2009

New post on One City - "Generosity: What's in it for Me?"

As part of my continuing "The Buddha at Work" series for the ID Project's One City Blog, I just put up a new piece called "Generosity: What's in it for Me?"

Check it out! *

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Big Sit Update!

Hey everyone - just wanted to share the good news that we've blown past our final goal of raising $1000 for the Interdependence Project's 24 Hour Meditation Marathon. My original goal was $480, then I raised it to $720, and then $1000. And we've raised...


Not bad. Thanks to all my sponsors. And if you'd still like to sponsor me, please go to:

Come watch me on November 6th!

Jon *

Kids Watch More than a Day of TV Each Week! New news from Nielsen.

I was pretty shocked to read this article in the LA Times today, telling us that the average 2-5 year old watches thirty-two hours of television per week, and those 6-11 watching 28 hours per week.

From the original Nielsen report the article is sourced on:
"American children aged 2-11 are watching more and more television than they have in years. New findings from The Nielsen Company show kids aged 2-5 now spend more than 32 hours a week on average in front of a TV screen. The older segment of that group (ages 6-11) spend a little less time, about 28 hours per week watching TV, due in part that they are more likely to be attending school for longer hours."

I think this article really makes one thing clear.

As our kids get older, they are clearly watching less TV. So the obvious question is:

How do we put a stop to this?

"They are more likely to be attending school for longer hours." Therein lies the problem.

It seems like we have two options:

1. Cut school days shorter.
2. Somehow incorporate more TV into school.

I think the latter shows some promise; when it rains, my kids occasionally watch a movie in the auditorium instead of having recess. I imagine many schools resort to this, so we know the infrastructure is there.

In fact, schools may want to consider the costs savings available by incorporating more television into their schedules. The average teacher's salary in New York State is over $56,000. But a big, flat screen TV can be had for under $1,000!

If we could cut, say, 100,000 teachers nationwide, and replace them with televisions, think about how much money we could save? Admittedly, my figures are unscientific, but a back-of-the-envelope calculation shows over five billion in savings. Wow! That's like, two weeks of war!

Okay. I know. I'm being cynical and bitter, not to mention judgmental.

Here's something positive to consider. If kids are watching TV over thirty hours a week, do we have some responsibility to create programming that teaches them something?

From the LA Times article:
"I think parents are clueless about how much media their kids are using and what they're watching," said Dr. Vic Strasburger, a professor of pediatrics at the University of New Mexico School of Medicine and a spokesman for the American Academy of Pediatrics.

"The biggest misconception is that it's harmless entertainment," said Strasburger, who has written extensively about the effects of media on children. "Media are one of the most powerful teachers of children that we know of. When we in this society do a bad job of educating kids about sex and drugs, the media pick up the slack."
Just a little something for us to consider as we go about our business, creating entertainment for mass consumption. *

Thursday, October 22, 2009

New Post on One City!

Hey everyone, I just posted something new on One City, called "The Buddha at Work: The Six Perfections of Highly Effective People." Come check it out!

Jon *

Thursday, October 15, 2009

"The Buddha at Work" - new posting up on the ID Project's One City Blog

I wrote something for the One City Blog (from the Interdependence Project) called "The Buddha at Work." I'll be writing something for them every week on this topic.

Check it out! *

Monday, October 12, 2009

Lama Marut talks to Adventures in Compassion about "My Name is Earl," violence, compassion, and impermanence

The amazing and inspring Lama Marut very kindly did a video, expressly for Adventures in Compassion (in the Screen Trade), on a few topics that are near and dear to my heart. Lama Marut recently featured this blog in his newsletter, and it was really exciting for me to hear of his approval of this work, but this interview (with his associate Cindy Lee) is particularly thrilling and informative.

Here are a few highlights - though you should really watch the video to see him deliver his own responses in the way that only he can. So much of what he teaches here is about intention––what do we intend to communicate when we're creating a piece of entertainment?

Cindy asks him if he thinks entertainment can be "Right Livelihood."
"Of course it could. Totally dependent on the intention. What is the intention of the product? Is the product meant to edify or to titillate? Or to exploit?"

"Of course it's possible to use the media responsibly, and a way of helping people, as a way of teaching people compassion, teaching people how to live better lives... teaching people how to relate to others. The entertainment industry has a great possibility of being able to represent other people's lives... which could result in the viewers of those representations having more and more empathy for other people and their lives, getting themselves out of their own skin and feeling what it would be like to be another person."But he warns us of the danger of the portrayal of characters in movies as two-dimensional, like "action figures... with no real lives, no background, no feelings, no family... just stick figures. And then when their heads are blown off we don't feel anything about it because we don't understand that they're human beings."
"If it's just a fancy version of a cartoon there's no compassion, there's no possibility of compassion, no empathy. You have to have a representation of a real person with all the background that we all have as real people to have any empathy for a character."
Cindy goes on to ask him about impermanence, and if portrayal of impermanence in entertainment is useful.
"To represent change as a source of empathy or compassion, that's one thing. To represent change just as change, is no big deal. How else would there be a narrative? depends on what the purpose of the representation of change is.... what's the intention? What's the purpose of the media representation? Is the purpose to titillate, or is the purpose to bring some compassion to the viewer, to bring some sense that what they're watching is another human being just like them?"
So you might think that Marut's tastes tend toward the serious, the sorrowful, or the morose. Not so!
"We have to keep a sense of humor about things, a sense of lightness, otherwise it's just boring and dull and too serious, and that's not helpful.... it's possible to deliver a very very good message, a compassionate message, an empathetic message, in a package that's entertaining, that's interesting, that's funny..."
So what's your favorite show, Lama Marut?
"I like this television show, My Name is Earl, which all about this guy who's just trying to be a good person, he's trying to make amends for the wrongs that he's committed in his life, and it's very entertaining, it's very funny, it's very light, but every episode has a very very strong kind of moral to the story... very useful to be broadcasting a show like that which is teaching people responsibility... that their actions have consquences, that their actions effect other people... the virtue of forgiveness, the virtue of compassion, the virtue of gratitude. These virtues are all packaged up in a very very entertaining form. That's, I think a model."
Marut goes on to point out that we in entertainment have a tremendous responsibility, that the effects of our work go way beyond what we might imagine:
"The entertainment business is hugely influential and should be responsible... what Jon is suggesting, what he's encouraging people to think about is very very important. How can we entertain responsibly without exploiting, without being inured to the violence... the violence on television is awful. I suggest to the people who are watching this that we would not be able to tolerate six, seven, eight years of war, unbroken, had we not been inured to violence because of television. It's just another TV show for us. The Iraq war... the Afghanistan war.. these are just televison shows for us.... because we have been inured to violence, we have hardened our hearts about the suffering of other people who are on the other side of violence. When we're the subject of violence, then we understand it.... that it's not a pleasant thing, that it's an awful things. But when we're the perpetrator of it, or the viewer of it... we become just inured to it. We don't think about it. We don't think that there's another human being on the other side of our violent actions. So to bring some compassion and some intelligence into... the entertainment business, is very important.
Thank you so much Lama Marut, and thank you Cindy Lee! *

Thursday, October 8, 2009

More Money Please!

Thanks so much to all my amazing sponsors for the upcoming 24 Hour Meditation Marathon on November 6-7, to benefit the Interdependence Project. My original goal was to raise $480, and then I quickly raised it to $720. Well, we're way past that so the new goal is $1,000.

Click here to find out more about the marathon, the Interdependence Project, and why I'm sitting! *

Making Peace Promises - For Compassion's Sake!

I was shocked to realize this morning that I haven't told y'all about Peace Promises. Peace Promises is the brainchild of the “unmessable-with” Josselyne Herman-Saccio, who I know both through my work at Landmark Education and as a talent manager, and the amazing Dr. Monica Sharma, who, “through her work at UNICEF, UNDP and the United Nations has impacted over 130 million people in 60 countries.”

Peace Promises' tagline is "Causing Peace on the Planet, One Promise at a Time." From the website:
"We say that if one person is fighting, or at war, with someone in their life, with themselves, with a belief, with an opinion of another’s, then there is war on the planet RIGHT NOW where they are."
As Thich Nhat Hanh said in the opening of Creating True Peace (boldface is mine):
“True peace is always possible. Yet it requires strength and practice, particularly in times of great difficulty. To some, peace and nonviolence are synonymous with passivity and weakness. In truth, practicing peace and nonviolence is far from passive. To practice peace, to make peace alive in us, is to actively cultivate understanding, love, and compassion, even in the fact of misperception and conflict. Practicing peace, especially in times of war, requires courage.... when the seeds of anger, violence, and fear are watered in us several times a day, they will grow stronger. Then we are unable to be happy, unable to accept ourselves; we suffer and make those around us suffer. Yet when we know how to cultivate the seeds of love, compassion, and understanding in us every day, those seeds will become stronger, and the seeds of violence and hatred will become weaker and weaker. We know that if we water the seeds of anger, violence, and fear in us, we will lose our peace and our stability. We will suffer and we will make those around us suffer. But if we cultivate the seeds of compassion, we nourish peace within us and around us. With this understanding, are are already on the path of creating peace.”
Peace Promises allows us to practice peace, to take on a Peace Promise and mindfully follow it throughout the day, notice when we stray from it, and gently return to our promise. Peace Promises cause us to be mindful. Spending the day focused on our Peace Promise is not that different from sitting on a cushion noticing our breath, or walking mindfully and noticing the ground beneath our feet.

Check out this inspiring video, showing real New Yorkers sharing their Peace Promises:

The Peace Promises site offers an opportunity for each of us to share our promises. I was on jury duty today, and so I shared my promise, to “happily serve jury duty today, knowing that I have benefitted tremendously from our jury system, and I’m able to help provide the same service to others.” When I had brief moments that frustrated me during jury duty, I remembered my promise, and returned to enjoying the day, without beating myself up for my momentary derailment. Thich Nhat Hanh teaches us that every moment is an opportunity to create peace, and this program really brings that idea to life.

Some of the recent promises I found particularly inspiring on the site:
"I promise to find more constructive ways to communicate (and less destructive complaining)."
"I promise to stop being so hard on myself and to let go of things I have no control over."
"I promise to try opening my heart to everything and everyone and put my wall down to be loved."
"I promise to be honest and truthful everyday."
"I promise to stop being so hard on myself and to let go of things I have no control over."
"I promise to keep peace in my heart and spread it to whom ever I come in contact with."
"I will be consciously kind to those random people I meet in life."
What's really exciting about this to me is that it's all about mindfulness; it's about noticing what we're doing and not judging it. When we notice where we're inclined to be unkind, and then act kindly, we've subtly shifted our brain's programming. But even if we just notice our reactions, that's often enough to cause a shift! From a Peace Promises email:
"Becoming aware of something often times sets you free from the grip of it. As you identify and acknowledge something it is no longer invisible to you. When something is invisible to you, it has power over you. When you can see it you can also give it up. The act of giving something up creates space. In that space something new can be created."
So this alone is inspiring, but Josselyne and Monica were kind enough to design a program to cause a shift in peace for each of us, in our communities and relationships, and in our own lives. Here's what the site says about the 30 Day Peace Promise Program, which is "designed to create more peace in your life in the areas of inner peace, relationships, your workplace and community."
"This program will give you an opportunity to exercise the muscles that actually create PEACE. Giving you the tools to create an alternative to stress, an alternative to arguing, an alternative to intolerance, an alternative to war."
Each morning, you get a new promise emailed to you, to focus on that day. I'm on day 29 of the program, though I have to admit I haven't taken on the promises every single day. The email explains the promise and how it provides access to peace in your life. Some of my recent favorites:
"I promise to do something unexpectedly nice for at least one of my neighbors today."
"I promise to smile 20 times today when I meet or see people I do not know."
"I promise to notice my prejudice (race, religion, age, sex etc) today and be compassionate and accepting."
"I promise to forgive someone who I have been holding a grudge against today."
"I promise to educate myself on someone else's point of view on an issue I have been being very rigid about. I promise to learn about it with a commitment to see something valid and new."
That last one was a real challenge for me; I chose to take on educating myself on the Republican point-of-view on healthcare. Prior to this Peace Promise, I shut down and wouldn't listen when I heard anything from the right; I made a commitment to learn something, and I actually did learn something!

I am still sure, however, that we need a public option. But at least I've given another point of view some real consideration. And that allows me to actually be in a conversation with another person who has a point of view that doesn't match mine. That's peace.

By cultivating peace––peace in our inner selves, peace in our relationships, and peace in our communities and the world, we allow our natural compassion to emerge. Imagine a really slow commute to work––has that ever happened to you? Many of us react with anger and frustration––to the traffic, to the other drivers, to ourselves for not taking a different route. If we'd made a Peace Promise that day, any Peace Promise, we might find ourselves noticing our frustration and anger, and letting it go mindfully. We might even find ourselves able to react with compassion. We'd still be stuck in traffic, but we'd be able to carry that peace with us throughout our day. So when we get home from the traffic jam, our frustration and anger isn't carried to our interactions with our spouses and children. We might, in fact, get to simply be with them, and enjoy them; we wouldn't still be stuck in traffic, even in our heads.

Go to the site and sign up for the 30 Day Challenge. You'll be glad you did. *

Friday, October 2, 2009

Lama Marut teaches us that we can learn from anyone. Even Glenn Beck.

I was very happy to hear that Lama Marut chose this site as his "website of the month." I've long been a fan of his work and I am pretty sure his podcasts were my first real taste of Buddhism. He's amazing at explaining complex concepts in a very simple and often funny way. There was a good year where I listened to his Dharma Essentials courses for hours each week. He has tons of free audio teachings, ranging from karma, to the Diamond Cutter Sutra, to emptiness, to the Six Perfections, to the Guide to the Bodhisattva's Way of Life, to the Lam Rim. It's great stuff, and he makes it super accessible.

I found out about Marut's selection of this site via email from his associate Cindy, who was kind enough to point me to one of his teachings. I had been trying to remember where I'd heard him talk about how anything or anybody can be your teacher. I fumbled through the concept in explaining how you could be taught something, even by High School Musical. Cindy pointed me to this amazing audio teaching, "The Appearance of the Sacred in Another Being." Give it a listen.

Lama Marut tells us:
“The guru can appear in all kinds of forms... the guru can also appear as your boyfriend, or girlfriend, or husband, or wife, or child, or mother or father. The guru is not limited in their appearance possibilities...

...the guru can also appear as a lake view. Anything that's changing your consciousness.... is the guru at work. anything that's changing your consciousness, anything that's going oh my god maybe life isn't just ordinary, that's the job description... of a guru... 'Make them believe that it isn't just ordinary.' That there's a sacred world right in front of their eyes if they could only see it. Bring them to nirvana... the end of suffering... bring them to heaven by showing them it's been here all along. It's been here right in front of you all along....

...they're like the entry point, the mediating entry point from a profane world into a sacred world. they're like a door that brings you into a different reality. And it is up to you to invest them with that capability. If you don't invest them with that capability they have no capability ever. Zero....

...when you meet another person you have two unconfirmable possibilities.... you can imagine them as just being ordinary, or you can imagine them as being a sacred angel on your case.... put on your case, come down from HQ on your case. And you can't confirm that they're not.... you've got that choice. Which one would be more interesting? Which one would be a better way to live? Which one would allow that person to start helping you? The secret of guru yoga is that you constitute somebody as sacred, as special, as divine in your life. And then everything they say and do from then on becomes a teaching for you.... what kind of lesson was that for me?

The power isn't coming form the guru. The power is coming from you. It's just a feedback device.... you invest the power in them and it comes back to you. and the more you invest in them the more it comes back to you."
So the key for me, then, is to invest everything with the power of the sacred. What can I learn from High School Musical? What can I learn from that guy who cut me off in traffic? What can I learn from Glenn Beck? Hard to imagine, but as Lama Marut points out, your teacher doesn't always appear the way you expect them to. It's up to us to decide to invest something with the power of the sacred, and that enables us to learn from anything.

So the guy in traffic can be a lesson on compassion. Glenn Beck too, believe it or not. Whether you imagine him as a child, or a father, or a husband. (I have no idea if he was ever any of these, not even a kid.) When he's making you really angry, you can imagine what's making him suffer, what's causing him to react so fearfully, and to instigate fear in others.

Thich Nhat Hanh teaches us this, in "Living Buddha Living Christ," how we can forgive even someone who makes us really, really angry:
"'You my brother or sister have wronged me in the past, I now understand that it was because you were suffering and did not see clearly. I no longer feel anger towards you.' Only when you understand what has happened can you have compassion for the other person and forgive him or her... when you are mindful you can see the many causes that led the other person to make you suffer, and when you see this, forgiveness and release arise naturally."
So learning about compassion and forgiveness can come from the most unexpected places! Really, almost anything can be a lesson in compassion; just look at today's headlines, or walk down the street and consider the lives of others, or drink a cup of coffee and imagine all of the interdependent factors that went into you getting that perfect cup. And you can have compassion for the farmers, for the truck drivers, for the baristas, for the workers in the cup factory, and for anyone else who led to you getting your drink. Compassion is everywhere, if you look for it!

Thanks so much, Lama Marut!! *