The Brilliance of Interfaith Dialogue

interfaith“What unites us is much greater than what separates us … It is necessary … to rid ourselves of stereotypes, of old habits and above all, it is necessary to recognize the unity that already exists.”

So wrote Pope John Paul II of Christian/Buddhist dialogue in his book, Crossing the Threshold of Hope. This call to ecumenism went a long way toward establishing an atmosphere of trust and mutual respect between Catholics and Buddhists, as well as other world religions.

Catholic/Buddhist dialogue has a rich history; the fact a Roman Pontiff would refer to “the unity that already exists” between the two religions speaks to this legacy. International summits devoted to inter-religious dialogue have occurred all over the world during the past thirty years or so. These summits have featured representatives of Judaism, Hinduism, Christianity, Islam and Buddhism; more recently, members of earth religions such as Wicca and Neo-Paganism have been included.

In 1969, Catholic leaders joined together with Jewish rabbis to found the Interreligious Council of Southern California. Two years later, Buddhist leaders led their communities to join their Catholic and Jewish neighbors, making southern California an American “hotspot” of ecumenical dialogue. This fledgling organization expanded quickly; by 1974, it had evolved into the Commission on Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs.

One thing that makes conversations between Christians and Buddhists so interesting is that the metaphysical views of the two religions are diametrically opposed in significant ways. One teaches resurrection; the other, reincarnation. Christian doctrine teaches that the universe was created by an eternally existing God; Buddhism posits no creator deity, and one of its most essential core premises is impermanence.

All these differences aside, compassion — especially for people on society’s fringes — is central to both traditions. Catholic charities are established on the same foundation as Engaged Buddhism: the critical importance of compassion for all.

His Holiness the Dalai Lama said,

“Whether you believe in God or not does not matter so much, whether you believe in Buddha or not does not matter so much; as a Buddhist, whether you believe in reincarnation or not does not matter so much. You must lead a good life. And a good life does not mean just good food, good clothes, good shelter. These are not sufficient. A good motivation is what is needed: compassion, without dogmatism, without complicated philosophy; just understanding that others are human brothers and sisters and respecting their rights and human dignity.”

Well said indeed, Your Holiness!

Best regards,

William

Image from yogachicago.com

Wake up to Spring

yawn

It has been a very long winter, but the sun is finally shining.  For some of you the grass is peeking through the winter blanket and their may be even a few flowers blooming. Spring is finally, here.   Winter is a time for holding things in; in a sense both our mind and bodies have been hibernating).  This winter was particularly long, and so now as the warm air is beckoning you may feel a release both emotional and physically.  Our bodies and minds are aching for activity.  In addition, we yearn to cleanse, it’s not coincidental that the term is “spring cleaning”).  Last week, I encouraged you to leap into spring preparing both your homes and your body. This week, I wanted to provide you with a spring routine that will help waken up your bodies and release the tension (both emotional and physical) that you may be holding in .  Enjoy.

1) Fire Log Pose: Let’s start today’s practice in fire log pose.  Fire log pose is a wonderful hip opener, while also releasing excess tension in your groin.   While in the pose, take in some deep breaths (breath in for 5, breath out for five),  while gradually try to work your breathing up to a count in ten. Breathe in that wonderful oxygen.

2) Reach your arms forward, into a small seated forward bend.  Give your spine a beautiful stretch. Continue to breath.

3)With your arms on the ground, gently move into table top position, and prepare for our first cat/cow poses.

4) Cat/cow pose: This pose combination is fantastic for your core and spine.  Allow your body to become fluid, flowing back and forth between the two poses.

5) Downward Dog: Push up into downward dog.  Be playful in this position.  Move your feet up and down (often called walking your dog), make small circles with your hips.  Enjoy moving your entire body. If you would like, try lifting one leg up  and then the other. Pay attention to how your body feels in this position.

6) Move into our mountain pose (Tadasana) and prepare for your first Sun Salutation.  I would encourage you to try at least 3 sun salutations in a row.  However, for those of you that are feeling practically sluggish, do more.

7) From the last child’s pose, gently move onto your knees into Camel pose. This heart opener is both energizing and will revitalize your body.  Take your time in this pose and be conscious of how your neck and spine are feeling, only move as far as your body will allow you.  It is now time for your body to begin to rest. Move into a prone position.

8) Reclining twists:  Twists are perhaps my favourite poses in spring.  Our bodies are in desperate need to release the tensions, and feel once again refreshed and energized. Enjoy this pose on both side before relaxing in the final posture Savasana.

9) Savasana: Relax in this resting pose and allow all of the beautiful movement to integrate into your body.

Namaste.

photo by: ytang3

Four Simple Steps: The Way of Mindfulness Meditation

Meditation on the Beach

Step One: Stop.

Step Two: Sit.

Step Three: Breathe.

Step Four: Be aware.

These are the simple steps involved in meditation. The first step, stopping, is essential. Our very survival depends on our ability to stop: to stop polluting the air, water and soil; to stop ingesting carcinogens; to stop engaging in hostile international actions in an age of apocalyptic weaponry. Enlightenment also requires a pause. To reach it, we need to cease our constant running from activity to activity, to give ourselves a brief opportunity to simply be. We need to temporarily stop our constant whirlwind of activity and give our minds a break from the never-ending sources of stimulation that assault our senses day and night. Stopping is the first, and most essential, step in meditation.

The second step is sitting. There is nothing more liberating than allowing ourselves to sit quietly in simple awareness for awhile. We can sit in any comfortable position: in a chair, on a cushion, in the half-lotus or full-lotus position. Our minds follow our bodies, and our bodies follow our minds. When we allow ourselves to sit comfortably with no agenda, our minds take their cue from our bodies.

The third step is breathing. Of course, we are always breathing (no breath, no life!), but I’m talking about conscious breathing: awareness of our in-breath and out-breath. As we become aware of this phenomenon that enables our living, it reveals itself as the miracle it truly is. We gradually become aware of our respiration becoming deeper, smoother, and more pliant. And speaking of awareness…

…The fourth step is being aware. Mindfulness meditation can be defined as sitting in awareness of what’s going on within us and around us. It’s not an escape from life, but a wholehearted embrace of it. As we sit in simple awareness of our in- and out-breaths, we become more cognizant of our own mental states. Self-understanding at a profound level becomes possible. What we should and should not do in response to our environment becomes clear. It’s like placing a glass of sediment-filled water on a table and watching it for 20 minutes or so: the sediment gradually sinks to the bottom of the glass and the water becomes clear.

The clarity we achieve through meditation works in the same way. The sediment — unresolved issues, troubled mental formations and tension — all fall away and we are left with a mind like clear, still water.

 

Best regards,

William 

 

Post-Operative Cognitive Dysfunction

post-cog

I’ve recently learned about a disorder I’ve never heard of, but which was clearly in evidence in someone I care about. I share the following with YFL readers in the hope that it may relieve some of the stress they’ll experience in caring for aging parents and other elderly relatives and friends.

Post-Operative Cognitive Dysfunction (POCD) is a not-atypical condition affecting elderly patients following major surgery. The patient displays no signs of dementia or other Alzheimer’s symptoms prior to surgery; afterwards, he or she is confused, incoherent, and presenting very much like an Alzheimer’s patient. The condition is sometimes referred to as “hospital delirium.” Approximately 10% of patients over 60 experience it; after age 80, it affects as many as one in three. It’s generally thought to be mainly a function of the mix of anesthesia and the highly psychoactive pain medications administered following surgery, and it’s usually temporary.

Unfortunately, that is not always the case. Sometimes the dementia persists and contributes to a general downward spiral in the patient. One aspect of this syndrome that surprised me when researching it is the suicidal ideation sometimes accompanies it. The patient may retain sufficient self-awareness — and moments of near-complete clarity — that make him aware he is not himself, that some essential part of himself has been lost. This awareness may cause the patient to sink into a deep depression that may present in suicidal ideation and speech.

As alarming as this may be to the patient’s loved ones, there is cause for hope. Major strides in antidepressant medications have been made recently; the judicial use of these — along with some kind of mild anti-anxiety meds — can contain or even eradicate these thoughts. It’s critically important that the doctor carefully follow the patient’s progress and watch for side effects, some of which can be particularly dangerous for elderly patients. Please see the links below for further information on POCD and related ailments. They may prove helpful should you suddenly find yourself encountering a family member or friend who is “not himself/herself” following an operation.

Best regards,

William

http://ceaccp.oxfordjournals.org/content/6/1/37.full

http://bja.oxfordjournals.org/content/103/suppl_1/i41.full

http://psychcentral.com/lib/depression-new-medications-on-the-horizon/0005794

Image from rootcanaldocs.com

 

Launch into Spring

Crocuses in the snow

Launch into Spring

As the beginning of April approaches, the arrival of spring and warm weather is close.  For some of us, it has been an extremely long, extremely cold and harsh season.  And with that type of a season, our body and mind has the tendency to retain unwanted stress and pressure.

Winter is the time where our body is at rest. To prepare our body for the cool weather, most of us go into a semi hibernation mode.  We seek out more comfort foods, wear warmer clothing and revert to less vigorous exercise.  Our skin has a tendency to be dry and flaky, and lips may crack. This excessively long winter season may have created some havoc in your mind and body.

Perhaps you may be noticing that there is more tension in your back, depressed mood, lack of focus, and general decrease in energy.  I know each morning when I look at my window begging for warm weather, I feel heaviness in my shoulders when snow continues to fall from the sky. This year, the weather has been extremely trying on both our mind and bodies.

All of this tension is part of the excess residue for winter.  This has been a very long winter, although the sun may have been shining, the extremely cold temperatures may have prevented you from going outside (I know I went into the hibernation mode).   But our body and mind is now screaming, enough!!!!

And so I’m going to encourage you over the next few weeks to let it go.  Let go all that excess tension that your body is holding from this deep, cold winter.  Pay attention to your shoulders, hips and backs: typical areas that our body holds onto tension. And I’m going to encourage you to slowly work it out.  Get your body moving as if spring is already here, and I promise you in a few weeks it will arrive.    I’ve added some tips below to help you jump into spring.   We do not need the warm weather for spring to come, instead invite spring into your home.  Let’s collectively act like spring is here and I promise it will come .

Jump Start into Spring:

1)   Add some color into your life.  Fill your home with fresh spring flowers, tulips, daffodils, hyacinths were the scent and color will infuse your home with spring.

2)   Declutter. Get rid of that extra stuff that is lingering in your house from the long winter. Start in one room and work your way around.

3)   Breathe in some fresh air.  Open up the windows; allow the winter away to escape, even if it is only for a few moments.  Breathe it in.

4)   Get outside.  Take some walks and breathe in the budding spring air.  Listen closely for the birds that are eager to nest and the squirrels that are scampering through the areas.

5)   Get your body moving.  Slowly at first, with some easy stretches and then start dancing.  Sing. Let it all go.  If you need some inspiration, play the ever-popular Demi Lovato song “Let it Go” from the movie Frozen.

6)   Hydrate. Drink lots of water, tisanes and juices.  Make some healthy smoothies and energize your body from the inside out.

7)   Eat like its spring.  Fill your plate with color add in fruit, salads, and other energy infusing food.  Let go of the comfort food and let spring in.

Next week, I will be posting a full spring release yoga routine with a focus on your hips, shoulders and back to release out that tension.  I know that deep underneath that cool winter bed are new beginnings that desperately want to emerge.  Until then, I encourage you to invite spring into your home and body. The weather and sunshine will soon follow.

 

 

photo by: magnus.hagdorn