Rituals of Outside: Freeing ourselves from Self-Enslavement


Image Credit: Sam Apple  http://www.samapple.com/sam_index2.html

Dispatch for Spacious Minds from Dr. G.

[The following blog is not written to promote religious precepts but rather to highlight the secularization of Jewish and Buddhist ritual of “mindfulness” for the health and freedom to BE. — ed.]

It doesn’t take an ear to the ground to hear the rumble of marching armies filled with mindfulness and wisdom teachers rising up to share a practice that has touched the depths of their hearts and changed their lives for the better.  Why the uprising?  Why now? 

Some blame the daunting economic stress of our time, pushing people to their brink and forcing contemplative teachers out of their caves and living rooms and into the light of social transmission. Others say we are at the dawning of the Mahayana era - a time of the “Great Vehicle” when a simple method of checking into your “inside mind” is being shared not just by monks and rabbis but by ordinary folk and civic leaders across USA city, state and Federal lines. 

The most noted mindfulness advocate found on the “Hill” is Ohio Congressman Tim Ryan. The book A MINDFUL NATION is a slim, bold account by Ryan, a rising political leader whose own life has been transformed by taking up the contemplative “insight” practice transmitted from school rooms to board rooms to military training grounds.  Ryan, along with readers and followers of Bodies in Space, Twitter and Facebook is well aware that neuroscientists have logged in umpteen hours to discover the discreet features of mindfulness and related contemplative practices, like Zen and T.M., that impact both children and adults.  A growing number of studies bear up distinctions between focused attention and non judgemental awareness, the biomarkers of correlated stress reduction or growth in neurological real estate.  How refreshing for a civil servant to bring the art and science to  the Hill!


Image Credit: Congressman Tim Ryan, CBS news

Yet, here it is spring, the time of renewed energy, with Judeo-Christian and Persian ritual holidays like Passover, Easter and Nowruz to remind us, if not of the 365 different ways to decorate or burnish a celebratory egg, then the time we spend with family to stop, breath and share a moment of our humanity with each other.  As someone raised in a Jewish family and who later studied Buddhism with one of the foremost Buddhist scholars in the world (Maseo Abe), I’ve become increasingly sensitive to the question of enslavement, especially the enslavement of our mind at the cost of personal, social and political freedoms.

So what does Passover have to do with mindfulness, A Mindful Nation?  Why speak of comparative religious ritual when John Kabat Zinn, a leading public health author and mindfulness researcher went out of his way to secularize mindfulness for medical purposes? Dig a little deeper pass the language of Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction — Kabat Zinn’s brand of mindfulness practice — and back into the Buddhist traditions out of which it grew.  You’ll find richly articulated, comparative values for waking up to the choice to be “free,” addressed in Jewish and Buddhist commentaries like.  So saturated is the language of liberation within Buddhist mindfulness contemplation, one can’t help but make a comparison to the political ideas defining the Jewish Passover, matzah madness notwithstanding.

But don’t let the religious references dissuade you from considering the existential and neurological point: Being “mind awake,” as we in the knowledge transfer business are apt to say, is a practice that cuts across gender, class, cultures, traditions and governments.  It is a practice engendered by flow experts, artists, dancers, rock climbers and surgeons — all those named in Czikzentmihalyi’s early writings on the actions that take us “beyond boredom.”  Mindfulness — for all ages — is “brain smart” not just because it engages us in the “present moment” with a profound correlated effect on our neurological default networks.  It is brain smart and mind awake because it is one clear cut method shown to interrupt nervous system habits wrapped in personal narratives of enslavement, be it addiction, depression or attachment to ideas, organizations or governmental policies that no longer serve our right to be politically, culturally and intellectually free.  (I’ll leave the philosophic and scientific debate over whether we “have a mind” to another blog.)

Turning to the poet, I say, let ‘hope spring eternal’ so that every person, every student and parent, every scientist and artist, every member of  government, corporate and Military orgs learn to wake up to the  transience and stillness of inside / outside mind and “take refuge” in the basic freedom to take a breath, change a brain and just “be.”

To learn more about the congressman who is bringing “mindfulness” to the “Hill” and enabling a healthy policy discussion to help our Military leaders and VETS click here:  http://mindfulnation.org/

To learn more about the public health and neuroscience focused on mindfulness research go to http://www.mindfulexperience.org/mindfo.php

To discover the mindful and ecological aspects of Passover liberation, go to http://www.tikkun.org/nextgen/why-retell-the-passover-narrative

Posted on April 8th, 2013
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