Thailand’s young nuns challenge convention

Amy Sawitta Lefevre: Beam Atchimapon is already three days late for the new school term in her native city, the Thai capital of Bangkok – but for a good cause.

The nine-year-old is part of a small but growing group of Thai girls who choose to spend part of the school holiday as Buddhist nuns, down to having their heads shaven.

The temporary ordination of young men has long been part of Thai culture, with men spending a few days as monks and returning to their normal professions after time at a monastery.

But the ordination of “mae ji” or “nuns” is less common …

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For better sex, meditate!

Maureen Salamon: “Am I pretty enough? Am I doing this right? Should I be going to yoga?”

These kinds of anxious, self-judgmental thoughts often run through some women’s minds as they have sex, experts say.

But a new study says “mindfulness meditation” training — which teaches how to bring one’s thoughts into the present moment — can quiet the mental chatter that prevents these women from fully feeling sexual stimuli.

“Rather than feeling it, they get caught up in their heads,” said the study’s lead author, Gina Silverstein, who was a student at Brown University in Rhode Island at the time of the study …

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“Hand Wash Cold” by Karen Maezen Miller

This is my first time reviewing a book for Wildmind. I agreed to write this on Bodhipaksa’s recommendation that this book might be “up my alley” since one strong interest I have is in how the Dharma works for me in my life right here and right now. This is how Karen Maezen Miller’s book, Hand Wash Cold: Care Instructions for an Ordinary Life, came into my hands.

Another thing I especially delight in is books written by women. Sexism is a meme that’s still alive and well in the world, and I love coming upon anything that tends to dispel that kind of malignant influence. Dharma books by women teachers have been especially dear to me.

Title: Hand Wash Cold
Author: Karen Maezen Miller
Publisher: New World
Available from: Amazon.co.uk, Amazon.co.uk Kindle store, Amazon.com Kindle Store, and Amazon.com.

I haven’t done a book report (fancy name for a review) since junior high school, but I remember some of the key things our teacher wanted us to address. What is this book about? Who is the main character and why do you care about what’s happening to this person? What’s the main message of this book. Should we read this book too? Or don’t bother? Why and why not?

At first, I was charmed but her use of the “hand wash cold” metaphor; but then, I began to get annoyed and also a little confused — was this a clever dharma talk? a women’s magazine confessional à la “Can This Marriage Be Saved”? I found myself saying, “Come on, where are you taking me in this story, and are we there yet?” Which is a curious thing to need — to go somewhere (anywhere!) when the main event in Zen (and really most of Buddhist practice) is to stay right here, fully attentive, in the present moment-by-moment.

At the same time I was reading “Hand Wash Cold”, I was reading “The Great Failure” by Natalie Goldberg. I often have several books going at once, and often I get rewarded by unexpected concurrences and contrasts. Now, Goldberg is a writer by profession, and you could argue that her superior technique turned my head. You might be right, too, but I think I’m seeing something other than technique that is bothering me about Miller’s story. Both used a confessional format as a way of demonstrating things that are true for all of us. But where Goldberg’s story was no less painful or baffling to her as she was living it as Miller’s must have been, Goldberg let the drama of her story be something that carried the forward pulse of the book, if you will, but this was far from the point of her telling the story. Miller’s story was dramatic but in a way that seemed to be trying to capture the experience solely from the standpoint of where she was then, in that more self-centered, egoistic voice. This made it hard to cheer her on or see where she was going with this (except to relate this to her housework metaphor). Goldberg let the maturity of her practice — that is her present experience, the benefit of the wisdom she has accumulated — inform the story of the not-wise-yet past “her” and how she wised up. It is in this way that Miller’s effort shows the limitation of making the metaphor work so hard to organize the ideas and insights that it loses its ability to zing and reframe. Yeah, we do all these ordinary tasks, and they’re great occasions for mindfulness, but in and of themselves, they’re too flimsy to hold the Dharma.

I do a bit of gardening from time to time, and there are times I’ve been pulling weeds and think of how it’s such an apt metaphor for how we purify all our ratty, pernicious, negative habits — and how simply cutting them down leaves the roots intact and able to grow back — gotta dig right down into the dirt, get your hands dirty, and slowly but surely pull, pull, pull and then out they come, and that’s the end of it. I wrote a dharma talk one time using gardening metaphors for dharma practice and the spiritual life. By the time I was done, I was really tired of that metaphor. It ended up barely material enough for a 30 minute talk. For a whole book? No metaphor is sturdy enough to carry an entire book. I think Miller fell in love with this metaphor and then got stuck with it. It’s a danger we all face whether writing something, giving a talk or even in how we converse in everyday life. Just like the time I had made a decision to buy a vintage Volvo wagon and restore it and then saw Volvos everywhere. That was cool, for a while, but then it wasn’t, and that car needed to be sold some time later, and then I bought a Honda Fit and then I saw THEM everywhere. There are, in fact, all sorts of cars everywhere, but what we fall in love with we then see to the exclusion of other things and our world narrows.

So there’s a big long part (or it seemed long) where Miller is young and concerned with her hair and make-up and career and “having it all.” Then her marriage becomes unsatisfactory, and she tells us all about how it was unsatisfactory and she didn’t know what was what or how to make it better, and I kept thinking, “And where’s your practice?” It wasn’t clear to me when she actually began taking her spiritual life seriously — it seemed like one more thing she was doing so well — but there wasn’t a sense of increasing depth or how she saw her practice as integral to making sense of the rest of her life. The story of that would have been much more interesting. And then she’s a teacher at a Zen Center … how’d that happen? And so now everything is okay? Hmmmm… and is all her laundry fresh and sweet and all put away now?

So I think in the best, deepest sense, this book is about how we have to wash the ignorant and unskillful parts of ourselves with our own hands. That the accoutrements of modern life, which can, in our immaturity, include our Buddhist Center, teachers, sangha-members and even the Dharma and practices themselves, aren’t enough if we’re passive consumers of them. We change us, accompanied and influenced by everything and everyone that surrounds us, seen and unseen. And we accompany and influence them as well, whether we see how we do that or not. But better to see, and see more deeply and compassionately, and commit to doing so on purpose.

I wish Miller all success; I’d give this book a miss.

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Meditation may help women cope with hot flashes

Drugs.com: An easy-to-learn meditation technique can help ease the hot flashes, night sweats and insomnia of menopause, a new study says.

The University of Massachusetts research showed that mindfulness training, based on a Buddhist meditation concept, reduced the distress associated with hot flashes and improved physical, psychosocial and sexual functioning.

“The findings are important because hormone replacement therapy, used to treat menopause symptoms in the past, has been associated with health risks,” said study author James Carmody, an associate professor of medicine in the division of preventive and behavioral medicine.

About 40 percent of menopausal women suffer from hot flashes and night sweats, which undermine their quality of life, the researchers noted. But since hormone replacement therapy has been linked with an increased risk of heart disease, breast cancer and stroke, Carmody observed that “not only are women looking for alternative treatments, it is an NIH (National Institutes of Health) priority to find behavioral treatments.”

No other treatment has been found to substitute for hormone therapy, according to the study, but mindfulness training appears to allow women to be “less reactive” to menopausal symptoms.

Mindfulness therapy helps focus on the present. Practitioners avoid making judgments and simply accept whatever is passing through their mind while focusing on each breath. The technique is not difficult to learn, but requires some discipline Read the rest of this article…

in the beginning, experts noted.

The researchers aimed to influence women’s reaction to their symptoms, “including psychological distress, social embarrassment and anxiety.”

“We wanted to see if we could affect women’s resilience in response to these symptoms,” Carmody explained. “We were not trying to affect the symptoms themselves, although there was some effect on those as well.”

The study divided 110 women between the ages of 47 and 69 into two groups, one receiving the training, the other “waitlisted” to learn the technique.

Participants filled out questionnaires to determine factors known to influence hot flashes, such as alcohol use, yoga and exercise.

Researchers also measured four dimensions of quality of life: physical, psychosocial, vasomotor (hot flashes), and sexual function. The women rated how much they were bothered by symptoms on a four-point scale ranging from “not at all” to “extremely” bothered. They kept diaries noting the number and intensity of hot flashes and night sweats. On average, the women had five or more moderate to severe hot flashes, or night sweats, a day when the study began.

After taking classes once a week for eight weeks, and a full day of training, the training group women had an average decrease of 15 percent in how much their symptoms bothered them vs. 7 percent for the control group. While hot flash intensity did not differ significantly, the training group reported better sleep, and less anxiety and perceived stress.

At the beginning of the study, which ran from November 2005 to September 2007, participants had “clinically significant” sleep problems. Improved sleep was an important outcome, the study found.

“The thing that surprised us the most was the effect on sleep,” said Carmody, noting that mindfulness training was found to be as effective as hormone replacement therapy in reducing insomnia.

Another expert praised the study for using the “mind-body connection” to help women with serious menopause symptoms with “no side effects.”

“We’ve known about the mind-body connection,” said Dr. Jill M. Rabin. “We’re just beginning to unlock the power of the mind to have an impact on our physiological selves.”

The study authors were “self-critical regarding the limitations of the study,” said Rabin, chief of the division of ambulatory care and head of urogynecology at the Long Island Jewish Medical Center. Among other things, the study lacked an active control group program, they wrote.

Noting that the women were mostly white and had a high level of education, Rabin said more study was needed to see if the results apply to the general population.

“It’s not that the results don’t apply, or will be different for a different population,” she said. “We just don’t know.”

The research is published in the June issue of Menopause.

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Meditation helps ease hot flashes, study shows

What should menopausal women do to alleviate the agony of hot flashes, as many studies have shown that hormone therapy increases risk for breast cancer, heart attacks and strokes?

Mindfulness meditation, the mind-body therapy that refers to a state of awareness, consciousness, and immediacy, not only de-clutters the mind and helps attain inner peace but also reduces the severity of menopausal hot flashes, claims a new study.

The researchers found that mindfulness training that included meditation and stretching exercises not only enhanced sleep quality but also helped ease stress and anxiety in women during menopause.

Dr. Ellen Freeman, a menopause expert at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, Philadelphia, stated, “There’s a broad range of attitudes about hot flashes and how they should be treated. There are certainly many, many women who don’t want to take hormones … and don’t want to take other drugs either.

According to her, mindfulness on the other hand, “may be something that they find very acceptable.”

Trials to assess effect of meditation
In order to determine whether mindfulness training helps ease hot flashes in healthy women, the researchers conducted a eight-week trial.

They enrolled a group of 110 women, mostly white with at least five bothersome hot flashes a day.

The women were split into two groups. One group met for a 2.5-hour weekly meditating session that involved stretching, sitting quietly and simply processing whatever goes through the mind without reacting or becoming involved with thoughts, memories, worries, or images.

In addition, the participants were given audio recordings to practice meditation at home. In contrast the women in the control had no classes on mindfulness meditation.

For the study purpose, the participants were asked to record the frequency and severity of their hot flashes.

The average frequency of hot flashes reported at the onset of the study was about eight per day and three night sweats each night. The volunteers were “moderately” or “extremely” troubled by their symptoms.

They also reportedly had erratic sleep and their anxiety and stress scores were deemed higher than the normal range in healthy people.

Outcome of the study
An evaluation after eight weeks revealed that meditation helped ease stress and anxiety. Women slept better and exhibited increased levels of well being.

They were less troubled by their hot flashes and improvement persisted for over three months after they had completed the classes. The women rated their hot flashes botheration between slight to moderate.

However, there was no difference in the frequency of hot flashes in the two groups, suggesting that mindfulness meditation is technique that helps reduce the severity of hot flashes rather than eliminating them completely.

According to experts, mindfulness training provides women, especially those who want to avoid popping pills a good option for treating moderate to severe hot flashes that disrupt their quality of life.

A shorter trial in progress
The researchers are currently testing the impact of a four-week meditation training on bringing relief to menopausal women.

Lead researcher, Dr. James Carmody at the University of Massachusetts Medical School in Worcester, stated, “We want to see if a shorter program would have the same effects.

“Anything that makes it more accessible for women.”

The findings of the study are published in the journal ‘Menopause.’

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Third Eye: Kellee Maize

Video directed by Matt Marzulo, shot in Sedona, AZ.

I recently made contact with Kellee Maize — a young, blonde, female rapper from small-town, Pennsylvania, who moved to Pittsburgh and started her own guerrilla-marketing company, Näkturnal. She formed her first rap group at age nine, and music has been an important part of her life. Her debut album, Age of Feminine, was released independently in May 2007, and has had over 100,000 downloads on iTunes.

Kellee’s lyrics are often urban and gritty, but spirituality plays a large role in her music, which see sees as a way to transcend the ego. Here she talks about what the “third eye” means to her.

“What is the third eye? I feel that I am trying to reach the part of you that is just above ego. I feel this song is seemingly egoic at times. I mean, i have an ego, we all do, but, I want to connect with what is beyond that, but still be real. I often struggle with this, I don’t want to try to say I am god or something, we are all creators, and I don’t want to seem too egoic. In the end, I feel like a conduit to spirit so I just write what comes and try not to over analyze.”

You can check out Kellee’s website to find out more about her and her music, and learn more about what the lyrics of Third Eye mean to her.

third eyeLyrics of Third Eye
Yeah I hate to tell ya but I won’t fit in your box
I know you wanna know but you cannot pick my locks
See you a part of me like New York is to the Bronx
And everything is everything we do not need to box
Cause I could stick and move, I am focused like a soldier
And you’ve been in my way, heavy like a boulder
And everybody’s scared of death and getting older
When you release your fear come cry on my shoulder
Cause, finally the Earth’s come around
Use a new part of your brain, make a new sound
All we want is love it’s making our heart pound
The new children are here they are coming out the ground
Stop medicating them their power will abound
Now please just gather round
The pitchers at the mound
Catch my words don’t clown
You know you like my sound
Now give your girl a pound or a hug would mean you’re down

[Chorus 2x] And with the power of Isis
I will speak to your third eye
I’ll be your soldier in crisis
I will lick your cheek when you cry

Down at the four rivers, the waters they will heal
I will lift my hands up to the sky and make it real
My bothers and my sisters, you will see how I feel
I will give you a dollar to listen, baby let’s make a deal

No you can’t buy me, don’t even try me
in fact unleash your lasso and please untie me
I’m done with the cowboys they do not excite me
don’t need your opinions please don’t indict me
I won’t do your homework, do not assign me
the universe will teach you what science is finding
Open up your chakras your aura could be blinding
grab some rose quartz and start reminding

[Chorus 2x] And with the power of Isis
I will speak to your third eye
I’ll be your soldier in crisis
I will lick your cheek when you cry

I am a writing machine and this is my weapon
Fighting with my mouth peace I will be reppin’
We’re all contradictions stop your suggestin’
The righteous do not judge ’cause they know its projectin’
And just ’cause I say it’s the age of feminine
Doesn’t mean that I am not down for our men
We all need some yang get that dick up out your head
‘Cause there are mad women who are too masculine
And yes I know that I do not sound Caucasian
But sorry this is how it comes out like the days end
My soul is here for some consciousness raising
Stop all your labelin’ I’m Kellee amazin’
And I’m not concerned with which god you’re praising
or what herb your blazing
Your light shines, its dazing and now the bridge fades in
And now the bridge fades in

Ladededadadadaday, you can light your own way
Ladededadadadaday, today can be your day
Ladededadadadaday I will be lighting my own way
Ladededadadadaday, today is my day

[Chorus 4x] And with the power of Isis
I will speak to your third eye
I’ll be your soldier in crisis
I will lick your cheek when you cry

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Spirituality Joins Sex, Shoes in Women’s Magazine (Yahoo! News)

Is this a sign of the times or what? The British edition of Cosmopolitan, the glossy bible of sex and shopping for the single girl, has launched a new monthly column on spirituality.

“I’ve come to the painful realization that men and shoes are not enough to make me happy,” Hannah Borno, the magazine’s new spirituality editor, wrote in the March edition. “The key to true contentment lies elsewhere.”

God and guidance would hardly seem to suit the “Cosmo girl.” British media have mocked the magazine for asking what happens now after years of breathless stories about dressing sexy, finding men and having multiple orgasms.

Borno, 32, says reader feedback has convinced Cosmo that many young women long for something more than the materialist life.

“Lots of women say ‘I have a great job, I have a great relationship, so why am I unhappy?,’” she told Reuters.

“We have been covering everything else. We already cover the mind and the body but we needed the spirit as well.”

Nina Ahmad, acting editor of the British Cosmopolitan, said the magazine had 1 million readers in Britain and did not want them to “feel alone on their spiritual journey.”

“We want women to be the best they can, in every respect of their lives,” she said.

Cutting out the middleman

In the United States, Cosmopolitan’s main American edition has not copied the British example. But the editor of a leading Web site on faith and spirituality said he was not surprised by Borno’s new job.

“There is clearly a huge number of people who are either disassociated with or disgusted with organized religion but are seeking spirituality by other means,” said Steven Waldman, editor-in-chief of Beliefnet in New York.

“They are cutting out the middleman,” he said. “It’s in the nature of modern society that people are spiritual free agents now.”

“Institutions are no longer imposing a message on the faithful,” wrote Frederic Lenoir, a French sociologist of religion. “Individuals are freely taking what suits them from various traditions,” he added, referring to what is sometimes derided as supermarket spirituality.

Borno bore that out in her first spirituality section, advising readers to tap their dreams to hear their inner voice and use ancient Chinese meditation tricks to think clearly.

“An amazing 44 percent of you think either you or someone you know is psychic,” she told her readers.

“More than 50 percent of you believe in the accuracy of tarot cards and palmistry and 38 percent of you believe in mind-reading.”

Nowhere near a church

As in many other European countries, this new search for spirituality has nothing to do with established religions, which these days attract only a small fraction of the population.

“We’re looking at spirituality rather than organized religion, because that’s where there seems to be a demand from our readers,” Borno explained.

“They want something a bit more alternative.”

Borno has no religious training herself and does not pretend to be an expert on dispensing theological advice.

“First and foremost, I’m a journalist,” she explained, adding that she would consult experts to explain complex topics in what she called “Cosmo-friendly language.”

“There is so much on offer out there and I will try to sift through the whole lot and extract the stories we think are interesting,” she said.

That includes explaining meditation techniques, reviewing books or asking if traditions such as Kabbalah, an esoteric Jewish mysticism embraced by stars like Madonna and Britney Spears, would help readers lead happier lives.

“Cosmo is all about presenting readers with practical options and tricks and techniques they can use,” Borno said. “We don’t want too much mystical baggage.”

The trend towards “supermarket spirituality” has unnerved some traditional churches. The Vatican issued a long study last year arguing that the spread of “New Age” spirituality was an alarm bell for the Roman Catholic Church.

“The success of New Age offers the Church a challenge,” it said. “People feel the Christian religion no longer offers them — or perhaps never gave them — something they really need.”

With people taking an increasingly individualistic approach to faith, Beliefnet’s Waldman saw celebrities driving some of the latest spiritual trends.

“They see that Madonna goes for Kabbalah, so they check it out,” he said. “They see the Dalai Lama has a new book on how to ease stress, so they try it.”

The biggest spiritual leader in the United States, he said, was not any of the well-known preachers but television talk show host Oprah Winfrey. Her popular Web site has its own “Spirit and Self” section.

[Original article no longer available]
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