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Sylvia Boorstein says spirituality doesn’t have to look like sitting down and meditating. A Jewish-Buddhist teacher and psychotherapist, Boorstein says spirituality can be as simple as “folding the towels in a sweet way and talking kindly to the people in [your] family even though you’ve had a long day.” And she insists that nurturing our inner lives in this way is not a luxury but something we can do in the service of others — from our children to strangers in the checkout line at the grocery store.

Rabbi Lawrence Kushner is a long-time student and articulator of the mysteries and messages of Kabbalah, the Jewish mystical tradition. Kushner says mysticism tends to appear when religion — whatever the tradition — becomes too formal and logical. “The minute mysticism becomes permissible, acceptable, possible, it’s an immediate threat to organized religious structures,” he says. “Because what mysticism does is it gives everybody direct unmediated personal access to God.” He is influenced by the Jewish historian Gershom Scholem, who resurrected Kabbalah from obscurity in the 20th century and made it accessible to modern people.

Pico Iyer is one of our most eloquent explorers of what he calls the “inner world” — in himself and in the 21st century world at large. The journalist and novelist travels the globe from Ethiopia to North Korea and lives in Japan. But he also experiences a remote Benedictine hermitage as his second home, retreating there many times each year. In this intimate conversation, we explore the discoveries he’s making and his practice of “the art of stillness.”

Co-creator of the Center for Contemplative Mind in Society. “There is a calming, quieting, centering practice that leads to insight in every tradition.” Contemplative practice and social change. Mindful emailing. Creative, relational, ritual, cyclical.

Mirabai Bush works at an emerging 21st century intersection of industry, social healing, and diverse contemplative practices. Raised Catholic with Joan of Arc as her hero, she is one of the people who brought Buddhism to the West from India in the 1970s. She is called in to work with educators and judges, social activists and soldiers. She helped create Google’s popular employee program, Search Inside Yourself. Mirabai Bush’s life tells a fascinating narrative of our time: the rediscovery of contemplative practices, in many forms and from many traditions, in the secular thick of modern culture.

Mirabai Bush co-founded the Center for Contemplative Mind in Society. She is the author of Contemplative Practices in Higher Education and has written two books with Ram Dass: Compassion in Action and Walking Each Other Home: Conversations on Loving and Dying.

Pádraig Ó Tuama and Marilyn Nelson are beloved teachers to many. To bring them together at the On Being Gathering was a delight and a balm. Marilyn is a poet and professor and contemplative, an excavator of stories that would rather stay hidden yet lead us into new life. Pádraig is a poet and theologian and social healer at Corrymeela in Northern Ireland — “a soft place for hard conversations,” of hostility met in hospitality. They venture unexpectedly into the hospitable — and intriguingly universal — form of poetry that is prayer.

Mysticism is the birthright of every human being, says Br. David Steindl-Rast. He speaks of the anatomy and practice of gratitude as full-blooded, reality-based, and redeeming. Now in his 90s, he has lived through a world war, the end of an empire, and the fascist takeover of his country. He was an early pioneer, together with Thomas Merton, of dialogue between Christian and Buddhist monastics. He’s also given a TED talk, viewed over six million times, on the subject of gratitude — a practice increasingly interrogated by scientists and physicians as a key to human well-being.

Her unconventional studies have long suggested what neuroscience is now revealing: Our experiences are formed by the words and ideas we attach to them. Naming something play rather than work — or exercise rather than labor — can mean the difference between delight and drudgery, fatigue or weight loss. What makes a vacation a vacation is not only a change of scenery, but the fact that we let go of the mindless everyday illusion that we are in control. Ellen Langer says mindfulness is achievable without meditation or yoga. She defines it as “the simple act of actively noticing things.”

A French-born Tibetan Buddhist monk and a central figure in the Dalai Lama’s dialogue with scientists, Matthieu Ricard was dubbed “The Happiest Man in the World” after his brain was imaged. But he resists this label. In his writing and in his life, he explores happiness not as pleasurable feeling but as a way of being that gives you the resources to deal with the ups and downs of life and that encompasses many emotional states, including sadness. We take in Matthieu Ricard’s practical teachings for cultivating inner strength, joy, and direction.

The renowned actor as you’ve never heard him before. He has appeared in over 100 films, including Apocalypse Now. He’s best known on television as President Bartlet in The West Wing. But Martin Sheen, born and still legally named Ramón Estévez, has had another lesser-known life as a spiritual seeker and activist. He returned to a deep and joyful Catholic faith after a crisis at the height of his fame in mid-life. He’s been arrested over 60 times in vigils and protests. “Piety is something you do alone,” he says. “True freedom, spirituality, can only be achieved in community.”

Before Pope Francis, James Martin was perhaps the best-loved Jesuit in American life. He’s followed the calling of St. Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Jesuit order, to “find God in all things” — and for him that means being a writer of books, an editor of America magazine, and a wise and witty presence on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. To delve into Fr. Martin’s way of being in the world is to discover the “spiritual exercises” St. Ignatius designed to be accessible to everyone more than six centuries ago.

The Vietnamese Zen master, whom Martin Luther King nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize, is a voice of power and wisdom in this time of tumult in the world. We visited Thich Nhat Hanh at a retreat attended by police officers and other members of the criminal justice system; they offer stark gentle wisdom for finding buoyancy and “being peace” in a world of conflict, anger, and violence.

To "prioritize intention rather than form" is a the heart of a contemplative practice, whatever that may be. A lay Buddhist monk tells the story of creating a "tree" that's liberated us from narrow ideas of what contemplative practice is and find one (or more) that truly works for us.

Yoga has infiltrated law schools and strip malls, churches and hospitals. This 5,000-year-old spiritual technology is converging with 21st-century medical science and with many religious and philosophical perspectives. Seane Corn takes us inside the practicalities and power of yoga. She describes how it helps her face the darkness in herself and the world, and how she’s come to see yoga as a form of body prayer.

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