Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Vipassana Meditation - An Ancient Path in a Modern World

Dr. Paul R. Fleischman--retired psychologist, author, and vipassana practitioner--recently delivered a series of talks in the San Francisco Bay Area. Here's an abstract of his conversations.

In Dr. Paul R. Fleischman's words...

Vipassana Meditation is a form of education that reveals a path of living. It was originally taught by the Buddha, in India, 2500 years ago, and is currently taught in secular meditation centers located in most countries of the world.
There are five signature features of Vipassana Meditation.
First, it is taught for free in ten-day residential retreats. It is an ancient, ongoing, educational communion, not a commercial enterprise.
The second is its root within moral commitments and ethical values. It is not a self-absorbed activity.
The third signature feature of Vipassana meditation is its focus on the arising and passing of body sensations, with the intention of experiencing directly within the framework of one’s own mind and body the impermanence of all conditioned things. This focus connects Vipassana to the scientific world-view, which understands our body and everything else in the world as informatically organized compounds of impermanently aggregated matter and energy.
The fourth signature feature is that it leads to deepened self-integration, increased focus, and greater internal harmony.
The fifth feature is its cultural location within a community of friends, practitioners, and teachers. The founding teacher for the worldwide spread of Vipassana in the Twentieth and Twenty-first Century has been Mr. S.N. Goenka of India. Approximately one million students, located on every continent, have learned Vipassana from Mr. Goenka and his appointed teachers.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

How Will You Reduce Your Water Footprint Today?

March 22, 2012 is World Water day.

Have you ever stopped to think what your water footprint is? What is the connection between conserving water and feeding the hungry? How does water quality and availability affect climate change and vice-versa? Which is greater: water demand of cities and industries, or
agricultural water needs? Does producing more food with less water make sense? Would you eat food grown in re-used and/or recycled water? Why/Why not? How does reducing waste, primarily food waste, translate to water savings?

Come read what the UN World Water Day is all about and how the UN is working to generate awareness on the significance of conserving a dwindling resource -- freshwater.

Become an advocate for the sustainable management of freshwater resources. As a citizen of this world, you have a responsibility to safeguard the environment. Make a commitment today to affect ONE change in your lifestyle in support of the environment. It's easy to do:
  • Turn off the tap when you shave or brush your teeth
  • Use flow control devices in your shower heads
  • Take shorter showers
  • Set your lawn sprinklers to operate 3-4 per week; turn off the sprinklers or use "rain delay" during wet weather
  • Use the dishwasher instead of washing your dishes in the sink under running water
  • Run the dishwasher only when full
  • Redirect the flow of rain water from downspouts to the various plants, shrubs, and lawn in your garden
  • Reuse gray water, where available

 At the very least, visit the UN Water Facebook page and give them a much-deserved "Like." Remember, your actions and behaviors today will influence those of future environmental stewards -- your children.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Does "Instant Gratification" Qualify as a Virtue?

Patience used to be known as a virtue, but is virtually unheard of in the present-day culture of immediacy. Today’s children don’t even know the meaning of the word. People want everything, and they want it now.

Investors expect instant wealth from their financial ventures. Customers expect they’ll look skinny after spending a week at the health club. Students expect perfect scores on tests for which they study the night before. Short-term rewards, short-term gain, instant messaging, instant feedback, instant food, instant cures, even instant movie-watching—instant gratification has infected the world faster than AIDS.

The Upside?

The proliferation of technology and electronic devices—the epitome of instant gratification—revolutionized the transportation industry and transformed time management worldwide. Our ancestors walked, for the most part, rode domesticated animals, or rowed small boats. As civilizations evolved, specialized boats and vessels made their debut and were used for both war and trade. Then, the invention of animal-drawn, wheeled wagons enabled people to traverse land in a relatively short amount of time. Trains and rail networks, steam ships, and the eventual development of diesel-powered ships and submarines followed, with each mode of transportation working faster, cheaper, and better than the previous ones.

Mechanized road transport and road networks, aviation and airport networks, spaceflight and space stations—the most modern inventions—have been the harbingers of change on a macro scale, facilitating the efficient transport of both humans and cargo. A trip from San Francisco to Los Angeles, a distance of 383 miles city center to center, now takes 1.5 hours by airplane, 6 hours by car, 7.5 hours by bus, and 11 hours by train. Compare that to several weeks on horseback in the old days.

Channeling the resulting time savings back into the innovation circle has allowed people to travel the earth, explore the solar system and beyond, and expand human knowledge in a vast variety of subject areas.

On a personal level, technology and electronic devices enable us to balance a day’s work as efficiently as a circus juggler. The simple touch of a finger enables online shopping, online banking, online bill pay—my personal favorite. Telecommuting is a popular work schedule that many practice, resulting in time and cost savings, as well as reduced stress.

The Downside?

Consider the impatience users demonstrate with modern technology: they smack down the mouse because they’ve clicked three times and nothing has happened yet; they pound the desk because the web page is taking longer than three seconds to load; they cuss because they clicked a video link and a commercial appeared.

Patience is often a selective attribute. For instance, individuals are “cool” with camping overnight in the mall parking lot for the release of an Apple product, but their nostrils flare with exasperation at the long line in the grocery store. Invitees believe it is “fashionable” to arrive late to a party, but their foreheads steam with irritation at a flight delay on the tarmac.

Sadly, the post office is suffering because people have switched from snail mail to email, fax, phone, and webcam. Historically speaking, letters, speeches, text books, even the world’s holiest scriptures—were handwritten. Today, the ancient art of handwriting and a host of other ancient traditions are taking a dying form.

From the Middle East to Latin America, impatience has strangulated economies and destabilized peace and security. The current global recession is a symptom of instant gratification.

Impatience can cripple self-restraint, leading to impulsiveness. Think about the parent who screams in their child’s face, “How many times do I have to tell you to make your bed? When I was your age….” Frequent job changes, multiple marriages and divorce, toxic relationships—are all examples of continued impatience.

Impatience encourages reckless living. Instead of using the time savings to enhance their quality of life, many use their time to coddle in debt, negative thinking and substance abuse, filing frivolous lawsuits, and pursuing sense gratification. Road accidents and death from rash and negligent driving—running red lights, cruising past stop signs, speeding, tail gating, drinking and driving, texting and driving—has increased multifold. People’s restlessness has spiked, attention spans have shortened, and the ADD spectrum disorders are on an upward graph.

People’s listening skills have plummeted. Many people space out in the middle of a conversation. Others unabashedly turn on the television. Yet others scroll on their BlackBerry or iPod.

Instant gratification has extinguished the sheer joy of anticipation. Back in the day, youngsters looked forward to festivals such as Diwali, Eid, and Christmas, because it meant the family got together, new clothes for everyone, and a special banquet. Today, family life has collapsed, new clothes and “things” have become redundant, and people have used food to launch themselves to the realm of obesity and heart disease.

People no longer make the time to delight in nature’s wonders: the smell of the first rains, the sight of a hummingbird fluttering around a flower, the sound of waves lapping against the shore, the feel of bare feet on a stretch of green grass.

The culture of immediacy is making us increasingly rude, joyless, superficial, anxious, fearful, divisive, aggressive, and impulsive on, both, personal and societal levels.


Instant gratification has added convenience and free time to your life, but has it also added more meaning and satisfaction to your life? You love the virtual social networks, but do you dread real-life social situations? Instant gratification has the power to step up your heart beat, but does it also have the power to step up your HDL? Instant gratification has enhanced your stature and sense of entitlement, but has it also enriched your sense of worth? Does instant gratification qualify as a virtue?

Questions are for you to ask; the answers will come find you. Vipassana meditation teaches the individual to become aware of the mind, body, and emotions—a conscious engagement that decelerates the thought process, helps anchor in the present, fosters a strong sense of awareness, shatters misconceptions, opens up the heart and mind, and helps individuals get in touch with their core so they can live a life that is authentic and filled with joy, stability, and gratitude.

May the force of silence be with you.

Until we meet again….

Sunday, March 18, 2012

I Won the Versatile Blogger Award!

A big thank you to Random Interruptions for nominating my blog for The Versatile Blogger Award. Such a privilege. Thanks, Heather!

Basically, the Versatile Blogger Award is a way to introduce bloggers to each other and to promote quality blogs that the awardees and their readers might not have discovered otherwise.

If you're nominated, you've been awarded the Versatile Blogger Award. Here are the instructions for the lucky recipients:

1. Nominate 15 fellow bloggers for the Versatile Blogger Award.

2. In the same post, add the Versatile Blogger Award.

3. In the same post, thank the blogger who nominated you in a post with a link back to their blog.

4. In the same post, share seven completely random pieces of information about yourself.

5. In the same post, include this set of rules.

6. Inform each nominated blogger of their nomination by posting a comment on each of their blogs.


On to the nominees…

They’re not all mindfulness bloggers; some are into travel, therapy, sickle cell disease, book review, homelessness, etc. They’re rock stars in their own respects.

In no particular order:

Beck Valley Books Blog
The Secret Writer Blog
Sacred Ground Travel Magazine
Irregular Therapy
Home Street Home
Marjolein Book Blog
The Bridge of Deaths
Sibella Beatriz
Sumeet K Chaudhary
Pragya Forever
Sickle Cell - Our Voice
The Review Girl
Lesism by Les Floyd
Diapers, Bookmarks, and Pipe Dreams
Challenging Barriers

Seven Random Things About Me:

1. In the early 90s I worked for an environmental firm that supported water rights for Native American reservations
2. I worked as a substitute teacher at my children's school one year.

3. I don't like mac n cheese and I don't care for peanut butter. Sorry :(

4. I trained as an Indian classical dancer and singer during my youth.

5. I love watching the full moon, rainbows, and the rain!

6. I'm a life-long vegetarian.
7. Water awes me and bugs petrify me.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

From Condemned to Redeemed

Book Review -- Letters from the Dhamma Brothers
A room full of vicious animals or a room full of deranged, hardened convicts--I don't know which is a more fitting description of hell. In 2002, three brave individuals descended at Donaldson Correctional Facility--a maximum security prison in Alabama--with one goal: to teach violent inmates the ancient, non-violent technique of vipassana meditation in the tradition of S. N. Goenka. They sat in stillness with the prisoners all day, slept in the same quarters, and fearlessly held one-on-one meetings with them.

What! Were they kidding themselves? Did they not fear their safety? What did they expect? That the prisoners would just sit there in silence and listen to the ramblings of the Buddha's teachings? That they would just break down and start sobbing? That the technique would actually spark the transformation of these hardened criminals, showing them an effective way to address their miseries?

Um, actually, that's exactly what happened.

Letters from the Dhamma Brothers by Jenny Philips is not a theoretical abstraction of spiritual teachings, but rather a factual, unembellished account of twenty prisoners--all serving life sentences and many on death row for brutal crimes--who sat a complete ten-day vipassana meditation course in a prison gymnasium-turned-monastery. Special mention is due here to author and psychotherapist Jenny Philips who initiated the vipassana program at Donaldson and worked tirelessly and compassionately to open hearts and minds to the human capacity for hope and change.

I could summarize the deeply stirring experiences of the inmates; however, justice would be better served if readers were given a direct, first-hand narrative from the meditators themselves. Here are five quotes that paint a perfect picture of the "before" and "after" versions of inmates, in their own words, as they expressed themselves in letters they wrote to Jenny and the three vipassana teachers:

  • James George
 "My meditation has become deeper, my understanding more thorough and my acceptance far greater. The balance I have achieved is unbelievable. I am no longer overwhelmed by daily situations. ... On 9/10/02 I was moved from the Drug Dorm to 4-Block, a chaotic hell. On 9/18/02 I was moved from 4-Block back to South Side into H-Dorm. On 9/23/02 I was moved from H-Dorm next door to B-dorm. On 9/26/02 I was moved from B-dorm back to the Drug Dorm. And you want to know what's really funny about all this? I'm not the least bit perturbed about any of this. In fact I find it a great learning experience."

  • Edward Johnson
"Sometimes I look back and imagine how messed up my life once was, compared to the way I live now and smile. I finally have something to smile about. Now don't get me wrong--everything isn't "peaches and cream" here. Like for instance; I got stressed dealing with my past involvement with the "gang" life & still having to explain my disassociation with them. I don't mind explaining though, because whether they like it or dump it, 'I am happy & at peace with me now.'" 
  • Benjamin Oryang
 "I felt as though I'd never really been happy before in my life. But on that day (tenth day of the vipassana course), I was, you know; I actually felt happy. I was there, I was happy, in prison with a life sentence, really I've got a few life sentences, but it's called a life sentence--I don't know what's going to happen with my life or anything, but I was so happy."

  • Willie Carroll
 "Here in prison such a sitting to meditate offers a peace of mind in a really dangerous environment. Now I'm able to sit and seriously seek guidance, a better state of mind before facing people around me, my day goes better. Not that I feel saved or happy--I do feel secure in how I'll react or act today. ... Jenny, being a prisoner ain't easy especially if you've lived here 26 straight years and have experienced a hard-core prisoner life, then strive to change what you've come to enjoy--no matter how wrong ti was. ... Vipassana offered further more great freedom where none was. So now, I'm okay Jenny with who I am--I do not dig where I'm at, but it's okay."

  • Omar Rahman
"Let me tell you Jenny, morning dew in the spring never smelled better. I still get angry, but it doesn't last. I still get offended, but I'm quickly over it. I still experience depressed moments, yet only for moments. I've been blessed with awareness and with skills. Now instead of being caught up I recognize what is arising and I skillfully, or I try to skillfully, allow it to pass away without attaching myself."

Monday, March 12, 2012

Beck Valley Books Reviews "Inner Pilgrimage"

Beck Valley Books of the UK says...

I have often watched documentaries on retreats with the secret yearning of wanting to attend one of these myself one day. They show you the difficulties people have to overcome and the unbelievable transformations of peoples lives that can take place, it is simply amazing.

What you don't actually think about is what it is really like to participate on such a retreat for the whole period, spending every minute there, on the personal journey you have to travel to get to your destination. For anyone thinking of going on a similar retreat this is a great book to read, giving you an insight of what it genuinely feels like to the there, day by day, through the authors writings.

When I first saw this book, for some reason I was immediately pulled towards it and couldn't wait for its arrival. On opening the book two words struck out to me straight away 'inner war'. The description was so clear and so close to home that the book grabbed my attention as soon as it had began.

As well as explaining, in fantastic realistic detail, how living through the whole course felt - through the emotions, the ever so true worries the author felt, the pain and yet the enlightenment she felt, it also explains basic Buddha and meditation methods learnt. These are the parts where you may have to re-read certain pages to fully understand.

For me the main message in the Buddha teaching is that everything in life is impermanent and by not accepting this we create our own problems. "Why agonize over that which is I, me and mine? The body and the mind are mere wavelets of vibration and energy. Egoism is futile because if brings unhappiness, disappointment, frustrations, sorrow, anxieties, and worries. Happiness is to be sought not in the outside world where society judges you, but within the person, where eternal peace, compassion, equanimity, wisdom, joy and moral integrity flourish."

A fascinating read and I have so much respect for the author, traveling through her own journey.

~ Sharon Martin

Thursday, March 8, 2012

13 Reasons Why I Love Being a Woman

It's our day, sisters. Happy International Women's Day!

I thought today might be a good day to start a new series--the "13" series. So, here goes. The top thirteen reasons why I love being a woman are: 

13. I'm hip, smart, suave, curvy, cool, funny, bitchy, and sexy
12. I'm my man's ego
11. I can yell, laugh, and cry in the same breath
10. The world is always curious about me
9. I love my skirts, dresses, and gowns, but I also love "wearing the pants"
8. (Switching gears...) Promoting and encouraging others is my passion
7. Earning my kids' love and trust is easy: I just have to be me! 
6. Patience, positive energy, and resilience oozes out of me like a fountain
5. I might give the appearance of being spicy and firm, but I'm sweet enough to unleash a SORRY
4. Indifference is not my strong suit; listening is.
3. I don't just talk the talk, I walk the walk, I eat the cake, I break the leg, and I also give the stink-eye
2. I believe I can win over anyone with a big, dazzling, pearly-white, flirty feminine smile

AND the number one reason why I love being a woman is 

1. I'm the original multi-tasker: I play daughter, wife, mom, sister, mentor, friend, professional, health n wellness expert, cook, host, instructor, counselor, chauffeur, janitor, driver, planner, decision-maker, housekeeper, caretaker, shopper, singer, writer, and at the end of the day, I still have time left over to play lover!

Thursday, March 1, 2012

The Pre-publishing Checklist

An aspiring author must prepare three things prior to establishing contact with publishers: identify the relevant genre publishers, organize collected data, and craft a solid book proposal.

Identify Relevant Genre Publishers

Identifying publishers for any particular genre is pretty straightforward. For example, a search for books in your genre at an online bookstore such as is an effective use of time as it can help generate a long list of publisher names. Specific subject, topic, and title searches might yield better results. Pacing the aisles that shelve your genre at a physical bookstore and the local library, though laborious, is a time-proven research method. Google is also a great source for information. Querying local and online writers’ groups can have a positive outcome as well.

Organize Data

The next step is to organize the collected information. Being organized is critical to success. It’ll help to stay focused, reducing the chances of error. Information organizing can run the gamut from simple to intricate; simple as in tabulating data into an Excel spreadsheet for tracking purposes, to intricate as in designing a database program to manipulate data (for what purpose I don’t know).

I started an Excel spreadsheet that included the publisher name and website. It later expanded to include the column titles of: sub-genre of publisher, method of submission: electronic or regular mail, motto/mission of publishing house, submission guidelines, time taken to review submissions, date proposal was submitted, any miscellaneous comments, and outcome of submittal.

Sub-genre of Publisher: Knowing the sub-genre helps prioritize the submissions. For example, if my book was about Christianity, I would first seek a Christian press over a general non-fiction/spirituality press.
Method of Submission: The method of submission is a critical element of prioritization. Many publishers now accept submissions by email, although an overwhelming number still operate the old-fashioned way—by snail mail. It’s prudent to schedule all electronic submittals first as it cuts down the cost of printing the proposal/manuscript as well as the time and cost of mailing it.
Motto/Mission: Incorporating the motto/mission of the publisher in the book proposal/cover letter is a creative way to get a publisher’s attention. It allows a writer to customize every query/cover letter to the intended publisher. For example, take Pentagon Press whose motto is: “At Pentagon Press, we are guided by our vision of enlightening the world with knowledge. Therefore, we are striving to create means which can empower people through the intellectual route.” The opening paragraph of my cover letter featured their motto as thus: “Please consider my spiritual memoir, Inner Pilgrimage: Ten Days to a Mindful Me. My book would be an excellent fit for your mission of publishing books that empower people through the intellectual route. Inner Pilgrimage is a comprehensive, moment-by-moment description of a life-transforming vipassana meditation retreat that I attended. A detailed book proposal and sample chapters are attached.”
Submission Guidelines: Every publishing house has its own unique manuscript submission guidelines. Proposals that deviate from the specified guidelines typically end up in the rejection pile. More on this in “Write a Winning Book Proposal-”--a future post.
Time Taken to Review Submissions: The time taken to review submissions indicates how long it typically takes for a publisher to review and provide judgment on a manuscript.
Proposal Submission Date: Recording the date proposal was submitted is useful, to determine the status of a submittal, especially when the “time taken to review submission” has lapsed.
Miscellaneous Comments: Save a column for noting any miscellaneous comments.
Outcome of Submission: The outcome of submittal column listed the many rejections that I received!
Write a Winning Book Proposal

Transforming a book idea into a solid book proposal should involve the elements of originality, creativity, and relevance. As such, it is a vast and complex topic, and will be addressed separately in a future post.