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Inside the May 2014 Shambhala Sun magazine Print

Look inside the May 2014 Shambhala Sun magazine

FEATURING: Judy Lief, Thich Nhat Hanh, Sharon Salzberg, and John Tarrant on The Real Problem with Distraction; George Saunders on kindness; the way of freerunning; plus: Sakyong Mipham on why believing in basic goodness is our hope for the future; Andrea Miller on America’s Next Top Model winner (and Buddhist) Naima Mora; Twin Peak‘s Dale Cooper is recalled as a “dharma friend” as the series returns to the public consciousness; plus book reviews, About a Poem, and more.

Click titles below to read excerpts and select complete articles.

this issue's editorial:

The Practicality of the Profound

Melvin McLeod on distraction, enlightenment, and what Buddhism offers us as we try to cut through to the very root of our suffering.

special feature section: the real problem with distraction

Buddhism’s deeper take on a modern obsession

The Dharma of Distraction

What is it we’re working so hard to distract ourselves from? It’s enlightenment, says Buddhist teacher Judy Lief. She explains why letting go of all our distractions and entertainments is the path to awakening.

The World Catches Us Every Time

It can be hard to tell what’s distraction and what could have real meaning for our life. But either way, says Zen teacher John Tarrant, there’s no going back.

The Doors of Liberation

No self, no form, no goal—the worst possible news from ego’s point of view. Thich Nhat Hanh on the deep truths we’re distracting ourselves from.


The Myth of Multitasking

We have the illusion that multitasking makes us more efficient, but that’s not true. Sharon Salzberg offers tips for getting work done well without getting worked up.

more features

George Saunders on Kindness

The famed writer talks about a little girl named Ellen, a failure of kindness, and a convocation speech that went viral. An interview by the Shambhala Sun’s Melvin McLeod.

Run for Freedom

Freerunning, or parkour, isn’t merely a daredevil’s game. It’s a way of being. Vincent Thibault on how running, jumping, and climbing can beautify our cities—and our lives.With a photo essay by Andy Day.

I Did Not Lose My Mind

It took an illness of the brain to discover her inherent sanity. Meg Hutchinson tells us why her breakdown was actually a breakthrough.

other voices

Who Are We, Really?

Believing in humanity’s basic goodness, says Sakyong Mipham, is our hope for the future.


Going Full Superman

We overlook the Man of Steel’s greatest power, his selflessness. Koun Franz on why he and his son aspire to be superheroes.


Model Buddhist

For Naima Mora, being a model goes beyond striking a pose. As she tells Andrea Miller, it’s about making the world a better place.


It's for You

Sometimes after a phone call, nothing is ever the same. But if you let it, says Douglas Penick, the bad news can come to feel a little like falling in love.

Tree of Wisdom 

Oak and maple, palm and pine—trees are our closest neighbors and most patient teachers. Henry Shukman on the common roots of people and trees.

reviews & more

Into the Light with Dale Cooper

Twin Peaks: The Entire Mystery, Blu-ray set reviewed by Rod Meade Sperry

Books in Brief

This issue, Andrea Miller's roundup features books by Shamar Rinpoche, Ava Chin, Leza Lowitz, and more.


About a Poem

Pat Enkyo O’Hara on an anonymous poem by a Sung Dynasty nun

Shambhala Sun, March 2014, Volume Twenty Two, Number 5.

On the cover: Taken at the Nam June Paik Art Center, Gyeonggi-do, Seoul, South Korea. Photo by Ana Nance/Redux.

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Editorial: The Practicality of the Profound (May 2014) Print

Shambhala Sun | May 2014


The Practicality of the Profound

Like a lot of families, we have a screen problem. Sometimes we’ll all be in the same room on our own screens, separated from each other, from our environment, and ultimately, from ourselves. We share the space, but otherwise we’re in our own worlds.

When people talk about distraction these days, this is usually what they mean. It’s a very real problem, and to help us deal with it, the meditation tradition offers us helpful techniques to create gaps and pauses in which we can unplug and reconnect with ourselves. But as simple and immediately beneficial as that is, it could also be the first step on a path that goes very far—all the way to enlightenment, in fact.

In this issue, we take a deeper look at the problem of distraction. It is not just a modern obsession. According to Buddhism, it is ego’s fundamental defense mechanism. What we are actually distracting ourselves from—what we are protecting ourselves against—is the open space and full intensity of reality.

Enlightenment is both a promise and a threat. Take a look at what are traditionally called the three doors of liberation, which Thich Nhat Hanh teaches us about in this issue. The three doors are no self, no identity, and no goal. Is there worse possible news if we’re holding onto the experience of ourselves as solid, continuous, and fixed? Liberation sounds good, until we realize that what we’re liberating ourselves from is ourselves. From ego’s point of view, enlightenment is the worst possible news.

To shield ourselves, we must always stay occupied with goals, distractions, entertainments, and experiences. In fact, you could argue that our very world is a form of distraction. We need other to confirm self, and so we create an entire universe of perceptions, emotions, and concepts to protect ourselves against the ultimate reality of no self, no identity, and no goal.

Distraction is a form of ignorance, and as Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche pointed out, ignorance is extremely clever. The ways that ego creates constant distractions, entertainments, and occupations are myriad and deceptive. In her insightful teaching in this issue, Judy Lief unpacks the world of distraction layer by layer. She takes us on the journey of working with distraction, a path that starts with taking a few minutes away from our screens to breathe some fresh air, and ends when we’re face-to-face with the complete openness and intense energy of enlightened mind.

This is the union of the practical and the profound, and it is Buddhism’s great genius. If ignorance is the root of our suffering, then the antidote is deep insight into the true nature of mind and reality. So the really practical solutions are found in profound understanding. And profound understanding is found in addressing the human condition. Real practicality is profound; real profundity is practical.

Chögyam Trungpa talked about the spiritual path as a kind of surgery. Cutting through our discursive thoughts—or our screen addiction, for that matter—is like making the first incision. It is only the beginning of the operation. In the end, we must cut through to the very root of our suffering—our distractions, our struggles, our fears, our very experience of self and reality. If we don’t do that, if we stop at the first incision, we will not really be cured. This union of the profound and practical is what Buddhism offers us. 

—Melvin Mcleod, Editor-in-chief

From the May 2014 Shambhala Sun magazine. To see what else is in this issue, click here.

The Dharma of Distraction (May 2014) Print

Shambhala Sun | May 2014


The Dharma of Distraction

It goes a lot deeper than how many times a day you check your phone. According to Buddhist teacher JUDY LIEF, distraction is the very foundation of ego, the way we protect ourselves against both the pain of life and the open space of awakened mind. You could even say that letting go of all distraction is the path to enlightenment.

Distractions are everywhere, all the time. Little screens, middling screens, gigantic screens. Instead of Plato’s cave, we each create our own little cave and live in a world of flickering images devoid of real substance. We literally screen off our actual world, with all its ruggedness and rawness, and fit whatever is happening into a virtual world of sound, pictures, and videos we carry in our pockets.

We are so easily distracted, we complain to ourselves. But what is really behind all this distractedness? It is easy to think the relentless external stimuli are the problem, but what we are surrounded by are just phenomena, nothing more. The objects of our world are just there, innocently, just being what they are. Noises are just noises, sights are just sights, objects are just objects, smartphones are just smartphones, computers are just computers, thoughts are just thoughts.

That is why the Buddhist teachings talk more in terms of wandering mind than distractions. When we think in terms of distractions, we look outward and blame external conditions for our jumpiness. When we think in terms of wandering mind, we look inward for the source of our problem. We take responsibility.

Excerpted from the May 2014 Shambhala Sun magazine. To see what else is in this issue, click here.

Model Buddhist: Q&A with Naima Mora (May 2014) Print

Shambhala Sun | May 2014


Model Buddhist

For NAIMA MORA, being a fashion model goes beyond striking a pose. As she tells Andrea Miller, it’s about doing her part to make the world a better place.

There’s Buddhism with its iconic images of Shakyamuni in simple robes, and then there’s the fashion industry, with its legion of willowy, airbrushed models and its plethora of this season’s stuff. Are these two worlds at odds? Not at all, says Naima Mora, who has modeled for such big-name companies as CoverGirl and Elle magazine.

“Buddhism is about everyday life,” she explains. “The average person here and now—anyone—has the potential to attain enlightenment. I decided that I wanted to be a model. Then I had to decide what to do with that. I could be self-absorbed and not do anything besides book my work and live my own life, but I decided to take my successes and use them as a platform to encourage people. That can be said about any career or path. Whatever path we choose is always an opportunity to reveal our buddhanature.”

Mora got her start in modeling while working at a coffee shop. Some casting scouts came in and asked her if she wanted to audition for America’s Next Top Model. It wasn’t long before she had a place on the internationally syndicated show.

Halfway through filming, Mora and the other aspiring models were on location in Cape Town, South Africa, when they visited Robben Island. To Mora, the rows of cells seemed endless, but finally the group came to the single cramped cell that had held Nelson Mandela for eighteen years. The guide asked who would like to open the door, and everyone fell silent.

Knowing she’d never have this chance again, Mora took the master key to the prison in her hand and felt the cold, iron weight of it. Then, fingers trembling, she turned the key in the lock. The door swung open.

Growing up amid the violence and poverty of Detroit, Mora had struggled to believe that there was hope for a better future. At age fifteen, she was held up at gunpoint for the first time on her way home from school. Some of her closest friends were murdered; others were victims of statutory rape. Yet Mora also had positive role models, and this made all the difference.

Andrea Miller is deputy editor of the Shambhala Sun. Her new anthology is Buddha’s Daughters: Teachings from Women Who Are Shaping Buddhism in the West.

Photo by Nia Mora-Moynihan.

Excerpted from the May 2014 Shambhala Sun magazine. To see what else is in this issue, click here.

It's for You (May 2014) Print

Shambhala Sun | May 2014

It's for You

Sometimes after a phone call, nothing is ever the same. But if you let it, says DOUGLAS PENICK, the bad news can come to feel a little like falling in love.

It begins with a phone call from the doctor, and it is, as I’ve often and unwillingly imagined: “I’ve got bad news.”

There is a silent, airless implosion. I force myself to breathe, pull myself together, and ask whatever I can manage. The call ends and I feel like the world is pulling away, and I am being left behind. I put down the phone and make some notes about the disease, the treatments, the calls I’ll need to make, then I burst into tears.

Outside the window, there’s a bright sunset and dark pine-covered mountains. There’s a cool evening breeze. How to tell my wife, my son, my family, my friends? I imagine how they are leading their lives assuming everything is going on as before. It’s inconceivable that so much love, so much intensity, can just end. But a door has just closed. Everything in the world will vanish, and I will vanish. Though it may not be immediate, it’s now real. An innocuous little bump on my forehead has been diagnosed as nodular melanoma, and mortality is no longer abstract. It’s strange that I feel so well.

There is, suddenly, an almost painful intensity to everything. I think of how Trungpa Rinpoche used the phrase “genuine mind of sadness” to point to an essential part of our lives. Sorrow and the love of being alive are inextricable.

The next days are taken up with trying to understand this form of cancer—its development, treatments, prognosis. My wife, Debbie, and I, always close, grow closer as we face a newly tenuous future. I tell my son and my good friends. Without being overly pessimistic or optimistic, I try to put them at ease. I try to continue with my normal activities, which now seem frail and contrived. More tests are scheduled and visits to surgeons and oncologists set up.

I think back to years ago when an acquaintance, Carlo, was dying of liver cancer. He wanted to go out with some guys, but not ones he’d been so very close to. Three of us went to a restaurant. Pasta with bottarga and all kinds of special dished emerged; wine too. Carlo would suddenly be happy. Then in almost the same moment, he’d be desolate and heartbroken. He’d look away. Although my condition now is nowhere near as grave as his, I realize how extraordinary was Carlo’s willingness not to shrink from the overwhelming waves of love and sorrow.

As the Indian mahasiddha Naropa described it, living in conditioned existence is like “licking the honey on the razor’s edge.” Knowing that we are close to the edge of it all being lost brings to life a sudden intensity of love. Even if my mortality might be imminent, I’m overwhelmed with gratitude for everything that comes my way. Dare I say it, this disease has made me feel more alive.

I write about this to a friend who endured a long siege with lymphoma. He replies, “I certainly hope your ‘mortality’ is not that ‘imminent.’ But as you imply, it could be. To feel that is a great thing. I’ve always, always looked at my cancer as a great gift.”

My sister-in-law enjoyed a long remission after grueling treatments for ovarian cancer. She was, as she acknowledged, utterly grateful for the transformation she experienced. She had no more time for the petty negativities that had previously undermined her. “I’ll never regret it,” she tells me.

Relatives, friends, and acquaintances from all over begin to send me words of encouragement, prayers, and good wishes. Some I barely know: a local music critic, many friends of my wife, members of her mother’s church. The expanse of kindness is overwhelming and humbling. Many have been through a similar experience and almost all at least know someone who has. What is happening to me is in no way unique.

When the test results indicate that my situation is less grave than it might have been, the congratulations from those around me convey a collective relief that I don’t yet feel, though the warmth of everyone’s embrace is palpable.

My surgery has been successful in removing all the melanoma that was detected. My prospects are good. Nonetheless, I’m reluctant to view what I’ve been through as merely a scare or an unpleasant episode. I run into a friend who had a brain tumor. The surgery was risky, and many of the potential outcomes were terrifying. She told me how, now that she’s recovered, people want to say it’s over and behind her. “I can’t tell them,” she admits, “but really, in a way, I don’t even want it to be.”

For me, a door has opened to living with less certainty, greater intensity, and far more gratitude. Fear of the cancer’s return, future treatments, pain, and dying bring an enduring sharpness. Buddhist practice in this context is, as always, simply not getting caught in discursive elaborations.

Thoughts and feelings come and go. We do not choose what we think or feel. Love and friendship, the scent of the summer air, the shadows by the stream are each uniquely valuable. So deeply to be loved. Everything seems new, bright, strangely exhilarating. It is, I feel shy to say, something like falling in love.

From the May 2014 Shambhala Sun magazine. To see what else is in this issue, click here.

Photo by Martin Fritter.

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