Inside the May 2014 Shambhala Sun magazine
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:
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
It took an illness of the brain to discover her inherent
sanity. Meg Hutchinson tells us why her breakdown was actually a
Believing in humanity’s basic goodness, says Sakyong
Mipham, is our hope for the future.
We overlook the Man of Steel’s greatest power, his selflessness. Koun Franz on why he and his son aspire to be superheroes.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
Editorial: The Practicality of the Profound (May 2014)
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
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
The Dharma of Distraction (May 2014)
Shambhala Sun | May 2014
EXCERPT / ON THE COVER
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.
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
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
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.
Model Buddhist: Q&A with Naima Mora (May 2014)
Shambhala Sun | May 2014
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.
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
“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.
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.
It's for You (May 2014)
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
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.
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
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
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.
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
Photo by Martin Fritter.
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