Tag Archives: meditation

Meditation, attitude help man readapt to society after 44 year prison term

This is an Al-Jezeera video of Otis Johnson, a man who spent 44 years in prison. His crime was assaulting a police officer. At this time when there is much rancor in this country about injustice that authority has had on people of color, Mr. Johnson has a different perspective on the matter. He is not angry about his disproportionately long sentence. “Holding on to anger will only stagnate your growth and development,” he says.

For those who are deep into their yoga practice, it is easy to spot that this man is indeed a master. Despite all of his hardship, he is able to see society with fresh eyes and an open heart. He takes great pleasure in the mundane. And he notices how people are now fused together with their electronic devices, but somehow are more “disconnected” than ever.

He enjoys riding on the bus and observing people. Not with any kind of bad intent, but genuine curiosity of what has happened to the world in just about half a century. He wonders how people can walk and talk on the phone without looking where they are going. That is something I wonder about often too especially with the advent of Pokemon Go!

The touching thing to me about this video that is not mentioned is that someone at some point in time taught this man his spiritual practice in prison. It is not clear if he is has a Buddhist, Hindu, Islamic, or other faith. It doesn’t matter. Someone taught him a way to peace, he followed that path, and now he bearing the fruit of it in a scary modern world that he was thrust back into.

One of the blogs I follow is Oneika’s Yoga Life. Oneika Mays teaches yoga to women at Rikers Island Correctional Facility in New York. Her blog details the lives she touches in her practice, and outlines the challenges many of these women face. It is because of people like Oneika that those who are incarcerated get exposed to practices that can liberate them no matter where they are.

This video brings a sense of sadness and injustice at first. But to see Mr. Johnson interact with what our world has become, somehow you think that he may be one of the few sane people left on the planet.



Ode to my old meditation teacher

From 2000 to 2003, I sat weekly at a meditation group hosted by Tom Davidson-Marx pictured to the left above. Tom’s approach was eclectic, focused around Vipassana, Theravada, and Tibetan Buddhism. Tom’s teachings, rife with humor, bore many seeds in me which I feel are just starting to bear fruit. He has a very practical approach to meditation, and taught that you don’t have to go off to a cave, but can use daily life as a spiritual practice. He walks the talk as he is a dedicated family man who raised two wonderful children. His wife Katina also did tremendous work in preparing a comfortable mediation area complete with refreshments. Tom works as a nurse at the State Hospital helping severely mentally ill people.

Tom actually went the route of becoming an actual ordained Buddhist monk in Burma and Sri Lanka. Here is a link to his bio. He would often tell stories of his ordeals during our weekly sits. It did not sound like an easy time for him, as among other things he had to battle an intestinal fluke while doing is practice in Southeast Asia. When I reflect on my blog, I realize that his weekly talks were a huge influence in how I write and view my spiritual path.


At 30, Tom was a Buddhist monk in Burma


I still get his weekly emails and last night he was hosting a Buddhist Nun, Karma Lekshe Tsomo, whom he had hosted many years ago when I sat with the group regularly. As fate would have it, I was nearby after taking my father-in-law to the ER. He was admitted for a procedure on his esophagus and taken away into the bowels of the hospital. I decided to go to the meditation to clear my head and get a sense of my old community.

It was a real treat to sit in the group again. Tom immediately recognized me and gave me a big hug and noticed my bald head. I used to have long hair when I sat in his group. There were only a few of the old students who I recognized, and a whole crop of new ones.

Lekshe gave a nice meditation and discussion on loving kindness and said it is easy to give loving kindness to those who are dear to you, but the more evolved practice is to be giving loving kindness to those who cause you discomfort and torment. I reflected on how this philosophy was taught heavily by Tom during my formative years and how that has shaped my own work in the mental health field and has allowed me to work with extremely difficult people without getting fatigued or burnt out.

And now with my ailing father-in-law, and my mother-in-law who has special needs, I see how Tom’s teachings of using the hardships of daily life as spiritual practice is very powerful indeed. Thank you Tom for all you have given me and your community!

Study: Many would rather shock themselves than to sit in silence

sittting in pain

Here is some disturbing news from the Western front: many people can barely tolerate to be alone with themselves. At least those were the findings in a series of research studies done by Harvard and the University of Virginia. In one case, subjects had preferred to give themselves an electric shock break to tolerate the silence of having to sit for 15 minutes without any form of stimulation.

Should this be alarming? Some may argue that this is the consequence of the electronic age. Even I have a hard time not checking my WordPress stats a few free moments in the day. But on a deeper level, this means that many people are going the exact opposite direction to knowing their true selves, which is the lofty aspiration set out in the Patanjali Yoga Sutras.

First we must ask what the value is in sitting alone without interruption. Most of my regular readers would gasp at that question, but for the lay person in the Western world, this is a perplexing question. As a yoga teacher, I have to “sell” the idea that sitting for prolonged periods is the only way one can get to “know” themselves truly.

Yoga practice cultivates not only the ability to be alone with yourself for prolonged periods, it makes it so you have a hard time tolerating that which keeps you away from that silence, then transcends that “intolerance” into being peaceful and silent inside no matter what the world throws at you.

My mentoring teacher took this picture during her last trip to India. She said this man sits here daily for hours on end and “disappears” into the bench. This man has not only embraced his silence, he may have even attained the Siddhi of turning himself invisible!

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