Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Childhood Obesity Part Two: Apple Ecstasy and Buddhism

fat bug obesity virus
How do you feel when you look at this picture? Are you angry with the parents? Child Protective Services in Ohio recently removed a youngster from his parents just because he was enormously fat. They said letting a kid get so big was child abuse. Do you agree? Does it make you worry about your kids, or about yourself?

The single most popular post on this blog was one on Childhood Obesity (October 13, 2011).  Other posts, on mindful eating and on the Fifth Precept have had a lot of hits too. It's made me think. 

Parents want everything good for their children and love to see them learn and grow. Few parents really know how to teach their kids to eat with attention and joy, mostly because they don't know how themselves.  

Nurturing and teaching are the key responsibilities of parenting, and they often go together.  Nurturing means providing good healthy food that promotes growth and well-being. It also means avoiding using food as a bribe or love-substitute, or withholding food as a punishment.  Kids in supermarkets whine for candy. Parents say "If you're good, you can have one piece."  Perhaps if they are extremely good, they can have the whole bag.  Goodness in a child's mind means only one thing: complying with the parental will, usually by being quiet and unobtrusive.  If you are "good" you will receive highly concentrated simple and complex sugars and fats, which nature designed to feel good in the mouth.

Later, if we are lonely or bored and want love from outside ourselves, our hearts remember to connect love and comfort with sugars and fats, so we watch reruns with a soda and a bag of chips.

Sadly, we don't really taste the soda or the chips; the comfort they provide is primitive, oral, and can never be fully satisfied.

If only we could learn to savor a single chip. Turn off the TV. Hold the chip, notice its texture. Enjoy its colors and how it is translucent to bright light. Smell it slowly, becoming aware of the complexities there. Snap it in half and listen to the sound. Put the half on your tongue and notice again. But wait, the sensations are likely to shift. Slowly chew and then swallow, mentally following the chip all the way down. Describe the experience to yourself, select words that might communicate the experience to others.

Sound silly?  Maybe, but I remember a monk leading a group of students though an exercise like that as we held and touched and sniffed the big red apples he'd brought us. For nearly an hour. When he finally let us take a bite, it was apple ecstasy for me.  I'll never forget that apple from 40 years ago.

Maybe you've taken wine tasking courses.  They follow most of the steps I suggested for the potato chip, and they have certainly enhanced my appreciation.  Sadly, I often go though the attention exercise only with the first sight and smell and  and sip, then drink the rest of the glass mindlessly.

There are games parents can use to teach kids mindful eating, far better than lectures about "slow down and enjoy your food,"  but the best teaching is through example. 

Dieting is dumb and doesn't work long term. It's about restricting and limiting ourselves temporarily, usually so we can be thinner and more attractive. It makes our favorite foods our enemy. When we've learned that food is a substitute for love, food-as-enemy is a recipe for craziness.  Mindful eating can lead to moderate eating with great pleasure, and we can model it for our kids.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Do Feelings Guide Your Actions: The Practical Buddhist Hopes Not

Four Year Old Boy Beaten to Death on his Birthday

Monday, Nov 28, 2011  |  Updated 6:35 AM CST

Mom, Boyfriend Charged in 4-Year-Old’s Death
Crystal Valdez and Cesar Ruiz were both charged in the death of 4-year-old Christopher Valdez.The mother and boyfriend of a 4-year-old boy who died Friday were charged Sunday afternoon in the boy’s death.

Police said the boy was dead when they arrived at the home about 2:10 p.m. Friday. He appeared to have died from “multiple blunt force trauma,” police said.
Christopher Valdez was pronounced dead at 3:10 p.m. at Holy Cross Hospital, according to the Cook County Medical Examiner’s office. A Saturday autopsy determined he died from multiple blunt force injuries and child abuse, and the death was ruled a homicide.

Source: http://www.nbcchicago.com/news/local/Mother-Boyfriend-Charged-in-4-Year-Olds-Death-134562028.html#ixzz1f0pG25fM

The Practical Buddhist Responds

The Dharma teaches compassion for all, including a killer who beat his girlfriend's son to death on his fourth birthday. Compassion? Impossible, right?  Just look at the photo of Cesar Ruiz, the murderer of little Christopher.  Do you feel like turning away, or perhaps imagine beating him the way he beat the child? What could compassion for him look like?

Relax. Compassion isn't a feeling.  We don't control our feelings. They are like the weather. Some days it's lovely and bright and warm. Other days are full of rain and ice and long shadows.  No matter, we keep our promises whatever the weather: we go to work, we care for the children, we take out the garbage. Rain or shine.

We don't control our feelings, and they certainly don't need to control us. They are background music, sometimes soft and distant and other times loud and intrusive, but they never define us. Our actions define us. Our choices and kept promises show who we are.

Feelings provide information and deserve some attention. They offer a little data to help us make decisions, but they should never be decisive about anything important.  Big decisions must be based on conviction, commitment, and principle, never emotion alone. 

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Black Friday Violence and Buddhism

Friday after Thanksgiving is rarely a big news day, so shopper violence got big headlines. In Arizona a grandfather was bloodied and knocked unconscious by police when he tried to rescue his grandson from being trampled; they thought grandpa might be stealing an X-Box game. Elsewhere, a woman used pepper spray on a dozen other shoppers so she could get first dibs on some sale items. One  confrontation with a family of bargain hunters led to a shooting. I understand about pitching tents in front of K-Mart to get in first. It's fun and it's free and it's harmless

What I don't get is the rage and sense of entitlement that leads shoppers to want to hurt each other so they can get more stuff.  All branches of Buddhism teach some form of detachment. They say suffering results from craving and desire. Letting go of things, or better yet, of wanting things, can bring peace. Getting more and more stuff will lead only to a lack of storage space and ultimately to boredom.

Black Friday originally referred to a market crash in 1864 when greed led to great suffering for investors in gold.  Now it designates a day of institutionalized greed: retailers hoping to get our money and shopper who long for more stuff.

Black indeed.


Friday, November 25, 2011

When I am Old I Shall Wear Purple (and Learn to Spit)

This post appears tomorrow on my other blog. www.living-small.net. I couldn't resist putting it up here too.

Jenny Joseph wrote this famous poem in the 1960's. The second line inspired the Red Hat Club. She's probably not a Buddhist officially, but she understands compassion, and paying attention.

When I am an old woman I shall wear purple
With a red hat which doesn't go, and doesn't suit me.

And I shall spend my pension on brandy and summer gloves

And satin sandals, and say we've no money for butter.

I shall sit down on the pavement when I'm tired
And gobble up samples in shops and press alarm bells

And run my stick along the public railings

And make up for the sobriety of my youth.

I shall go out in my slippers in the rain
And pick the flowers in other peoples' gardens

And learn to spit.

You can wear terrible shirts and grow more fat
And eat three pounds of sausages at a go

Or only bread and pickles for a week

And hoard pens and pencils and beermats and things in boxes.

But now we must have clothes that keep us dry
And pay our rent and not swear in the street

And set a good example for the children.

We must have friends to dinner and read the papers.

But maybe I ought to practice a little now?

So people who know me are not too shocked and surprised

When suddenly I am old, and start to wear purple.

The old lady in the photo is not Jenny Joseph, whom I've never seen.  She is just somebody sitting canal-side enjoying a smoke on the island Burano near Venice, where all the houses are painted in bright primary colors.  When I saw her, though, I imagined she must have read Jenny's wonderful poem, so we exchanged smiles and a nod and she let me make this snapshot.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Thanksgiving Day: A Buddhist Prayer from Thich Nhat Hanh

A Buddhist Grace for Thanksgiving

A Timeless Thanksgiving Message from Thich Nhat Hanh

“We like the idea of being thankful to the cosmos, to everything that offers itself to us as food. That is why in Plum Village we organize a Thanksgiving Day, and we address our thanks to four objects: first of all to our father and our mother, who gave us life; to our teacher who gave us spiritual life and helped us know how to live in the here and now; we thank our friends who support us, especially in difficult moments, and we thank every being in the animal, vegetable and mineral world for our support and maintenance.
So the Buddhists also celebrate Thanksgiving, with that kind of insight. And while we celebrate Thanksgiving, we relate to everyone who is there, and this is a very good practice so that we don’t cut ourselves off from reality. The feeling of gratitude can help us to remember and to cultivate the element of compassion and loving kindness in us.”
How Buddhists Give Thanks at Meals
Every day Buddhists all over the world recite “The Five Contemplations” at mealtime. These five simple sentences have endured for over twenty-five centuries because of the depth of compassion and wisdom inherent in them.
These verses gently remind us to be fully present in the moment. They remind us to walk lightly on this earth and to consider our purpose for being here. They remind us to be virtuous in body, speech and mind. They remind us to be mindful of unwholesome acts, such as greed, anger, and delusion, and to transform them with insight, wisdom, and loving-kindness.
In a way, you could say that “The Five Contemplations” convey the very heart of the Buddha’s teaching.
Here is the version that many students of Thich Nhat Hanh use.  I first learned of it on my first retreat with Thich Nhat Hanh, where each table at our dining place had these words on a card for us to ponder.  As I did last year, I offer these contemplations as a Thanksgiving “grace” for this holiday season:
This food is the gift of the whole universe—the earth, the sky, and much hard work.

May we live in a way that makes us worthy to receive it.

May we transform our unskillful states of mind, especially our greed.

May we take only foods that nourish us and prevent illness.

We accept this food so that we may realize the path of practice.

May you, your family, your friends, your neighbors and my neighbors, our country, all the nations of the world, all the creatures and plants of this beautiful world—may all beings everywhere—be happy, satisfied, and safe!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Media Unfair to Fox News: Buddhism and Moderator Variables

Fox News viewers less informed about current events than those who don’t watch news at all, study finds 

Viewers less likely to know Egypt overthrew government: survey

If  Fox News viewers want to be informed about current events, they might as well turn off the TV.

A poll released by Fairleigh Dickinson University on Monday found that people who get their news from Fox News know significantly less about news both in the U.S. and the world than people who watch no news at all.

In a survey of 612 New Jersey natives, Fox News fans flunked questions about Egypt and Syria when compared with people who don't watch the news. Fox viewers were 18-points less likely to know that Egyptians toppled their government and 6 points less likely to be aware that Syrians have not yet overthrown theirs.

"Because of the controls for partisanship, we know these results are not just driven by Republicans or other groups being more likely to watch Fox News," Dan Cassino, a Fairleigh Dickinson professor who served as an analyst for the poll, said in the report. "Rather, the results show us that there is something about watching Fox News that leads people to do worse on these questions that those who don't watch any news at all."

The Practical Buddhist Responds

I'm no friend of Fox News. They probably pander more than most to the lowest common denominator--- folks who want "news" that entertains, titillates, and makes them feel good by reinforcing their prejudices. Fox News is a short step up from right-wing hate radio.  But I don't much like the rest of network news either.  They're only a short step up from Fox. PBS news is pretty good, but it's work to watch it. MSNBC can be fun, but Rachel and her cronies are just tarted up, smarter opposites of the anger mongers on the right.

So why care about moderator variables?  Because if you understand them, it will be much harder to lie to you with statistics.

Start here.  Did you know that in grade school taller students are better readers than shorter students, by big margins?  Did you know that this has been true in every single study without exception, no matter what teaching method is used?  How can this be so?

It's so because of moderator variables. A moderator variable can explain why A (reading level) and C (height) are related in every grade school.  To oversimplify a bit, the moderator variable is age.  Older students are in higher grades.  If you're 11 you probably read better than a six-year-old.  You're also taller than a first grader. Now you see why the taller students in grade school do better at reading.

It's so easy to deceive with statistics.

What are the moderator variables that make Fox viewers so ignorant about current events?  I don't know, but it's not because Fox has been saying that the Egyptians didn't overthrow Mubarek or that the Syrian uprising has been a great success.  Like CNN and MSNBC, they tend to get the basic headlines right. Clearly it's something else about Fox viewers, probably some factor or factors they have in common that drew them to Fox in the first place.  What's your best guess?

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Animal Cruelty and Buddhism: Eggs are Personal


McDonald's, Target Dropped Sparboe Farms As Egg Supplier After Animal Rights Group Released Video

POSTED: 12:28 pm MST November 21, 2011
UPDATED: 7:42 am MST November 22, 2011

An egg supplier has backed away from a spokesman's claim that an animal cruelty video was "staged" by an animal rights group.McDonald's and Target dropped Sparboe Farms as an egg supplier this week after the activist group Mercy For Animals released the disturbing video showing what it says is animal cruelty at the company's farms in Hudson, Iowa and Minnesota. 

The Practical Buddhist Responds

Sparboe Farms is the fifth-biggest egg producer in the USA.  The secret video showed filthy conditions  and chickens being tortured. Its release followed on the heels of government sanctions against Sparboe for substandard sanitation and other violations.  Target, McDonald's, and a long list of other retailers have cancelled their orders with Sparboe, resulting in shortages in their stores. 

Predictabily, Sparboe has been claiming that it’s all lies. Until recently they claimed the video was fake.

Would you be willing to do without eggs for a while if it resulted in somewhat better lives for chickens? The First Precept invites us to revere life in all its forms, and to avoid killing creatures that breathe and can feel pain. It implies that we should  all animals with compassion. Whatever  the marketing motives of the big stores, this egg shortage is a good thing. It reminds us to respect life in all its forms.

And yet. . .Why were people so horrified about living baby chicks being tossed into the garbage? They didn't seem so bothered by slaughter of humans in North Africa or babies dead from starvation due to greed.  Maybe it's because we can distance ourselves from people who look and sound so different from ourselves. 

Eggs, on the other hand, are personal. We shop in Target. We eat Egg McMuffins. Baby chicks are fluffy and cute, not wasted and fly-covered like starving kids.  

Compassion starts with paying attention. 

Monday, November 21, 2011

A Different Take on Kim Kardashian

Kimberly Noel "Kim" Kardashian[1] (born October 21, 1980[2]) is an American socialite, television personality, model, actress and businesswoman. She is known for the E! reality series that she shares with her family—Keeping Up with the Kardashians, and its spin-offs including Kourtney and Kim Take New York. Kardashian has launched multiple fragrances, guest starred on numerous shows, competed on ABC's Dancing with the Stars, and has had roles in movies such as Disaster Movie and Deep in the Valley. Kardashian, along with her sisters Kourtney and Khloé, released an autobiography, Kardashian Konfidential.[3]

The Practical Buddhist Confesses

I had no idea who Ms. Kardashian was, though I noticed her on magazine covers at grocery check-out lanes. 

She’s on Wikipedia.  It turns out she was best friends with Paris Hilton (another young lady about whom my ignorance is deep), appeared in a porno of some kind, then was selected to be star in a reality-TV show about her life. Something like that. 

I also found out she is a great conversation-starter. People quickly polarize into two groups:  those who think she is so cool and amazing and who know every detail of her publicized life and her wardrobe, and those who dismiss her out of hand as the current symbol of silly superficiality, reminding us of everything wrong in our narcissistic and ignorant culture.

I propose a third category: Those who respect and admire Kim, but briefly.  We don't really know anything important about this woman or what is in her heart. Kim is a human being and therefore deserves respect.  She also has great talent for building influence and wealth, and while there is little evidence she has used it to do good, there is even less she has used it to do harm. People of great skill earn admiration.  If and when Kim uses her enormous influence in ways that reduce human suffering she will win not only admiration, but be an example and leader. Meantime, it's probably best to give respect and admiration, but briefly.