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What Happens When Religion Goes Wrong?

In its most extreme forms, we see the results worldwide every day – radical evangelicals preaching violence against gays, a papacy in deep denial over the scale of sexual abuse in its midst, mass rioting and random killings throughout the Muslim world at the mere rumor of an anti-Islamic publication in the West, and the list goes on and on.

Those extreme forms are just symptoms, though.  They’re symptoms whose causes remain largely hidden from us as a civilization because we no longer understand a fundamental truth – not everything that passes itself off as “spiritual” is good, healthy and beneficial.  Far from it…

In fact, as a civilization we’ve become so divorced from real spiritual life that our ability to sort out false spiritual paths from healthy ones is marginal at best.  We no longer know the distinguishing criteria of each, the questions to ask or the tell-tale signs of each.  


In reality, asking most people today to distinguish real spiritual paths from false ones is about as useful as asking a Kalahari bushman for advice on your next family car.  



The Vital Importance of Spiritual Resilience



To get anywhere close to figuring out what spiritual resilience means, we first have to define the word “spiritual”, which is no simple task.  


So let’s put it this way: just as resilience itself is a path toward maximizing your potential on all levels (physical, mental, emotional and spiritual), spiritual resilience is the act of opening yourself to the deepest truths of your existence in this universe so that you can become everything you’re meant to be. 

Not surprisingly, you can never become truly resilient and fulfilled as a human person if you ignore your own spiritual dimension, since that is, in reality, the deepest layer of your own being.


What I’ve called “authentic ancient traditions” in my bestseller, The 5 Pillars of Life*, are ancient, tried and proven approaches for doing exactly this.  And, contrary to what we assume, they have a boatload of evidence to back up the authenticity of their discoveries.  



Religion vs. Authentic Ancient Traditions



Here’s a short excerpt from The 5 Pillars of Life* to help you wrap your head around the differences between what we usually call “religions” and something much deeper:


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All fantasies, especially that of religion, are caused by a short-circuit at the centre of the human personality.  This short-circuit, which exists between the heart which pumps blood (the circulatory system) and the spinal cord which circulates spinal fluid (the nervous system) is only repaired by ceaseless prayer in the heart.  It is only when the short-circuit is repaired that you begin to be liberated from the realm of fantasy.

– Rev. Dr. John Romanides in “Religion as a Neurobiological Illness”[i]

 

Startling, isn’t it?  – A world-renowned Orthodox priest and theologian calling religion a “neurobiological illness”!  But he’s right – Orthodox Christianity is not a religion in the conventional Western sense of that word.  And for that matter, neither are other authentic ancient traditions.  What Westerners conventionally call “religion” is a term that applies almost exclusively to their own approach to life as it has developed historically over the last thousand years or so.

“Religion” in the Western sense the word has a number of particular traits.  And generally speaking these traits apply to the vast majority of Western people who “practice their religion”:

– Religious teachings are ideological statements divorced from real life and which people subscribe to based on emotional considerations.  Teachings of authentic traditions are based on an experience of true life, and practitioners adhere to them based on observable verification

Religion provides psychological comfort and self justification in the face of its failure to cure psycho-spiritual (noetic) illness.  Authentic traditions take you from sickness to health; religions tell you your sickness is health.

-Religion shifts the blame for good and evil, and for the final outcome of life, onto a deity or process (saying, for example, that illness is a punishment from God or that God decides whether to forgive you and send you to heaven or to damn you to hell).  Authentic traditions know that the Absolute Reality never does harm and that the only real danger to us in this world or hereafter comes from ourselves.

-Religions and authentic traditions both have a ceremonial aspect or some collective manifestation, but the religious version exists to provide psychological comfort or aesthetic pleasure, whereas the authentic version is there to lead you to self-transformation.

-Religion is always reduced to a compartment of life, whereas training in any authentic tradition involves every moment of life.

-Religion’s “transformation” of human life is limited to the superficial aspects of the personality, is often based on a tedious list of prohibitions and is geared toward social acceptability.  Religion produces nice people; authentic traditions produce extraordinary ones.

-Real self-transformation is not a goal of religion; the knowledge and methods required for self-transformation are absent and there is no access to a lineage of transformed people.  Life degenerates into “salvation by association” (I’m saved because I’m part of the group) and “salvation by conviction” (I’m saved because I hold a particular opinion).

 –Religion is ignorant of the technical terminology of self-transformation and interprets it in a general and nebulous way.  The religious version of a tradition will seldom have any real idea what the authentic version is talking about, even if they use the same language. 

Religion is comfort-loving and presents no real challenge to its adherents, whereas authentic traditions take you beyond your comfort zone and into realms that religion knows nothing of. 

-Religion abhors mystery and tries to explain everything with concepts.  These concepts can be controlled and manipulated by a cadre of “experts” for the good of the institution, whereas transformed people – saints, immortals or bodhisattvas – are notoriously hard to control.

 

Given these traits of religion, it is not too surprising that Father Romanides classifies religion as a “neurobiological illness”.  What this means is that religion has its origin in the fallen state – where the neurobiological malfunction characteristic of life in the fallen world has not been healed – and that it perpetuates this unhealed state as if it were normal.  So it is not surprising that religion prevents countless millions of people from finding true fulfillment and happiness.  And like all illness, it leads to untold suffering and misery.

[i] Pages 1-3.  The order of the elements in this quotation has been slightly rearranged for the sake of clarity.  Several Orthodox writers of the twentieth century noted that the word “religion” as commonly used among peoples of  European ethnic origin does not correspond to Orthodox Christianity.

*The 5 Pillars of Life is available on the Amazon.ca website or through http://www.the5pillarsoflife.com.

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Next time, we’ll talk about some of the real “dark side” of the religion and spirituality that’s out there now – how to identify it and avoid it.

 

~ Dr. Symeon Rodger 


Low-Grade Digestive Disorders- The Hidden Obstacle to Healthy Diet

How many of us have tried to adjust our diet and run up against unexpected resistance from our bodies, more than usual homeostatic resistance to change? How many of us have tried to go vegetarian, or follow a high-protein diet, or just eat more vegetables, and had our bodies rebel?

Many people have tried a certain diet which they were assured was completely healthy only to find that it made them miserable. Whether it was a vegetarian diet or Atkins or Paleo, the common problem is that most popular diets simply don’t account for a person’s specific nutritional type.

It’s important to recognise that we all have different nutritional types. Some part of that is related to things like body type, activity level and the diet our ancestors historically ate, and the rest is simple predisposition toward some foods and resistance toward others. Some people, for example, do well with legumes (beans and peas) while others get severe gas. The same goes for cruciferous vegetables like broccoli and cabbage. Some people do well with red meat, others don’t.

But beyond the normal range of nutritional types, there is a range of broader digestive disorders. We tend to think of the really painful and unpleasant digestive disorders that commonly get diagnosed, such as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), Irritable Bowel Syndrome and so on, but many people are encountering lower-grade disorders that they suffer with for years, and may precede more serious problems.

Gluten sensitivities are an increasingly-recognised subset of digestive problems, but not all problems have to do with gluten. Dairy sensitivity is on the rise, given the poor nutritional quality of pasteurised dairy, but other people do well with dairy. Inability to digest raw vegetables and woody fruits is a very common complaint, but again there is no set pattern to it. Some people who get digestive pain from eating raw vegetables are also sensitive to nuts, for example, and others are not. Some people have severe difficulty digesting any sort of fibre, others are sensitive to fibre from particular sources.

It is interesting to note that Chinese Medicine, which has long recognised the problem of gluten, also advises against large quantities of uncooked vegetables as being difficult to digest.

There are many approaches to dealing with these disorders, some more convincing than others. For problems centered in the intestines, the response that seems to work most of the time is a cleanse of some variety, and we have recommended bowel cleanses before. For problems that begin in the stomach or esophagus, there is a great deal of contradictory information out there. Neither the medical establishment nor the alternative health community seems to have a reliable approach to the great variety of problems that we see.

The best advice is to go through the process of eliminating different things from your diet: processed foods, gluten, dairy, meat etc. Reducing processed foods and gluten is generally a good idea, but people have done this and still not solved the problem. Here are a few other things to consider:

-Stress has been shown to be a major factor in digestive disorders. If you can reduce the amount of stress in your life, your digestion may improve. In some cases, the digestive distress may be linked to a specific situation in your life, rather than to all your stressors in general.

-Give your body micronutrients and fibre consistently in whatever form it can absorb, whether that means leafy greens in a blender or finding alternative nutrient sources. Remember, most vitamins and minerals, not to mention protein and carbohydrates, can be found in more than one food group.

-Try adding more fermented foods to your diet to replenish your gut flora. If you have trouble with raw vegetables, the fermented versions may be easier to digest.

-Eliminate substitute foods with proven negative effects, such as soy and artificial sweeteners.

-Try using classical digestive herbs to support your digestive system. Ginger root is the most universal remedy for digestive complaints, but traditional medicine has lots more to offer.

See the video below for a few Ayurvedic tips on digestion:

~ Dr. Symeon Rodger


Four Things You Don’t Know About Sleep- And why we need it

A good night’s sleep is the cornerstone of long-term health, performance and resilience in many ways. The lack of it not only makes you less effective, but can quite literally be deadly. For all that, we live in a culture that practically glorifies sleeplessness, from corporate boardrooms to nightclubs. In many corporate cultures, sleep is seen as a weakness, a luxury of people who don’t have enough to do. What we don’t realise is that this is not only counterproductive to the organisation’s interests, but physically dangerous. And we certainly don’t pay attention to sleep as a phenomenon or try to optimise it the way we do with other aspects of our health.

1. Long hours by the numbers

Transport Canada estimates that 20% of fatal collisions are caused by driver fatigue, and more than 15% of drivers have at some point fallen asleep behind the wheel. The US statistics are similar, with a fifth of all accidents attributed to drowsiness, leading to around 8,000 deaths per year. New Jersey has a vehicular homicide law that includes driving after 24 hours awake in its definition of recklessness.

But it’s not just driving that suffers- it’s any activity requiring concentration, motor skills and judgment. A study by the Harvard Business Review found that hospital interns who had been on shift for 24 hours were 61% more likely to accidentally stab themselves with a needle or scalpel.

According to research by Dr. Charles A. Czeisler, Professor of Sleep Medicine at Harvard Medical School, after four or five days on four hours’ sleep per night, you build up the same cognitive impairment as if you had been awake for 24 hours straight, which is equivalent to legal definitions of drunkenness. Within ten days, the level of impairment reaches the equivalent of 48 hours awake.

With less than 6-8 hours of sleep per day, judgment, motor skills, emotional control, memory, focus and problem-solving ability are sharply diminished, leading to accidents, rash decisions, poor leadership and degrading quality of work.

 

2. Why our civilisation sleeps less than it used to

Historians like Roger Ekirch and Craig Koslofsky have investigated sleep in historical context, and discovered that our ancestors had a rather different relationship to sleep. Without electric light and given the poor light quality and relative expense of candles, very few people tried to extend their working or active hours through artificial light. Night was the universal time of rest.

It was only in the seventeenth century that street lighting began to appear in major cities, making it fashionable for the upper classes to be out and about at night and beginning the culture of modern night-life.

3. Two sleeps

But the biggest change was the pattern of sleep. Up until the 17th Century, it was considered quite normal for everyone to sleep for a few hours, then wake up for a few hours, and then go back to sleep. There are many references in period sources to “first sleep” and “second sleep.” Specific activities were even set aside for that waking period. People might stay in bed, read, write, have sex, say special prayers set aside for this period or even go and visit neighbours. Rather than using candles to extend the daylight, they used them for a brief period in the middle of the night.

This began to change among the upper classes with the introduction of street lighting, as later evenings became the custom and people started trying to eliminate that intermediate waking period in compensation.

The real blow to a good night’s sleep came during the Industrial Revolution, with its unnaturally long hours and hideous work ethic. Productivity became the ultimate virtue which the upper and middle classes expected of the working class, and so sleep was reduced to the minimum possible. Parents were even advised to punish their children for taking a “second sleep” after they woke up the first time.

Into this atmosphere eventually came electric lighting, and that was the end of anyone talking or thinking about two sleeps. Of course, it’s still our natural pattern, no matter how we try to deny it, and so most of us still wake during the night if we aren’t overtired to begin with. By trying to do away with it, we are eliminating our body’s natural period of relaxed consciousness, which was very important for dealing with stress, and inviting chronic insomnia.

4. Competing Drives

There are different drives to sleep and wakefulness in the body that we need to be conscious of to deal with effectively. The homeostatic drive to sleep is one of them. This drive builds up as long as we’re awake, and can suddenly plunge us into sleep. There is literally a sleep switch in the brain, several thousand neurons that can all light up to send us into the land of nod- if we’re tired enough, quite involuntarily.

There is another neural mechanism working against the homeostatic drive for sleep. This circadian pacemaker sends us its strongest sleep impulse just before we habitually wake up, and its strongest drive for waking just before we usually go to bed. Why we’re set up this way is anyone’s guess, but it may have been an early mechanism to help us maximise our sleep at night and our activity during the day- long before we had jobs to go to or even cows to milk.

During the day, the homeostatic drive builds up constantly. We usually start feeling it right after noon, and between that and blood sugar drop after lunchtime carbs, this is where caffeine, which blocks those neurotransmitters, comes in handy. In warm climates, it was often customary to take advantage of this midday drowsiness to catch a siesta, skipping the hottest part of the day. It’s only toward evening that the circadian system begins to help us stay awake. Eventually, the homeostatic drive is supposed to overwhelm the circadian impulse, and we fall asleep. The homeostatic drive is soon exhausted, however, and this is probably where we naturally end our first sleep while we wait for the circadian system to send out another sleep impulse.

Optimising Personal Effectiveness with Sleep

There is simply no doubt about it- you cannot be effective in any area of your life without adequate sleep. The last few centuries have seen us adopt unnatural sleep patterns, and with the introduction of energy drinks, there are ever more ways for us to screw up the mechanisms that regulate it. It’s easy to rationalise long hours- the project/presentation/exam/business trip comes first. We thereby equate sleeplessness with productivity. But if we keep doing that, if as leaders we allow our subordinates to keep doing that, there is no doubt that the quality and quantity of that production will decline sharply. They will make poor choices, make their peers miserable, and perhaps put others in danger.

To break this vicious cycle of the civilisation that forgot to sleep, we need not only better corporate policies, but an understanding of the way our bodies are set up. We can only cheat our biology for so long before it comes back to bite us.


A Leadership Model for the Modern World… that managers fear

Ever wondered why your boss seems to be the main obstacle to the success of his team? There’s a reason why so often in public service, corporations, even small businesses and charities, management seems hopelessly inadequate to the tasks before it. This is such a phenomenon in our society that a whole subculture of humour about bad management had to be created just to cope with the daily incompetence of people in positions of authority.

This is not a random phenomenon, nor is it merely something to be expected as part of life in a big organisation. It has a definite cause (other than individual incompetence, which admittedly factors in).

Most companies, charities and governments are in fact using an obsolete model of leadership. This model probably originated in the training of conscript armies- the largest organisations of the ancient world- and was adopted by businesses during the industrial revolution. In this system, only the people at the top make the real decisions. Under them are managers who supervise employees in carrying out their masters’ will. The employees are trained to perform specific tasks in a specific way. At each level, a system of rewards and punishments is imposed to enforce the agenda of the people at the top.

As in conscript armies, the personalities, talents and ambitions of the employees matter inherently little. The system is designed to absorb someone who meets the job requirements and can therefore execute the tasks of his position. That’s all that the system really wants him to do. This is called transactional leadership- you do x to get y, and if not, you’re punished with z.

Special Forces

In most parts of modern militaries, this model continues in use. But with the advent of Special Operations Forces in World War II, a new leadership model was created. One of the first special forces, the Long-Range Desert Group in North Africa, relied heavily on the experience and talents of its people. Not their military talents necessarily- many of the officers were academics, adventurers, and people who in civilian life had traveled through desert terrain. The founder was an Art History major and aspiring mountain climber. But what brought them all together was their drive, expertise and intellectual independence. The culture they created, which would be perpetuated in Special Forces circles, was one in which every member of the group was included in decisions according to their expertise and the leader provides an inspirational example to motivate his soldiers to achieve great things.

This is transformational leadership, which provides the follower with inspiration and incentive to contribute to the best of his talents and creative powers. This is the only kind of leadership that can truly keep up in the modern world.

Transformational Leadership

A transformational leader expects to establish authority through expertise, skill, results and principle, thus becoming worthy of being followed. A manager expects his authority to stem from the organisation that put him there, and the rules, regulations, contracts etc. that are designed to reinforce his authority.

A leader will be followed with or without such a structure, so long as his behaviour and endeavours inspire others. A manager must constantly struggle to defend the fourth wall of the farce in which his subordinates must act for their daily bread. While the leader makes serving the people around him the priority, the manager serves himself and the organisation. In the military, this distinction is often difficult for officers transitioning from the regular “green” army into the “black” special forces. In the green army, an officer is obeyed for his rank. In the black army, a leader is accepted or rejected based on the skills and leadership qualities he demonstrates. Officers entering special forces as part of their training are often ruthlessly mocked by the organisation’s much more experienced NCOs, to drive home the fact that they will have to earn the respect of their subordinates and be prepared to take criticism from them.

The demands on a transformational leader are considerable, but so are the rewards. The leader seeks to inspire by example the traits he wishes to impart to his subordinates. He provides challenge and meaningful engagement, encouraging full use of the subordinates’ abilities. He supports his subordinates individually and communicates with them often, further increasing their potential and willingness to contribute. He empowers his subordinates to try out their ideas regularly and gives them considerable authority without hesitation. He does not depend on existing guidelines to arrive at a course of action, but is willing and able to think outside the box, a quality the subordinates are encouraged to emulate.

Innovation in the face of uncertainty becomes their driving activity, and because everyone contributes to that innovation, because they are building the change, they neither fear nor resist it. They are there to make the impossible possible, not to carry on with the ordinary. The potential of an organisation under these conditions is vastly increased, but it can also be frightening to a leader who does not know how to sustain it.

In the transformational leadership model, discipline is internal. Self-discipline, modelled by the leader, and collective discipline conditioned by mutual respect, take the place of detailed regulations in practice. As one former SAS officer recalled, “The men, for their part, never called me ‘Sir’ unless they wanted to be rude.” The rules that matter, that really are for the general good, are still there, but the rest, the trivialities designed to keep everyone in their box, are neither wanted nor needed.

Transformational Leadership versus Buzzwords

One of the greatest problems with transactional leadership is that it makes very poor use of the contributions and abilities of subordinates, eliminating the main driver of improvement in a healthy organisational culture. Many organisations pretend to adopt inspirational and participatory cultures, while in fact their leadership model remains transactional. You cannot inspire people whose abilities and potential contributions are being squelched by a rigid organisation.

Know what your people can and want to contribute, as opposed to what they have to contribute, and reward them for their contributions. Give them a real voice, and share with them the responsibility of adapting to the rapid pace of change in the modern world. It sounds easy. So why have so many organisations talked about this sort of thing- and utterly failed to implement it?

Because the transactional leaders, used to the insulation that their old leadership model provides them, deeply fear the conditions that real transformational leadership requires. They would have to earn the respect of their subordinates. They would have to face problems. They would have to accept advice from underlings. Their word would no longer be law. The current deplorable state of affairs for which they are responsible would stand naked like Hans Christian Andersen’s emperor for all to spit at. A terrifying prospect indeed… Maybe if we just use enough trendy corporate culture buzzwords, our profit margins will go up. No? How about some motivational mugs?


Nutrition and the Brain: Quick Tips

Nowhere is the body-mind relationship more important or more ignored than in the relationship between the brain and the food we eat. We often don’t realise how much our mental state has to do with the chemical state of our body, which in turn is affected heavily by the food we eat. We’ve already covered the all-important relationship between senility and poor diet. Patrick Holdford’s book Optimum Nutrition for the Mind looks at some other brain problems related to nutrition and what you can do about them.

 

Anxiety

There are a few important things to know about your diet if you suffer from anxiety. One is that your blood sugar balance is extremely important. A dip in blood sugar caused by an overactive insulin response can bring on hyperventilation and increase lactic acid in the body, which is a contributing factor to anxiety attacks. In general, balancing out your blood sugar is a very good idea for mood disorders. High copper levels, often the result of drinking water in buildings with new copper pipes, depress histamine levels, associated with extreme fears. You may need to increase your level of zinc if high copper levels are an issue.

On the other hand, dark green leafy vegetables and nuts provide magnesium, a mineral that helps both the mind and the muscles to relax. Other important micronutrients for anxiety sufferers include Vitamin B12 and folic acid.

The neurotransmitter we look to to govern anxiety, reduce adrenaline and promote a calm mood is known by the abbreviation GABA. Drugs like alcohol stimulate brief GABA releases, making us feel momentarily good, but the more we drink, the more our GABA levels fall. Tranquilisers work by making the body more receptive to GABA. Unfortunately, tranquiliser addiction is rampant throughout Western society. Benzodiazepine tranquilisers are more addictive than heroin and are associated with extreme withdrawal symptoms. There are natural alternatives with less risk, such as valerian root, which performs the same function, and hops (yes, the same hops found in beer) which act to calm the central nervous system.

Depression

There are a few major ways to improve your diet to address depression, the most important of which is to make sure you take in omega 3 fat and B-series vitamins. Together, these help the brain build up receptor sites for neurotransmitters and promote neurotransmitter production, especially serotonin. In clinical studies, major improvements in depression have been linked to omega 3 intake. Folic acid, a B vitamin, has an important effect on neurotransmitter levels.

Long-term depression, as opposed to a momentary low, is primarily a chemical state of a brain that either does not know how or does not have the materials to change that state. Antidepressant drugs are notorious for their side effects, but there is a natural alternative, St. John’s Wort, which has far fewer side effects at recommended doses (despite frequent attempts to scare people with any side-effect stories that come up). Its success rate is comparable, and more patients stick with it due to the reduced side effects.

Learning Disorders

Learning problems such as ADHD, dyslexia and so on are heavily linked to nutritional deficiencies. This has been heavily studied. Studies from MIT and California State University have shown that the fewer refined foods children ate, the better their learning, mainly due to the lack of micronutrients in processed food. Other studies have explored the effect of nutritional supplements and dietary changes on learning, with often dramatic results, including leaps of years in reading level and jumps in intelligence test scores. In one study by Dr. Michael Cogan, a group of children on vitamin and mineral supplements showed an average improvement of 1.1 years in reading level and 8.4 I.Q. points over 22 weeks, while a group which also had changes to their diet improved 1.8 years in reading level and gained 17.9 I.Q. points.

(As an aside, one of the most noxious elements of intelligence testing has been the role of its proponents in arguing that intelligence level is innate to the individual, and that because intelligence level is a predictor of success, people are somehow innately destined for their lot in life. The huge difference made by a change in nutrition calls this sharply into question, especially where impoverished populations are concerned.)

The important factors here are antioxidants, which help to reduce the detrimental effect of free radicals on the brain, and the building materials such as omega 3, B vitamins and amino acids that are essential building blocks of the brain and neurotransmitter system. The effects of increasing healthy fats in the diets of dyslexic children have been shown repeatedly. Increasing vitamin and mineral sources and healthy fats while decreasing high-carb processed foods is the essential formula for healthy learning, although heavy metal contamination and other issues may enter into it.

Hyperactivity, as we all know, can be partly attributed to sugars, but also to deficiency in the nutrients the body needs in order to calm down, such as magnesium and Vitamin B6. Studies by Dr. Bernard Rimland compared the effects of Ritalin against B6 and magnesium supplements, and found the latter to be ten times more effective.

(The same dramatic improvement has been shown in a California State University Study on the behaviour of young offenders. Correcting vitamin and mineral deficiency greatly improved behaviour.)

Bottom Line

The food we eat effects our brains, neurotransmitters, nervous systems and therefore our moods, our fears, our mental capabilities. The conditions discussed here are only the tip of the iceberg. Mental and psychiatric disorders that we often regard as chronic and irreversible are strongly linked to nutritional deficiencies. The complex interconnectivity of the body-mind organism is a major key to addressing what may seem to be mysterious or intractable problems. We need to optimise the whole organism, rather than just a part.

The general lessons we can draw from these particular conditions are straightforward:

1. Make sure that you eat a good amount of Omega 3 fats

2. Make sure you eat enough fresh produce and leafy greens

3. Supplement as necessary to compensate for the poor state of micronutrients in our food chain- the B and C Vitamins as well as magnesium are particularly important for brain health

 


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