Radical Amazement: Nature and the Spiritual Life of Children

Frederic Brussat October 22, 2014

In an essay written on his blog, Richard Louv writes about his desire to share with his children the glory of witnessing a sunrise on a mountain. He feels that this experience can be "a window to something larger." But Louv's boys stay asleep in their beds and do not get up in time.

A few days later, a group of friends gather at his house to talk about religion and children. Some find church good for their kids, others don't, and a few feel guilty that they don't provide their children with a religious perspective on life.

At another gathering . . .


The Art of Slowing Down in a Museum

Frederic Brussat October 14, 2014

Most people who attend a museum want to leisurely explore and savor the art on exhibit. But in this article, Stephanie Rosenbloom reports that researchers have discovered that the average visitor spends 15 to 30 seconds in front of a painting. A large number of people rush through the museum snapping photos of the most famous masterpieces.

James O. Pawelski, the director of education for the Positive Psychology Center at the University of Pennsylvania, states that "you can't really see a painting as you are walking by it." When he takes his students to a gallery, he counsels them to spend at least 20 minutes with a painting that speaks to them in some way. He also suggests that you spend a half an hour wandering and then take another half hour to deepen your connection with one work that stretches your mind or soul. A third activity is to research the museum's collection online and then customize your visit by choosing a theme of special interest to you such as music, horses, or sunsets. A fourth way to make the visit special is to curate your own music soundtrack at home and enjoy it as you stroll slowly through an exhibit; that way you will not be disturbed by the chatter of other people in the gallery.

These four ways to enrich your museum experience are based on viewing art in a contemplative manner. The spiritual practices of attention and being present are essential to a deeper appreciation of art.


Who Are You?

Frederic Brussat September 22, 2014

In his blog called "The Haystack," Edward Hays, one of our favorite spiritual teachers, ponders the question "Who Are You?" and comes up with our capacity for awe and wonder. In the creative biography on his website, he portrays himself as "walking the razor's edge between madness and magic." He relishes his enchanted childhood and has brought into adulthood and the "Eldergarden" the "wonder-world of stories and imagination."

We have benefited immensely from the mystic maps Hays has scribbled over the years for seekers like us. How has he been able to sustain this long, ardent, and adventuresome writing ministry? By paying attention to "frequent backyard encounters with the Presence" and by routinely doing "artistic calisthenics for the imagination."

Hays ponders the meaning . . .


In Praise of Doing the Same Thing All the Time

Frederic Brussat September 15, 2014

In a fascinating article on theatlantic.com, Derek Thompson admits to being a creature of repetition when it comes to entertainment. He has almost memorized the movie Dumb and Dumber and is perfectly capable of filling a weekend watching an entire season of a comedy series he's seen before.

He notes that musicologists estimate that for every hour of music listening in a typical person's life, 54 minutes are spent with songs already heard before. I can identify with that kind of behavior. Last year we saw the Broadway play Jersey Boys and ever since then I regularly play a YouTube video with a medley of four songs from the show: "Sherrie," "Walk Like a Man," "Big Girls Don't Cry," and "Bye Bye Baby." I just can't get enough of this spunky music!

Thompson asks the question . . .


The New Sharing Economy

Frederic Brussat September 8, 2014

In the LosAngelesTimes.com, Sandy Banks writes about how she first heard about the sharing economy. Her daughter was able to travel cheap in Europe by going online each day and finding a couch at a stranger's place where she could sleep. She called this the "peer-to-peer economy."

After missing the last train to San Francisco one night, Sandy couldn't get a cab and downloaded the Uber app on her cellphone. In the blink of an eye, she was picked up and taken to her destination for half the price of a cab. She sees this company as meeting the needs of urban people with busy, fragmented lives. Now Uber operates in every continent except Antarctica. Sandy loves the convenience and transparency of the ride-sharing process.

Another aspect of the sharing economy . . .


Elders with Time to Experiment

Frederic Brussat September 5, 2014

There comes a time when Baby Boomers realize that they are no longer the youngest clients at a favorite resort, restaurant, or health club. In an article in The New York Times, Michele Willens writes about the shock of "looking around and suddenly being the oldest." We know the feeling. It's hard to accept the fact that our joints are aching, our skin is sagging, our memories are not what they used to be, and we are no longer members of the vanguard. For a generation who thought they could be "forever young," aging means adjustments.

Marc Freedman is the visionary of a new movement afoot in America called "unretirement." Whereas old images of this stage of life focused on the golf course and the RV, the defining institutions of unretirement are the workplace and the entrepreneurial start-up. This encore approach to an aging America is a good option for many retirees. As Freedman puts it: "Never before have so many people had so much experience and the time and the capacity to do something significant with it."

Other retirees with time . . .


Mental Illness Crisis

Frederic Brussat August 20, 2014

Early in 2014, Nicolas Kristof declared in his New York Times column that mental health was one of the most systematically neglected issues in the United States, given the fact the National Institutes of Health says a quarter of American adults suffer from a diagnosable mental disorder – depression, anxiety disorders, anorexia, post-traumatic stress disorder, and others. All across the country are relatives and loved ones struggle with difficult psychiatric disorders.

Kristof points out that the great majority of people who are mentally ill are not violent – except to themselves. Every year 38,000 Americans commit suicide and 90 percent of them are said to suffer from mental illness; comedian and actor Robin Williams was one of them. Treatments sometimes work as in the case of John Nash, the Princeton University math genius whose life and struggle with delusions was portrayed in the movie A Beautiful Mind. Respect for what he was going through is a major element in this path-breaking drama.

In his second article . . .


Free to Choose

Frederic Brussat August 8, 2014

The freedom to choose one option over another is the source of democracy and consumerism. We like to tell ourselves that we can determine our destiny by the choices we make. But as Sophia Rosenfeld writes in the thenation.com, we are lousy at making up our minds and many of us are so overwhelmed by the deluge of options that we are having more trouble making choices than ever before. "It seems that we routinely overestimate what we know. We fail to predict what we will want in the future. We are inconsistent about our preferences. . . . We also tend to ignore facts that do not jibe with the outcome we desire; we focus on information that is irrelevant, or see patterns where they do not exist, or get distracted by our fleeting emotions."

Stand in the aisle of an American supermarket and you will see some 42,686 different items for your dinner or doing chores around your home. Overchoice is also the problem in selecting a movie to watch on Friday night as you sort through all the selections on hundreds of cable stations. After fifteen minutes of looking at all the titles, you feel worn out by the process and frustrated at having to plow through so much junk just to find a gem or two.

In her book, Wise Choices . . .


What Playfulness Can Do For You

Frederic Brussat July 31, 2014

Leon Neyfakh at bostonglobe.com writes about the interest of scientific researchers in adult playfulness. We’ve seen lots of studies about our activities as workers, thinkers, and problem solvers but now psychologists are taking a hard look at the effects of adults engaging in play. People are seeking an escape from the stress and the tensions of the times through humor. Or as Kurt Vonnegut put it: "We are on earth to fart around." All one has to do is glance at the popularity of shared cartoons on Facebook or funny animal videos on YouTube to see what we mean.

Some researchers have discovered . . .


Confronting Ageism

Frederic Brussat July 28, 2014

In 1968 gerontologist Robert Butler coined the term "ageism" to describe the many ways in which society discriminates against the old. Maggie Kuhn formed the Gray Panthers in 1972 as a network of older people dedicated to fighting ageism in all of its nasty and degrading forms. This organization brought about national and local changes in nursing home procedures, health care, and forced retirement. Kuhn wrote:

"Old age is not a disease – it is strength and survivorship, triumph over all kinds of vicissitudes and disappointments, trials and illnesses."

Despite the work of the Gray Panthers . . .


The Future of Robot Caregivers

Frederic Brussat July 21, 2014

Large numbers of people are entering the stage of life where they need the services of caregivers to meet their physical and emotional needs, and there are just not enough of these skilled professionals. Caregiving is repetitive, exhausting, and complicated. In the United States the pay is usually low – another reason very few are taking on the challenges of this kind of work.

In Japan and elsewhere, the creation and promotion of nursing-care robots is moving full steam ahead. In a fascinating article in The New York Times, Louise Aronson writes about those who believe that robots can solve the workforce shortage of caregivers.

Whereas human caregivers require sleep . . .


How a Password Changed One Man's Life for the Better

Frederic Brussat July 17, 2014

In an article on GoodNewsNetwork, Maurico Estrella writes about being in a funk over his divorce. Then, to make matters worse, he arrived at the office to find the monthly directive to change the password for his computer. The new password had to consist of at least one UPPERCASE character, at least one lowercase alphabetic character, at least one symbol, and at least one number.

Esterella decided to come up with a password that he could use "to regain control of my life" and to set himself on a new path with the intention of changing his ways. His new password: Forgive@h3r

By typing this message . . .


Touching the Earth for Our Adversaries

Frederic Brussat July 14, 2014

One of the great challenges in all the world's religious and spiritual traditions is learning to love our enemies. Contemporary cultures still honor the eye-for-an-eye approach to enemies. Revenge is seen as an appropriate closure to suffering and great loss. So many of us find it difficult to let our enemies become our spiritual teachers. Two prime examples of this devotional path are His Holiness the Dalai Lama, who often states he is grateful to the Chinese, and Vietnamese Zen monk Thich Nhat Hanh, who empathizes with the waywardness of adversaries and the importance of deeply listening to them.

Recently, while we were preparing our viewer's guide to the Global Spirit program on "Sacred Ecology," we went to the website of the guest on that show, Joanna Macy. There we came across a healing prayer and ritual by Caitriona Reed: "Touching the Earth for Our Adversaries."

In this healing prayer . . .


Mixed Feelings about Watching Animals

Frederic Brussat July 9, 2014

We are not surprised by the large role pictures and videos of cute, beautiful, and silly animals (usually cats and dogs) play on the social media. Some people genuinely adore their animal companions and want to share photos of them with their friends. Others view their pets as players in shows directed by them to win likes and add to their stature as popular media mavens. While we understand the appeal of these posts, we still have mixed feelings about them.

We know our attitude has been influenced by a spiritual instruction we read about in Wisdom of the Elders by David Suzuki and Peter Knudtson, which we quoted in our book Spiritual Literacy. In the sacred laws of the Chewong people of Malaysia, a major tenet concerns the proper human attitudes toward other animal species. Specifically, it mandates that "no animal whatsoever may be teased or laughed at."

If we should not tease animals . . .


We'd Rather Shock Ourselves than Quietly Sit Alone

Frederic Brussat July 7, 2014

Talk to people today about being alone and many of us will admit that it is a very unsettling experience. Given a few unstructured moments, we fill it up with texting others, posting to our social media accounts, listening to music, watching YouTube videos, or reading emails. When we stop doing and face simply being, we soon feel bored and restlessness overtakes us. Have we lost the capacity for silence and solitude?

In a shocking artice on cnet.com . . .


Amma: The Hugging Saint

Frederic Brussat July 2, 2014

Amma is in New York City this weekend (July 5 - 7) so we are revisiting our resources about her incredible service.

Amma, meaning "Mother," was born in India in a small fishing village in 1953. In the late 1970s, this "God-realized soul" set up an ashram in her childhood village. She is known around the world as the "hugging saint" who in one day may embrace 10,000 people. She has given 32 million hugs worldwide, according to Amanda J. Lucia's book Reflections of Amma: Devotees in a Global Embrace. In Sacred Journey, Swamini Krishnamrita Prana notes that Amma is seen by millions of devotees in India and elsewhere as the reincarnation of Ramakrishna or the incarnation of the Divine Mother Kali.

We thought of this Indian saint . . .


Armed Drones and Perpetual War

Frederic Brussat June 30, 2014

Carrie Johnson in npr.org sums up a report by the Stimson Center, a nonpartisan Washington think tank that includes a number of former Pentagon and C.I.A. officials. It contends that the U.S. policy of using armed drones to carry out attacks on suspected terrorists "rests on questionable assumptions and risks increasing instability and escalating costs."

The year-long study reveals that after a decade of using armed drones, the American government has not carried out a thorough assessment of whether or not these secret killings are stemming the tide of terrorism. The report calls for greater transparency about drone operations and a listing of militants and civilians killed in the strikes. The Stimson panel also indicated grave fears about the dangerous precedent being set by the United States in conducting lethal strikes outside areas of active hostilities. Other countries may follow suit and target those who oppose them wherever they are.

From a spiritually literate perspective . . .


Heroes Who Practice "Mercy Medicine"

Frederic Brussat June 23, 2014

Here in the U.S., we hear a lot of complaints about medical care, especially for poor people. Even with the option of "Obamacare," many people are not well insured and are relying on emergency rooms. Elsewhere in the world, especially in war zones, health services are few and far between.

This is a spiritual as well as a medical emergency. That's why we sit up in admiration when we come across moral mentors such as the doctors in two documentaries.

In the bold and . . .


Car Miracles and Prayers

Frederic Brussat June 20, 2014

God appears to be very active in our cars. Christine Wicker, in an article on pyschologytoday.com, shares some of the "miracles" people have told her about their automobiles. Some talk about angels helping them find parking spaces whereas others have been speeded to their destinations by a force beyond their knowledge. Wicker notes that believers in the United States keep quiet about their car miracles whereas Christians in Africa love to share their stories.

Ebenezer Obadare, a professor of sociology at the University of Kansas,
looks at car prayers for spiritual fortification against dangers and perils on the road. A Nigerian prayer goes: "May we not travel on the very day that the road is famished." This prayer acknowledges that death is part of the cost of driving. Nigerians spend a lot of time beings stuck in traffic jams which they call "go slows," so they turn commuting into communing. Obadare writes: "An ordinarily desperate situation becomes a moment for sustained reflection, and anarchic time becomes an opportunity for quiet time."

Using traffic jams as a time for devotional practice is a good idea. For more ways to practice your spirituality in your car, see our feature.


Silence as a Luxury Product

Frederic Brussat June 9, 2014

In an excerpt from Robert Reich's book The Future of Success, we spotted a trend: attention has become another commodity in the new economy. In a world of so much speed and tension, having someone pamper and lavish attention on you is a marketable good.

Now in an article in The New Republic, Chloe Schama writes about how silence has become a luxury item in New York City and elsewhere. Many urban dwellers identify noise as their major complaint. In national surveys, a growing number of people complain about the high level of noise in restaurants.

We have already saluted . . .


Exit Stage Right: The Baby Boomers. Enter Stage Left: The Millennial Generation

Frederic Brussat June 4, 2014

Full disclosure: I consider myself part of the Baby Boom Generation (born 1946 - 1964), even though I was born a little before them. (Mary Ann makes the cut.) I have always had high hopes for this generation.

In the 1960s, many of us dreamed of reshaping the United States with the ideas and ideals of the counterculture. There were protest movements against the Vietnam War and the ticky-tacky way of life in suburbia. Later, Baby Boomers led the women's rights and environmental movements.

Not that there were not serious challenges . . .


Skimming & Sharing

Frederic Brussat May 29, 2014

In an article in The New York Times, Karl Taro Greenfield is quite astonished to discover that more and more people are not reading books, newspapers, or magazines anymore but instead are picking up bits and pieces of information from Facebook, Twitter, or emailed new alerts. Then in order to prove to others that they are keeping up with the latest happenings around the world, they share their opinions on all kinds of things via social media.

Greenfield states: "According to a recent survey by the American Press Institute, nearly 6 in 10 Americans acknowledge they do nothing more than read new headlines — and I know this only because I skimmed a Washington Post headline about the survey. After we've skimmed, we share. Commenters frequently start their posts with TL;DR — short for Too Long; Didn't Read — and then proceed to offer an opinion on the subject anyway."

We are overwhelmed by data . . .


The Next Revolution in Digital Technology: Part 2

Frederic Brussat May 21, 2014

The Spiritual Implications of The Internet of Things

According to the Pew Research Center Internet Project in collaboration with Elon University's Imagining the Internet Center, we are entering the "Telemetric Age" where we create and share information about everything that we do through a web-connected Internet of Things (IoT). We summarized the report in Part 1 of this blog post. "The rise of embedded and wearable computing will bring the next revolution in digital technology," notes Janna Anderson, director of the Elon University Center. "Experts say that the upsides are enhanced health, convenience, productivity, safety, and vastly more useful information for people and organizations." This is expected to be widespread by 2025.

But there are downsides . . .


The Next Revolution in Digital Technology: Part 1

Frederic Brussat May 19, 2014

We are entering the Telemetric Age.

The Internet is 25 years old and always evolving. The Pew Research Center Internet Project in collaboration with Elon University's Imagining the Internet Center have released a report on the development of an Internet of Things, "a catchall phrase for the array of devices, appliances, vehicles, wearable material, and sensor-laden parts of the environment that connect to each other and feed data back and forth." More than 1,600 experts and stakeholders responded to this question: "As billions of devices, artifacts and accessories are networked, will the Internet of Things have widespread and beneficial effects on the everyday lives of the public by 2025?"

A majority answered "yes" . . .


Skyrocketing Prison Population Devastating U.S. Society

Frederic Brussat May 6, 2014

On Commondreams.org Sarah Lazare shares the dire impact of four decades of massive imprisonments in the United States. This report by the National Research Council (an arm of the National Academy of Sciences) was commissioned by the National Institute of Justice and the MacArthur Foundation. Here are some of the findings after two years of data review:


2.23 million people are currently locked up . . .


Locked Up and Locked Out

Frederic Brussat April 21, 2014

On April 11, 2014, the New America Foundation held a program titled "Locked Up and Locked Out: Securing a Second Chance at Economic Citizenship for Ex-Offenders." Monica Potts was on a panel which responded to some of the details in her cover story for The American Prospect titled "Is There Hope for the Survivors of the Drug Wars?" It is a chilling report on the helplessness and hopelessness of mostly African-American population who have been hard hit by the law-and-order zeal which sent many youth to prison for possessing a small amount of marijuana.

The United States imprisons more of its population than any other country in the world at rates unmatched in modern history. Adding up all the costs, the U.S. will spend $80 billion to keep 2 million people in prison. Once branded as a criminal, these mostly poor blacks face a perilous future. Every year, 650,000 Americans (a population that is 90 percent male, more than half black or Latino, and on the average only 34 years old) are released from prison with dreams of climbing the economic ladder as thousands have done before them. But in these grim times with few jobs available, these ex-offenders are left high and dry.

As the notes from this conference state . . .


The Many Sides to Regret

Frederic Brussat April 9, 2014

In a snappy and thought-provoking article in the New Republic, Judith Shulevitz, the magazine's science editor, points to the now familiar parade of politicians, business figures, and celebrities making public statements of regret for their wrong-doings. But she points out that this is usually an evasion of the truth we want to hear:

"Regret is what we feel when we realize we have hurt ourselves – damaged our careers, tarnished our reputations, limited our options. Regret is not remorse, which is what we feel when we've hurt others … It's remorse that we want from our public figures after they misbehave, and remorse that they'll almost never admit to."

In her further probe of this subject . . .


The U.N. Report on Climate Change Is a Call to Action for Spiritual Activists

Frederic Brussat April 7, 2014

The recently released UN report "Climate Change 2014: Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability" makes it clear that the effects of global warming are already here with food shortages, droughts, and violent weather patterns taking place around the world. According to the U.S. Environmental Agency, global emissions increased by about 1.5 times from 1990 through 2008.

Although we call this planet home we have continued to defile the land, water, and air. In this century we have already seen the chaos this climate change can bring: high temperatures in Europe, forests burning down in the United States, droughts in Australia, and rampaging floods in Thailand. Unless something is done soon we face ever more global catastrophes.

Many frightened, angry and disappointed people . . .


What It Takes to Say "Yes" to Life

Frederic Brussat April 4, 2014

We are big fans of Victor M. Parachin, author of Eastern Wisdom for Western Minds and Eleven Modern Mystics and the Secrets of a Happy, Holy Life. In his blog dharmaroundup.com, he shares the following story:

"Musician John Lennon says that he first began falling in love with Yoko Ono when he viewed an exhibition of her art at her gallery in London. One of the exhibits required a viewer to climb to the top of a shaky ladder in a dimly lit room. At the top of the ladder was a telescope. Peering through it, a visitor had to make out the faint, barely perceptible letters of a single word.

Though the word was small . . .


Book Clubs as Transfusion Centers

Frederic Brussat March 31, 2014

In an article in The New York Times, writer James Atlas points out that there are about 5 million Americans participating in some kind of book club. They meet in living rooms, in local libraries, in bars, and online. Goodreads.com claims to have 25 million members and was recently sold to Amazon. There are book clubs for seniors, youth, co-workers, and only men or only women.

One of the most appealing things about book clubs is that they sometimes generate aha! moments when the group coalesces and are united in tribute to a truth expressed in the book being discussed. Other times, dialogue can break down when someone hogs center stage or a needy person goes off topic and shares his/her troubles. That is why some groups are now hiring professional group facilitators. Another new development is seeing authors taking the role of master-of-ceremonies or moderator for a fee. Naturally, in this age of celebrity, groups are eager to have such creative people in their midst and thankful for the publicity.

We are pleased to see . . .


Needed: Sacred Spaces Everywhere

Frederic Brussat March 26, 2014

In an article in The New York Times by Andrew Keh, we read about the meditation room recently opened in the Barclays Center, a Brooklyn sports arena where the Nets play. Very few fans know it even exists and those interviewed about it are baffled about its purpose. Bruce Ratner, the developer of the arena, said of the space at its dedication ceremony: "Among this busyness and this craziness, you do need some time that you come and just relax and see words like 'love,' 'rejoice,' 'forgive,' and remember why we're here." He was referring to the inspiration quotations on the walls. The space is about the size of a living room and seats 40 people on chairs.


When I was a young Lutheran pastor . . .


In Praise of Failures and Mediocrities

Frederic Brussat March 3, 2014

It's possible to stumble upon as essay on the Internet that shakes you to the core. That's what happened when I came across "In Praise of Bad Art (And Bad Saints)" on the Faith and Theology website run by Ben Myers, a writer, teacher, and theologian in Australia. He comments on how terrible it was to watch a bad community production of a Shakespeare play. But then he switches gears and claps loudly for their valiant efforts. Why?

"I am, you see, a great believer in bad art. In every arena of human creativity, one needs a multitude of failures and mediocrities. They are the condition for the emergence of that rare thing, the artistic genius. Without all the dull painters and all the mediocre art schools, there could have been no Chagall and no Picasso."

There is no need for harsh . . .


Making TV a Part of Our Lives

Frederic Brussat February 17, 2014

The gifted comedian Sid Caesar died at the age 91 on February 12, 2014, in Beverly Hills, California. He changed things around in our suburban home during the early 1950s when television was just an infant. When only 10% of American households had a TV set, the Brussats were one of the lucky families. Soon we were no longer crowding around the radio for entertainment.

When I was eight . . .


Creativity Becomes an Academic Discipline

Frederic Brussat February 11, 2014

In a spiffy article in The New York Times, "Creativity Becomes an Academic Discipline," Laura Pappano writes about a new phenomenon."Creative" has been the most used buzzword in LinkedIn profiles two years running; this social media site is used by individuals to build and manage their professional networks. In 2010, an I.B.M. survey of 1500 chief executives found that they viewed creativity as the factor most crucial for success.

That is why creative studies . . .


In Life and Business: Learning to Be Ethical

Frederic Brussat January 22, 2014

In the NYTimes.com, Alina Tugend writes about a new website www.EthicalSystems.org which will bring together research and resources on business ethics, a subject that is receiving more attention these days in the wake of scandals at Enron, Worldcom, and other places. Jonathan Haidt, a professor of Ethical Leadership at New York University's Leonard N. Stern School of Business, is one of the major figures behind this website. He feels there is the need for "a more psychologically realistic approach to business ethics."

One way to do this . . .


According Animals Dignity

Frederic Brussat January 16, 2014

In his column on The NYTimes.com, Frank Bruni points out that we are in a new era where respect for animals is growing. The phrase "animal welfare" no longer does justice to what is going on. The new emphasis is upon "animal dignity." Here are some examples of this multidimensional movement:

Bestselling books . . .


Sitting Is the New Smoking; Walking is the Antidote

Frederic Brussat January 13, 2014

On YesMagazine.org, Jay Walljasper writes about walking as "the wonder drug" that researchers and physicians are recommending to help prevent diabetes, depression, breast and colon cancer, high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, obesity, anxiety, and osteoporosis. Adults need 30 minutes a day, five days a week, and children should get 60 minutes a day, seven days a week.

Although walking is already . . .


The Everly Brothers' Soothing Harmonies

Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat January 7, 2014

In a time when there is so much discord in the world, it is soothing to listen to singers whose voices blend together and bequeath to us music that heals the body, mind, and soul. Don and Phil Everly, known as The Everly Brothers, had their first hit recording in 1957, the single "Bye Bye Love." Their debut album, The Everly Brothers, released in 1958, contained more songs that roared to the top of the charts propelled by their energetic vocals and twanging guitars. They were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1986. Phil Everly died on January 2 at the age of 74.

These two brothers created . . .


Desmond Tutu on Animal Welfare

Frederic Brussat December 31, 2013

In an article on www.Huffingtonpost.com, Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu is quoted in his first major statement on animal welfare. He is already known for his anti-apartheid activism and his outspoken support of LGBT rights.

His remarks were made in his foreword to the Global Guide to Animal Protection edited by Oxford theologian Andrew Linzey, Director of the Oxford Centre for Animal Ethics. We have reviewed five books by this prolific and passionate defender of animals.

Our diminion over animals . . .


The Documented Life

Frederic Brussat December 16, 2013

Sherry Turkle has been studying people's use of mobile technology for 15 years. In this article in the New York Times she reflects on a new way of life: "I share, therefore I am." But now what we want to share is pictures. Teens and even younger kids are caught up in possessing a photograph of their experience: "A selfie, like any photograph, interrupts experience to mark a moment." It is a sign of the times that three world leaders, David Cameron of the U.K., Barack Obama of the U.S., and Danish prime minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt, took a picture of themselves in the middle of the memorial service for Nelson Mandela.

Similarly, we break up our days . . .


Master of Many Trades

Frederic Brussat December 9, 2013

In this article in Aeon.com, Robert Twigger writes about the rise of the monopath in our society. The term refers to a person who focuses on one thing and becomes an expert. Such people are widely respected in their professions for having one-track minds. In contrast is the polymath who has read and studied widely in many different arenas.

We can point to two individuals . . .


Beauty Feeds a Different Kind of Hunger: An Interview with Terry Tempest Williams

Frederic Brussat November 25, 2013

Terry Tempest Williams is one of S&P's Living Spiritual Teachers who has for years been active in various efforts to save the environment. At the same time, she has written beautiful spiritual books filled with reverence for the natural world and overflowing with wonder.

In an interview with Devon Fredericksen in Guernica republished by Yes Magazine, Williams discusses matters close to her heart including the need for women to speak out, to transform anger into prophetic and sacred rage, and to make use of the precious spiritual practice of silence. She also discusses the importance of bearing witness, the challenges of working with hundreds of other environmentally minded people, and doing all we can to bring to birth a new world where beauty is "not optional, but a strategy for survival."

Beauty is so much more . . .


Meatless Monday Movement

Frederic Brussat October 28, 2013

The Meatless Monday campaign was started in 2003 by an advertising whiz and the John Hopkins School of Public Health to market dietary change. The idea is to cut out meat one day a week to improve health and the environment.

Allison Aubrey reports at NPR.org that Meatless Monday is now active in 29 countries; in the United States more than 100 schools, food service companies, and restaurants have signed on to offer Meatless Monday options.

Health researchers and others . . .


Please Be Quiet

Frederic Brussat September 9, 2013

In a recent article in The New York Times, George Prochnik wrote about philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer's crusade against noise as the archenemy of any serious thinker. He was convinced nobody could have great ideas unless they focused their attention on a subject. But loud sounds distracted him from the work before him. Of course, this advocate of mono-tasking was years ahead of our times where it is nearly impossible to find the silence to think or to read in a world of jets, jackhammers, traffic, cellphones, horns, sirens, and television monitors broadcasting the latest news. Even inside our homes, the motors of our appliances and equipment create a constant stream of noise.

If he were alive today . . .


Welcoming the Spiritually Independent

Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat September 3, 2013


We're offering a free gift to all Spiritually Independent people and those who love and welcome them. After reading about who they are in this article, click this link to claim your gift: www.SpiritualityandPractice.com/GiftsfortheSpirituallyIndependent

Let's stop being so negative about the group that is transforming religion and spirituality in the 21st century. One-fifth of the American public – and a third of adults under 30 – do not identify themselves with a religion. This is a growth from 15% to 20% of the population in just five years, and we have no doubt that similar trends are happening around the world.

Some of this number (6%) describe themselves as atheists or agnostics, and the other 14% say they have no particular religious affiliation. It's this last group that is getting a bad rap.

In an attempt to label them . . .


Bhutan's Model of Gross National Happiness

Frederic Brussat August 19, 2013

In an article written for the National Catholic Reporter, Joan Chittister recalls seeing a road sign when she was in Bhutan in June. It said: "Start early / Drive slowly / Arrive safely." She immediately knew that she was in a special place. While the rest of the world is in hot pursuit of the success and prosperity brought by development and consumerism, the tiny kingdom of Bhutan has adopted a different standard — Gross National Happiness. Chittister calls this "a spiritual rather than an economic metric of achievement."

Gross National Happiness rests on . . .


Reflecting on Narcissism

Frederic Brussat August 9, 2013

"Imagine a country where everyone acts like a reality show contestant — obsessed with power, status and appearance, and is comfortable manipulating others for their personal gain. 'I'm here to win not to make friends' would be the national motto." That suggestion is from an article on the website of the American Psychological Association by Sadie F. Dingfelder on the upswing of the personality disorder of narcissism in America. It has become one of the hot button topics in psychology.

Those who have studied this . . .


The Joy of Old Age

Frederic Brussat July 22, 2013

"At 80, one can take in the long view and have a vivid, lived sense of history not possible at an earlier age," writes Oliver Sacks, professor of neurology at the N.Y.U. School of Medicine and the author of Hallucinations. He is thankful for having the time and energy in his life to write 12 books. Just to balance things off, he admits that he is sorry "to be as agonizingly shy at 80 as I was at 20" and that he has not traveled as much as he should have.

Sacks thought he was a goner . . .


The Nones Are Off the Bus

Frederic Brussat July 11, 2013

In a post at TheInterfaithObserver.org, Anne Benvenuti writes about the "Nones," the largest and fastest growing segment of the population in the religious landscape of America, according to the most recent survey from the Pew Research Center; they are now 20% of the population and are disproportionately young. They are people who don't have any religious affiliation and are not amenable to labels. Benvenuti compares this band of seekers to those who get off the tour bus because they would rather discover a place as it really is. We suspect they've grown tired of taking the same routes and hearing the same explanations from the guides sanctioned by the religions. Instead, they value experience and variety. Interestingly, Benvenuti notes that many of the Nones are really Alls.

We have read critics of Nones . . .


Death Cafes

Frederic Brussat July 3, 2013

Statisticians put the number of people who die each year at 56 million. That comes out to 153, 000 deaths a day, 107 deaths per minute. Death speaks quite loudly to some of us, Erica Brown notes in Happier Endings: A Meditation on Life and Death. But most people still harbor a deep fear of death and refuse to focus on it.

Some, of course, have always taken death head on. Monks, both Buddhist and Christian, have kept skulls in their cells so they could ponder death and the impermanence of life. An equivalent practice is talking about death and dying openly and discussing what needs to be done as the end of life approaches. This is now happening in "Death Cafes." In an article in The Independent, Molly Guiness reports that the Swiss tradition of cafe mortels is now happening in Paris. The idea, according to Swiss sociologist Bernard Crettaz, is to gather a small group of strangers in a café that serves coffee and then to talk about death for a few hours.

Now this phenomenon has started . . .


How Wonder Works

Frederic Brussat June 25, 2013

Wonder is one of our favorite practices in the Alphabet of Spiritual Literacy. It begins in the senses, comes alive in the imagination, and flourishes in adoration of the Divine. Wonder directs us to the feeling textures of life — to what Diane Ackerman calls "the sense-luscious world."

In an enthusiastic article . . .


Robots in Our Future

Frederic Brussat June 24, 2013

The word robot was coined in 1921 from the Czech word "robotta" meaning compulsory labor. Since then, we've been treated to a variety of science fiction tales about these technological creations. The growing presence of robots is already changing the labor market. Experts believe that robots will evolve into companions and information bases, similar to C3PO in the Star Wars trilogy. With their fast silicon brains and their tireless bodies, these intelligent machines will be capable of round-the-clock work, creative thought, and perhaps even independent action. 

In a recent article on Wired.com . . .


The High Cost of Waging Peace

Frederic Brussat May 20, 2013

On June 28, 2012, peace activists Sister Megan Rice, Greg Boertje-Obed, and Michael Walli broke into the Oak Ridge Y-2 nuclear weapons production facility in Tennessee to symbolically disarm these weapons of mass destruction. No security came to stop them as they cut through the fences surrounding the facilities, hung up peace banners, spray painted some slogans, and sang some songs. When they were done, the three non-violent protesters surrendered peacefully and were arrested and jailed. The next day they were charged with federal trespassing, a misdemeanor charge that carries a penalty of a year in jail.


According to a report . . .


A Data Driven Life

Frederic Brussat April 15, 2013

Benjamin Franklin was very interested in monitoring his daily movements and activities. His goal was to progress in the development of 13 virtues including frugality, silence, and moderation. In an article for Vanity Fair, James Wolcott dubs him "the founding father of self-help" and the pioneer of "self-tracking." Today, many young men and women are keeping tabs on their activities through a variety of digital devices.

There is Fitbit Ultra activity tracker . . .


Improve Your Health through Face-to Face Connections

Frederic Brussat April 4, 2013

One definition of spirituality is the art of making connections. Separation is best avoided as a stumbling block to human flourishing. In an article in The New York Times, Barbara L. Frederickson points out the excessive use of digital screens as the post-modern habit of social connection. She reports on recent studies which have shown that the more attuned you are to others through face-to-face interpersonal conversation with them, the healthier you will be:

"When you share a smile . . .


Quotations as Life-Savers and Life-Enhancers

Frederic Brussat March 4, 2013

We have always seen the reading of books — fiction and nonfiction — as a spiritual activity. We like to have imaginary conversations with the authors. We usually put check marks by the passages which impress or challenge us; a book with many check marks is one we have taken to heart. And we mine our books for the database of spiritual quotations on our computer server. We are especially appreciative of quotes that stir the imagination, rev up our soul, and open our hearts and minds to the great mysteries of life.

In an article in The New York Times . . .


Becoming More Empathetic

Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat February 26, 2013

We certainly can use more empathy in a world where national polls have shown an increase in narcissism (self-interest) and a decline in concern about the well-being of others. In an article in Yes Magazine, Roman Krznaric says that empathy is not kindness or the Golden Rule but "the ability to step into the shoes of another person, aiming to understand their feelings and perspectives, and to use that understanding to guide our actions." He points out that science has added value to empathy through research proving that human beings are wired for social cooperation and mutual aid.

To make the most of . . .


The Joys of Reading

Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat February 18, 2013

"Have a conversation with the author as you read. Underline passages that catch your fancy. Or, if you are reading a borrowed book or a library copy, copy favorite phrases into a notebook. Consider your underlines and notes as the equivalents of standing ovations at a musical performance. Know that a heavily notated book is one that you have taken to heart." These are recommendations from "Making Reading Sacred," an essay we wrote for S&P's books section.

In an article for The Chronicle of Higher Education . . .


Dealing with Both Sides of Boredom

Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat February 11, 2013

Boredom is like a fog that periodically moves in and drenches everything with a mist; it becomes hard to see clearly. Sam Keen calls boredom "the common cold of the psyche" whereas many psychologists take it much more seriously, seeing it as a prelude to depression. This spiritual malaise has been charted by Georges Bernanos in Diary of a Country Priest, in the poetry of T. S. Eliot, in the contemplative writings of Evagrius of Pontus, and in the philosophical musings of Blaise Pascal.


Several articles we found . . .


The Mysterious Spiritual Connections Between Animals and Their Human Companions

Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat January 21, 2013

The bonds between companion animals and their humans is a spiritual matter than involves love and deep connections. We thought of this again when we read the incredible account of a four-year-old tortoiseshell cat named Holly who was traveling with her humans as they attended an R.V. rally in Daytona Beach, Florida, She got out one day and, perhaps frightened by fireworks, disappeared. Despite several days of searching she wasn't found. But two months later, Holly showed up just a mile away from her West Palm Beach home. This strong-willed previously indoor cat had traveled 200 miles to get there. She had lost a lot of weight and was dehydrated. Judging from the condition of her paws and claws, she made this journey walking; she didn't catch a lift.

In this article about Holly's amazing feat, Pam Belluck quotes Marc Bekoff, a behavioral psychologist at the University of Colorado: "I really believe these stories, but they're just hard to explain. Maybe being smart, maybe reading animal clues, maybe being able to read cars, maybe being a good hunter. I have no data for this."

Rupert Sheldrake, an English biologist . . .


A Critic of Curb and Corner

Frederic Brussat January 10, 2013

Ada Louise HuxtableIn an article in The New York Times, Michael Kimmelman pays tribute to the long and commendable career of Ada Louise Huxtable who started writing on architecture for The New York Times in 1963 becoming the first full-time critic writing on architecture for an American newspaper. She was critical of "trophy" buildings by "signature" architects which are the result of a money-driven culture where status is all-important. Huxtable saw buildings as something more than giant monuments sticking up in the sky. She was interested in the roles that buildings play in the lives of those on the curbs and the corners of the city.

This versatile writer . . .


A Good Guy with a Gun?

Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat December 26, 2012

A week after the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, the National Rifle Association announced its solution to stemming the tide of school shootings. "The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun," said Wayne LaPierre, the vice-president of N.R.A. at a news conference reported in an article for the New York Times. The organization wants to arm security guards at every school in the country and blamed violent video games, the news media, and law enforcement for all the mass murders that have happened in the U.S. Since 23,000 schools already have armed guards, the N.R.A. said it would help develop a plan to carry out a national program involving the rest of the nation's 99,000 schools.

It is clear to us that the wealthy and powerful National Rifle Association has no intention of working with the President and Congress on any new gun control measures. Their solution is to protect children with more guns! This pro-gun approach will probably appeal to those who support the N.R.A.'s erasure of restrictions on carrying concealed weapons and President Obama's signing into law a bill allowing guns in the national parks.

Violence has become as American as . . .


Dear God! When Will It Stop?

Frederic Brussat December 17, 2012

Marian Wright Edelman, president of the Children's Defense Fund, is saddened and appalled by the worst mass shooting in a public school in American history. It took place on Friday, December 14, in Newtown, Connecticut. In an article on Common Dreams she reminds us that there is no safe harbor for our children. How many more will die before we stop the proliferation of guns and the killing of innocents in the United States?

Here are some shocking statistics: in 2010, 2,694 children and teens were killed by gunfire; 1,773 were victims of homicide, and 67 of those were elementary school-age children. Since 1979 when gun death data was first collected by age, 119, 079 children and teens have been killed by gun violence. Edelman points out that this horrific number exceeds the number of American battle deaths in World War I, in the Vietnam War, the Korean War, or the Iraq War.

The questions she asks are worth thinking about:

The questions she asks are . . .


A Lesson from Cesar Chavez on Vegetarianism

Frederic Brussat December 10, 2012

On his blog Dharma Roundup, Victor M. Parachin (Eastern Wisdom for Western Minds, Swami Vivekananda: Essential Writings) salutes Cesar Chavez as not only a labor activist but also as an outspoken activist for animal rights. He quotes him as saying:

"I became vegetarian after realizing that animals feel afraid, cold, hungry and unhappy like we do. I feel very deeply about vegetarianism and the animal kingdom."

It often amazes us to read a book by a theologian, a scholar, or a spiritual writer where he or she waxes poetically about human superiority above all other creatures in the universe. It is about time to give up and abandon once and for all this entitlement view of humanity. As Chavez puts it: "We need to work twice as hard to make all people understand that animals are fellow creatures, that we must protect them and love them as we love ourselves."

Chavez goes on to make the point . . .


New Love: A Short Shelf Life

Frederic Brussat December 3, 2012

In this eye-opening article in The New York Times, Sonya Lyubomirsky reveals some shocking details and insights into marriage. American and European researchers found that the joys and pleasures of marriage last only two years and then wear off. If couples are lucky the early yearning and passion can then morph into companionate love, "a less impassioned blend of deep affection and connection."


Scientific findings show . . .


Feeling Short on Time? Try Something Awe-Inspiring

Frederic Brussat November 26, 2012

According to an article by Stacy Kennelly published on the Yes Magazine website, a new study shows that experiences of awe ("the feeling we get when we come across something so strikingly vast in number, scope, or complexity that it alters the way we understand the world") may help get rid of feelings of being time-starved and impatient; we actually begin to feel there is more time in the day. And it might make us feel more generous.


The researchers on this project found . . .


The Quiet Ones

Frederic Brussat November 19, 2012

In a cogent piece for The New York Times, David Kreider writes about the battles taking place in Amtrak's silent cars, usually situated right behind business class on the train, as devotees of silence stand-up for "this last bastion of civility and calm, in a society drenched in noise pollution." As David Foster Wallace put it: "It seems significant that we don't want things to be quiet, ever, anymore." Think about the constant play of music in stores and restaurants or television news reports emanating from the screens of cabs, airports, and doctors' waiting rooms. Even libraries are no longer refuges of silence; there are now designated areas for "quiet study."

It's only natural that silence . . .


The Numinosity of Rocks

Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat November 6, 2012

Anyone who is a rock person will take delight in this tribute to them. This glorious article by Patricia Adams Farmer, author of Embracing a Beautiful God appears on the inventive and beautifully visual website www.jesusjazzbuddhism.org, run by Jay McDaniel.

And if you aren't into admiring rocks as a spiritual practice, Farmer's beguiling essay will definitely convince you to try it.

The author and her husband . . .


Housecleaning, Then Dinner? Silicon Valley Perks Come Home

Frederic Brussat October 23, 2012

We remember how long it took us to see that scrubbing the bathroom floor, taking out the garbage, and dusting the bookcases were not meaningless housework but spiritual tasks which are no less important than doing a film review, reading a book, or writing a blog.

But now prosperous businesses are giving new perks to their employees – including paying for someone to clean their houses for them twice a month. In an article for The New York Times, Matt Richtel also points to a project where the Stanford School of Medicine will be providing doctors with free housecleaning and in-home dinner delivery.

The goals of these benefits are . . .


Our Longing for Lists

Frederic Brussat October 9, 2012

to do listPhil Patton writes in an article in The New York Times about the American obsession with lists. They are found in every cultural endeavor and are part and parcel of our everyday lives. At work we make out "to do" lists to organize our days and at home we make shopping lists to keep track of what we need at stores. In our culture, we have the Netflix queue, best of the year lists in films, books, and music. Businesses have checklists to insure the proper way to do things. And, of course bird watchers across the country have their lists which are a source of pride an achievement. Last but not least, Patton classifies menus as lists.

"The bucket list" has become . . .


Reinventing Ethics

Frederic Brussat September 25, 2012

Ethics is what makes and keeps life human. As the headlines remind us, however, we do not always take the time to consciously consider our choices about how we could and should behave. Living an ethical life is like practicing an instrument; it takes practice.

In a timely article in The New York Times, Howard Gardner, professor of Cognition and Education at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, takes a hard look at the ethical disarray in America where traditional morality has broken down and professionals of all stripes no longer feel the need to serve the common good.

He points out that . . .


The Clatter of the Hospital Room

Frederic Brussat September 17, 2012

It rattles us that there is too much noise and too little silence in our society. Of course we live in New York City, a wild and raucous place where jack-hammers are tearing up the streets for new projects and garbage trucks work into the night grinding away the refuse. It is almost impossible to read in airports any more because of cell-phone loud mouths and blaring television monitors. The only refuge and sanctuary are pocket parks in the city and quiet cars in trains.


In an article in The New York Times, Tara Parker-Pope reports that changes are on the horizon for hospitals where the noise level is too high. For a long time administrators of these institutions thought that having the latest technology to monitor patients was more important than the peace and quiet that is part of the healing process. Now they are more interested in meeting the needs of patients who have complained about their inability to sleep in the hospital. Anxiety and anger about this problem could send a person's blood pressure up six points.

We are happy to hear about . . .


Tricks from the Elderly to Stop Worrying

Frederic Brussat September 5, 2012

Why do we spend so much time and energy on worrying? We are reluctant to admit that we can't control everything and make what we want happen. We have trouble accepting the idea that things do go wrong. And, compounding the problem, we have been brainwashed by our culture to believe that nothing good can come out of failure, setbacks, tragedy, or messes.

According to an article in the Wall Street Journal by Shirley S. Wang, researchers are studying how people deal with worry at different stages of life. The findings were quite surprising: "Older people for the most part have far fewer negative feelings, such as worry and stress, than do younger people."

These same older people . . .


What Motivates Generosity?

Frederic Brussat August 31, 2012

We believe that the spiritual practice of generosity pulls out the spaces that separate people from each other. Many of the world's religions see it as the "mother of kindness." Buddha named generosity as the first of 10 qualities of the perfected mind. The art of serving and giving to others is its own reward.

An interdisciplinary team of faculty working with Arizona State University's Center for the Study of Religion and Conflict are exploring what animates Catholics and Muslims in Dublin, Milan, Paris, and Istanbul to be charitable to others. Does it stem from a sense of religious duty, a love of God or Jesus, or their feelings of being blessed and wanting to share with others?


Reporting on the study . . .


Revisioning the Spiritual Retreat Center

Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat August 29, 2012

Esalen LogoIn an article for The New York Times, Norimitsu Onishi writes about the challenges facing the legendary Esalen Institute with its glorious views of California's coastline. At one time it was the only game in town as far as spiritual retreat centers were concerned with its mix of courses on mind, body, the emotions, and personal growth. But nowadays critics are concerned that Esalen has not kept up with the times with a predictable mix of programs offered by other retreat centers across the country, not to mention all the yoga studios and street corner ashrams in major cities. Other supporters worry that only the rich will be able to attend when prices range from $405 for sleeping bag accommodations for a weekend workshop to $1,395 for a luxury room.

Gordon Wheeler, a Gestalt psychologist and the center's president, points to the timely programs and workshops which appeal to the spiritual but not religious crowd: "We've always said we're about personal and social transformation. If anything, we've stepped up the social. The world is more demanding now. The call of the world is more urgent. And we looked at each other and said we have to step it up."

We wish Esalen and other retreat centers well . . .


Nature: Now Showing on TV

Frederic Brussat August 20, 2012

In an article in The New York Times, Diane Ackerman refers to the phenomenon of "nature deficit" in children who spend very little time in the natural world and a lot of time with their technological toys. Adults seem to be following suit with millions of men and women watching a mother bird feeding her young ones in a nest that is being photographed live on two webcams.

An eagle sitting in nest seen on webcam

Ackerman writes . . .


The Nun Who Broke Into the Nuclear Sanctum

Frederic Brussat August 13, 2012

Sister RiceOn July 28, 2012 an 82-year-old nun and two companions breached extensive security set-ups at the Oak Ridge nuclear reservation in Tennessee in order to nonviolently voice their protest against this country's nuclear movement. Sister Megan Rice is profiled by William J. Broad in this article in The New York Times.

Sister Rice is a Roman Catholic nun of the Society of the Holy Child Jesus . . .


Spiritual Literacy Blog

Frederic Brussat July 26, 2000

Life is a sacred adventure. Every day we encounter signs that point to the active presence of Spirit in the world around us. Spiritual literacy is the ability to read the signs written in the texts of our own experiences. Whether viewed as a gift from God or a skill to be cultivated, this facility enables us to discern and decipher a world full of meaning.

Spiritual literacy is practiced in all the world's wisdom traditions. Medieval Catholic monks called it "reading the book of the world." Muslims suggest that everything that happens outside and inside us is a letter to be read. Native Americans find their way through the wilderness by "reading sign." From ancient times to today, spiritually literate people have been able to locate within their daily life points of connection with the sacred.

The Spiritual Literacy Blog is our attempt to read the book of the world as revealed through articles and images available on the Internet. We hope you find it interesting and inspiring. 


Please note: This blog has been going since we launched Spirituality & Practice in 2006. The archives of all those earlier posts is here.


About This Blog

Spiritual literacy is the ability to read the signs written in the texts of our own experiences. It is recommended and practiced in all the world's religions. Whether viewed as a gift from God or a skill to be cultivated, this facility enables us to discern and decipher a world full of meaning.

The Spiritual Literacy Blog is our attempt to read the book of the world as revealed through articles and images available on the Internet. We hope you find it interesting and inspiring. More. . .

Blog Authors

  • Mary Ann Brussat
  • Frederic Brussat
  • Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat