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On Being with Krista Tippett is a public radio project delving into the human side of news stories + issues. Curated + edited by senior editor Trent Gilliss.

We publish guest contributions. We edit long; we scrapbook. We do big ideas + deep meaning. We answer questions.

We've even won a couple of Webbys + a Peabody Award.

Murmuration: A flock of starlings. 

Full of wonder and amazement finding this short film again while searching for an image for this week’s show with Avivah Zornberg — The Transformation of Pharaoh, Moses, and God.

Beautiful.

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The marvels of ink and memory, of fatherhood and identity.

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From Zone 8 to Cell Block to Urban Network Bookstore

by Trent Gilliss, senior editor

"My mama became my hero and my father became my mentor."
Yusef Shakur

Yusef Shakur and sonHunkered down in a WDET motor city hoodie and a down sleeping bag listening to KAXE in northern Minnesota, I caught the first episode of The Listening Post, a documentary series from the BBC that “invites close, unhurried listening to the stories of individuals.” And wouldn’t you know it, the first profile tells the story of a Detroit native.

Yusef Shakur, who now runs a bookstore and community center in Zone 8, grew up in the same neighborhood and became a gangster as a teenager. At the age of 19 in 1992, he began serving a nine-year prison sentence. While there, he reaches out to his father who’s also serving time — a man he’s never met and considers “a sperm donor.” His father’s reply changes the course of his life:

"Son, let your past mistakes become your teacher because your mistakes can become our greatest education. … You must use this time to prepare yourself to leave better than what you came in as. Turn your cell into a university by rebuilding yourself from the inside out. … P.S. You misspelled knowledge, religion, envelope, address, message and religious. If you don’t have a dictionary, you need to get one. Words are powerful because they convey who we are. Use your mind to free yourself or somebody will use your mind to keep you a slave."

It’s a story about the power of a lost father’s love, hope and resurrection, and a tale of the meaning of time and attention in the most dire of circumstances.

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Danish Filmmaker Spends Year in Wisconsin Documenting Contemplative Neuroscience Research with Children and Vets in “Free the Mind”

by Nancy Rosenbaum, producer

Phie Ambo

For the past year, Danish filmmaker Phie Ambo has been trailing neuroscientist Richard Davidson at his lab in Madison, Wisconsin. Best known for studying the brains of Tibetan Buddhist monks, Davidson’s research has shown that meditation can literally change the brain.

He’s the featured guest in our show titled "Investigating Healthy Minds." While producing it, we were looking for sound that would illustrate some of his point and discovered Ambo’s yet-to-be released documentary, Free the Mind, contained a few audio clips that would help bring Dr. Davidson’s work to life.

In 2010, Ambo set out with her family from Denmark to document Davidson’s newest research with pre-school children and war veterans. We emailed her to learn more about her film, and her motivations for making it.

Richard DavidsonYou live in Denmark. Richard Davidson is based in Wisconsin. How did you first learn about him and his research? How did you connect?

I met Richard Davidson for the first time in 2009 when he was in Massachusetts for a conference on mindfulness. I was there to look for a scientist who would be a good main character for my film, so I sat through four days of talks given by different experts in the field, and I immediately knew that Richie would make a great character when I saw him on stage. He is a very playful and curious scientist, and it’s easy to tell that he is very visionary.

What inspired you to make a film about him? How and why is Richard Davidson’s work personally meaningful to you?

The reason why I wanted to make a film on Richie’s work is that he is personally invested in his research. He is a meditator himself, which to me makes him interesting as a researcher on a very deep level.

Richie knows that meditation works for him, but he really wants to know how and why it works. He has his own bodily experience with meditation, which I believe gives him the tools to ask the relevant questions on a scientific level. To me it’s also crucial that Richie works with rigorous scientific methods and that he also publishes studies that show that meditation does not work for everyone. This makes him reliable and trustworthy to me.

Another good trait in Richie is that he is not afraid to ask some of the questions that may not be popular in meditation research like: How many of the people who take a mindfulness class actually stick to the training one year or 10 years later?

Do you have a meditation practice? If so, what kind of practice do you do? How has meditation shaped your own life (and brain)?

About six years ago I suddenly started to have panic attacks and it was very scary and disturbing. I went to my doctor and she wanted to medicate me, but I had a strong feeling that medication was not the right treatment for me. I felt that I had to find a way to work my way through this crisis with all my senses open, not closed.

By coincidence I heard about mindfulness meditation and I took an eight-week course in Copenhagen. It helped me a lot to just accept things as they were and not try to shove down all the uncomfortable emotions. But I also felt very strongly that something was physically changing in my brain as I practiced. I got very curious about what was actually happening to me on a scientific level, so I decided to look into this through my work as a filmmaker.

I still meditate every day. I practice different kinds of meditation -– lovingkindness, open awareness, body scan, and sound meditations. It’s funny because in my work as a documentary filmmaker I often struggle with accepting reality as it is; I can’t control what happens when I shoot and this is both the best and worst about working with reality. But the way I see it, meditation is very much about being in the present moment and experiencing it fully without wanting to change it -– and this is really helpful to remember in my job. In many ways my meditation practice helps me to stay open towards any changes that may occur during shooting and just go with whatever happens.

You traveled inside this emerging world of contemplative neuroscience during the filming process. How did your understanding of contemplative neuroscience deepen or change?

In the beginning of my research process, it was very important to me that the meditation form being studied was mindfulness, so I was a bit thrown off when I found out that one of the experiments that I was following for the film had changed into being about a specific breathing technique and yoga, which was not Buddhist based.

RichThis was an experiment with vets who suffer from PTSD and they go through a seven-day workshop. I was worried that just sitting down breathing would be too subtle to make interesting cinematic scenes with the vets, but it turned out that the breathing activated all kinds of emotions that came out during the workshop. This made the study very suitable for the documentary film, and I realized that the contemplative practices all stand on a pretty similar ground so they produce some of the same effects too. It’s not so important whether it’s Buddhist or not.

Tell us a little bit about the filming process. How long did you document Richard Davidson and his research? What aspects of his research did you look at? What’s the story you’re trying to tell?
       
I went to Madison three times to prepare for the shooting and make sure that we were all on the same page and then I brought my husband and two kids for six weeks in the fall of 2010 where I did almost all of the scenes for the film. I was in India briefly with Richie to see His Holiness the Dalai Lama and then back again in Madison in the spring of 2011 to do the very last scenes for the film.

I had decided to make a film that would appeal to a wide audience because I think it’s important for everyone to know about these alternative ways to work with our health. I think that a lot of people get turned off if they feel that this film is too academic for them so I chose to make it a case-based story where we follow three characters that go through studies set in Richie’s lab.

WillTwo of them are vets and one is a five-year-old child. What I really like about the studies that these two extremely different groups go through is that they are very similar; they all learn to concentrate and become more aware of themselves and their surroundings. So the story that I would like to tell is that essentially all human beings are alike even though we seem very different on the surface. We are all just trying to achieve happiness. The good news is that we can work intentionally towards that goal because our brains are plastic and we have the potential to change all through life.

What did you see on the ground while filming that made a lasting impression on you? Is there a particular story or experience that stands out?

I really like some of the more poetic moments in the film. One of the vets sits in his own thoughts halfway through the workshop and then he says, “I’ve just come to the realization that I haven’t really lived since I’ve been back. I’ve just been kind of here.” This guy has stopped making plans for his life, but at the end of the workshop he starts to talk about running a marathon!

Another moving moment is when a vet says that he used to be a kid who was smiling all the time for no reason and now he’s grown cynical and closed off and he never smiles. At the end of the workshop, he has a smile on his face during a meditation.

The little kid in the film, Will, also has a wonderful scene in the film when during class the kids are talking about how to make a plant grow. The other kids say “sun, soil, and water” but Will says “love” in a clear voice “because if you don’t love it, it won’t grow!” These are all little steps that the characters take on their journey that I feel incredibly privileged to be witnessing through my camera.

Free the Mind is slated for release in the spring of 2012.

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The Purest Bicycle Rider

by Trent Gilliss, senior editor

How many of us have passed by a stranger on the street or sat near a person on a bus or a train so many times but we’ve never really known much more about that person than the judgments and stories we’ve created in our heads? For some Bostonians, this documentary makes that introduction. The film does a lovely job of introducing Louie the bike rider and shows you his passion for one thing — riding bicycle.

If any of you Bostonians see this, comment or drop us a line if you recognize Louie. I’d love to hear what you think.

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Before the Destruction: A Dublin School for Deaf Boys and Its Demise (photos)
by Tristan Hutchinson, guest contributor

Up the main steps of the building and into the hallway, four floors of corridors that lead to numerous rooms. Inside the rooms sit beds with sheets on, jars of hair and face products, old TV sets. Classrooms of books, teaching aids and chairs. When the building falls into dust, with it go the memories.

After the Famine, the Catholic Church, together with the Christian Brothers, established St. Joseph’s School for Deaf Boys in Cabra, on Dublin’s north side, in 1857. The deaf population of Ireland was of particular concern to the Church as they had received no religious teaching, and emphasis was placed on religious instruction through sign language.
St. Joseph’s played a significant role in the formation of the Irish deaf community. Here, boys were also taught trades such as tailoring and shoemaking, and the school produced many skilled craftsmen. Tuition through sign language continued until 1957 when the controversial oralism method was introduced, prompting a separation of boys based on communication ability.
After a series of media revelations in the 1990’s about child abuse in Irish institutions, the government set up the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse (CICA), and, after a lengthy investigation, produced the Ryan Report. This report outlined hundreds of systematic and “endemic” cases of abuse of children in institutions, including St. Joseph’s, and found a culture of abuse that for many years government inspectors failed to stop. St. Joseph’s was the only school featured in the Ryan Report where parents had sent their children voluntarily.
In 2006, the Christian Brothers acknowledged that boys in their care had suffered sexual and physical abuse at the hands of “individuals,” remarking that sexual abuse was seen as a “moral failing on the part of the Brother in question.” Boys reported instances of rape and molestation by staff. Others were engaged in sex talk and were shown adult movies in their rooms. The Commission also revealed that this level of systematic abuse led to a disturbing trend of peer abuse.

The Ryan Report states that children were not believed when instances of abuse were reported, and were more often than not ignored. At best, offenders were removed from the school and sent to another, where abuse continued. Recent studies show that deaf children are more at risk of physical, mental, and sexual abuse, with some studies stating a risk two to three times higher as these children may not be able to communicate their experiences, or understand what has happened.
The CICA report contained allegations of abuse stemming from 1914 to when the commission started, and the intention of the CICA was to publicly name the abusers, but was blocked in doing so by a right-to-privacy lawsuit taken out by the Christian Brothers. As well as this, an indemnity deal between a number of religious orders involved and the government allowed the Orders to avoid paying the full cost, and an eventual settlement of over €400 million was agreed, with the Irish taxpayers picking up the rest of the compensation. The report also opened up and criticized evidence of State and Church collusion during the period of abuse.
In 2006, the Christian Brothers relinquished control of Irish schools, bringing to an end over 200 years of management that formed the backbone of Irish education. This year sees St. Joseph’s School for Deaf Boys demolished, making way for a new national deaf centre.
For some, the school represented an opportunity to develop and excel in a safe environment. Trades were taught and the school produced many skilled craftsmen. For others, it was a place of shame and brutality. When the oralism method was introduced, those who were profoundly deaf were segregated from others, kept apart in classes and in living quarters. It bred a system of fear into the lives of children who were seen as particularly vulnerable.
I started the project with the intention of documenting what remained of St. Joseph’s before its demolition.

Some spaces were stripped bare.


Dorm rooms empty.

And sinks taped off.

Other rooms contained years of relics, objects, files, and reminders of the past.



On the walls scrawled graffiti; chalkboards still had writing.

There were beds with sheets still on. Bottles of hair products and tonics.

The building echoed my footsteps, yet the past was tangible and loud in the silence.

I wanted to document all this before the building disappeared into the dust.

Tristan Hutchinson is a photographer based in Dublin, Ireland. He’s currently working on a project in the home of his mother’s birth, Cobh, a small harbor town in the south of Ireland, which has one of the highest incidences of cancer in the country. You can see more of his work on his website or follow him on Tumblr.
We welcome your original reflections, essays, videos, or news items for possible publication on the Being Blog. Submit your entry through our First Person Outreach page.
Before the Destruction: A Dublin School for Deaf Boys and Its Demise (photos)
by Tristan Hutchinson, guest contributor

Up the main steps of the building and into the hallway, four floors of corridors that lead to numerous rooms. Inside the rooms sit beds with sheets on, jars of hair and face products, old TV sets. Classrooms of books, teaching aids and chairs. When the building falls into dust, with it go the memories.

After the Famine, the Catholic Church, together with the Christian Brothers, established St. Joseph’s School for Deaf Boys in Cabra, on Dublin’s north side, in 1857. The deaf population of Ireland was of particular concern to the Church as they had received no religious teaching, and emphasis was placed on religious instruction through sign language.
St. Joseph’s played a significant role in the formation of the Irish deaf community. Here, boys were also taught trades such as tailoring and shoemaking, and the school produced many skilled craftsmen. Tuition through sign language continued until 1957 when the controversial oralism method was introduced, prompting a separation of boys based on communication ability.
After a series of media revelations in the 1990’s about child abuse in Irish institutions, the government set up the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse (CICA), and, after a lengthy investigation, produced the Ryan Report. This report outlined hundreds of systematic and “endemic” cases of abuse of children in institutions, including St. Joseph’s, and found a culture of abuse that for many years government inspectors failed to stop. St. Joseph’s was the only school featured in the Ryan Report where parents had sent their children voluntarily.
In 2006, the Christian Brothers acknowledged that boys in their care had suffered sexual and physical abuse at the hands of “individuals,” remarking that sexual abuse was seen as a “moral failing on the part of the Brother in question.” Boys reported instances of rape and molestation by staff. Others were engaged in sex talk and were shown adult movies in their rooms. The Commission also revealed that this level of systematic abuse led to a disturbing trend of peer abuse.

The Ryan Report states that children were not believed when instances of abuse were reported, and were more often than not ignored. At best, offenders were removed from the school and sent to another, where abuse continued. Recent studies show that deaf children are more at risk of physical, mental, and sexual abuse, with some studies stating a risk two to three times higher as these children may not be able to communicate their experiences, or understand what has happened.
The CICA report contained allegations of abuse stemming from 1914 to when the commission started, and the intention of the CICA was to publicly name the abusers, but was blocked in doing so by a right-to-privacy lawsuit taken out by the Christian Brothers. As well as this, an indemnity deal between a number of religious orders involved and the government allowed the Orders to avoid paying the full cost, and an eventual settlement of over €400 million was agreed, with the Irish taxpayers picking up the rest of the compensation. The report also opened up and criticized evidence of State and Church collusion during the period of abuse.
In 2006, the Christian Brothers relinquished control of Irish schools, bringing to an end over 200 years of management that formed the backbone of Irish education. This year sees St. Joseph’s School for Deaf Boys demolished, making way for a new national deaf centre.
For some, the school represented an opportunity to develop and excel in a safe environment. Trades were taught and the school produced many skilled craftsmen. For others, it was a place of shame and brutality. When the oralism method was introduced, those who were profoundly deaf were segregated from others, kept apart in classes and in living quarters. It bred a system of fear into the lives of children who were seen as particularly vulnerable.
I started the project with the intention of documenting what remained of St. Joseph’s before its demolition.

Some spaces were stripped bare.


Dorm rooms empty.

And sinks taped off.

Other rooms contained years of relics, objects, files, and reminders of the past.



On the walls scrawled graffiti; chalkboards still had writing.

There were beds with sheets still on. Bottles of hair products and tonics.

The building echoed my footsteps, yet the past was tangible and loud in the silence.

I wanted to document all this before the building disappeared into the dust.

Tristan Hutchinson is a photographer based in Dublin, Ireland. He’s currently working on a project in the home of his mother’s birth, Cobh, a small harbor town in the south of Ireland, which has one of the highest incidences of cancer in the country. You can see more of his work on his website or follow him on Tumblr.
We welcome your original reflections, essays, videos, or news items for possible publication on the Being Blog. Submit your entry through our First Person Outreach page.

Before the Destruction: A Dublin School for Deaf Boys and Its Demise (photos)

by Tristan Hutchinson, guest contributor

Up the main steps of the building and into the hallway, four floors of corridors that lead to numerous rooms. Inside the rooms sit beds with sheets on, jars of hair and face products, old TV sets. Classrooms of books, teaching aids and chairs. When the building falls into dust, with it go the memories.

After the Famine, the Catholic Church, together with the Christian Brothers, established St. Joseph’s School for Deaf Boys in Cabra, on Dublin’s north side, in 1857. The deaf population of Ireland was of particular concern to the Church as they had received no religious teaching, and emphasis was placed on religious instruction through sign language.

St. Joseph’s played a significant role in the formation of the Irish deaf community. Here, boys were also taught trades such as tailoring and shoemaking, and the school produced many skilled craftsmen. Tuition through sign language continued until 1957 when the controversial oralism method was introduced, prompting a separation of boys based on communication ability.

After a series of media revelations in the 1990’s about child abuse in Irish institutions, the government set up the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse (CICA), and, after a lengthy investigation, produced the Ryan Report. This report outlined hundreds of systematic and “endemic” cases of abuse of children in institutions, including St. Joseph’s, and found a culture of abuse that for many years government inspectors failed to stop. St. Joseph’s was the only school featured in the Ryan Report where parents had sent their children voluntarily.

In 2006, the Christian Brothers acknowledged that boys in their care had suffered sexual and physical abuse at the hands of “individuals,” remarking that sexual abuse was seen as a “moral failing on the part of the Brother in question.” Boys reported instances of rape and molestation by staff. Others were engaged in sex talk and were shown adult movies in their rooms. The Commission also revealed that this level of systematic abuse led to a disturbing trend of peer abuse.

tristan_hutchinson_5

The Ryan Report states that children were not believed when instances of abuse were reported, and were more often than not ignored. At best, offenders were removed from the school and sent to another, where abuse continued. Recent studies show that deaf children are more at risk of physical, mental, and sexual abuse, with some studies stating a risk two to three times higher as these children may not be able to communicate their experiences, or understand what has happened.

The CICA report contained allegations of abuse stemming from 1914 to when the commission started, and the intention of the CICA was to publicly name the abusers, but was blocked in doing so by a right-to-privacy lawsuit taken out by the Christian Brothers. As well as this, an indemnity deal between a number of religious orders involved and the government allowed the Orders to avoid paying the full cost, and an eventual settlement of over €400 million was agreed, with the Irish taxpayers picking up the rest of the compensation. The report also opened up and criticized evidence of State and Church collusion during the period of abuse.

In 2006, the Christian Brothers relinquished control of Irish schools, bringing to an end over 200 years of management that formed the backbone of Irish education. This year sees St. Joseph’s School for Deaf Boys demolished, making way for a new national deaf centre.

For some, the school represented an opportunity to develop and excel in a safe environment. Trades were taught and the school produced many skilled craftsmen. For others, it was a place of shame and brutality. When the oralism method was introduced, those who were profoundly deaf were segregated from others, kept apart in classes and in living quarters. It bred a system of fear into the lives of children who were seen as particularly vulnerable.

I started the project with the intention of documenting what remained of St. Joseph’s before its demolition.

tristan_hutchinson_16

Some spaces were stripped bare.

tristan_hutchinson_10

tristan_hutchinson_3

Dorm rooms empty.

tristan_hutchinson_8

And sinks taped off.

tristan_hutchinson_14

Other rooms contained years of relics, objects, files, and reminders of the past.

tristan_hutchinson_7

tristan_hutchinson_13

tristan_hutchinson_12

On the walls scrawled graffiti; chalkboards still had writing.

tristan_hutchinson_6

There were beds with sheets still on. Bottles of hair products and tonics.

tristan_hutchinson_2

The building echoed my footsteps, yet the past was tangible and loud in the silence.

tristan_hutchinson_1

I wanted to document all this before the building disappeared into the dust.

tristan_hutchinson_11


Tristan HutchinsonTristan Hutchinson is a photographer based in Dublin, Ireland. He’s currently working on a project in the home of his mother’s birth, Cobh, a small harbor town in the south of Ireland, which has one of the highest incidences of cancer in the country. You can see more of his work on his website or follow him on Tumblr.

We welcome your original reflections, essays, videos, or news items for possible publication on the Being Blog. Submit your entry through our First Person Outreach page.

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Fashion Photographer Bill Cunningham Finds Beauty on the Street

by Nancy Rosenbaum, producer

"The wider world that perceives fashion as a frivolity that should be done away with. The point is fashion is the armor to survive the reality of everyday life. I don’t think you can do away with it. It would be like doing away with civilization."

Fashion photographer Bill Cunningham is a personal hero, and I’m not that interested in fashion. I’m inspired by who he is as a person. I keep a photograph of him tacked up in my cube with the caption "I’m looking for something that has beauty."

Cunningham is compelled by clothing — not the celebrity status or pedigree of the wearer. He champions lively personal style wherever and whenever it captures his highly-trained eye. On Sundays, I like to soak up his weekly "On the Street" feature in The New York Times. Now he’s the subject of a new documentary, Bill Cunningham New York. It’s the best film I’ve seen this year. 

The documentary reveals Cunningham’s incredible work ethic and the ferocious joy of his work. Now in his 80s, he spends his days riding around Manhattan without a helmet on a beat-up bicycle. His film-loaded camera is always at the ready (no, he does not shoot digital), cocked to shoot someone’s interesting hat or low-rider pants.

In the evenings, he tours New York’s society circuit, snapping photos at charity benefit functions. He never eats the food at these events, and even refuses to accept a glass of water. He says this would compromise his objective stance.

While fashion has been the driver of Cunningham’s life and career, he describes his own personal style as dreary. While working, he wears a signature royal blue workman’s jacket. For years, he lived in a monk-like studio above Carnegie Hall stuffed with filing cabinets for all of his negatives. It didn’t even have a bathroom (it was down the hall). More recently, he has relocated to a bigger apartment. He asked to have the appliances and counters removed to make room for his files.

Bill Cunningham found his passion and calling in life. And because he did, he’s given a gift to the rest of us. Here’s a reminder from Cunningham to pay attention to what we see, and to look for beauty in our everyday encounters: ”Fashion comes from everywhere. It’s all here and the streets are speaking to us.”

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Ace Ventura Director’s Near-Death Experience Results in Documentary of Hope

by Trent Gilliss, senior editor

I was not prepared to get a little choked up when watching this movie trailer. Partly because of the use of “new-agey” in the description below. But, it doesn’t feel new-agey at all. Just hopeful and aspirational. A big thanks to the Utne Reader for posting:

"You wouldn’t expect the director who gave the world ridiculous films like Ace Ventura: Pet Detective and Bruce Almighty to make a new-agey documentary about the interconnectedness of all life—but that’s what has happened with I Am, Tom Shadyac’s earnest new feature. Read the full review …

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Film on Canadian Hutterites Is Reward Enough
Colleen Scheck, senior producer

It’s hard to watch The Hutterites and not wonder what has changed, and stayed the same, since 1964 for this Anabaptist community. But this is a piece of cultural history worth absorbing without thinking about the present.

Hutterite Colony in Standoff (1920)Colin Low, a Canadian filmmaker who inspired Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, directed this 28-minute documentary profiling a Hutterite community in Alberta, Canada. Not only is this film very informative about the lifestyle and beliefs of a relatively obscure communal people, this film is beautifully produced and an interesting example of the history of documentary technique. Here’s a taste of the narration:

"The memory of what the world once did to them remains with every Hutterite, and to a large degree they still mistrust the world and what they consider its false values. All Susie Chetter owns is contained in a hope chest. She will never have more money to spend than a child with an allowance. She probably will never see a movie or a television show. She knows nothing of science; little of art. She was baptized at 19 and made her vows, and now she is free to marry. If she should one day have children of her own, despite the sacrifices demanded by her belief, her dearest hope is that their lives will differ in no essential way from her own life."

Sometimes, researching a book suggestion yields serendipitous rewards in the form of an engaging video “snack” on this Friday morning.

Photo courtesy of Library and Archives Canada

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The Offering: A Sculptural Site Intervention
Trent Gilliss, senior editor

Meditation and contemplation take many forms. Often we (at least I do) think of this act of introspection and focus as being a peaceful, tranquil experience where the noise of machinery recedes to make way for internal silence and harmony. But, Australian artist Robbie Rowlands' creative vision saddles up those moments of sitting and evaluating with the harmonious execution of circular saws and hammers. They are more than instruments of delivery; they are the yogis, to some extent:

Cut of Community Hall"The cut, for me, is so violent. Well, not violent. It’s incredibly tense. That’s why working with the power tools is quite crucial to the work, because, it demands your full attention. You have to have full concentration."

Rowlands makes this point in the film above, which documents his dissection of a single story, clapboard church and community hall in Dandenong, Victoria originally built in 1904. Described as a “sculptural site intervention,” The Offering uses only the materials contained within the structure itself to create the installation.

And, for the observer, the exposed layers of history reveal symbols and moments in time worthy of introspection. History becomes the meditative center. And, once again for a brief while, this church becomes an anchor in its community — and a spiritual center worth meditating upon.

Update (June 2, 2010): I just happened upon this radio documentary from ABC Radio National about The Offering. Aside from the visual, what differentiates this piece from above is its inclusion of residents who used to inhabit the space — from a member of a Hindu religious group to a man who used to take dance lessons there. Well worth a listen.

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History From the Bottom Up
Colleen Scheck, senior producer

"Take your minds and think through them. Take your hearts and set them on fire. Amen." —Studs Terkel

I was excited to see that our show with Studs Terkel is listed on HBO’s resources page for the documentary "Studs Terkel: Listening to America," which debuted this past weekend. Even more exciting, though, is the announcement that roughly 6,000 hours of his interviews will be digitized by the Library of Congress.

A quote from the trailer: “History is so often told from the top down through the voice of statesmen and politicians, but what Studs has done is to tell history from the bottom up.” Amen.

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The Plight of the “Distant Stranger”

Trent Gilliss, online editor

Many of us have read Nick Kristof’s columns over the years. And, perhaps, like me, you’ve been moved by his words, shaken by his stories, struck dumb with melancholy and grief. But, inevitably, the “plight of the ‘distant stranger’” assumes its role in feeling the events happening over there.

The HBO documentary, Reporter, will challenge you to come closer, to care, to take action as he pursues uncovering the truths behind human rights violations and personal suffering. With Kristof leading the way, the viewer bears witness alongside his two traveling companions, a med student and a teacher, to the tricky trail the journalist walks when reporting in war-torn Congo.

The film portrays some of the ethical and moral dilemmas of being a reporter in a conflict zone. When Kristof encounters a 41-year-old woman of 60 pounds lying at the edge of a village about to die, he acts. When a warlord responsible for the raping and pillaging of thousands gives thanks to the Lord, he bows his head; when that same man, General Nkunda asks him to eat with him, he dines. Few of these decisions are made without some type of deliberation — a grimace, a pause, a controlled look. But, in the end, he always writes.

Nick Kristof in CongoHe perseveres and tries to understand the underlying aspects of the people involved. And, he asks the difficult questions that have gotten other journalists killed. I’m not trying to saint him, but I now better appreciate his work as he attempts to discover a fuller aspect of all the human beings involved. He continues to tell the difficult stories of a region that gets covered during catastrophic events, and then forgotten within a blink’s time of a celebrity foible or the next breaking news event.

I hope we can interview him for the show some day in the future and hear how he wrestles with these difficult choices — and how he continues on.

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A New Dialogue?
Colleen Scheck, senior producer

In preparation for this week’s program, "No More Taking Sides," we’ve been following the recent developments in Robi Damelin’s life. Our show includes this film clip from the documentary Encounter Point of Robi reading the letter she wrote to the family of her son’s killer.

In 2005, just a few months after Ta’er Hamad had been arrested, she wrote:

After your son was captured, I spent many sleepless nights thinking about what to do, should I ignore the whole thing, or will I be true to my integrity and to the work that I am doing and try to find a way for closure and reconciliation…

…I understand that your son is considered a hero by many of the Palestinian people, he is considered to be a freedom fighter, fighting for justice and for an independent viable Palestinian state, but I also feel that if he understood that taking the life of another may not be the way and that if he understood the consequences of his act, he could see that a non-violent solution is the only way for both nations to live together in peace.

Over three years later, Robi indirectly received a defiant, militant reply from Mr. Hamad via its publication by a Palestinian news agency:

"Just as I refused to directly address the soldier’s mother, I cannot wish to meet her. I cannot meet with the occupier of our land on the same land. I carried out the operation as part of the struggle for freedom, justice and the establishment of an independent state, not out of a lust or love for killing. Acts of violence are a necessity imposed upon us by the occupation and I shall not abandon this path for as long as the occupation continues."

In response, Robi wrote:

"Ta’er, how ironic, the people who most wanted to protect me from the words in your letter were my Palestinian friends and other bereaved parents in our group. They of all people have the right to talk about my actions and who I am for we have worked together for more than 6 years to try to end this terrible conflict and to give both sides a chance to live with a sense of dignity free from the terrible fear which engulfs us and gives us all the excuse for violence. The tears I saw in the eyes of my Palestinian partners in the Parents Circle when they met me after you chose to publish the letter were tears of understanding and yes friendship and love…"

"… The wisest reaction I had to the words of your letter came from my wonderful son Eran, who I thought would be terribly angry. Well he said, listen mum, perhaps this is the beginning of a dialog."

In the audio embedded up top, Trent recently spoke with Robi from her home in Tel Aviv to learn more about how she’s reflecting on this exchange, and what it means for her work with the Parents Circle - Families Forum. It’s worth a listen to hear her ongoing tenacity.

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The Impressionable Faces of Buddhist Silence

by Trent Gilliss, online editor

Tomorrow, our latest production with Matthieu Ricard will be released via our podcast. His journey to the Himalayas and studying under some of the great Tibetan Buddhist monks and the current Dalai Lama was inspired by the films of Arnaud Desjardins.

What struck him and became the catalyst for his lifelong journey, as he told Krista in a hotel room in Vancouver, was a particular point in one of these documentaries when he saw “a series of faces, of contemplatives … in silence” — of all shapes and sizes.

I wanted to see those faces. The video above is excerpted from the 1966 film, Le Message des Tibétains: Le Tantrisme (deuxième partie). For the quick skinny on the portrait sequence Ricard mentions, skip to 50:05 in the clip.

Ricard describes the influence of Desjardins’s films in greater depth in The Monk and the Philosopher, a dialogue between him and his father, Jean-François Revel, a French intellectual who is well-known for his challenging critiques of Communism and Christianity:

Matthieu Ricard: …what triggered my interest in Buddhism was in 1966…

Jean-François Revel: You would have been twenty then.

M.R.: I was still at university, and just about to go to the Institut Pasteur, when I saw some films made by a friend, Arnaud Desjardins, as they were being edited. They were about the great Tibetan lamas who had fled the Chinese invasion and taken refuge on the souther side of the Himalayas, from Kashmir to Bhutan. Arnaud had spent several months on two trips with an excellent guide and interpreter, filming these masters at close quarters. The films were very striking. Around the same time, another friend, Dr. Leboyer, came back from Darjeeling where he’d met some of the same lamas. I’d just finished a course and had the chance of taking a six-month break before starting my research work. It was the time of the hippies, who’d set out to India overland hitchhiking or in a Citroen deux-chevaux, through Turkey, Iran, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. I was also drawn to the martial arts and had thought of going to Japan. But the sight of the pictures brought back by Arnaud and Frederick Leboyer, what they told me and their descriptions of their encounters there, all helped me make up my mind to head for the Himalayas rather than anywhere else.

J.F.R: So it was Arnaud Desjardins’s film that started it all off.

M.R.: There were several films, The Message of the Tibetans and Himalaya, Land of Serenity (which included The Children of Wisdom and The Lake of the Yogis), four hours in all. They include long sequences of the great Buddhist teachers who’d just arrived from Tibet — what they looked like, how they spoke, what they taught. The films gave a very alive and inspiring account of what it was like.

J.F.R.: You said they left a strong impression on you, personally. Why?

M.R.: I had the impression of seeing living beings who were the very image of what they taught. They had such a striking and remarkable feeling about them. I couldn’t quite hit on the explicit reasons why, but what struck me most was that they matched the ideal of sainthood, the perfect being, the sage — a kind of person hardly to be found nowadays in the West. It was the image I had of St. Francis of Assisi, or the great wise men of ancient times, but which for me had become figures of the distant past. You can’t go meet Socrates, listen to Plato debating, or sit at St. Francis’ feet. Yet suddenly, here were beings who seemed to be living examples of wisdom. I said to myself, ‘If it’s possible to reach perfection as a human being, that must be it.’

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La Convivencia and the West-Eastern Divan
» download [mp3, 2:57]
Marc Sanchez, associate producer

Ibrahim Al-MarashiThe audio above comes from one of our "Revealing Ramadan" participants, Ibrahim Al-Marashi, who appeared in our podcast and radio program. He’s an Iraqi-American who currently lives and teaches in Spain, and has lived in California (Los Angeles and Monterey) and Turkey. During his interview, he talked about one of the things that attracted him to Spain: La Convivencia. This idea, which translates as “the coexistence,” describes a cultural harmony between Muslims, Jews, and Christians and was first coined when Spain came under Muslim rule beginning in the 8th century. Al-Marashi goes on to talk about his Lebanese-Christian grandmother and his interests in shared Muslim-Jewish-Christian ideas.

Al-Marashi’s interview was fresh in my mind when I happened to catch an airing of the documentary, Knowledge Is the Beginning. The movie follows a season of the West-Eastern Divan, an orchestra conducted by Daniel Barenboim.

The orchestra is made up of young Israelis and Arabs, and Barenboim’s hope is to show how music can bring people together. The idea for the group was born out of Barenboim’s friendship with Edward Said.

Edward Said and Daniel BarenboimBarenboim was first raised in Buenos Aires, the son of Russian Jews, and he began studying piano and giving performances at an early age. His family relocated to Israel 10 years after Barenboim was born, and he was on the conductor’s track before his thirteenth birthday.

Said was born in Palestine before the founding of Israel. His family moved to Egypt after the 1948 Arab-Israeli War. He went on to study at Princeton and Harvard and to teach English and Comparative Literature at Columbia University. He was a prolific writer, and staunch advocate for Palestinian rights. He passed away in 2003.

West-Eastern Divan Rehearsal

In addition to his political writing and cultural criticism, Said was a passionate fan of classical music. So much so that he was the classical music critic for The Nation. It was through music that he and Barenboim first bonded. And, it was music that opened a dialogue to their differences. Said and Barenboim knew that coming together — just bringing your ideas to the table to talk — can open a lot of doors. From the orchestra’s Web site:

"Music by itself can, of course, not resolve the Arab-Israeli conflict. Music grants the individual the right and obligation to express himself fully while listening to his neighbour. Based on this notion of equality, cooperation and justice for all, the Orchestra represents an alternative model to the current situation in the Middle East."

(Top photo: Ibrahim Al-Marashi.

Middle photo: Edward Said, left, and Daniel Barenboim, right, chat during an awards ceremony in Oviedo, Spain in 2002. Photo by Pierre-Philippe Marcou/AFP/Getty Images.

Bottom photo: The West-Eastern Divan rehearses at Royal Albert Hall in London for the BBC Proms in 2009. Photo by Oli Scarff/Getty Images.)

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