Saturday, July 31, 2010

Larry Rosenberg - The Art of Doing Nothing

As men, a lot of us have a hard time doing nothing. We are not good at just being, just sitting with no objective in mind, no goal. Even when we relax, we often play sports, or watch sports, or do yard work . . . but we seldom if ever do something that has no goal, no outcome.

This interview with Larry Rosenberg from the Tricycle archives looks at how to do nothing.

The Art of Doing Nothing

Larry Rosenberg is the founder of the Cambridge Insight Meditation Center (CIMC) and a guiding teacher of Insight Meditation Society (IMS) in Barre, Massachusetts. His new book, Breath by Breath, was recently published by Shambhala. Born to Russian-Jewish immigrants in 1932, Rosenberg grew up in Brooklyn; his father, who had Marxist leanings, came from fourteen generations of rabbis, but thought “that only an idiot goes into religion.”

Rosenberg went to Brooklyn College, and received his Ph.D. in social psychology from the University of Chicago. A highly coveted job in the Department of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School followed. But this turned out to be a “staggering” disappointment and he returned to the University of Chicago, where he began to experiment with hallucinogens. During a trip to Mexico in the 1960s, he met a cowboy turned holy man who told him, “Don’t waste your time with drugs; you should start meditating.”

Thirty-five years later, Rosenberg is sitting in a wing chair in CIMC, talking to Tricycle’s contributing editor Amy Gross about the evolution of his own practice.

Tricycle: Who was your first teacher?

Rosenberg: Krishnamurti. I met him in 1968 while I was teaching at Brandeis University. Brandeis had this program where they’d invite a person to give talks for a week. I didn’t know who Krishnamurti was, but fortunately for me, no one else did either so we started taking walks and talking. I’d never met anyone so awake. I’d never been listened to so totally and I found it quite unnerving at first. Then, as I got to know him, I just felt so at home with him. I told him that I was a professor, but the whole academic thing was dying out from under me. I’d been extremely ambitious—on fire to get a Ph.D. and a good job—but now I thought the old cliché “publish or perish” should really be “publish and perish.”

Before Krishnamurti I’d never verbalized how I felt because I didn’t have the confidence. What he did that was invaluable was, he confirmed my perception. He said, “Just go on teaching and start paying attention to yourself. Start noticing how you actually live.” That’s a phrase he’d say over and over—“how you actually live.”

Tricycle: Where did you go from there?

Rosenberg: I started doing everything. Krishnamurti. Vedanta. I was on my way to India for a Sanskrit-Vedanta training program when a friend of mine introduced me to Seung Sahn, a Zen Master from Korea. I went on a retreat, and after that, there was no reason to go to India. I thought, “Boy, I’ve accomplished more in four days of meditation than in all the years of talking about texts.”

Tricycle: How did you know what you were trying to accomplish?

Rosenberg: I’d had a taste on drugs of a pristine clarity and a feeling of tremendous joy and peace and love. And once or twice I had it doing a primitive kind of meditation, the best I could do based on books and what Krishnamurti had said.

And that was the beginning of the end of my academic career. What I’d learned at Harvard was that I was looking for happiness in the wrong place, because if I couldn’t be happy at Harvard, where could I? And finally, the last two years or so at Brandeis I knew that I had to drop out of the university and go into this full-time.

Tricycle: How did you live after you dropped out?

Rosenberg: For about a year-and-a-half I just crashed in different places, including Asia. Somehow I always had a place. For a while I lived at Seung Sahn’s center near Providence, Rhode Island, wore the robes, and studied with him. He was grooming me to teach and I traveled with him as his aide.

Tricycle: What was your practice then?

Rosenberg: Mostly koans. And after three or four years he suggested that I spend a year at his monastery in Korea, which I did.

Tricycle: What led you from Korean Zen to vipassana?

Rosenberg: After Korea, I went back to the Zen Center, where there was a huge amount of ritual—chanting twice a day, bowing, robes, a stylized way of eating, so many ceremonies it seemed we were celebrating something every other week.

Then my close friend Jon Kabat-Zinn—we’ve gone through all these things together for thirty-five years—went on a vipassana retreat, and he pretty much grabbed me and said, “Larry, I found what you’ve been looking for.” Because I’d always say, “If we could only get rid of all this ceremony, all this stuff.” But I said, “Look, Jon, Zen is fine for me; I just want to stay here.” He said, “If I have to tie you up and throw you into my pickup truck, I’m going to take you on the next retreat.” So for my birthday he gave me a present of a retreat—it was led by Jack Kornfield.

Tricycle: And was it just what you were looking for?

Rosenberg: It was love at first sight. The retreat was basically sit-and-walk until you’re blue in the face. Breathing was the main method, and making mental notes. There was no chanting. There was no special way to eat except mindfully. Oh my God, what a relief! I didn’t realize how much I didn’t want to carry around all that Asian form and custom and just be an American guy who wanted to do this stuff.

The heart of the whole thing is understanding. Not intellectual understanding, although that’s a way to begin. It’s deeply seeing into yourself. And that to me is different from concentration, which can of course facilitate such clear seeing. Many things help you with concentration, like chanting or bowing, so they can be useful parts of practice. But finally, there is no substitute for insightful seeing or for understanding how you create suffering for yourself; and in the process—in seeing into and through it - how to let go of it. It’s a life of awareness. That’s my passion. Now, there’s a school of Zen that emphasizes just-awareness of what is, and I could easily have gone in that direction. That’s Soto Zen, and a practice called shikan-taza—just sitting—and when that ripens, that to me is mature practice. It’s nothing. You sit and you’re just totally attentive to what’s there. What I teach, anapanasati, leads to that, to more and more simplicity until finally we don’t need techniques and methods, even the breath. [Anapanasati is where breathing is used as an exclusive object of attention to develop concentrated focus; then awareness grounded in the breathing is used to see clearly into the impermenant and empty nature of all formations. Letting go into freedom emerges into insight. - LR] I don’t impose it on people. I let them come to it naturally. But for me, I’ve always been much more drawn to just awareness of the way things are. Krishnamurti - whose teaching is a brilliant modern commentary on the fundamental teaching of mindfulness—started me that way, and I’ve always come back to it.

Tricycle: It’s a hard way to start, don’t you think?

Rosenberg: I won’t say it’s impossible, but yes, I agree, it’s a hard way to start.

Tricycle: Why did you open the Cambridge Insight Meditation Center?

Larry Rosenberg in KoreaRosenberg: I’d been teaching at a bookstore two nights a week. And a lot of people started coming. And then they started saying we needed a center. I wasn’t thrilled with that. I had avoided certain kinds of responsibilities my whole life. But after a few years it became obvious that it would really be great if there was some place - IMS plus this urban place - because people were coming back from their long retreats at IMS and there was no place to practice. Also I was evolving a way of teaching that took daily life very seriously.

Tricycle: You mean in contrast to retreat time?

Rosenberg: Yes. The idea was that people could go off and do retreats and we’d keep the sitting practice alive and also encourage them to go back to their families, school, job, and then tell us about it. And we would respond not like therapists but from a dharma point of view. Could the practice be helpful to the work and the marriage and school, etc.? It's quite a challenge, one I welcome: What do these teachings have to offer in terms of how people can live in the world?

Tricycle: How did that differ from your own studies?

Rosenberg: Most of our teachers had been celibate monks from Asia. They had very little direct experience with women, some of them had never had a job or touched money, etc. - and they were giving us advice. To me, some of their advice seemed limited. Their advice to men about women - I’m making a bit of a joke about it, but it was sort of like: “Take care of the wife and kids so they’re adequately fed and housed and get some schooling, so they’re not a problem.” Basically it’s so that you can get on with the real thing, which is to sit. It isn’t seeing marriage itself or children or work as dynamic situations that have a lot of energy in them, that are quite challenging, and that if looked at in a certain way are not inferior to sitting as a way of growing spiritually.

Tricycle: That view westernizes the dharma, doesn’t it?

Rosenberg: Yes, I think Westerners lack respect for their own spiritual maturity. It’s as though Asia owns spirituality, and we’re these barbarians, beseeching, “Oh, Bhante, please come over and tell us how to live.” But I’ve been to Asia, and they’re just as screwed up as we are. And there’s some real wisdom in our culture; the West has a tradition, too, of compassion and wisdom. And some people who aren’t even religious have it. When I was in Asia I totally did whatever an Asian lay person would do - I have the deepest respect for this tradition - but Asia does not have a monopoly on kindness. In Asia, being a lay person is - from the point of view of meditational practice - considered second-class. I personally think that the monastic life does optimize your possibilities for breaking through to awakening. But it’s by no means a guarantee. Most monasteries are hardly crammed full of enlightened people.

But we need a teaching that addresses the lives we actually live. We do need to handle money. We are in relationships. We do need to eat more than once a day. The problem isn’t eating or sex or money; it’s that we don’t know how to use these energies. The monastic strategy is: Don’t touch it; it’s dangerous. So the monks don’t handle money, etc. To me that’s not in-and-of-itself particularly holy. It’s a strategy - a monastic strategy to get free. I’m all for it - if you’re going to be a monastic.

Tricycle: And for lay practitioners?

Rosenberg: Our challenge is to learn how to use money and food and relationship correctly and not to look at these realms as tainted. And I didn’t see fully adequate help coming from Asians. What I’ve learned, I’ve learned from the Buddha’s teaching of the Four Noble Truths and my own pain, from not knowing how to do these things.

Tricycle: Could you describe how your own practice has changed over the years?

Rosenberg: Throughout all sorts of different schools and practices, two things have survived. One is an abiding interest in the breath. And the other is just ordinary mind power, just awareness itself. That’s what I got from Krishnamurti, and it’s in all the Buddha’s teachings. It’s just to be attentive to the way things are. In Pali, the word for mindfulness is sati and one of the definitions of it is “that which sets things right.” I don’t know if you’ve seen this in the practice, but when mindfulness touches things, they’re less problematic or not a problem at all. It’s magical. What I learned from anapanasati was that the breath is not simply to calm yourself or steady yourself or develop concentration; it can nourish awareness throughout. You use the breath the way everyone else does—to calm down—but it stays with you as you investigate the body, feelings, and all the different mind states, and begin to see that they’re impermenant and lack an enduring core; they’re not self.

Tricycle: So the breath is like background music or—

Rosenberg: It helps keep you on target. It can sustain and strengthen the awareness. It can cut down unnecessary thinking and even eliminate thinking, for periods of time anyway. It’s particularly helpful with difficult emotions that are hard to observe. It’s like a soothing friend holding your hand as you walk into fear or loneliness or anger, encouraging you to stay with it. And if you feel like running away, observe that. And the breath is always there, in-out, in-out. In the communities I’m used to teaching in—highly educated, intellectual people who live complex lives, whose work involves coordinating many activities, the use of computers, social relations... their minds have become very, very complicated. Too complicated. For those people, the breath is a relief. It’s like, “Phew!”

Tricycle: What happens to you now when you sit?

Rosenberg: The breath is still there. But my practice now for the most part is doing nothing. I just sit there. I know it sounds dopey [laughs]. Typically I’ll start off with the breathing, but sometimes not. I get calm and clear pretty quickly. Sometimes I’ll just spend a whole sitting really deeply in samadhi, which is very useful, especially if I'm tired—tremendous energy comes from it. So I’m not investigating it; it’s not vipassana at all. I give exclusive attention to the in-and-out breathing. And it strengthens the mind. It’s like a sanctuary that you can drop into to get away from everything for a while. Even five minutes of conscious breathing, and I’m ready to do what has to be done in terms of people and work. So typically, I start off with the breath. And sometimes that’s all I’ll do. But ninety-nine per cent of the time, I just open the field of attention. If I had to put it into words, it’s learning the art of doing absolutely nothing. So you’re sitting there, attentive; and enjoying the show.

Read the rest of the interview.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Integral Masculinity Panel: Are Deida & Farrell Integral? Mark Forman, Bert Parlee, Diane Hamilton, Pelle Billing, Gilles Herrada & Me

[Cross-posted from IOC, where I am the "offical" Integral Theory Conference blogger.]

Wow, that was fun. And that comes from someone with social anxiety who watched the room fill up and became increasingly terrified.

I had no idea so many people would attend, but then Diane Hamilton and Bert Parlee fall into the category of integral rock stars, so I should have guessed that might happen. And, Luke Fullager was missed - as he was unable to make the trip from Australia.

We really didn't talk that much about Deida and Farrell, aside from using them as touchstones for various issues. The general consensus is that they are not AQAL-integral, but that they are perhaps working from an integral perspective. In fact, Diane called David before the conference and asked him - his response was, "Of course I am not integral, integral is a map." He basically went on to say that he helps people untie spiritual and sexual knots in their lives - that is his mission.

OK now, time to be brutally honest.

When I am in situation such as that (feeling anxious and a bit overwhelmed), I try to be as present in the moment as humanly possible, which means I end up with very little recall of what happened. There is a way that I have learned to get out of the way and let whatever is going to come out, to come out . . . which maybe takes my short-term memory offline or something.

So, in reality, Sean and Mark should have asked someone else to do this session.

We began with a question from Mark on "Do we need an integral masculinity, and if so, what does that look like?" From there we were off - as I said, I have very little memory for what happened or what was said. But I'll take a stab at it.

Diane made a good point in observing that we had a woman on the panel (her), but that the women's panel felt no need to have a man on theirs. That says a lot about where men are in our development of masculine identity - it's almost like we feel we need a woman's perspective so that we don't piss anyone off, especially feminists.

We talked a little about mentoring - this is a topic I like. Pelle and I agreed that mentoring is good and often important, in that boys do not learn to be men in a vacuum. My perspective is that we do not need to TEACH boys how to be men, but rather, we need to create a safe space for them to discover their own sense of what it means to be a man.

We also talked about how to respond to the feminist attacks on men as dominaters and oppressors. Bert used some humor and an audience poll (I think it was on this question) to suggest that there is a little more openness to talk about the feminine shadow than their used to be, and that it may part of our community. I suggested that we not take a stand on this issue, but that we take a stance, that we remain open and fluid to the criticisms rather than become defensive or go on the offensive,

Gilles - whom I had never met before, or even heard of, but is someone I quite like and feel a kindred sense with - brought a gay man's perspective to the panel, which was excellent - he also brought humor. He talked about being ostracized by the "boy's club" for not being a good athlete and all of that when he was young, so that he learned a great deal about masculinity and agency from powerful women. It turned out that many of the guys in the room, mostly younger, had also had the influence of a strong woman in their lives. As someone who through his teen years in a household of women, with a weak mother, that's interesting to me.

One of Farrell's ideas that we did touch on was the "expendable male," with both Bert (I believe) and Pelle making good points. This is one area where a lot of men resonate with Farrell. We are seen historically as oppressors of women, which is only partly true (there was no choice in gender roles and actions until about the 1,600s or so), but we were dying in wars, in the fields, or whatever to support families, or to pay taxes, or whatever.

We made the income, women made the home and the babies. Women were freed from making babies with birth control (a point Gilles made very well), and from there they had many more options to explore their roles, while men still made the income. This is a main point of Farrell, as well.

In the audience Q&A portion, a young man asked about integral role models, and where we should look. Pelle made the excellent point that working with peers to tease out what our ideal might look like is a good way to go about it. My sense is that we do not one or two role models - what we need is a willingness to figure out how it works best for each of us to manifest our unique masculinity in an "integral" way, whatever that means. We might want to try on traits of various people we admire and assemble an integrated perspective that is our own.

All in all, that was a blast - I hope the attendees had a good time as well.

Nathan Hitchcock - Review of Eric Magnuson, Transforming Culture: Inside the Men’s Movement

This review appears in the new online issue of Journal of Men, Masculinities and Spirituality. Sounds like and interesting book to add to my reading list.

June 2010
Volume 4, Number 2
Pages: 97-99
Issue (471 KB PDF)
Review (93 KB PDF)

Review of Eric Magnuson, Transforming Culture: Inside the Men’s Movement
(Boulder, CO: Paradigm Publishers, 2007), 167 pp.
Nathan Hitchcock

The mythopoetic men’s movement went underground again after a difficult season of national publicity in the early 1990s. “New men” were presented as those who flee to the woods, take their shirts off, drum, tell fairy tales, weep, howl, hug other men, and come home kinder—but basically the same. Twenty years later only a fraction of mythopoetic groups survive, and, understandably, they make pains to stay out of the limelight. Why, then, does this men’s movement continue to anger and inspire and amuse and haunt us? Eric Magnuson gives a modest but compelling answer: mythopoetic work changes men from the inside-out. For all their political shortcomings, these spiritual-therapeutic groups have constituted a kind of “seed movement” that challenges hegemony and reconstructs a new social order from the bottom up.

In chapter one Magnuson gives an overview of the mythopoetic men’s movement and evaluations of it. The problem with earlier critiques from Michael Kimmel, Kenneth Clatterbaugh, Judith Newton and the like, he says, was their unwillingness to engage with the movement from within, preferring to dismantle the popular texts. For all their theoretical insight, their criticism tended to miss the liberating reconstruction of masculinity that was happening at the most basic levels. To rectify this, Magnuson presents a longitudinal ethnographic study of one particular men’s group, the Open Plain Men’s Circle. He presents findings from his eight-year analysis of this one independent organization. Through 230 meetings, 55 hours of interviews and hundreds of informal conversations, the author concludes that mythopoetic men are in the process of rejecting the old masculine way of “being unreliable, overly rational, disempowered, emotionally closed off, deceitful, unloving, competitive, and oppressive,” erecting in its place a masculinity that is “reliable, spiritual, open-minded, empowered, emotionally open, truthful, loving, cooperative, and liberational” (p. 18).

As a sociologist, Magnuson is very conscious about knitting together the macro- and the micro-. He therefore devotes his second chapter to various modern gender theories and argues for the superiority of the semiotic view (which understands gender as symbolic social constructions rather than essential traits inherent in the sexes). This purview aligns him more closely with profeminist critics than with the men’s movement’s major exponents. Magnuson’s methodology assures the reader that the conclusions of his fairly narrow study are not arbitrary. While he succeeds on this score, the most serious shortcoming of Changing Men, Transforming Culture is Magnuson’s claim that the Open Plain Men’s Circle is representative of the mythopoetic men’s movement. It seems to me that his study glosses over the variegated expressions in the work of Joseph Jastrab, Robert Bly, Michael Meade, the ManKind Project, and the hundreds of groups throughout New England, the Northwoods and California. These groups ranged widely with regard to type of organization, programs, essentialistic language and spiritual tenor. On this level, the superior historico-sociological study remains Michael Schwalbe’s Unlocking the Iron Cage (1996). Magnuson compensates for this historical lacuna with a persistent appeal to the theoretical macro-level.

Perhaps the most important contribution of the book comes in chapter three, in which Magnuson describes the function of the mythopoetic leader as an “organic intellectual.” The leader is the practitioner and interpreter of the big ideas of the movement. Moreover, in bringing material and activities to the group, he is at the forefront of evoking cognitive, practical and even political change within the men. Magnuson details seven functions of the organic intellectual as he guides the group. This leader exerts tremendous influence on the shape of the group through suggestion and manipulation—though his authority is not beyond question. I sense this presentation sheds light even on leaders within (the more typical) democratic men’s group, since one or two men in any given setting tend to become the de facto disseminators of ideas and the gatekeepers of the circle. I also found of interest the wide array of religious practices imported into Magnuson’s own group. There is a pluralistic reconfiguration going on among these men as the leader tries to introduce, filter and harmonize disparate religious customs.
Read the whole review.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Fiona Neill - Puberty Blues

We have polluted the environment with xenoestrogens - toxic chemicals that act like strong estrogen (estrodiol) in the body and mess up the endocrine system. This article looks at some of what these chemicals have wrought on our children.

This seems to be impacting girls more than boys, but then there is more research on the impact these chemicals have on girls/women. We don't know what long-term issues boys may develop as they become men.

This comes from More Intelligent Life.



Boys’ voices are breaking earlier; girls are developing breasts as young as six. But why? Fiona Neill meets the Danish scientists who are on the case ...

From INTELLIGENT LIFE Magazine, Summer 2010

In December 2003 a story appeared in the Copenhagen newspaper MetroXpress. It spoke of crisis at the world-famous Copenhagen Municipal Choir School. For the first time since its founding in 1924, the Copenhagen Royal Chapel Choir was having trouble finding enough 12- and 13-year-old boys to send on its annual American tour.

The trip was the culmination of years of training for these young Danish boys, who had been picked out to attend the school when they were eight. The problem was simple but insurmountable: the boys’ voices were breaking younger. The choir required trebles. But the trebles were turning into tenors and instead of a full tour of the United States they had to make do with a whistle-stop tour to Estonia with an adult choir.

The story might have been forgotten had it not come to the notice of Professor Niels Skakkebaek, then head of the department of growth and reproduction at Copenhagen University Hospital. For Skakkebaek it represented an opportunity. His team of paediatric endocrinologists—specialists in glands and hormones—had noticed an alarming increase in the number of children being referred with symptoms of early puberty. The choir story resonated with what they were seeing.

They had seen a surge in the number of young girls showing signs of breast development, some as young as six. They wanted to know if there was a connection between what they were seeing in clinic and what was happening at the choir school. In 1997 researchers had begun pointing to a dramatic decline in the age of puberty in America. Was the same thing now happening in Europe?

Skakkebaek’s department, founded 20 years ago, now occupies the two top floors on the west side of Copenhagen University Hospital. Compared with the children’s ward just across the hallway, it is an oasis of restraint. Researchers wearing white lab coats wander into the corridor, occasionally opening huge chest freezers in search of test-tube samples. In a meeting room a group of scientists discuss a recent research paper on male sperm count. Just opposite, a child involved in a research project lies on a bed having blood tests.

Skakkebaek, now in his 70s, has handed the reins to Anders Juul, a flamboyant, tousle-haired endocrinologist. “We used to think early puberty was an American problem,” Juul tells me, “to do with American lifestyle, hormone-treated beef, obesity, too much sitting around watching TV and playing on the internet. We felt we should repeat studies that we had done in 1991, which showed no change in the age of puberty, to see if we were now experiencing this phenomenon.”

The last 200 years have seen a big drop in the age of puberty in the West. In the Leipzig choir directed by J.S. Bach in the 1700s, the average age of voice break, a late marker of male puberty, was around 18. Between the mid-19th and mid-20th century, the average age for girls having their first period in America and northern Europe dropped from 17 to under 14.

At first glance it might seem an evolutionary contradiction that as the average age of marriage was rising, the age of sexual maturity was falling. But this trend has its own logic: human beings reproduce when they are healthy. As nutrition and health care improved, the age of puberty dropped. From 1950 onwards the age of puberty plateaued.

In 1950 a British paediatrician, Dr James Tanner, introduced a system for mapping the five stages of puberty in boys and girls. Drawing on two decades of research in a children’s home in Hertfordshire, Tanner concluded that the average age of breast development, often the first sign of puberty among girls, was 11.5 years. Among boys puberty, defined as an increase in testicular volume, began at around 11.2 years. The Tanner scale became a benchmark around the world.

In 1997, however, a group of American researchers published a study of 17,000 girls that showed a sudden lurch in the age of puberty. Its author, Professor Marcia Herman-Giddens, found the average age of puberty among white girls had dropped to 9.7 years. Among Afro-Americans, the trend was even more pronounced: girls were hitting puberty at eight. Some were getting there at six, just a year after starting school. The results were controversial. There were questions over methodology: the girls had attended doctors’ surgeries and were therefore not representative of the wider community; researchers hadn’t examined the girls properly, relying on visual evidence of breast development rather than a physical examination. Many of the girls were obese and might have looked as though they were developing breasts when in fact they were simply fat. But then in 2002 a second study revealed similar results. Breast development seemed to be happening between one and two years earlier than Tanner had indicated.

And if breast development was occurring earlier, girls would inevitably get their period earlier. Herman-Giddens suggested that the Tanner scale should be revised in America.

These findings shocked the endocrinology community and set off a new wave of research. So when Skakkebaek and his team saw the news about the choirboys they contacted the Royal Chapel Choir. To their delight, they were told that the school had kept meticulous records of children’s height and weight, and made weekly voice assessments to record any unintentional falsettos. Parents and children were happy for these to be used in the name of research and the results were published in 2006.

“We discovered that over a ten-year period boys’ voices were breaking around four months earlier,” Juul says, surrounded by precarious stacks of research papers and medical journals in his office. “And that the heavier the boy at eight years old, the earlier the age of voice break.”

Another member of the department, Dr Lise Aksglaede, began investigating the age of breast development among Danish girls. Aksglaede has a calm exterior, and behind it, plenty of tenacity: she managed to persuade the parents and teachers of almost a thousand schoolgirls to sign up to her project. The results, published last May, the first of their kind in western Europe, showed that over 15 years the age of breast development in Denmark had dropped a year, from 10.8 years in 1991 to 9.8 years in 2006. They were also having their first periods, on average, three months earlier.

“It would have been significant if we had simply reported that menarche [the first bleeding] was occurring three months earlier in such a short period of time,” Aksglaede says, “but the fact that breast development was occurring a year early is a remarkable change. Something is going on at a population level, something visible is happening right now. In 15 years’ time, will girls be growing breasts two years earlier? It’s extremely worrying because we don’t know why it’s happening.”

In January, the department published a further study of Danish boys. It showed that the age of puberty had dropped by three and a half months over 15 years, reinforcing the results of the choirboy study. In China a study last year reported the lowest-ever average age for breast development, 9.2 years. Dutch and Italian studies have also echoed what the Danes have discovered among boys.

The term puberty comes from the Latin word puberatum, meaning age of maturity. In the past puberty (the process of sexual maturation) and adolescence (the process of psychological development) occurred in tandem. The decoupling of these processes means that the gulf between physical and psychological maturity has never been greater.

Dr Richard Stanhope, a leading British paediatric endocrinologist who has spent 24 years at Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children, believes this presents dramatic challenges. He feels that children who go into early puberty are prematurely sexualised and too immature to deal with the implications. They are more vulnerable to sexual abuse, inappropriate sexual behaviour, sexually transmitted diseases and teenage pregnancy. “It means that children develop sexually much earlier,” Stanhope says. “They are physically ready for sexual reproduction but mentally completely unready.”

Studies have shown that adolescents who go through puberty earlier are involved in more risk-taking behaviour, such as taking drugs, binge drinking and breaking the law. A premature increase in testosterone can lead to aggression in boys who lack the maturity to control impulses. “We all realise that testosterone is a very difficult hormone to learn to live with,” Stanhope says, tapping a pencil vigorously on his pockmarked table, “and if you get a rise in testosterone outside the normal physiological age, then it’s even more of a problem.”

Research published this year in the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Criminology also found increased aggression in girls who reached puberty early. In Britain the uncomfortable reality that children are becoming sexually mature earlier has been overlooked in the recent debate about the over-sexualisation of children. Instead of simply focusing on cynical manufacturers producing padded bras for seven-year-olds, perhaps we should also consider how to respond to the new reality that some girls are now growing breasts at this age.

Stanhope also points out that for women there may be long-term health problems, because early puberty increases exposure to oestrogen. According to Cancer Research UK, a girl who has her first period a year later than her contemporaries has 5% less risk of developing breast cancer in later life. “There may be an important link with breast and ovarian cancer,” Stanhope says. “The earlier a girl has her period, the longer her exposure to oestrogen and this may well have very important sequelae for oestrogen-dependent tumours. This increases her risk of breast cancer, ovarian cancer and of developing cardiovascular problems.”

Girls who reach puberty early are also more likely to develop type 2 diabetes. A 37-year-long study of 61,000 Norwegian women showed that women who got their first period at ten or 11 had a 10% higher mortality rate than those who got their period four years later.

The long-term risks for men are less proven. Stanhope believes research should focus on whether there is a link between early puberty in boys and prostate cancer. He also points out that although early puberty is becoming more common, it still isn’t the norm, and anything that marks children out from their peer group makes life more difficult.

Read more.

Jayson Is Tripping in the Spiritual Space

Check this new video Jayson Gaddis posted - a call for men (ok, dudes), to "wake the fuck up."

Calling All Spiritually Minded Dudes

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Male fetuses ignore their stressed-out mothers

This is an interesting finding - it has long been assumed that male fetuses are more vulnerable than females, with more males being conceived, but the margin narrows by the end of nine months. From New Scientist.

Male fetuses ignore their stressed-out mothers

Male fetuses ignore their mothers' response to stress – unlike females, which are very sensitive to it. The finding could lead to better treatments for male fetuses at risk of premature birth.

It is known that when a pregnant woman produces the stress hormone cortisol, it can cross the placenta. But it has been unclear how this affects fetal development, and whether female and male fetuses respond differently to the hormone.

During an asthma attack, high levels of cortisol are released. So Vicki Clifton and colleagues at the University of Adelaide in South Australia investigated the effect of cortisol on fetuses by following 123 asthmatic women and 51 healthy women during their pregnancies, recording the severity of each woman's asthma and her medication at 12, 18 and 30 weeks of pregnancy.

Forty-five minutes after the women gave birth, Clifton and her team measured the cortisol in their umbilical cord blood and analysed the placenta for the expression of genes related to stress response. She also recorded the newborn's sex and birth weight.

Stressful information

Baby girls born to women with moderate to severe asthma had higher levels of cortisol in their cord blood – an average of 245 millimoles per litre – compared with girls born to controls and mildly asthmatic women, who averaged 202 and 209 millimoles per litre respectively.

However, no difference in cortisol levels was observed in baby boys born to either group.

The team also observed that 22.5 per cent of girls born to asthmatic women were small for their gestational age, meaning they were among the lightest 10 per cent of all babies born worldwide. But just 9.5 per cent of girls born to healthy women fell into this group. Again, no difference was observed in boys from either group.

"Females are very sensitive to what's happening in mum's body, but males just ignore it," says Clifton, who presented her results at the University of Adelaide last week.

Small strategy

Low birth weight is associated with hypertension, diabetes and depression in adulthood, but a smaller fetus copes better with adversity in the womb, such as a drop in nutrients during an asthma attack. But the males take a gamble, says Clifton, ignoring the rise in cortisol and continuing to grow at a regular pace.

"There must be some benefit in males being bigger at birth, and this is worth the risk [of being affected by an associated drop in nutrients]," says Tim Moss, a prenatal physiologist at Monash University in Melbourne, Australia.

Moss says the work has important clinical applications that "could help us to reduce the vulnerability of male infants".

For example, in obstetric practice, stress hormones are routinely administered to women who are at risk of preterm delivery to induce faster maturation of the fetus. The treatment seems less effective in males than females – this study could explain why, and lead to new methods of aiding male development.

Michael Kay - Good Stuff My Father Told Me; I Just Didn't Know it at the Time!

Nice little post from Michael Kay at his Financial Focus blog at Psychology Today. Our fathers often offer us their wisdom in ways that may not make sense until later in our lives.

Good Stuff My Father Told Me; I Just Didn't Know it at the Time!

Old words take on new meanings!

Michael Kay

There are times, when the ghost of my father visits. OK, so if not his ghost exactly, more his words that somehow wind up in my head. It's interesting to observe so many years later; thoughts reemerge from hidden crevices to bring a layer of truth and understanding.

As an example, for whatever reason, my dad used to quote Newton's Laws of Motion; but only the First and Third. Newton's Second Law ("A body of mass m subject to a force F undergoes an acceleration....") was way too complicated for a musician and sixth grade teacher to whip out and explain to his children. His barrage of quotes mostly passed beyond my comprehension.

I remember with absolute clarity, lying on the couch, and his imposing frame standing in the doorway, some random tool in hand, saying, "things in motion, tend to stay in motion; things at rest, stay at rest. You've rested long enough!" This clearly was a sign that I had to sweep something, carry something or do some other innocuous task that made me have to leave my reverie on the sofa. OK, perhaps this wisdom doesn't exactly stir the cockles of one's heart (another dad-ism), but there's something to be said for building momentum. You can recognize the impact of momentum when you find yourself "in the zone" and performing at a higher level of effectiveness. It might be that incredible round of golf (not in my case) or something as simple as accomplishing a task with focus and purpose.

The heart of his physics lesson came in the guise of Sir Isaac's Third Law, which, if I may paraphrase talks about every action having an equal and opposite reaction. I can hear his voice, even as I write this. Of course, as a youngster, I had no idea what he was babbling about. But today I do.

In the world of Financial Planning, Newton's Third Law is a biggie. It might even rival Ben Franklin's whole compound interest thing that people get so excited about. The whole equal and opposite reaction can cover a lot of territory. For example, consider your spending patterns; if you incur significant amounts of credit card debt, the equal and opposite reaction is a significant impact on cash flow. You now have "stuff", but you also have bills that come due every month that need to be paid, with interest. Is your enjoyment of those purchases equal to the pain of opening those bills each month? The converse is true of one's ability to save. Every dollar accumulated comes back and provides security and opportunity. Therefore, BEFORE making a financial decision, it is best to consider the equal and opposite reaction. How will your investment benefit your life? What, if any, are the negative implications of making that purchase? Applying Newton's Third Law can add to your financial success by simply looking at both sides.

While I might not have appreciated these off-handed and often quoted laws of physics, they did take root in my thinking. While I'm at it, I clearly remember him quoting another of his favorites, this by Mark Twain; "When I was a boy of fourteen, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be twenty-one, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned in seven years."

It was good stuff; I just didn't know it at the time!

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Thanissaro Bhikkhu - Head & Heart Together

Head and Heart Together
Water lily, Tiina Tervo

Great post from an excellent teacher - we all need to find the good balance between head and heart. Men, and this is a generalization, tend to favor head over heart. This gets us a long way in business, but not so far in relationships.

This teaching comes from Tricycle, a Buddhist magazine but, as always, we can benefit from these ides even if we are not Buddhist.

We need both wisdom (head) and compassion (heart) to be good men, good leaders, good husbands, good human beings.

Thanissaro Bhikkhu is the abbot of Metta Forest Monastery outside of San Diego, California. His latest books include Meditations: 40 Dharma Talks and The Shape of Suffering, a Study of Dependent Co-arising.

Head & Heart Together

Thai forest monk THANISSARO BHIKKHU teaches us how to use wisdom to cultivate compassion

By Thanissaro Bhikkhu

Than Geoff image

Two lily pads,
Tiina Tervo

The brahma-viharas, or “sublime attitudes,” are the Buddha’s primary heart teachings—the ones that connect most directly with our desire for true happiness. The term “brahma-vihara” literally means “dwelling place of brahmas.” Brahmas are gods who live in the higher heavens, dwelling in an attitude of unlimited goodwill, unlimited compassion, unlimited empathetic joy, and unlimited equanimity. These unlimited attitudes can be developed from the more limited versions of these emotions that we experience in the human heart.

Of these four emotions, goodwill (metta) is the most fundamental. It’s the wish for true happiness, a wish you can direct to yourself or to others. Goodwill was the underlying motivation that led the Buddha to search for awakening and to teach the path to awakening to others after he had found it.

The next two emotions in the list are essentially applications of goodwill. Compassion (karuna) is what goodwill feels when it encounters suffering: it wants the suffering to stop. Empathetic joy (mudita) is what goodwill feels when it encounters happiness: it wants the happiness to continue. Equanimity (upekkha) is a different emotion, in that it acts as an aid to and a check on the other three. When you encounter suffering that you can’t stop no matter how hard you try, you need equanimity to avoid creating additional suffering and to channel your energies to areas where you can be of help. In this way, equanimity isn’t cold hearted or indifferent. It simply makes your goodwill more focused and effective.

Making these attitudes limitless requires work. It’s easy to feel goodwill, compassion, and empathetic joy for people you like and love, but there are bound to be people you dislike—often for very good reasons. Similarly, there are many people for whom it’s easy to feel equanimity: people you don’t know or don’t really care about. But it’s hard to feel equanimity when people you love are suffering. Yet if you want to develop the brahma-viharas, you have to include all of these people within the scope of your awareness so that you can apply the proper attitude no matter where or when. This is where your heart needs the help of your head.

All too often, meditators believe that if they can simply add a little more heart juice, a little more emotional oomph, to their brahma-vihara practice, their attitudes can become limitless. But if something inside you keeps churning up reasons for liking this person or hating that one, your practice starts feeling hypocritical. You wonder who you’re trying to fool. Or, after a month devoted to the practice, you still find yourself thinking black thoughts about people who cut you off in traffic—to say nothing of people who’ve done the world serious harm.

This is where the head comes in. If we think of the heart as the side of the mind that wants happiness, the head is the side that understands how cause and effect actually work. If your head and heart can learn to cooperate—that is, if your head can give priority to finding the causes for true happiness, and your heart can learn to embrace those causes—then the training of the mind can go far.

This is why the Buddha taught the brahma-viharas in a context of head teachings: the principle of causality as it plays out in (1) karma and (2) the process of fabrication that shapes emotions within the body and mind. The more we can get our heads around these teachings, the easier it will be to put our whole heart into developing attitudes that truly are sublime. An understanding of karma helps to explain what we’re doing as we develop the brahma-viharas and why we might want to do so in the first place. An understanding of fabrication helps to explain how we can take our human heart and convert it into a place where brahmas could dwell.

The teaching on karma starts with the principle that people experience happiness and sorrow based on a combination of their past and present intentions. If we act with unskillful intentions either for ourselves or for others, we’re going to suffer. If we act with skillful intentions, we’ll experience happiness. So if we wantto be happy, we have to train our intentions to always be skillful. This is the first reason for developing the brahma-viharas: so that we can make our intentions more trustworthy.

Some people say that unlimited goodwill comes naturally to us, that our Buddha-nature is intrinsically compassionate. But the Buddha never said anything about Buddha-nature. What he did say is that the mind is even more variegated than the animal world. We’re capable of anything. So what are we going to do with this capability?

We could do—and have done—almost anything, but the one thing the Buddha does assume across the board is that deep down inside we want to take this capability and devote it to happiness. So the first lesson of karma is that if you really want to be happy, you can’t trust that deep down you know the right thing to do, because that would simply foster complacency. Unskillful intentions would take over and you wouldn’t even know it. Instead, you have to be heedful to recognize unskillful intentions for what they are, and to act only on skillful ones. The way to ensure that you’ll stay heedful is to take your desire for happiness and spread it around.

The second lesson of karma is that just as you’re the primary architect of your own happiness and suffering, other people are the primary architects of theirs. If you really want them to be happy, you don’t just treat them nicely. You also want them to learn how to create the causes for happiness. If you can, you want to show them how to do that. This is why the gift of dharma—lessons in how to give rise to true happiness— is the greatest gift.

In the Buddha’s most famous example of how to express an attitude of unlimited goodwill, he doesn’t simply express a wish for universal happiness. He also adds a wish that all beings avoid the causes that would lead them to unhappiness: “Let no one deceive another or despise anyone anywhere, or through anger or irritation wish for another to suffer.” (Sutta Nipata 1.8)

So if you’re using visualization as part of your goodwill practice, don’t visualize people simply as smiling, surrounded willy-nilly by wealth and sensual pleasures. Visualize them acting, speaking, and thinking skillfully. If they’re currently acting on unskillful intentions, visualize them changing their ways. Then act to realize those visualizations if you can.

A similar principle applies to compassion and empathetic joy. Learn to feel compassion not only for people who are already suffering, but also for those who are engaging in unskillful actions that will lead to future suffering. This means, if possible, trying to stop them from doing those things. And learn to feel empathetic joy not only for those who are already happy, but also for those whose actions will lead to future happiness. If you have the opportunity, give them encouragement.

But you also have to realize that no matter how unlimited the scope of these positive emotions, their effect is going to run into limits. In other words, regardless of how strong your goodwill or compassion may be, there are bound to be people whose past actions are unskillful and who cannot or will not change their ways in the present. This is why you need equanimity as your reality check. When you encounter areas where you can’t be of help, you learn not to get upset. Think about the universality of the principle of karma: it applies to everyone regardless of whether you like them or not. That puts you in a position where you can see more clearly what can be changed, where you can be of help. In other words, equanimity isn’t a blanket acceptance of things as they are. It’s a tool for helping you to develop discernment as to which kinds of suffering you have to accept and which ones you don’t.

For example, someone in your family may be suffering from Alzheimer’s. If you get upset about the fact of the disease, you’re limiting your ability to be genuinely helpful. To be more effective, you have to use equanimity as a means of letting go of what you want to change and focusing more on what can be changed in the present.

A third lesson from the principle of karma is that developing the brahma-viharas can also help mitigate the results of your past bad actions. The Buddha explains this point with an analogy: If you put a lump of salt into a glass of water, you can’t drink the water in the glass. But if you put that lump of salt into a river, you could then drink the water in the river, because the river contains so much more water than salt. When you develop the four brahma-viharas, your mind is like the river. The skillful karma of developing these attitudes in the present is so expansive that whatever results of past bad actions may arise, you hardly notice them.

A proper understanding of karma also helps to correct the false idea that if people are suffering they deserve to suffer, so you might as well just leave them alone. When you catch yourself thinking in those terms, you have to keep four principles in mind.

First, remember that when you look at people, you can’t see all the karmic seeds from their past actions. They may be experiencing the results of past bad actions, but you don’t know when those seeds will stop sprouting. Also, you have no idea what other seeds, whatever wonderful latent potentials, will sprout in their place.

There’s a saying in some Buddhist circles that if you want to see a person’s past actions, you look at his present condition; if you want to see his future condition, you look at his present actions. This principle, however, is based on a basic misperception: that we each have a single karmic account, and what we see in the present is the current running balance in each person’s account. Actually, no one’s karmic history is a single account. It’s composed of the many different seeds planted in many places through the many different actions we’ve done in the past, each seed maturing at its own rate. Some of these seeds have already sprouted and disappeared; some are sprouting now; some will sprout in the future. This means that a person’s present condition reflects only a small portion of his or her past actions. As for the other seeds, you can’t see them at all.

This reflection helps you when developing compassion, for it reminds you that you never know when the possibility to help somebody can have an effect. The seeds of the other person’s past bad actions may be flowering right now, but they could die at any time. You may happen to be the person who’s there to help when that person is ready to receive help.

Read the rest of the article.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Guest Post: Mark Walsh - Leadership and Communication Skills

[Cross-posted at Integral Options Cafe.]

Mark Walsh heads leadership training providers Integration Training: based in Brighton, London and Birmingham UK. Specializing in "embodied" ways of working, they help organizations get more done without going insane (stress and time management), coordinate action more effectively (team building and communication training), and help leaders build impact, influence and presence.

Leadership and Communication Skills

I run a leadership training company helping people around the world develop their personal impact, influence, and presence. We take an integral approach looking at embodied aspects of leadership, interpersonal communication skills, psychological development, and cultural factors. Much of what we do in the business training and non-profit sector world applies equally to men and women . . . but I suspect not all. I’ve been looking forward to writing this article unashamedly with only men in mind . . . though of course if you’re a woman feel free to snoop and get some insight.

Men are from Snickers

Making far-reaching generalisations about men’s and women’s communication in the style of trite magazines and populist psychology is dangerous and unfair...but that’s what I’m going to do, because I trust you not to hold it too tightly or start a PC warlock-hunt. The following is based on my limited personal experience, a less than thorough review of the scientific literature and frankly, a big set of nuts.

Heartfelt Leadership

If you don’t have direction you’re useless. Typologically and developmentally of course, some men are more inclined towards going with the flow and that’s fine - if it it really makes you happy, go back to the hot-tub. The vast majority of men I’ve gotten to know well, however, are far happier, sexier, and richer if they are leading their lives with passionate focused intent. This to me, rather than having followers or being on a grand crusade, is the essence of personal leadership. To take action on a sea of troubles based on what breaks your heart and demands you set sail. I would encourage men out there to lead from your passion and your pain . . . and if you’re not regularly, privately fearful and publicly first mocked then attacked, you’re not yet leading.

Leadership Training

After an education based on encouraging conformity, preparation for a mechanised soulless workplace, and de-individualisation, some from of leadership training is often beneficial (and if you avoided that and were raised by nice soft hippy parents instead, it is definitely necessary). My own leadership training was in the form of an extended period of residential martial arts study, apprenticing with a number of aikido teachers in the UK and abroad, followed by peace-work in conflicted countries using what I’d learned. I now see that I actively sought this difficult, painful, and poverty-stricken initiation in order to find a form of leadership training that wasn’t available from my schooling or family. Before I crossed this bridge, there was a lot of wasted time, alcohol, and womanising under it, and I was utterly miserable. Until a man has made some type of hero’s journey (and it may look VERY different from mine if you have the soul of an artist, farmer, or monk for example) he has no claim to leadership and is merely a dangerous boy.

The Embodied Leadership Challenge

Leadership isn’t a theoretical affair that you can learn from a book but rather a lived and continual sharpening of experience and in whatever you make your dojo. Peak events and weekend workshops won’t cut it...regular dedicated practice is essential to build the embodied leadership presence that is both necessary to lead and obvious to others.

I would recommend the courses of Integral College and Newfield Network in Europe and the Strozzi Institute in the states for those looking for open public programmes with an embodied component and genuine transformational element.

Communication Training

Let’s face it, most men are shit at communication (take that utterance for example) - the cliche is based in truth. By the standards of expressing ourselves, building relationships, and coordinating action (the I, we and it of communication) we are often tested and found wanting. I would therefore highly recommend some kind of communication training for all men. I have made a journey in this regard from “a 1 out of 10 to at least a 5,” as some old female friends joke, and this has been very valuable to me personally and professionally.

Unfortunately much of the communication training that exists seems like it is designed as a form of slow painful penis removal by people stuck in a touchy-feely relativist swamp. Challenge and accountability are two aspects of communication found in a number of forms of men’s work that I enjoy, and I think add to the equally important aspects of emotional self-awareness, empathy, and support that are encouraged in more feminine communication training. I, we, and it aspects of communication are all vital.

I would also like to say that communication, like leadership, is poetry not prose, and you won’t find yours here. No man is an island, or an undifferentiated ocean either. Leadership training turns up from flotsam to navigators . . . and communication means we will not sail alone. For me this is worth the trouble, and if you’re a man not in this kind of trouble yet . . . I challenge you to dive in.

* * *

Mark Walsh heads leadership training providers Integration Training: based in Brighton, London and Birmingham UK. Specialising in "embodied" ways of working they help organisations get more done without going insane (stress and time management), coordinate action more effectively (team building and communication training) and help leaders build impact, influence and presence. His background includes work with blue-chip companies, non-profit sector work in war zones, an academic degree in psychology and an aikido black-belt. In his spare time he dances, meditates and enjoys being exploited by two cats and one baby niece. His life ambition is to make it normal to be a human being at work.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

No Internet For a Day or Two

I will be mostly offline for the next couple of days - until Cox gets me reconnected. In the meantime, please browse the archives for good stuff you may have missed.

When I return, Jami and I should be a little more moved into our new house.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Kris Notaro - Will gender exist 100 years from now, or does it already not exist?

This is an intriguing question - but there are clear biological differences in males and females that make us biologically and psychologically different (sex roles) and there are also social and cultural pressures that shape how we behave and how we manifest those biological differences (gender roles).

It seems to me that there is not a binary model of gender roles (masculine vs. feminine), and there is not even a binary sex distinction - Anne Fausto-Sterling has identified 5 biological sexes, and suggests that even sex roles are a continuum, not distinct points.

For some time medical investigators have recognized the concept of the intersexual body. But the standard medical literature uses the term intersex as a catch-all for three major subgroups with some mixture of male and female characteristics: the so-called true hermaphrodites, whom I call herms, who possess one testis and one ovary (the sperm- and egg-producing vessels, or gonads); the male pseudohermaphrodites (the "merms"), who have testes and some aspects of the female genitalia but no ovaries; and the female pseudohermaphrodites (the "ferms"), who have ovaries and some aspects of the male genitalia but lack testes. Each of those categories is in itself complex; the percentage of male and female characteristics, for instance, can vary enormously among members of the same subgroup. Moreover, the inner lives of the people in each subgroup-- their special needs and their problems, attractions and repulsions-- have gone unexplored by science. But on the basis of what is known about them I suggest that the three intersexes, herm, merm and ferm, deserve to be considered additional sexes each in its own right. Indeed, I would argue further that sex is a vast, infinitely malleable continuum that defies the constraints of even five categories.

This issue has come to international attention with this case of the South African athlete who is intersex - Caster Semenya. While identifying as a female, Semenva appears very masculine and seems to have more strength and speed than many women - and some accused her of being a man. Genetic tests were conducted but have not been released to the public. A little more background from the New York Times:

To be fair, the biology of sex is a lot more complicated than the average fan believes. Many think you can simply look at a person’s “sex chromosomes.” If the person has XY chromosomes, you declare him a man. If XX, she’s a woman. Right?

Wrong. A little biology: On the Y chromosome, a gene called SRY usually makes a fetus grow as a male. It turns out, though, that SRY can show up on an X, turning an XX fetus essentially male. And if the SRY gene does not work on the Y, the fetus develops essentially female.

Even an XY fetus with a functioning SRY can essentially develop female. In the case of Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome, the ability of cells to “hear” the masculinizing hormones known as androgens is lacking. That means the genitals and the rest of the external body look female-typical, except that these women lack body hair (which depends on androgen-sensitivity).

Women with complete Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome are less “masculinized” in their muscles and brains than the average woman, because the average woman makes and “hears” some androgens. Want to tell women with Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome they have to compete as men, just because they have a Y chromosome? That makes no sense.

So, some say, just look at genitals. Forget the genes — pull down the jeans! The I.A.A.F. asks drug testers to do this. But because male and female genitals start from the same stuff, a person can have something between a penis and a clitoris, and still legitimately be thought of as a man or a woman.

All of this is relevant to some of what Notaro is doing in this article - he makes some important points. If sex and gender are not binary, then it becomes much harder to discriminate against people who are "other." More people need this information.

Will gender exist 100 years from now, or does it already not exist?

Kris Notaro
Kris Notaro
Ethical Technology

Posted: Jun 21, 2010

It has been claimed by biologists that the brains of females and males are different in obscure ways. However, physical differences in adults may be due to psychological and sociological pressures on the brains of each gender, because cultures and societies may exaggerate roles and stereotypes, having an impact on brain plasticity.

On top of society’s role in forming gender identity, we can see in current biological data of brains and their relation to gender identity due to “molecular and hormonal mechanisms.” (Rosario, 276-278) It has been shown that the structure of brains in Homo sapiens can take on either a male or female form from a variety of factors during critical postnatal periods.

The biology of sexual identity is revealing important data that points to diversity in sexual orientation, leading us to accept that looking at gender in a binary fashion is unacceptable; gender identity in Homo sapiens is probably much more ambiguous and diverse then we once thought. (Rosario, 276-279) From this we can conclude that the gender identity listing in the current Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders should be eliminated. Genetic engineering of the brain will only increase the ambiguity if we choose. A post-binary-gender society is possible, not only in the future, but it may already be here naturally.

As it turns out neuroscience and genetics is showing how the brains of LGBT people are really ambiguous. There are more than 20 or 30 ways the brain could be “feminized” or “masculinized” or somewhere in between, in that the brains between men and women are a little different dimorphicly on a macro scale. (Rosario, 276-278) There are of course non-controversial differences between genders. In fact, I just implied one of them: that “gender” exists and is a word that describes something, but what does it describe?

Biologists have identified differences between members of the same species that can increase the likelihood of sexual reproduction, the difference in each species is known as gender or sex, which usually comes in the form of “male” and “female.” Sexual dimorphism is used to describe the phenotypical difference between males and females of the same species. An example of sexual dimorphism in gorillas is the fact that males tend to be twice the size of females. Homo sapiens however have less distinctive sexual dimorphic characteristics than many other animals. (Campell, 277)

Today in the United States we have access to vast amounts of research that has been done on sexual dimorphism, gender identity, and LGBT issues. Unfortunately many people do not know this, and still discriminate against LGBT people. Just this year California voted in favor of Prop. 8 marriage, and in the same year the American Psychiatric Association appointed Dr. Kenneth Zucker to the Sexual and Gender Identity Disorder committee of the DSM-V. This prompted protests immediately after it was released because Dr. Zucker supports the listing and has been known to do research which helps psychiatrists to identify gender disorders in children and help parents to condition their children who are diagnosed with Gender Identity Disorder to go along with their phenotype.

Geneticists are finding genes outside of the X and Y chromosomes that may play a role in gender identity. They are also finding the results of mutated nucleotide order within the X and Y chromosomes related to gender identity. There are so many possibilities for a mutation to occur from the moment of conception that many more years of science will be needed to fully understand gender identity. While the brains of males and females within humans differ slightly, these subtle differences might make all the difference when it comes to gender identity, whether the person is born with normal XX or XY, or abnormal gender chromosomes and genes.

Traditional values of looking at gender in binary fashion grow less and less important as scientists show that gender identity is diverse in nature and is caused by many biological and social conditions. If one were to look at the pure science of gender identity, it not only appears that a postgender society is possible but it seems we are already living in one.


Campbell, Neil, Jane Reece, Lwarence Mitchell and Martha Taylor. Biology: Concepts & Connections. San Francisco: Pearson Education, Inc., 2003.

Knickmeyer, Rebecca C., and Baron-Cohen. “Fetal Testosterone and Sex Differences in Typical Social Development and in Autism .” Journal of Child Neurology 25 (2005): 825-845.

Kohl, James V. ‘The Mind’s Eyes” Journal of Psychology & Human Sexuality,18:4, (2007): 313 — 369.

Rosario, Vernon A. “Quantum Sex: Intersex and the Molecular Deconstruction of sex. GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies Vol 15 (2009): 267-284.

Spitzer, Robert L “Sexual and Gender Identity Disorders.” Journal of Psychology & Human Sexuality 17:3. (2006): 111 – 116.

This is an excerpt from a larger piece.

Kris Notaro, a 2010-11 IEET intern, works with the Bertrand Russell A/V Project at Central Connecticut State University, producing DVDs to be used in the classroom. His major passions are in the technological advances in the areas of neuroscience, consciousness, brain, and mind.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Marshall Glickman - Talk Like a Buddha

Communication is one area where men tend to be criticized - women often feel that we don't communicate as well as they would like (or as well as they do). Even in children, girls are seen as more verbal than boys, for example, Bill McBride offers the following quote:
Boys’ brains are better suited to symbols, abstractions, and pictures. Consequently, boys generally learn higher math and physics better than girls. Boys prefer video games for the physical movement and destruction. And boys get into more trouble for not listening, moving around, sleeping in class, and incomplete assignments. (Gurian, M. & Stevens, K. “With Boys and Girls in Mind,” Educational Leadership, Nov. 2004)
But males can learn to communicate - it's a skill, like any other. We may never be able to express our feelings as well as can women (although I believe we can), but neither are we are not limited to grunts and groans.

Marshall Glickman writes here - in an article from Tricycle - about a model called Insight Dialogue that can be learned and can help men to be much better listeners in communicating with their partners. Glickman is the author of Beyond the Breath: Extraordinary Mindfulness Through Whole-Body Vipassana Meditation.

To learn more about Insight Dialogue, check out the book by Gregory Kramer, Insight Dialogue: The Interpersonal Path to Freedom.

Talk Like a Buddha

Marshall Glickman learns how to listen on an Insight Dialogue retreat.

By Marshall Glickman

I’M SITTING knee-almost-touching-knee with Ted, a chubby and towering sixty-something-year-old with a few days’ gray stubble, bushy eyebrows, and nose hairs calling for a trim. We met just fifteen minutes ago, and tears are running down his face. Ted’s breathing is labored, and I can smell his sour breath, yet I feel content. I comfort him—not so much with words but simply by being present, by gently meeting his gaze and accepting him and the moment. During our hour together, I work at remaining openhearted and mindful, and it seems to help Ted regain his balance. When our hour together is over, he’s much calmer, maybe even happy.

Normally, a distraught, unkempt stranger would likely cause me to create some imaginary distance between him and me. But this happened toward the end of my first seven-day Insight Dialogue retreat. I’d spent most of the week meditating and meeting with various partners or in small groups while focusing on staying mindful. By the end of the week, I was feeling as kind, present, and relaxed with others as I have ever felt.

Odds are, you’ve never heard of Insight Dialogue. “I have somewhere between little and no instinct for promotion,” said Gregory Kramer, the retreat leader and co-creator of Insight Dialogue. A Vipassana meditation teacher since 1980, Kramer began teaching Insight Dialogue in 1995. Since then, he has taught this gentle yet powerful Buddhism-informed, relationship-based practice to thousands of students. Yet, even in Buddhist circles, his methods are still largely unknown.

Part of why Insight Dialogue is so low-profile is that it’s hard to explain. Before I headed off to the Insight Dialogue retreat, my exceedingly practical 78-year-old dad asked, “What makes this one different?” I hemmed and hawed, then mumbled something about listening better—which is true enough, but it is only part of the practice. You also work on speaking from your heart, as well as simply observing how you interact, ideally finding a calm concentration in the midst of conversation. Kramer’s retreats include a variety of activities: seated meditation, dharma talks, dharma walks, dharma contemplation, some movement exercises, group conversation, and—what I consider the heart of the practice—student-to-student dialogues.

© Cynthia Abbott

Typically, relationship skills have been the domain of psychotherapists and pop psychologists. During a recent visit to Manhattan’s East West Living bookstore, I noticed a big stack of Kramer’s new book, Insight Dialogue: The Interpersonal Path to Freedom, prominently displayed in the “Relationships” section under “Love.” When I told Kramer this, he was clearly disappointed—not because he’s dismissive of romantic relationships, but because he takes his dharma intentions and roots very seriously. From his point of view, Insight Dialogue turns the challenge of relationships into a potent spiritual opportunity.

While Kramer is confident that Insight Dialogue directs us toward the heart of the Buddha’s teaching on ultimate freedom, I suspect most practitioners are drawn to it (as I was) as a practice for developing skillful speech and open listening. This may sound like a goal only a bit larger than improving romantic relationships, but it’s much bigger than that. Mindful speech and the ability to really listen are at the heart of all relationships. And thoughtful, kind, and effective interactions are at the center of our ethical core, the foundation of any spiritual practice.

For most of us, the hardest precept to honor is to speak the truth. I’m not talking about staying clear of bald-faced whoppers that cover up sordid affairs or some headline-grabbing misdeeds, but about our everyday exaggerations, self-aggrandizements, and self-image facelifts. In other words, what usually happens when we talk uninterrupted for more than a few minutes. Besides, even when we do speak the truth, are we able to listen to whoever is talking without an agenda or obsessing about what we’re going to say next? And how comfortable are we if there is nothing to say?

Like surfing, staying present is always a challenge, but doing it while interacting with others tends to be like managing in choppy, cross-current seas. We have not only our own thoughts and impulses to contend with but also those of our conversational partners. So if we can stay present and compassionate when, say, a coworker is kvetching, odds are we can do it anytime.

KRAMER IDENTIFIES the six “instructions” that provide the scaffolding for Insight Dialogue: Pause; Relax; Open; Trust Emergence; Listen Deeply; Speak the Truth. “These guidelines remain the same whether Insight Dialogue is undertaken as a formal meditation practice or is embraced as a path for wise living.… Taken together, these guidelines offer essential support for awakening amid the rich challenges of interpersonal encounter,” Kramer writes. “Each guideline calls forth different qualities, and all of them are complementary. In brief, Pause calls forth mindfulness; Relax, tranquility and acceptance; Open, relational availability and spaciousness; Trust Emergence, flexibility and letting go; Listen Deeply, receptivity and attunement; and Speak the Truth, integrity and care.”

The mainstays of an Insight Dialogue practice are “dharma contemplations” and the dialogue format. The contemplations are the content or topic of conversation, and the dialogue format is the semi-structured student-to-student exchange. For instance, while we work on “relax,” Kramer suggests discussing a past incident that still feels unresolved. I talk about getting yelled at by a spiritual teacher, and my partner speaks about a fight with his sister. These are loaded incidents for each of us. Talking about them could easily turn into a kind of charged support group or mutual therapy session, and at times it veers in that direction. Yet the guidelines Kramer gives before each conversation, and the ongoing suggestions he provides when everyone is meeting, help keep practitioners focused on process, on our awareness in the moment. More important than the why and how of our unresolved stories is the effort to relax and maintain a mental spaciousness while telling it; likewise, as a listener your effort goes not toward offering solutions but toward remaining receptive. After we all split off into groups or pairs, Kramer wanders through the room, his measured steps acting as a subtle reminder to be mindful. At times he interrupts to make general comments; other times he rings a chime that invites you to silence.

The intensity of meeting with others in this format helps grab and keep your attention. When meditating, it’s easy to space out; after all, no one else will really notice. But when you’re eyeball-to-eyeball with someone you’ve never met (with each new set of dialogues, you work with someone new), you naturally pay attention. Not surprisingly, sometimes this intensity can be uncomfortable. The challenge then is trying to relax into staying present and open even amid that discomfort.

After the introductory sessions, the topics you dialogue about explore explicit Buddhist themes, typically in an interpersonal context. Take, for instance, the Buddha’s teaching on the Second Noble Truth—that the origin of suffering is craving, that the mind tends to grasp at something or push it away. Kramer points out that the social manifestation of this is our desire to be seen on the one hand and the urge to hide on the other.

When exploring our tendency to either want recognition or to disappear, I happened to be partnered with Kathy. Before the retreat began, I had noticed Kathy as she made her way through the dining hall as if peering out from under a blanket. She was in her mid-forties, small and skinny. I’m far from a fashion buff, but her vaguely goth outfit didn’t match her little-girl haircut. The first time our eyes met across the salad table, I smiled at her; in return, she flashed a pained grin. Involuntarily, I said to myself: “Avoid her.” After the retreat started, however, I noted Kathy often had something interesting to say at group comment times. I decided I had wrongly prejudged her and sought her out for a partnership.

Our encounter began with Kathy rambling, bouncing between quoting sayings of a previous spiritual teacher and interpreting what Gregory meant by his social framing of the Second Noble Truth. She looked very uncomfortable, and I didn’t say much. Hoping to put her at ease, I let her know that I had wanted to partner with her because I found her group comments interesting. But the truth was I was feeling a bit smug. Her tension made me feel like I was the most relaxed person around, kind of the way someone else’s fear of the dark can make one feel more bold and dismissive of anything lurking in the night. Clearly, I told myself, my years of meditating have paid off.

© 1998 Mark Standen

Hoping to steer Kathy’s philosophizing to a more present-moment exchange, I said I thought she seemed uncomfortable. Not only did this not help but it also made her more uncomfortable and our interaction more awkward. At first she blamed her uneasiness on my height (at six-foot-three, even while we were both sitting, I loomed over her). Eventually, though, through a halting, disjointed back-and-forth, she said that she found it offensive that I had said she seemed uncomfortable. “That’s no way to put someone at ease,” she said, adding, “I bet you would have never said that to a man.” Hmm. So much for my kind and comfortable Buddhist self-image. I tried to remain relaxed and accepting, but I was starting to feel tense and misunderstood—especially about her claim that I would have treated a man differently. I told her that I’d been raised by a powerful woman, that I was comfortable with strong women, including my wife, and that we’d raised our daughters as feminists. Though I kept it to myself, I was concluding that Kathy was a bit crazy.

Then Kramer rang his bell. “Take a break,” he said in his way that hinted at the “relax” piece of the dialoguing instructions. “Go for a little walk. Don’t consciously think of what you’ve just been talking about. Simply walk mindfully and return in ten minutes; come back together with your same partner.” It was a beautiful fall day, and I tried to notice the leaves crunching underfoot, but my mind kept going back to my conversation with Kathy.

Throughout the week, Kramer often stopped us mid-conversation for ten-minute walks. These were extended versions of the “pause” instruction, and I came to see them as a wonderful part of the practice, invariably giving me a fresh and helpful perspective. Imagine how much better off we’d all be if before every difficult conversation, we agreed to set a timer and, unless things were going swimmingly, take a ten-minute break when it rang. This would put a built-in release valve into any heated exchange. This little pause alone could probably do more to promote world peace than armies of meditators dispatched across the globe.

Before returning to Kathy, I came to see I’d been posturing as Mr. At-Ease and that she was right: I probably wouldn’t have asked a man, especially a big guy, if he was feeling uncomfortable. After I told Kathy she was probably right and that I hoped she could forgive me, she melted. She thanked me for my honesty and got teary-eyed. We talked some more and held hands for a few moments. Soon after, though, she was waxing philosophical again and talking about some personal history in yet another flight from the present. This time, I didn’t feel superior to her, but I wanted to try to keep the exchange in the moment. I wanted to avoid my usual pattern of asking questions that kept the other person talking while I would disengage. Having gained some trust from weathering our “crisis,” I felt we had a good opportunity to genuinely meet together again, so I told her that I was disappearing, that I didn’t know what I wanted to talk about but hoped to be more involved. I said something to the effect of “Will you play with me?” Recounting it now, I realize that might sound goofy, but it came from a light and engaged heart. Yet it went over like the proverbial lead balloon. Kathy was put off; she felt I was being egotistical, domineering, and manipulative, trying to steer the conversation to be about me. We limped to the end of the session, but I still felt grateful for the exchange. Even if I was misunderstood, I’d been able to open to this person that I had once dismissed, and I had used the opportunity to speak honestly and kindly even after I was rejected.

My meeting with Kathy made me wonder if the dialogue encounters sometimes go seriously awry. “Of course difficult situations do come up,” Kramer told me. “In some sense, if there are no difficult conversations people aren’t doing the work—just as in meditation practice, you often have to experience the hard stuff to learn something new. Over the years we’ve had maybe half a dozen people leave a retreat of their own accord,” he said. “But I’ve never had to ask someone to leave or mediate a fight or console someone for love gone bad. The atmosphere and awareness of the group tends to work as a container, even when difficult emotions arise.”

Perhaps what helps account for this impressive track record is the requirement that before signing up for one of the longer Insight Dialogue retreats, you must have attended at least one seven-day meditation course. At my retreat, almost everyone I spoke with was a longtime meditator. And the practice itself creates an atmosphere that is conducive to a loving awareness. We were all sitting for many hours a day, and we got to know each other, one by one, in intimate conversations.

ALTHOUGH I DIDN’T have any “breakthrough” insights that I’ve heard other Insight Dialogue practitioners describe, I felt quite content with many small epiphanies and the general increase in compassion I experienced over the course of the retreat. At one point, I welled up from the sympathetic joy of witnessing another pair’s deep connection. I hardly knew either of them, but this spontaneous spouting of happiness for others’ happiness seemed significant. And it wasn’t just me. A palpable sense of goodwill settled throughout the center. For everyone, except maybe Kathy and me.

After our dialogue ended, I consciously tried to wish Kathy well whenever I bumped into her. When our paths crossed, I’d smile at her or in some silent way try to indicate friendliness, but she didn’t respond in kind. She didn’t exactly indicate that she was miffed, but she definitely didn’t return any warmth. After a while, this started to wear me down and near the end of the retreat, I realized I was feeling some animosity toward her. My unconscious “reasoning” was: “If you don’t like me, I’m not going to like you.” So I decided to make a strong effort to send her wishes of lovingkindness. After doing this in a focused way for five or ten minutes, I found myself and Kathy alone together in the dining room, standing near the coffee machine. Breaking the silence that was observed throughout the center except when in formal dialogues, she asked in a small, tentative voice, “How are you?”

“I’m good,” I said, “except I’m concerned you’re mad at me, and yet I have feelings of goodwill toward you.”

“I’m not mad at you,” she said, and opened her arms. We hugged.

It wasn’t exactly a coming together of the Hatfields and the McCoys, but I got choked up, partly from relief that I hadn’t hurt her feelings, but even more because I was moved by her courage. This happening on the last day of the retreat seemed like an exclamation point for the positive effect the practice could have.

Since the retreat has ended, I have yet to follow up on my intention to join an Insight Dialogue group and formally practice it year round. Yet now, many months later, I still feel the benefits. It’s as though I’ve developed a new muscle. I spontaneously find myself truly hearing what people are saying. As Kramer might put it, I’m learning to “trust emergence,” simply listening while someone is speaking without any expectations or nervousness about what comes next. In fact, I now have such confidence in “simply listening” that it’s become like a life preserver; when I’m feeling uncomfortable in a conversation, that’s what I reach for. At times, I find a deep calm and openness in the midst of conversation similar to states of meditation. And at the same time, “simply listening” seems to be better for whomever I’m talking with. They feel fully heard without being judged. Better connections tend to flow naturally. The irony is, when we don’t need things to be better than they are, they tend to end up that way.

Marshall Glickman is the author of Beyond the Breath: Extraordinary Mindfulness Through Whole-Body Vipassana Meditation.

Images 1 and 3: © 1998 Mark Standen
Image 2: © Cynthia Abbott

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