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Expanding your spirit and life with meditation

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Part I: The living gifts of meditation

This is part one of a three-part series: 1) The benefits of meditation 2) Instruction and tips in how to meditate and 3) Meditation in daily life.

I’m starting with the benefits because motivation is what gets us started on this path in the first place and keeps us on it. These words of Antoine de Saint Exupery express it well: “If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up people to collect wood and don’t assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea.” So we are beginning with the goal in mind.

I have been teaching meditation classes called Peace Within: Learning to Meditate for over 12 years and a steady stream of people come primarily to learn how to relieve stress. The first thing I tell them is what their expectations are way too low.

Most people don’t realize that the regular practice of meditation can positively impact every aspect of their lives, and has the potential to transform their lives quite radically. If you are seasoned in meditation or some type of centering or contemplative prayer, you know this to be true, and I invite your testimonials.

Environmental protection's power to influence politics

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"There is no conservative way to breathe air or liberal way to drink water," writes Steven Cohen on the Huffington Post Green page, in an article titled "The Political Power of Environmental Protection." "The health, safety and security of our families are at the heart of America's bedrock support for a clean environment. The environment is not an ideological issue."

Cohen is surprised by the right wing's focus on environmental protection as an example of government overregulation. Most people favor environmental protection, he points out. "Just as police forces can sometimes use excess force, some environmental regulators can get carried away. But just as people tend to support their local cops, they also support environmental regulators. Protecting the environment is not an example of government run amok."

Cohen is executive director of Columbia University's Earth Institute.

NCR's Eco Catholic Blog

Cave of forgotten dreams: the work of homo spiritualis

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My wife wanted to see “Cave of Forgotten Dreams,” a documentary which had just opened here. We caught the matinee yesterday. It was a completely spellbinding experience.

German film director Werner Herzog is a master at conjuring unforgettable visions, from the ship dragged over the jungle mountain in his "Fitzcarraldo" to the Antarctic landscape in "Encounters at the End of the World."

In this latest film, he brings us the earliest known visions of humankind: the Chauvet cave art of the Ardeche River region in southern France, created more than 30,000 years ago. By comparison, the famous cave art of Lascaux is roughly half as old. Since Chauvet’s discovery in 1994, access has been extremely restricted due to concerns that overexposure, even to human breath, could damage the priceless drawings. Only a small number of researchers have ever seen the art in person.

The tracker: the books of Tom Brown, Jr.

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I’m guessing that many of you have never heard of Tom Brown, Jr. He’s not a well-known name in Catholic or ecology circles. He’s not a scholar, theologian, or environmentalist per se. His claim to fame is that he knows the ways of nature at a level not even fathomed by most people.

Tom has written 16 books on his personal experiences of tracking and surviving in nature, and operates the Tom Brown Jr. Tracker School in New Jersey.

I happened upon Tom’s first book, The Tracker, some 25 years ago and was immediately hooked. His adventures were new and exciting to me and resonated with some deep part of my soul. In the course of the next few years, I read all of his books, except the field guides to survival, and they made a deep impact on me and I remember them still.

'The Journey of the Universe,' by Brian Swimme and Mary Evelyn Tucker

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This film project and companion book are a collaboration of evolutionary philosopher Brian Swimme and historian of religions Mary Evelyn Tucker. They weave a tapestry that draws together scientific discoveries in astronomy, geology, and biology with insights concerning the nature of the universe.

The book will be available soon. The film will be screened at various locations in the United States and Canada throughout the summer. For more information about the project and film showings, see the Journey of the Universe Web site.

Earth Prophet: Fr. Cletus Wessels, OP

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Over the past century through the use of powerful telescopes and other technology that allowed us to probe the inside of atoms, we humans have overcome the limits of our five senses. We can see hundreds of millions of light years into deep space and delve into the innermost secrets of matter.

This has given us a new sense of the world around us and a new story about how we got here. We know now that the universe in which we live is some 14 billion years old and that within atoms there are forces that, when harnessed and unleashed, can destroy us.

We know that the universe originated in a colossal flaring forth known as the “Big Bang” and that the planet Earth, our home, over a 5 billion year period, evolve plants, animals and us.

Fr. Thomas Berry proclaimed: “Although as yet unrealized, this scientific account of the universe is the greatest religious, moral and spiritual event that has taken place in recent centuries. It is the supreme humanistic and spiritual as well as the supreme scientific event.”

'Why being a foodie isn't \"elitist\"'

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Eric Schlosser, author of Fast Food Nation, wrote a piece in the Washington Post last week titled "Why being a foodie isn't 'elitist.'"

The 'elitist' epithet, he says, is a familar line of attack. In the decade since his book was published, he has been called that, plus a socialist, a communist, and un-American. Others who promote organic and local food are called "food fascists." The name-calling is a form of misdirection, an attempt to evade a serious debate about U.S. agricultural policies.

Read the article on the Washington Post Web site.

We need the Earth for our spiritual lives

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Most of us don’t realize just how much we need the Earth for our spiritual vitality and wellbeing. Because the natural world is “always there,” we take it for granted and seldom connect it to our spirituality. We think we need the church for our spiritual lives, but not nature. We assume our spirituality is independent of what is happening in nature.

Think for a moment how the major Catholic feasts are timed to coincide with events in nature. Look how much Christmas is built on the natural world. The winter solstice and symbolism of light overcoming the darkness mirrors Christ the light coming to remove the darkness of sin. The shepherd saw angels in the night sky and the magi followed a star (which we can hardly imagine because we can’t see the stars where most of us live!) And wouldn’t the story lose a lot if Jesus had been born in a run-down shelter in the inner city instead of a stable? The animals lend texture, earthiness, and warmth to the event.

Small family farms not benefitting from rising crop prices, according to new study

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Since 2006, farm crop prices have risen dramatically, reversing a decades-long trend that saw persistent declines in agricultural commodities prices. U.S. Department of Agriculture officials talk about boom times for U.S. farmers, citing their most recent figures on the economic performance of the farm sector. Recent reports point to records in net farm income.

But are small-to-mid-scale family farmers really benefiting from the boom? No, according to the latest of three studies by Tufts University professor Timothy A. Wise, who has looked behind the glowing headlines on the farm sector as a whole to examine how family farmers have fared in this high-price environment, using readily available USDA data that breaks down the widely diverse range of working and non-working farms included in aggregate statistics,

EPA creates Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnership Initiative

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The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has launched a Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships (FBNP) initiative. According to their press announcement, "strong relationships with faith and neighborhood organizations will help promote environmental stewardship that will lead to cleaner communities, encourage healthier families and build a stronger America. These relationships will also help EPA assist communities during times of environmental crisis."

EPA also pledges to work to expand the environmental conversation and continue the fight for environmental justice to relieve the burdens of pollution in poor and minority communities. In addition, EPA will work with participating institutions to bring Green jobs to these communities, increase energy efficiency through EPA's Energy Star for Congregations program, and improve environmental education and communications.

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July 18-31, 2014

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