These are trying times. A global recession sparked by the coronavirus pandemic, and widespread civil unrest, have created a combustible mix of angst – stressors that heighten the risk for long-term health woes. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently issued guidelines to cope with this anxiety. Among them is meditation.
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At the end of Katsuhiro Otomo’s dystopian Japanese anime film Akira, a throbbing, white mass begins to envelop Neo-Tokyo. Eventually, its swirling winds engulf the metropolis, swallowing it whole and leaving a skeleton of a city in its wake.
In today’s stressful world, mindfulness – a type of popular spirituality that strives to focus on the present moment – promises to soothe away the anxiety and stress of modern life. The Internet is full of popular cure-all mindfulness apps targeting everyone from busy urban professionals to dieters, those suffering from insomnia and even children.
"Socialism" on the Agenda
Three years ago, when I was studying for a Masters in Philosophy at the University of Cambridge, mindfulness was very much in the air. The Department of Psychiatry had launched a large-scale study on the effects of mindfulness in collaboration with the university’s counselling service. Everyone I knew seemed to be involved in some way: either they were attending regular mindfulness classes and dutifully filling out surveys or, like me, they were part of a control group who didn’t attend classes, but found themselves caught up in the craze even so. We gathered in strangers’ houses to meditate at odd hours, and avidly discussed our meditative experiences. It was a strange time.
A group of atheists and secularists recently gathered in Southern California to talk about social and political issues. This was the first of three summits planned by the Secular Coalition for America, an advocacy group based in Washington D.C.
Christmas in 1968 was the first I would spend apart from my family. I was a cadet at West Point, and my parents and sisters lived in Hawaii, and I couldn’t afford to fly there for the holidays, so I called a woman I had been seeing in the city and asked if I could stay with her. To my great relief, she said yes.
The percentage of Americans who do not identify with any religious tradition continues to rise annually. Not all of them, however, are atheists or agnostics. Many of these people believe in a higher power, if not organized religion, and their numbers too are steadily increasing.