May 15, 2008
Could you live with someone the rest of your life — never, ever more than 15 feet from their side?
Look at the photo above.
What do you see?
Pictured are Michael Roach and Christie McNally, Buddhist teachers with a growing following in the U.S. and abroad who, 10 years ago, "... took vows never to separate, night or day. By 'never part,' they did not mean only their hearts and spirits. They meant their bodies as well. And they gave themselves a range of about 15 feet."
So begins Leslie Kaufman's fascinating article, which appears on the front page of today's New York Times Home & Garden section, about the pair.
One more thing: "Their partnership, they say, is celibate."
Here's the Times story.
- Making Their Own Limits in a Spiritual Partnership
Ten years ago, Michael Roach and Christie McNally, Buddhist teachers with a growing following in the United States and abroad, took vows never to separate, night or day.
By “never part,” they did not mean only their hearts or spirits. They meant their bodies as well. And they gave themselves a range of about 15 feet.
If they cannot be seated near each other on a plane, they do not get on. When she uses an airport restroom, he stands outside the door. And when they are here at home in their yurt in the Arizona desert, which has neither running water nor electricity, and he is inspired by an idea in the middle of the night, she rises from their bed and follows him to their office 100 yards down the road, so he can work.
Their partnership, they say, is celibate. It is, as they describe it, a high level of Buddhist practice that involves confronting their own imperfections and thereby learning to better serve the world.
“It forces you to deal with your own emotions so you can’t say, ‘I’ll take a break,’ ” said Mr. Roach, 55, who trained in the same Tibetan Buddhist tradition as the Dalai Lama. After becoming a monk in 1983, he trained on-and-off in a Buddhist monastery for 20 years, and is one of a handful of Westerners who has earned the title of geshe, the rough equivalent of a religious doctorate. “You are in each other’s faces 24 hours a day,” he said. “You must deal with your anger or your jealousy.”
Ms. McNally said, “From a Buddhist perspective, it purifies your own mind.” Ms. McNally is 35 and uses the title of Lama, or teacher, an honor not traditionally bestowed on women by the Tibetan orders.
Their exacting commitment to this ideal of spiritual partnership has been an inspiration to many. In China and Israel, and in the United States, where they are often surrounded by devotees, their lectures on how laypeople can build spiritual partnerships are often packed with people seeking mates or ways to deepen their marriages. They hope their recently published book, “The Eastern Path to Heaven,” will appeal to Christians and broaden their American audience.
But their practice — which even they admit is radical by the standards of the religious community whose ideas they aim to further — has sent shock waves through the Tibetan Buddhist community as far as the Dalai Lama himself, whose office indicated its disapproval of the living arrangement by rebuffing Mr. Roach’s attempt to teach at Dharamsala, India, in 2006. (In a letter, the office said his “unconventional behavior does not accord with His Holiness’s teachings and practices.”)
“There is a tremendous amount of opprobrium by the Tibetan monks; they think they have gone wacky,” said Robert Thurman, a professor of Indo-Tibetan Buddhism at Columbia University.
Professor Thurman, a former monk himself, describes himself as a friend and admirer of Mr. Roach, and said that after the geshe made his relationship with Ms. McNally public in 2003, he begged him to renounce his monastic vows and to stop wearing the robes that mark him as a member of a monastic order. Mr. Roach declined, and the two have not spoken since.
“He is doing this partnership thing and insisting on being a monk,” Professor Thurman said. “It is superhuman. He says he is staying celibate, but people find it hard to believe.”
The yurt in which Mr. Roach and Ms. McNally live when they are not traveling the world (which is often about half the year) sits in the high desert some 100 miles east of Tucson, on a platform overlooking a rift in the cactus-speckled hills. For 100 acres around, the land is the property of Diamond Mountain University, an unaccredited school that Mr. Roach founded with Ms. McNally in 2004 to teach Buddhist principles and translation skills.
Although devoid of modern conveniences, the yurt they live in, which is 22 feet in diameter, feels almost luxurious compared with the spare, desiccated landscape around it. On one side of the tent is their double bed, and beside it a commode elegantly disguised as a wood side table. The floor is covered with carpets. A few carved wooden chests hold clothes and pillows.
Light streams in from a hole at the center of the tent’s roof, illuminating its poles, which were imported from Mongolia. The closeness to nature means that the indoor temperature is essentially the ambient one — beyond baking in the summer and freezing in the winter. (Their one attempt to battle the elements is a wood-burning stove.)
The couple did a three-year silent retreat in this yurt from 2000 to 2003, while their relationship was a secret to all but the few people who brought them food. Soon afterward, Mr. Roach determined it should be public, even if it flew in the face of two millenniums of Tibetan Buddhist tradition.
He acted for two reasons, he said. One, he felt that it was impossible to keep secrets in this age of Google Earth. Two, he decided that if Buddhism was really going to succeed in America, it would have to be more inclusive of women.
“If these ideas that will help people are going to make it in the West,” Ms. McNally said, “it can’t be a male-dominated culture, because people are not going to accept that.”
Ms. McNally’s path from student to co-teacher and constant partner has been a hard one, they both say. When she met Mr. Roach in 1996, two years out of New York University, where she majored in literature, he was a learned Buddhist. Two decades her senior, he was a Princeton graduate who in his years studying for the geshe degree also built a personal fortune by helping to grow Andin International, a designer, manufacturer and distributor of fine jewelry, from a start-up to a $100 million-a-year business.
She went to a seminar he was teaching in New York, where he lived at the time. She was just back from India, where she had studied meditation. It was not long before they fell in love, although they do not describe it that way. They say they began to see each other as angels.
In front of others, she was his acolyte. Otherwise, she was studying the principles of karma and emptiness so that she could eventually teach with him. In private, however, she said, they lived together and he bent over backward to listen to her and to defer to her wisdom.
Over time the two grew toward each other, according to friends — he even visibly. He let his hair grow long like hers and became taut and lean in a way he was not before.
But Anne Lindsey, a teacher at Diamond Mountain who now goes by the Buddhist nun’s name Chukyi and has known the couple almost from the start (she was one of those who brought them their food), said Ms. McNally had changed even more. “She has totally transformed,” she said. “For him it was a difference in appearance. For her, she was giggly, she was shy. She never talked. She only focused on Geshe Michael. Now she is this powerhouse of a teacher.”
There have been serious sacrifices, of course. When she agreed to join his life, two years before the spiritual partner vows, she accepted the rigors of his training, including, at the tender age of 24, celibacy. (He had been celibate, he says, since age 22 when he became a candidate for monkhood.) Even though she now considers sexual touching a “low practice,” she said, she still clearly remembers the July day when she gave it up.
But if they have renounced sex, they have replaced it with a level of communion that few other people could understand, much less tolerate.
They eat the same foods from the same plate and often read the same book, waiting until one or the other finishes the page before continuing. Both, they say, are practices of learning to submit one’s will to that of another.
They also do yoga together, breath for breath. “We are always inhaling at the same moment and we are always exhaling at the same moment,” Ms. McNally said. “It is very intimate, but it is not the kind of intimacy people are used to.”
The couple also admit to a hands-on physical relationship that they describe as intense but chaste. Mr. Roach compares it to the relationship his mother had with her doctor when she was dying of breast cancer. “The surgeon lay his hand on her breast, but there wasn’t any carnal thought in his mind,” he said. “He was doing some life-or-death thing. For us it is the same.”
This insistence that they share both purity and intimacy drives traditionalists to distraction. Buddhism has many different branches, most of which allow partners, spiritual or otherwise, in some form — but not for monks. Experts say the lineage of Mr. Roach’s branch of Buddhism clearly demands that you renounce monastic vows to have a partner. And many teachers have done just that.
There are very rare instances in the Indo-Buddhist tradition of an individual’s being considered holy enough for a chaste spiritual partnership, said Lama Surya Das, an American Buddhist who studied in Tibet and wrote “Awakening the Buddha Within,” published in 1997. But Mr. Roach, Lama Surya Das said, has not convinced colleagues that he has reached that level.
“He is a good guy and learned person, but the Bill Clinton question lingers over him,” he said of Mr. Roach. “He is with a much younger blond bombshell. What is a deep relationship that is not sexual? It is hard to understand.”
Mr. Roach and Ms. McNally, however, see their actions as in line with those of a wave of reformers, including the current Dalai Lama, who are taking an ancient, largely monastic and male-dominated tradition and modernizing it to make it more accessible to laypeople and the West.
They understand that their practice is far too extreme for most couples, but they make a point, they say, of doing mainstream things, too. They go to the movies, for example. They tend to like films with visions of alternative realities, like “The Matrix” (her) and “The Truman Show” (him).
They also talk about how they continue to struggle with each other’s wills. It is not an easy practice, even now. But they believe that the basic principles of karma and emptiness at the heart of Buddhism can improve any relationship.
“We are not saying people should live in a tent or 15 feet away from each other,” Mr. Roach said. “What we are teaching is that there is a direct karmic relationship between every incidence of anger you have in the day and how you see your partner.
“If you are consciously patient with people during the day, you will see more beauty.”
Here's a link to an audio slide show featuring the couple.
Honda's ASIMO Robot Conducts Detroit Symphony Orchestra
Above, in performance.
Wrote Lawrence Van Gelder in his "Arts, Briefly" column in today's New York Times, "After greeting the audience in a childlike voice, ASIMO mimicked the actions of a conductor, nodding at sections of the ensemble during the performance and gesturing with one or both hands."
The 4-foot-3-inch tall robot made its concert debut this past Tuesday when it conducted the orchestra's rendition of "The Impossible Dream" from "Man of La Mancha."
Among the many culinary revelations there was his first experience of stroganina — "Siberian sashimi" (above).
Here's his entertaining report from the Russian far north.
- Where Home Cooking Gets the Cold Shoulder
Of all the cowboy towns in this part of Siberia, this must be one of the roughest. When we ride our tractor into town, the first thing I see is a man with a gun next to a dead wolf. On a nearby field a group of men are showing off their lasso-throwing skills.
But of course it isn't a cowboy town. It is a reindeer town. Outside the one-story administration building, the parking lot is nearly filled with parked reindeer waiting restlessly for a racing competition to begin. Inside the building, the women of the village are having a fashion show; almost all the clothes are made from reindeer skins. In a large tent, generous portions of reindeer stew are being ladled out. Even the wolf is connected to the reindeer: It was killed only after having preyed on a flock of them.
Not many visitors come to this remote village on the Yamal Peninsula, north of the Polar Circle, several hours by tractor or snowmobile from the nearest road. And of those who do, few come for the cuisine, which has a reputation for being monotonous to the extreme. But I am attracted by the food and by a nutritional question: How come the people here, who for long periods eat nothing but the meat from one type of animal, are healthier than we are? It is what Patricia Gadsby, writing for Discover magazine about the somewhat similar diet of the indigenous people in Northern Canada and Greenland, called "the Inuit paradox."
In this case it would be the Nenet paradox. The Nenets, the indigenous reindeer-herding people of this part of Siberia, have a menu that sounds like just the opposite of what the doctor ordered: They eat reindeer meat, most of it raw and frozen. From September to May they eat very little else, apart from the odd piece of raw, preferably frozen, fish. One would think that this extreme protein- and fat-driven diet would lead to a lot of health problems — obesity, cardiovascular diseases — but the opposite is true.
"It is my experience that the further away you come from the city centers of the Arctic, the healthier people look," says Lars Kullerud, president of the University of the Arctic, a network of more than 100 universities and colleges. He researches the diets of the region's indigenous people.
Another hour or so away by reindeer sled, the connection between the land, the people and the diet is even more evident than in Schuch'ye. As the guest of Nicolai Laptander and his wife, Ustinia, I spend the night in a chum, a traditional tent made from reindeer skins not unlike a Native American tepee, where they live with their seven children. The children look extraordinarily healthy. And although the diet is a challenge, even for this omnivore, it is exceedingly clear that the Laptanders don't eat only the reindeer's meat; they eatjust about every part of the animal. To see an 8-year-old child reach for another piece of raw liver, then a helping of raw, frozen meat, then the marrow of a cooked bone, brings warmth and envy to any parent with a picky offspring. But it also tells a lot about the secret of the Nenet diet.
When we in the industrialized world discuss nutrition and health, the focus is often on balancing broad categories of food. A healthful diet, we are told, should consist of a good mix of grains, vegetables, fruits and fish and a moderate amount of red meat. But although that probably is the best rule where food of all types is plentiful, it is not really an option in the Arctic, especially not on the Siberian tundra.
Most of the meat we eat in the United States, as in most of the industrialized world, is farm-raised, often from animals that were bred especially for their ability to gain weight and that were raised, more often than not, in confinement. Game meat, such as reindeer or even the venison you can buy in the store, is quite different. It is not just more flavorful than beef and pork. It also is leaner and has a different fat structure.
For the most part, game meat has less fat than farm-raised meat, says Louw Hoffman, professor of meat sciences at Stellenbosch University in South Africa. And its fat contains a high proportion of unsaturated fatty acids, such as omega-6 and omega-3, which among other things help our immune system, he says.
Hoffman, a world-renowned specialist in game meat and an avid carnivore, is critical of the anti-meat sentiments that have become more prominent in recent years.
"Meat, both red and fish, contains all the required amino acids in the correct ratios," he says. "After all, we eat muscle to build muscle. In addition, it contains all the minerals; it is particularly a good source of highly bioavailable iron. We now know that in Europe, a large number of teenage girls that are vegetarian become anemic when they reach puberty."
Except for liver, most meat does not contain much Vitamin C. Still, scurvy is almost nonexistent in traditional Arctic cultures. That is because reindeer and other game meats contain higher levels of Vitamin C than do other meats, because the natives eat the liver, and because the natives' diet is supplemented with cloudberries and cranberries. The fact that much of the meat and the fish are eaten raw is also important.
"Every time you process or cook something — anything — you are likely to be losing nutrients at every step," says Harriet V. Kuhnlein, professor of human nutrition at the Centre for Indigenous Peoples' Nutrition and Environment at McGill University in Montreal. "As long as this meat is still microbiologically safe, it is at its best raw or frozen fresh."
In Alaska and northern Canada, modernization has led to a change of diet. Pollutants have affected the staple foods such as seal, and traditional foods have been replaced by fast food and cheap carbohydrates, resulting in an increase in obesity and Type 2 diabetes.
"The problems occur when the traditional diet is lost or meets competition from Western food," Kullerud says. "Because the first thing to reach these areas is not salad and fruit; it is the junk food."
This part of Siberia is one of the centers of the new Russian oil adventure, and with prosperity and the influx of hordes of specialists from the south comes change. But, at least for now, change seems to be coming at a slower pace. For one, the traditional staple foods -- reindeer and fish -- are lower on the food chain and thus less affected by pollutants than the seal meat eaten by North American Inuits. Also, newcomers seem to be embracing some of the traditional foods.
In Salekhard, the capital of the Yamal-Nenets autonomous region, the town's most fashionable restaurant, Beer-Line, is serving $12 pints of imported beer to well-heeled administrators, businesspeople and oil executives. It is what you would expect in a trendy boomtown bar almost anywhere in the world. However, the food gives the place away. Peanuts and chips are not to be seen; instead, giggling girls and rough prospectors alike are eating stroganina, a kind of Siberian sashimi: long, crisp shavings of frozen fish.
And at the home of Sergey Kharutsji, one of the region's most prominent politicians, his wife, Galina, and daughter, Oxana, serve up a diet not very different from that served in the chum: frozen reindeer meat, stroganina, raw reindeer liver and various other named and unnamed cuts. Oxana says that is what the family eats every day for most meals.
At first I think it might be a political statement, an effort to convince me that they are not too cut off from their people even though they live in a mansion in the middle of town. But later, when I go to fetch some boiling water from the stove, I notice something that convinces me she is indeed telling the truth: One look at the kitchen fan makes it obvious that no one has ever fried food in this house.
Here's Viestad's Siberian sashimi recipe, which accompanied his article.
Summary: This is a kind of frozen Siberian sashimi: thin slices of frozen fish served simply. It is also nice to accompany it with olive or rapeseed (canola) oil flavored with herbs such as thyme and/or oregano, although that would be kind of un-Siberian.
Traditionally, stroganina is made with muksun, a fish not often found outside the Siberian Arctic waters. In Moscow and other “southern” cities, salmon is often substituted, and it works well. Halibut and sea bass are other good alternatives.
The pleasure of a stroganina, like the pleasure of a granita or even a custard, lies in its texture. As it melts in your mouth, an ephemeral flavor is released.
For this recipe, sushi-quality fish is required. It is preferable to buy it frozen. The main challenge is to cut long, thin slices; rather than try to emulate the impressive slicing techniques of the Nenets of western Siberia, you'd do well to use a meat-slicing or bread-slicing machine. A large chef's knife will do, but the cutting does require a little practice.
In Siberia it is common to serve a large, 3-pound fillet, even if there are just 3 or 4 guests. When serving this at home, Gastronomer columnist Andreas Viestad uses 1/4 pound or so per person. In Siberia, stroganina usually is served as a separate dish, accompanied by vodka.
Makes 4 servings.
• 1-1/2 to 2 pounds frozen salmon fillet, pin bones removed and preferably skinless (may substitute halibut or sea bass)
• Freshly ground black pepper
• Red wine vinegar (optional)
• Herb-flavored oil (optional)
Twenty to 30 minutes before serving, transfer the fillet from the freezer to the refrigerator. Place a heavy ceramic serving plate in the freezer.
When ready to serve, adjust the thickness on a meat-slicing machine to about 1/4 inch, or have ready a sharp and heavy chef's knife. Cut the flesh of the fish into several long slices, preferably against the grain, placing the slices on the chilled plate.
When the salmon becomes too thin to cut further, reserve any remaining bits for another use (such as soup); discard the skin, if necessary. Arrange the frozen slices on the chilled plate and serve immediately, seasoning lightly with salt and pepper. Serve with the vinegar or herb-flavored oil for dipping, if desired.
242 calories, 11g fat, 2g saturated fat, 94mg cholesterol, 145mg sodium, n/a carbohydrates, n/a dietary fiber, 34g protein.
Something is crazy in the state of Iceland
Look at the graphics above and below.
What do you see?
I see that about 20% of my current audience is in Iceland.
They do love their telephonic sheep, no question about it, 'cause that's exactly where all those visitors are heading.
From the website:
The TaskWatch whiteboard is a white write-on/wipe-off panel with a clock in the middle — the entire area of the panel can be utilized for writing or drawing.
The panel is mounted on the wall, standard office markers of different colors are used for writing messages beside the relevant hour or time span.
Two versions: Model 01 [top] with complete round dial for home use; Model 02 [below] for office use.
TaskWatch is a helpful tool for organizing one’s time or sharing information with co-workers.
Marker rack, marker, magnets, and cleaner included.
Made in Russia and Germany.
90 × 60 cm (36" x 24").
Brand Tags — Because a brand is whatever people say it is
"The basic idea of this site is that a brand exists entirely in people's heads. Therefore, whatever it is they say a brand is, is what it is."
[via Adam P. Knave and hellblazer.net]
From the website:
- Spritzer Cup
Two ways to stay cool — first a sip, then a spritz
Heat got you down?
Keep this cold beverage cup and spritzer combo by your side.
First quench your thirst with an iced drink, then hydrate your skin with a refreshing mist of cooling water.
Hundreds of fine-mist sprays wait inside this tumbler, ready to cool you off.
You’ll be hydrated, inside and out, because this clear acrylic tumbler has two sections — one holds your drink (and a straw), while the other holds your private "air conditioner."
Double-walled, high-grade acrylic keeps beverages cooler longer.
Both sections are easy to fill.