Film Maker, Consciouness Raiser

Below is a link to a magazine article I wrote about Derek Grace, a man who left a prestigious job to pursue his calling.

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“A path without a heart is never enjoyable. You have to work hard even to take it. On the other hand, a path with heart is easy; it does not make you work at liking it.” — Don Juan Matus

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Your Right Path

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The Girl Who Loves Comics

“Some guys will come into the store and look at me,” says Ariel, “and say, ‘oh, she’s a girl, she doesn’t know anything about comics,’ but when they have a question, someone will say, ask Ariel.”

And just who is this Ariel who dares challenge the established order of the comic book universe?

Her name suggests a woman with imagination who can weave light into works of art that makes the Hulk laugh for joy and Galactus weep bitter tears and is the favorite consort of the Silver Surfer.

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Dude, Where’s My Spider Sense?

Let’s see…super strength, blinding speed, crazy agility, a damn near indestructible body, and movie star good looks; all standard-issue superpowers for your everyday blue-collar superheroes.

These individuals are called to battle people who don’t have a life and are intent on destroying/ruling the world. It’s dangerous work with no health care benefits, so it helps if superheroes are stronger, quicker, tougher and better looking than the bad guys so they can beat the crap out of them.

Then there are superheroes with a more refined class of abilities, such as the power to turn invisible, read minds, or see like a radar. So, instead of just physically overpowering villains, these heroes use their heightened abilities to outwit the bad guys. Then they beat the crap out of them.

Out of all the heroes with the more subtle type of superpowers, I’d put Spider-man’s “Spider-sense” at the top of the list because it enables him to know what’s hidden and anticipate what’s about to happen.

Spider-man’s “Spider-sense” doesn’t get a lot of play in comics these days and just about zero in the movies. So, I thought I’d show it a little love here. It’s also worth looking into because I think it’s an ability that we all have to one degree or another.

Have you ever had a bad feeling about a person, place or event, and ignored it and lived to regret it? I have and I’ll bet you have too.

To finish reading the article click on the link below

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Japanese Flute Player Enchants Passersby at Promontory Point

If you’re going to Promontory Point this weekend you might hear the elegant sounds of a Japanese flute reverberating inside the tunnel entrance that will remind you of something long forgotten.

Jia Senghe, plays a Japanese flute called the shakuhachi and loves to practice his art at the Point.

The shakuhachi was developed in the 16th century and used by monks of Zen Buddhism as a spiritual tool. The songs they played on it were called “honkyoku” and were paced according to the players’ breathing and considered meditation (suizen). The shakuhachi is known for its rich tone coloring and subtlety, which gives it a dreamy, haunting sound.

It had to be a surprise for people who were at the Point to enjoy some fun in the sun, only to encounter music played on the shakuhachi that stirred their souls.

Senghe started playing the flute in the 1970’s and a decade later, he discovered the shakuhachi. For years, he listened to Japanese players and learned all he could. Then he met an American who studied the shakuhachi in Japan and taught him the subtleties of how to play the instrument.

“The shakuhachi is a form of meditation,” says Senghe. “It’s a way to connect spiritually with nature and the universe.” He believes he was attracted to Japanese music because he lived in Japan as a young child and his parents exposed him to the Japanese culture.

“When I plaJia Senghey, I often feel a range of emotions from sadness to joy and gratitude – these are the things that I want people to feel when I play – that there’s an underlying essence to life that is revealed through the music.”

Senghe plays the Shakuhachi at various locations around the city, and he is looking to play at other venues as opportunities arise.

“My favorite place to play at the moment is in the tunnel leading to the Promontory Point in Hyde Park,” says Senghe. “The sounds of the shakuhachi resonate there, and I enjoy playing for people coming and going to the lake.”

Senghe enchants the patrons of Zen Shiatsu in Evanston with Japanese folk music on Tuesdays from 7-9. He says it’s a great place to come hear him play and receive relaxing bodywork.

You can also hear him play at Ellie’s cafe at 10717 S. Hale in Beverly on Sundays, from noon to 3 pm.

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A Jesus Freak

“People call me crazy, but in a good way,” said Dag Mook Kim. He is 74 years old, a taxi driver, a passionate ping-pong player, and a self-proclaimed Jesus freak.

Kim immigrated in this country in 1969 from his native Korea. “When I came to this country, I was full of negativity, jealousy, hate, and meanness,” he said. “I thought there must something wrong with me. So, I asked Jesus to help me.

“Through endurance, I changed, and  slowly loosened up. If you work at changing, Jesus will help you. I’m still changing.

He paused and gestured at the shoppers and downtown office workers walking past us. “Some people grow slow, some fast – everyone’s different.”

He told me that his hero is Frederick Douglass. I was intrigued that an Korean had a African-American hero. So, I asked him why Douglas. “Because he came up from nothing,” Kim said, “he was a slave, and made it to the top.” Okay…I thought. I asked him did he have any other heroes. “George Washington Carver,” he said without hesitation.

I was impressed that he knew about these great African-American men. “I get it,” I said, “he was a slave too.” Kim just nodded.

Kim started talking fast, er, faster. He reached in his taxi and produced a ping-pong paddle and ball, “My passion is tennis, golf, and ping-pong,” he said grinning, “especially ping pong. I have to do something for fun – I have no talent, but it is still my passion”.

Kim says that when he first went to church, he discovered people were playing ping-pong in the basement. “I went down there and every one of them beat me,” he said. “I got angry and devoted myself to learning. I took lessons. I slowly got better, and eventually beat the best guy. It took a year. But it was a great feeling when I won.”

Kim then looked both ways, stepped up to an empty wall, waited until no one was passing by, tossed the ping-pong ball in the air, and started smacking it against the wall with the paddle. People stopped to watch with a mix of amusement and bewilderment. He kept the ball in play for a few moments then caught it and smiled. “I’m too old for this – I love it.”

Mook attends Presbyterian Church in Greenview, IL.

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Forty – Three Degrees

They arrive at the lake around the time the sun’s rays first kiss the tree tops. Before most people hit the snooze button on their alarm clock in the morning, these adventurers are preparing to take on Lake Michigan.

In early May, when the water temperature is around a chilly forty-three degrees, a group of Chicagoans meet at Promontory Point for their first swim of the year. Throughout the summer and into late fall, in calm or rough waters, they start their day with a swim out into the vastness of the Lake.

On a typical day, they meet, exchange greetings, make small talk, laugh softly, and cast glances at the lake as they change into their swim suits. Then, one by one, they adjust their goggles, step onto a ladder, lower themselves into the water, push off and start stroking, soon they’re just tiny specs among the waves.

After about thirty to forty minutes, they’ll climb out of the lake looking, well, invigorated. After they get dressed, it’s off to Bonjours, a French bakery that’s nearby, for coffee, baugettes and conversation.

In November, when the water temperature is around a chilly forty-three degrees again, they hang up their goggles and call it a season. But, for most of the year, they’ve gotten their high from facing down a challenge in a natural environment.

It’s not surprising that many of them are world-class achievers. Among them are artists, architects, executives and athletes. Ted Erikson, 82, the groups inspiration and elder statesman, was the first person to swim across Lake Michigan.

I asked some of them, why they do it, and what’s it like to be on your own, far from shore. Here’s some of their comments:

“Reason?” Lockwood laughs, “because I don’t have air conditioning.  No, the lake is a great resource, so why not take advantage? Not may cities have something this.

“Swimming in the lake is a great way to see the city from a different point of view, you’re detached from everything. Every day it’s a changing environment.”

-Elizabeth Lockwood

Deirdre Hamilles – Squire

“I’ve been swimming out here for six or seven years.” – Pam Birnie

“It’s glorious and wild. I love it. I love the lake and want to be in it.” – Sara Bigger

Dory Rand

Ted Erikson – In 1961, Erikson became the first person to swim across Lake Michigan

“Where else can you ride your bike a quarter of a mile, swim in Lake Michigan, and then go to a French bakery for breakfast?

“It’s where I go to pray.” – Linda Klum

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A Taste of Paris

How would you like to stop by a side walk cafe in Paris, take a seat at a checkered cloth covered table, order a bottle of vintage wine, then lean back and watch passersby stroll down the boulevard?

On the table, there’s a basket of french baguettes, and seated on your right – is your companion, who smiles at you and begins to read the newspaper – aloud. You don’t understand a word, but it doesn’t matter, anything spoken in French sounds like “I love you.”

Hey, it’s on my bucket list. In the meantime, I’ve found a great substitute, sans the companion. You can get a feel for what it’s like to relax at a cafe in the “City of Lights” here in Hyde Park at 55th and Lake Park, right behind Walgreens, at a cafe named Bon Jour, which means “Good Day” in French.

Bon Jour is owned by Driss Bekkouche and his wife, Pascale Krentzberger and has has been in the same location in Hyde Park for 15 years.

The cafe specializes in creating wonderful, exotic French pastries and drinks. At Bon Jour, you can sit at one of the wrought iron tables, nibble on a Eclaire a la Pistache and listen to background music that features French “torch” singers who, if you listen carefully, will transport you to a sultry, smoke filled, jazz club from 1950’s Paris.

Bekkouche is from Paris and studied pastry making at the famed French Pastry School. He says they make all of the pastries at Bon Jour from scratch. “To make good French pastry, taste is the first thing” says Bekkouche, “the second is decoration and the third is presentation.”

Whenever I drop in at Bon Jour, there’s a steady stream of customers, so I’d say they do a great job on all three counts.

Bekkouche’s wife, Pascale, created what has to be one of the best drinks in Chicago, orange juice with rose petals in it – yes, rose petals.

I tried it on one hot morning when I didn’t want coffee and well…it’s exotic, tastes a little like a Grand Marnier, it’ll definitely uplift your spirit – just what you would expect from a taste of Paris.

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The Peace School

At the Peace School, teachers tell their students that each one of them has the power to help build a more peaceful world. The first step, they say, is to learn how to breathe.

At a peace conference held last spring at The Power of Oneness Spiritual Center, Rev. Celeste Frazier brought together peace organizations from around the city to look for ways in which they could join forces to bring more peace to the streets of Chicago.

One of the panelists was Jennifer Kim, the head instructor at the Peace School. Whereas the other organizations that attended the conference tended to focus on immediate – in my back yard – issues and uses political activism to initiate change, the Peace School tackles the problem of how to bring peace to our streets from  individual and global perspectives.

The Peace School has worked for world peace from its headquarters on the North side of Chicago for forty years. It is a United Peace Messenger, recognized by the U.N. for its “significant and concrete contributions” to peace.

In the interview below, I asked Mrs. Kim about her work, the philosophy of the Peace School, and the technology of peace.

How did the Peace School get started?

The Peace School was started in Chicago in 1972. The founder, Grand master Myungsu Y.S. Kim, my late father-in-law, was from Korea and was into martial arts and meditation.

He came to yoga through his own health problems that he had as a young man. He was practicing all these arts for their original purpose which was to create a strong body and mind in order to do something good for the world. So, he found these practices and realized that they could be used for an inner foundation for building peace on a grander scale.

Jennifer Kim, speaking at the People Gathered for Peace event at Power of Oneness Spiritual Center

His goal was always to try to find ways to build peace in the world. That’s why he decided to leave his life in Korea behind to come here to the United States. If peace is ever to really happen throughout the world, he felt that it would begin in United States because all cultures, ethnicities, races and nationalities are here. So, that was his intention for coming to Chicago.

The school started with classes in breathing meditation, yoga and traditional tae kwon do.  It’s hard for a lot of people to grasp how tae kwon do and peace work together, but the way martial art is practiced from our standpoint is its not competitive. We’re not in tournaments and we don’t use terminology like fighting or sparring or anything like that.

When we practice with a partner we think of it as an art. We say “peace” with our movements instead of some kind of yell. It’s about building peace through that practice.

Of course, now we do many other things, but founder’s background was in the martial arts.

How did Master Kim develop his techniques?

He started martial arts training when he was a boy but when he was about 19 or 20 he became very interested in meditation.

This was during the Japanese occupation of Korea where times were stressful and he developed a lot of health conditions on top of each other. The doctors he saw could do nothing for him. Then a friend gave him a book about heath techniques you can practice at home which included exercises he later learned were called yoga.  He used the exercises along with breathing techniques, massage, and herbal remedies to heal himself.

He was probably the first person in modern times to bring the practice of yoga into a martial arts school. This was in Korea in the 1950’s so it was totally unheard of and even the instructors under him couldn’t really get it and understand why they were now doing slow stretching and all of this breathing.

But later they realized the wonderful benefits that were gained by incorporating yoga techniques. Master Kim had many very interesting life experiences that led him deeper and deeper and finally to the discovery and the development of this peace breathing practice that we have now.

Tell me about the breathing practice.

Master Kim really wanted to come up with something that was accessible; something that people could just do without having to quit their job or change their whole lifestyle because most people aren’t going to do that. They’re too busy with daily life trying to make ends meet.

So, after many years of developing his own practice and researching brain waves, brain function, and anatomy, this is what came to him.

It’s a very simple as a practice. Peace Breathing uses slow breathing and taking deep breaths to gain all those wonderful benefits that we get through deep breathing. Then we combine that with peaceful thinking so through doing both we create the thoughts that create the energy of peace.

So the thought that came to him was very simply was – “world peace.”

So we inhale ‘world’ and exhale ‘peace’ – inhale ‘world’ – exhale ‘peace,’   so that you’re constantly creating an energy of peace and our thoughts are recording that energy again and again so that over time peace starts to come back to us more naturally.

At first, even Master Kim thought this was too simple, but once he started practicing he realized that it really does contain the essence of meditation practice, and so it’s viewed as meditation.

Since the practice is breathing based, we can use it in our day-to-day activities as a moving meditation – when you’re just out and about. Doing whatever you’re doing, walking, driving, cooking or whatever.

It helps to keep your mind open and big, bright and full of possibility; where you can see the bigger picture, so that when things do occur, things that might have really pushed your buttons before, now you have developed to where your mind has expanded. Then it’s much easier to accept or absorb and not be thrown off by the things that we know intellectually are small things – we know it – and it really bothers us that they get to us, but we can that start to diffuse that because your mind opens and becomes bigger and bigger.

So yeah, it’s so simple but it’s really a great practice. You wouldn’t imagine that something that could create peace would be so simple. You think it would be a more complicated thing.

How do you to get started? Do you need to practice at a particular time everyday and develop it into a formal practice?

We do it in two ways. One is you make time for ourselves each day. To sit and do meditation practice is a difficult thing for people. We do a six-week course in breathing meditation where it’s once a week for six weeks. The hardest thing for almost everyone who comes to class is to find time to sit and do the exercise. We’re just so busy and overloaded.

But what we suggest is even if it’s only for five minutes, even if it’s just for one minute; it’s okay to start with something small that you feel you could do. Even just one breath; that’s a start to begin to carve out time in your day, a time that works for you, to just sit and do the breathing.

One person might do it 25 times a day another person might do it a couple of times a week.  Our recommendation is to start small but try to practice daily that’s really the key.

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