March 6, 2013

elephant Recommends: Naked Mind: A Present Mind is a Happy Mind. {Film}

“What does mindfulness mean, how does it relate to human happiness, and what does it mean to practice mindfulness in today’s society?”

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From the Himalayas to US Neuroscience labs, two filmmakers explore the effects of meditation and its potential for collective evolution.

Filmmakers Sarah Barab and Paxton Winters set out to document how Western scientists and Eastern meditators are collaborating in unprecedented ways to understand the human mind. Along the way, they meet meditation masters, neuroscientists, convicts, drug addicts, and Machig. Machig is a 30-year-old, Caucasian American from the Pacific Northwest, and a long-time Tibetan meditation practitioner. She practices Dark Retreat—for forty days, she sits in a meditation box with no food, water, or light. She self-regulates her autonomic nervous system so as to eliminate all distractions from complete meditative absorption. When she’s not doing dark retreat, she works with prisoners and victims of human trafficking. Some say she is enlightened. Others worry about the psychological dangers of such practices. Infrared cameras allow a window into Machig’s first-person experience of this controversial practice, while neuroscientist Richard Davidson provides a third-person perspective on what is physiologically happening in various states of meditation. Davidson was one of Time Magazine’s 100 Most Influential People and works intimately with H.H. the Dalai Lama for the Mind & Life Institute.

Scientific discoveries are proving that meditation can be beneficial to individual and collective happiness, but what does this mean outside an Eastern Buddhist culture? In contemporary American life, the term “mindfulness” has become a buzzword across a huge range of disciplines, from psychology and medicine to education, social action, and prison reform. This film asks: What does mindfulness mean, how does it relate to human happiness, and what does it mean to practice mindfulness in today’s society?

Interspersed with interviews from meditation masters around the world, Naked Mind looks at the practical integration of mindfulness in the context of social reform and exposes the trappings of spiritual materialism while resisting easy conclusions. Featured in the film are Fleet Maull, an ex-convict of 14 years who founded the Prison Dharma Network, and Willoughby Britton, a neuroscientist in the psychology department of Brown University. Britton’s work exposes the hard questions around assimilating an Eastern practice into Western consumer culture and celebrates what secular modernity has to offer mindfulness practices in terms of feminism, democracy, and psychology. Intimately shot, this is is a personal journey, a heartfelt inquiry in which two filmmakers confront their own biases and prejudices, turning the camera on themselves as they traverse their own journey between subjectivity and objectivity. With stunning cinematography and an original score by internationally acclaimed cellist Claudio Bohorquez and saxophonist Hayden Chisolm, Naked Mind is both a celebration of the human experience and a brave inquiry into how to work with our minds in today’s world.

For more information on Naked Mind or to help fund the project, click here.

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