By Alex Distefano
By Scott Snowden
By Anna Merlan
By Steve Almond
By Jena Ardell
By Jon Campbell
By Alan Scherstuhl
By Tessa Stuart
It looked a little like a Trekkie convention: people discussing faraway galaxies with close to religious fervor. But Science & the Spiritual Quest (SSQ) is actually a meeting of world-class physicists, doctors, and religious leaders who reconcile their knowledge of science with their spiritual beliefs. Mixing the two can be like stirring oil and water: One is rational and provable, the other subsists on faith and inexplicable phenomena.
SSQ is dedicated to "the interface of science and spirituality." Its winter meeting at Manhattan's General Theological Seminary proved biologists and Sunday school teachers need not be enemies: Belief in science does not preclude faith in God. Presented by the Berkeley-based Center for Theology and the Natural Sciences, SSQ is a four-year initiative that holds conferences, workshops, and public forums around the world. Two brilliant scientists took the podium: Piet Hut of the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, and William Newsome, a neurobiologist from Stanford. Hut, a practicing Buddhist, called scientists addressing issues of consciousness or spirituality "the most recent group to come out of the closet." Said Newsome, "In science, there's no need for a concept like the soul." Unlike many in his field, Newsome believes in the soul's presence, even though biological evidence for it is scarce. Carl Feit finished by analyzing a biblical passage: In Genesis, Adam is described as both physical and transcendent, making him an apt analogy for an SSQ meeting.
SSQ returns to New York's General Theological Seminary for private workshops, preceded by a public session, "Humanity and Cosmos: Spirituality and Science on Our Place in the Universe," with a French astrophysicist, a Vietnamese cosmologist, and a Romanian physicist, June 6 at 7:30 p.m. Admission is $15 ($5 for students), 212-243-5150. KATE MATTINGLY
The Center for Theology and the Natural Sciences 2400 Ridge Road, Berkeley, CA 94709 www.ssq.net
In the Clearing
In second grade, my art teacher showed me how to make a diorama out of a Bosch painting. I painstakingly cut out each little twisted soul and glued it inside a box to make a three-dimensional image of a garden of earthly delights. Taking an antidepressant was a little like making that diorama: I thought it would utterly change my world picture, but instead I still saw the same obstacles, terrors, and ambiguities as before, only they no longer hindered me from moving forward in my life, and I found I could move around them.
I initially went to a psychiatrist because my feelings had become like the shadow impression an amputated limb makes on the nerves: I had a vague recollection of what it was like to have a heart, but was able to feel only the memory of feeling. I did not feel depressed, exactly, but as though depression itself would be a relief from my posthumous existence. "The bad news," my doctor said, "is that you have depression, anxiety, social dysfunction, and an obsessive-compulsive disorder." Meaning I slept all the time, ran from phantom stalkers, and compulsively did everything in multiples of three. "The good news is, they're highly treatable."
But the treatment wasn't easy. First he put me on Paxil, which gave me unsteady bowels, a perpetual headache, and insomnia. I spent nights either thinking in lucid loops or high on Ambien. I vacillated between bouts of immobility and regression into a hysterical, self-lacerating 14-year-old. "Paxil makes me feel like I'm coming back to myself again," I told the shrink, "but now I remember why I went away in the first place." I switched to Celexa (I thought it was spelled Select-xa and would help me make decisions) with a Xanax chaser. I stopped running through the streets after midnight and began to work on my dissertation a little. After a couple of months, I felt ready for the academic job market, conferences, and even marriage. It seemed as though my life was finally moving forward.
Then on Valentine's Day, after six months on Celexa, I was at the computer when the lights went out. I ran into the living room and met a wall of flame that ended up engulfing the entire apartment. I lost all my material possessions, my dissertation, my cats. Sifting through the ashes of what I suspect was once my novel, the loss I felt was somehow still preferable to the numbness I'd experienced before taking Celexa. A good antidepressant doesn't necessarily remove depression, I realized. It just makes the darkness more visible. AMY LEAL
Smells Like Cream Spirit
Your doc may say it's laughing gas, but I propose terming the invisible propellant in Reddi-Wip pass-to-where-there-is-no-laughter-or-sadness gas. It wipes your mind, makes your body tingle, andI'm guessing here, the only soul I know about is the foodjust might awaken your spirit. For about as long as it takes to uncap the next can, that is. Doing "whip-its" (as teenagers call them) is basically like sniffing glue or gasoline, without the nasty lower-class associations. A lovely raven-haired assistant recently followed my directions in order to compare America's Choice ($1.35 for 198 grams at Food Emporium) and Reddi-Wip ($2.85) brands, with light, regular, and nondairy (RW only) options. Reverse the corporate instructions: Leave the can upright and unshaken, take the spout in your mouth and press it sideways, breath all the fumes in at once, andmmmmwwaaaahhhear your brain cells popping? (The sound of silence.)
There's a simpler, more cost-effective way to huff, but it requires proof of a commercial food-service application. To be a treat, a whip-it must be casual. I recommend the nondairy national brand: It's an extra $1.50, but you'll spare a lady bovine some abuse. NICK CATUCCI
Advertisements for Horny Goat Weed, an aphrodisiac, display picture of a woman on a bed, an alluring yet slightly drugged-up look on her face, the bottle in her hands. A very sexy goat's head declares, "Do the weed and you'll succeed!"
Made of naturally stimulating herbs like Maca Pure and Horny Goat Weed, an actual plant scientifically known as Epimedium Sagittatum, this product claims to help both men and women increase their sex drive; it's been called an herbal substitute for Viagra. But does it work? Before a date, I took two capsules as recommended. About an hour later, during dinner and some good conversation, I began to feel something. It wasn't in my pants, though. My face flushed, a slight pressure built up in my head (the one on top), and I got a bit dizzy. I did feel the weed! I just didn't feel horny.
Before you decide you need HGW, repeat to yourself the old saying: If it ain't broke, don't fix it. Those seeking a stimulant because of low sex drive, a medical condition, or advancing age might have better luck trying a doctor. DAVID LIPP
The thought of Republicans in power again is enough to stress anyone out. For a bit of relaxation, I usually turn to my manicurist, but these circumstances call for massage. Having sampled Swedish and Chinese modalities, I was keen to check out shiatsu (meaning "finger pressure"), the traditional Japanese technique. As the name indicates, shiatsu involves pressinglots of thumb actionin discrete spots, such as along the spine, rather than the kneading motion one usually associates with massage. The sensation can be momentarily painful, as I discovered at the Hoshi Coupe hair salon.
In a corner behind a metal screen, the Japanese masseuse had me lie down fully clothed (good news for the nudity-shy), then proceeded to jab away. Surprisingly, the sounds of blow-drying and Japanese talk melded into white noise as she worked the knots out of my neck and shoulders. Gentler procedures included stretching the arms and sides of the face to release tension. After 30 minutes, I left feeling serene and well-restedat least until I heard the latest sound bite from our commander in chief. J. YEH
Hoshi Coupe 214 East 9th Street 212-505-0383 $30
It Takes an East Village
On any given Saturday at noon, for $15, you can squeeze into Tribal Soundz, the tiny East Village emporium of world music, sit on a wicker stool, and sing your heart out. Dumbeqs, djembes, and didgeridoos, shekeres, ceramics, and CDs beckon from shelves and corners. Chimes of Damocles dangle low. It's a gorgeous store, with New York's most enchanting vocal instructor, Marie Afonsoa founding member of the original Zap Mamaleading beginners and virtuosos alike in a joyful noise.
Afonso, native of Portugal and newbie Brooklynite, dreams of establishing a nonprofit cross-cultural choir, completing an album, maybe saving the soul of America. Meanwhile she's cookin'conducting a Burkina Faso song praising Mother Africa, dancing the sound from every cell in her body. Quell your impulse to twirl like a dervish; if you break something, you'll have to fork over some hefty cash.
Akim Ndlovu (a/k/a dancer-singer Akim Funk Buddha) also holds court here, teaching overtone chant and human beatbox. The store boasts an international array of master mentors for everything from tabla to thumb piano, oud to electronic percussion. Wonder what a sarangi, thunder tube, or lip whistle is? Mel Puljic and Nora Balaban will show you. This Tuesday, they're hosting a cross-cultural improvisation workshop with saxophonist Patrick Brennan, whose CD, Sudani, interweaves jazz, blues, and Moroccan Gnawa. Want more worldly wonderfulness? Party down at Tribal Soundz's Starfish series, Wednesday nights at Bar XVI, 16 First Avenue. EVA YAA ASANTEWAA
Tribal Soundz 340 East 6th Street 212-673-5992 email@example.com Weekdays 3 p.m. to 11:30 p.m. Weekends noon to midnight.
5 Rhythms isn't your auntie's ballet class. This movement practice, pioneered by seminal dancer-turned-healer Gabrielle Roth, can fuel a transformation in how you feel, create, and, ultimately, live. The five universal rhythmscalled Flowing, Staccato, Chaos, Lyrical, and Stillnessopen body, heart, mind, soul, and spirit, making powerful magic.
In a Broome Street loft, we warm up to cool recorded sounds. Any music goes so long as it supports the practice. Tonight we'll dance to gospel, African, and jazz, chosen by teacher Jane Selzer. We "flow," then move on to "staccato." I begin to relax and trust my experience. Now it's "chaos"! I shimmy with an unexpected, wild joyit feels so free, so me.
"Let your feet lead," says Selzer, a quiet catalyst. We circle each other alone, in pairs, and then in quartets; finally we're a single organism, entranced, with 14 pairs of feet, darting around each other, never colliding. The music shifts. The power of the beat drives us. By the end, my body is dancing me, and that's just fine!
Who practices the Roth 5 Rhythms, and why? A woman working through a period of intense grief. A computer programmer: "For a soul infusion." A woman with a painful disability: "Since joining the class, I'm able to deal without painkillers."
Roth, a wise person, has said, "After you jump and before you land is God." I haven't landed yet. MARY D. CHAFFEE
Jane Selzer: 212-642-5494 For details on local, national, and international classes and workshops directed by Gabrielle Roth and others, contact the Moving Center 212-760-1381 firstname.lastname@example.org www.ravenrecording.com
Many yoga venues are spiritual havens carved out of grungy placesstorage rooms in hospitals, disused offices, basements, or atticswhere you're lucky if you find a changing room. At the other extreme are gyms where grunts and body preening clash with yogic inner harmony.
New York Yoga, however, boasts not only a perfect environment but also high-caliber teachers of ashtanga or "power" yoga. Designed by Dalton Robertson of Las Vegas's Caesar's Palace, it has beautiful bamboo floors, rice glass windows, subtle elegant lighting, two mirrored studios, changing rooms, and a small boutique with a tempting range of yoga accessories, all planned to promote maximum relaxation and a safe and inspiring atmosphere, definitely a requisite for Upper East Siders. But the studio's appeal is more than cosmetic. It offers a great diversity of yoga styles and classes (over 60 a week) catering to people from advanced practitioners to kids, moms, expectant moms, older women, people with cardiac conditions, golfers, and even corporate members. Instruction is efficient and technically adept, if lean in the spiritual aspects. JOSEPHINE LEASK
New York Yoga 1629 York Avenue, at 86th Street 212-717-YOGA Classes run all day. Prices start at $20 a class; discount cards and membership packages are available.
Falun Gong Show
Of the exercises Quan Sha taught me in Brooklyn's Prospect Park, Heavenly Circulation made my body tingle the most. Falun Gong's movements are usually done in order: (1) Buddha Showing a Thousand Hands, (2) Falun Standing Stance, (3) Penetrating the Two Cosmic Extremes, (4) Heavenly Circulation, and (5) Strengthening Divine Powersa seated meditation much like those in yoga. By the time I got to the spine-tingler, I had been Standing and Penetrating the Two Cosmic Extremes for some time, moving slowly in the early-morning winter sun, wrapped up in my sweater and gloves. Falun Gong's movements are a lot like other methods of qi gong, a popular form of health-related exercise widely practiced in China. According to Quan Sha, Falun Gong is distinguished by its "focus on your heart," meaning the principles of truth, compassion, and forbearance as explained in books written by Master Li Hongzhi, who introduced the practice in 1992. The other difference between spiritual Falun Gong and fitness-oriented qi gong is more extreme. In China, Falun Gong?related activities are punished by the government with "reeducation" in a labor camp. Secular qi gong is A-OK. ALEXIS SOTTILE
Falun Gong classes are free. Go to www.falundafa.org to find the practice site nearest you, or call 1-877-FALUN99. For information on the human rights issue involving China's treatment of this spiritual group, go to www.falundafa.org or www.mediachannel.org.