Aloha Zen

Since the new President took office there has been much discussion in the media about his laid back management style. According to a recent New York Times article, President Obama has "brought a more relaxed sensibility to his public appearances." David Gergen, an adviser to both Republican and Democratic presidents, is quoted as saying that Obama brings an, "Aloha Zen", a comfortable calm that "reflects a man who seems easy going, not so full of himself."

It's something that I've been thinking about for a while now, ever since my wife and I stayed at the Courtyard Marriott near Chicago's O'Hare airport on the way to England to see my family for Christmas. The hotel rooms are wrapped around a central courtyard, a luxury, not seen much in these days of expensive urban real estate, where every inch is worth a thousand dollars and thus packed tight with bricks and mortar. An overnight snow had turned the courtyard into a close facsimile of a Buddhist temple, complete with pine tree bowed down with thick white powder. A mere mile from a noisy international airport, it was an oasis of calm and quiet.

Eastern sacred architecture puts great importance in constructing a central core of silence within a building. In the Sthapatya Veda tradition of India, for example, this is known as a Brahmastan, or "seat of God". It acts as a conduit for harmonious cosmic energy and mirrors the peaceful soul that should lie at the heart of our human consciousness, and which we have largely lost sight of in our rush for material enrichment. It's not surprising we have a generation of hypertensive adults and hyperactive kids. There is no allowance for peace and quiet in our culture.

However the emergence of a President with such a calm inner being gives me room for hope, as does the increased interest in yoga, meditation and prayer over the last few decades. Any national leader, especially one elected by popular vote, reflects the collective mood of his people; so it must mean we are yearning for more peace within. It's not really surprising considering the last eight years of chaos, when the leadership of the country seemed to mirror the worst side of our nature, and the rest of the world family came to see us as belligerent, arrogant and aggressive. Looking back with the kindest of eyes, we may eventually accept the years of Bush and Co as a means to rediscover our better side-a sort of agonizing political aversion therapy.

Some Canadian friends once offered this cute snippet of Canuck wisdom: "Canadians respond," they said, "whereas Americans react." Perhaps with our newfound quiet center we will be able to respond to the challenges of the world with calm, wisdom and foresight, rather than roll out the shock and awe whenever someone steps in our way.