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Meditate and Destroy: A Documentary About Punk Rock, Spirituality, and Inner Rebellion

Distributed by Alive Mind Education, 56 West 45th St., Suite 805, New York, NY 10036; 212-398-3112
Produced by Blue Lotus Films
Directed by Sarah Fisher
DVD, color, 82 min.
Jr. High - Adult
Religious Studies, Sociology, Parenting, Popular Culture, Adolescence

Reviewed by Charles J. Greenberg, Cushing/Whitney Medical Library, Yale University

Highly Recommended  Highly Recommended   
Date Entered: 9/9/2009

Meditate and Destroy provides Buddhist punk author (Against the Stream, Dharma Punx) and provocateur Noah Levine a visual platform on which to expound on his dramatic conversion from turbulent anti-parent, anti-hippy, and aggressively self-destructive teen rebel and repeat offender to a national punk-culture spokesperson for meditative practice and 12-step recovery. Director Sarah Fisher uses concise editing and splicing of animation, punk visual culture, music, and Santa Cruz, California, urban street life to paint an effective tableau of the modern saha world that attracts and feeds violence for the sake of violence, crime, and substance abuse for a significant sub-culture of bored and rebellious youth.

Subject Noah is not only a son of practicing Buddhist parents (thus automatically rejecting their spiritual commitment), but also a product of a late 20th century media culture, and he is clearly engaged and comfortable in front of the director's camera, as well as a natural and engaging public speaker. His closest punk-culture peers expound considerable reverence on camera for Noah's leadership and vision, inspired by him in both their most destructive adolescent behaviors and his leadership in moving them out of the self-destructive wasteland and into meditation. Noah finds in his own tapping of the twin tools of meditative practice and a 12-step recovery the compassion to lead his peers toward a purposeful existence, yet carefully maintaining his punk-culture credentials and spiritual independence.

The use of Noah as his own narrator and his eloquent punk-culture peers as authentic spokespersons is a very effective documentary technique. Noah’s punk friends are visually salient, offering calm monologues that alternate with the more frenetic music of Santa Cruz punk bands. Noah, his parents, his parole officer, and his Buddhist mentor Jack Kornfeld all have calm and unique perspectives on Noah’s suffering, and the core Buddhist principles of suffering and release from suffering are woven throughout the video. For urban sociologists, the inner-city violence and substance abuse culture of the late 1980’s is described in stark terms by Noah, his parents, his peers, counselors, and law enforcement officers.

The use of Second Life virtual character animated sequences to portray the most physically dangerous moments of Noah’s incarceration, complete with self-inflicted injuries, is quite effective, offering a non-destructive yet viscerally disturbing substitution for typical re-enacted violence, effectively combined with Noah's own narration.

Noah describes his meditative rebirth as a spiritual revolution, and Noah’s punk acolytes confirm on camera that Noah’s liberation from suffering and pain has inspired their own meditative experiment. The newly restored trust and respect with his parents, particularly his father Stephen Levine, allows the reemergence of family respect. Patricia Washko, Noah’s mom, also provides authentic memories of her son’s youthful alienation and sadness that has been transformed into compassion and commitment. Noah has become a Buddhist activist on mission, an unabashed iconoclast, challenging negativity and strife with meditation and youth counseling, while maintaining his authentic punk credentials and a free-pass to re-enter the rebellious turbulence of the punk scene. The film’s loud punk soundtrack and belligerent sequences such as mosh pits provides a visual and aural authentic ambience. The film also includes Noah speaking to young persons in locked-down educational settings for troubled youth, and it is remarkable to see this style of group counseling (Noah has earned a degree in Counseling) and encouraging young people to consider meditation as their own form of self-affirming rebellion.

Highly recommended for supervised or moderated viewing at institutions for troubled or incarcerated youth, sociology classes covering punk-culture, and classes on comparative religion.