Author Archives: Naing Thant Phyo

Buddhism and Mindfulness by Michaela Maxwell

“This summer, thanks to a generous CCCS grant, I was able to put the theoretical knowledge of Buddhism that I acquired at Middlebury, and apply it to help people solve concrete challenges in their personal and professional lives.” – Michaela Maxwell


This summer, thanks to a CCCS grant, I had the incredible opportunity to work remotely for a mindfulness startup based out of Mumbai, called BeyondMind. During the first half of the summer, I worked remotely from Berkeley, and I attended a conference on Buddhism and Science co-organized by William Waldron (Professor of Religion at Middlebury) and neuroscientist Clifford Saron that allowed me to better understand both the breakthroughs and limitations in the popular study of mindfulness. As someone who wishes to pursue Buddhist Studies at a graduate level after Middlebury, I am very interested in how we might appropriately secularize Buddhist teachings to bring mindfulness practices to a larger group of people. Equally weary of diluting the teachings in the process, my engagement this summer with the topic through research, mindfulness and emotional intelligence workshops, and participant interviews has allowed me to better understand how individuals with no background in Buddhism or science interact with the lessons being taught.

This summer was the first step in what I believe will be a lifetime of attempting to understand how religion and science can work together to help us understand how humans can flourish in our rapidly changing environments, and I am thankful to the Center for Community Engagement for helping to make this possible.

Exploring West African Spiritual Traditions in Puerto Rico by Pele Voncujovi


“Through the CCCS grant, we have been able to spread our network of Santeria practitioners in both Cuba and in Puerto Rico. We have maintained these valuable connections till this day and are still in frequent contact, sharing information and learning from each other.”


My Brother Sena and I went to Puerto Rico during Spring break 2017 to explore how West African spiritual traditions are conducted there. We stayed at an AirBnb in San Juan and visited the house of Edward Craig. Edward and his wife Judy are both practitioners of Ifa spirituality in Puerto Rico, and we had the privilege of touring their shrine and getting to pray at the various different Orishas he worked with. We went in hopes to learn and compare the ways in which Orisha practices were conducted in Puerto Rico and compare them to the practices in Cuba and in Ghana. We found that Edwards practices were very similar to those done in Cuba and had many practices that somehow resembled some spiritual practices in Ghana as well. During our time in Puerto Rico, we were able to conduct rituals for our Vodus from Ghana, and in the process, we were able to show and educate the Santeria spiritualists in Puerto Rico on how Vodu rituals in Ghana are conducted. It was a great cultural exchange.

They were extremely interested and excited to learn about Vodu spirituality in Ghana and were very grateful when we shared various traditional songs with them. We also had the privilege of engaging in an hour-long interview with a Puerto Rican Masters Degree student doing research on African Spirituality and were able to give him some valuable information. During an interview with Judy, I learned a lot about the role of women in Santeria and some of the challenges and benefits they gain from it.  I personally really enjoyed going to the store to buy chickens and doves for the rituals because it greatly reminded of how we go shopping for spiritual items and animals at the end of the year at home. It was also a great learning experience to pick up various herbs and learn the various different medicinal and spiritual uses for the different herbs. This experience made me realize the resilience of Afro-Caribbeans and their determination to keep Afroculture alive and relevant. Although the prevalence of Afro-spiritual practices weren’t as high as in Cuba, the burning passion and the eagerness to learn more about African spirituality as practiced in today’s world showed me how relevant and important our documentation project is.


“This experience broadened my perspective and understanding of Santeria and how it is practiced in the Caribbean.”



I would like to extend my deep appreciation towards the CCE for the continued support for our project and for helping us achieve new limits we never imagined reaching.