Archive for November 3, 2012

Materialize Sympathy in Our Kids

Are our youth heartless?  A new University of Michigan survey suggests this might be the case.  My personal experience with Caregiving Resource Center: End of Life Care and field research suggests that there may be another story.  It has to do with us and the role we play in the lives of young people in our orbit.  Today’s college students are 40% less empathetic than the same age group in 1980 according to a study by Sara Konrath published in The New York Times.  That’s an alarming statistic. It has implications for all of us about compassion, empathy and kindness to one another. I’ve heard immediate reactions blaming technology and social media.  That’s a cheap blame game.  My on the ground conversations with care givers all reveal that the greater empathy killers may be adults.  Almost every adult has young people in the orbit of our lives.  If it takes a village to raise a child, do we care about the messages we send by our actions to young people? 

There are five steps that each of us can incorporate into our lives and, by implication, those with whom we interact.  They have to do with values, giving, service, stories and gleaning. 

Values:  The actions we take, the choices we make as adults are like Tweets.  They are powerful shorthand communications to the young people round us.  One mother told me about taking her young child to the shelter for homeless women that she volunteered at once a month. 

The women of the shelter gravitated to her daughter.  “Tell us about your school.  Do you have a home to live in? Do you have friends?” they wanted to know.  As mother and daughter left the shelter the young girl said, “It’s really cold outside Mom; do all women have a place to sleep?”  Her Mom believes in truthful answers and so she said, “No, but these women do.  That’s why we need places like this to provide a bed until they can get a home.” 

Years later this same child orchestrated efforts in a local community to raise money to feed the hungry.  A value had been tweeted to her daughter.  A child had created a human connection with people she would not ordinarily meet. 

Giving: The unique interests of young people invite giving.  A father and son have bonded in their mutual love of baseball.  Baseball is the passion in this young man’s life.  This father and son activity has become an opportunity to give.  This summer the son is volunteering in a baseball camp in the Dominican Republic.  Understanding and empathy will be shaped by this experience –for the baseball coach and the campers. 

There is no hierarchy in giving.  One parent offered this wisdom, “Let your children’s passions drive their giving.” Adults can add context.  Holiday celebrations – from Chanukah to Ramadan, to the Festival of Lights and Christmas – invite conversation about what they mean and the transformation that they point to.  Secular holidays from – July Fourth to Labor Day and Martin Luther King – invite stories about giving of ourselves to something larger than our self-interest. 

Opportunities to give of ourselves are bountiful.  When young people, encouraged by adults, share their passions with others they discover common ground with others. 

Service:  Parents repeatedly talk about the importance of service projects.  Some even select schools which place a significant emphasis on service for their children.  One parent told me that the most important service projects for her children have come from her children’s seemingly “silly” ideas. “Follow the lead of your kids” she urged. 

Her six year old had experienced a homeless tent encampment and was determined to make peanut butter and honey sandwiches for people living there.  Knowing that these particular sandwiches might not be the most helpful food to make this mom did not says that it was a “silly” idea.  Instead they agreed to take food to the camp on a pre-determined future day.  In the build up to it, mom and daughter went shopping for food items that could be used in the camp.  On the scheduled delivery day they took the bags of food along with a small platter of peanut butter and honey sandwiches. 

A parent listened to the lead and intuition of her child.  It became an opportunity to talk about the food that might be most needed but also honored the heartfelt idea behind the sandwiches.  Several parents spoke to me about the importance of intuitive, spontaneous service ideas generated by young people.  Adult awareness and listening to the desire to serve is as illuminating as the orchestrated service projects of a school, faith or community group. 

Stories:  The adults who took time to share the stories of their lives expanded my world and engaged my imagination as a child.  A young person’s experience can be an equally powerful story.  A mom accompanied her nine year old daughter on a choir trip to Nicaragua.  Arriving a few days before the rest of the group, they were given a tour of a garbage dump where children lived and scavenged for food.  

The guide offered this advice about a potentially harrowing experience, “Look for one child in the dump.  Concentrate only on that one child.  Look into his or her face.”  A young boy was among the first to climb onto a newly arrived garbage truck hoping for the first choice of trash from which to eat.  As the young girl focused on him he tried to stare her down and finally broke out in a broad smile, waved and ran off. 

That night the daughter did not want to write in her Nicaragua journal about the experience but asked her mom to.  “Only if you let me read back to you what I’ve heard you say to make sure I’ve it right” said the mom.  Now headed to college this young woman never forgets the story of the young boy foraging for food in a garbage dump.  It is part of her story about compassion, empathy and kindness. 

An innovative program offered by the organization, Bridges to Understanding, uses technology for digital storytelling.  Young people across the world share digital stories.  A child in the United States listens to and experiences the story of a child in India, Ghana or Colombia.  Technology is not the enemy! 

Modeling how to tell stories and encouraging the telling of stories invites imagining living in the shoes of another person.  Imagination births empathy, compassion and kindness. 

Glean:  No matter your own spiritual tradition gleaning from the wisdom of faith traditions is a way to invite reflection on values, service, giving and stories.  How does the Buddhist concept of happiness for all people relate to the experiences of adults and young people?  Is there a meeting point between this and Christian notions of love and compassion, Jewish ideas of repairing the world and Muslim injunctions to give to good works? 

Gleaning from the treasure trove of spirituality is about more than the wisdom offered.  It becomes an opportunity to talk with young people about the people who practice a variety of faith traditions.  Gleaning encourages imagining the life of a Buddhist child in Bhutan, a Christian in Ethiopia, a Jew in Argentina, a Muslim in Indonesia, and a Sikh in India or a Hindu in London. 

The plunging rates of empathy in college students will shift to the degree that adults understand that we each create encouragement about kindness, compassion and empathy by the way we engage with the youth in our orbit. Our values, giving, service, stories and gleaning are on display with every action and word we take.  As empathy killers or empathy creators; we’re all in this together.


The World is a Waiting Room

In Gita, there is a description of a tree which is upside down.  The branches are in the ground and the roots are in the sky.  What could be the significance of this?  This is a symbol to signify that our origin is the Divinity; the consciousness that is our root.  The mind and all its paraphernalia are like the branches and all the different types of rhythms in life, all the different emotions, are like the leaves.  They don’t stay permanently, they wither away.  If we are focusing on the leaves, and forget to water the roots, then the tree will not remain.  So, notice that we are not these different emotions, these different aspects of life.  Feel the distance from all these branches and retrieve back. 

Otherwise, we get so immersed in the outer, that we forget the main root.  You need to prune the tree otherwise it goes here and there.  So prune all that, and know that your origin is somewhere up.  Adi Shankaracharya renders this beautifully, – ‘My original place is in heaven, I have come here just for few days; just to have fun.  Today, I have just come for the purpose of relaxing, but this is not my original place, it is somewhere else.’  The thought itself – My home is somewhere else, I have just come to visit – creates a distance inside you.  This world is a transit lounge. 

In a lounge what do we do? We keep our luggage and start eating.  We use the restroom and everything, but we don’t open our suitcase and hang our clothes all over the place.  We don’t do that in a transit lounge.  We keep our things packed.  So this world is just a transit lounge.  Don’t mistake it to be your home. 

You can go on reading scriptures, but you will get liberation only when you forget the scriptures.  So then what is the purpose of reading the scriptures? See, you get into a bus, but then you also need to get out of the bus.  Now if you argue with me that, ‘If I have to get out of the bus then why should I get into the bus?’ What can I say? You get into the bus from somewhere else and you get out from somewhere else.  If you have to get out of the bus, why should you get into the bus in the first place – this argument doesn’t hold.  So, the scriptures are to make us understand our nature, the nature of the universe, the nature of this mind which is stuck in small things, and to give it a bigger vision. 

Knowledge is like detergent.  See, you put soap on your body but at some point you wash it off as well, isn’t it? Similarly, we have this desire, ‘I want to be liberated’, and that desire takes us away from all other small desires.  But if we keep holding on to that thought, then it will also become a problem at some point.  We have to wash that off as well and become free.  A point comes when we say, ‘If I have to get liberation let it be, otherwise let thy will be done.’ In that moment you are already free.

Rainbow Lorikeets

Rainbow Lorikeets are travelers.  Rainbow Lorikeets live a monogamous lifestyle, choosing only one partner.  Not only are Rainbow Lorikeets monogamous and devoted partners, but they also share responsibility in raising their young. The high nest sites — which are usually in the tops of trees — house both parents.  One of the most distinctive unseen features of Lorikeets is in the tongue. The tongues usually remain folded up within the mouth, much in the same way a frog keeps a folded tongue. When they need to get food, the tongue unfolds and serves as a "brush" to easily grab nectar. This unique tongue is also a defining characteristic of the species, as Lorikeets look identical to several other species of parrots aside from the tongue.

Humans and Sea Lions

There are many legends out there in the world that involve positive interactions among humans and Sea Lions. The people of Peru have a very long history of worshiping this very animal.  It is tied to their history and it continues to be an active part of their culture today.  In fact, the people of Peru often depict the Sea Lion in their art work. 

There are some very positive interactions out there that take place with humans and Sea Lions.  There are many facilities where these animals are in captivity and people come to see them. Since these animals are highly intelligent it is easy enough to train them to perform a variety of tricks for the crowd.  Sea Lions are very calm creatures so humans aren’t in danger of being harmed by them as they work side by side in the water. 

Not all of the interactions that they are trained for are for fun or entertainment purposes though.  The United States government has used Sea Lions to help their scuba diving teams. They also use them to detain scuba divers that are found in areas where they shouldn’t be until authorities can get to them scene. 

While these interactions seem to show that the Sea Lion is very gentle, unfortunately that isn’t always the case.  The Sea Lion has gotten some very negative publicity over the years due to some rare but aggressive attacks on humans.  The one that seems to get the most attention is that which took place in 2007 on a 13 year old girl. 

This girl was surfing in the water and experts believe that the attack wasn’t due to aggression or a desire to eat the girl.  Instead it is believed that she was viewed as a type of toy or that she simply peaked the curiosity of the Sea Lion.  There are also plenty of reports of Sea Lions biting swimmers in the waters around California.  It is believed this could be a sign of territorial aggression by the males. 

It is important to point out that male Sea Lions are very territorial.  They have been known to attack humans that get too close to them during mating season.  This is because of the higher levels of hormones in their bodies. They are also trying to protect their staked area so that they can attract a large amount of females to their harem. 

We have to remember that as we continue to invade the natural habitat of the Sea Lions we introduce them to things that they haven’t dealt with before.  They have their natural instincts that will direct their own behaviors.  We can’t expect them or any other animals for that matter to alter that based on the fact that humans continue to push the boundaries that were once in place. 

Yet it also isn’t fair to classify all humans as being destructive to Sea Lions.  Thousands of people volunteer their time when emergency action needs to be taken.  Without their help many Sea Lions would die when there are oil spills or other problems that arise in their natural habitat thanks to human errors. 

There are also many people that take the time to research the lives and habits of these animals.  They do so in order to share information and to find new ways to help them survive.  They work with Sea Lions to nurse them back to health and to release many of them back into the wild.  They also take the time to educate the public about conservation efforts so that there is hope that Sea Lions won’t become extinct.


Posted November 3, 2012 by dranilj1 in and Nature, Photography

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Posted November 3, 2012 by dranilj1 in Photography

Tagged with ,

We Cannot Comprehend Meditation

There are seven levels to our existence, from gross to subtle they are: Body, Breath, Mind, Intellect, Memory, Ego, Self.

The Body and breath are the manifest aspects of ourselves, the rest are unmanifest.  We cannot touch, taste, smell, see or hear the others, but we know they exist.  We are all familiar with the body and the breath.  It would be pretty tough reading this if you didn’t have a body, or were not breathing.  The mind is that which perceives the world through the five senses.  While reading this, are your eyes reading it or are You reading it? When you hear something, what hears, your ears? Or You? If you wish someone to pay attention to you, would you say “Make your ears listen to me!?” You will appeal to that aspect of their consciousness that perceives the world.  This we call the mind.  We understand stuff with the intellect.  The intellect is the discriminatory aspect of ourselves.  It decides right, wrong, good, bad, pleasant, and unpleasant.  The memory is the storehouse of all our past experiences.  These two play with each other and make you want or not want something.

The memory remembers fire burn and burns are painful.  So the intellect warns you when you are near fire to be careful.  The memory remembers pizza means tasty and pizza feel really good.  So the intellect says go ahead eat it!  They make you averse to something or crave something.  So the intellect and memory decide how you respond or react to external stimuli.  You are not a random collection of cells, muscles, tissues put together for someone’s entertainment.  There is someone sitting in here, in this body.  As you read this, notice “You” are reading this.  This “youness” is Ego.  The Ego is the sense of “I am”. “I exist”.  The Self is that aspect of You which remains untouched by anything.  The unchanging aspect of Your system.

The first Great Sentence is that “Everything is changing.”  But to recognize change, there needs to be some place stable, unchanging from where change can be perceived.  This is the Self, and this is where all meditators aspire to get to and rest within.  There are four states of consciousness.  The first is Awake state where mind, memory, intellect and ego are all active.  In Sleep and Dream state, the mind and intellect shut down in part, the memory and ego are still working. That’s where the dreams come from and that’s how you do all sorts of crazy stuff in your dreams, because you don’t have the intellect telling you good, bad right, wrong.  There is no discriminatory impulse in a dream.  But you know You are dreaming or that You are sleeping.  So the Ego is still active.

However in the Meditative state of consciousness, the mind, intellect, and memory are all inactive.  They all shut down.  A very faint Ego remains – Just an almost imperceptible sense of I am here – and an absolutely euphoric experience of Bliss, of utter relaxation.  This experience of the Infinite while still being in the very finite body is meditation.  To experience this is fairly simple.  There are many classes available. You could go and learn Sahaj Samadhi Meditation or Sudarshan Kriya from any trained Art of Living teacher and they will teach you how to get there.  They know how to whisper infinity into your ears, so that you can hear it.  Most people have a very tangible experience in their very first attempt; very few take a little longer.  It has been made simple thru the Grace of the Guru.  Sri Sri Ravi Shankarji has made the experience of meditation available to absolutely anyone.

But understanding meditation?

For understanding anything, the intellect has to be active.  To understand what you are reading right now, your intellect has to be on.  Notice how you go ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to what’s written here according to the stuff stored in your memory.  To understand the majesty and grandeur of the Self, you would require the intellect to be active.  By definition, to meditate, the intellect needs to shut down.  So, it would be an exercise in pure senselessness to try to understand meditation.

Anyone can meditate. No one can understand what it is!

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