Saturday, December 31, 2011

Dear 2011 . . .

You sure were one hell of a year.

You have witnessed my fear for the life of a loved one, and seen me rejoice at her recovery.
You have made me recoil at the ugly behavior of people I formerly trusted towards others I care deeply about.
You have shown me fun times in celebrating milestones and wishing farewell to good friends.
You have allowed me to stumble and make mistakes that put undue stress on others, and seen me apologize for them.
You have shown me the difficulty of doing things for myself, and also the satisfaction of seeing the results.
You have seen me experience the epicenter of gut-wrenching stress, and shown me the inner turmoil and mental exhaustion that creates.
You have also shown me that given these consequences, stress like this is not only healthy, but also often unnecessary.
You have witnessed me disappoint my mentors and myself.
You have shown me firsthand that money comes and money goes.
You have made me question my abilities, goals, and motives, and begin to take on a new attitude.
You have seen my interest, confusion, and awe as I traveled to a foreign land and was immersed in the culture.
You have shown me what its like to be at the full mercy of plodding, inefficient bureaucracy.
You have seen my sadness at missing special holiday times with family. 
You have witnessed the two beautiful, meaningful ceremonies that began my lifelong commitment to my loving husband.

 . . .  And 2011, you are now over.

From the depths of fear and self-doubt to the heights of happiness and enjoyment, I have experienced so much during 2011. But as milestones pass and lessons are learned, they each irrevocably become part of the past.

In life, the past is there to learn from, the future to plan and hope for. But living itself can only take place in the present moment.

Here's to a mindful, moment by moment 2012!

May all beings be happy!

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Buddhism and Minimalism?

Okay, so I have decided to embark on this 'minimalist' journey (or at least try to live more simply). Good for me. But for the sake of discussion, what the heck does minimalism have to do with Buddhism? Well, here are my thoughts on these concepts, as I understand them.

According to Buddhist beliefs, attachment is a major cause of suffering. In Pali (the language of the Buddha) the word dukkha loosely translates to 'suffering'. But the true definition of dukkha is much more complex, and generally represents the overall unsatisfactoriness of all things (for a much more thorough description on the subtleties of dukkha, please see this article from Access to Insight). Our attached mental grasping to all things pleasurable and comforting, and our belief that these things will or should last forever, conflicts with the fundamental truth that the universe is constantly changing. This contradiction of reality ultimately leads to suffering.

In terms of our personal belongings, the transitory nature of all things correctly predicts that the objects we own will eventually break down and wear out. Personal property can also be stolen or otherwise taken from us through natural or man-made disasters. If we are mentally tethered to our material possessions, these outcomes and events will make us suffer greatly. 

These basic Buddhist concepts are a logical complement to minimalism, which (in terms of belongings) can be described as owning only what is needed. There are many examples of how minimalism manifests in the Buddhist tradition, but perhaps the most notable example is that Buddhist monks have few or no possessions, and traditionally carry only a set of robes, mala beads, and a bowl for alms.

However, as far as laypeople are concerned, there is nothing intrinsically evil about owning personal items, property, and even accumulating wealth. Buddhism just maintains the cautionary stance that suffering will occur if the mind allows attachment to material things, and that attachment can also beckon its stronger and uglier cousins, vanity, jealousy, and greed.

Honestly, I really don't think that one has to be a minimalist to be a 'good' Buddhist. It is all about our attitude towards material possessions and awareness of our own mental grasping. But given the concepts of attachment, impermanence, and the moral and spiritual dangers posed by ignoring them, minimalism (or at least simplifying) may be a completely natural response for some. As always, though, everyone has to do what is right for themselves.

May all beings be happy!
I hope you have enjoyed this post. Please comment if you think I have missed something, or have other thoughts or experiences you would like to add. Thank you!

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Living Simply: From the Beginning

Well, maybe not the beginning. But it is time to downsize a little. Maybe a lot. This was something I had realized long ago, but have not put into full action- yet.

The real wake up call was during and after my move to the east coast. My husband and I moved so much STUFF, my stuff from my apartment, into the pod, into our apartment, moving of his stuff to accommodate my stuff. We are still dealing with STUFF!

And all I can say is, "ugh".

Another realization was that of everything I unpacked, there was very little I was truly happy to see again. I have used that knowledge to my advantage by being aware of my emotions as I unpacked. If there was a twinge of guilt, annoyance, or burden, I questioned whether I needed or even wanted the item.

So I did a lot of questioning. Some of my interrogations were stronger than my attachment to the item, others were not. But I know that it is a process, and will take time to undo attachments I have. But I have realized what I want and do not want from the things I own.

I would like my possessions to:
1) be useful to me and my lifestyle
2) not burden me emotionally
3) be cherished
4) not burden me or my lifestyle
5) not take away precious time with my husband and people I care about, through maintenance, cleaning, and moving.

So why this 'living simply' decision? Can't I just take some stuff to Goodwill and call it a day? Well, referring to the above list, I have concluded that A) my possessions must meet certain guidelines, both now and in the future, and B) I want knowledge and experiences to define the richness of my life, not something that sits on a shelf collecting dust. So it really is a lifestyle change.

And to be honest, I don't quite know where that will lead. I also don't know how much 'less' is enough, or how much I would like to simplify. But I do know there is truth in the age-old cliche of 'Less is More'.

This is the start of yet another journey towards simpler living- and less stuff, more life!

May all beings be happy!

Monday, November 7, 2011

Update: From August-Now

A lot has happened since my last post at the beginning of August. I have tweeted about these past events, but of course not to any great detail.

Since then:
My fiance and I were married on August 20th
I finished my Ph.D. thesis and passed my defense
I have started making simplifying things a priority, to put a greater focus on life and less on stuff
I have started to have a different attitude regarding stress
I am starting to change my life in bite-size pieces, a day at a time. 

I look forward to writing about these things and reading your comments as well!

Monday, August 8, 2011

Course in Culture: A Lifetime of Learning

In less than a week from now, my future in-laws are traveling from India to stay with my fiance and me before we get married on the 20th of this month. Except for the fact that my 'pod' filled with all my worldly possessions is arriving only tomorrow, and that my fiance and I will have to scramble to get the house in order, I am not nervous. I have spent time with my in-laws before, and they are very kind, open-minded, and amiable people.

But I do realize that with them and of course, my fiance, in my life, I have a lot of learning to do. 

During my teenage years I had the wonderful, life-changing opportunity to live overseas twice, due to the foresight and effort of my amazing parents. After coming back from abroad, people always thought that I was so sophisticated and worldly, that I was the 'cultured' one.

And you might say by the definition of having been many different places, I am 'worldly'. I believe that there is little in the mundane world that can expand the mind more than travel. 

However, like anything else that is 'good for you', it only helps if you are open to it. I was, just because I couldn't help it. I love learning about different cultures, and always have. Maybe it's the influence of my Grandmother and Mom - I don't know.

But the point I am getting to is that just as with anything fascinating, the more I learn, the more I realize I have to learn. I also realize how exciting, humbling, and awe-inspiring that can be!

And so here I stand, hand in hand with my fiance, on the edge of Indian culture, one of the most ancient contemporary civilizations on earth today. Am I nervous? A little. Overwhelmed? Absolutely. But also exhilarated. As I look forward to the years ahead with my fiance, I see us building a life together. I also look forward to the daily lessons in culture, in a lifetime rich in learning and love.

May all beings be happy! 

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Doing Nothing: An Accomplishment? (Yes!)

A little while ago I wrote about the first chapter of Martha Beck's book, The Joy Diet: 10 Daily Practices for a Happier Life. In that chapter, Beck emphasizes that one result of our busy lives is that we are always doing, which brings us further and further away from our true selves. Her remedy is to spend just 5-15 minutes a day not-doing. Not talking, walking, eating, surfing the net, or sleeping, but to just sit there, being.

I agreed with her rationale, yet, until recently, I had yet to experience it deeply.

Over the past several weeks, all my life was doing, with little to no time for anything else. Between finishing up the lab work for my Ph.D., getting ready to move, planning our wedding, packing, cleaning, and moving, I had little choice in the matter. It wore me completely ragged, and bouts of weepy-ness and feelings of desperation were common.

But last Thursday was different. Besides spending some of the day indulging in blissful slumber, I spent the rest of the day not-doing. Of course what this really means (and what Beck is really getting at) is that in my not-doing, I spent most of the day in mindful meditation. Not cross-legged, in lotus position, or any of the notions of what meditation purists say it 'should' be, but just sitting, breathing, being.

And in the hyper-busy warp-speed lifestyle that is so common today, I feel that this day of repose and reflection was a true accomplishment.

What do you think? I would love to hear your opinion and experiences. 

May all beings be happy!

Thursday, August 4, 2011

An Amazing New Blog

Just a shout-out to a great new blog with a great premise: I decided to live!!

It seems that one of my sister's friends has decided to start a blog, where she will write about living life to the fullest for 365 days. She has already written about a number of important topics, from truly enjoying the simple things in life to beginning to heal from the heartbreak of a miscarriage.  

I think she is on to something great, and that her writing style and enthusiasm will attract a lot of readers. Given the pervasive and serious problem modern society has in really living, I also think her blog will be of great benefit to many.


May all beings be happy!

A Room is Just a Room

Yesterday I moved out of my beloved apartment, where I had spent three happy years with two wonderful roommates. It was a beautiful place with fantastic rent, with large picture windows, a walk-in closet, fireplace, large balcony, and a separate loft where my roommate and her two cute cats lived.

I know that being in a new place several hundred miles away, I will miss my spacious and beautiful apartment. But as I closed the door to my bedroom one last time, I realized that all the amenities were nothing compared to the fact that I was now going to be living with my fiance, who will become my husband later this month. It is hard to believe that it has been 11 months since we lived in the same town- and the same state!!

As I write this post nestled in blankets, recovering from the stress and strain of moving, I know that I am now home. A room is just a room, and now it is time for someone else to enjoy my old apartment. Our place is no mansion, but I know that my future husband and I can work together to make a beautiful home, filled with warmth and love.

"It takes hands to build a house, but only hearts can build a home."  ~Author Unknown

May all beings be happy!!

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Note to Self: Let's Stress Compassion

In my last post I wrote about stress, and how constantly hearing about other people's 'little' problems can try one's patience. Questioning my annoyance, I realized that it was unfair to judge how others deal with stress. This because the only way we can learn how to deal with stress is, unfortunately, to experience it ourselves. Stress is a global human problem, but also a very personal one that can only be truly relevant to the person experiencing it.

In this post I wanted to get to the core reason of writing about this topic. As I contemplated the issue, one of the most obvious conclusions was that it is all relative. I thought of all the people in my life who have been under intense pressure, and my thoughts rested on my Mom, who was so strong while my Dad was in the hospital with a serious condition. Yes, it was difficult for me as a ten year old kid, but as I thought of her, dealing with it herself, I was overcome with compassion. She not only dealt with the overwhelming amount of stress, but she protected me from it. Throughout my childhood, my parents instilled a 'roll with the punches' attitude. If they had not done this, I may not have dealt with the stresses I later experienced in a constructive manner. I thank both of them for their excellent guidance.

So over the past few days I have explored three ideas about stress: 
1) Judging others for how they react to stress is not only unfair, it is impossible. Anything felt by someone else is beyond our experience. I had to take my self and feelings out of the equation to respond to other people's stress more respectfully.   
2) Removing myself from the situation made me especially open to how relative stress is. This reinforced the notion that what I have experienced in my life may seem like a cakewalk to someone else, which in turn helped me generate compassion for others.
3) Attitude is everything in how one deals with stress, regardless of prior experience. Often, we have someone else to thank for helping us develop a positive attitude. I owe that thanks to my parents.

Did this post benefit you? How? Is there anything you would like to add?

May all beings be happy!

Friday, July 1, 2011

Note to Self: Stress is a Human Problem

The other day I was a little out of sorts as I felt everyone around me was making mountains out of their own personal molehills ('white whine', anyone?). Plagued by annoyance, I decided to step back a bit and think about why I was reacting. I revisited the various sources of stress that had been in my life since childhood. Despite an otherwise happy life, the effects of some have only partially subsided.

Still, I felt that I needed to get off my high horse. I can roll my eyes about people's whining, but I should not judge how 'well' others deal with stress. Unfortunately, learning how to live with stress can only come from experience, and that is really not something I would want to go around wishing on people. It is impossible to project how others 'should' deal with stress, since all stress a person's life is relative to what they alone have experienced. All anyone can expect another human being to do is to react accordingly.

So, as 'good' as I have become in dealing with stress, it does not mean that I am prepared for anything. In fact, not even close. I have encountered high levels of stress, and know that I will probably continue to do so. But in order to correct my lack of understanding of others' stress I had to take myself out of the equation and focus on seeing stress (in its myriad forms) as a truly global human problem. 

What do you think? Would thinking less about your own emotions and more about the overall picture help you? What suggestions do you have?
May all beings be happy!

Short and Sweet

Hello Everyone! I just wanted to acknowledge that my past few posts have been kind of lengthy. Although I recognize the value of sometimes just letting the thoughts flow into the keyboard, I also know that short posts can be the most powerful. Just as the realm of scientific papers and Haiku poetry uphold succinctness, I will make writing concise, well-written posts my new goal. After all, there are people who make a living with poetry, short stories, and scientific writing. (I think they might be on to something!!! * wink *)

May all beings be happy!!

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Value Yourself, Value Your Time

I have a horrible habit of wasting time. And there is no better enabler to a lazyass like me than the internet. If there is work to be done, facebook, tumblr, twitter and email, here I come!!

However, this post is not about the internet and its usefulness versus its seductive time-suck qualities. This is about me. And you. And our time on this earth. We know it is limited, and actually frighteningly short. In contrast to other belief systems, Buddhists believe that our mindstream will continue into one life form to another after we exit from this life, provided that we are still stuck in the cycle of suffering and rebirth (Samsara). However, this cycle is not some kind of karmic joyride. Human beings who live well have some of the best chances of all sentient beings to end the cycle of suffering caused by ignorance, anger, and delusion (regardless of religion). Compared to the promise of an afterlife found in the Abrahamic religions, this too adds a sense of urgency, so that we see our lives as an opportunity that should not be trifled with.

Yet, regardless of this awareness, we still find countless ways to waste our own time. And it is frustrating, at least to me. Seconds tic by, then minutes, hours, years, and decades, eventually concluding yet another lifetime. Time is a one-way ticket, as each passing moment is gone forever.

In an effort to begin quelling my desire to waste time, I felt that I first had to understand why I do it. Is it boredom? Fatigue? Anxiety? Selfishness? On the surface, it could be any of those things. But when I thought about it, I realized that there was a direct correlation to my wasting time and feeling down in the dumps. Ironically, it is the self-centered feeling generated by my 'woe is me' attitude that contributes to my own self-neglect. This manifests itself in not taking as much care in what I wear, eat, how well I sleep, and yes, how I spend my time. If I am happy and content I am much less likely to spend my time tooling around the internet or mindlessly watching TV.

Why? If I am feeling depressed, I get caught up in a destructive and self-centered 'I am worthless' monologue, which sucks the life out of any goals or priorities that I would normally deem worthy and important. If I am not important, my goals are not important, then my time certainly does not seem so important. So I waste it, despite how much I am intellectually aware of how valuable it is. 

My conclusion: I believe mindfulness of emotions is the answer. Although I may realize the destructiveness of self-pity-induced languor, it, along with sadness and anger, still occur. I am a human being, and I know that still having so many ties to ignorance, anger, and delusion means that negative emotions will creep in. But instead of pushing them away, having these emotions offers an opportunity to observe them mindfully, to study and learn from them. This mindfulness has helped me realize that they are also impermanent.

So though time is a complex phenomenon, it ticks along as we breathe from one moment to the next. Just as we need to truly value ourselves in order to value others, we need to value our breath, or true being, in order to value our time. When we can value our breath, we can use our time wisely to live in the present moment to strive towards and achieve the the things we care about most.

"Life can be found only in the present moment. The past is gone, the future is not yet here, and if we do not go back to ourselves in the present moment, we cannot be in touch with life." Thich Nhat Hanh

May all beings be happy!!

The Farmers' Market: My Weekly Spiritual Retreat

Every weekend I go to a place where people are happy to be there. They are courteous, smile when they greet each other, and happily share with one another.

No, I am not talking about a weekly trip to a temple, dharma center, or dharma talk (although I well could be!). The joyous place I am referring to is my local farmer's market. Located in the center of Lafayette, the farmer's market I visit is the second largest in Indiana. With vendors selling local, in season fruits and vegetables, meat, fish, honey, crafts, breads and baked goods, and with music playing and people laughing, the atmosphere is carnival-like.

Yet still, it is almost holy. Ever since I started going, I noticed that although many patrons are full of boisterous energy, almost everyone is careful and mindful when choosing produce. They search reverently through the stacks of vegetables and cartons of berries, until they find that perfect bunch of basil or half pint of raspberries, and then proudly turn to the farmer to pay, an exchange which is often accompanied by a few moments of friendly banter.

As I walk through the street that has been cordoned off for the morning, I am amazed at how many people are smiling and so happy to be there. They are also willing to share with one another, which I personally experienced yesterday when I found the most beautiful basket of tart cherries I had ever seen. It was quite a large basket for one person, and it was $7. It was also the last basket. After I paid for my strawberries, I turned to a woman who I had seen also eying the cherries and asked if she would like to split it. She enthusiastically agreed, and after we asked the ladies at the booth, we paid, everyone thanked each other, and the lady and I parted ways with an even half basket of beautiful fresh cherries.

For the most part, I don't think that type of exchange would be possible at most conventional grocery stores. With their fluorescent lighting, piped in music, and aisles of processed foods, a typical grocery and farmer's market are worlds away. Not to say that grocery stores are bad, or that one can't have the same type of friendly and meaningful exchanges with the butcher, baker, or produce person. You may get to know them well and, in fact, cherish them greatly. Grocery stores are convenient and are a fixture in modern life, and let's face it, the reason for the aisles of processed foods is because we (as a society) demand it. But the major difference in atmosphere and overall feel cannot be denied. 

So getting back to my weekly market ritual, I just want to say how great it is to wake up, excited to go there, walk from my apartment, arrive and peruse the many vendor's booths for fresh, local produce. From the time I start out until I place the last item on my shelf or in the refrigerator, I am undeniably happy. And I think the same is true for most of the people who attend the market. This is why I strongly believe that in order to be happy, people need to somehow be close to the earth, and connected with their community. Recently I have lamented the fact that spiritual practice is sometimes difficult to reach, but who am I kidding? It is right here, right now, in the simple exchange at a produce stand. This is one of the few places one can immediately see the immense benefit that purchasing something fresh for oneself/family has on another person and their family. How's that for love, compassion, and true spiritual practice?

To find a local farmer's market near you, check out Local Harvest

May all beings be happy!

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Write Speech

Anyone who is familiar with basic Buddhist concepts such as the Noble Eightfold Path (see below) knows that Right Speech is the first component of Moral Discipline. It is defined as follows:

"Right speech, explained in negative terms, means avoiding four types of harmful speech: lies (words spoken with the intent of misrepresenting the truth); divisive speech (spoken with the intent of creating rifts between people); harsh speech (spoken with the intent of hurting another person's feelings); and idle chatter (spoken with no purposeful intent at all)." Thanissaro Bhikkhu, 1999

And for anyone who knows me personally, they know that, except for the lying and slander, I would be the first to admit that I have failed miserably in Right Speech. On any given day, my words are often idle, irreverent, and yes, graphic. Some people might call it 'colorful'. I wouldn't completely say that I have a 'potty mouth', but the F-bomb is certainly a well-worn word in my vocabulary. 

I do want to change, I really do, but I have found that the shocked laughter that outrageous quips can generate is addictive! Saying shocking things is fun, with the added benefit that you also sound fun, maybe even cool and confident. 

However, the conflict I sometimes feel indicates that there might be something wrong with my verbal behavior. I am under the impression that I have enough maturity and experience to know that one doesn't need to cuss to be funny or creative. Plus, I knew things were getting bad when the people I work with appropriated a mason jar to 'pay' for 'inappropriate comments' (not just for me, but for all of us)! Loose change for loose mouths, I guess.

But since I do genuinely want to change, I have a strategy. Several times I have not only focused on being mindful of my speech, but pretended that I had to write down everything I said. The result? Well, I certainly spoke a lot less!! But more importantly, I only spoke when it was useful, helpful, and necessary.

Yeah, it seems too rigid, especially for a big talker like me. But I think it will be good practice for generating mindful speech, until I become more aware. As a wise man once said, if you can't control your mouth, how can you control your mind?

So for now, it's 'Write Speech' for Right Speech, at least while I'm at work.

What do you think? Would this work for you? Comments are welcome.

May all beings be happy!

Noble Eightfold Path
1. Right view
2. Right intention
Moral Discipline
3. Right speech
4. Right action
5. Right livelihood
6. Right effort
7. Right mindfulness
8. Right concentration

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

The merit of doing 'nothing'

I recently purchased author and life coach Martha Beck's 2003 book, The Joy Diet. I have not yet finished it, but in my opinion the value of this book is apparent from the first page. Her overall analysis and advice begins by explaining that many of her clients have that dreaded but still uncomfortably common feeling, that something is missing from their lives.

What intrigued me is the very first challenge she puts forth. Do nothing- just for 15 minutes each day. Her account of people's reaction to this suggestion is descriptive, as she quips many "balk like irritated camels".

But, imaginative comparisons aside, the analysis and argument she discusses is convincing. 'Nothing' in this context is not bad, lazy, or negative, as our psyche obsessed with 'progress' and 'productivity' might subconsciously hiss.

Referring to the struggle people face in overcoming trauma and finding meaning in their lives, Beck writes:

"The best way to break through any barrier is to access a point of perfect stillness at the center of your being, a self deeper than your senses or your mind."  

That stillness, that place of peace, cannot be accessed as we flutter about, chasing after everything in our tumultuous lives and minds. Ambition is fine, and indeed admirable, but we have to make the time to just be still, so we can come back to ourselves and eventually grasp the 'whys' and the 'hows' of who we really are.

As I read the chapter it became clear that the essence of what Beck suggests is meditation. When stripped of the stereotypical accessories and preconceived notions, meditation is really about 'doing nothing'. Or perhaps more precisely, as a living, breathing, sentient being, one is non-doing. And that non-doing is the mindfulness bell that brings one back to the breath, core purpose, and eventually, one's core being.  

In the past, I have admittedly viewed meditation as just another thing I feel obligated to do, whether consciously or not. But with the wisdom of many funneled through the skilled writings of Martha Beck and others like her, I have come to realize that meditation is one less thing to 'do', and, more importantly something to drop all 'doing', and just experience. After all, everything we would ever need to know, want, and love is already present at our core being. To access that, we are blessed by the fact that all we have to do is sit down and shut up- if only for a few minutes each day.

What does non-doing or 'being still' mean to you? What experiences have you had just 'being still'? How could it benefit you and other beings? 

May all beings be happy!

Saturday, April 30, 2011

The Time Has Come: True Practice

Often when I use quotations in my posts, I place them at the end. Today, I'll start with one:

"Studying Zen should not be confused with practicing Zen, like studying aesthetics should not be confused with being an artist." TP Kasulis

Funny, this was posted by DailyZen on twitter just as the idea regarding study versus practice was hovering about in my mind.  So, here's the deal, I 'discovered' Buddhism in the context of my own life about four years ago, in the spring of 2007. Since then I have read a lot of books, articles, blog posts, attended lectures, and gone on a short retreat. In all, this has been an intense period of study. 

And I wouldn't trade it for the world. I learned so much, most of which I was able to apply directly to my life in a positive way, which no one topic has ever enabled me to do. I devoured books from Thich Nhat Hanh, His Holiness the Dalai Lama, Thubten Chodron, Pema Chodron, Steven T. Asma, and Susan Piver. So many discussions, uncertainties, thoughts, and realizations- it has all been beneficial. 

But lately I have been experiencing something curious. I go to the bookstore and stand there, in front of the 'religion and spirituality' section, unable to choose any book. I am at a loss. I have not lost interest, I still enjoy the all the writings I have in the past. And being cheap is not the issue, because it is the same deal at the public library. 

Then I realized- now is no longer the time to read, the time to think. It is time to practice in earnest.

Of course practice has always been important to me, but as someone who was only recently introduced to Buddhism, my initial focus was learning some background (okay, a lot of background). I will continue to read books and texts, but I feel the time has come to deepen my practice, mostly through my everyday actions and routine. As with many things in our lives, we shift our focus when we are ready to move on to the next step. For me, the time is now.

May all beings be happy!

Friday, April 29, 2011

A True Skeptic?

A few days ago, my love and I were discussing the downright bizarre way some had reacted to the death of Sri Satya Sai Baba. For example, the fact that he had passed away on Easter Sunday made some people insist that a miracle must happen- like the mere suggestion was going to make him spring from the dead! First of all, while my fiance and I are both believers in small and great miracles, we also feel that one cannot * make * a miracle happen. Suggesting otherwise just seems insane, and also pretty damn self-centered.  

Anyway, from there our conversation drifted to the handful of controversies that had been linked to Sai Baba during his lifetime, mostly about skeptics insisting that the sacred ash and other items that he claimed to be materializing was merely a well-practiced sleight of hand. Okay, so as you might know, I am a pretty pragmatic person. I do not believe in hocus pocus, pulling stuff out of thin air, or even that anyone is watching over me every minute of my life (how boring that would be for them!). 

However, despite the allegations of Sai Baba engaging in trivial sorcery, there are many things about his life that are difficult to explain, such as being able to recite large passages from the Vedas after having little schooling, appearing to be the likeness/reincarnation of Sri Shridi Sai Baba, etc.

And then it dawned on me. Skeptics are often not really true skeptics. They prattle on about reality and pragmatism, but honestly, do they really know what that means? Aren't they just putting their own experience and 'knowledge' before others', ultimately ending up with the same type of myopic view? Maybe the people they should truly question are themselves.

Let me explain. We have all heard the stories- a small boy who experienced death for a short time but still lived, a person condemned to death by cancer returns to health through prayer, or an arhant in Thailand who sees people not as male or female, but as their true selves. All these are impossible, right? But yet, according to some people, they still happened and exist. And we all have the right to not believe them. Questioning is good. But the important thing to know is that we are not omnipresent. We may not share everyone's experience and just take their word for it, but still we can be open to it. 

So, question not just the phenomena outside your experience, the supernatural, the outrageous, the unimaginable, but the rational, the mundane, the status quo. Science and human reasoning are useful, but still incomplete. Challenging everything is just the beginning. 

“Question with boldness even the existence of God; because, if there be one, he must more approve of the homage of reason than that of blindfolded fear” - Thomas Jefferson 


May all beings be happy!

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Sai Baba's Death Mourned Around the World

Here are several links to articles with people around the world condoling and mourning the passing of Sri Satya Sai Baba.

His Holiness the Dalai Lama

Indian Leaders

Bollywood Stars

Trinidad and Tobago


Condolences: Sri Satya Sai Baba

This past Sunday, an event occurred that saddened millions of people around the world. Sri Satya Sai Baba, who had been a key spiritual guide for a vast and diverse assemblage, passed away. I would like to offer my humble condolences to those devotees close to me, and around the globe who mourn his death.

Here is a wiki link to an extensive article about his life, accomplishments, and death.

Bless him for his lifelong emphasis on love and equanimity towards all.

Om Sai Ram.

A Mindful 15: First Testimonial

To elaborate on how the 'less is more' theme has helped me lead a more peaceful, mindful life, here is an example:

I love having a clean, uncluttered living space, but just like with everything else, often fantasy is in total discord with reality. About nine months ago I wrote a detailed list outlining many home projects, and fantasized how great it would be to get all that done- what a rush!! But about four months went by and I had barely completed two projects on the list. How sad and discouraging for me!

But after I had my little 15 minute epiphany, things were different. I looked at that first list and broke each project into bite-sized parts, taking about 15 minutes each. In the course of about a month, I accomplished more than I had in four, with SO much less frustration and exhaustion. I was amazed; my cupboards were neat, my bathroom tidy, my closet organized- and I did not have to spend one iota of valuable weekend "me" time to do it!

The key for me was evaluating my goals by determining how beneficial their realization might be to me and others. After determining what was important, I resisted the temptation to resort to my usual extremes. This gentler, age-old approach was just what I needed to work towards my goals with joyful mindfulness, and I believe it can help do the same for others. 

May all beings be happy!

Less is More : The Power of the Mindful 15

Yes, I am one of those people. The ones who plan a TON of stuff, fantasize about how much they are going to get done, do only a fraction, then feel horribly guilty about their lack of efficiency. Well, at least I was one of those people . . .

Looking back even to a few months ago, this was my treadmill. Exhausted, I decided to jump off and just think about things for a minute. Or maybe 15 minutes. Hmmmm, 15 minutes, that sounds good. I decided that what I was doing was crazy. Not only did I feel guilty and exhausted, but I also felt very frustrated that I wasn't venturing an inch closer to any of my goals. And I have a lot of goals- finishing (grad school), having a svelte body, clean house, pure soul, sharp mind. You know, just like everybody else.

The problem, or I should say reality, is that one of those goals, i.e. finishing grad school, takes up most of my time. For whatever reason I did not want to admit this, and just tried to plow through everything else as if I was some super-creature who needed no rest or repose.

So, enough. About three months ago I decided to finally take a gentler approach. I constantly said to myself, "Any minute spent on ______ is a step toward my goal". Through trial and error, I have found that 15 minutes is an optimum time for me to spend on whatever I am doing. My mantra is "Slow and steady, this is not a race" and I constantly remind myself that it is time to be gently mindful of the task at hand. Working towards goals that are important to us should be a joy, not a chore!

This new perspective has begun to yield results- although I need a little more practice making baby steps, I have made a substantial amount of headway in some of my domestic and fitness pursuits. Yes, I know, my realization is by no means new or original, but why not give it a try? I am sure you will also end up more efficient, productive, and most importantly, happier for it. And if I can do it- you can too! 

“Fear less, hope more; Eat less, chew more; Whine less, breathe more; Talk less, say more; Love more, and all good things will be yours” ~ Swedish proverb

May all beings be happy!

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Article: Vegetarianism and Inner Conflict

An interesting article in Shambala Sun features singer K.D. Lang and her ideas about vegetarianism. She recounts how after 21 years of strict vegetarianism, her teacher has encouraged her to start eating meat again. She discusses the potential issues and conflicts the suggestion of this change brings about, such as vegetarianism with compassion versus aversion. The article concludes her statement that despite what different traditions may recommend (or demand!), "what matters most is that whatever we do, whatever we eat, we do so with mindful awareness". Truly an interesting and thought-provoking piece.
I also thought this article was neat from the standpoint that I had posted here about this general issue, but from an omnivore's perspective. It is indeed difficult to tease apart why we eat what we eat, and why we don't what we don't. Are we eating said food because we are being truly mindful and compassionate, or because of aversion and/or obligation? It just goes to show how the mundane but very necessary aspects of life can shape and mold our spiritual path, for better or for worse!

May all beings be happy!