Smile! It – is just that simple. Smiling literally lights up our face. We shine when we smile. When we are at our best, we are smiling. When we are in love, we smile more. When we are satisfied, we smile. When we are joyful we smile.
Who me, a racist?
Virginia Blackburn was a powerful and beautiful black African American woman working as a social worker at a women’s centre in a poor inner-city neighbourhood in the Midwest. She was a close friend and wise mentor for me in my early twenties. She invited me to different workshops on themes such as overcoming racism, classism, sexism and other types of isms. I was shocked to discover how these barriers had limited my ability to feel close and connected to others. I considered myself a liberal, open minded person. I had grown up in a multi-ethnic highschool and most of my best friends were non-whites – Korean, Chinese, Indian. I had even gone to a formal dance with a black friend as my date, and had to cringingly endure the loud and embarrassing comments of my somewhat deaf French-Canadian grandfather like “Oh he is good looking for a black guy!” I was a good person and I was dedicated to principles of equality for all. I certainly didn’t see myself as a racist and would never consciously participate in hurting anyone because of their identity.
The Eight-Fold Path lies at the core of Buddhist teachings. The eight practices are designed to help us to align our lives more closely to Dharma – our divine potential. Each of the practices : right thought, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, right concentration and right understanding helps to channelize our energy towards spiritual realization. The word “samyak” is translated as “right” – but it could also be translated as “good”, “accurate” or “well-done”. In this case, these things are “right” when they take us closer to our spiritual self. Spiritual practice is not something limited to the moments we spend with our eyes closed on a meditation cushion. It is a way of life. Every moment presents us with the opportunity to live from a deep place of harmony with our soul, and these eight points help us to reflect on the different ways we can train ourselves to remain aligned. I was recently asked to give a presentation at a spiritual conference on “Samyak Karmanta” – or “Right Action” so this article will limit itself to just reflecting on that point. Read more
If you would like to feel more love in your life, there is a guaranteed method to open your heart: do selfless service. We all have an inherent human need to feel we are contributing towards making the world a better place. Altruism is not just a characteristic of a few special saintly people that we admire from afar – it is our part of our true nature. If we are not expressing our need to feel that we are helping others, something is missing, and we feel depressed, lonely, empty – even when we may seem to have everything we need on other levels.
I am speaking from personal experience. In my early 20s I went through a very dark period in my life, and I was suffering from a deep depression. Something was missing in my life – but I wasn’t sure what it was. My attempts to understand myself had only led me deeper into an inner labyrinth – the more I analyzed my depression, the more reasons I seemed to find to be depressed. Depression, though, is a wonderful catalyst for personal and spiritual growth – and indeed, it led me to begin my own personal quest to understand the meaning of life. This led me to the local library where I began to systematically devour the section on spirituality – reading wisdom teachings from many different sources which gave me the thrilling realization that they were all saying remarkably similar things. Read more
“Existence without juice is dry and tasteless” – Robert Svobodha
Like many sanskrit words, Rasa has multiple layers of meaning, each which contribute to a more complete understanding of its subtler dimensions. In its simplest, most mundane definition, Rasa means “juice”. It is also associated with the sense of taste. In order to taste anything – it becomes a juice before we can sense taste properly – the salivary glands produce saliva which emulsify food into a liquid. If the tongue were to be thoroughly dried off and then you put a piece of food on its surface, it will be difficult to sense its taste. Rasa is also referred to in Ayurvedic medicine as the stage of digestion when food has mixed with digestive fluids and becomes a “juice” which will then be absorbed into the bloodstream – or in Ayurvedic terms converted into “Rakta”. However, this isn’t the definition that we are most interested in. Rasa refers to not only the physical “juice” which gives us the sensation of taste – but that inner essence in all types of experiences that give us the feeling of “sweetness” or “sourness”, bitterness etc..
Since the film “The Secret” was released, there has been a lot of buzz about the “Law of Attraction” – often focused on enhancing our wealth, health and material success. This is natural – it is natural that all beings seek pleasure, happiness and comfort. Anything that promises to help us to achieve these objectives is bound to attract our attention and capture our imagination. Understanding and utilizing the “Law of Attraction” by focusing on positive thoughts in order to magnetize the things we want to experience and have into our lives promises just that. However, is material success a sign of an enlightened, positive, spiritually elevated mind? This point of view seems to me to be deeply problematic. Read more
This is a story I wrote for Syrian refugee children. I was invited to Lebanon in the spring of 2014 to give a training for the staff of a “Child Friendly Space” program that AMURT was initiating. It was my first trip to the Middle East and we were staying in an area that was predominantly run by people from the “Dru” religion. It was beautiful and I was very impressed – by the warmth of the people, beauty of the landscape, history and culture…not to mention the wonderful food…But I was also deeply touched by the plight of the Syrian refugees – most of whom were middle class business owners, or even rich landowners that now found themselves displaced and in atrociously impoverished, overcrowded, unheated conditions. I wrote this story while on the trip to Lebanon – I missed a connecting flight and spent about 12 hours in the Istanbul airport. At that point, I hadn’t yet met any of the refugees – I was just researching and reading everything I could find online about their situation. So the next day, when I began the workshop – I wasn’t sure if the story would resonate…but by the time the birds squeeze into the crack in the building – several of the Syrian participants started to say excitedly “Oh – it’s just like what happened to us!! What will happen now?”. The story is one that is designed both to reflect, using metaphor, the situation of having to leave a dangerous place (the bombing in Syria) and also one of hope….and nest building…
A strong, tall, shady Great Oak tree with deep roots stood in a meadow of butterflies and buttercups. The winter snows had long melted and the summer sun had warmed her leaves. Every day, calling on the help of Father Sun, she lovingly worked to slowly create acorns. All of the Light she received from Father Sun, and all of the minerals the earth generously gave to her roots she carefully saved and stored up inside of each and every acorn. And deep in each and every acorn heart she wrote down all of the lessons she had learned from Life. How to bend in the stormy winds, how to seek water deep below the earth during dry seasons, how to reach towards the sun and how to spread a leafy dress to flutter gracefully in the wind. She dreamed of her acorns growing into strong, tall oak trees like herself and it gave her great joy.
I wrote this children’s story for our smaller children from FAMILIA AMURTEL. Many of them have certain behaviors – such as hoarding food, that stem from their traumatic history of neglect during critical developmental stages in infancy. This story uses metaphor to communicate compassion and understanding, and at the same time show a healthy way through the distressful behavior:
Juniper was a white baby rabbit. She lived with 27 other baby rabbits inside of a small cage. It was very crowded and uncomfortable. When the farmer came with food, all of the rabbits scrambled on top of each other fighting for their share. Juniper was small and not very fast, and the others climbed over her and ate up most of the food before her. She was always still hungry when the food was finished, and cried for more, but nobody listened. They were too busy trying to get food for themselves too.