Mysteries

November 30, 2009 by  
Filed under Blog

Everybody has problems.  That is an absolute truism but somehow, sometimes we forget that.  We see someone well put together and smiling and we think that person has it all.  But if we go back to our truism, we know that just can’t be true.

Some of us choose to be exposed, to not hide our feelings from the world and actually to want to be acknowledged for our pain as if no one else is in pain.

Some of us carry our pain within and don’t want any extra attention for whatever is going on in our lives.

I’ve come to realize that bringing the whole world into my pain only results in keeping me in pain.  Living in that frame of mind keeps me and you focused on pain.  Keeps us getting attention for being in pain and not for being happy or elated.

Victimization only strengthens our slavery to pain.  Keeping pain in its own space and pushing forward offers us a possibility to move on.

I know sometimes it’s hard to see beyond the disappointment and loss but know the way out is only possible through truly believing in the possibilities of life.

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Madonna, Kabbalah And Spiritual Trends

November 28, 2009 by  
Filed under Blog

So I’m here in my native town Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, producing a Canadian film.  About ten days ago Madonna was in town collecting money for SFK and her Raising Malawi charity.  SFK stands for Spirituality For Kids, a Kabbalah Center effort and Raising Malawi is a Madonna, Michael Berg (son of Kabbalah Center founder) project.

Her stay here was very profitable; it seems that she was able to get a $10,000,000 pledge from a couple of business men as well as a commitment from Rio de Janeiro’s mayor to apply the educational and spiritual methods of SFK to Rio de Janeiro public schools.

While I believe that every child in this planet is entitled to help, I wonder why these same business men don’t usually invest in taking the thousands of children off the streets of their own towns as well as help the other thousands that live in favelas (shanty towns) that surround their homes.  The answer is simple: Madonna.

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The Only Way To Become Amazingly Great At Something

November 27, 2009 by  
Filed under Featured


Find your passion, and then pour yourself into it.

“Only one who devotes himself to a cause with his whole strength and soul can be a true master. For this reason mastery demands all of a person.” - Albert Einstein

Post written by Leo Babauta. Follow me on Twitter.

Very often you’ll see blog posts or books teaching you to “master” a skill in only 10 days, or 3 days … in fact, it used to be 30 days but the time frame to master something seems to be shrinking rapidly.

I’ve even seen tutorials claiming to teach a skill in just a few hours. Pretty soon we’ll be demanding to know how to do something in seconds.

Instant mastery of skills and knowledge! Hey presto!

Unfortunately, the reality is something a little less magical. Or maybe that’s a fortunate thing.

There’s only one way to become good at something:

1. First, you must learn it by reading or listening to others who know how to do it, but most especially by doing.
2. Then do some more. At this point, you’ll start to understand it, but you’ll suck. This stage could take months.
3. Do some more. After a couple of years, you’ll get good at it.
4. Do some more. If you learn from mistakes, and aren’t afraid to make mistakes in the first place, you’ll go from good to great.

It takes anywhere from 6-10 years to get great at something, depending on how often and how much you do it. Some estimate that it takes 10,000 hours to master something, but I think it varies from person to person and depends on the skill and other factors.

Want to be a great writer? It’s possible to be great within a few years, if you have the God-given talent of Fitzgerald or Shakespeare, but most of us toil for over a decade and are still trying to get better. We’re still learning, to this day, and if we look back on our first few years of writing — of any kind — we’ll tell you we sucked (for the most part) back then.

Want to be a great blogger? Same deal. I’ve been doing it for almost three years, and I’m still only competent. Gruber’s been doing it for, like, 7 years and he’s still only … well, he’s pretty great by now. You have to do it, make mistakes, learn, really begin to understand it, and someday, if you stick with it, you’ll be great.

There’s no one who is great at his profession who hasn’t been doing it for at least 6 years — no designer, no programmer, no carpenter, no architect, no surgeon, no teacher, no musician, no artist … you get the point. I dare you to name one. Most have been doing it for over a decade, and are still looking to improve.

It takes desire, it takes drive, it takes lots and lots of doing.

So here’s the thing: don’t get discouraged if you’re just starting out. Have fun, like we all did in the beginning. If you have fun, you’ll learn to love it, and THAT’S when it clicks. When you love something, you’ll want to do it all the time, sometimes late at night and often, you’ll jump out of bed and want to do it before you move your morning bowels.

THAT’S how you get great. By loving it so much your morning bowel movement takes second seat.

“Everybody has talent, it’s just a matter of moving around until you’ve discovered what it is.” - George Lucas

Find that desire. Do it, don’t just read about it. Don’t buy a single product or book or magazine that claims to teach you something in minutes, hours, days. They’re lying to your face, with a hand in your pocket at the same time.

Do it, keep doing it, then keep doing it some more. It’s the only way to get great, but the good news: anyone can do it. It just takes some time and some doing. Hey presto.

When the world says, “Give up,”
Hope whispers, “Try it one more time.”
~Author Unknown

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A Lifelong Search For Real Education

November 25, 2009 by  
Filed under Featured

 

Grace Lee and Jimmy Boggs brought people together to rebuild inner-city Detroit and to teach the things you can’t learn in a classroom. At 94, Grace is still at it.
by Julia Putnam

Grace-Boggs-220px.jpg

At 94, Grace Lee Boggs still teaches freedom—speaking, writing prolifically, and conducting seminars at the Boggs Center.

Photo by Eric Seals

My education began in 1992, although I’d already finished my sophomore year at the best high school in Detroit. I was a successful student by the standards of my family and my teachers—I had certainly learned how to get good grades. But I was 16, and I felt stuck. Stuck in a city that everyone seemed to agree had reached its heyday and was now dead—no hope of ever having beauty or vitality or relevance again. Stuck in a high school that felt empty and soulless.

Then, my friend, Mary, excitedly met me in the cafeteria.

“Did you see the couple who were here today?”

“No. What couple?”

“An Asian lady, Grace Boggs, and her husband. He was black. They were visiting classes. They started this program called Detroit Summer. You should check it out.”

Mary shoved a flier in my hand. And there it was. The call to Detroit Summer. And my real education began.

Where Detroit Summer Came From

Detroit Summer was Jimmy and Grace Boggs’ response to Mayor Coleman Young’s idea that casinos would replace Detroit’s disappearing auto industry jobs and solve all the city’s problems. Jimmy and Grace, longtime activists, knew that such a quick fix would not rejuvenate Detroit and, especially, would not engage its young people, who were dropping out of school in appalling numbers. They recalled how sending young people south for Mississippi Summer re-energized the civil rights movement. Detroit Summer was their way of recreating that energy in the inner city.

Jimmy and Grace realized that young people needed a chance to make a difference in their city. They had long been active in the Black Power movement in inner-city Detroit. Grace says, “I identified more with Malcolm X than with Martin Luther King, Jr., and like most Black Power Activists, I viewed King’s ideas of nonviolence and beloved community as somewhat naïve and sentimental.”

Grace-and-Julia.jpg

Julia Putnam, left, was the first youth volunteer to sign up for the first Detroit Summer in 1992. She met with Grace Lee Boggs recently to talk about how Detroit Summer changed her life and those of many young volunteers.

Photo by Eric Seals

But she found herself revisiting the words of King as he struggled with what he saw in the cities he visited after rebellions erupted in the streets. When I met with her recently, Grace said, “That’s why my opening ceremony speech at the first Detroit Summer centered on his response to these rebellions. He proposed that young people ‘in our dying cities’ needed programs that were designed to change themselves and their society.” Grace and Jimmy’s experience in Detroit had led them to the same conclusion.

“We wanted to engage young people in community-building activities: planting community gardens, recycling waste, organizing neighborhood arts and health festivals, rehabbing houses, painting public murals,” Grace says. “Encouraging them to exercise their Soul Power would get their cognitive juices flowing. Learning would come from practice, which has always been the best way to learn.”

My First Detroit Summer—and Beyond

The flier my friend handed me sounded as if someone had read my mind. It spoke of the crisis in Detroit: disappearing factory jobs, blight, hopelessness, helplessness. All the stuff I’d heard time and again. But this time, there was more. Just as young people made the difference in the civil rights movement, the flier said, so too would young people be the difference in Detroit. A movement was beginning, it said, a movement to rebuild, revitalize, and respirit Detroit from the ground up.

There are very few things I have been so sure of as knowing that I would be a part of Detroit Summer. It was a relief and joy to know there was someone out there who believed as I believed. I was not alone.

I took the bus to the First Unitarian Universalist Church on the corner of Forest and Cass on the day of registration. The opening ceremony was in the church basement, and a huge banner hung inside with a paint can drawn in as the “O” in Detroit and a hammer as the “T.”

That’s where I met Jimmy Boggs. He was old but handsome—regal. I had to listen closely to understand his Alabama accent. He punctuated his sentences with a high-pitched “OK?” He told his audience of volunteers that young people today wanted to get paid to go to the bathroom. But if we were going to make a difference, it would have to be about more than money. He said that’s why he was so proud of us for showing up to volunteer our time to make a difference in the city. Because his generation was tired, and he was depending on us to take our turn. OK?

Kids Take Charge of School

Diana Morales-Manely self-portrait

Fifteen-year-old Diana Morales-Manley struggled with reading when she was a young child. Instead of lowering her grades or holding her back, the Albany Free School let her pursue a budding fascination with photography. “Even though I wasn’t good at reading, I enjoyed looking at photos in books,” she says. She improved her reading by sounding out words in photo captions and looking for context clues in the images.

Students at the Albany Free School and its sister school for upper grades, Harriet Tubman Democratic School, decide how and what to learn. The schools believe kids learn what they need if given time, space, and access to mentors. Read on…

:: More Radical Acts of Education

I was moved, touched that this man who knew nothing about me was proud of me. Had I been that starved for this kind of praise? I think so. My family praised me, but it was for things I was supposed to do—I was obedient, didn’t cause trouble, and my grades were fine. For that, my family was proud, appreciative. Jimmy was proud of me for going beyond that. He was proud because I cared about something other than myself. I’d never even thought to give myself credit for that. I was ready to put my time and energy toward a Detroit that I could be proud to live in.

Grace taught me how to put my intellect into that endeavor. I met her a few days later, during lunch. Grace pulled up a chair, sat directly across from me, and leaned in close. She locked her eyes on me, and asked me a question. I don’t remember what it was. There have been many over the years. It was undoubtedly a big one, something philosophical and impossible to answer easily: What do you think should be done about gang violence? Why do you think young people feel alienated in school? What does God look like?

I had to resist the urge to look over my shoulder. What did I think? No adult had ever asked. Certainly not with this kind of intensity and gleeful expectation, as if my opinion mattered, and with the assumption that I’d have an intelligent response.

After I got over the shock and shared my opinion, Grace did what I’ve seen her do a thousand times to hundreds of young people. She listened intently. She grinned delightedly, touched my knee, got up and moved on to the next conversation. Grace is not necessarily interested in the right answer—she’s interested in the ideas. She delights in young people grappling with the tough questions. She watches the process of movement building as it is handed down from generation to generation and evolves over time. Grace, at 94, says, “I’ve lived long enough to watch evolution happen.”

In Detroit Summer, I was surrounded by adults who not only asked me real questions, but took time to answer mine. Grace gave everything historical context, helping us understand how Detroit had evolved into the place it was—how the industrial period and the post-industrial period affected the daily lives of people in the city.

The other volunteers not only taught me skills, but also challenged my assumptions. Christopher Shein, a super-tall, surfer-dude-accented Californian—not a common sight in Detroit—taught me to dig my hands into compost and feel the heat of decay that would nurture our garden.

Ray Jimenez, an ex-gang member from Fresno, came the first year. At one dinner, he shared with me and a few others his fear of coming to Detroit. We described our fear upon hearing that we’d be working with ex-gang members. Then we all laughed. How stupid, we realized, the fears that we’d been fed that kept us divided, separated, hostile.

Like Carrie, who went to a Catholic high school with Anne Rashid. Anne lived in Detroit, but Carrie lived in a wealthy suburb, and she was terrified her parents would find out that, instead of hanging out safely at Anne’s house, she was driving to the east side to paint houses and fight neighborhood blight. Part of cleanup was to inspect Carrie to make sure she had no obvious stray paint on her.

I was raised to believe that suburbanites feared and hated me. They thought I was poor and black and scary. It was healing to see that there were people like Carrie who risked disapproval (and sure punishment) because they wanted to join in rebuilding Detroit. There were so many conversations and conflicts and triumphs that happened over the course of that summer and the summers that followed, opening my mind to what it meant to live in a community that was diverse in class, race, gender, age, and abilities. It wasn’t always easy and it wasn’t always fun, but it always produced growth and a kind of learning I would never get in school.

The learning and growth wasn’t just for the young people. Grace says, “It felt expansive to be around young people who were not bogged down by old ideas. It was an extraordinary mix of people from all over.”

We, as young people, were not just serving the community. The community was also serving us. Volunteers had long, important conversations with each other, often over lunches that the adults made so we could concentrate on our work revitalizing the community. Many of the young volunteers didn’t drive, but adults 30 to 40 years our senior could be counted on to drive us to and from events. We were serving one another. And this, I learned, is what community means.

Forgetting Detroit Summer

At age 19, I became Detroit Summer’s youth coordinator, and I’ve worked with young people ever since. I became a teacher when I was 23 because I believed that I could take my Detroit Summer experience into the classroom and use it to help young people struggle with the big questions.

There were two main reasons I was good at teaching. First, I remembered, in great detail, what it felt like to be a powerless student, and that helped me to connect with the most disconnected child. Second, I modeled my interactions with young people on Jimmy and Grace and on my Detroit Summer experience. Like them, I tried to ask the real questions, not condescend or coddle. And, like them, I believed that young people could be of use—not when they got older or when they got a job, but right now.

And I was of use as a teacher. For a time. But teaching under the restrictions of the existing system began to get to me. No matter how much you resist, there is the prevailing, nagging notion that teachers know best, that we are there to impart wisdom that the kids should feel privileged to receive.

I realized I’d lost my way when I found myself thinking vicious thoughts about a student who refused to read. I had tried everything and I was afraid that his poor performance would reflect badly on my teaching. I had given up and turned against him—he was lazy and apathetic and doomed. I’d given up on a kid who was only 13. I needed a break.

I’d started to use only the lines I’d been given in my education training and was trying to get my students to read them aloud along with me. I had forgotten my own high school experience and that moment when my real education began.

If I wanted to teach again to my own standards, I had to remember the lessons of Detroit Summer—to relearn as an adult those things that meant so much to me as a teenager. I had to remember that a real education is not about jobs and an increase in class status. I had to remember Jimmy’s idea that, “The chief task of human beings is the struggle for human relations rather than for material goods.”

I had to remember Grace’s words that “learning must be related to the daily lives of children. It is not something you can make people do in their heads with the perspective that, eventually, they will get a good job and make a lot of money.”

The Legacy of Detroit Summer

Just as I was feeling ready to return to teaching, the Boggs Center began to host Freedom School meetings. By then, Detroit Summer no longer existed in its original form. It carries on in other venues, including the Detroit Summer Live Arts Media Project, which involves young people in collecting oral history and in activism through media; the Boggs Center to Nurture Community Leadership, an organization created to promote and continue the work of Jimmy and Grace Lee Boggs; and Detroit: City of Hope, an organization that builds connections among nonprofit organizations and activists in their work to rebuild Detroit.

I had to remember that a real education is not solely about jobs and an increase in class status. I had to remember Jimmy’s idea that, “The chief task of human beings was the struggle for human relations rather than for material goods.”

The Freedom School meetings were in response to the crisis in the Detroit public schools. At those meetings, I met other educators and community members who shared my struggle to create in schools the educational experience that I had in Detroit Summer. Since May 2008, a diverse group of parents, educators, community members, and residents of Detroit have worked on starting the Boggs Educational Center, a school dedicated to the transformative educational experience that King proposed before he died and that Jimmy and Grace have modeled in their lives.

The school will be rooted in the Hope District, on the east side of Detroit. The school’s philosophy is centered on Grace’s position that children are most intellectually and physically engaged when they are involved in the struggle to revitalize their community. Our mission is to nurture creative critical thinkers who employ multiple literacies and contribute to their surrounding communities.

We challenge the notion that there is only one path to success, and that this path necessitates being stuck in a classroom for 12 years. We believe that there are as many paths to success as there are children in a room, and that success comes from having a sense of self and a sense of purpose. We believe education is about becoming our best, most human selves.

The Boggs Educational Center will demonstrate Grace’s vision of a new kind of education where “much more learning will take place outside school walls. Inside, an integral part of the educational process will be the design and operation of the building.”

We will provide a response to Grace’s observation that “the reason why so many young people drop out from inner-city schools is because they are voting with their feet against an educational system that sorts, tracks, tests, and rejects or certifies them like products of a factory. They are crying out for another kind of education that gives them opportunities to exercise their creative energies because it values them as whole human beings.”

Instead of the message that children are merely empty vessels that must be filled with facts, the community of the Boggs Education Center will tell our children: You are of use, you are important, we need you. You can learn anything you need in order to be the best person you can. Since we are all counting on you for our very existence, we need you to be your best self—to be healthy and kind and committed. And you can do it. We are here to support you. We love you.

These are the words I know children long to hear. They are the words I heard from Grace and Jimmy in 1992 and that, with the wisdom of her 94 years, Grace still speaks today. They are the words I heard from every adult in Detroit Summer. They are the words I had to remember to say to my students before I could teach again.

They can be hard words to say. Especially to sullen teens who put on a mask of indifference and defiance, to teens who seem so far gone that they might cuss you out at your very attempt to love them. But when we say them, we are being our best selves, and we are inviting the best self of the person in front of us. Our success is related directly to our interconnectedness, and it is this idea that education should be designed around.


Julia-Putnam.jpgJulia Putnam wrote this article for Learn as You Go, the Fall 2009 issue of YES! Magazine. Julia lives in Detroit with her husband and two children. Currently, she’s developing a school inspired by the ideas of Jimmy and Grace Lee Boggs. Find out more at boggseducationalcenter.org.

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The Only Thing We Have To Fear

November 24, 2009 by  
Filed under Uncategorized

Is fear itself .   That quote was made famous by our 32nd President, Franklin D. Roosevelt, more than a half century ago.   It still is heralded as one of the monumental statements of modern day politics.  A close look at the state of the world today would serve as a reasonable catalyst to have us use it with more frequency. 

Surely as the Earth’s population grows, so do the complexities of everyday living.  Unfortunately, in many instances, diversity is met with suspicion, distrust and, yes, often times fear.   As our ethnic, religious, political and economic boundaries continuously mesh, we tend to cling more to what we know rather than open ourselves up to learn more.  When we can sensibly conclude that whether we profess to be Christians or Jews, born of Nordic or Sub Saharan parents and are diametrically opposed on every matter that our representatives stand for, we all also have undeniable commonalities.  

The more we attune ourselves to this fact, the less fear will play a part in our growth.  Some of you, depending on what your birth certificate indicates, will recall a telephone company ad campaign that used the memorable slogan, “Reach out and touch someone”.  Well, we need to do more of just that.  Not by using our credit card to place a call, but by using our stored up kindness and offering it to a Republican or a Democrat; a Muslim or a Buddhist; a businessman or a farmer; an Ethiopian or a Korean.   We need to extricate our pent up anxieties and replace them with well- intended assurances. 

Let’s face it, the world is getting smaller as we become more enjoined with others.  There’s no stopping that.  Simply put, adjustments have to be made.  There will always be a few that will want to play dirty and arouse the worst in people.  These are the nay sayers to peace and good will.   They thrive on the maligned concept that what or who you don’t know is bad for you.  Rubbish!  Just as when we were children, the “boogey man” was always in the dark and he was always gone when we turned the light on.

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This Is Your Brain On Bliss

November 23, 2009 by  
Filed under Featured

by Matthieu Ricard

After 2,000 years of practice, Buddhist monks know that one secret to happiness is simply to put your mind to it.

What is happiness, and how can we achieve it?

Happiness can’t be reduced to a few agreeable sensations. Rather, it is a way of being and of experiencing the world—a profound fulfillment that suffuses every moment and endures despite inevitable setbacks.

Matthieu Ricard
Matthieu Ricard, left, quit his career as a cellular geneticist nearly 40 years ago to study Buddhism. He is the French translator for the Dalai Lama, right. Photo by Pagoda Phat Hue, phathue.com

The paths we take in search of happiness often lead us to frustration and suffering instead. We try to create outer conditions that we believe will make us happy. But it is the mind itself that translates outer conditions into happiness or suffering. This is why we can be deeply unhappy even though we “have it all”—wealth, power, health, a good family, etc.—and, conversely, we can remain strong and serene in the face of hardship.

Authentic happiness is a way of being and a skill to be cultivated. When we first begin, the mind is vulnerable and untamed, like that of a monkey or a restless child. It takes practice to gain inner peace, inner strength, altruistic love, forbearance, and other qualities that lead to authentic happiness.

His Holiness the Dalai Lama often teaches that, while there are limitations to how much information one can learn and to our physical performance, compassion can be developed boundlessly.

Practicing Happiness
It is not difficult to begin. You just have to sit from time to time, turn your mind within, and let your thoughts calm down. Focus your attention on a chosen object. It can be an object in your room, your breath, or your own mind. Inevitably, your mind will wander as you do this. Each time it does, gently bring it back to the object of concentration, like a butterfly that returns again and again to a flower.

In the freshness of the present moment, past is gone, future is not yet born, and—if one remains in pure mindfulness and freedom—disturbing thoughts arise and go without leaving a trace. That is basic meditation.

Matthieu Ricard’s brain. Photo by Waisman Brain Imaging Lab, University Of Wisconsin
Find out what happens when the meditating mind of a Buddhist monk is examined by magnetic resonance imaging: Matthieu Ricard’s brain.
Photo by Waisman Brain Imaging Lab, University of Wisconsin

Pure consciousness without content is something all those who meditate regularly and seriously have experienced—it is not just some sort of Buddhist theory. And anyone who takes the trouble to stabilize and clarify his or her mind will be able to experience it, too. It is through this unconditioned aspect of consciousness that we can transform the content of mind through training.

But meditation also means to cultivate basic human qualities, such as attention and compassion, and new ways of experiencing the world. What really matters is that a person gradually changes. Over months and years, we become less impatient, less prone to anger, less torn between hopes and fears. It becomes inconceivable to willingly harm another person. We develop a propensity toward altruistic behavior and the cluster of qualities that give us the resources to deal with the ups and downs of life.

The point here is that you can look at your thoughts, including strong emotions, with a pure mindfulness that is not associated with the contents of the thoughts.

Take the example of malevolent anger. We usually identify with anger. Anger can fill our mental landscape and project its distorted reality on people and events. When we are overwhelmed by anger, we cannot dissociate from it. We perpetuate a vicious circle of affliction by rekindling anger each time we see or remember the person who makes us angry. We become addicted to the cause of suffering.

But if we dissociate from anger and look at it with mindfulness, that which is aware of anger is not angry, and we can see that anger is just a bunch of thoughts. Anger doesn’t cut like a knife, burn like a fire, or crush like a rock; it is nothing more than a product of our mind. Instead of “being” the anger, we understand that we are not the anger, in the same way that clouds are not the sky.

So, to deal with anger, we avoid letting our mind jump again and again to the trigger for our anger. Then we look at anger itself and keep our attention upon it. If we stop adding wood to a fire and just watch, the fire will die out. Likewise, anger will vanish away, without being forcibly repressed or allowed to explode.

There is no question of not experiencing emotions; it’s a question of not being enslaved by them. Let emotions arise, but let them be freed from their afflictive components: distortion of reality, mental confusion, clinging, and suffering for oneself and others.

There is great virtue in resting from time to time in pure awareness of the present moment, and being able to refer to this state when afflictive emotions arise so that we do not identify with them and are not swayed by them.

It is difficult in the beginning, but becomes quite natural as you become increasingly familiar with such an approach. Whenever anger arises, you learn to recognize it right away. If you know someone to be a pickpocket, even if he mingles in a crowd, you will spot him right away and keep a careful eye on him.

Interdependence
Just as you can learn to deal with afflictive thoughts, you can learn to cultivate and enhance wholesome ones. To be filled with love and kindness brings about an optimal way of being. It is a win-win situation: you will enjoy lasting well-being for yourself, you’ll act in altruistic ways towards others, and you’ll be perceived as a good human being.

If altruistic love is based on an understanding of the interdependence of all beings and of their natural aspiration to happiness, and if this love extends impartially to all beings, then it is a source of genuine happiness. Acts of overflowing love, of pure, disinterested generosity—as when you make a child happy or help someone in need, even if nobody knows what you have done—generate a deep and heartwarming fulfillment.

The Habits of Happiness

TED TALK: Listen to Matthieu Ricard answer the questions: What is Happiness, and How Can We All Get Some?

Dalai Lama Renaissance

FILM: Watch the trailer.

Human qualities often come in clusters. Altruism, inner peace, strength, freedom, and genuine happiness thrive together like the parts of a nourishing fruit. Likewise, selfishness, animosity, and fear grow together. So, while helping others may not always be “pleasant,” it leads the mind to a sense of inner peace, courage, and harmony with the interdependence of all things and beings.

Afflictive mental states, on the other hand, begin with self-centeredness, with an increase in the gap between self and others. These states are related to excessive self-importance and self-cherishing associated with fear or resentment towards others, and grasping for outer things as part of a hopeless pursuit of selfish happiness. A selfish pursuit of happiness is a lose-lose situation: you make yourself miserable and make others miserable as well.

Inner conflicts are often linked with excessive rumination on the past and anticipation of the future. You are not truly paying attention to the present moment, but are engrossed in your thoughts, going on and on in a vicious circle, feeding your ego and self-centeredness.

This is the opposite of bare attention. To turn your attention inside means to look at pure awareness itself and dwell without distraction, yet effortlessly, in the present moment.

If you cultivate these mental skills, after a while you won’t need to apply contrived efforts anymore. You can deal with mental perturbations like the eagles I see from the window of my hermitage in the Himalayas deal with crows. The crows often attack them, diving at the eagles from above. But, instead of doing all kinds of acrobatics, the eagle simply retracts one wing at the last moment, lets the diving crow pass, and then extends its wing again. The whole thing requires minimal effort and causes little disturbance.

Being experienced in dealing with the sudden arising of emotions in the mind works in a similar way.

I have been exposed to the world of humanitarian activities for a number of years since I decided to dedicate the entire royalties of my books to 30 projects on education and health in Tibet, Nepal, and India, with a group of dedicated volunteers and generous philanthropists. It is easy to see how corruption, clashes of ego, weak empathy, discouragement can plague the humanitarian world. All this stems from a lack of maturity. So the advantages of spending time to develop human altruism and compassionate courage are obvious.


The Fragrance of Peace

The most important time to meditate or do other types of spiritual practices is early in the morning. You set the tone for the day and the “fragrance” of the meditation will remain and give a particular perfume to the whole day. Another important time is before falling asleep. If you clearly generate a positive state of mind, filled with compassion or altruism, this will give a different quality to the whole night.

When people experience “moments of grace”, or “magical moments” in daily life, while walking in the snow under the stars or spending a beautiful moment with dear friends by the seaside, what is really happening? All of a sudden, they have left their burden of inner conflicts behind. They feel in harmony with others, with themselves, with the world. It is wonderful to fully enjoy such magical moments, but it is also revealing to understand why they feel so good: pacification of inner conflicts; a better sense of interdependence with everything rather than fragmenting reality; and a respite from the mental toxins of aggression and obsession. All these qualities can be cultivated through developing wisdom and inner freedom. This will lead not just to a few moments of grace but to a lasting state of well-being that we may call genuine happiness.

In this state, feelings of insecurity gradually give way to a deep confidence that you can deal with life’s ups and downs. Your equanimity will spare you from being swayed like mountain grass in the wind by every possible praise and blame, gain and loss, comfort and discomfort. You can always draw on deep inner peace, and the waves at the surface will not appear as threatening.


Matthieu Ricard wrote this article as part of Sustainable Happiness, the Winter 2009 issue of YES! Magazine. Matthieu has authored seven books, including Happiness: A Guide to Developing Life’s Most Important Skill. He lives at the Shechen monastery in Nepal, travels the world for Karuna-shechen (www.karuna-shechen.org) and does an annual solitary retreat in the Himalayas.

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What The Fox Said

November 22, 2009 by  
Filed under Blog

To talk about my husband in past tense is extremely difficult. When he passed away everything in my world changed. I’ve never lived alone before. It’s never been just me. To wake up all alone just doesn’t seem natural.

When my husband retired he took over everything. He managed our finances, the laundry, even taking my clothes to the cleaners. He went to the grocery store. He did all the cooking. I would wake up to coffee and breakfast on the table. Everyday he would cut up an apple for me to take for lunch and he would always drive me to work on the first day of teaching at each new semester. There were lots of days he drove me to work just because; just because he wanted to talk and for us to spend more time together.

The life that I lived blinked off the screen. My world of us, we, ours… that world doesn’t exist anymore.

I feel like I have been dropped off in space. I don’t know how to function, how to just be. I have to relearn, to rewire the way I think. How do I live as one? How will I know what to do? Who will listen to me late at night when I have a bad dream? Who will I talk to about all the little things I used to talk about with my husband?

What do I do with all the time I have since he isn’t here to share this journey with me? How do I learn to live without the man who walked beside me for over 20 years?

Antoine De Saint-Exupery offered wisdom in “The Little Prince” that has stood the test of time. This book teaches the secret of what is really important in life. There is one quote that really speaks to me and I often remind myself of the message. “Good-bye” said the fox. “Here is my secret: One sees clearly only with the heart. Anything essential is invisible to the eye.”

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The Human Mind

November 18, 2009 by  
Filed under Uncategorized

I had lunch the other day with a fellow who held a rather dim view of the process of psychotherapy. He referred to its methodology as “hideously inefficient”, while granting that it actually served some valid purpose. A severe case of damning with faint praise. My somewhat defensive response ( I am currently in therapy myself, and there was also a friend present who is a therapist herself ) was that the hideous inefficiency of the process lies mostly within the human mind itself. I thought I was just trying to come up a clever response (which I was ), but it also strikes me that there is something to the idea. After all, the problems that plague the mind don’t lend themselves to fixes that are both quick and lasting. The quick ones, such as mind-altering substances, don’t last, whereas the array of options that hold out the possibility for real growth and transformation are invariably arduous and plodding in nature.

We were on a lunch break from a daylong Buddhist meditation retreat and the comment got me thinking about the innumerable lifetimes the Buddhists speak of in describing the journey toward enlightenment. I wonder whether this fellow has gauged the efficiency of a path that measures progress not in years but in lifetimes. Whether one takes this terminology literally or figuratively it does point to the laborious, lengthy and difficult task of reconfiguring the human mind in a way that accords consistently with a happy state.

The persistence of any of these algorithms or systems – the numerous forms of modern psychotherapy, as well as the variety of ancient spiritual disciplines – that are aimed at the problems of the human mind, points to the fact that human existence is plagued by a set of stubborn problems that simply won’t fade quietly away. The mind seems to be very good at solving an almost unlimited array of worldly problems with great efficiency. However, when it comes to resolving the thorny problems that beset its own nature, it keeps falling down on the job. Which isn’t really a problem at all, so long as we keep on getting up.

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A Bus Driver Who Has Served Over 90.000 Meals For Free

November 17, 2009 by  
Filed under Inspiring People

Jorge Munoz, a bus driver, giving with his family to the Queens hungry.

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In Honor Of A Firefighter

November 17, 2009 by  
Filed under Featured

By Charlie

I am a firefighter. In September of 2009 I was one of the thousands of firefighters sent to the “Station Fire” that ravaged most of the Angeles National Forest and, sadly, took the lives of 2 fellow firefighters. This is a story of another retired firefighter lost that day and the final hours of his life.

On September 1st my engine company was part of a strike team assigned to structure protection for some homes in the foothills in the community of Juniper Hills. These homes were rather spread out and each fire truck was assigned to a home along the road. As we approached the home we were assigned to protect we saw that it was owned by a firefighter. We assumed that the house would have good weed compliance and adequate defensible space around it because if anyone would be aware of its importance, it would be a firefighter.

As we approached the home, we were met by a woman (and her daughters) who was the wife of the firefighter who lived there. She informed us that her husband, a retired firefighter, was in the house under hospice care in the final stages of cancer and other medical problems. She asked us if she had to evacuate. We knew that was inevitable and we told her we would do whatever we could for her and her family.

We helped them load their belongings and got the house prepared for the possible arrival of the fire. Finally the time came for them to leave. Her husband Mike needed to be taken to the car as he was basically unconscious. My partner and I volunteered to take him to the car. We were offered his wheelchair but we felt that, as a firefighter, it would be our honor to carry him to the vehicle. As we carried him we assured him that his wife and daughters were safe and that we would be there to protect his home of over 40 years. We placed him in the car and reassured him once again and made sure he was as comfortable as possible, and put on his seatbelt.

One of his daughters stayed behind with us as her mother drove her dad to their other daughters’ house.

A few hours later the daughter got a phone call from her mother that her dad, Mike, had just died.

Shortly after the 9-11 attack on the World Trade Center Mike had erected a flagpole in his yard and had a flag flying from it since. That morning we were there, his daughter removed the old tattered flag and replaced it with a nice, crisp new one. Upon hearing of Mike’s passing, my partner asked if he could lower the flag to half-staff. Not only for Mike, but for the other two firefighters who were lost. They have yet to raise it to full staff.

I’m not very religious in the true sense of the word but I do feel a certain spirituality that events happen for a reason. It could have been any of hundreds of fire trucks at the fire that could have been assigned to Mike’s house. That responsibility fell to my crew. It was our honor to escort Mike from his home for what would prove to be the last time. How ironic that, after a 30+ year career as a firefighter, he would be leaving his home for the last time in the face of what would become the largest fire in the history of Los Angeles County.

Mike stayed alive long enough to know that we would be there for his family when he was unable to be. As we carried him to the car we gave him permission to go and that his family would be taken care of.

I was deeply moved by the graciousness of Mike’s family in the face of some very difficult moments. They were just as concerned about our needs and safety as we were about theirs.

It’s times like these that reinforce the good that still exists in this world that all too often gets overlooked.

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