On India’s Republic Day, 2019

Vishwabhavan at Symbiosis lit up for Republic Day

Namaste. Distinguished guests, dear students, friends and relations, It is a pleasure and honor to address you again this year with a few remarks on this wonderful 70th Republic Day for our beloved India. I say our India, because though I was not born here, a part of my heart and soul live here. I consider United States as my fatherland. And India as my Motherland.

My personal story is not exactly typical. At the age of six, India called me to her, and at the age of 20, in 1972, I answered that call by buying a one-way ticket to Mumbai, and coming alone to Pune. I did not know anyone here, but ended up staying in India for an entire year through the great-heartedness, generosity and kindness of none other than our Dr. S. B. Mujumdar, who has truly been both elder brother and father to me for over 45 years. Through his, and my Indian family’s, help and blessings, I was married just a few steps from here 32 years ago in Symbiosis Hall to the love of my life, Sujata, in a Hindu ceremony.

Like India itself, Symbiosis has grown tremendously since I first arrived here in 1972. Back then, Symbiosis was a cultural organization devoted to helping foreign students, mostly from Afro-Asian and Middle Eastern countries, to adjust to this culture, find housing, medical care, and learn the English language. Now, as you know, Symbiosis is comprised of some 45 institutions, serving tens of thousands of students from all over India, as well as half the countries of the world. Symbiosis is a brand known and respected far and wide, and is an exemplar for what this great, country truly stands for: the values of diversity, inclusiveness, advancement by merit and fair play on a level field. Look around any of Symbiosis’ many campuses and you will see this summed up in two words, Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam, the World is one Family.

From my experiences here, and particularly with my Indian family, the Mujumdars, the perspective and value of one world as one family is a part of me. I have pledged Vasudhaiva kutumbakam as my life mission, and in my own way I have worked to help realize that wherever I happen to be, and whatever I happen to be engaged in. One important way I do this is through my work as a life and executive coach, that respectfully calls people forth to embody their God-given greatness, and make a difference in their own and others’ lives.

Something I have become acutely aware of over the last two years of my time in India is a shared sense of National Purpose. I think this may be true of many other countries as well, this sense of Shared Purpose is calling forth all citizens to contribute to the growth, prosperity, and greatness of this nation. This may be expressed individually in relentless pursuit of getting ahead and excelling, or as a devotion to public service, volunteerism, entrepreneurism, or in the expectations that you have for your government and leaders. I don’t see this sort of shared National Purpose in the United States, not since the Space Program of the 1960’s that succeeded in putting human beings on the surface of the moon, and taking the first ever photo of Earthrise over the horizon of the moon, the first visual proof that we truly are One Family living together on One World. Today, those great aspirations and the belief in the enormous possibility of what a prosperous nation is able to achieve are largely absent in American society as a whole. I think America has much to learn and to be inspired by countries like India that believe in something greater than themselves and find their fulfillment in material goods and personal pleasures. I think you could say that in some important ways, America has lost its way and lost its purpose. It is certainly not the United States’ destiny to impose its brand of democracy on places like Iraq or Afghanistan, nor to be a beacon to the world by having 1% of the population owning 85% of the nation’s wealth. It is time for the US to lead by collaboration and partnering with equals in the world, and respecting the aspirations of each and every nation.

I’d like to share with you a dream I had just two nights ago. We were all at a great stage at a Symbiosis function. A famous and highly admired person dropped tools and supplies all around the campus: hammers, wrenches, construction components, fasteners and such. All this was done without a word being spoken. It was obvious that we in the audience were being called upon to build something. There were no instructions. So what was it to be? And why? For what purpose? I recall the scene was all very confusing, but everyone got up, picked up tools and supplies and were trying to put it all together. The scene was pretty chaotic.

I wanted the leader to tell us what to do with all these parts and pieces. I felt frustrated, a bit angry. And then suddenly I realized that we had to each understand not only our personal purpose, but had to find what was in common among all our individual purposes to build what was needed. We needed to understand first that together we were working as one family, Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam, and that our prosperity, even our survival, could only be realized when we understood our interdependence that comes from aligning our individual goals and purposes as one world family. Then a magnificent structure was built, one that held us all in a beautiful and sacred space, safe and nurturing.

I believe that this is the challenge we face today: to share our aspirations and blend them into a whole purpose, greater than any one person or family or community, but one that includes us all, like that picture of Earthrise. Our home today is in peril: from human-created global warming, from wasted resources, from enormous disparity of wealth and social justice and from the sort of nationalism that erects walls across borders or ignores the needs of the downtrodden.

Each of us is given some tools and materials, just as I imagined in that dream. What will you do with them? Do you sit and wait to be told? Do you build a wall or dig a hole to hide in? Or do you join hands with your brothers and sisters and build a home to hold all of us safely as one people, one tribe, one family, in peace, prosperity and in brotherhood and sisterhood? The choice is yours.

Happy Republic Day 2019. Jai Hind! 


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On Chin Bobbing

There is something interesting about human behavior that I have noticed since I’ve been a child, but have never heard it discussed, much less explained. I’d love to figure it out. I remember riding my bike as an eight-year-old, and on seeing another guy, both of us–though not necessarily simultaneously– would raise our chins slightly, a peaceful acknowledgment of the other’s existence. This is apparently a cross cultural phenomenon: the same thing happens here in India. A variant is a lowering of the chin slightly, a dip. It’s, in part, a silent hello, though I’ve never seen it in groups, just between (usually) two males, and usually at a distance of 3 to 10 meters apart.

I don’t frequently see this gesture with girls or women. It could be occurring more often, but I may not have noticed it, or unconsciously ignored it when it does happen. I don’t personally recall ever chin bobbing at a woman; it just doesn’t feel right for me to do so. But that’s just me.  So correct me, please, if I’m mistaken on that. Still, what exactly is the use and the message of this gesture? When did it evolve? Do other primates exhibit this behavior for similar reasons?

As I take a moment now to indulge in practicing this gesture in the privacy of my apartment, I have a sense that the chin bob, as I’ll call it, is something that goes way back to prehistoric times, a signal to other hunters to awareness of the tribe moving together in connection. Maybe the slight and fleeting exposure of the neck is an implicit signal of one’s vulnerability and absence of threat to the other. Certainly, our reptilian brain is forever on the lookout for threats, and signals that assure the absence of such are required for us to get past the fight/flight/freeze response and use more highly evolved parts of our brains, like the neocortex.

But that’s all just my speculation, stuff I’m making up and should hold pretty lightly until I have some real evidence. What are your thoughts and experiences around this phenomenon? How about you try it out on a stranger you are passing by, just a brief chin bob while gazing at the person, and note what their response is? Do they return the gesture? Do both men and women do it?

Will this change the world, or promote peace? I doubt it, but if such a gesture lowers others’ threat response, it may be useful to signal—in this age of fear and hypersensitivity to the ‘alien other’—that we mean no harm and are approachable. It’s almost as good as that most intimate gesture of inclusion…the wink.

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Pune Journal 2018: What brought me here

Pune, India May 31, 2018:  Today I had my first full day of formally working in an organization since 2011. What is notable is that this was a manifest beginning of my Quest, and it took place in Lavale, outside Pune, India. The journey here has been long in the making, and, I think, an interesting story.

The seeds of my arrival here in India in 2018 began back in 1958 when I was in Mrs. Judd’s first grade class. I clearly remember a woman came in for Show and Tell, a part of the day that I often lagged in attention for. This day, the lady shared dolls she had made of famous figures, and told their stories: George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, and others I have no memory of. I didn’t pay much attention (I distinctly did not care for dolls…girly stuff) until she lifted one doll, clothed in white with brown cloth for skin. She said, “And this doll is Mahatma Gandhi, and he is from India.” In that instant something clicked for me, and I knew with total certainty that India was a place I was going to.

A few years later, Americans and the British were having a romance with all things Indian. I remember  “Genuine bleeding madras shirts,” the Nehru jackets, yoga classes and Ravi Shankar sitar concerts. In high school I would go with my friend to the Lower East Side in NYC to Arunachal Ashram to chant (and I still do) and study the teachings of Sri Ramana Maharshi. I did a lot of yoga, a little meditation, and experimented with fasting and vegetarianism, eventually, at age 18, having a spiritual revelation that I was no longer meant to eat animal flesh. I have kept my vow ever since.

In college in my Junior year, in 1972, I was accepted in a program to go to Pune, India for six months of study. I was excited at the prospect of finally, 14 years after I had my inspirational moment that I would go there, spending time and fulfilling what felt like my destiny. After a quarter of orientation classes at another school in a small, conservative Wisconsin town that I did not care for at all, we students were assembled on the last day of classes and informed that the program was cancelled. The program was unable to get student visas for us, due to politics between India and the USA. The Bangladesh war was raging, and Nixon had tilted American support toward (West) Pakistan and against India in the conflict. Also, American scholars were writing very negative things about India at the time (The Sleeping Giant, pointing out failure to modernize due to traditional family systems, taking measurements to prove that India would run out of food permanently and its population starve to death, etc.). So Indira Gandhi put the kibosh on American student visas. That was just a speed bump for me.

I was devastated…for a day or two. Then I decided in my youthful impetuousness that I was going to India, no matter what. I applied for, and got, a tourist visa. I bought a one-way student-fare airline ticket to Bombay with help from my parents. In August I boarded a plane at JFK airport and left for India. I knew no one, had no plan other than to eventually get to Pune and set up something there. I thought I was prepared by the 3 months of orientation. I knew a few dozen words of Marathi. What could go wrong?

Forty six years after the fact, I can still picture the descent into Bombay Sahar Airport on the Boeing 747 jet. Miles of hutments, colorful laundry strewn across tin rooftops, squalor everywhere. Concrete pipes lay above ground housing thousands of people. And the intense green of rice paddies, egrets wading, cattle grazing, and people everywhere. Before we landed, the sewage smell of Bombay hit me, tightening my stomach. The slum reached up to the very edge of the runway. This was not what I was prepared for.

The big jet landed, and did its long taxi to the airport. Finally coming to a stop, I descended the portable stairway rolled up to the plane and felt the hot, sticky stinky monsoon air cling to me like a soggy blanket. People were scurrying everywhere, chattering in a tongue that I could not recognize at all. I made it through immigration and customs and stepped out into the sunlight again and was immediately overwhelmed by a sea of people, some grabbing at my luggage, some insisting I get in their cab, beggars seeking alms, vendors pushing all manner of cheap goods in my face and shouting at me. I dashed for a taxi and got in, shutting the door to isolate myself from the intensity of the situation and the noise, smells, the desperate needs that appeared aimed at parting me from my money or my luggage, or both. I told the taxi driver the name of a cheap hotel my friend had once stayed at, and the cab roared away into the chaos that is the urban Indian roads. Jetlagged, exhausted, overwhelmed by this chaotic scene, overloaded with sensory input, I had only one desire: to get away, hide, sleep, and hopefully sort out what the hell I had just gotten myself into.

If I write my memoirs someday, perhaps I’ll detail all the things that happened in the next two weeks of my life, which is a whole chapter in itself. Instead, I’m skipping forward to moving from Bombay to Pune, and seeking out the Foreign Student Advisor for Poona (old British name for the city) University. This man, Dr. (Professor) S. B. Mujumdar was a faculty member at Ferguson College (FC). I found him at his home in a small bungalow on the FC campus, along with his joint family: his mother, brother, and his wife and three children, his own wife and two daughters, Vidya and Swati. Again, I’m cutting out a chapter of a remarkable story to get to the bottom line: I ended up living with this extended family for 9 of the 12 months I lived in India. There I experienced the unconditional love that my soul was searching for my entire life. I hold no doubts that this experience was what called me to India 14 years before my arrival. And a permanent bond was formed with this family, which has endured the years, the separations, and all other challenges of long-distance relationships. I am considered as one of the family.

I’ve lost count of the many times I have visited India since. And when I last came to India in 2015, and Dr. Mujumdar, now the Chancellor of his creation, Symbiosis International University (SIU), with 17,000 students, 31 institutions and 10 campuses around India, asked me to come and be a part of this organization and bring my coaching perspective here, I could not refuse and still  be true to my heart. Before caution could slow me down or back me off, I said, “Yes, I’ll do it!” And so I have, working with his daughter, now Dr. Vidya (Yeravdekar), the Pro Chancellor for SIU, to make it all happen. With support from my wife, Sujata, who has remained in USA to manage her business, I’m here by myself for the next six months to explore this Quest. Even today, as I sit here in the Lavale campus and contemplate setting up my office tomorrow, and begin whatever it is I’m to do and be here, I’m not clear yet what my role is, other than I will work to bring coaching and coaching skills and perspective to this university, and thereby catalyze a transformation. For now, I stand in this place of not knowing, in a sea of possibility, with something calling me forth to be and do, yet it is my fate to allow it all to unfold and inspire me to action. The challenges ahead are big: unlearning some of the attitudes, beliefs and perspectives that are ingrained in Indian education and culture, and learning to break down some of the barriers between people to enhance the depth and intimacy of conversation and relationships. I think my task is to bring the best of American culture, and integrate it with that of India. And the secret sauce that will make that work is simply that which I found here 46 years ago: Love.

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On Renewal

When I think of renewal, I first imagine Mother Earth, who, as part of her yearly circuit around Sun, nods in precession, creating our seasons. From where I stand now, in southeastern Minnesota, that means from November to April or May a sterilization and suspension of life. Insects and annual plants die or hibernate, trees draw their sap far below the frost line, many birds leave, animals hibernate or go into torpor, and we humans retreat to the warmer parts of our homes and virtually stop interacting with our neighbors except when removing snow or taking out the garbage.

In another part of the world, in India, with which I am familiar, from March to the beginning of June there is a different sort of sterilization: by heat. Temperatures rise from the 90’s into the 100’s and even much higher. Trees lose their leaves, the ground cracks open and dries, insects die and desiccate, and animals seek out shelter in burrows, and rely on the few remaining sources of water to survive. People retreat indoors from 11 AM to 4 PM to sleep, seek shade and air conditioning, and only venture out in midday with umbrellas to shield them from the scorching radiation of the Sun. In midday sun, you can seemingly feel the force of the photons of light streaming down on you, like an invisible weight of oppressing intensity.

Finally the clouds come and cover the sky. The winds pick up, and dust storms cover all surfaces with a veneer of red dirt. The sky is alive with lightning storms from horizon to horizon. Still no rain, but the whole world anticipates the relief that must come to assure the promise of survival. Without it, there will surely be starvation and death. Farmers hitch up oxen or tractors to the plows, and turn over soil that is more like concrete than growth medium, and sow their hope and faith and wealth in the hot, dry soil. If the rains are delayed too long, they may be ruined. Too soon, and the land is turned to mud.

At last, in the stifling heat and dusty wind, the ocean of air delivers its renewing gift to a desiccated Earth. Clouds, having been cooled by air returning from the Himalaya, condense their moisture. And down comes the rain in torrential glory. Adults and children alike stand on street corners, arms upstretched and unprotected, to soak in the cooling, delicious joy of life-giving rain. Many dance for joy, a whirl of colorful saris and dresses, umbrellas and shirts and songs of love express the relief of summer’s stress, and the belief that life is good.

Instantly, it seems, grasses magically appear overnight. Dusty, barren hills become covered with vibrant greens. Trees bud forth leaves and flowers bloom on every terrace and garden. Flies and mosquitos and butterflies become abundant. Washed clothes hang for days on sheltered lines, taking forever, seemingly, to dry. Moods lift, with popular songs hummed in the kitchens, and late afternoon happy family gatherings happening while the storms and winds pour forth in the early evening.

This is the time of the Goddess, when all things are nurtured, fed and held in gentleness and love. It is a time when traditionally war was virtually impossible to wage. This is a time to stay home while paths are flooded or washed out and impassible. A time to celebrate, and to receive and give promises and thanks at temples and home shrines to a benign and generous deity, who bestows upon us humans all the means and delights of joyful existence, and the promise of the continuance of our tribe.

Renewal has other forms, too. Some are dark and violent, like the cycle of war and peace. Here the dark elements of destruction, chaos and death, of a whole people grieving loss and deprivation and disease and despair, hopefully will come to an end and give way to peace and a rebuilding of society. Sometimes this process can, relatively speaking, go well, as the renewal of Europe and Japan after the ravages of WWII are examples. All too often in our contemporary times, the process of violent renewal by conflict has become stuck in permanent dysfunction. Think of Palestine, Afghanistan, Sudan, and Somalia, to name just a few such nations where conflict has become endemic, and renewal is a frail and distant hope. What ingredients are needed in such places, to catalyze movement out of war and aggression toward the knitting together of the social fabric and the renewal that peace can promise? What can our world’s institutions and leaders do differently that will help to cause what has always been and remains a natural movement from war to peaceful renewal?

I won’t leave you on this somber observation of the dark underbelly of renewal. There is so much more to explore, and I’d like to bring a piece of it home, and make it personal to me and to you. One can imagine renewal as a four-part cycle, starting, if you will, with a slight change or disturbance in a stable system, like that first snowfall. That’s Act I. Act II is the intensification of that disturbance, and the introduction of chaos or profound change, like the freezing of the ground (and water pipes), more snow, dead batteries, white-outs, respiratory diseases, and the rest. Act III is the beginnings of a new or returning order: the lengthening of the days, the arrival of migratory birds, melting snows and runoff and swollen rivers. It’s still in this place of chaos and tension and distress, and without certain knowledge one might imagine that it might go on forever like this. And finally Act IV arrives, replacing all with a new or renewed order, fresh, optimistic, and full of promise and potential.

How does the cycle of renewal play out in our individual lives? I’ll share an example from my own life, and perhaps you can recognize or resonate with this idea in your own story.

I became intensely aware in my early 20’s that, in my belief, I was alone in the world. Yes, people populated it, but from my perspective, my life was mine to live, my world was most real internally, and to a great extent, I did not much need people for my existence. I felt connection to a few individuals, and for them I was a good, loyal and reliable friend. I did not see any particular relationship to most of the rest of the world. Now for many of us, and in particular those, like me, whose worldview and self-view are skewed significantly from reality, somewhere near the magic age of 40, a disturbance happens. You can call it midlife crisis if you like. In short, my act, my collection of beliefs and behaviors, just did not work so well for me anymore. That was the curtain call for Act II for me. Stuff started happening that was disturbing. Reorganization at work, a shakeup that left me with the realization that maybe I need to think about the impacts of what I say and do have on others, particularly the managers. I got married, and ended up three years later divorced. My life seemed to be stuck, vaguely unfulfilled, and except for a few close friends, I was alone. Act III unfolded with my joining a group, one that helped me recover my repressed emotions. Until then, I was primarily able to feel anger and hunger. The rest was not even part of my awareness. Doing the hard, scary work of emotional recovery, I felt alive again.

Too much story to go into details here, but I found myself in community, and joined a group of men who likewise shared their emotional and spiritual lives. And one day, and this is my fourth Act in the cycle of renewal, it dawned on me that I contained a paradox: I am alone in the world and I am in community. Like breathing, as I inhale I am alone, and as I exhale I am in relation to all beings. Life made a new sense. I started talking with anyone I met as if they were my brother or sister or other relation, because I now see with renewed eyes my relatedness to everyone and everything.

So from this perspective of relatedness, I know that we are all unique, but we are all not that different, either. What’s your story of renewal? How may your past belief in one thing, rubbed up against what is real, has collapsed to give way to something new that has enlivened you? How do you form and share your story? How might sharing that renew both you, and those who hear you?

As always, I’d love to hear your comments!



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Communicating Without Controlling Part II: Speaking Your Wants

This is the second in my blog series on Communication. This material comes from Susan Campbell’s book, Saying What’s Real. I find her suggestions have been extremely helpful to me to further develop with my partner our intimacy and trust. I hope you will try out these suggestions and see for yourself.

As I mentioned last time, in order to communicate effectively you have to be in the present. All too often, we speak in reaction to a restimulation of some past unpleasant experience, or to a fear of some made-up (but seemingly real) future event (again, a projection of past fears and experiences into the future). If you can turn your thought structure away from the past and future, and be in the ‘now’, you will find that things are much simpler, and a whole lot less fraught.

Back in December, I blogged about communicating feelings, using the phrase, “Hearing you say that, I feel ___” and filling in the blank with your emotion (sad, angry, happy, etc.), or your sensation (hot, cold, excitement, relaxed, tense, etc.). This month I want to talk about sharing your wants.

For many of us, stating what we want in the moment can be discomfiting. We may have learned early in life that expressing or even feeling our wants leads to disappointment. So rather than take the risk of saying what we want in the moment, we give in to the expectation that our want won’t be met, and that we will feel the pain of disappointment. We protect ourselves by staying silent about our wants, or undercommunicating by using hints, giving up too easily, or being indirect. Alternately, we may overcommunicate our wants by resorting to threat, demands or manipulation. Both are ways we attempt to control the outcome, and ultimately will never lead to right relationship.

Campbell emphasizes that our wants need to be expressed in the NOW. Saying, “I want you to be more affectionate towards me” is more of a directive, and not communicating what is currently present in the relationship. Much better is, “I love it when you hug me tight. Would you do that for me now?” Asking the other to be more affectionate is asking them to hold your request for you and to read your mind as to when you want that affection (not likely to happen). The latter expression actually helps to teach our partner what we like and when we like it. It does not indicate some vague future actions, but something specific and time-based. Hearing that request, I can decide in this moment how I want to respond, and I’m not held to trying to remember what I am expected to do in the future. You take responsibility for expressing what you want in the moment, and the listener has the freedom to say yes or no.

Some other examples of ‘now-based’ vs. control-based requests:

  • I want you to hold my hand. / I want you to hold my hand whenever we go for a walk.
  • I want you to come home early Friday and we can go out to a restaurant. / I wish you’d spend more quality time with me.
  • I want you to tell me you are glad to see me. / I want you to be more reassuring.

Notice that making ‘now-based’ requests involves taking the risk of hearing ‘no’ or ‘not now’. It also involves taking responsibility for asking for what you want when you want it, rather than the once-and-for-all directive that puts the onus of remembering your wants on the listener. Note: it is very unlikely that someone else will be able to feel and respond to our urges!

So, some hints about making requests that will increase your intimacy and effective communication and empower you as a worthy human being:

  • Be specific: don’t ask for something so vague and general that the other person has to make it up. Think in terms of teaching the other person how exactly to please and delight you.
  • Timing is almost everything: don’t ask when you are not likely to get what you want. You are not likely to get a back rub when she’s getting ready for work. And make your ask as close as practical to when you want it to happen, leaving room for necessary planning and preparation.
  • Don’t postpone: holding off on making your wants known can lead to building up of pressure around suppressed needs and desires. That can lead to high-risk stakes where you are unwilling to take “no” or “later” for an answer. When that happens, you are likely to blurt out controlling behaviors: manipulation, threats and demands. What gets communicated then is your urgency and unwillingness to take anything but compliance. It’s better to ask for what you want in the moment, rather than saving up making requests until it’s become a big deal.
  • Ask without expectation: Campbell says “expressing your in-the-moment wants, simply and directly, is a profound act of trust. As such, it helps you learn self-trust.” By asking from a frame of mind that is open to the others’ right to refuse you, you affirm that however it goes, you can and will deal with it. It is critical that you don’t make a conscious or unconscious assumption that you must have your want satisfied. This builds self-trust by relying on yourself to be able to deal with whatever happens.. If you can’t accept a negative response to your request, “then maybe you have a belief that you should always get what you ask for.” And how does that belief serve you?
  • I shouldn’t have to ask: many of us fall into this trap, thinking, “If she really loved me, I wouldn’t have to ask. She’d know what I like.” For you, having to ask is tantamount to admitting that the other doesn’t care much for you. Really, this is just another way of avoiding risk in asking for what you want. You don’t ask for much, so you don’t hear ‘no’ very often. But the chance to develop self-trust and resilience in your relationships is lost. If the other person cares about you, the risk is an intelligent risk. Believe me, hearing no will not injure you!
  • I don’t want to feel indebted: some of us fear that asking for something puts us one down in regard to the other, that our independence will somehow be limited, or that feeling needy is unattractive or uncomfortable. Campbell says this may be due to a caregiver early in live who was undependable, and that it is not safe to feel dependent or needy (I have to include myself here!). But today is not the same as years ago, and the person you face now is not the same person from your childhood (most likely). And now you are far more capable of handling a situation that leads to pain or disappointment than you were as a child. So what do you really risk? Can you bear to live with the disappointment of a NO? Can you bear to live with the joy and fulfillment of a YES? Gamble intelligently, and try taking some risk!

What types of responses to an ask are legitimate? Obviously, a yes is ideal. A ‘Yes, but not now’ should have some specific time attached, like “when I’m done reading this chapter” or “by next Thursday”. “Maybe” begs for some explanation, but at times can be the only response that makes sense (“Maybe, if I can get the day off tomorrow”). Of course there is “No,” and it is really important that this response be respected and understood that it is a ‘no for the present time’, and may change with circumstances. Another response could be “Yes, if you’ll do this for me.” You may consider this bargaining and transactional, rather than given out of love and compassion. Campbell says that there is a place for this sort of agreement in any relationship and this can make things workable when both parties have to stretch a bit for fulfill the other’s request.

What is important to note that asking is more important than getting what you want. By asking, we expose our inner self to others to what we feel in the moment. We learn to speak to what we can control (our wants), and let go of controlling what we can’t (whether we get it or not). We can open ourselves to wanting without being ‘reasonable,’  rather than caretaking others from being exposed to your wants. Wanting is being present to who you are in this moment. It is being vulnerable, and not being controlling.

I’d love to hear your comments. And another tip forthcoming next month!

Namaste, John


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Communicating Without Controlling: Part I

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One of my favorite books on relationship is Susan Campbell’s Saying What’s Real. She claims that research shows that “nearly 90% of human communication comes from (the usually unconscious) intent to control.”  Think about that for a moment. Ninety percent of … Continue reading

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A Wink and a Smile…For Me!

I’m aware that for me, at least, a lot of my internal dialogue has a tendency to run myself down. In the morning, I often find inner “Mom” telling my inner CEO all the things I’d left undone yesterday (and the days before). I start to plan my day out, and another voice (the ‘bad manager’) starts in about how terrible a time manager I am, and I can’t get half of what I planned done even on a good day. There’s chatter inside me about relationships, not being worthy or likeable enough, or diplomatic enough. Bleah!
Over the years, I’ve learned to tone down this negative chatter from my internal gremlins, and I can often tune it out entirely for a few hours. Every morning I practice centering with yogic breathing (pranayama), and radiating out my abundance of love and compassion to the universe in my meditation. When I catch myself rehearsing angry thoughts, I re-center, relax, and re-create myself. This practice works for me, even if it is not a once-and-for-all permanent solution to my ‘stinkin’ thinkin’’.
I was recently talking with my cousin Max on one of our monthly calls, and he mentioned to me how we winks at himself in the mirror as a way of expressing self-love and acceptance. I thought that was a great idea, and for several days, kept reminding myself I want to try that and see what it’s like for me. I had an image in my head about what it would feel like, and what the impact could be, but it must have been my gremlins that held me back from doing more than just a thought experiment. Finally, yesterday, my lucky stars aligned, and I winked at myself in the bathroom mirror. I reflexively smiled back at my image (and image returned the favor…imagine that!). I experienced a sense of self-acceptance that was deeply intimate, tinged with humor and mischief. I felt a sort of loving attraction that had nothing to do with vanity, and everything to do with someone who is up to something in the world, living values fully, and who was not going to be put down today under any circumstances. Life is Good.
I winked again at myself today, enjoying the inside…’joke’ is not the word for it, it’s more like ‘knowingness.’ I find it a way to instantly recall in the present moment the joy of being alive and being me. I feel momentarily released from the tension and heaviness of getting caught up in the culture of doing-ness, and measuring up to arbitrary standards that oppress me, and suck away my connection to my natural happiness, exuberance and sense of anything being possible, my joy.

Now just a second…I’m off to wink once more. I’ll be right back…

Yep, still works like a charm! Thanks Max!

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Accessing the Power of Gratitude

Gratitude 11547471I have been noticing the fall changes lately, enjoying walks filled with breathtaking colors and warm sunlight, and eking out those last few bike rides in mild weather. Sujata and I are also making our Thanksgiving plans, and I’ve been noticing just how much there is to be thankful for, not just in this season of feasting and friendship, but every day as well.

The practice of gratitude as a tool for happiness has been in the mainstream for years. Long-term studies support gratitude’s effectiveness, suggesting that a positive, appreciative attitude contributes to greater success in work, greater health, peak performance in sports and business, a higher sense of well-being, and a faster rate of recovery from surgery.

While we may acknowledge gratitude’s many benefits, it still can be difficult to sustain. So many of us are trained to notice what is broken, undone or lacking in our lives. And for gratitude to meet its full healing potential in our lives, it needs to become more than just a Thanksgiving word. We have to learn a new way of looking at things, a new habit. And that can take some time.

That’s why practicing gratitude makes so much sense. When we practice giving thanks for all we have, instead of complaining about what we lack, we give ourselves the chance to see all of life as an opportunity and a blessing.

Remember that gratitude isn’t a blindly optimistic approach in which the bad things in life are whitewashed or ignored. It’s more a matter of where we put our focus and attention. Pain and injustice exist in this world, but when we focus on the gifts of life, we gain a feeling of well-being. Gratitude balances us and gives us hope.

There are many things to be grateful for: colorful autumn leaves, legs that work, friends who listen and really hear, dark chocolate, warm jackets, tomatoes from a home garden, the ability to read, roses, our health, butterflies, the stars on a clear night. What’s on your list?

 Some Ways to Practice Gratitude

  •  Keep a gratitude journal in which you list things for which you are thankful. You can make daily, weekly or monthly lists. Post your gratitude and share with your friends on FaceBook (my friend Tanya does this, and I feel grateful seeing her posts!). Greater frequency may be better for creating a new habit, but just keeping that journal where you can see it will remind you to think in a grateful way.
  •  Make a gratitude collage by drawing or pasting pictures.
  •  Practice gratitude around the dinner table or make it part of your nighttime routine.
  •  Make a game of finding the hidden blessing in a challenging situation.
  •  When you feel like complaining, make a gratitude list instead. You may be amazed by how much better you feel.
  •  Notice how gratitude is impacting your life. Write about it, sing about it, express thanks for gratitude.

As you practice, an inner shift begins to occur, and you may be delighted to discover how content and hopeful you are feeling. That sense of fulfillment is gratitude at work.

Author’s content used with permission, © Claire Communications

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Righteousness: Guiding Light or Deadly Intoxicant?

RighteousnessRecently I got into an argument with a loved one. I felt I was due an apology. I pleaded my case, and did not get the response I was looking for. Suddenly, I was feeling a familiar sense of aggrandizement and entitlement. How dare this person defy me, when I was so clearly wronged, and my good principles and ethics were trodden on?

The argument, taking place on the way home from Minneapolis, ended in icy silence and entrenched positions. I was holding a judgment of righteous indignation. If you had asked me, I would have told you that God, or any reasonable person, would take my side. Powerful stuff, eh?

That night I suffered the worst case of nerve pain in my feet that I have ever had. I have an undiagnosed nerve disease that randomly causes stabbing pains in my feet. I can go for months symptom free, and then it will strike. Usually it is intense to the point of breathing through it and bearing with it until it passes. But this night it struck with a force so strong my body actually recoiled in convulsions, again and again. I remember thinking that this would not be good for my back. Sure enough, I have been dealing with back spasms ever since…nine days of debilitating pain and exhaustion. I feel alternately humbled, frustrated, depressed, angry (at God) and hopeless. I need to make a difference every day, and this painful experience has shrunk my world to just trying to get myself healed…it feels like the head of a pin is my world now.

Is there a connection between my righteousness and the pain I have experienced for well over a week? I am tempted to say ‘YES,’ because I have been examining my sense and behavior of righteousness for several months now, and I have become aware of the impact my righteousness has on not just me, but my community.

So what is this feeling that so many of us carry, this sense of righteousness? It’s been around for a long time. Webster defines righteousness as the quality of being morally right or justifiable. Wikipedia says righteousness is an important theological concept in western religions. It is an attribute that implies that a person’s actions are justified, and can have the connotation that the person has been “judged” or “reckoned” as leading a life that is pleasing to God.

Ah, so if my behavior is justified by, and pleasing to God, then whoever is on the other side of that is “wrong” or “sinful” or just plain “whacko”? ‘I’m right, you’re wrong, and God’s on my side.’ There, if ever there be a case for ego inflation, is the Mother of all egotistical positions.

Something is definitely askew with my (our) thinking around righteousness. If I need to justify my actions or position, this is a perfect indicator that I am not living from my heart, that I am not in connection with the object of my justification [see Anatomy of Peace, Arbinger Inst.]. I find it hard to believe I’m quoting a devout Christian here, but in the words of Andrew Womack, there “…is confusion about how we become right in the sight of God. It is commonly thought that our actions are the determining factor in God’s judgment of our righteousness. That’s not true. There is a relationship between our actions and our right standing with God, but right relationship with God produces actions, not the other way around. That is to say, we are not made righteous by what we do.

So true, or heartfelt, righteousness comes from us first being in right relationship. Then what follows in action can be righteous. My mistake and my downfall has been to judge my actions to be right as a way of justifying my opposition.

How seducing and intoxicating is this feeling of righteousness? My own experience has been one of towering ego, standing far above the ‘others’ who are not only “in the wrong,” but are, simply, “wrong”. I found this in an article by Roger Lockard, that sums it up nicely: …The sense of righteousness is endlessly versatile. It can become fuel for a rapacious crusade, or a comforting wrap into which we snuggle for affirmation and reassurance. This emotional fix is endlessly enticing, insidiously corrupting, and charged with such compelling authority that we can become willing to die—or kill—in its thrall.  At this point you may conjure images of terrorists piloting planes into skyscrapers or blowing up buses—rabid fanatics bent on vengeance. Or the Timothy McVeighs and Theodore Kaczynskis: alienated, forlorn figures stewing grimly in righteous vitriol. As with addiction in general, people prefer to think of the problem as involving others—not themselves. But in the case of righteousness, such a belief is almost always mistaken. Most of us, whether we be timid or bold, liberal, conservative, or (especially) some version of radical, are prone to imbibing heady infusions of the stuff. Viewing ourselves as “good,” in fact we become grievously toxic, literally intoxicated. In this poisonous state of mind we are able to write off others—often literally billions of others—without hesitation or remorse, because they are “bad.” It’s on the news every day: people addicted to righteousness are wreaking havoc, at home and abroad. And as I view this madness, I feel myself swell up with—what? You guessed it—righteous indignation! As usual, addiction becomes a closed system, feeding on itself.

There are two paths of ‘righteousness’ I have described here. One is ‘grievously toxic’ and intoxicating by inflating our sense of self and rightness of action. The other path is one of humility and compassion, born of being in right relationship with one’s Higher Power, community, and humanity. Actions taken from this state of being in right relationship with all of creation—even if not in agreement with their behavior—is no longer “all about me”, but “All about Us”. You and I get to choose our ‘path of righteousness.’

One final note: having written this piece, my back spasms have eased considerably, at least 50% in the last hour and a half. Read into that what you will. For me, this has been catharsis.

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Hole in the wallHole in the wallHole in the wallIMG_20140405_123526_797Hole in the wallSome annoying things can mask powerful and destructive forces. Only by opening them up to the light can we heal them and use these forces for good and constructive purposes. I know this from my own personal experience, but recently I was able to witness this in a new way.

Here’s the story: for many months we’d been having a problem with a circuit breaker tripping out for several outlets in our kitchen. It’s been mildly annoying, as we have had to move small appliances around to make use of the few remaining outlets that were still working in our kitchen. Every time I would reset that circuit (we got to the point of naming it “Old #12”), it might stay on for a week, or trip off before I could walk out the utility room door. Random, vexing, mysterious is how I would call the situation. We had need recently for an electrician for a small remodeling project we were doing elsewhere in the house, and hired our neighbor Gerry—who is also the Fire Chief for Northfield—to help us on the electrical work. Of course, I added in the task of fixing Old #12.

Our electrician opened the breaker box and tightened the connections to the circuit breaker #12. They weren’t particularly loose, but it was a good place to start, and the circuit stayed on after the workers left. Several days later it tripped again. Ugh! Now what?

I called the electrician back, and a week or so later he got back to me, and we started the search for the hidden cause in earnest. He replaced the breaker with a new one. He disconnected all the downstream boxes from the line. It still tripped, so we knew the problem had to be in the wiring from the breaker box to the first outlet. Out came the drywall saw, and he started opening up my kitchen wall above the box. I cringed at the thought of all the time it would take to repair and repaint, but like ripping a scab off an infected wound, it had to happen.

There was a moment of electric silence as he shined his flashlight into the opening he’d made, and we saw and smelled the charred wires and wood where there had been–at least– a smoldering fire. We experienced that moment with heavy silence and the unfolding realization that a bullet had been dodged. A wire staple holding the wires had been fastened directly into the Romex wire feeding the box. From time to time it made a dead short across the wires, which tripped to breaker when the amps got high enough. We were very uncomfortably close to having had our house burn.

Gerry, our electrician/fire chief said, “I don’t like to use the ‘f-word’, but in this case I will: you had a Fire. If you had put a bigger breaker in, there is no telling what could have happened with more heat.” Gerry got our problem permanently fixed (most of it: there’s a gaping hole in our kitchen wall now). There is a feeling of “there but for the grace of God, go I” that remains for me, evoked each time I look at the ripped opening exposing the black, toxic-smelling evidence beneath the glossy surface of painted wall.

What is it that attracts my attention to this particular point? Could this be a metaphor illuminating the dark workings of shadow that hide unseen deep in my psyche, that which creates danger and threat to life and well-being? Is it an essence that shows itself in a persistent and annoying outward behavior, like the random tripping of the breaker, that is the symptom of something fundamentally in need of healing? By revealing that which lies beneath the surface and exposing it to the light, permanent healing may take place. So it goes, too, with us humans: our annoying, dysfunctional behavior can be the IMG_20140405_123526_797symptom of a repressed, hidden source of power that lies within. Bringing it out into the light, owning it, can let us heal the wound and use that power for goodness. And for awhile, there remain some jagged and sensitive edges that time and caring will close and heal.

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My Sister Left Me

All aloneWe all make assumptions that we act on. Some assumptions we hold by agreements we make with others. Some assumptions are implicit in our cultural expectations, like how I should behave as a parent or husband, or as a person of my age group. Still other assumptions we just ‘make up,’ as if out of thin air, like my assumption that if driving somewhere out of town with my wife, I will be behind the steering wheel. We quite possibly have to make assumptions about others and the world in order to function efficiently. Imagine what it would be like to live for even one day in this busy world without making up any assumptions about others and oneself. But we often get a rude awakening when those assumptions turn out to be untrue, and nothing more than our wishful thinking.
I’d like to share with you a story that is an example of my own awakening when my assumptions were challenged by circumstances as a youngster in my first days of kindergarten. This came to me a few days back as a recovered memory (something that happens to me frequently as I get older). These memories often have a present-day message for me hidden in them, and this one is no exception.
I was just starting kindergarten at Clara E. Coleman School in New Jersey. Back then there were no buses, and everyone walked to the elementary school located in their part of town. My sister, Stephanie, would wait for me by the exit doors at school to take me home. I relished the time with her. She is almost five years older than I, so she knew all about school, and what to expect, and I looked up to her wisdom and caring for me. She also provided security for me, as the school lay beyond my usual range of exploration in the neighborhood. Out beyond busy Prospect Street, I knew no one, did not have any friends, and did not normally go, at least on foot and especially not alone.
Our arrangement of walking together worked well for a week or so, until one day I left my class and started walking toward home. I’d gone as far as the first street on the edge of school grounds when it hit me that my sister was not with me. Suddenly, I felt alone. Very alone, in that moment. Feeling abandoned and vulnerable, I just started to cry. The uniformed crossing lady at the corner saw me standing there, alone, all tears and sobs, and approached me. “What’s the matter?” she asked me.
“My sister didn’t come to walk me home. She left me,” I said.
“Well, do you know your way home from school?,” she queried.
There was a moment for me of transformation of consciousness, a moment when the assumption I held that I could not make it home without Stephanie lifted. I was struck by the fact that I had the resource to get home on my own; I knew the way, even where to take the short cuts to get back home, and all along the route there were Safety Patrol kids who would make crossing busy suburban Jersey streets safe.
My assumption about dependency in this situation was exploded. I was truly empowered with my own inner resource and knowledge. I wiped my tears and runny nose, set my sights down the long street, and with a much lighter step, made my way home on my own. This was a big accomplishment for me, as much for the physical feat of finding my way as for the emotional and spiritual feat of learning that I have the inner resource to find my path in life as well.
So, here’s an invitation to you the next time one of your made-up assumptions is exploded by Reality, because this is the Universe calling you forth to BE. You may be feeling frustrated, abandoned, or like a trap door just opened under your feet: Trust that the universe supports us when we are in need and open to listening. Stay with that feeling of falling, the chaos, the not knowing. Just stay in the discomfort for a moment or two breathing, and then ask yourself what is real and true for you in this moment? Be open to the answer that calls you forth, the one that empowers you, that connects you to other humans or to nature or to the cosmos. Your exploded assumption, like a big balloon that has just burst, may give you a shock, but it also reveals a piece of the world that was previously hidden behind that big, puffy, colorful made-up bit of fantasy that you have been carrying around, letting it get in front of your face to block clear vision.

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Arrival in Bali

IMG_20131216_170805_591Monday, Dec. 16

This was a tough travel. After four hours flying to SF, then a 13 hour flight on China Airlines to Taipei, and another 5 hr. flight to Denpasar, Bali, it was just a short taxi ride to our place in Nusa Dua. There, feeling sick, jet lagged, and worse than I ever have in recent memory, I slept from 8 pm to 5 am today. My body is awakening to the warmth, humidity, gentleness of both the physical atmosphere and the vital energy of this special island. Sujata and I had an early breakfast, and headed for the beach just a hundred yards away from our room. The ocean was deliciously warm, calm and inviting. We played together, I following her lead in splashing and jumping for joy to be alive in this beauty and peace. In the distance, to the north looms the great volcano, Agung, who is the dominant feature of the landscape on the entire island. It is enormous. It is a reminder, like the wind turbines of Northfield, something I can see from miles away on my bike rides in the countryside. But this volcano orients me, not to a settled man-made place, but to an entire ecology of humans, land, sea, tropical air, and the stupendous forces that lay underneath us that from time to time make their presence known with smoke, ash, fire, and molten rock. We sit upon the Ring of Fire, that part of Mother Earth that loves, gives, and receives unconditionally, and in virtual silence. She provides our support on the earth we stand upon, our nurturance in the food and substance she offers our bodies. She just as unconditionally accepts our offerings of care and carelessness, of cultivation and pollution, and in the end accepts with the same unconditional acceptance, the remains of the body we leave behind us in death. And sometimes, Mother Earth lets loose her inner fiery core, discharging smoke, ash, lava and an anguished cry that are a warning to awaken us to not only her unlimited power, but our own. For a fire boils away in our core, giving life its passion and force and direction. Such a containment of our own life force must manifest itself in some purposeful and meaningful way, either to connect us to our reality as all-related, or in the opposite direction of the insanity of ego-inflation and isolation from Divine unity. Agung, this great presence, calls me today to a shared consciousness, to peace and gratitude for being, not toward any particular object, but to All.

Yesterday and today, Sujata and I have created a Stake for the day. The stake ties us to a purpose, awareness and commitment. We create it, and then say it in unison until it feels powerfully shared. Today our stake it “Joy, Beauty, and Presence create soulful writing.” We both have an urge to write today, and the joy, beauty and presence are what we want to bring as inspiration to that creation. She is downstairs in the garden, I in our room, but I feel the connection to Sujata as we are both writing, creating and relating what it is that is in us.
We awoke before dawn this morning, our sleep done, at least til afternoon nap time. We had our tea, and watched the sun breaking the horizon at low tide. We were amazed to see all that was exposed by the disappearance of the sea from the fringes of coastal beach. Here there were sand bars a hundred yards out, exposed and inviting to stand amidst the blue waters. All around are the boats, some high and dry, and others anchored in deeper waters, floating gently. The sounds of birds, pigeons and titwees (as they are called in India), and others unfamiliar, created the music that cheered on the dawn. As the sun arose amidst the cloudy horizon, we felt the warmth immediately. Down on the beach we walked among rocks of jettys, watching crabs scurry into their hiding places. Snails glided across the path toward their shady refuges as the sun caught fire and the temperature rose by the minute. I watched the tide for awhile, slowly and determinedly rising with the sun, covering up one feature in the wet sand after another, the ocean reclaiming what is rightfully her own.
We had breakfast today with the last of our oatmeal, and a huge helping of papaya bought at the local mini mart. With no reason to hurry and ‘get on with our day,’ every bite felt like a blessing of Mother Earth. This is the gift of beauty, joy and presence, and it creates more than soulful writing. I feel it creating love.

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