Thursday, October 17, 2013

No one and nothing can take away our real value

Over the years, I must have talked to hundreds of people who wanted guidance to help them face some personal problem. In one way or another, we always ended up talking about self-respect. Especially in those cases where the person was feeling disheartened or incapable in the face of an obstacle, there always seemed an inability to recognize and sustain the sense of self-value.
Soon after launching the book, 'Human Values in the Workplace' I was invited to give a talk about it in the Brazilian Central Bank. As it was going to be televised to its units throughout the country, I went there the day before to make sure everything was fine. As I walked into the building in Brasilia, some attractive posters caught my attention. They had launched a campaign for people to treat banknotes with greater care. They informed me that they could save up to 15 million dollars a year if people didn't mishandle printed money. This gave me an idea about what I could do in my talk. That night I made a color photocopy of a 100 real note (about US$50).
The next day, after 20 minutes into the talk I pulled the note out of my pocket and said that I was feeling generous and would give it to anyone who raised their hand. About eight people put up their hands. Very ceremoniously I screwed it up and asked them if they still wanted it. They said of course they would. One of the organizers gave me a frantic look as if to say - What are you doing? What about the campaign? I indicated to her not to worry.
I then threw it onto the floor and stomped on it. Asked if they still wanted it, the people replied they did. Finally I picked it up and tore it in half. In the astonished silence, I offered both pieces to the first taker. As a staffer he joked, “I guess I could change it at the Central Bank”. There was a even greater amazement (and relief) when I announced that it was a fake note. With a glanced I calmed down the anxious organizer. I explained that I would never do such a thing with with a real note. I did it to show the foundation of self-respect and thereby, values-based behavior. In a way, we are like a note of real money. It doesn’t matter what the world does to us. It can screw us up. It can stomp on us. It can even tear us in half. Even so, our intrinsic value does not change.
Self-respect is about knowing and holding on to our own value. There are aspects of our foundational consciousness that do not change with the circumstances. It’s like a spiritual DNA. Even though we fluctuate with the changing scenes around us, certain deep qualities such as love, peace, happiness and truth are our internal ballast. They are part of us. No one and nothing can take them away. We lose them basically because we forget who we really are. When that happens, we also forget what is truly ours.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Think less, think better (1) - Learn to meditate

As we grow up we learn to speak, to count, to read and to write. A lot of trial and error and most of us get along reasonably. But no one ever taught us how to think - how to create the right type of thoughts and avoid useless, unproductive and even negative ones. Thinking just seems to happen as an endless stream. Whatever appears in the mind takes us with it, produces feelings and moods and may even distance us from reality.
Recently I was giving a talk to the executives of a regional airport authority in Brazil, all a little stressed out due to getting the airports ready for the 2014 World Cup. I asked the participants how would it be if they ran their airports in the same way they ran their minds. Everyone laughed, but it was a serious question. During the rush hours, the main domestic airport in Sao Paulo can reach a peak of a plane landing or taking off every two minutes. The mind is like an airport. Thoughts, feelings, memories, sensations and inspirations land and take off with an even faster speed. 
I made a quick calculation. If there are 1,440 minutes in a day, and to make it easy, we spend 440 those sleeping, that leaves 1,000 of wakefulness. If there is some mental activity even every two seconds this adds up to 30,000 'flights' a day. These fragments of consciousness swirl around in an often meaningless way, hampering our clarity and concentration. Bits and pieces of our thinking reduce our determination and productivity. In the same way that an airport has to have an air traffic controller to sequence the flights and avoid accidents, we need to learn how to think in a more ordered way. Raja Yoga meditation is a great way to do exactly this.
Using thoughts and not denying them or trying to go beyond them, we can literally train ourselves to think less, think better and achieve more. It's a step-by-step process:
1) Create an aim for your meditation. Think what you want to experience, for example, peace, love or spiritual power. Write down a few ideas connected with the experience that you want to have. These ideas will become the 'field of contemplation' in your meditation.
2) Become a detached observer. Look at the stream of thoughts like a passenger in a train looking at the scenes passing by the window. Don't try to fight the thoughts. Just look at them and remember that you are their creator. No one else has come into your head and is creating your thoughts. You are. If you try to stop thinking something it will get stronger. So, just let it come and go. Put your attention on the seat of consciousness, where you are actually thinking. Visualize a subtle seat behind the eyes, in the middle of the forehead and sit your thinking there.
3) Remember your aim. Let's say you had decided to experience your own spiritual power. Look at the ideas that you had written down. What is spiritual power connected with? Can my thoughts reach the Source of spiritual power? What does it feel like to recharge the inner batteries? If you were more powerful internally, how would you look like with relation to your work, relationships and the tasks that you have to do? In this way you create a 'field of contemplation' in which you begin to slow down your thinking and become more focused.
4) Gradually one of the ideas seems to become more important. If you had to become the essence of the aim of spiritual power, which of the thoughts that you are thinking is most connected with that? Focus on that one thought.
5) See yourself as a tiny point of conscious energy and gradually become the embodiment of the experience that this focused thought implies. As you go deeper into the experience you actually stop thinking. You are no longer intellectualising about what's happening. Stay there for some time, and gradually come back to the wariness of your surroundings.
If you can do this type of mental exercise on a regular basis you will definitely learn to think less, think better and achieve more with less effort.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

The art of conversation

How many times are we able to have the conversation we really want to have -one that can clear all of the debris of misunderstanding and set the way to a clear future? To converse means to see something together with someone. If I see things very differently from them, communication can break down completely. Communicare in Latin literally means to share what is common. The art of meaningful conversation is based on being able to establish a common ground with the person I talk to, irrespective of his or her age, cultural, social or educational background. If I can't or don't make this effort, there is a real danger of the conversation becoming two monologues. This is especially important when the outcome is crucial or the topic difficult.
Over the years I have had the great fortune to visit almost 100 countries covering many cultures and traditions. I can definitely say that the differences between us are quite superficial. We have much more in common with each other then we imagine.
I have asked the question, 'what is important in a good relationship between two human beings?' to the most diverse audiences - scientists in Greece, saleswomen in Argentina, indigenous villagers in Bolivia, workers in India, monks in Korea. Invariably, they all replied what you, the reader, are probably thinking at the moment - respect, trust, honesty, empathy and so on. Mothers love and suffer with their children anywhere, in pretty much the same way. Taxi-drivers in Sydney, Istanbul or Madrid get angry the same way and probably for the same reasons. The words may be different but the gestures are the same. Both the president and the receptionist working in the same company want to be happy if they can, want to love and be loved if possible and seek to understand and be understood. After all, they are both human beings before they are the roles they play.
Underneath the skin colors, creeds, languages and preferences, we value and aspire in a similar way. I just have to stand back and see the common ground where I can meet others as they are without prejudice. Failing to do this leads to misunderstanding and conflict.
I especially have to understand that the image of the other person I carry in my mind is probably not them at all. I talk to 'my' them and they talk to 'their' me. And neither of us really converse with the real self behind the images. 
How many times can my vision see behind a mind that is different from mine, an intellect that works at another level, and a set of personality traits that have little to do with mine? How many times does the soul connect with the soul so that real common understanding can be shared? This is the challenge.