Tuesday, December 31, 2013

There are things more important in life than meetings

Definitions are not enough

The meeting had ground to a halt yet again on the subject of which compound would offer least electrical resistance. The deep-hued rings under the scientists’ eyes reflected the long hours they had spent in pursuit of the enigma of super-conductivity, which had been the focus of their research over the past few months.Professor Wilkins, a scientist greatly renowned for his ruthless investigative methods into the secrets of physical chemistry, said, “I’m sure if we were able to increase the amount of bismuth in the oxide compound we would get closer to the desired results. Just imagine what zero electrical resistance would bring us - super-fast chips, super-cheap electro-magnets… The possibilities are endless.” His face took on a far-away look as he thought about all the ways in which their research, if it succeeded, could transform so many areas of everyday life.“I personally am inclined toward the strontium. In any case, how far have we reached?” his colleague, Dr Smith, interrupted.The professor, pulled out of his reverie, smiled. “We have gotten within 23 degrees of absolute freezing and . . .”Suddenly, the door to the meeting room swung open as one of the lab assistants burst through, a cordless phone in hand. “Professor, there’s a call for you.”Professor Wilkins couldn’t hide his irritation. “Didn’t I tell you not to disturb us!”“It’s urgent, sir. It’s your wife.”Gruffly, the professor picked up the phone. “How many times have I told you not to call me here? What is it?”“Something terrible has happened,” his wife sobbed. “Our Johnny has been knocked down by a car in front of the house. I’ve laid him on the sofa and called an ambulance but I can’t feel his pulse.”He went pale. “I’ll be right there.” The phone slipped from his hand as he looked over at his team.“What’s the matter?” asked Dr Smith. “You look like you’ve seen a ghost.  Professor? Professor?”The professor grasped the edge of the table and stumbled out of the room without even picking up his papers . . .

Interpreting the tale

While research into the laws of physics has led to a deeper understanding and harnessing of matter and energy, our lives and deeper hopes move at a different pace to our intellectual activity.From time to time we are jolted by events that defy our intellectual capacity. When the unpredictable occurs, we require something beyond mere definition. We need inner power.Meditation helps us to retain balance in the face of the unexpected. In one moment we can be totally focused on and efficient in our professional capacities and, in the next, able to stay calm and concerned as we deal with whatever personal difficulties arise. The more able we are to focus and concentrate, the more able we are to avoid useless speculation and maintain enough patience to await the facts.

This is a short story I wrote in an anthology called 'Tales for Better Living'

Thursday, December 26, 2013

How to stay happy no matter what happens

Think of the last time you became upset about something trivial. You locked yourself out of your house and battered your fist vainly on the door. They announced that your plane would be delayed for three hours due to a mechanical failure and you missed an appointment. You changed to a shorter queue in the supermarket and the person at the cash register in front of you decided to pay his gas, electricity and water bills. The traffic was bad so you decided to take your favorite shortcut, only to find it much worse than the road you had been on. Our lives are populated by many such unforeseen events that come as challenges to sense of well being. We surrender our happiness to them for nothing. The only return for getting upset is a headache. If this becomes chronic we may possibly be candidates for a shorter life.
Once I was driving in Buenos Aires with a friend. When the traffic lights turned green, the car stalled and I took a few seconds to sort it out. Suddenly, I heard a taxi driver flying past on my right shouting the word 'mongólico' at me. He actually wasted his fury because, as I was still learning Spanish, I didn't understand the expression. My friend told me that he had just called me an imbecile. Later on, I made a quick calculation. If he was able to gain five seconds at every traffic light, at the end of the day, he would have earned around 10 minutes of 'extra' time. In my mind I created a caricature of a an anger-fed traffic-light terror shouting 'mongólico' to everyone who dared to impede his progress. Driving six days a week for 30 years and tearing off at every traffic light comes to about 2 months extra time! But how much shorter would his life be living in such a permanent state of anxiety?
Recently in a talk in Orlando I asked the audience if their lives were comfortable. On the highway from Tampa, I had seen an immense RV towing both a golf cart and a car - a perfect combination for the itinerant comfort-lover. The great majority said yes. Then I asked them if they were happy, no matter what happened. They said that they could remain more or less happy only until the next test came along like the ones above - a lost key, a delayed plane, a slow queue or a clogged up shortcut. These are only trivial tests. Imagine how we lose it when the tests are really important like our house burning down or a loved one diagnosed with malignant cancer. The fact is we need a bigger stock of understanding and spiritual power to get us through the chaos of each day.

The secrets that I have learned 

mainly through my connection to the teachings of the Brahma Kumaris, that have helped me over the years to deal with situations and remain happy:

1) Be a detached observer

This means to keep a broad view of whatever is going on. All events are part of an incredibly vast play, with scenes and scenery. Every single person has a role to play. I just have to concentrate on my role and play it to the best of my ability. Everyone is under the influence of their own past and present circumstances. People just really want to be happy and avoid sorrow if possible. They want to understand things and be understood. They want to love and to be loved. That's it. Let the show go on.

2) Happiness is in giving

The flow of happiness is one way, from the inside out. In a sense I cannot take happiness from others or things. I can only really give it. It's the sort of thing that in giving it actually increases. Therefore, I have to learn to activate it and find something or someone to direct it towards.

3) The other half of me is myself

The endless search for fulfilment through material objects and relationships comes to an end when we realise that we will never find ourselves in other people or in physical things. Someone else, no matter how great they are, or how poetic I am, can't jump into my soul and transform my feelings. Things and people can inspire me but what and how I feel, depends on me. Matter of course is something that satisfies the physical senses, but it cannot fit in the soul. The very search for fulfillment starts with an inner voice crying to be found. The famous other half of the orange is me!

4) I am responsible

I am responsible for my spiritual and emotional state. There are present and past influences of course, but I cannot say, "I am like this because of someone els or because I was ill-treated 20 years ago." Life is full of situations and tests, but unless I assume responsibility for my state of mind and spirit, I will always be at the mercy of them.

5) Sense stimulation is not happiness

The world provides an endless supply of sense stimulation. Tossed between movies, mp3s, video games and deliberating enticing advertisements, I can unthinkingly relinquish the simple things that surround me and be thrust into a world that is someone else's creation. I forget to be the author of my own.
No matter how beautiful the scene, how melodious the music or how tasty  the food, my sense organs are not the deeper me nor do they feed the deepest of all desires - to understand life and my real role in it.

6) Don't create and sustain unreal expectations

Just as I have my limitations, everyone else also has. It is unreal to expect someone to be constantly loveful, respectful and honest with me, when I am often not able to do this for myself. I cannot use someone else's respect to compensate for my own lack of self-respect. If I feel someone has betrayed me it's because I betrayed myself first. It's like betting on a horse-race. My horse didn't win. I just tear up the ticket and carry on.

7) Happiness has the same size as my potential for good

All of us has a vocation for serving others. If I can the world of needs and the needy beyond my own ego, I can begin the work of liberating what is potentially good in me from the prison of my ignorance. Being truly generous and gracious with others, no matter how they behave, is the beginning of being able to help them. Helping others to be happier than they have been able to, is the greatest charity. My potential for serving others and my possible happiness, have the same size.

8) Learn to be present

Happiness can only be experienced in the present. I can remember that I was happy yesterday, but I can't re-experience it now. If I am always looking backwards trying to extract happiness from the past or looking forward th the happiness that I may have this evening, or on the weekend, or when I am on vacation, the present opportunities slip away. If I go for a walk, let me appreciate the sky, the trees and the day. If I  am with other people, let me appreciate them as they are. Let me savor the food, enjoy the music, feel the breeze without depending on them. I will many new reasons to be happy in the simple things.

9) Meditate daily to increase the stock of understanding and spiritual power

Unhappiness is all about a lack of spiritual power. If I spend more money than I earn over a long period of time, I can become bankrupt. If I go on spending more spiritual power than I can replenish daily, then I become spiritually bankrupt. The trick therefore is to build up stock through the daily practice of meditation. If I can meditate well for 20-30 minutes first thing in the morning, for 2-3 minutes now and then during the day and another 20-30 minutes in the evening, my stock of spiritual power should be enough to get me through most situations. This power tends to accumulate as I learn to think better. When major hurdles appear there should be enough to pass over them also.
See the post on meditation practice on this same blog (Think less, think better - Learn to meditate).

Monday, December 9, 2013

The poetry of transformation (1)

I walked alone, marooned by thoughts, problems of straw clinging to me.
Hands clenched, the greater destination impeded.
I throw myself into the fire of love and see that only the straws are
The shell of stains melts and reveals the untouched self.
What is the sacrifice, if only the useless burns?
And its flames illuminate a straight path to wholeness.
What loss is there?
If my fortune ignites again
And its light breaks the power of ancient shadows enshrined on the altar of a blind mind.
In the mirror of knowledge, only truth is reflected worthily
Only the one who is free of burden has the lightness to see himself.

From my book in Portuguese: Reflexões para uma vida plena 

Monday, December 2, 2013

Think less, think better (3) - Understand the essence of things

There was a phase in my life that I worked as a perfumist. I learned that, just as flowers have a tiny percentage of essential oil, situations also have a small part of importance and a great amount of unnecessary details.
In the old days, in the south of France where lavender is cultivated, the local people would set up a distilling unit alongside the field of flowers and they make a simple distillation there itself. (These days the process is mechanized). The proportion of essential oil in lavender is about 0.05%, that is, 5 kilos of oil can be extracted from each ton of petals. Whoever has seen a ton of petals knows that would fill up a huge hall. It would be absurd for them to take cartloads of petals back to the town to extract the oil there. Since it is a quite stable substance, it was distilled in the field and refined later. The chaff was then used to fertilize future plantations. In the same way, instead of carrying forward the bulky chaff of insignificant details from the diverse situations that I pass through in life, I should learn to identify and retain the 0.05% of their meaningful essence. It's much lighter and easier to use!
Many times, that which is really important escapes me because I insist on carrying in mind the trivialities of the non-important. If I just check the last ten times that I became annoyed I will see that the agente provocateur was some trifling detail. Rage always tends to exaggerate.
There are three main effects in the person that has head full of chaff:
·      mental and intellectual overload
·      personal fragmentation
·      inner sense of weakness or lethargy
I should deeply understand these three thieves that strip me of my quality as a human being.
Continuing on with this perfumery analogy there is a situation of jasmine. The jasmine flower is very delicate and its esters are quite volatile. Its essence cannot be distilled at the side of the fields. Hand picked jasmine flowers are placed in special solvents which allow the so-called jasmine absolute to precipitate out. The solvents are then evaporated off. A more costly method called enfleurage is used in France. the petals are placed in a frame frame smeared with fat to absorb the odor of fresh jasmine flowers. The fat is then processed to obtain the jasmine absolute. In either case the price of a kilo of jasmine absolute, depending on the quality, can be up to US$5000. The characteristic aroma of jasmine is due to an ester called benzyl acetate, which makes up 65% of the oil. Benzyl acetate costs only a 2-3 dollars a kilo. Have a guess which one they use for cheap perfumes and incense!

In the same way, many situations look true but in fact they aren't. The pure essence has been substituted by something false. That's why we really need to work on our power of discernment so that after the situations have come and gone, I remain only with that which is true and neither chaff or falsehood weighs me down.