MattAndJojang's Blog

God. Life. Spirituality.

Posts Tagged ‘Kindness

The Folly of Human Conceits

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A photo by Voyager 1 of our planet Earth taken from a distance of 6 billion kilometers. The photo is popularly known as "Pale Blue Dot."

A photo by Voyager 1 of our planet Earth taken from a distance of 6 billion kilometers. The photo is popularly known as “Pale Blue Dot.”

There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we’ve ever known.

From this distant vantage point, the Earth might not seem of any particular interest. But for us, it’s different. Consider again that dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every “superstar,” every “supreme leader,” every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there – on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.

The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that in glory and triumph they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of this pixel on the scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner. How frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds. Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the universe, are challenged by this point of pale light. Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity – in all this vastness – there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.

The Earth is the only world known, so far, to harbor life. There is nowhere else, at least in the near future, to which our species could migrate. Visit, yes. Settle, not yet. Like it or not, for the moment, the Earth is where we make our stand. It has been said that astronomy is a humbling and character-building experience. There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we’ve ever known.

–Carl Sagan

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Written by MattAndJojang

August 5, 2015 at 10:36 am

How a 29-Year-Old Stockbroker Saved 669 Lives

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Nicholas Winton is surprised when he realizes he is in an audience filled with children whose lives he saved. This emotional video clip is from the BBC television program “That’s Life”.

“I was told that my sister and I were going to be sent to England. I was only 9 and not aware of the situation. A lot of us thought it was an adventure. We didn’t know what was happening.”

Here’s what happened. Milena Grenfell-Baines and 668 other mostly Jewish children were transported from Czechoslovakia to England in order to save their lives before the outbreak of WWII.

The man who made this possible was Sir Nicholas Winton. In 1939, Winton and a friend, Martin Blake, were supposed to take a skiing vacation. Instead, Blake, who worked with refugees, told Winton, at the time a 29-year-old stockbroker, that he should visit him in Prague and help with the refugees fleeing Hitler’s advancing armies.

Nicholas Winton did go to Prague, and he was deeply affected by what he saw: thousands of refugees driven out of Sudetenland, a Czechoslovakian area recently under Nazi control (Britain and France agreed to allow Hitler to annex a large part of Czechoslovakia in an attempt to avoid a World War and the Nazis had started to take control of the country.) There was no plan to save the refugees from the looming danger of the Nazis.

So Winton decided to act. He told the BBC, “The task was enormous but I had to do something. The so-called Kindertransports—initiatives to bring children west—had been organized elsewhere, but not in Prague.”

“Everybody in Prague said, ‘Look, there is no organization in Prague to deal with refugee children, nobody will let the children go on their own, but if you want to have a go, have a go.’”

Winton contacted multiple governments for help, but only England and Sweden agreed. The British government approved his bringing children to the UK if he could find them homes and make a deposit of 50 pounds for each child.

From March to August 1939, Winton worked as a stockbroker by day and a rescue worker at night to get the kids to the UK. Winton advertised in British newspapers and in churches and temples to find families. He raised money for transportation and managed logistics—even forging entry permits when the government was moving too slowly.

Winton saved 669 children, working until war broke out and kids could no longer leave Czechoslovakia.

Winton stresses that he receives too much attention and that his collaborator in Prague—Trevor Chadwick—and everyone who participated deserves credit.

In fact, Winton kept his heroic deeds to himself for almost 50 years. His wife, Grete, didn’t even know about his rescue efforts until 1988, when she found his scrapbook in the attic, with records, photos, names and documents from his efforts. With his wife’s encouragement, Winton shared his story, which led to his appearance on the BBC television program That’s Life. The emotional video clip in this article is from that show—you’ll see the moment when he realizes that the studio audience is composed mostly of people he rescued.

The rescued children, many of them now grandparents, still refer to themselves as “Winton’s children.” And Winton said that hardly a week goes by when he isn’t in touch with one of the children or their relatives.

Vera Gissing, one of the rescued children, said, “If he hadn’t gone to Prague on that day [instead of on his skiing vacation], we wouldn’t be alive. There are thousands of us in this world all thanks to him.”

When asked by a class doing a history project for advice, Nicholas Winton said “Don’t be content in your life just to do no wrong. Be prepared every day to try to do some good.”

~Brad Aronson

Written by MattAndJojang

October 25, 2012 at 9:04 am

R-E-S-P-E-C-T

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Photo: Mommysaurus75/Flickr

“All I’m askin’ is for a little respect when you come home” — Aretha Franklin

I was raised by “the help.” I don’t mean that “the help” served me in my parents’ mansion. No, my parents were “the help” in white households — my mother a domestic servant and my father a handyman. While their employment was not necessarily the most desirable, domestic workers of their generation practiced in their lives what they had learned from those who professed a more genteel upbringing.

My parents were in their prime during the years of the Great Depression. They both worked in “some of the finest white homes” of their community. They earned a paltry $4.50 per week. Still, they were blessed to have any job as millions went unemployed in ways that even today’s economic climate can’t begin to mirror. During it all, those two people thought it important to teach their children basic manners and respect.

Our home was small in comparison to today’s dwellings but it was paid for and proudly ours. Mom and Dad had paid Mrs. Watters, the previous owner, on a weekly basis so that we kids would have a roof over our heads. Dad contributed his weekly 50 cents by walking to work rather than taking the trolley — even during the heavy snows of winter. Times were hard, the country was in disarray, but the Grays had a roof over their heads, food on the table and hope for a better future.

Much of that hope was invested in their children and in the future our folks prayed would result from their own sacrifices and continued efforts. Part of that hoped-for future could be seen in the ritual which unfolded when visitors were expected. We kids would be scrubbed clean, dressed neatly, and expected to wait behind the swinging kitchen door as the guests settled in the living room which adjoined the dining area. At some point after the guests had arrived, either they or our parents would bring up the topic of “the children.” Then my mother would call out, “Children!” and we would enter the room, with a bow from the boy (me) and a curtsy from the girl (my sister). We quietly took our seats with our backs straight, feet firmly on the floor, and with hands properly positioned on our laps. We spoke only when spoken to and responded with the expected “Sir” or “Ma’am.”

Ours was a world of respect — respect for our parents, neighbors, anyone older, but — more than anything — respect for ourselves. These weren’t the affectations of “the help” trying to copy the masters; it went much deeper than that. It went to a true appreciation of human life, regardless of wealth or station.

Some years ago I journeyed to Oklahoma to attend the funeral of a young cousin. He had lived in Pennsylvania while his mother lived in Southern California, but he had chosen to endure his watch for resurrection morning among other family members in the little cemetery in Wybark, Oklahoma. That community wasn’t much more than a dozen homes stretched over the length of a couple of football fields, just five mile from Muskogee, Oklahoma — the closest “big” city.

It was during the drive from the mortuary in Muskogee to the Wybark cemetery that I was reminded of those kinder days, those periods of human respect that appear to have left us now. As the funeral procession moved along the way, motorists on our side of the divided four-lane highway stopped, exited their vehicles and stood in respect for the departed. But the crowning deference came when cars going in the opposite direction of that divided highway also stopped to give honor to the deceased. No one was aware of whose remains were carried in that hearse, be they white or black, rich or poor, male or female. It was simply understood that a child whom God respected by giving them breath had flown home.

I miss those gentler times.

May we all be blessed.

~ Darius A. Gray

Written by MattAndJojang

February 6, 2012 at 10:36 am

If You Want To Be a Rebel, Be Kind

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Pancho Ramos Stierle Meditating At The Occupy Oakland Raid Site

The police had declared Monday, November 14th of 2011 as the day of the raid on the Occupy Oakland encampment.  It was the first Occupy site to call for a general strike that shut down the fifth largest port in the country; it was also the first Occupy gathering to report a shooting and a murder, as police violence also reached new heights.  With tensions mounting amidst political chaos, police escalated their violent crackdowns and the narrative of fear.  Hundreds of thousands of dollars were spent in preparation for the raid, police from around the state were called in, and uncertainty filled the air.

The night before, Pancho Ramos Stierle heard about growing tensions in the community and thought, “If police are stepping up their violence, we need to go and step up our nonviolence.”  So on that Monday morning at 3:30AM, Pancho and his housemate Adelaja went to the site of the Occupy Oakland raid.  With an upright back and half-lotus posture, they started meditating.  Many factions of protesters were around but the presence of strong meditators changed the vibe entirely.  Around 6:30AM, the police showed up in full force.  Full-out riot gear, pepper spray, rubber bullets, tear gas.  All media was present, expecting a headline story around this incredibly tense scene.  Instead, they found 32 people, all peaceful, with Pancho and Adeleja meditating with their eyes closed in the middle of the Plaza.  As the police followed their orders of arresting them, people took photos — particularly of two smiling meditators surrounded by police looking like they’re ready to go to war.  Within a day, that photo would spread to millions around the world, as Occupy Oakland raid ended without any reported violence.

One such experience can be enough for a lifetime.  For Pancho, though, this is just run of the mill.  In small ways and big, he is always looking to step up his compassion in the most unexpected places.

Raised in Mexico, Pancho was fascinated by the stars, planets, and galaxies.  He would always look up in outer space and admire the border-less cosmos that we inhabit; and he’d imagine looking down at Planet Earth from outer space — and not seeing any lines across countries.  He envisioned a world of oneness and unity, and when he got a full scholarship to study the cosmos at University of California at Berkeley, his vision got a huge boost.  He moved to Berkeley to pursue his PhD in Astrophysics.

On campus one day, he serendipitously engages in a profound hallway conversation with a janitor.  It opens his eyes to the janitor’s incredibly difficult life.  Something awakens in him, as he actively starts looking for solutions.  “I saw that instead of PhD’s, what the world needs more are PhDo’s,” Pancho recalls.

As time went on, Pancho realizes that his research supports an institution that actively proliferates nuclear weapons.  That tips him over the edge.  Not only did he stop cooperating with the university system, he starts raising a dissenting voice.

When his complains fall on deaf ears, he partakes in a nine-day fast with other students and professors across California to request an open dialogue with the UC Regents — the governing body of the University of California.  The fast cultimates at a public hearing of the Regents.  When the student request is denied, they lock arms in nonviolent protest and sit peacefully. To disengage them, the police are ordered to make an example of one of them.  They lift up this man, slam him to the ground, put a knee on his neck, twist his arms behind his back and handcuff him ruthlessly.  Supporters start shouting at the overt show of inhumane behavior towards a fragile student who hadn’t eaten a single morsel of food for nine days.  That man was none other than Pancho.

The story would end there, except that Pancho’s strength resided beyond his body.  “It was excruciating pain,” Pancho recalls.  Perhaps the police officer picked on Pancho because of his small and skinny frame, but the outer force is no match for Pancho’s inner might.  The injustice is obvious, but Pancho knew that the officer is not to blame.  In a completely unrehearsed move of raw compassion, Pancho, with all the love in his heart, looks directly into the police officer’s eyes, and says, “Brother, I forgive you.  I am not doing this for me, I am not doing this for you.  I am doing it for your children and the children of your children.”  The overflowing love coming from the heart of this man on a nine-day fast is unmistakable.  This is not the kind of encounter that police are trained in.  Seeing his confusion, Pancho steps up his empathy and changes the topic.  Looking at the last name on his badge, he asks for the officer’s first name.  And addressing him as a family member, he says, “Brother, let me guess, you must like Mexican food.”  [Awkward pause.] “Yes.”  “Well, I know this place in San Francisco that has the best carnitas and fajitas and quesadillas, and I tell you what, when I get done with this and you get done with this, I’d like to break my fast with you. What do you say?”

The police officer is completely flabbergasted, his humanity irrevocably invoked. He accepts the invitation!  Dropping eye contact gently, he then walks around Pancho and voluntarily loosens his handcuffs.  In silence.  By now, all of Pancho’s comrades — twelve of them — are also in handcuffs, so the officer then goes around to loosen everyone else’s handcuffs too.

There are those who use anger, sarcasm and parody to confront unjust action.  Pancho does it with just the simple — and radical — power of love.   If he had a superpower, that would be it.  He is a fearless soldier of compassion, unconditionally willing to hold up a fierce mirror of love.

For Pancho, the whole World, every moment, is his field of practice.  When he was recently asked what nourishes him, his response was clear: meditation and small acts of kindness.  Meditation deepens his awareness while small acts of kindness deepens his inter-connectedness.  Or as Pancho would sum it up, “Meditation is the DNA of the kindness revolution.”   Ever since he first went to a meditation retreat, he has continued to meditate everyday.  “Pancho 2.0” is what he calls himself since then.  It was as if he discovered a new technology to battle our burning world.

Spirituality often sees activism as unnecessarily binding, while activism often sees spirituality as a navel-gazing escape.  For Pancho, though, the two paths merge into one.  Meditation is internal service, while service is external meditation.

In Arizona, when Pancho is arrested for protesting immigration laws that President Obama called unconstitutional, he smiles peacefully for his mug shot. The Sheriff yells out an order: “Stop smiling.”  Immediately, it mirrors the ridiculousness of the request.  Several years ago, some of Pancho’s friends lived in a tree to ignite a conversation around “chopping down 300 year old trees in 30 minutes”.  When the authorities put a barricade around the tree to starve the tree-sitters, Pancho shows up to meditate and spread “metta” (loving kindness) to all those around him.  While sitting peacefully under the tree, he is arrested.  His offense quite literally read: “Disturbing the peace.”

Ultimately, it was in Gandhi that Pancho found his greatest role model for social change.  Perhaps for the first time, history had seen someone manifest seismic systemic shifts in the world solely through the power of inner transformation.  Gandhi opposed unjust action, not just without violence but with radical love for everyone including the person doing the harm; and for every act of resistance, he advocated nine more actions for constructive social change.

“Nonviolence isn’t just a philosophy of resistance.  It is a way of life.  Nonviolence is the thoughts we have, the words that we use, the clothes that we wear, the things that we say.  It is not just an absence of violence, not even just the absence of wanting to cause harm.  Nonviolence is a state when your heart is so full of love, compassion, kindness, generosity and forgiveness that you simply don’t have any room for anger, frustration or violence,” Pancho describes.

When Pancho stopped cooperating with the University of California system, he lost his student visa.  In light of his courage, more than a dozen people offered to help reinstate his status.  He appreciated the gesture but chose to stay undocumented.  More than being in one geographical location or another, he was more interested in blooming wherever he was planted.  Now, all of a sudden, being “undocumented”, he got an experiential insight into what that meant for 11 million people living in the United States; he couldn’t work, he couldn’t have a bank account or a credit card, he couldn’t own anything and he’d have to work low-wage labor jobs, without any insurance, just to survive.

Here is someone capable of being a rocket scientist, whose father is an Economics scholar and author in Mexico, who chooses to live without any financial currency — just so he can be of service to his struggling brethren.  He is sustained purely by social capital.  His tendency to constantly seek to be helpful earns him many friends, who would host him one day of the week.  And on days that he didn’t have a host, he’d just live out in the woods (“Redwood Cathedral” as he calls it).  Such details don’t matter much for Pancho.  All his possessions fit into one bag pack, as his life organizes around doing acts of service.

When Pancho learned about the troubled situation in his neighboring East Oakland, he was quite moved.  Rife with gang warfare, it is an area that most people have written off.  Every week, residents hear the sounds of gun shots being fired — and that’s no exaggeration.  It’s a community with 53 liquor stores and no grocery stores.  The tensions between the police and the community have continued to escalate, while traditional civic programs haven’t made much of a dent.

So Pancho decides to do something about it, with an altogether different framework.  Instead of helping from the outside, he wanted to become one of them; instead of just receiving external aid, he wondered if the community could not only discover undiscovered gifts but then share them freely with others.

With a few like-hearted friends, Pancho rents a house right on the border of two gangs.  They call their home “Casa de Paz” — house of peace.  The shared values of the house include 2 hours of daily meditation, no drinking, and a vegan diet.  And no locks on the doors — anyone can come in any time.

Every Tuesday and Thursday morning, they meditate and do yoga at the local Cesar Chavez park (which has been home to several shootings in recent months).  People have all kinds of reactions to their public meditations.  One time, a mildly drunk man with bloodshot eyes is roaming the park with his girlfriend.  Initially, they smirk and make snide remarks but then as they approach Pancho and his two housemates sitting in crossed legged meditation, Pancho opens his eyes with a loving embrace.  As Pancho reaches to grab something from his bag, the man instinctively reached for something (possibly a gun) in his pocket.  “Brother, here’s a fresh, local, organic strawberry for you,” Pancho said while holding up the edible, red-colored gift from Nature.

On another occasion, their neighbor’s teenage daughter attempts to commit suicide, on a Friday afternoon.  The sounds of sirens create a mild panic in the community but for Pancho and his housemates, it is another opportunity to spread love.  They show up to comfort their neighbors, with a kettle of hot tea, as the family shares their troubles.  Over the next month, that same teenage girl becomes a friend and gets interested in the farming projects at Casa de Paz.

Almost everyday, they facilitate these transformations.  Another time, a few young boys boisterously smash empty alcohol bottles on the streets, just as a prank.  Instead of cringing in fear, Pancho runs outside, barefoot.  The boys could see him and vice-versa, and instead of anger, Pancho humbly bends down and starts picking up the pieces of broken glass.  Something about that act took the kids by surprise, as they slowly returned back.  “Brother, you see that house over there?  They have a young one, and when he walks out on the street, we don’t want them to get hurt,” Pancho explains to them in fluent Spanish.  One thing after another, the kids themselves start helping pick up the broken pieces — and make role models of these love warriors on their street.

In isolation, these are small stories.  Yet, collectively, its impact adds up.  It binds the community, it creates new connections, it fills the gaps.  Its like the silence in between the notes that allows the music to be heard.

“A lot of people talk their talk, but very few can walk their walk.  Living in that community is hard, but living at Casa de Paz is even harder.  They simply refuse to compromise their values, even in small ways, when no one else is looking.  One time, I told them that perhaps their precepts were a bit too tough, and Pancho opened up a book and showed me 11 observances that Gandhi upheld at his ashram.  I couldn’t say anything to that,” remembers Kanchan Gokhale, a long-time friend.

One of those observances is Silent Mondays.  In the tradition of Gandhi, Pancho is silent every Monday.  Even on that November 14th, the day of the Occupy Oakland raid which happened to be a Monday, Pancho stays silent on principle.  As the riot police arrest him, he writes a comment on a piece of paper: “On Mondays, I practice silence.  But I’d like you to hear that I love you.”  The officer smiles.  How could you not?

“On the face of it, Pancho doesn’t own anything.  Yet, he is one of the most generous people I’ve ever met,” says another friend, Joanna Holsten.

How can you give, when you don’t have anything?  That paradox is what makes Pancho shine.  When a friend asked him about service, he took her to a local Farmers Market with two chairs.  She sat on one chair, and put a sign on the other chair: “Free listening.”  When Pancho and his friends saw unused fruit in their neighbor’s backyards, they requested to “glean” the fruit and then gift it to strangers: “This is a gift from East Oakland.”  On a recent Sunday, they gave away 250 pounds of fresh, organic oranges that way.

That creative generosity, a kind of “giftivism”, takes all kinds of forms for Pancho.

Of the 32 people arrested at Occupy Oakland, 31 were sent home on the same day, with a misdemeanor charge.  Pancho, however, is held for deportation.  Very quickly, he becomes an iconic symbol for all that is wrong with the dominant paradigm.  Within two days, twenty thousand people sign a petition to free Pancho.  At his court arraignment, a large group of people show up to meditate — which has never happened in that courthouse, and again confuses all the police in riot-gear who are themselves drawn to the circle.  People from around the world call the sheriffs and congress representatives.  Media everywhere reports the story. Vigils are held by many around the globe.  By the end of the four days, Alameda County D.A. drops all criminal charges and ICE (Immigrations and Customs Enforcement) releases Pancho from jail, without any bail.  No one can really explain the unprecedented move by the authorities.  “It was truly a miracle that he was let go,” Marianne Manilove posted on her FaceBook wall.

Francisco Ugarte, Pancho’s pro-bono laywer, happily reported, “They really didn’t know what to do with him.”  He would relay Pancho’s notes from various jails that he was being shuttled to.  “Tell them that I love them all.  (It’s a) great place to meditate!” was his first note to friends and supporters.  Francisco’s second note conveyed this message: “Pancho wanted me to convey to folks that he was, for some reason, identified as a particularly dangerous inmate, wearing a red clothes in jail, and shackled so that the movement of his arms was restrained. The shackles were metal, and surrounded his waist. Apparently, this treatment is reserved only for the most “dangerous” inmates. It is unclear why Alameda County have done this.  But after a short conversation, we agreed that, without a doubt, Pancho was the most dangerous person in Santa Rita Jail — dangerous to the whole system.  As Pancho said, “The most effective weapon against a system based on greed and violence is kindness.”

Kindness is indeed Pancho’s go-to weapon.   When in doubt, be kind.  Even otherwise, be kind.

As Pancho is shackled up in solitary confinement, he creates a makeshift cushion with his shoes and starts meditating.  The guards themselves start taking photos to post on their Facebook walls!  Moved by his equipoise under conditions of extreme stress, some guards even inquire about the specifics of meditation.  One of them befriends him and gifts him an extra “package” — a toothbrush, a toothpaste, a piece of paper and a pen.  Pancho then cleans up his cell of all the litter, toilet paper and other waste; on the piece of paper he writes, “Smile.  You’ve just been tagged with an anonymous act of kindness!”, and leaves that extra toothpaste and toothbrush next to it.  “I wanted to beautify the cell for the next person after me,” he would later say.  Jails didn’t have any vegetarian food, so he smilingly fasted — having two oranges in four days.  He gifts away his ham sandwiches to other inmates, and connects with them in the spirit of generosity too.  In transit, when he has more contact with other prisoners, he educates them about their rights.  With the ICE agent who shackles him, he smilingly says, “Sister, your soul is too beautiful to be doing this kind of work.”  To which she smiled back and responded, “Thank you.”

Really, there’s not much else one can respond with.

When he is released from jail, lots of media houses are frantically looking for him.  Pancho, utterly uninterested in the games of fame, is unreachable.  The man doesn’t even have a phone.  That weekend, like every weekend, the best way to find him was to meditate at Casa de Paz, or volunteer at Karma Kitchen, or farm at the Free Farm Stand.  “Let’s replicate constructive programs,” he would say, while retelling stories of Gandhi.

From anarchists to administrators, people love Pancho — not just because he fiercely stands up for his values but because he is genuinely and constantly moved by love.  Whenever you meet him, he pre-emptively warns, “Hello, my family calls me Pancho.  I’m from the part of the planet we call Mexico and in Mexico, we like to give hugs,” before enveloping you in his trademark embrace.

Former US Marine Jason Kal recalls, “When we first met, I just casually told Pancho that I liked his t-shirt that said ‘ahimsa’ (meaning nonviolence) on it.   The next thing you know, he just takes off his t-shirt and gives it to me.  I was totally speechless.  I’ve never seen anyone do that.”  Today, Jason is Pancho’s housemate at Casa de Paz and a dear friend.

As Pancho often signs off his emails, “If you want to be a rebel, be kind.”

~ Nipun Mehta

T’shuva: Recognizing Holiness

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Photo: Laura Hegfield

I was watching the gathering clouds and their shifting shadows on those familiar mountains for quite a while. I saw you, but it wasn’t until I turned and took a step that I could truly see you.

With an intake of breath, my heart expanded in awe, recognizing yours, so perfectly formed.

How many others had passed by without noticing? What if I had not turned that afternoon, had not taken a step?

Gratitude awakened, witnessing this mirrored image of sacredness balanced on the mountainside.

                                                  You.   Me.   God.

Standing as One in this single moment of grace.

I love this tree. I love remembering the feeling of awe that filled me when I looked through the viewfinder of my camera and realized that the branches and leaves grew into a perfect heart shape. But I didn’t see it right away; it took a while until I was standing in just the right position to be aware of what was in front of me the whole time.

The form was there, the core essence of holiness was present all along, but I had to orient myself properly in order to recognize it. I think the same can be said for the holy essence that resides within each of us.

During the month of Elul, leading up to the Yomim Noraim, the Jewish High Holy Days of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, it is a Jewish spiritual practice to make t’shuva — to turn, return to our goodness, our godliness, to God.

We turn inward. We look in our hearts and examine closely the mountains of mistakes we have made. We turn towards those we have hurt and ask for forgiveness. We promise to do better — at the very least to try to be kinder and more thoughtful in the year to come. We do what we can to repair what we have broken. We make a conscious shift from where our hearts were positioned when we were intentionally hurtful or simply not paying attention to our words and actions. We return to God awareness, remembering that it is when we forget our own divinity and that of others that we inflict harm.

We choose to change, to grow. Like the micro-movements of alignment a yogini must make to settle into vrkasana (tree pose) with strength, firmly rooted, balanced, open, present, we readjust our inner stance until we can see beyond the misdeeds, harsh words, insincerity, apathy, judgment and wounds to discover our own holy hearts, beautifully formed, strong, rooted, balanced, open and fully present; silhouetted before the jagged background of those mountains. The dark clouds move aside, our holiness shines brilliantly. It was always there. Here. We forgive ourselves; perhaps the hardest step of all. We have returned.

~ Laura Hegfield

Written by MattAndJojang

September 19, 2011 at 5:29 pm

Ten Mindful Ways to Use Social Media

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1. Know your intentions.

Doug Firebaugh of SocialMediaBlogster.com has identified seven psychological needs we may be looking to meet when we log on: acknowledgment, attention, approval, appreciation, acclaim, assurance, and inclusion. Before you post, ask yourself: Am I looking to be seen or validated? Is there something more constructive I could do to meet that need?

2. Be your authentic self.

In the age of personal branding, most of us have a persona we’d like to develop or maintain. Ego-driven tweets focus on an agenda; authenticity communicates from the heart. Talk about the things that really matter to you. If you need advice or support, ask for it. It’s easier to be present when you’re being true to yourself.

3. If you propose to tweet, always ask yourself: Is it true? Is it necessary? Is it kind?

Sometimes we post thoughts without considering how they might impact our entire audience. It’s easy to forget how many friends are reading. Two hundred people make a crowd in person, but online that number can seem insignificant. Before you share, ask yourself: is there anyone this might harm?

4. Offer random tweets of kindness.

Every now and then I ask on Twitter, “Is there anything I can do to help or support you today?” It’s a simple way to use social media to give without expectations of anything in return. By reaching out to help a stranger, you create the possibility of connecting personally with followers you may have otherwise known only peripherally.

5. Experience now, share later.

It’s common to snap a picture with your phone and upload it to Facebook or email it to a friend. This overlaps the experience of being in a moment and sharing it. It also minimizes intimacy, since your entire audience joins your date or gathering in real time. Just as we aim to reduce our internal monologues to be present, we can do the same with our digital narration.

6. Be active, not reactive.

You may receive email updates whenever there is activity on one of your social media accounts, or you might have your cell phone set to give you these types of alerts. This forces you to decide many times throughout the day whether you want or need to respond. Another approach is to choose when to join the conversation, and to use your offline time to decide what value you have to offer.

7. Respond with your full attention.

People often share links without actually reading them, or comment on posts after only scanning them. If the greatest gift we can give someone is our attention, then social media allows us to be endlessly generous. We may not be able to reply to everyone, but responding thoughtfully when we can makes a difference.

8. Use mobile social media sparingly.

In 2009, Pew Research found that 43 percent of cell phone users access the Web on their devices several times a day. It’s what former Microsoft employee Linda Stone refers to as continuous partial attention—when you frequently sign on to be sure you don’t miss out anything. If you choose to limit your cell phone access, you may miss out online, but you won’t miss what’s in front of you.

9. Practice letting go.

It may feel unkind to disregard certain updates or tweets, but we need downtime to be kind to ourselves. Give yourself permission to let yesterday’s stream go. This way you won’t need to “catch up” on updates that have passed but instead can be part of today’s conversation.

10. Enjoy social media!

These are merely suggestions to feel present and purposeful when utilizing social media, but they aren’t hard-and-fast rules. Follow your own instincts and have fun with it. If you’re mindful when you’re disconnected from technology, you have all the tools you need to be mindful when you go online.

~ Lori Deschene

Written by MattAndJojang

August 2, 2011 at 10:54 am

Best Road Trip

with 4 comments

Photo: Bodie Bailey/Flickr

Tyler Kellogg calls himself a chronic do-gooder, and what he did last summer is proof. After scraping together $2,000 and retrofitting his car with a sleeping space, the 21-year old college student hit the road. His goal: to bestow random acts of kindness on 100 strangers.

He drove 1,600 miles, from his parents’ house in Adams Center, New York, to the Florida Keys, then back again.

“The first person I helped was a guy installing a boat lift on a lake in Oneida, New York,” Kellogg recalls.

“I was shaking when I asked if he needed a hand.”

What if he thought Kellogg was crazy?

“When he said, ‘Can you help me get this lift into the water?’ I knew everything was going to be fine.”

He helped a cop fix a downed barricade in Washington, D.C., and spread countless cubic yards of mulch in Maryland and North Carolina. And somewhere outside Atlanta, he met a man who was crying because his wife had recently died and he had no one to talk to.

“For three hours we sat on his porch,” Kellogg says.

“When I left, he said, ‘Thank you. I realize now that my life will go on.’”

In 55 days, Kellogg assisted 115 strangers and made an exhilarating realization:

“You don’t have to be a billionaire to be a philanthropist,” he says.

“You just have to ask people, ‘How can I help?’”

~ from the Reader’s Digest June/July 2010 issue

Written by MattAndJojang

May 9, 2011 at 8:59 pm