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Archive for May, 2013

I experienced my first in-depth conversation with a Sikh during my first trip to Singapore in 2001.  This was a man with caring eyes, a gentle soul and a compassionate heart.  I can still recall his face when I close my eyes.  Sikhism was founded during the 1400’s in the Punjab region of India by Guru Nanak.  Today there are approximately 35 million Sikhs with the majority still residing in India.  A Sikh believes that ‘realization of truth is higher than all else.  Higher still is truthful living.’  Sikh teaching emphasizes the principle of equality of all human beings and rejects discrimination on the basis of caste, creed, and gender.

Sikhi is a monotheistic religion; God is shapeless, timeless, and sightless (i.e. God is unable to be seen with the physical eye).  The beginning of the first composition of Sikh scripture is the figure ‘1’ — this signifies the universality of God.  God is omnipresent and has infinite power over everything.  Sikhs believe that before creation, all that existed was God and God’s ‘will’.  When God willed, the entire cosmos was created.  God must be seen from the ‘inward eye’ or the ‘heart’ of a human being.  God is revealed through deep meditation.  God has no gender — God is without form.

There is no final destination of heaven or hell; there is a spiritual union with God that is salvation.  One of the core deviations from the pursuit of God and salvation is ‘Maya’ — illusion or ‘unreality.’  Humans are distracted from devotion by worldly attractions which give only illusory satisfaction.  In ‘Maya’ one values worldly distractions rather than God.

Another word for God is Guru (teacher) for God is the source and guide for knowledge and salvation.  Knowledge and salvation can only be reached via rigorous and disciplined devotion to God.  Our purpose in life is to reconnect with God; this is an inner journey taken through the heart, with the spirit and soul.  Our ego is our biggest hindrance when it comes to reconnecting with God and, paradoxically, our healing from this disease also comes through how we use our ego.

Sikhs are called to balance work, worship, and charity and are also called to defend the rights of all creatures, in particular, fellow human beings.  Sikhs are encouraged to have an ‘optimistic-resilience’ view of life.  All are equal in God’s eyes and hence, men and women share the same rights.

The philosophy of Sikhism is covered in great detail in the Sikh holy book: ‘Guru Granth Sahib’.  Detailed guidance is given to followers on how to conduct their lives so that peace and salvation can be obtained.  The holy text outlines the positive actions that one must take to make progress in the evolution of the person.  One must remember the Creator at all times — it reminds the follower that the ‘soul is on loan from God, who is ever merciful’ and that the follower must dedicate his or her life to all good causes — to help make this life more worthwhile.

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More than fifty years ago now a young man was hired away from a research company to head up an important research project at another company.  Within 18 months the young man, now project director, made a crucial decision and it so dramatically affected the project that within a short period of time it crashed and burned.  It also cost the company millions of dollars (some say up to 20 million).  Soon thereafter the man was called into the president’s office.  As he walked out of his office he told his assistant to ‘pack up my things for I am on my way to being fired.’  With great resolve he entered the president’s office.  The president was standing behind a long table that was covered with papers.  He looked up and said, ‘Smith, you really blew this one didn’t you!’  ‘Smith’ said that indeed he had really blown it.  The president continued with, ‘Smith, do you know why I asked you to come up here this morning?’  ‘Smith’ quickly replied, ‘Because you are going to fire my . . . !’  The president looked down at the papers and then looked up.  He then continued with, ‘Smith, that’s what I thought you would think. Why would I want to fire you, I just spent millions educating you.’  Pause: ‘I want to know what you have learned?’  Pause: ‘I will also tell you when I will fire you.  I will fire you, Smith, if you ever make another mistake like this again and I will fire you if you stop taking risks.’  Pause: ‘Now, let’s sit down and talk about what you have learned.’  Thirty years later this young man became the president of this prestigious organization and he successfully guided them through a very difficult time.

Too often I am a repeat offender; perhaps, you gentle reader, have also been a repeat offender.  There are many others who are also repeat offenders.  I also find it easier to observe others do so and I also find it easy to judge them.  Why do I choose to do so?  Because I am a fallible human being?  Because I have developed certain habits?  Because I convince myself that ‘this time’ it will be different?  Because I am fearful of succeeding?  Because I am just full of fear?  Because I am self-destructive?  Because I am pride-full or because I am full of that Greek pride of hubris?  For me, all of these come into play.

I learned to play golf more than 57 years ago.  I quickly learned that practice does not make perfect; practice simply makes permanent.  Over the years I have known many golfers who know they have integrated a ‘bad habit’ into their swing and yet they don’t take the time to ‘correct’ it AND each time they play they complain about the shot they hit; the one that was a direct result of their integrated bad habit.  Aristotle suggested that we become our habits.  Now, golf is perhaps the most difficult of sports.  It is played counter-intuitively — for example, the harder one tries or the harder one swings the worse it gets.  It requires at minimum good eye-hand coordination.  It requires patience.  It requires forgetting about the last bad shot.  It is 90% mental and 10% physical; although one must develop specific physical skills in order to play well.  It requires ’emptying the mind’ and yet it also requires a ‘pre-shot’ routine.  Although the ball is just sitting there — inviting you and mocking you at the same time — the player must continue to have movement of some sort (this pre-shot routine helps) for standing still causes the muscles to tighten and this always contributes to a bad shot.  One holds the club lightly and softly in the hands for bad things happen when one tightens one’s grip on the club.  The swing itself is also counter-intuitive; the body, it seems, is not meant to contort in the way a good swing requires it to contort.  To state it bluntly: Golf is not only difficult it is the home of repeat offenders.

I-You-We know that we are to learn from ‘failure’ — we don’ go through life walking the talk; we go through life stumbling the mumble.  I-You-We know that ‘success’ involves facing life’s dilemmas and then learning from them.  I-You-We know that life is lived incrementally, gradually — moment to moment, choice to choice, now to now.  I-You-We know that in order not to be a repeat offender we must reflect upon our experience, then learn from it, then discern what we might do in order to obtain a different result/response/outcome and then we need to choose to act differently.  But like the millions of golfers in the world we strive to get a different result by engaging the same choices and habits AND it drives us and others crazy (didn’t Einstein tell us this?).

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Because of my carpal tunnel I am going to post every other day.  I will post tomorrow.

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EDUCATION. . .

‘EDUCATE’ comes from the root ‘educare’ which means ‘to call forth.’  Plato continues to ‘call forth’ from me insights and wisdom that I am not aware of possessing.  At times his writing is un-understandable and at other times he writes with a clarity that astounds me.  Recently I was re-reading some quotations I had captured in my little black book and I came across this quote from Plato: ‘The direction in which education starts a man will determine his future life.’  We are all educated, we continue to be educated and we educate others; that is, we have been called forth, we will continue to be called forth and we have and will continue to call others forth.  Some of our educational experiences have been ‘formal’ and many more have been ‘informal.’  Some have occurred because of reading and reflection, some have occurred because of experience plus reflection.  In so many ways we are defined by and will continue to be defined by our education and by how we choose to educate others.

Each educational experience plays a part in clarifying our life’s journey — or in confusing us as we stumble along.  In our education gaining knowledge is important AND perhaps what is more important is how our education affected us and will affect us in our four life-dimensions (the physical, the intellectual, the emotional, the spirit[ual]).  As I was savoring Plato’s quote last night I remembered an exercise that I would invite intact groups who had some history together to engage.  I cannot recall whether I ever invited an individual to engage it; it is likely that I have done so.  It is an exercise that you, gentle reader, might choose to engage. So, here is a description [you might well be familiar with this exercise as it has been in use for decades].  It is called by many names; the easiest to remember is ‘THE TIME-LINE’.

A personal educational time-line can be quite helpful in identifying and naming educational events in your life; educational events that have powerfully defined the person you are today.  Here is the exercise:

Take a sheet of paper and draw a horizontal line across the center of the page.  As you look at the paper, label the left end [0] and the right end [100].  Next make marks to represent five year increments from age 0 to age 100 (you might well live to be 100).  Now, begin with the first five years of your life and spend some time reflecting upon it (you might also speak with others who experienced you during these first five years).  Seek to identify ONE significant educational experience during that time period — an educational experience that powerfully contributed to who you are today.  If you discern more than one experience that is o.k.; the goal is to emerge one.  Do this for each five year increment.  Either write words or draw a symbol on the page above or below the five year increment that captures the educational experience.  What did the experience teach you about yourself, about life, about ‘your world,’ or about others?  Note the ones that nurtured you or that depleted you (physically, intellectually, emotionally, and/or spirit[ually]).  Fill in each of the five year increments.  This might take you some time — perhaps weeks — to complete.  NOW, starting with your current five year increment, emerge and name an educational experience that you provided another.  What was the effect upon you and the other?  FINALLY, consider what you might educationally engage during each of the remaining five-year increments — these might well contribute significantly to your educational life-plan for the rest of your life.  These might also help you discern what capacities you will need to develop or develop more fully in the years to come.  What you have chosen and what you will continue to choose will, Plato tells us, determine your destiny.

Here are some guiding questions that might help you with this exercise.
*  What are two key foundations you have from your ‘formal’ educational experiences?
*  What have you learned from others — be specific.
*  What have your learned from trial and error?
*  Of all of your educational experiences what are the top five (not in any order of importance, just the top five)?
*  What three events in your life educated you the most?
*  What were key barriers along the way — barriers that hindered or blocked your education [your growth and development]?

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‘Be still before the Lord, and wait patiently for him.’ [Psalm 37:7]. 

For our culture this prescription of the psalmist is alien, counter-intuitive and contradictory given our passion not for stillness and patience but for high octane activity.  We are immersed in a culture that does not honor stillness and we are certainly not educated to be patient.  We are, it seems to me, suffering from a loss of solitude (a combination of stillness and patience plus a heavy dose of quiet).  One result of this is that we also walk in a spiritual wasteland.  Spiritually we are cut off from ourselves and from others; oh, there are individuals and small communities where this prescription of the psalmist is honored, even deeply integrated — such subcultures do exist and if we search and seek for them we might well find them, but these do no provide our culture a critical mass such that our culture is ‘moved’ toward this prescription.

Charles Williams opens his wonderful novel, ‘All Hallow’s Eve‘ with an account of two souls [before I continue I must digress a bit. Charles Williams died in 1945 and he was a member of the ‘Inklings’ which was an informal literary discussion group associated with the University of Oxford, England — two other members were C.S.Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien; when I was in Oxford I had the opportunity to visit the pub (‘The Bird’) where they met on Tuesday mornings and I was able to sit at a table in the corner where they gathered and conversed.  I was deeply moved by the experience and I now have chills as I recall being in that space].  To continue: These two souls are hovering over London where an automobile accident had just taken their lives.  This was the London during the time of the blitz.  They are not able to return to earth nor are they able to leave it.  They are confused — they do not know who they are nor why they had lived (sounds like many of us on certain days).  They were not ready to die.  They, like we all, were meaning to take some time out for stillness and quietude SOMEDAY, but they had indefinitely postponed it, and now they are adrift.

If I-You-We are to take stillness, patience and ‘waiting’ seriously, we might well discern that implicit in the psalmists encouragement is his knowledge that stillness, patience and ‘waiting’ are postures of receptivity.  There is also a claim here that stillness, patience and ‘waiting’ are deep dimensions of the human spirit.  During my life-time they have been undervalued and ignored.  I believe we need these deep dimensions and I believe they need to be embraced and integrated with an intense dedication — the same intense dedication that we give to technology.

What is the tap-root that nurtures this prescription?  Consider that it is prayer.  Teresa of Avila, to use her metaphor, said that ‘Prayer is the mortar that holds our house together.’  Prayer enables me-you-us to discern and respond to God’s call — to ‘our’ personal call, part of which is that we are called to be the person we are meant to be. I tend to want to speak more than listen and so the psalmist’s prescription is a real challenge for me.  I am also so susceptible to distraction (I don’t think I am alone in this temptation).  Others are susceptible to ‘activity’ which also runs counter to the psalmist’s prescription.

In order to live into THE PRESCRIPTION all I need is a certain type of space and then I must be willing to take the time to ‘Be still before the Lord, and wait patiently for him.’   Well, enough for today, I have things to do so I had better get busy.

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