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Thursday, August 30, 2012

The gift of our past

The other day I was browsing through one of the well-known online newspapers, and came across a piece titled: "If you could erase something from your past, would you?"* I decided to first philosophize about the question, and then consider reading the article. If someone would have asked me this question ten or fifteen years ago, I would have probably admitted and even pointed out which parts of my past I would like to erase. Yet, today I look at it entirely differently. This may be one of the benefits of maturing: Today I see my life as an interesting book. One of which each page is valuable, because it contributes to a fascinating, illuminating whole. And the nicest thing to all of this is that the book is not complete yet, because there are new paragraphs written every day, leading to new pages and, ultimately, chapters.

Of course this doesn’t just apply to me. Everyone is writing his or her own book all the time. The difference may be that we're not all equally interested in creating new chapters. Wim Sonneveld, a popular Dutch comedian from the past, recorded a conference of an old man in a nursing home who reminisces about his wife. In a whining tone he compares her to a beautiful book, but one that he has already finished. This may sound funny, but if you think about it, it may also indicate one of the following facts: 1) his wife was deceased (which I believe was the case here), 2) his wife was alive but had ceased to add new meaning to her life, so there was no surprise element anymore in their relationship, or 3) he lost interest in his wife, as happens in so many long-term relationships, and was thus no longer interested in possible new dimensions she had to offer.

Of course we cannot prevent others from losing interest in us, but we can nourish interest in our own lives. Colleagues, partners, friends, and even family members come and go in our lives, but there’s no escaping ourselves, at least not while we have all our marbles.

And so we continue writing our book, but we do so in our own preferred way: we can fill page after page  with a monotonous pattern of recurring predictabilities, or we can spice up our story with self-development, new experiences, fun and gratifying activities and meaningful work. We can also determine our attitude to previous chapters: we can consider them as failed and regret them, wishing we could forget them as soon as possible, or we can accept them for what they really are: the building blocks that have contributed to the person who we are today, and the person we will be in the future. Ultimately, it’s not the glorious moments that bring us our insights, but the less pleasant experiences of which we may feel less proud or perhaps even detect a small remnant sorrow or shame. Those are the moments that molded us into understanding and compassionate beings and that form the foundation for the insights that we now share with younger generations. I became aware of that once again last week in the first workshop this semester: I told the participants about a major challenge that I faced some twenty or more years ago, and the fact that I did not understand what it would all be good for, but now today, I can tap from that enormous wealth of beautiful and less striking, robust and fragile, clear and fuzzy, sunny and dark experiences, and use them as illustrations in broadening the horizons of those who value it.  So expunge? I don’t think so…
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* The Huffington Post

Friday, August 17, 2012

Gifts We Overlook: The gift of Good Karma

Gifts We Overlook: The gift of Good Karma: A good friend of mine - I call him my "brother" - has recently started a new project: "Project Good Karma." The first time he mentioned ...

Thursday, August 16, 2012

The gift of Good Karma

A good friend of mine - I call him my "brother" - has recently started a new project: "Project Good Karma." The first time he mentioned it to me I was a bit skeptical. Logical actually, if you reside in a heavily commercially grafted country as America and someone tells you that he plans to persuade affluent individuals to give 1% of their property to a charitable cause, preferably in their own area, so that they can instantly see the result of their good deed. Noble idea, for sure! But how many people would really seriously think about this? Well, as I gave it some deeper thought, I became increasingly convinced, just like my brother, that there are indeed plenty of people living on spaceship earth, who would like to do something good, but simply lack confidence in the many ads they see on television about sending donations to poor children in remote areas. It is, after all, equally well-known that from all these donations only a tiny part really benefit these needy children. The lion share of the donations is spent on salaries, travel and hotel costs and other expenses of the organization members: albeit for the purpose, yet not the way it was intended by the donors. Good Karma Project appeals to me because of its all-volunteer based structure, and its local focus. So, no support for remote projects of which you cannot find out whether they really materialize.

Karma is, in itself, not an unknown concept, but for those still wondering: it stems from Hinduism and Buddhism, and is literally translated as 'act', 'action' or 'deed'. It means that a good deed results in good consequences, and a bad deed in bad consequences. According to the Buddhist teachings greed, hatred and ignorance are the three main causes of evil deeds, while the opposite of these three phenomena, generosity, loving-kindness, and understanding, are the foundation for good deeds. According to this principle, one’s actions are more important than his or her faith. In other words, if you engage in good deeds, it does not matter what you believe. You can probably recall that warm feeling inside when you performed a good deed to someone who did not expect it. It is very much in line with the old adage: "A bit of fragrance sticks to the hand that gives flowers."

 So how does Project Good Karma work? Well, the basic goal is to get people interested in it by elevating their awareness. We all grumble about the inequality in the world and the unjust suffering of so many, but we often think it will carry too far to actually do something about it. That is actually just a smart way to appease our conscience, because we can perform good deeds all around us. The Good Karma Project is looking for volunteers who are interested to become Good Karma Ambassadors in their area. There is little time and no money required for this commitment: only good will and decisiveness. Good Karma Ambassadors will encourage others in their area who might also want to engage in this noble purpose. The Good Karma group in a particular neighborhood, city, or district, then determines who or what is in their environment needs help, brings this in the larger group, and together we look at how we can make a difference.No hidden agendas and nothing else to be gained than the realization that we’re doing something good for our fellow beings.
Participating in the Good Karma Project also means that you help other people around you aware of needs that they can help alleviate. And the more we mitigate needs, the more confidence we gain in our own abilities. If we can create small groups that work on raising awareness and improving local situations in different places on earth, we can extensively and collaboratively do something about the suffering of others. The Good Karma project is not tied to any organization, but consists entirely of volunteers. If you are on Facebook, you can read more about it in the group "Project Good Karma (PGK)." I think it's a wonderful idea and am certainly participating.How about you?