Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Are You Pro-life? Sign the Pledge

Sign the pledge to educate yourself and your family on being pro-life

Young and vivacious Savita Halappanavar, a dentist by profession, died tragically on Oct 28, 2012 from septicemia, following the denial of a life-saving abortion in Ireland. I don't know why, but this case really struck a chord in me. May be, because, she's a woman, as am I. May be, because, she is Asian Indian, as am I. May be, it highlighted an issue that has forever beleaguered humankind – what constitutes "life" and "living?"

This baby would've been young Savita and her husband's first child, a gift they, undoubtedly, were looking forward to receiving and nurturing. Although Savita laid bleeding, enduring severe pain, the doctors in Ireland allegedly refused to terminate her 17-week pregnancy owing to a fetal heartbeat. Although it was clear she was having a miscarriage, the doctors allegedly cited Catholicism and protection of the unborn child as the higher priority. Mere days later, the unborn baby and the mother were both dead. What caused the fetus to self-destruct, we may never know. What killed the mother, however, was a blind adherence to a radical, archaic definition of "pro-life." Surely, life doesn't just begin at conception and end at birth? What about the entire course of a human life? How can you justify the death of a mother when her baby can't be saved? If flesh eating bacteria impacted a limb, what would you do? Would you sever the limb or wait until the bacteria overwhelmed the entire body? If a tumor grew in your brain, would you zap off the tumor or wait until it metastasized?

To me, the debate isn't about abortion or religion; rather, it transcends the mundane, worldly issues. It's about life and the right to live a quality life -- one that is fully expressed, connected, healthy, embracing, open to learning, compassionate, and vibrant. It's also about being practical and supplanting baseless, bygone practices with common sense approaches.

My own grandmother died during her fifth pregnancy, leaving behind my grief-stricken grandfather to care for the four older children, all under the age of six. But this was decades ago, in rural British India, in a tiny hamlet where the rooster's call broke dawn and the setting sun signaled dusk, where water was drawn manually from wells, where a stove comprised a pile of stones heated by an open wood- or cow-dung-burning fire, where cows were milked every morning in the backyard, where medical care and hospitals were as non-existent as the concept itself. Unlike my grandmother, Savita had the privilege of being in a modern-day medical facility powered by life-saving technology and equipment and surrounded by well-trained medical professionals, in Ireland -- a modern, advanced country by all standards. Yet, Savita's destiny was no different than that of my grandmother's.

Friends, it's time to think change. It's time to re-examine "life" for all that it represents, a time to reprogram our understanding of "life" to include not just conception and birth, but, more importantly, life after birth. Let's begin by kindling the embers of change. Let's engage in meaningful action -- one that nurtures, enhances and protects the sanctity of the ENTIRE SPECTRUM of life. Let's empower ourselves, our families, and our communities with knowledge. Let's make informed decisions. Let's learn to let go of blind faiths, irrational fears, erroneous beliefs, and meaningless rites and rituals. Let's ignite minds, young and old, to take a stand, make a personal change, fight for causes they believe in, or discover new things. Let's embrace the future and move forward together as ONE, with love and compassion for all.

Friends, your pledge matters! It tells Savita, and thousands like her, that her untimely (and unjust) exit made an impact on the world. If alive, who knows what Savita, and thousands like her, could have accomplished. Found a cure for cancer? Brokered peace deals between warring countries? Ensured a lasting supply of fresh, clean water for all? Her dying, unborn child didn't stand a chance, but she did.

Add your name today!

Thank you for your participation.

Sign the pledge today!

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

13 Signs You're Experiencing an Awakening

You are experiencing an awakening, an "inner" earthquake, if:
  • You are able to quell past conditioning, focus on the present moment, and wholeheartedly empathize with others' feelings and emotions without judgment
  • You are less self-critical, and more self aware
  • You are beginning to see the far-reaching consequences of your own thoughts, words, actions, and behaviors
  • You are consciously learning to let go of past resentments, irrational fears, erroneous beliefs, blind faiths, and memories that no longer serve you
  • You are understanding your role in the universe and beginning to explore ways to make a meaningful contribution to the world
  • You find yourself appreciating others without any expectations
  • You realize that you can't keep running away from worldly problems and that you must find workable solutions
  • You are able to acknowledge the everyday people, privileges, and freedoms that you take for granted
  • You are able to observe, absorb, and appreciate the small joys of life
  • You are beginning to confront your fears and insecurities, and are looking for ways to take charge of your life
  • You are becoming aware of your self-defeating and self-destructive impulses and exploring ways to control them
  •  You are curious and are opening up to new things
  •  You try not to take things personally

Monday, November 5, 2012

Do You Think You are Your Thoughts?

There's one addiction in the world to which nearly all of humankind has unconsciously surrendered -- thought! Day after day, hour after hour, moment after moment, the mind keeps churning out thoughts, like silicon wafers on an assembly line. Because we don't understand how the mind works, we have simply come to believe that we are our thoughts, causing ourselves untold mental anguish and pain. Self pity, depression, hopelessness, dissatisfaction, anger, resentment, and disconnectedness, among others, masquerade our being by hijacking our authentic self.

The Buddha provided an apt description of the mind process:

The source of thought, "Awareness" is a non-judgmental alertness to the presence of an external stimulus detected through the five portals of sight, hearing, smell, taste, and touch. "Perception" is the interpretation of the stimulus through judgment and labeling as positive or negative. Physical bodily "Sensation" is the outcome of this interpretation, and can be pleasant or unpleasant. Our in-built level of craving or loathing -- love or hate -- for the arising bodily sensation acts as a catalyst that fuels the corresponding "Emotional Reaction."

In other words, when the mind senses an object, it kicks in a default mechanism that begins processing the arising thought by labeling it sweet or tart, pleasant or unpleasant. The labeling evokes a predetermined bodily sensation that manifests itself on the physical plane in the form of sweat, shivers, chills, aches, pain, etc. Keep in mind, all of this processing occurs within a matter of microseconds. The catalysts -- craving and loathing -- aid the conscious but unfocused mind in deciding what degree of grasping to unleash. For example, if we perceive aggression as a strong trait, we hunger for more. If we perceive negotiation as a weak trait, we swiftly deny/discard it. Consequently, we either reject the arising thought with a vengeance or hold on to it for dear life. Either way, the response is a mindless engagement that holds the power to spin us into different emotional states throughout the day.

How do we maintain a positive, sustained emotional state throughout the day? If thought is an ongoing production, how do we slow it down? How do we detach our identity from thought? How do we steer clear of the negative states of being that thoughts and emotions perpetuate? How do we get in touch with our authentic self?

While we can't stem the flow of thoughts, we can cut off its oxygen supply by becoming mindful, by consciously refraining from editing/labeling/questioning/doubting/judging thoughts when they arise. We can further develop balance and equanimity by actually choosing the type of thoughts that we'd like to entertain. Remember the three wise monkeys: see no evil; hear no evil; speak no evil? 

The first step is to become mindful or aware of the flow of thoughts. Vipassana meditation is an effective tool in developing mindfulness and moving beyond thought to create an authentic life. Meditation, the doorway between the outerscape and the innerscape, provides an opportunity to witness the formation of thought and the entire mind process. All we have to do is sit comfortably and bring our attention to the breath. When a thought, sensation, or feeling arises during meditation, and we leave it alone, it generally makes a quick exit. The key is to remain as non-judgmental and non-reactive as possible. When we become 'lost in thought,' and this happens more frequently than not in the beginning, we bring our awareness back to our stream of inhalations and exhalations. We will find ourselves doing this over and over again. The patience and persistence with which we regard what arises in meditation has the power to decelerate the thinking process, hone our ability to distinguish our identity from our thoughts, and helps us gain control of our life, one emotion at a time. It also sets the tone for how we will respond to whatever arises in other areas of our life, including health, career, finances, and relationships. 

Once we have understood the mind process, the next step is to exercise prudence in electing thought choices. I recently saw a 3-monkey graphic that I'd like to share here. This graphic is an extension of the original "three wise monkeys" principle associated with being of good mind, speech and action. The gift we could give to ourselves when we make an effort to transcend, ours and others' limitations, deficiencies and shortcomings, is priceless, and a giant leap in life's onward journey.

Through regular meditation, we can lift ourselves up from the ashes of self-pity to the pinnacle of self empowerment, from masquerading to authentic being, from the shackles of hopelessness and resentment to the freedom of optimism, from a descent into depression to an ascent into sustained joy, from the relentless rush of dissatisfaction to the tranquil lake of contentment, from the depths of disconnectedness to the highest peaks of empathy and compassion. 

When we know who we truly are, we acquire the tools to enrich our lives with simplicity, beauty and meaning.