Everyday kindness is the true antidote to senseless violence

My thoughts after the terrible Boston Bombings on Marathon Day, 2013.

There are many disheartening news, heart-wrenching stories about civilians getting killed, attacks on innocent people, senseless aggression.  The world, as seen through the lenses of what the news portrays, looks bleak.   Our sense of security proves to be just a creation in our head, quite illusory, and although we must do what we can through legislation to reduce violence and senseless killings, the more powerful antidote to this is to bring out of everyone what truly makes humanity special, our sense of love and compassion for each other.  There is true goodness in everyone, but it needs to be nurtured through our everyday interactions, and this is something that we each are responsible for.  Bullying, racism, discrimination, hatred… are actions that will make all of us weaker.  Were we to teach everyone to be kind and compassionate, rather than strive to follow a creed and seek power & influence, we would not need legislation to protect ourselves from each other.

We often think that parents are the ones responsible for educating their children and teaching them all these good values.  But, as part of society and a community, we are all somehow responsible for the impact we have in each other’s lives, be it through direct interaction or through ignoring what’s wrong. With over 7 billion people in this world, there will always be conflict, good & evil will always coexist, but as we allow for the good in people, the compassion, to flourish and continue spreading through small everyday actions, evil will remain controlled, and we will continue to live and make the most of this world.

Nothing can be taken for granted, so we should strive to make the most out of every single day we are gifted.  The following quote by the Dalai Lama gives me strength in weeks like this one and reminds me that by doing good for others not only do I help improve the world, but I also do good to my own soul.

“Today I am fortunate to have woken up, I am alive, I have a precious human life, I am not going to waste it. I am going to use all my energies to develop myself, to expand my heart out to others, to achieve enlightenment for the benefit of all beings, I am going to have kind thoughts towards others, I am not going to get angry or think badly about others, I am going to benefit others as much as I can.”
– H.H. The 14th Dahlai Lama

Impermanence, change, losses

Impermanence is, to me, what makes life thrilling and worth living.  Knowing that things constantly change means that there is a possibility that today will be a great day filled with wonder and great surprises.  And since things will change no matter what, we might as well use this to create opportunities for a brighter future and to improve everyone’s lives.  Impermanence is a great thing.  But, it is this impermanence that also brings losses into our lives as it makes way for new things, and coping with these losses is perhaps the most difficult thing for me to do.

There is a big part of me that is driven to understand the what, the how, the why and then to try to control it, try to make everything predictable, manageable, manipulable.  The engineer and consultant in me just wants to be able to design a future, cut out the painful parts, sprinkle in a little bit of more happiness each day, put it to production (an optimized production, of course) and then see it flawlessly come to life.  Yet life has a funny way of reminding me constantly that things will continue to change whether I like it or not and that I should not think of the future as something known or predictable.
The main problem I have is losing a strong connection with someone.  My feelings towards people change as our relationship evolves, or dissolves, without any conscious effort on my behalf.  Similarly, people’s opinions about me, and their feelings toward me will inevitably change over time, for the better or worse.  Trying to somehow predict how someone will feel about me, or overly trying to make them think about me or feel about me in a certain way will only result in pain and a quicker deterioration in our relationship.
As people move on with their lives, either physically or emotionally, I must adjust to accept the reality of the moment.  I shall always cherish the bond we have or used to share and take this new reality as a potentially temporary situation that will in the future reverse.  Distance and time help clear up our thoughts and bring to life the true feelings we have, sometimes even bringing people back to your life with an even stronger connection.  But if that’s not the case, and the change is permanent, I must accept that new reality and be grateful for the great memories of what used to be.
I must focus on the present moment and what life is bringing to it right now, and make the best of it.  I need to leave the things that are out of my control at ease, let them get sorted out, and trust that anything that is missing to complete a chapter in my life story will come at just the appropriate time and place.  I should now focus my attention on cultivating what is appropriate at this time.  One step at a time. 

Madness: When Starvation Isn’t Reason Enough to Give

I have been listening to the audiobook Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea for the past week or so.  North Korea has been to me, as to probably most of you, an intriguing black hole that is somehow inhabited.  What goes on in there I could only speculate, as many others, so I sought for insight through this book.  I did not know what I was enlisting for when I started.  As it turns out, the book itself highlight to me issues that are not only unique to North Korea but to most countries.  I can only speak from my perspective of how I see things as someone living in the US, but what I have observed is what I write about below.

Just as in different parts of North Korea, we live in a world with a huge discrepancy in resources available to one country vs. others.  Just take a moment to appreciate what is happening at a global scale.  While in the United States and other developed countries we are focusing a great deal of effort into determining what the solution to an obesity crisis would be, there are still countries in which coming across a plate of food is a miracle, a rarity not to be afforded by many.  We’ve all heard about this.  Someone, at some point or another, has told each of us about the starving children and families, the communities plagued by insects and sickness they can’t control or fight, the mothers exposed to dangerous bacteria and germs due to a lack of access to clean water.  We have heard these things, yet we are relatively unmoved.  We look the other way and think that someone else, someone out there in the world, will think about such issues.  That somehow, rather than getting involved and contributing to the solution, we should just stay at home, watch the big game on TV, or simply have a nice night of prayer and calmness.  And while we do all of this, there’s a young child who’s hunger is tearing him apart with pain and suffering, and who’s mother is too weak to even fathom venturing into the wild and trying to find grass to feed anyone.  And even if the mother is able to go and find something “edible”, it would rarely reach the 500 calories a person is estimated to requires per day to survive.  I say survive because with 500 calories in a day we would not be able to exert our bodies to any extent without fainting.

We observe this tragedy or learn about it, and we move on.  We hear the statistics about the millions without food and we turn away.  We think that given the massive scale of the situation, there is nothing we can do to solve the entire problem.  And instead of contributing a little bit to the solution by contributing to feeding 10 starving people, we decide that it’s better to look away and focus our attention on something else.  And that is where we need to stop and reflect.  This is when I want to give a shout out to everyone.  Because I can’t understand at what point we decided that it is OK to forget about human beings that are dying for no good reason, while we instead argue about whether I should pay an extra $10 in taxes or whether you are wrong for not believing that a particular religion is correct.  We create these “pressing matters”  in our heads of things we deeply care about, these games with society that we play each day of arguing and thinking we are better than others given our amazing reasoning skills and arguments, yet the humane part of us is buried deeper and deeper within us and we fail to see how much is not only hurting others, but ourselves.

I would argue that most of us are adjusting to an age of so much change and a hectic pace that we fail to take enough time to sit and reflect.  To realize that in our rush to do things, in our rush to accomplish what we think we should be accomplishing, we are missing the point of life, the point of being alive.  We want to have a life with purpose, yet we fail to see that if we can simply help one human being in need to survive and move on with their lives, that by itself is more admirable than sitting at home mindlessly watching a TV show of no real importance or contribution.  Isn’t that purpose enough for your life?  The notion of a superhero that can single-handedly bring a solution to the world problems has infested our minds and we need to let it go.  We need to realize that the outcome of anything in this world is only going to be the sum of the parts, the cumulative actions of all beings, and all we can do is to contribute in our own little way to make sure that our little contribution is adding to the improvement of the world, not simply keeping in neutral or take away from it.  We can continue to strive for more, but can’t overlook the importance of working harmoniously with others and make our contribution, as small as it may be, to fix the problem.

Although the book Nothing to Envy first spoke to me about an intriguing political system in North Korea, what the book truly highlighted to me is the madness of the world.  While some starve, the world I have observed is one in which we think that accumulating material items or focusing on ourselves will yield happiness.  Time is slowly proving to us that this is not true, we are growing wealthier, but not happier.  We are growing wealthier and, in general, getting stressed, overweight, rushing through life and never stopping to be in the moment and actually appreciate what is going on.  From what I understand, the people of North Korea need help, lots of help.  And they are not alone.  We may be limited in the aid we are able to give to North Korea given the tight control the government has, but that’s only assuming that things remain as they currently are.  There are always solutions, we just need to find them and contribute our own little piece.  And even if North Korea remains the way it currently is, what can we do to help the rest of the world in need?  We don’t need to deprive ourselves of all things to give it to others, that’s not what I’m suggesting, but let’s at least think about these problems and contribute our 2 cents to the solution of it.  That is how the world will become a better place.  When we share love, compassion, and our wealth, the need for division and war starts fading away and we end up with a happier world with less undue suffering.

Do you have the patience to wait
till your mud settles and the water is clear?

Can you remain unmoving
till the right action arises by itself?

The Master doesn’t seek fulfillment,
but not seeking, not expecting,
is present, and can welcome all things.

– Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching


10-day Silent Meditation Retreat (Vipassana Meditation)

How would you feel about having the opportunity to completely disconnect from the world as we know it for 10 days?  No e-mails, no news, no TV, no talking.  In fact, not even text messaging for that matter.  Imagine just giving yourself the opportunity to completely let go of the daily routine and the expectations you have for each day and simply meditate and be.  This has been an intriguing idea to me for years now since a friend first mentioned it to me, and I am finally going on a 10-day meditation retreat to experience just that.

The Vipassana meditation center in Shelbourne, MA is 10 days free from noise.  No news bombarding your conscience.  No reading, no writing, no talking, maybe some snoring as that’s hard to control.

Japan Tragedy – An Opportunity to Help

The earthquake and tsunamis that hit Japan on March 11, 2011 were devastating, and looking through just a few pictures of the incidences is heartbreaking.  The death toll I don’t want to even think about, and the amount of damage done by this natural disaster is simply painful to look at.  I was terribly concerned with the news but was lucky to find out that my friends are all safe in Japan.  That being said, there were many others who are not safe, and the aftershock of this tragedy is still affecting many.

To put things in perspective, the initial earthquake was only the beginning of the tragedy, reaching 9.0 on the ritcher scale.  The tsunamis, and many earthquakes after that have been as nerve-wracking and devastating.  I can not imagine how people can continue going with their lives when at random moments throughout the day earthquakes keep happening.  Furthermore, the nuclear plants that were destroyed and hydrogen explosions keep many alarmed.

The situation is terrible, but just by knowing more about it we won’t fix it.  It is time for us to take action and try to help those who are in need.  The good news is that many organizations have joined the relief efforts and are currently helping the displaced families as well as the restoration of the affected area.  We know the future will be brighter, but to restore an area that has been described to look just as Hiroshima after the atomic bomb was  released, a lot of effort will have to be put in.  If you would like to join in the effort, the simplest way to do so is through a donation.  There are a fair amount of ways to give, but here are a few links to organizations you can donate through:

American Red Cross

There are many other ways to give, but these are simple and straightforward ways to do so.  Please consider making a donation, no matter how small.  A few dollars from each one of us would make a big difference.  In moments of crisis like this, many have no choice but to rely in others’ generosity, and it is our opportunity to help them.