Our Spiritual Stress-Test

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Most of you may not know that my day-to-day engineering work involves computational modeling and testing of aircraft engine systems, in particular the combustion system or the combustor. As the name suggests, it is the system where fuel and air is mixed in varying ratios to create the desired amount of heat for takeoff, cruising, landing, and so on. In short, the goal of our models is to predict and improve, as best as we can, the efficiency of the engine, and the emissions created by it. The models are constantly improved and tweaked based on data from actual hardware tests. The models help in preliminary design of new hardware, and reduce the costs and time required to build a new, better combustor. 

The average time to design, build, test, re-test, certify and eventually put a new system on an airplane, particularly a combustor, is about ten years. Computer modeling is helping to reduce the ten-year cycle, but we aren’t quite there yet. The reason is that the modeling of the mixing of air and fuel and the subsequent fire that is created, is more complex than it looks. It can often take three to four weeks for thousands of computers working in tandem to produce a single answer for a single setting of the engine (say, takeoff).

Still with me? You can now understand why I have been fascinated by all the attempts of scientists to try and predict the growth, the spread and the mortality rate of the Covid-19 virus.  The modeling is being done with limited real-world data, and with limited understanding of how the virus affects different populations and how fast it is being spread by those who don’t show any symptoms. The result is that is a large amount of uncertainty in the various models’ predictions of when the infections are going to peak in a particular city or state, and what the corresponding death rate is going to be.

In short, the modeling is less than perfect. However, the early modeling was very useful giving hospital systems in cities and states a rough estimate of the number of cases that could happen if no action was takien. This early-warning system is what prompted the calls to “flatten the curve” so that the healthcare systems would not get overwhelmed and fail their stress-test. Some states passed “stay at home” orders, and hoped that citizens would heed their plea and actually comply. In my state of Ohio, the vast majority of citizens did comply,  and the result was that we have collectively put the state and our frontline healthcare workforce in a good position to deal with the peak of the stress-test that is coming in a few weeks. 

And yet, we know that, as of this writing, our preparation is not enough to avoid the stress-test that is coming our way. The very first time I heard of the possibility of one hundred thousand deaths in the early part of the week, I went into a bit of shock. Even though I had been following the modeling closely, I had a very difficult time accepting this number. Over the next few days, my emotions ranged between anger, angst, anguish, acrimony, animosity, and even a bit of anxiety. It felt like my emotional and spiritual systems were facing a stress-test of their own. 

How did my spiritual training and practices respond to the stress-test? How well did they withstand the shock of the emotional waves that came ashore like a raging storm? I would say that the jury is still out. The initial shock and stress-test did expose the cracks in my individual preparedness. I came face-to-face with the awareness that the practices I have developed over the past few years, while useful, need to be shored up. Yes, there was perhaps no way to design my spiritual practices to pass a stress-test of this once-in-a-generation magnitude. What spiritual practices has the current stress-test reminded me of?

The current stress-test has reminded me of the daily habit of returning to the healing voice within, of taking time to limit the voices that influence my mind from the without. It has brought the practices of ’empathy for the suffering’ and ‘gratitude for grace’ to the forefront of my awareness. It has led me to reconnect with nature and ask the question – how do nature’s flora and fauna deal with the stress-tests that they are given?

Late Friday afternoon, it occurred to me that the local bird reservation must have undergone quite a transformation since the two weeks that I had last visited there. When I arrived there, the parking lot was much more full than I could ever remember. In a small patch of grass at the beginning of the trail, a young couple was having a picnic with their toddler and their puppy. The bridge that spans the pond at the entrance had a mother with her two teenage daughters admiring the ducks that were floating around peacefully. The wooded part of the trail sported a wide range of parents with their kids sporting binoculars and cameras, taking in the sights and sounds of the forest. The sun was playing hide and seek with the tall trees and starting to cast long reflections on the trail. Along the stretch that runs between two lakes on either side of it, several pairs of geese had staked out small patches of territory (with proper physical distancing) for nesting. There was a baby turtle sunning itself on a small island in the middle of a swathe of blue. The half-moon had already risen high into the early evening sky, ready to bid the sun a good night. 

As I headed back from my visit, it struck me that all seemed well with the world of nature. There was no sign of stress, let alone any sign of a stress-test. The reservation was in the process of embracing spring with an open, joyous heart. I felt immersed in nature’s joy, internalizing it. I felt nature reminding me that in the midst of perhaps the greatest stress-test of our times, our best spiritual practices are those which return us to our intrinsic nature of love and joy. 

No matter what the projections and models say, we are all in this together. There is no computer model that can predict the strength of human resilience. With cooperation, integration and harmony, we can pass this stress-test. Of that, I am sure. 

Kumud

P.S. Join us for our weekly gathering on twitter on Sunday April 5 at 9amET / 630pm India. How are you coping with the current stress-test? What practices are helping you most in these times? How can the #SpiritChat community be of help to you in these times? Do share with us. We look forward to connecting and listening. Namaste – @AjmaniK

Resources: IHME Covid-19 Modeling (US State-by-State Data) / State of Ohio Covid-19 Modeling / American Medical Association Podcast: Vaccines and Immunity

A goose takes a rest from nesting… yoga on the trail! 

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Our Spiritual Reserves

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The sound of distant rolling thunder woke me up from my deep sleep. It felt like a freight train was headed in our direction, and I tried to go back to sleep but to no avail. The storm grew louder and louder until it was close enough to pelt the windows with a driving downpour. It was determined to be heard, demanding an awakening. And then, just like that (or so it seemed), there was silence as it must have quickly moved east. Even though the eye of the storm had passed, I could hear the distant rumblings, but from a different direction.

And yet, using my relaxation technique, I managed to go back to sleep again.But this felt like a different kind of sleep. Thunderstorms are known to charge the atmosphere with ions as they pass through. The severity of this one in the pre-dawn hour must have done the same. This new sleep felt like I had one eye open in uncertainty, in a kind of raised awareness. An awareness of a low intensity electric current running through the heart. A current that was asking questions like — what is truly essential in my life, what am I certain of amid this uncertainty, what is my readiness level for the next storm?

My Isshin-ryū sensei often used to say, a large part of preparedness is about knowing your strengths. He was also a proponent of practicing the basics, over and over and over again — even for, and particularly for, the black belts. “If you forget the basics, your foundation will weaken, and your mental reserves will eventually dwindle to the point where even a weak storm (opponent) will knock you over.” Good self-defense is a combination of awareness of our strengths, of the potential and intensity of the threat(s), and of our reserves.

Some storms come our way without warning or grow quickly upon us. They are like the hit that we don’t expect and they  hurts the most. There are other storms which can be seen coming our way from a distance. The early warning systems are flashing yellow, and the ones who have had their sleep broken before, know that it’s time to awaken. They know that this isn’t time to choose to ignore the warnings or to believe that they are somehow immune. They take action to check on their preparedness, to build up their physical, mental and spiritual reserves. 

What may our spiritual reserves look, sound and feel like? They may look like select passages of our faith’s texts or the essays and writings of spiritual luminaries who inspire and enlighten us. They may sound like the saying of our childhood prayers, the singing of our favorite soothing songs, the poetry recitations of hope, or the re-reading of stories read to us by our parents and teachers. They may feel like the remembrance of moments that gave us courage when we felt that we were deeply loved.

How do we build up our spiritual reserves? We build our reserves every time that we read a little bit more of the inspirational, sing a little bit more of the devotional, share a little bit more of the emotional. We can also build our reserves when we do regular check-ins with how we’re feeling, become more aware about how we let others’ actions influence our feelings, and clean our receptivity filters. Engaging the mundane can help us build our reserves too.

As I was walking the dog yesterday evening with my daughter, we got into a conversation about who expends more energy per body weight in a walk around the block – dogs or humans? Does it make a difference that humans have to only use two legs and dogs have to use four? This led to other mundane questions. How is it that the dog, in the middle of a deep sleep on a couch in the back of the house, can spring awake and bolt to the front of the house because he has sensed another dog walking by?  

Yes. Sometimes, asking the mundane questions of life is a good distraction because it shifts our awareness from the impending storm to the present moment. It gives us time to pause, to breathe, to let our guard down and let the nervous system resume its normal flow.

So, what are we to do with all this preparedness? What is the best use our spiritual reserves? We can use them to support those who are leading community preparedness, to spread awareness about the need to prepare, to perform small acts of kindness, to dissipate our fear and to boost our spiritual immunity. We can use are reserves to create more empathy for the suffering, deepen our friendships and even form new ones, and learn anew to find joy in the small things.

We are all in this together. Now, more than ever, our connectedness is essential. Of that, I am certain.

Kumud

P.S. Join us for our weekly conversation on twitter in #SpiritChat – Sunday, March 29 at 9am ET / 1pm GMT / 630pm India. We will try and boost each other spiritual reserves through (mundane) questions over tea and cookies. It isn’t the end of the world, and yet it may be the beginning of the creation of a new, more empathetic one. Namaste – @AjmaniK

Sunrise on the beach in Riveria Maya (March 2016) 

Sunrise on Riveria Maya

Spiritual Acts of Solidarity

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At the end of my mid-afternoon walk through the local bird reservation, something remarkable happened. As I headed back to the trail that would lead me back, a wave of sound emanated from the forest — a wave the could be heard but not seen. It was if a million birds were raising the banner of spring in unison. I turned to my daughter and asked — is it just me or do you hear that too?

Later in the evening, in the golden hour after sunset, I could still hear them. As I sat on the front porch, watching some brilliant colors of light up the fringe an unusually dark and wide storm front, they were “filling the sky with songs”. I don’t know the reason (yet) for their behavior, for their beautiful act of solidarity. I do know that it brought a tremendous sense of joy and peace to me. In their unified wave of action, it seemed like the birds were affirming the recent actions of solidarity being taken by many families, communities, cities, states, and countries. 

If we are willing to listen to it and learn from it, Nature and her beings have many messages and lessons for us. Nature’s  latest message seems to be that our long-term viability as a human race depends on our ability to be present to each other, even when we are physically apart. Nature’s latest lesson seems to be that our health – spiritual, mental, emotional, physical, financial – is only as good as the health of some of the most vulnerable among us. 

We cannot ignore the wave of sound coming from the forest any more than we can ignore the voice of our elderly neighbors, the immune-compromise, or our healthcare workers. Every time we wash our hands, maintain adequate social distance, self-isolate if we feel sick, use our supplies frugally and buy only what we absolutely need, we are committing to an act of solidarity. Every human action of solidarity adds to the wave of sound of hope, caring and empathy that emanates from our human forest. 

What acts of spiritual solidarity can we perform as individuals and as a community? Over the past week, I have had a few phone conversations, and many online chats with folks to listen, learn and discern. As a result, the first action is that we  have started a new daily effort of getting together every evening (930pm EDT) and participate in a ‘group meditation’. I will be posting daily reminders in #SpiritChat, but no online ‘check-in’ is necessary. The intent is to ‘pause in place’, wherever we may be, and bring peace to our body, mind and heart, with our peace-evoking action of choice that works best for us. Let us hum (or listen) to our favorite prayer or mantra, read a piece of spiritual or inspirational literature or scripture, or anything else that we may consider to be a spiritual action of solidarity. 

I am also (re)starting our Zoom (video chat) meetings on a weekly basis. Our first attempt will be on Wednesday, March 25 at Noon ET (link to join the meeting will be posted on FB and twitter). These meetings will serve as quick ‘check ins’ on each other, and allow us to find opportunities to help out where we can. By keeping them to 30 minutes or less, we may be able to do them more frequently, if necessary.

So, it’s your turn to step up and let us know – what other actions of solidarity can we perform at this time in our history? What resources can you offer or share that could be helpful? We have been gathering online and supporting each other through weekly sharing for a quite a while. We have the experience, the willingness and the wisdom to create a viable, dynamic, empathic, sustainable response to this great challenge that faces us.

Every one of our voices counts. Every action of solidarity counts. Let us speak and act in solidarity so that we can evoke a wave of spring for the benefit of all. 

Kumud

Resources: Meditation Made Simple  and a Free Meditation App (by @heartful_ness)

P.S. Join us for our weekly chat, Sunday March 22 at 9am ET / 8am CT / 6am PT / 630pm India – we will gather and share in an act of solidarity. Namaste, and with deep gratitude – @AjmaniK

A turtle in the middle of the walking path… teaching me to slow down… (March 20, 2020)

A tortoise on its walk

Raising Community Spirit

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As I sat at my writing window observing the community dynamics of the variety of birds in the backyard on a chilly spring Saturday morning, there was much to learn. The blackbirds take their positions on the fence and the cattails. The robins take position in the thrush and the grass. The hawks have their nest at the highest point in a nook among the trees. The chickadees sing in the pine trees along the fence line. So much diversity, and yet they have figured out how to mostly live in harmony as a community. They seem to live in a manner where all of them can make nests, grow families, and thrive for the season. On more than one occasion, I have even seen blackbirds sounding the alarm and escorting the hawks back into their nests when they get too close for comfort.

The community in my backyard reminds me of one of my grandmother’s favorite expression, with which she would end every prayer session… sarve bhavantU sukhinAH – it simply means, may we act in a way so as to spread peace and prosperity to all. On the face of it, this seems like a fairly easy way for us to live our lives. However, when faced with tough choices which negatively impact our lifestyle, our livelihood or the health of our immediate family, we may tend towards making decisions which may negatively impact our communities. 

She was so looking forward to this weekend, to playing back to back volleyball tournaments on Saturday and  Sunday. She loves the sport, her team, her coaches and everything about the community that surrounds it. On Wednesday, her coach texted that the tournaments may be cancelled because the venue (a local community college) was being shut down. The initial disappointment was quickly reversed as a following text said that they would be allowed to play (as they are not a college team). Confusion led to uncertainty and some anxiety. However, on Thursday, the state’s Governor gave clarity by banning all gatherings of a hundred of all more people. Game over. 

Schools closed for three weeks. Science centers, museums, nature centers, local libraries. All closed till further notice. At first glance, it all  seemed a bit ‘over the top’. And yet, once we talked as a family about how ‘flatten the curve’ works, we understood. By  limiting person to person contact, we slow the exponential spread. In turn, this gives the health system and its workers a fighting chance to treat those who are most at risk. In my three decades of living in the USA, other than the ‘coming together’ after 9/11, this is perhaps the widest action of community solidarity that I have seen.

So, as we adjust to our new ‘home boundedness’, what we can do to mitigate the sense of isolation we may eventually feel? I thought back to grandma’s invocation of sarve bhavantU sukhinAH. In times of crisis, she often would choose to do less, rather than more. This was her way of creating space for others, for community. She would have advised:

Eat less, drink more (water). 

Stream less. Read more.

Frown less. Smile more. 

Hoard less. Share more.

Talk less. Listen more.

Sit less. Walk more.

Less is more. 

It is the wisdom of our elders, our mentors and those whom we trust to speak truth to us that can raise our spirit. When our spirit is that of calm, instead of that of anxiety, we become conduits of spreading calm instead of anxiety. So, how do we bring calm to our heart, mind, body and spirit? The answer depends on the individual. What brings you calm? Regardless of the answer, the health of the community depends on the health of each one of us. As long as we radiate higher purpose, our actions will be  infused with the power to virtually hold on to each other, and keep our spirits soaring through any crisis.

Our true power is in the current that flows through us, and our community. Our power directs our actions towards a greater purpose. Our selfless actions inspire our spirits, and the result is the health and well-being of all.

Kumud

P.S. Join us for our weekly twitter chat, Sunday March 15 at 9amET / 1pm GMT / 630pm India in #SpiritChat – we will raise each other spirits over tea, coffee, fruit and cookies as we gather online and engage in some Q & A – just like we’ve been doing for so many years 🙂 – @AjmaniK

 

Flowers – holding on to each other – raising each other up!

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The Art and Science of Truth

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There was a heavy frost on the car because I had forgotten to park it in the garage on the cold but clear night. As we made our short drive to school, I thought I would quiz her about the science of why the car frosts over on clear nights but not the cloudy ones. So, I asked her – do you know what caused the car windows and the grass to frost over last night? Through her half sleepy state, totally not in the mood for science, she said

Dad. Don’t you know that frost is created to cover the soft plants at night – it is their  warm blanket to protect them from heavy snows?

My first reaction was one of total surprise, and I asked – where did you get That? Without batting an eyelid (or was it a silvery wing?) she replied – “Dad. I got that from Tinker Bell. Did you forget about her?” In that instant, I was even more flummoxed. So, I mumbled something about dew point, condensation, water vapor in the air and how water droplets form on the outside of a cold glass of water. So much for science!

Yes. I had the scientific answer, and I was trying to use a real-world observation to teach her about the value of arriving at the truth through science. And yet, her answer, inspired by art and imagination, was equally, if not more beautiful. Don’t you think? The search for truth and understanding has inspired scientists, their experiments, and a lot of scientific research over the past few centuries since the renaissance. Science has even made inroads into how humans perceive the truth.   

How do we define truth, how do our brains process it and why do we fight over it? What does it look like in our brains when we process the truth?

Our brain is the processing centers for our senses. The inputs and sensations that our senses receive, are converted into perceptions by the brain. Over time, our sensations and perceptions form memories related to the events that we have experienced. For example, the first time I walk a new trail in the forest, I am creating a new memory. My mind learns some new truths about where the trail narrows or widens, where the river forms a sweeping arc, where the horses cross from one bank to another, and more.

The next time I walk the same trail, the truths about the path get verified through the repetition of sensation and perception in the mind. Verification means that I begin to trust the path and my walk. When I learn to trust myself, I open my heart and mind to form a new pathway for truth. Science has shown that when we learn new things by walking new paths, new grooves are literally being cut into our brain. Our new learnings increase our willingness to trust others who have walked their own paths and discovered new scientific truths.

And yet, science and scientists are often not enough by themselves to convey the truth. Science often needs the support of art and artists to infuse truths into the depths of our lives. We may read about the science behind making the perfect cup of tea – the exact amount of tea to use per cup, the ideal temperature of water to use, and so on. Beyond the science, it is the art of sensing and perceiving the tea experience that creates new truths for us. The warmth of the cup against our palms, the steam that rises as it floods fragrance into our nostrils, the first sip that awakens us and the senses of those that we sit around the table with.

Immense is the power of personal truth when manifested by the confluence of science and art. Science also says that we are more apt to accept others’ truth when delivered to us by the people, communities, and institutions that we trust. Leave it for science to make it easy for me to verify my daughter’s truth that a coat of frost keeps the warm fairy’s wings safe while in the cold.

Yes. Sometimes, new truths can travel on iridescent, translucent wings flecked with a light frost of imagination. Who knew!

Kumud

P.S. Join us Sunday March 8 2020 at 9am ET / 630pm India as we gather in #SpiritChat on twitter to talk about the Art and Science of Truth. Bring your wings, and your imagination, as we celebrate International Women’s Day, and discover some new truths. Namaste – @AjmaniK

”Tinker Bell by A. Ajmani” © 2020 

Tinker Bell by AJA

The Heart of Truth

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She was sitting on the bathroom floor in the basement, cleaning the concrete in preparation to replace the flooring which had been damaged by a water leak. As is often the case, she is really good at “walking and chewing gum”, and so she was listening to an NPR podcast on her phone. “This is a really good one”, she said as I came downstairs to check on her progress. “They are having a really good conversation about truth”, she added in a matter-of-fact way. I wanted to listen, but her “guard dog” knew that Dad was home from work, which meant it was time to be walked.

I picked up a broom to help out a bit by sweeping the work area and to delay the walk, so that I could listen to a bit of the stream. I heard them talking about the history of truth, how it used to be communicated in the past (hint: poetry!), and the attempts of truth seekers and truth tellers in answering the seminal question – what IS truth? I only swept the floor for a few minutes before the puppy sensed my delay tactics and rushed me upstairs and straight to the front door. 

It was only Tuesday, and yet, the seed for Sunday’s conversation had been planted. As most weeks go, this was a welcome early start for me, because I usually don’t figure out the week’s #SpiritChat topic until Friday or Saturday. Over the next few days, I mulled upon the topic of “truth” and the role that it plays in our lives. It wasn’t until Friday night that I had a chance to search for the complete podcast, and to my delight, I found that NPR’s ‘On Point’ has recorded a four-part series on truth (starting Feb 24) – I even found the ‘study notes’ for their first conversation

History has a way of returning us to the beginning. If we choose to learn from history, we have an opportunity to not repeat it. History can inform individuals, communities and nations about the pathways that can move them to a higher level of awareness about the truth. History has some definitions of truth for us…

Truth is evidence-based knowledge

Knowledge can come to us through various sources, our senses being one of them. And yet, our senses can often lead us us astray, can they not? Senses can misinform us when only one of the many are engaged in information gathering and processing. Sensory information and facts need to be able to be independently validated and verified, so that they can lead us to the truth. Revelation and reason, just like spirituality and science, both have great value in defining the truth for us – what do your heart-mind think about that? How can we engage multiple senses at the same time, through multiple sources, to arrive at evidence-based knowledge?

Truth is often based on our narrative – we ignore that which does not fit our narrative because our brains understand causality (cause and effect)…

There is ring of truth to that, isn’t there? In our often busy lives, amid a pandemic of mis-trust, it is so much easier for our heart-mind complex to stay engaged with the sources that feed our current narrative. We dig deeper and deeper trenches with our rhetoric as we cherry-pick from among the truth-based facts, to stay safe within our stories. How do we get back to reason and create a new narrative based on some eternal truths? 

One way to return to some eternal (truths) is to ask questions of our biased narratives. How can we engage in dialogue with those who have a diagonally opposite narrative from our our own? Further yet, how can be bring together people with diverse heart-views and mind-sets to have a fair and balanced conversation about the facts to arrive at some common truths? Maybe it is too much to ask. Maybe not. And yet, let us not stop from engaging in dialogue, regardless of what we believe in.

We can ask — what is the permanence that we we truly believe in? The answer to that question can inform our heart’s truth, guide us to the heart of truth, inspire us in our personal practice. It is in the heart’s search for permanence that the truth is often brought to light — and, like the sun, That is a light which we can freely share — even with the ones who choose to walk a different path than ours. 

Kumud

P.S. The basement project is currently on hold, as we try to decide on the type of flooring amid our celebrations. Meanwhile, our search for the heart of truth continues, individually and as a family. Join us on Sunday, March 1st 2020, as we celebrate some of each others’ truths in our weekly twitter chat at 9am ET / 7:30pm India. We will multilogue in #SpiritChat over tea and cookies, and maybe even some cake! Namaste – @AjmaniK

Sitting by the lake

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Every time I walk the path, sit on this bench, I see, hear, smell, feel, sometimes even taste something different – I view it as gathering new evidence of the truth… or is it?

The Heart’s Unknowns

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To say that I have a particular affinity, if not an outright life-long love-affair with Mathematics, would not be too far from the truth. And yet it didn’t always used to be that way. I think it was my fourth or fifth grade Math teacher, a fire-cracker of a lady named Mrs. Das, who lit the spark within me. She had such a passion and energy for the subject that I still remember the spark in her eyes all these decades later. 

Once a week, my daughter brings home a “problem of the week” (POW)  as part of her ‘honors geometry’ homework. Their teacher encourages them to work the POW with a parent ‘at the dinner table’. I think it’s a brilliant idea as it encourages parent-teenager conversation and collaboration. It also gives me an opportunity to find out how much of my middle-school math I actually remember! More often than not, we sink our teeth into the POW by transforming it into equations consisting of unknowns like x’s, y’s, and if absolutely necessary, even z’s.

Once the transformation is complete, it’s time to solve for the unknowns. Yay. Algebra. The first question we ask is if we have at least as many equations as there are unknowns. Why do we ask this question? If we have more unknowns than equations, we are stuck. No exact solution is possible unless we reformulate the equations and unknowns. This is akin to where our heart is looking for a solution to a life challenge, and yet the unknowns far exceed our own knowledge of the problem. Now what? 

In life, one step towards a solution would be to make some assumptions about the relationship between one or more of the unknowns. Say that we need to buy a new car or a house, choose a spot for our next vacation, help our kids decide which sport to play or which college to attend, and so on. From a financial perspective, one could assume that the choice of the  car would directly impact the choice of college. By creating this relationship between our choices, we eliminate an unknown. We can also reduce unknowns in decision-making by evaluating our tolerance for risk-taking.

In some cases, our perceived risk of the unknowns is so great, that it binds our heart to insurmountable fear. What if we sign a mortgage on the house and our financial situation changes? What if we don’t like the new neighborhood or our neighbors? When fear takes over, it ensures that no amount of guidance or reframing of the challenge will get us closer to a solution. Fear can also make our decision for us by magnifying the risk of the hearts unknowns. 

In other cases, the risk may be low enough, and we may even have more than enough information to make a decision. And yet, there is a nagging unknown in our heart which is informed by our intuition, our past experience, or some higher guidance. Unlike the x’s and y’s of algebra and geometry, we are now engaged in the POW of life’s mathematics. We have two job offers in hand. They are both financially great for us, but the heart’s knowing leads us to the lower paying one with the low-stress lifestyle.

The heart’s knowing may thus lead to seemingly inexact or even irrational solutions. And that’s okay, because joy isn’t always found in finding the exact solution to the problem. Joy is in the simple sitting down at the kitchen counter and playing with the unknowns. Joy is in the knowing that there will soon be another opportunity to collaborate on life’s new POW with an open heart. 

Maybe it’s time to open our heart and re-kindle our love-affair with more unknowns — what does your heart think? 

Kumud

P.S. Join our weekly twitter chat, Sunday Feb 23 at 9amET in #SpiritChat – we will explore some new unknowns, and learn a bit more about life’s mathematics and may even attempt to solve a POW together. Of course, no group activity would be complete without tea and cookies…. Namaste – @AjmaniK

A Bridge into the Unknown

Bridges – old and new – can serve as invitations to explore the unknown – meditation is one such bridge…

It was a brilliant walk beyond that bridge…

Last autumn’s leaves, waiting for a new spring’s unknowns

The Heart’s Quadrants

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I am not much of a sport’s watcher any more, perhaps because I’m not much of a TV watcher any more. However, this year, I found myself tuning into the Super Bowl because – actually, I’m not quite sure why, but it just happened. More than the game itself, I was actually paying a bit of attention to the ads. I have to admit, I was totally taken by the story told by the ad that talked about the four types of love… 

While thinking about the topic for this week’s #SpiritChat conversation, I knew that I would end up talking about something heart-related. February is heart-health month, and this year has that extra-special day at the end, for which I have a  special affinity (more about that in two weeks). And then, this morning, reflecting on the heart, I was reminded of the four quadrants of the heart. This made me wonder – is there a connection between the four types of love and the four quadrants of the heart?

What about love? The four types of love are deemed to be philia (love that grows out of friendships), storge (love that is founded on family relationships), eros (the romantic love) and agape (love that comes from acts of service and selfless actions). And what about the heart? The heart’s upper quadrants are the two atriums or atria  – the right, which collects the impure blood through the venous system, and the left, which collects the purified blood from the lungs. The lower quadrants are the two ventricles or the pumps. The right ventricle receives the impure blood from the right atrium, and then pumps it to the lungs for purification. The left receives the purified blood from the left atrium, and pumps it to the organs through the arterial system. 

On the surface, it doesn’t seem like there is any correlation between the four types of love and the heart’s quadrants, is there? Delving a bit deeper, I thought of people whose love resembles the quadrants of the hearts. There are the “receivers” or the atriums – always available and open to us, helping us to lighten our load in any way they can. They do not judge whether our output is “pure” or “impure” – their role is to simply be receivers. “Atrium people” are perhaps primarily engaged in the practice of philia or agape love by their actions of presence and active listening, aren’t they?

Then, there are the “givers” or the ventricles – the ones who “feed” us continuously, whether we are asleep or awake, regardless of our mental and emotional state. The “givers” help us absorb the goodness that every breath brings into our  hearts, and remind us to share that goodness with every cell in our bodies. Our heart’s two ventricles are essential to life and living. The same is true of those who are the ‘givers of love’ in our lives, isn’t it?

What would our lives be without the magic of friendships, the special bonds of family, the incorrigible romantics, or those who are ever-eager to give? Who are our heart’s atriums and ventricles, the ones who teach us about philia, storgeeros and agape? Do we not live our best life when all of the heart’s quadrants work as a unified whole for a single purpose – which is to flow higher love?

Kumud

P.S. Join us for our weekly chat, Sunday February 16 at 9am ET / 2pm GMT / 7:30pm India. We will talk about the heart and its giving and receiving of love through all its quadrants. Join us to tea and cookies. Namaste – @AjmaniK

 

The four quadrants

The Heart of Holding Space

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“Have we ever had a #SpiritChat on the idea of ‘holding space’?”

The minute Lucille asked this question as we were close to wrapping up the hour of the #SpiritChat monthly video get-together, I knew that she had brought forth the topic for the weekly chat. My immediate answer was to say, “no, we haven’t ever discussed that as a topic — but, it is one of my favorite phrases and ideas to practice!”. In fact, I had benefitted from practicing it just the previous day. 

A few weeks ago, I had received an invite to attend a meeting at 8:30am on Thursday morning. My first reaction was to respond  that I wouldn’t be able to attend because of another scheduled meeting. However, when I read the agenda, it was to review the by-laws of the Parents’ Association of my daughter’s school. I thought, this is really important, and maybe the other meeting will get moved. So, I found myself responding with — “I am not sure, but please hold space for me as I am going to do my best to attend”.

Unbeknownst to me, the organizers must have done just that. Thursday morning came and I was running behind because my daughter woke up with a nasty cold. I hadn’t even showered or shaved yet, and it was time to leave, if I was going to make it in time. As I got ready to text the organizer that I wasn’t going to be able to make it, a thought passed across my heart. What if they are actually ‘holding space’ for me, just like I asked them to?

So, I put my phone away, brushed my teeth (yes, this was an IRL meeting, not a twitter chat :)), put some clothes on and drove the short distance through the sleet that was falling quickly and icing up the roads. Four smiling faces, including the broadest of smiles of a little baby girl that one of the Mom’s had brought with her, greeted me with the words – “we are so glad you are here”. 

In that instant, I knew that they were not looking at my unshaven face or my uncoordinated clothes that I had thrown together. It reminded me of something my maternal grandmother used to say and practice — “ बेटा जी, जगह इंसान के लिए दिल में होनी चाहिए – फिर सभी अपने होते हैं, कोई मेहमान नहीं होता।” My dear one, when we learn to make space in the heart for others, then there are no guests — the whole world becomes our family. 

So much truth wisdom in Grandma’s words, don’t you think? How often do we forsake the opportunity of ‘holding space’ or ‘creating space’ for others because of how we think we may be perceived by them? How often do we forsake ‘holding space’ for own selves because of how we think about ourself? And yet, if we take our eyes off of ourselves, we can then embrace the attitude of ‘holding space’.  Our heart can open to the idea that ‘we need to take care of each other, be kind to each other’.

So, here we are. We have some decisions to make, some questions to ponder. What is it that prevents us from ‘holding space’ in our hearts for some, but not for ‘others’? Despite filling ourselves with so much, why do we occasionally feel ‘empty’? What is the spiritual benefit of holding space (and time) for each other and for our own selves?

Here are some possibilities. In ‘holding space’ in our heart, the whole world can become ‘us’, not ‘them’. When there is no separation of us and them, we are in fact creating true freedom, aren’t we? In this freedom, real exploration of the vastness of inner space can truly begin — we may yet discover that the infinite has been forever holding loving space for us.

Kumud

P.S. Thank you, Lucille Fisher (@sageandsavvy) for this week’s grand question, and inspiration for our Sunday Feb 9 twitter chat in #SpiritChat at 9amET / 2pm GMT / 730pm India. I invite all of you to join us in this community that has been holding space for each other for many years. Namaste – @AjmaniK

 

Flowers, in various stages of flowering, held by Nature’s loving space… 

Tiger Lily

The Spirit of the Game

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Growing up in India, I was never much of a sports-playing kid in school. The emphasis was purely on academics, and any activity that distracted from “studies” was considered superfluous. It was even suggested that those who excelled in sports only did so because they were “poor” students and were probably not much interested in studying anyway!

This isn’t to say that I did not enjoy playing football (i.e. soccer), basketball, volleyball or even softball (without the gloves)  at every opportunity that I got during the daily P.T. (“physical training”) class. I even signed up to play “goalkeeper” during an inter-school tournament one year. However, my stint was short-lived because the after-school practices interfered with my “studies”. So, I decided to bide my time to play “real sports” until I got to college. 

However, all was not lost on the high-school “sports” front for me. In the ninth grade, my new brother-in-law started to teach me how to play chess. A combination of “plus points” about chess made it “acceptable” to my parents to allow me to spend untold number of hours playing the game. Firstly, I was viewed as being a good host to my brother-in-law, every time that we played when he visited us. In Indian culture, family members of the sister’s or daughter’s in-laws were always  treated with great respect and accommodation. So, this was strike one in my favor. Secondly, chess is a cerebral game, and this aligned well with the focus on “academic” activities. Thirdly, unlike football, there was no chance of getting physically hurt playing ‘chess’!

After playing diligently for a few years, studying books about chess openings, spending hours trying to solve the chess puzzles that appeared in the Sunday sports section of the newspaper, I actually started winning once in a while when I played with my “teacher”. I even started playing with my brother-in-law’s father, which was always a special occasion for me. This did land me in a bit of a dilemma as I was now finding myself in a position of asking a question. Should I be showing “disrespect” to the “in-laws” by playing “all out” and to the best of my abilities? Or should I be playing with integrity, in the “spirit of the game”, and let the pawns and rooks and knights and bishops sort it out on the board? (The dilemma sorted itself out once I graduated high-school and the opportunities to play became very rare).

Just when I thought I was getting really good at the game, an “International Master (IM)” from the USSR visited our high-school for a demonstration. He agreed to play “simultaneous chess” with thirty-two students and teachers. We all sat, sixteen apiece, in two long rows, and he moved from one board to the next, making one move at a time against each player. One by one we were defeated, and I was totally awed by the surgical precision with which he dismantled all but one student’s carefully crafted defenses. At the end of it that day, I wasn’t sure if I was awed by the IM’s thirty-one wins or the student who escaped with a draw! In those three short hours, I learnt a lot from the IM about the “spirit of the game”, and how much more I still had to learn about playing chess itself.

During my college and graduate school years, there was an unexpected hiatus of about ten years in active chess-playing for me. Fortunately, the love of the game did not die. In the mid-nineties, the advent of the internet and “international chess servers” opened up a lot more opportunities to play with players of different “ratings” (levels) from across the world. I even made a few friends with whom I would play fairly regularly – “friends” who I never even talked with, let alone meet in real life. Perhaps this experience was a precursor to what was to come a few years later on twitter in the form of #SpiritChat!

But what does chess, or sports at large, teach me about life and spirituality?

Chess taught me that the “spirit of the game” goes beyond winning and losing. It allows for the possibility of a well-contested, thoroughly enjoyable draw! I learnt that regardless of how “powerful” they were at the start of the game, every single piece was subject to being “humbled”. Any of the “lowly” pawns could not only humble the “mighty” king but also  become “all powerful” by being “queened”. All a pawn had to do was take one small step at a time until it reached the other end of the board! The bishops taught me about the discipline of “staying in our lane”, for they were only allowed to move diagonally on squares of assigned colors. The knights taught the power of flexibility in movement – the only pieces that can attack without being in line-of-sight of the pieces that they are attacking. The rooks taught me that long-range thinking, even if it is only limited to straight lines, conveys power only second to that of the all-powerful Queen.

One great lesson of playing chess perhaps came from learning that “the center” is all-important. A strong grasp of the center of the board, just like a powerful awareness of our heart, is essential to success in chess and life. Who is it that  controls the center? More often than not, the center is established by the “lowly” pawns, with their one or two small steps at the very start of the game. Similarly, it is with our small, pawn-like moves in our daily spiritual practice, that awakens awareness of our center. Our daily spiritual steps may seem small, even insignificant. Yet, with every heart-based move we make, we are setting up space for our center to prevail.

Looking back on all those years of chess-playing and all the games I must have played, one common conclusion stands out. At the end of every game, all of the pieces – whether they were black or white, winners or losers or participants in a draw,  pawns or queens or kings – all were put back in the box from which they were brought out, to await yet again for  their opportunity to take center-stage again.

The game taught me that winning and losing are often forgotten, but the spirit of those who taught us how to play with purity, fairness and dignity leaves an imprint on our heart. Remembrance of the game’s spirit is perhaps the best way to honor our coaches, and to be grateful for those who choose to be on life’s playgrounds with us! 

Kumud 

P.S. What is your favorite sport to watch or to play? What has your favorite ‘game’ taught you about life and living? If you were to play a position in your favorite game, what would it be? I invite you to share the spirit of the game with the #SpiritChat community on Sunday, Feb 2nd at 9amET on twitter. Maybe we can even play chess one of these days…  Namaste – @AjmaniK

 

518px ChessSet

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

By Alan Light – Own work by the original uploader, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=20299