Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Sound Health

May seem like a non-sequitur, but the following line caught our attention. "The voice is an instrument we all play, yet how many of us are trained in using our voice." A sticky talk is simply a well played instrument.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Activity vs Accomplishment the Key to Pravrutti.

Logic will not change emotion, action will.

The very hungry caterpillar has been in heavy rotation for bed time reading at our house this last year. Kids (and grown ups who are kids at heart) are fascinated by these creature. It could be the voracious appetite, the metamorphosis, the ability to observe a life cycle or simply the neon green color - caterpillars seem to capture our imagination.

John-Henri Fabre, the great French entomologist and naturalist, was also facinated by caterpillars - specifically processionary caterpillar. He conducted a most unusual experiment with some processionary caterpillars which he captured in his essay "The life of a caterpillar." These caterpillars blindly follow the one in front of them, hence, the name. Fabre carefully arranged the caterpillars in a circle around the rim of a flowerpot, so that the lead caterpillar actually touched the last one, making a complete circle. In the center of the flowerpot he put pine needles, which is the preferred food of the processionary caterpillar. The caterpillars started walking around this circular flowerpot.

Around and around they went, hour after hour, day after day, night after night. For seven full days and seven full nights, they went around the flowerpot. Finally, they dropped dead of starvation and exhaustion. With an abundance of food less than six inches away, they literally starved to death. They confused activity with accomplishment.

And this leads us to this weeks Yuvati sabha syllabus topic - pravrutti. Pravrutti is an action. As we stated in the beginning actions are powerful, they can change emotion, they can do things that logic simply cannot. However as we see in the experiment of Fabre - there are different types of action. There are different types of pravrutti. Any pravrutti we do if we keep Maharaj and Swami in our mind it is elevated to bhakti. Conversely any seva we do if we do not keep Maharaj and Swami in our minds it is just work - us walking around in a circle when our food of choice is just a few inches away.

Uka Kacher cleaned the path leading to the sabha hall and Maharaj embraced him and said he was the "owner of the house." The take away here is more than we should clean the parking lot in the Mandir - we should definitely do this, but do so while keeping Maharaj and Swami in our heart and mind. This is liberating since any pravrutti we do can be elevated to bhakti. Studying can become bhakti. Reading bedtime stories to our kids becomes bhakti. Writing a report for work becomes bhakti. It is a subtle idea and as with such ideas not a simple one to implement. But it is definitely worth trying.

Friday, September 17, 2010

The Force of Faith (Divyabhav)

To the left, we see baseball, the pastime of Americans, and immediately below it, we see a straw airplane, the pastime of Pacific islanders...

...which brings us to our brief history lesson. After all, no sabha is complete without a trace of trivia! During World War II when the United States was fighting the Japanese in the Pacific, the army established bases on various remote islands.

However, these islands were inhabited by native people who had never seen such tenacious technology like that of the military (e.g. tanks, airplanes). When the war finally ended, the army deserted the islands and destroyed any trace of their short-lived presence there.

The islanders, very much mystified by the fleeting foreigners, did not resume life as normal. In fact, they duplicated a lot of what they saw. They built airplanes out of straw as the one seen above. They built control towers out of wood. It was "monkey see, monkey do" of the military. Anthropologists who visited these islands in the decades that followed were very much amazed by these activities; they called these cultures, "cargo cults."

So this begs the question, "What does it have to do with baseball?" Well, just as anthropologists can study the cultures of different people, they too can study the sport of baseball for its own culture, especially the beliefs held by players. In a paper authored by George Gmelch back in 2000, we see some interesting observations.
  • Former first baseman of the Baltimore Orioles, Glen Davis, would chew the same gum every day during hitting streaks. Where would he put it? His hat. 
  • But for others, it's much more decorative. Take Turk Wendell, former pitcher for the New York Mets. He made his necklace by extracting teeth from the animals he had killed - all in the name of fortune. 
  • And, last but not least (we are going somewhere here other than a trivia overdose) the number three tantalized former Colorado Rockies' right outfielder Larry Walker. Three practice swings he would take before batting. Three minutes past the time to wake up he would set his alarm clock. Third day of November at 3:33PM he married his wife (of course only one)
Our blog post thus far has left us with straw airplanes, ABC gum, an animal-toothed necklace, and three-love, yet a common theme underlies them all.
  • The Pacific islanders satisfied their curiosity through copying the foreigners' activities.
  • The baseball players satisfied their need to succeed through performing ridiculous routines.
  • And from the syllabus, we can learn that even explorer Robert Scott satisfied his ambition through setting off on a dangerous journey.
His example proves quite personal to us given that we too have embarked on this incredible journey of Satsang to attain Akshardham, but the task of navigating falls back to us. In other words, what do we need to do to satisfy our Satsang? We can turn to those who have made this journey before us and learn, "We devotees satisfy our Satsang through faith."

How so? Let's take a look.
  • Himraj Sheth had much to lose, but having faith strengthened his samjan, his Satsang, and secure the raajipo of Shriji Maharaj Himself.
  • Vajibaa of Vijapur had the opportunity to be enamored by an enchanter, but having faith strengthened her samjan, her Satsang, and secure the raajipo of Shriji Maharaj Himself.
  • Even Nityanand Swami had the chance to cut himself loose from Shriji Maharaj, the very individual who he revered as God Himself but also removed him from Satsang, yet his faith in God's intentions carried him through the confusion. (See Satsang Reader 2, p4-5)
And if we take a step back, we see that the initial examples all entail faith. The islanders had faith in the foreigners' activities as worthy of being copied. The players had faith in their routines as worthy of predicting success. Scott had faith in the fruition of his journey as the means to attain his ambition.

So where does that leave us? Every endeavor imaginable requires that we put forth a fistful of faith.

Thus, let's cultivate this ingredient so integral to the recipe for success - in Satsang and in society.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Shriji Maharaj's Miracles (Divyabhav)

Though make-believe, these comic characters captivate our childhood imaginations.For some, it even extends well into adulthood, like the guy on the right.

Yet, when we see these characters, we cannot hope to fantasize about their abilities. I wish I had that power.

Not to fret - the public at-large thinks in similar terms. In an older episode of the popular podcast, This American Life, John Hodgman decided to phrase it as a question, "If you had a superpower, would it be flight or invisibility?

It's an interesting answer to garner, but what's even more intriguing is how the person imagines using the power. Take a crack at it in sabha, and see how the audience responds to the following questions.

  • If you could pick one superpower, would it be the ability to fly or the ability to become invisible?
  • What would you do with that power?

Now comes the kicker - let's listen to what Hodgman observed in all the responses (9:00-10:15).

Assuming that we listened to Hodgman's profound insight, did we find ourselves in shock & awe? Interestingly enough, we find this same lesson resounding from Shriji Maharaj Himself. As Purna Purushottam Narayan Himself, He could have very well utilized his supremacy to fly around all day or disappear at will, but every moment he spent enveloped in His powers, He would be losing time that could be spent on the betterment of others.

In effect, while we desire to be superhuman to be better than all, Shriji Maharaj desires us to be more human for the betterment of all. His life was a testament to this powerful message as evidenced in the prasangs provided.

But Shriji Maharaj did in fact use His powers to work miracles, so how could He be so genuine? The syllabus provides us with an answer on this important note, so be sure not to overlook it along with the prasang of Vyapakanand Swami.

After all, it's one thing to steal the show. It's another to actually run it, so let's learn from Shriji Maharaj that it's the motives, not the magic or the money, that make a man memorable.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Anyone Can MC

The art of an emcee requires linking what sometimes can be disparate or different ideas into a flow in less than a minute. Very much like an elevator talk, this can be very challenging, but when done right it is a thing of beauty - poignant as well as thought provoking. An emcee can really keep the pace of the sabha moving and keep everyone involved and focused. Today we look at a few examples. The video below from RadioLab (a must listen podcast) shows how you can relate almost anything based on a word. See if you can find the word that links one scene to the next. It is harder than it sounds.

In kishori mandal emcee is made much easier since we have MC notes every week to help us make these transitions. This week we focus on "Paradigm Shifts" and we can start with a great unexpected story that really highlights paradigm shifts. In the story a woman mistakenly thinks someone is eating the cookies that she bought.

Sometime we do a great job of linking the topic with the presentations, but dhoon and prarthna get left behind. This week we can anchor and pivot on the words paradigm shift to move from the story about the woman and cookies in the MC notes into dhoon and prarthna seamlessly (like the video).

Here is one example: The woman in this story only realized her mistake when she saw the packet of cookies she had bought were still in her purse. She had a paradigm shift. When Maharaj was present on earth many people met him, but only the people who realized who he truly was had a paradigm shift that changed their lives. Today we want to investigate this same paradigm shift - so let's start by focusing our minds by singing the dhoon Bhaj mane Swaminarayan. This dhoon very concisely explains the qualties of Maharaj that we need to think about to get a paradigm shift. See if you can spot them. After dhoon we will invite Maharaj and Swami to our sabha while sining the prarthna Shriji Maharaj Maangu Sharan Tamaru. This prarthna also recounts the actions and accomplishments of Shriji Maharaj that can jolt us into a paradigm shift and enable us to see Maharaj as he really is.

Any other ideas on how to anchor and shift next week?

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Six Tips for Giving an Elevator Speech

This is a great run down from the Heath Brothers newsletter. How would you give an elevator pitch about your seva? Explaining the sanstha? Explaining who Bapa is? It is harder than it sounds. Give it a try.

  1. An elevator pitch is a mixture of an explanation and a sales pitch. It's intended to get people excited about your organization, your new product, or even you personally (in an interview situation). Here's how to give a good one:
  2. Think short - no shorter than 30 seconds and no longer than 3 minutes. Time it.
  3. If your topic is complex, use the "anchor & twist" format to orient your audience.
  4. Don't wing it, script it. Once you've figured out how to explain something well, there is NO value in novelty. Tell it the same (effective) way every time.
  5. 'Why' comes before 'What.' People will understand better what you're doing if they first know whyyou're doing it. Here's an example: "Most people invest some of their savings and give some of it away to charity. Wouldn't it be nice if you could do both at once -- get interest AND impact? That's why we invented the Calvert Community Investment Notes."
  6. Mandatory: Include a story. For a product pitch, tell a customer's story. For a nonprofit pitch, talk about the people you help. For self-promotion, highlight a time when you nailed it.
  7. Check out other pitches for inspiration. Here's one that we worked on for Peter Singer's great book, The Life You Can Save. And here's a great article about elevator pitches, starring Dave Yewman and Andy Craig, the masters of the craft.