Sunday, November 21, 2010

Ramayan for Babies

Simple. To get simple down right takes practice. And as we have said in the past, simple is not so simple. But if you really want to practice simple, go do shishu sabha. Pre-schoolers do not have a long attention span or life experience to relate to. If you want a message to stick you have to get it right the first time, distill it to it's core, and make sure to say it with plain language. Given this how would you explain Diwali to a bunch of pre-schoolers. How about pre-schoolers who are not even Indian? Daunting? Check out the following site as an example. Honestly any feedback you all could give to make this better would be sincerely appreciated. Thanks.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Sound Guy Neck Crane

Unexpected. Can you link this to a topic? It is not so hard. Think about ego, antardrashti, understanding Bapa, prasangs of Bapa and audio problems. This weeks Kishori mandal syllabus has a presentation on the humanitarian spirit - keeping purity in thought and action. The story below can highlight how many times we want to keep this thought and action, but when things go wrong we revert to an alternate behavior. The second presentation is a recap of the summer shibir focused on moksha - how do we relate that. Well Bapa is moksh nu dwar - the doorway to moksha. We attain moksha by being like him. How would he handle the microphone situation and how would we? The mahila goshti syllabus for this month touches on a similar scenario. You have worked really hard to increase Satsang, and Bapa comes to you town - what thoughts go through your mind. Similarly during that assembly if the microphones do not work, what thoughts go through your mind?

The point here is that this story is unexpected, it will get people's attention. We can use that in many ways with many topics. So even if you are presenting next week or four weeks from now, this story can come in handy (as long as your fellow presenters do not use it before you do!)

Microphones are Nastiks (Atheists). I can’t prove this scientifically, but I’m pretty sure it’s true. I think it’s because Maharaj doesn’t need them. When He speaks in the Vachnamrut, His voice is loud and carries naturally, or He uses samadhi and mukto and miracles to amplify His message. So I imagine that microphones feel slighted and decided long ago to wage a very public anti campaign against Maharaj and Swami.

How else can you explain the shenanigans that occur on Sunday afternoon in almost every sabha with the sound system? From microphones that work perfectly during sound check and then refuse to work during sabha to that loud ear-bursting feedback that blossoms during the most inappropriate times, like right before a prarthna, sound systems are always punking the Mandir. And when they do, it’s so easy to pull out a “sound guy neck crane.”

The sound guy neck crane is the first thing we all do when the sound goes bananas in the middle of sabha. It’s a simple move, but I’ll walk you through the steps:

Step 1
Sound messes up.

Step 2
You quickly try to remember where the sound guy is stationed in the sabha.

Step 3
You crane your neck to his position and stare at him with eyes that say, “Do you not hear this? That microphone is on fire! Why do you want sabha to suck? Do you hate Maharaj and Swami? That’s it, isn’t it? You hate Maharaj. You sweaty Nastik.”

Step 4
Sound is restored. You turn back around and silently thank yourself for contributing to the rectification of the problem by pointing it out with your sound guy neck crane.

I’m just as guilty of this as anyone else. The only problem is that at my local Mandir about 5 different sevaks help run the sound on any given Sunday sabha and some sit in the audio room way up high and in the back but a few are on one side of the stage and yet some others are sitting in audience. So my head has to bounce around like I’m watching a tennis match (or desi volleyball) if I want to bust out a sound guy neck crane. “I see you in the audio room. You down at the side of the stage. You up on the corner of the stage, I’m seeing you too, and I’m not happy.” Bounce, bounce, bounce, crane, crane, crane.

That’s part of the reason I’m going to retire my sound guy neck crane. It’s just too much work at my Mandir. It’s also kind of a jerk thing to do. And by “kind of” I mean “really,” and by “jerk” I mean “words I can’t type without crazy *&# symbols.” From now on, when the sound messes up, I’m going to just do a sitting pag e laag the person next to me and whisper politely, “Microphones hate Maharaj.” It will be awkward the first 2, 3, or 400 times, but people usually like sitting paag e laags, and it will put the blame where it belongs: on Maharaj-hatin’ sound equipment.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Tyag (Sadhana)

$1000 - nothing beats ten fresh, crisp Benjamins... so start today's sabha with prizing one lucky audience member.

(NOTE: Monopoly money works just as well unless of course we as presenters have the money to make someone's Sunday.)

Now, our guest has three options to make some more.
  • Flip a coin: heads = +$1000 
  • Flip a coin: tails = nothing
  • Don't flip a coin = +$500
Ask our guest what they would do, and ask the audience what they would do in such a scenario.

Now it gets better - let's give another one of our audience members double. That's right, twenty fresh, crisp Benjamins. However, they now have a slightly different dilemma.
  • Flip a coin: heads = -$1000
  • Flip a coin: tails = nothing
  • Don't flip a coin = -$500
As in the last case, ask our second guest what they would do, and ask the audience what they would do in such a scenario. 

In a similar psychological experiment conducted by Yale researcher Laurie Santos, most people went with the third option in the first scenario - that is they chose not to flip the coin and walk away with an extra $500 (a guaranteed total of $1500). 

In the second scenario, most people chose to flip the coin - a 50/50 shot at all or none. Hardly anybody chose to take a guaranteed loss of $500 which, interestingly enough, results in the same amount that most people walked away with in the first scenario of $1500. 

What's going on? And why again are we talking about money when the topic is tyag, the giving up of material goods?

Tyag is a two-way street: whatever we give up, we receive in a different form.

Let's take a turn down the first street - the lane of loss. We find tyag so difficult because we are biologically primed against loss; psychologists call it loss aversion. That's why when the housing market tanked, people refused to forego their properties even in the face of rising debts. 

Let's revisit our second scenario here and the payoffs for each option.
  • Flip a coin: heads = -$1000 ($2000-$1000=$1000)
  • Flip a coin: tails = nothing ($2000-0=$2000)
  • Don't flip a coin = -$500 ($2000-$500=$1500)
The first & third options result in a net loss of some sort while the second option results in no net loss.

In Satsang, we are all too familiar with our niyams - no eating out, no onion/garlic, no TV, no movies, etc - and we phrase them in the context of our second scenario.
  • If I take a niyam, I may lose out a lot.
  • If I take a niyam, I may not lose out.
  • If I don't a niyam, I lose out but not as much.
And this mentality constricts and curtails our connection to Swamishri.

Let's ponder for a second, 

"Does this man have my best interest at heart? 

If so, then we can only gain from following his guidance.

That's why our previous attempts at reframing our options fell short and proved incomplete.
  • If I take a niyam, I may lose out a lot but will gain A LOT.
  • If I take a niyam, I may not lose out but will gain NOTHING.
  • If I don't a niyam, I lose out but not as much but will not also gain as much. 
Alright, enough of the sticky sabha shenanigans; what exactly do we stand to gain if we do elect for the first route?

Rajipo - the seed of success - and don't take our word for it, a survey of the plethora of prasangs proves this idea to its fullest.
  • In Shriji Maharaj's time, the 500 paramhanso placed themselves in that path and succeeded to establish the Swaminarayan Sampraday.
  • Our gurus, from Gunatitanand Swami to Pramukh Swami Maharaj, served their guru and succeeded to push their mentor's efforts to a new level.
  • Our sanstha's haribhakto today reflect that sentiment in all they do as commemorated in the Shatabdi Mahotsav. (Prasangs can be found in this issue of Bliss).
Let's remember, tyag is a two-way street: whatever we give up, we receive as rajipo.

After all, the lane of loss pales...

in comparison to the roadway of returns!

Thursday, November 4, 2010


We have always been great fans of Nancy Duarte and her book, slide:ology, she has come out with a new book entitled, resonate, and well, it really resonates with us. Duarte calls resonate a prequel to her last book slide:ology which tackled the craft of visual presentations. The new book is engaged more with theory. The points she makes about emotion and structure would be obvious to a (decent) Hollywood screenwriter or (serious) second-year M.F.A. student, but they’re not well known to a regional vice president for sales or many sanchalaks who have to present every week.

We are planning some future in depth posts on her findings and really recommend the book or listening to her talk. Here is the (ultra)abridged version.

  • Don’t be too cerebral. 
  • Tell stories. 
  • Figure out what the audience cares about. 
  • Create common ground with them. 
  • Move back and forth between opposing ideas to create energy. 
  • Deliver facts but put them in context and make them shocking if possible. 
  • Find inspiration anywhere you can.

She analyzes many great talks to show how they all fall into this pattern. In fact, she propounds that this is the pattern to follow to make something memorable. One talk she analyzes is Ben Zanders TED talk. With an extra 20 minutes to spare, check out the talk and prepare to be engrossed in sheer loveliness.

[Extra credit: Watch it again later to see how it fits many of the Made to Stick paradigms, as well as Duartes's observations above].

Happy Diwali!

Everyone at the blog wishes all of you a Happy Diwali.
Nutan Varsh na Abhinandan.
Jai Swaminarayan.