Sunday, February 24, 2013

Bully for Upasaana

A conundrum we all face is to take powerful prasangs from our sanstha and make them relevant to our audience. In Made to Stick parlance - how do we tie our unexpected and simple message into something that will stick. This is compounded when we are using a story (prasang) that everyone in the audience has heard several times before. Now we need to work twice as hard to keep everyone engaged so we have their permission and attention when making our simple statement. A fellow Sabhaologist offers his ideas on how to do this with this weeks syllabus.

It's very unlikely that any of us with start an organization from scratch, build five mandirs with barely any resources, or travel from gaam to gaam in India to spread the Akshar Purushottam Upasana. So how can kishores and kishoris relate to the hardships that Shastriji Maharaj went through?  How can they connect through the harassment he was regularly exposed to?  Will they be able to contextualize what Shastriji Maharaj had to overcome to convert BAPS from an idea into a sanstha?  

One type of difficulty that everyone can relate to is being bullied.  Be it at school for how you look, the tilak chandlo on your forehead as your walking down the street, or anything else, being made fun of for a differing characteristic or belief is an experience that a majority of the population can relate to - and that's essentially what happened to Shastriji Maharaj. The unexpected and simple message is: we can all relate to bullying and this was exactly what Shastriji Maharaj went through.

Here is a video that illustrates the impact of bullying.

But what propelled Shastriji Maharaj to overcome that bullying was his core belief, what he left Vadtal for, what he wanted everyone to learn and weave into the fabric of their life - the Akshar Purushottam Upasana.  It's this core that drove his decisions, decided how he'd react, and inspired some many dedicate themselves to such a powerful guru.  

The prasangs in this week's presentation correspond directly with the thoughts that run through many of our minds when we're bullied: 
  1. Sentiments towards those who bully us:  Usually we'll feel like retaliating against those who ridicule us, but regardless how how Shastriji Maharaj was treated by others, he was willing to suffer anything to spread satsang and didn't feel ill will towards anyone
  2. How we feel when we're bullied:  A fire can burn within us when we're made fun of, but when Shastriji Maharaj was in a building that was physically on fire, his heart didn't burn with rage towards anyone.
  3. Continually remembering our core:  May times we need encouragement if bullied, but even though he was continuously bullied, Shastriji Maharaj remembered his core principles, who he had, and reminded others about their cause to stay firm in their efforts. 
So even though we may never live through the same hardships that Shastriji Maharaj faced, we still look into the eyes of adversity everyday.  When we do face that adversity, just as Shriji Maharaj explains in Gad I-74, it's only during times of hardship will our faith and true colors be tested.  So the next time you're bullied or are challenged by some type of adversity, then remember how Shastriji Maharaj reacted dealing with people who hated and wanted to kill him.  

Tuesday, February 12, 2013


Simple, Unexpected, Stories (SUS) have been the staple elements upon which we have been exploring the method of making talks that resonate with our audience. Many of us are now very familiar with the basics, the past posts are full of them. In this post we want to delve further and see how we can refine these ideas.

We have stated the difficulty in crafting the simple statement as it requires us to consolidate all the material provided to us into one sentence. However it is critical to crystallize this idea since this is the message we want everyone to leave with. We have noticed that when implementing SUS, we start off with a great unexpected and everyone is engaged. We then try to parlay this engagement into our simple and stories and prasangs. However after the initial excitement we find that the audience tends to loose focus.

We believe that the next step in SUS should be: Connecting the simple to the unexpected. This will require thought, but will increase the engagement from beyond the thought provoking idea of funny story of the unexpected to the core of the simple message and prasangs.

Let's look at two examples we saw over the last two weeks.

Example #1
On Superbowl weekend, the kishore/kishori sabha topic dealt with samp, suhradhyabhaav, and ektaa. The presenter opened it up by talking about an Arctic explorer who came across a bag of cheese doodles that he himself had buried prior to his trip and the his reaction. Take a look (note this was also referenced on RadioLab).

After setting up and showing the clip everyone was engaged and laughing. Now the presenter started to tie this unexpected to his simple message. There was a small discussion (question / answer really): when have you ever been this happy before, when we walk into the Mandir and do darshan do we scream like him, five year olds scream like that all the time why don't we, etc. He then mentioned the following: this explorer put himself in this position of being very tired and hungry (walking for over 40 days) all alone so that when he discovered something he already had, something he had put in the ground himself - he experienced bliss. For us to experience bliss in satsang we too need to be put in situations where we face hardships - where we are tested. He then moved on to ask would the explorer's journey have been easier or harder with another person or a group? A group may have given him company, but they may have also got on each others nerves. If you were that hungry would you want to split those cheese doodles? He then moved to his simple: Samp, Suradhyabhav, and Ekta cause us to be in in difficult situations so that we can experience happiness. This line and the reference to the cheese doodles were then used to compare almost every story.

Example #2
Just yesterday in the same sabha, the topic was sadhutaa. The presenter opened it up with a story where he asked everyone to visualize playing in the Mandir parking lot and getting hit by a car. Then a question, "Would you want someone to perform CPR on you?" Of course, the majority of the sabha raised their hands, but the unexpectedness of the question came through when he played the clip (again from from a recent episode of Radiolab) in which the doctors interviewed pointed out that only 8% benefit from CPR (3% regain normal function, 2% remain as a "vegetable," and 2% remain comatose) while 92% die. The interview also revealed that TV shows depict CPR working on average 75% of the time thus shaping the public's opinion of the maneuver and that most doctors would refuse CPR for themselves.

He then tried to link it accordingly:

  • We did not realize how we had been fed a lie. 
  • Only when we realize the niyams we have can we understand what it means to be a sadhu.
  • Sadhutaa is about pushing forward,
Unfortunately, the last point, his simple statement, did not connect so well to the unexpected. How could he have done it better?

  • Sure, doctors would have not wanted it for themselves.
  • Now let's say their patient was their child.
  • Would they still elect for CPR despite the data?
  • They would because it's a deep relationship that they are not willing to forego.
  • To keep pushing forward out of our relationship with God and our guru - that's sadhutaa.
This relationship proves crucial to the presentation because it is the point that is reiterated over and over throughout the talk.

We can  find cool things to use in our presentation, but it's equally important that we take the time to link the elements up, in this case the simple and the unexpected. The stories should also be connected to the simpl and can then be used to drive home the connection.

Monday, February 4, 2013

The Pravachan Jitters

Our scriptures note the particular significance of mantra-jap in its ability to steady our mind, yet the mantra of syllables we utter when nerves compromise our ability to communicate does anything but strengthen our resolve.

Photo Credit: andres.thor via Compfight cc

Stuttering stands to dilute a sticky message but can be reigned thanks to a few tips shared by an article on Duarte:
  1. Visualize Something Positive. Visualizing something that makes you happy is known to help you relax and thereby reduce stuttering. Imagine something that you love is in the room with you, or even keep a picture of something you love on the podium, or in your pocket. I’ve seen great speakers keep images of their children on their teleprompter because of this technique.
  2. Get Familiar. To this day, I visit a venue a few days before a show. I’ll soak in the details and reduce future distractions that can cause my mind to wander. I don’t know if it’s ADD, but I get those “Ooh shiny object!” moments when performing, and I seem to stutter after those distractions occur. So I try to familiarize myself with my surroundings, and if possible, rehearse in the venue so that it becomes second nature. This familiarity reduces heart rate and irregular breathing which are muscular triggers that can lead to stuttering.
  3. Rehearse, Rehearse, Rehearse. My professor used to tell us to rehearse our lines in a dark, quiet room, laying on our backs. This forces you to focus only on your voice and what you’re saying. Sometimes when I present, I’ll wear earplugs so that I can hear my voice, and focus on my projection and articulation. Perhaps you can’t memorize your whole presentation, but I would suggest rehearsing your opening and closing with this technique.
  4. Take a Deep Breath, or a Lot of Them. Before you go on stage, focus on the pace of your breathing until you can slow it down and reduce your heart rate. Once I get a controlled rate of breathing, I try to be conscious of it when I’m on stage. If not, the adrenaline kicks in, my heart races, and I talk so fast that no one can understand me.
  5. Pace Yourself. I mean actually pace – move around a bit onstage. A slow, steady walk across the stage can set a rhythm, that will help slow down your thinking and your speech, and reduce the confusion that often leads to stuttering. My instructor once made me recite four pages of a play while walking around the campus with her. I didn’t stutter once! But when I stood still on a stage in front of a large group, I stuttered and mumbled like a madman. The pace of my walking helped control the mechanics of it all.
  6. Get Some Sleep. For a long time, I tried cramming lines and content up the last minute of the performance. Staying up all night rehearsing and memorizing. I was a wreck. My professor told me, “Rehearse and study, but the night before, sleep, a lot!”
Let's face it, nobody likes to panic before a pravachan, but when we introspect, we realize the angst stems from whether or not we will defy the audience's expectations.

Ambition - now that's something worth contemplation.