Sunday, January 15, 2017

Make the Kids Write - a new kind of unexpected.

Sahilbhai a first time presenter in Bal 1 and a very ardent Sabha-ologist came up with a unique unexpected (spoiler alert: it was not a video) to engage the Balaks. He wrote the following thoughtful analysis of his talk and how in the future he would improve. A great many good idea here for all of us to implement.

In preparing for my Bal 1 talk centered on the prasang of Shukanand Swami I came up with the following Simple / Unexpected / Story paradigm.

When we do seva our main goal should be to make Maharaj and Swami happy.I would have the kids repeat this several times to make sure they remembered it. This really worked as some of the kids were said this in their own words while they were eating dinner.

I had the balaks undergo a writing exercise in order to help them understand the difficulty of Shukanand Swami’s seva as Maharaj’s Secretary. Each balak had a blank piece of paper and a pencil. I would say five sentences and have them write it down word for word to the best of their ability. Then I would ask the balaks for feedback on they performed. There was only one balak who was able to get around 90% of what I said which was 40% higher than the second highest. I asked him why he did so well and he told me that he has a teacher who teaches at a fast pace. I related this to Shukanand Swami’s proficiency in his seva because before Shukanand Swami became a sadhu he was a merchant who handled the accounts of land and he was highly educated. Similar to the balak who performed well due to his experience with his teacher in school, Shukanand Swami was highly adept at writing long accounts due to his knowledge of linguistics he was able to handle the rigors of being Maharaj’s Secretary.

After receiving the feedback from the balaks, I immediately told them to flip over their paper and be ready for the second part of the exercise. Similar to the first part, I would say five sentences (different sentences) and have write them down word for word. After completing the exercise, I initiated another feedback interval to ask how they felt now compared to the first part. Many of the balaks improved from their performance on the first part because they kept a positive attitude even though they might have gotten less than 10% accuracy (accuracy is evaluated by how many words a balak was able write down which correlated with what I had spoken in the five sentences) on the first part. The balaks that had done worse than before or did not improve had a negative attitude which affected their performance. Because of the fact they were unable to get a 100% accuracy on the first try, they felt miserable. 
I used this data to inform the balaks on how this exercise resembles seva. When we do seva our main goal should be to make Maharaj and Swami happy. However, sometimes events happen that are out of our control. Those events must be seen as Maharaj’s ichchha (His doing) to test us. If we become depressed and quit we will never achieve the goal we set out which was to earn Maharaj and Swami’s happiness (rajipo). Therefore, if we remain sthitpragya (stable minded) we are able to analyze what happened (antardrishti) to help us persevere through the unsuccessful attempt in order to continue our goal to achieve Maharaj and Swami’s happiness.

I told the balaks about Shukanand Swami’s seva and the magnitude of difficulty he had to go through. I began with an overview of what it meant being Maharaj’s secretary. As the secretary, Shukanand Swami would create and maintain accounts of Maharaj’s discourses which were later compiled into major religious texts (Vachanamrut). Maharaj always tested his devotees in order for them to become ekantik (perfect devotee). The same was applied to Shukanand Swami by how he was pressured to write 14 page long accounts and end up having to revise them late into the night (this displayed the amount of meticulous perfection Shukanand Swami emphasized in doing seva). When he would submit his seva to Maharaj as a form of bhakti, Maharaj would test him being tearing up the papers and throwing them on the ground. Nityanand Swami asked Shukanand Swami if he experience a feeling of frustration and Shukanand Swami replied by saying “I had written it just to please Maharaj and Maharaj pleased himself by tearing up the pages”. This quote best illustrated how we should perform our seva which is to earn Maharaj and Swami’s happiness and remain stable minded like Shukanand Swami. As a result, Maharaj appreciated Shukanand Swami so much that he would refer to him during discourses on seva.

In order to continue my emphasis on when we do seva our main goal should be to make Maharaj and Swami happy as well as the mahima of Maharaj's ichchha in our seva, I used the London Mandir prasang. It was Yogi Bapa's agna to have a Mandir in every continent. So to fulfill this agna, there was an area of land originally permitted by the urban planners in the city to be used in the construction of the Mandir in London.  Unfortunately, some problems occurred and the land was no longer permitted for construction. The devotees did their best to win a case for permission to construct the Mandir but there was no success in obtaining the land. Due the lost efforts, the devotees lost hope in the cause and quit. However, Pramukh Swami Maharaj had the sthitaprajna to remain focused on fulfilling Yogi Bapa’s agna and inspired the devotees to remain focused on the cause as well. As a result, a new area of land was found to construct the Mandir. Today there is a beautiful Mandir in London which can be seen as a symbol of seva that was done to earn the happiness of Maharaj and Swami. 

What went well:
  • The exercise was something challenging and forced the balaks to think better than they would've if I showed them a video.

  • I made them say my simple in order for it to stick in their head. I would say “what should we think when we do seva” and then they would reply “to make Maharaj and Swami happy”. I did the same thing with how being stable minded is important.

  • When I talked I didn't use any advanced Satsang vocabulary rather I utilized the words happiness, stable minded, and desire. This helped them remain interested because they knew what I was saying.

  • I used a lot of gestures (shout out to Aksharbhai) when I spoke to make them interested.
  • Because it was my first time, I made them feel comfortable talking to me by joking around before sabha (I did the “lawn mower” backwards and deliberately fell to make them laugh and a bunch of other goofy stuff). I believe this is a great thing to do if someone is presenting for the first time in front of balaks (especially if your height is intimidating to them).

What I could improve:
  • Don’t forget to do Jai Naad (shaking my head in disappointment as I type this).

  • I should have paced myself because there were other things that I planned to do during my presentation but failed to do so because mentally I was going too fast. As a result, there were some flaws in conveying the exercise's relationship to Shukanand Swami’s seva (I should’ve talked to a balak privately telling them I’ll tear up his paper as part of the exercise).

  • I wasn’t able to successfully transition into my story which made some of the balaks bored listening to it. As a result, some of them might forget the name Shukanand Swami. This is a major problem for me which is storytelling. I should’ve told them to imagine the scenario by describing what it was like during Maharaj's time (no microphone, cramped fingers from writing, no pencils so no eraser, revisions that could keep Shukanand Swami awake late into the night without anything but a candle, end up having the papers torn up, going straight into another long discourse while being sleep deprived, and much more to help the balaks see the story more clearly). Shout out to Tusharbhai for the storytelling advice.

  • Next time no pencils so they cannot erase (Shukanand Swami did not have an eraser).

  • Tell the balaks before the exercise to try their best and not stop to ask questions (which ended up consuming time).

  •  Have more than enough materials to prevent wasting time in search of spare pencils, paper, etc. 

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