Monday, October 31, 2016

Seven Important Lessons From World Religions


It doesn’t matter if you’re an atheist, devout follower of your faith, an agnostic or something in between — there’s wisdom to be learnt from the world’s religions. Here are some of the most important, universally applicable teachings from sacred texts everyone would benefit from learning.
I’m not a theologian by any means, but comparative religion has been an interest of mine for more than two decades. Reading The World’s Wisdom by Philip Novak, The Enlightened Mind compiled by Stephen Mitchell, and other such compilations of the world’s religious traditions, the one thing that has struck me most is the common themes running through them all — stories of community, of treating others with respect and of finding your purpose in life.
Putting aside differing beliefs — about the afterlife, the nature of the divine, and religious rituals — we can all glean life lessons from ancient scriptures. Here are some of the most notable ones from Christianity, Islam, Hinduism and Buddhism (I’m choosing the most “popular” religions here based on the number of people adhering to these faiths and my familiarity with them, but also including other religions like Judaism and Sikhism where I have more information.)

1. The Golden Rule

If there’s any universal truth or common teaching across various religions, it’s probably the golden rule: Treat others as you would want to be treated yourself. As points out, this tenet is expressed in Christianity, Confuscianism, Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, Taoism and Zoroastriantism.
The Jewish Talmud, for example, says:
What is hateful to you, do not do to your fellowman. This is the entire Law; all the rest is commentary.
The Hindu Mahabharata declares:
This is the sum of duty; do naught onto others what you would not have them do unto you.
And from the Islamic Sunnah:
No one of you is a believer until he desires for his brother that which he desires for himself.
In the secular world, this is called empathy, one of the most important skills you can learn both for your career and social life. It’s about understanding where the other person is coming from and, even more important, treating their concerns the way you would your own.

2. Work for the Happiness of Others, Especially the Poor and Unfortunate

This teaching is similar to the golden rule, but expressly asks us to look out for others less fortunate than us. Studies have found that the most successful people tend to be givers rather than takers, and religions advocate this idea of selflessness and charity.
Buddha’s final instructions on “the mission” set before us, for example, is to work for the happiness of others:
Go your ways, oh monks, for the benefit of many, for the happiness of many, out of compassion for the world, for the good, benefit and happiness of gods and men.
The Bible also preaches concern for the unfortunate:
If…there is a needy person among you…do not harden your heart and shut your hand against your needy kinsman. Rather, you must open your hand and lend him sufficient for whatever he needs. For there will never cease to be needy ones in your land, which is why I command you: open your hand to the poor and needy…
Albert Einstein went so far as to declare that Judaism isn’t really a religion, but a tradition that celebrates the beauty of every single life:
Judaism appears to me to be almost exclusively concerned with the moral attitude in and toward life. […] The essence of the Jewish concept of life seems to me to be the affirmation of life for all creatures. […} There remains, however, something more in the Jewish tradition, so gloriously revealed in certain of the psalms; namely a kind of drunken joy and surprise at the beauty and incomprehensible sublimity of this world, of which man can attain but a faint intimation. It is the feeling from which genuine research draws its intellectual strength, but which also seems to manifest itself in the song of birds…
Caring for the unfortunate is one of the founding tenets of Sikhism, as CNN reports:
“(Founder) Guru Nanak said that if you want to meet God, serve the poor people,” Johar says.
Gurdwaras around the world variously incorporate clinics, schools, guest quarters and community centres, which Sikhs say is a sign of the religion’s values of service and equality.
And, as Zeeshan Rasool shared with me, Islamic prophets also emphasise the importance of being a beacon for others (and turning the other cheek, as Jesus exemplified):
“Be like the flower that gives its fragrance to even the hand that crushes it.” – Imam Ali ibn

3. Focus on the Present

As much as religions preach about the afterlife, they also emphasise making the most of the time we have available now (and isn’t that the point of all our productivity hacks?).
Buddhism’s emphasis on mindfulness and meditation might be the most prominent examples, but other religions also encourage us to savour the moment and sharpen our awareness.
Tyler Lear, a former theology student, notes, for example, that Hinduism is hinged on your “rightful stage” or life priority at the time:
In Vedic Hinduism (there are significant aspects in modern versions of Hinduism and Indian culture in general, but it’s not as hard-and-fast as it’s represented in the Vedas), there are four life stages: student, householder, retiree, renouncer. […] These stages do not necessarily have to all be completed in a lifetime; in fact, it could take several lifetimes to work through a single stage, depending on the person. When one was acting within one’s rightful stage (i.e. a householder doing their best to raise their family, work hard, and earn lots of money or a renouncer praying and meditating, having as little to do with other humans as possible), then one is actively contributing to the cosmic order. In other words, if you do what you’re supposed to do according to your stage (among other things, like caste, etc.), you’re helping hold the universe together.
Bottom line: Everyone’s at a different place in life, with different priorities, and that’s a good thing.
The Hindu Svetesvatara Upanishad recommends the “quiet retreat of Yoga“:
Find a quiet retreat for the practice of Yoga, sheltered from the wind, level and clean, free from rubbish, smouldering fires, and ugliness, and where the sound of waters and the beauty of the place help thought and contemplation.
And Jesus told his followers:
Take therefore no thought for tomorrow: for tomorrow shall take thought of the things for itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.
In other words, worrying is a pretty useless pasttime. The only things you’ll actually regret on your deathbed are things like not expressing your feelings and sacrificing family time for work.

4. Aim for Achievements, Not Money

More money doesn’t always mean more happiness — an idea most religions are happy to point out. Stop running after material things, Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, and Judaism agree.
Imam Ali ibn abi Talib says:
“The parable of this world is like your shadow – If you stop, it stands still. If you chase it, it distances itself from you.”
Money can also distract you from the bigger picture, as Jesus said:
It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.”
That’s not to say we have to cast off all material possessions. Buddhism teaches the joy of not being in debt and finding your career path. Still, the things that make us happiest in life are not things we can add up with a calculator.

5. Interact with the Community

Religious practice forces you out of your shell (if you’re the type, like me, to have a social shell). That’s a good thing, because shared religious beliefs or not, we all depend on each other to not just survive but also thrive.
A Jewish rabbi, through Tyler Lear, pointed out that community is the defining trait of Judaism:
There are many different ways to be Jewish, including atheist Jews, but the people are really what bring everything together. They share a common history and (in most ways) a common culture. [Side note: this is one of the biggest issues with people converting to Judaism; if you have to convert, you weren’t part of the community to begin with, which makes sharing in that common background far harder.]
Bottom line: Life is about the people you’re with, a sense of community with those around you; nothing else matters nearly as much.
Other religions also emphasise this. Islam’s five daily prayer practices, for example, bring followers together throughout the day, as do other religion’s formal, regular services. My favourite part of Catholic mass has always been that “peace be with you” shaking of hands with the strangers in your pew — I bestow peace on you, you bestow it on me, and at least in that moment everything is right with the world. Being an active participant in the community might not come naturally to many of us, but at the very least, religion reminds us that we are not alone.

6. Take Responsibility for Your Actions

“What goes around, comes around.” Most religions have their own interpretation of karma and warn followers that your choices and actions have consequences.
Karma yoga is perhaps the central teaching from Hinduism’s Bhagavad Gita. It’s not the action itself that matters, but the quality of mind behind your actions that bind you. Act for the sake of acting, without desire for the rewards (Getting started is everything.):
If one identifies with one’s actions, desiring certain results, one is bound to that action-pattern and doomed to rebirth. However, if one acts earnestly but without attachment to results, performing every action as an offering to God, knowing that God alone is the only Actor, one proceeds on the path to liberation.
The core doctrine of Buddhism also teaches in the Eightfold Path that:
All beings are the owners of their deeds (karma), the heirs of their deeds; their deeds are the womb from which they sprang…Whatever deeds they do — good or evil — of such they will be the heirs. interprets karma for Christians — essentially, you reap what you sow:
The Bible talks a lot about reaping and sowing. Job 4:8 says, “As I have observed, those who plow evil and those who sow trouble reap it.”Psalm 126:5 says, “Those who sow in tears will reap with songs of joy.” […] In each of these instances, as well as all the other references to reaping and sowing, the act of receiving the rewards of your actions takes place in this life, not in some future life. It is a present-day activity, and the references make it clear that the fruit you reap will be commensurate with the actions you have performed. In addition, the sowing you perform in this life will affect your reward or punishment in the afterlife.

7. Know Yourself (Make Up Your Own Mind)

Many people associate religion with indoctrination, but if you study the texts from the world’s major religions, they actually advocate looking within yourself to make up your own mind — and maybe find your spiritual core within yourself.
My favourite Zen story is this:
A monk asked Seon Master Un-mun, “What is Buddha?”
The master replied, “Dried shit on a stick.”
And also:
Even though religions have very structured practices, self-reflection Is strongly encouraged.
John Calvin’s Christian writings in Institutes proclaims:
Nearly all wisdom we possess, that is to say, true and sound wisdom, consists in two parts: the knowledge of God and of ourselves (Institutes, 1.1.1).
Calvin argued that one could not truly know God without knowing oneself and that one couldn’t truly know oneself without knowing God. Calvin acknowledged the obvious dilemma in saying, “which one precedes and brings forth the other is not easy to discern.”
And Imam Ali ibn Abi Talib advises:
“One who often thinks and reflects develops his foresight and vision.”
Stay curious and keep questioning — but also don’t discount the wisdom of the ages.


Saturday, October 29, 2016

How to Always Speak With a Kind Heart

"By thinking about what you say, and how you deliver the message, you have the power to contribute something meaningful, and you also have the power to be hurtful.

Always use your power for good and speak with a kind heart."

speak with a kind heart
People may not remember what you said, or what you did, but they will always remember how you made them feel.
You may have heard that before, but when you really think about it, you will realise that you actually have great power and responsibility in each of your day to day interactions.
Whether it is a business or social conversation, by thinking about what you say, and how you deliver the message, you have the power to make a great connection.
You have the power to contribute something meaningful, and you also have the power to be hurtful.
Always use your power for good and speak with a kind heart.
Here are my 8 key tips to do just that:-

1. Speak Thoughtfully

While your words may not be remembered years later, choose them carefully.
If the saying “you are only as good as your word” is true, than it only makes sense to speak good words, or words that reflect who you really are.
“Better than a thousand hollow words, is one word that brings peace.” – Buddha

2. Speak Kindly

Being kind doesn’t mean that you can’t make your point. Being kind doesn’t mean that you can’t be direct. Being kind will show that you care, regardless of the message.
By sharing your compassion, you might change how someone feels about themselves or a situation.

3. Listen

If you are only thinking about what you are going to say next, you are missing half of the conversation!
If you ask a question, wait patiently for the answer. Even 10 seconds of no talking can seem like an eternity.
“The right word may be effective, but no word was ever as effective as a rightly timed pause.” – Mark Twain
We often like to fill up empty space, especially quiet, empty space, but don’t be afraid of silence.
Sometimes, it is in that quietness that the really good stuff starts to happen.

4. Reserve Judgement

Before you enter a conversation, especially with someone you don’t know very well, it is easy to make a snap judgement.
Before words even come out of their mouth, you have likely formed an opinion.
This may be because of the way they are dressed, a look you thought they gave you, or a story you heard about them.
Make a point to let that go, so you can really hear what they are saying. Do what you need to do to think of them in a loving way.
It might help to think about their family. Are they a father? A daughter? Who loves them?
Giving 30 seconds to think this through will really humanise the conversation.
If you consciously think about the fact that they are in this world, trying to make a great life, just like you, then you will be more invested in the interaction.

5. Be Honest

Speak with integrity and tell the truth. If the truth hurts, be compassionate, but be honest.
This goes especially for business conversations. It’s natural to want to be nice instead of honest, especially if someone is trying to sell you something you don’t need or want. Your honesty will save everyone time.
This is especially important in more serious conversations, for instance, breaking up business or personal relationships, when you say (in so many words), “You are not for me”.
Remember you aren’t saying, “You are not for anyone.”
It is important to get that message across. Just because a person, business, or product is not right for you, doesn’t mean that they are not perfect for someone else.
Don’t say everything – some things really are better left unsaid.

6. Consider Another Opinion

Make sure your argument isn’t about being right. Perhaps there is an option or opinion that really is better than yours.
This doesn’t make your opinion less valid, and your openness to a new idea will likely turn into a new opportunity.

7. Don’t Yell

Once you raise your voice, your words become irrelevant.
Once you yell, you are talking at someone, not with them. When you yell, the only thing someone else is thinking is, “I can’t believe they are yelling.” or “What a jerk.” or some variation of that.
When you yell, you lose control and make the conversation about something completely different.
Instead, when you feel like yelling, lower your voice. Speak softly. You will likely get the point across in a more profound way.
If speaking softly doesn’t work for you, be quiet. Collect your thoughts, take a deep breath, walk away or do something that will distract you from yelling.

8. Say Thank You

There is always time before, during and after a conversation to say thank you.
Thank you for meeting me here. Thank you for bringing that up. Thank you for taking the time to talk. Thanks for the inspiration.
If nothing else, a simple, thanks for your time applies every time.
The way forward – always walk and talk with a kind heart
Conversations happen all the time, but they don’t always happen with a kind heart.
“Always aim at complete harmony of thought and word and deed. Always aim at purifying your thoughts and everything will be well.” – Gandhi
If you approach every conversation as an opportunity to learn something new and to treat someone with respect, instead of as a time to speak your mind, your message will be heard, loud and clear.
You will be trusted and more importantly, you really will be as good as your word.
This is a very special guest post from Courtney Carver
Courtney is a writer and fine art photographer. She writes about simplifying and living life on purpose at Be More with Less. You can also follow her on Twitter.
Image courtesy of Moriza


Monday, October 24, 2016

Mindful Listening

A great way to introduce children to the practice of mindfulness is mindful listening. For many kids (and adults), focusing their attention on sounds is a bit easier than bringing their attention to the breath. It’s more concrete — and it can be a bit more fun!
There are LOTS of ways you can practice this with kids! Read on for my favorite mindful listening lessons:

1. Listen to the bell

singingbowlYou can use a traditional mindfulness bell (a singing bowl), a chime, or an app that has bell sounds. You can say the following to the kids:
“In just a moment, we are going to close our eyes and listen to the sound of the bell. So let’s sit comfortably and let our bodies be really still. When you hear the bell, try to focus on the sound, and see if you can listen to it until the sound fades away completely. When you can’t hear it any more (and we’ll have to be really quiet and still to hear it that long!), open your eyes.”
Ring the bell…
Sometimes it’s helpful to do the steps above one more time.
After a few times of listening to the bell, you can have a short discussion about mindful listening:
  • Was it easy or hard to be quiet and listen to one sound?
  • Did you find that you got distracted while listening to the bell?
  • What other sounds could you hear besides the bell?
  • How did it feel in your body to be still and listen to sounds?
Sometimes kids will say it was easy; sometimes they will say it was hard. They may say they felt calm, or bored, or restless. There is no “right” answer, and a big part of mindfulness is welcoming ALL of our experiences. With any responses children give, you can ask, “Did anyone else feel that way?” or, if it’s just you and your child, “Why do you think you felt that way?” You can also share what the experience was like for you.
This is really about helping children understand their experiences, and what it’s like to pay attention to just one thing (or at least to TRY!) Each time we bring our attention to something and keep it there (whether it’s sound or the breath), we are strengthening the attention circuits of the brain — this is mental training!

2. So many sounds around us!

click the image to download a printable pdf
You can do mindful listening even without the bell! Just close your eyes, and listen to what you can hear. You can ask children to identify five different sounds that they notice in the room. You can download a coloring sheet here to use with this activity — children can fill in the circles with pictures or words describing the sounds they can identify.
You could extend this activity into a discussion about how our minds work:
  • When you hear a sound, do you start thinking about which sounds you like and which ones you don’t? Why do you think our minds do that?
  • When you hear a sound, does it sometimes make you start thinking about something else (a memory, for example)?
  • Do you normally notice these sounds when you are in this room? If not, why do you think you don’t notice them?

3. The sounds of silence

silenceOne of the powerful things we discover with mindful listening is that even “silence” isn’t silent! You can help children grasp this in the lovely book Silence by Lemniscates. The book encourages children to notice the sound of snow, of leaves, of flowers, and lots of other things we don’t often think we can “hear.” It’s a short and whimsical book that’s great for preschoolers and elementary age kids.

4. Stop, children, what’s that sound?

Make mindful listening into a game with this fun activity from — the game is Easter-themed, but you could adapt it to any season!
For a guided meditation on mindful listening for kids, check out the video below from Mindscapes:

5. Mindful listening in the classroom

If you are a teacher, or work with large groups of kids, you may find the following resources and lesson plans helpful:
The beautiful thing about mindfulness is that there are so many different ways we can practice, and ultimately they are all about paying attention: to our breath or our thoughts, to the movements of our body, to sensations, to sounds, or to the many other elements in our field of awareness. Mindful listening strengthens our ability to pay attention, and it brings us completely into the present moment, for we can only listen NOW.
Happy listening!

Sarah Rudell Beach

Executive Director at Brilliant Mindfulness
Sarah is a writer, teacher, and mother. At Left Brain Buddha, she writes about her journey to live and parent mindfully, joyfully, and thought-fully in her left-brain analytical life. When not working, she enjoys dancing, reading, and hanging out with her little Buddhas.

Saturday, October 8, 2016

How to Ask the Universe for What You Want

The law of attraction is one of the most powerful laws of this Universe. It works on the principle that like attracts like.

This means that you attract into your reality experiences, events and people that are aligned with your energy and vibration.

Everyone and every experience that comes into your life is a teacher in some way that is being drawn to you at your current state of consciousness.

If we believe this to be true, then we can also actively change our energy and our vibration in order to attract a different set of experiences or opportunities into our lives.

When we uplift our energy and our level of consciousness, our external environment mirrors the same and our energy starts to attract a new set of experiences.

Because we are co-creators of our destiny, we also have the power to create and manifest events in our lives as well. We can send our requests out into the Universe, almost like we are casting a wish and watching it return to us.

If you are looking to manifest or create an event in your life, whether it is attracting a new lover, money, a new job or simply a peaceful resolution to a situation, here is how to do it-

1.) Develop a Relationship with the Universe

If you are new to the law of attraction and the inner workings of the Universe, it may be beneficial to start developing a relationship so you can see first hand how the Universe operates.

It is all very well for someone to tell you that “like attracts like” but until you start to see it in operation, it can be difficult to understand.

To start developing your relationship with the Universe, you have to first believe in its power and see the miracles it can create. Perhaps start on a small level first such as asking the Universe for a sign.

2.) Set Your Intention 

Just because you ask for something, doesn’t mean you are going to receive it exactly as you intended. This is especially true if what you are asking for comes from a place of ego or there is resistance and blocks surrounding what you are asking for.

Before you ask the Universe for what you want, you first have to get clear with your heart and really tune in to what your heart desires.

Once you have set your intention and have become clear on what you want, it makes it a lot easier to attract it into your life.

3.) Visualize

With your intention in your heart, close your eyes and begin to visualize the receiving of your intention. Visualize what it may look like, what it feels like and any other details that are necessary.

Allow yourself to get taken away by the feelings you are experiencing. Really feel all the emotions that come with having your request answered. The more feelings you can conjure up, the more powerful your request will be.

4.) Thank You and Ask

Once you are sitting in that feeling place and your emotions about what you want are bubbling over, it is time to ask the Universe.

Start with “Thank You” as this allows you to ask with the intention that your request is already being received by the Universe.

Example: “Thank you Universe for giving/bringing/opening me to…..”

5.) Release and Open 

Once you have asked for your wish, you need to release and surrender all control to the Universe. You cannot micromanage the delivery or in’s and out’s of your wish. The “how” is up to the Universe, so surrender all attachments to your wish and remain open minded about how your wish will be delivered.

In fact, the more open minded you can stay, the easier it will be for you to recognize the Universe’s magic at work.

6.) Trust in Divine Timing

Another law of the Universe that is important to understand here is Divine Timing. Whatever you have asked for will come your way when the perfect timing presents itself.

You have to trust that once you have sent your wish out into the Universe that it will be received back to you in perfect timing.

After casting your wish, keep trusting the process and holding the emotional feeling strong in your heart. After all, what you want is less about the object or the person and more about the feeling that it creates.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

7 Secrets To Knowing Your Higher Self

By Asoka Selvarajah, Ph.D

The Higher Self within us far transcends the understanding of our conscious minds. Each of us is connected with the Divine. This is the power that all the great geniuses and teachers of history have accessed. It is also the place of magic and miracle in our lives. Here are the seven key steps to contact it:

1. Belief & Expectation: Transform Your World View!

The first step is to BELIEVE that you have a Higher Self to establish communication with! Then EXPECT every day that this communication will improve as you focus diligently on inner growth.

Without these two essential pre-requisites, it is hard to achieve anything at all in life, even on the physical level.

For inner growth, these two qualities are essential. So set a GOAL to achieve contact with the Higher Self, review that goal daily, and maintain your purpose with determination until success is yours.

We are brought up with a primarily materialistic world view that neglects the role of Spirit. To establish close contact with spiritual realms, we need to have our entire being — conscious and subconscious — congruent with our goal.

In any major activity/goal, you have to establish the rules of the game and the way it is played. Contacting your Higher Self is the same.

Therefore, seek out writings and teachers that expand your understanding of the universe as fundamentally being a realm of Consciousness and Mind.

2. Solitude & Meditation

Make regular time for yourself where you can be totally alone. A quiet place is preferable. Just sit quietly with no expectations. Do NOTHING. This may feel very uncomfortable and strange in the beginning. Persist.

You give time and space for the inner voice to make itself heard. It will do so either during that quiet time, or else during the events of the day.

A synchronistic event will occur; someone will tell you exactly what you need to hear; you will get a sudden flash of insight.

All the great geniuses of history have found times of regular solitude and silence for themselves. You should too.

In meditation, you work to discipline your mind and silence the internal chatter that constantly fill it.

You create a pure vessel for the Higher Self to fill. Following your breath is an excellent meditation discipline, as is concentrating upon a candle flame.

Or visualize a golden ball of light in your Solar Plexus that fills your whole body with energy and healing. There are many practices that you can study and use.

3. Journal

Record your feelings, emotions, dreams and insights every day in a journal. This will help you to come into closer contact with your inner intuitive depths.

You can ask the Higher Self questions here, and then later on record whatever insights/answers you receive. If you do this regularly with belief and expectation, you WILL receive the answers you need.

4. Inner Dialogue

Conduct a regular inner dialogue with your Higher Self. For the next 40 days, decide to keep in contact throughout the day.

Say to your Higher Self:

“I know you are there and I want to get to know you and pay attention to you. Please begin to speak to me and guide my life.”

Don’t worry if this dialogue is entirely one-way to begin with. Remember that you have been out of touch for decades.

It takes a while to clear the cobwebs! Persist with this inner dialogue as if talking to a friend – chatting, asking questions, sharing your hopes – and begin to listen for answers. They will come.

5. Life Lessons

Look upon life as a Mystery School. Believe that the whole of your life — events, situations and people — has been structured PRECISELY in order to teach you exactly what you need to know right now. Approach life as if the whole of creation is conspiring to do you good!

Whenever something happens in your life, for good or ill, ask yourself what the lesson is for you. Even unpleasant people/situations have been deliberately placed there as a challenge to help you grow.

As you begin to view life as a drama in which you are play the starring role, the role of the Higher Self will become increasingly evident in your life. Record your findings in your journal.

6. Dreams

Expect your Higher Self to speak to you in dreams. Before going to sleep, do some stretching and bending to relax your body completely.

Ask your Higher Self a question and expect an answer. When you wake up, recall whatever you can of your dream and write it down in your journal.

If you are not used to remembering dreams, this will take time and persistence. However, with patience, you will begin to recall your dreams AND receive answers from your Higher Self.

7. Mindfulness

Focus upon living more and more in the present, on the NOW. When you are eating, be aware that you are eating.

When you walk, know that you are walking. The only real moment is now – the past is gone forever and the future has yet to be.

Therefore, work to clear your mind of concerns, illusions and extrapolations. Clear the mental clutter from the mind and create space for the Higher Self to fill.

Patience Is The Catalyst To Progress!

Remember, you may have spent your entire life out of touch with Source. Therefore, it takes time to learn how to re-establish contact.

Anything worth doing takes time and practice. Be vigilant and practice these seven steps every day, and you will receive the answers you need.

Remember: The Higher Self WANTS to be in contact. In fact, to even speak of it as someone apart from you is contradictory. The Higher Self IS you! The real you. So get in touch with YOU!

By Asoka Selvarajah, Ph.D