Thursday, November 24, 2011

A Day of Gratefulness

Like many things coming out of history, the American holiday of Thanksgiving has roots in a deep wound:

The story is that in 1637, the Puritans who had come here to escape persecution surrounded a group of Pequots who had gathered for their Green Corn Festival during the night. The next day, they ordered the Native people to come out, and as people followed their order and came out, they were ruthlessly killed. Then the governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony called for a Day of Thanksgiving to celebrate the slaughter of 700 innocents. And now we celebrate this holiday by gorging on food, watching people engage in violent football and then fighting over low priced consumer items the next day. Ah, bliss!

But as we enter a newer age, perhaps it is time to reassess some of these ancient and modern traditions.

1637 was a different age. One lineage of Hindu Astrology believes that this occurred during a dark time in history known as Kali Yuga. They believe that this is the far point on our planet's rotation around the universe and/or galaxy.  During this time energy is at its lowest, and people are prone to darker deeds. Some of the things that happened during Kali Yuga were The Crusades, The Inquisition, the slave trade, and so on.

While there are many who believe that Kali Yuga actually is still going on, and will be for the next 480,000 years, or so, Swami Sri Yukteswar reinterpreted the yugas, and, according to his calculations, we have moved on to the next phase, during which we are discovering that we are energy beings much more than physical beings. He calculated that this will continue to increase over the next 10,000 years, or so, at which time we will be at the zenith of our energy existence, close to the energy source of the galaxy and/or universe. Here we will realize that we are made almost entirely of energy. We will then drift again to the low-energy portion of our rotation.

In this context, it is east to see why so many of our traditions are rooted in such dark times. But rather than dwell on the evil roots, it is time to reframe these to some more positive times.

While in the Eastern traditions, the great Yogi Paramhansa Yogananda said “Every day should be a day of Thanksgiving for all the gifts of Life — for sunshine, water, and the luscious fruits and greens which we receive as indirect gifts from the Great Giver.”

Instead of Thanksgiving, gratefulness is what we should celebrate. While, as Yogananda said, we should do this every day, there are many for whom one day a year this would be a start. There is also something to be said about most of the citizens of a country celebrating something together. 

The traditions of our Thanksgiving involve getting together with family and friends, and that is a good  thing. However, the over-indulging represents taking and not giving. And, well, the whole 'Black Friday' scene is just ugly.

Gratefulness is something our society is very poor at. We spend a lot of time indulging our appetites, but very little time thanking ourselves, our families, friends, co-workers and so forth for all they give to us. As a society, we focus deeply on what is missing in our lives: we obsess over our shortcomings, lack of funds, feelings of sadness and anxiety and all the things that are not perfect in our lives. But what about the myriad of things that are perfect all around us? It is so seldom that we celebrate this yearly, let alone daily.

Many saintly people say that they begin their day with gratitude, and take time each day to give back to the world and to celebrate all that they have to be thankful for. Some of these saintly people are impoverished. Some of them have suffered from physical ailments, but these are people who see the world as opportunity and not, like so many, as a burden.

Once people begin to look in their lives for things for which to be grateful, they can see more and more things until the little things in our lives that cause depression or boredom or lack are insignificant. This shakes us loose from the past - the same way we need to shake Thanksgiving loose from its root in a dreadful day in November back in 1637.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Dona Nobis Pacem

My lovely wife, Stephanie's, logo for today's blog. To see her blog go to

Today is "Blog Blast for Peace" day. Bloggers all over the world are writing about the topic of peace to collectively influence peace on the planet. This is not just a crazy, hippie idea, as most activities involved with peace are labeled. There is actual, scientific evidence that whenever large numbers of people focus on one thing, there is an effect:

Researcher Dean Radin, from the Institute of Noetic Science (IONS) and others have had ongoing studies in which random generators are always operating all over the planet. Whenever something big happens that focuses the attention of large numbers of people, they check the random generators to see what is happening. On such dates as 9/11/2011, the reading of the O.J. Simpson verdict, and the like, they noted that there were strong anomalies in the randomness of the numbers that correlated exactly to the focus of attention during and after these events.

There is science to consciousness, so taking the day to focus people on writing about peace is a powerful idea. Thanks to Mimi for putting this out in the world.

I wanted to write, today, about internal and external peace, because I believe they go hand-in-hand.

I used to be an extremely chaotic person. I was excited by interpersonal drama, and created a lot of it. After an eight-year marriage filled with all sorts of excessive drama, that included being in revolutions, trying to survive in third-world countries, and the like, we realized that our attempt to bring such drama into our mundane lives back in the US was making us miserable, so we went our separate directions - both in search of greater drama and chaos. She went to other troubled parts of the globe, and I pursued my career working with troubled and often aggressive teenagers.

It was more chaos than I could handle, and I knew I needed to carve out a bit of peace in my world.

I set out to the most quiet place I had ever visited on the planet, which was the expansive desert of the Navajo Nation. This is the country's largest Indian Reservation, and occupies a vast portion of Arizona, and parts of Utah and New Mexico.

I very quickly established connections there with people who made it possible for me to stay in very remote areas of the territory, where I could go for many days, if not a week or more at a time with no human contact. Not only no human contact, but with very little evidence of humans, whatsoever, apart from the occasional airplane and deserted hogan.

I would sit in the desert, listening to the wind, for hour upon hour, day upon day, and after three or four weeks, I would have a feeling of peace.

For almost twenty years, I spent my summers in the desert. The amount of time it took to find peace decreased from weeks to days. Finally I could achieve a feeling of peace within a few hours of arriving. After that, I could actually develop a sense of inner peace just by thinking about the desert, when at home. And after many years, I could bring the sense of peace home with me.

I have a weird, and stressful job as a teacher of adolescents with severe emotional challenges. One year, I came back and remained calm at school for a whole week. Then a month, a quarter, a semester, and finally most of the year. My goal is still to get through the entire school year with a sense of peace all the time.

To help with my goal, the severity of the students I work with has increased from year to year: owing to budget cuts each year to provide services for people with mental illness, and reduction in insurance benefits, medicaid and so forth, the type of students I have in my classes these days are the type of students who would have been in long-term care in hospitals a few years ago.

My goal is to turn my workplace from a loud, intimidating place filled with anger into a monastery of sorts: A quiet place filled with joy and peace and that can be an environment for quiet contemplation.

As far fetched as this sounds, there are actually moments where it works.

I used to start all my classes telling kids to be quiet, and they just got louder, and then power-struggles would take place, and so on and so forth.

I now start my classes by sitting quietly in a chair in front of the class, and getting very quiet and centering myself. As I do this, the kids almost always go to their seats and start to get quiet themselves. After a few minutes of silence, I ask every student how they are and if there is anything I can do to help them that day. Some kids say it would help not to call on them. Some kids say they need a five-minute break. I usually try to grant them what they ask, if it is reasonable. Sometimes the whole class period can remain peaceful.

So I feel I have, at some level, developed an inner peace, and that this inner peace translates to an external peace, and this external peace translates to people beyond me... even people who are generally unable to have their own, internal peace.

I know that the idea of this blog day is about peace for the world. Can many people who are internally peaceful create world peace? I believe the answer is yes.

There is a theory about the spiritual balance of the planet: that a few 'avatars' - people who have achieved  god-like enlightenment, can balance millions of people who are absorbed in chaos, that more people who are highly, spiritually developed, balance thousands of people who are lost and misguided. I have actually read a theory that puts numbers to this. Maybe there is something to it.

One thing I believe about wars, which have to be the least peaceful things on the planet, is that many of these wars are motivated by greed. The rest are motivated by rigid thinking, such as 'my god is the correct god, and therefore I will kill you and your family for believing in the wrong god.'

These are both very easy problems for mass consciousness to overcome. The greed one is being addressed by world-wide protests, even as we speak. People all over the plant, tired of being taken advantage of by greedy people who want more and more, and therefore take from those who have very little, have cast off governments, and created huge movements, such as Occupy Wall Street. Each week, these protests get larger and larger. A world consciousness challenging the 20th century value of greed will surely bring about a change in time.

Through many of these same movements, people are also learning the value of diversity. As young and old, and people of many creeds, persuasions, and colors work together to overcome greed, they are bound to see in each other the value of their similarities as more important than their differences.

In many ways, these protests are more than just protests, they are Satsang. Satsang is a Hindu word that is about the coming together of people to discover the truth. It is also the coming together of Guru and student, which I am sure is happening in large scale in these huge gatherings.

I think the 'protest' part of it is almost just an excuse for the real work or removing people from their couches and televisions, (where much of the chaos and drama in our world begins...) and pitting them, face-to-face, together to discover each others' humanity.

People also are doing a lot of chanting together, which is a very primal way of building unity, and a very evolved spiritual practice.

Here is a video that exhibits some of what I am talking about as far as the coming together of internal and external peace and its influence on the masses. This is Dada Pranakrsnananda an Ananda Marga monk who was arrested on the Brooklyn Bridge during an early Occupy protest. His story is remarkable.

There is only one small shift that needs to occur for the Occupy movement to become a peace movement or more, which is that instead of connecting with the emotion of anger, which, in today's world, is our most accessible and easily shared emotions, we connect with our hearts to one another. It is actually a tiny and subtle shift, which, I believe, will be a natural outgrowth of the human bonds occurring in these movements. It is not a bond many people can create in their offices, or while engaged in media. It is only something that can happen when we meet in large numbers with a common goal of equality.

There are predictions that many millions of people might be contributing to this blog blast for peace today. That is a lot of minds singularly focused. Peace on any level is noble. We first need to think about it and talk about it, then attain it for ourselves and then spread it to the world. Thanks, Mimi for organizing this effort. Hopefully it will begin to manifest lasting peace in the hearts of all, and throughout our world.