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Archive for February, 2006

As some of you know, a couple of years ago I read ‘Ethics for a New Millennium’ by the Dalai Lama and it had a huge impact on me. From reading that book I extracted ten values that I decided to focus on and incorporate into my life. These are: love, compassion, patience, tolerance, forgiveness, contentment, humility, responsibility, harmony and peace.

  

At the start of this year I decided that I would take each value and spend a month studying and reflecting on it to better integrate it into my life. This month I’ve been focusing on compassion. I’ve noticed so far that all of these values are very much interrelated so that looking at them as a single concept is not really possible. Love, compassion and forgiveness have come up a lot this month. I’ve gained a lot from reading ‘The Compassionate Life’ and ‘An Open Heart: Practicing Compassion in Everyday Life’-both are written by the Dalai Lama. A third book of his, ‘The Wisdom of Forgiveness’, also gave me a better understanding of the Buddhist concept of emptiness. This is a core concept in Buddhism and my rudimentary understanding of it so far is that nothing exists in and of itself. That means that nothing is single, independent and permanent. All things are inter-related and everything is impermanent. Understanding how interdependent we are with all things underlines the importance of compassion. What happens in one part of the world comes back to effect us. The more we consider others the more we benefit. It’s what the Dalai Lama calls being “wisely selfish”.

An important part of engaging in the Buddhist path is recognizing how our habitual thought, emotional and behavioral patterns cause suffering for both others and ourselves. Concentrating on compassion this month I am realizing, in retrospect, that I have been experiencing what Susan Salzberg calls “a heart as wide as the world”. I’m realizing just how vulnerable an experience this can be.

On Friday night James and I watched Lord of War, based on actual events and starring Nicolas Cage as an international arms dealer. It was a hard film to watch just in terms of facing the level of violence that is taking place the world over. The Dalai Lama has consistently advocated for the world to be demilitarized and his arguments make sense. Watching this film, it hit me how enormous a task this would be and I questioned whether or not this could even be a possibility with the current state we have gotten ourselves into in this world.

On Friday night and over the weekend I found myself experiencing what I can only call a state of depression over the sorrow I was feeling for the state of the world, the enormous amount of guns in circulation and the role governments play in arms dealing (the five “permanent UN Security Council members—the USA, UK, France, Russia, and China—dominate the world trade in arms”.

I have to admit I am currently feeling very discouraged about the state of the world. I’m trying to move forward by reflecting on a passage from ‘The Compassionate Life’:

“We need to recognize that as long as we live in this world we will encounter problems, things that obstruct the fulfillment of our goals. If, when these happen, we lose hope and become discouraged, we diminish our ability to face these difficulties. If, on the other hand, we remember that not just we but everyone has to undergo suffering, this more realistic perspective will increase our determination and our capacity to overcome troubles. By remembering the suffering of others, by feeling compassion for others, our own suffering becomes manageable. Indeed, with this attitude, each new obstacle can be seen as yet another valuable opportunity to improve our mind, another opportunity to deepen our compassion! With each new experience, we can strive gradually to become more compassionate; that is, we can develop both genuine sympathy for others’ suffering and the will to remove their pain. As a result, our own serenity and inner strength will increase”.

As well as this passage, I’ve been remembering how I used to counsel clients through very vulnerable moments, encouraging the recognition that we can be vulnerable and strong at the same time. Vulnerability isn’t weakness. It only becomes a weakness if we let it incapacitate us. Stephen Covey makes an excellent point, in ‘Seven Habits of Highly Effective People’, that often we focus on issues that are outside our “circle of influence”, basically outside our immediate control. Focusing on such issues drains us of our energy and can lead to discouragement.

I am forced to recognize that on a global level there may not be much I can do about the current state of the world. The most effective action I can take right now is the proverbial “Think globally, act locally”. I just need to regain the wind that has been knocked out of me.

I have to say I gain a lot of strength thinking about my friends. Many of you are going through trials of your own right now (for example, recovering from cancer, loss of eyesight, grieving the deaths of family members and friends, relationship challenges and breakups). The courage you demonstrate is a reminder to me that we are the world and how each one of us faces life’s challenges impacts not only ourselves but others immediately around us and from there on out into the world.

It is not lost on me the connection between the words courage, discourage and encourage. For a long time I have held dear the words of Ghandhi, “You must be the change you wish to see in the world.” Right now I need to regain the courage of this conviction. Thanks to all my family and friends for constantly serving as inspirational reminders to me that there is strength in vulnerability and there is a lot of good in the world too.

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Caitlin is currently having her nursing opportunities drastically reduced. Effective today, James and I decided that she can only have milk at nap time.  I was struck by just how much more settled she is around James when the possibility of milk is not present. If I stop moving for a moment she is usually upon me looking for milk. It was starting to irritate me how often she was crying for milk. I was noticing that we were getting into a bit of a cycle of me becoming irritated by the constant asking and holding out until I cracked from the crying and gave in, which completely reinforced the crying/irritation cycle. It wasn’t even a communicative cry as much as a whine similar to the one she uses when she wants to watch Dora or Bear in the Big Blue House.

TV has also been drastically cut to only when I’m making dinner or at their Dad’s discretion on the weekend. I find I have a very low threshold for grumpy cries from Caitlin and Ashley and now I’m working on just cutting out the source that brings about a grumpy cry. Ash loves the rules. She likes to remind James of the no TV until evening and reminds Caitlin that she can only have milk at naptime now.

I’m trying to be more aware of Caitlin’s need for attention. I realize I’ve been inconsistent at times with boundaries and discovered that I’ve been feeling bad about how the attention I give her is different from what Ashley received up to this age. I’ve felt this on and off since she was born. I think I’m getting over it as each time I have experience it is less intense. James served as a great reality check this weekend by reminding me that I need to be comforrtable with Caitlin receiving a different kind of attention than Ashley. It’s not bad, just different. Our situation is different. Ash didn’t have a sister at the start so it was more focused attention. Caitlin has a sister, the attention is more diffused but she has the advantage of her interactions with Ash.

(Brief entry pause to celebrate with Ashley her first time properly drawing around her hand. She’s standing behind me in the study drawing her hand on the chalkboard.)

James was also a great support in providing me with a lot of space this weekend to recharge. We’re both fairly exhausted at the moment. When I woke up on Saturday morning I was just done in. James minded the girls for the day and I went to the UVillage around 9am. With a chai and cinnamon scone, I settled into a comfortable sofa in the Eastern Religion section of Barnes and Noble and spent the day reading my texts and studying the questions for the Indian-style debate exam (explanation later!) that I will have tonight at my Buddhism class.

I broke for a delicious sushi lunch at Blue C Sushi and then visited the Apple store where I bought myself an iPod! I am very excited about this. While I certainly don’t listen to as much, or as wide a range of, music as James I do like the idea of listening to books on the iPod. It might even broaden my musical exposure. So, I’m enjoying finding my way around uploading books and music. It certainly helps to have a resident technology expert at my disposal 🙂 I’ve already succesfully uploaded The Wisdom of Forgiveness by the Dalai Lama and Victor Chan, which I started listenting to today while Caitlin napped on me on the sofa. Btw, she seemed less keen to skip her nap today as she has been in the recent past. Given that it was her only opportunity to have milk we may have a more rested Caitlin on our hands now too!

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Born into Brothels

Following my friend Teri’s strong recommendation a while back, I added this Oscar-winning documentary to my Netflix queue. Finally last weekend I watched it. Incredible.

Zana Briski is a photographer who has been working with the women of the brothels in Calcutta for a number of years. She became interested in the children of the prostitutes and has been teaching them photography. This documentary follows one group of children as we see inside their lives through interviews with them and the photographs they take.

The poverty, squalor and violence (emotional, verbal, physical) they live with is just heartbreaking. The girls face a future of “joining the line” like their mothers and the boys have the prospect of drugs and selling illegal alcohol in theirs. Throughout the documentary we see Zana Briski attempting to help the children gain admittance to boarding schools, as education is the only chance for these children to get out of the brothels.

Unfortunately, the task is a daunting one as boarding schools don’t generally allow children of criminals into their schools.  While looking at a photo taken by a child from another part of the world, one of the little boys, Avijit, who is both a talented artist and photographer, comments, “This is a good picture…we get a good sense of how these people live. And though there is sadness in it…and though it is hard to face, we must look at it because…It is truth.” This applies equally to watching Born into Brothels.

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Pauline and I spent an interesting morning at the Starbucks shareholders meeting. We arrived at Marion Oliver McGraw Hall at the Seattle Center just after 8am to find the venue already buzzing. Shareholders and guests (who totaled 5,000) were enjoying free beverages and pastries and chatting up a storm. Pauline and I enjoyed the buzz too over extra hot tall chai and cinnamon scones. We had a chance to catch up before the event got under way at 10am.

The meeting had a spectacular opening with the Seattle Choral Company providing the music to accompany the promotional video clip about starting the day with a cup of coffee. They sang the opening of Orf’s Carmina Burana, which I have loved for a long time (btw, interesting website with translation and some background information on the opera http://www.classical.net/music/comp.lst/works/orff-cb/carmlyr.html#track1). I have to say that entertainment-wise this was the highlight of the event. I wished they had used the choir more throughout. These shareholders meetings are well known for excellent entertainment as well as reporting on the fiscal year and future goals to shareholders. The choral performance was enhanced by the man on the side of stage signing for those members of the audience who were deaf. He was amazing, full of hand, body and facial gestures, which completely translated the passion of the piece as well as the content of the words. I’ve never witnessed anything like it before. Just spectacular.

We also enjoyed Toni Bennett’s performance to close the first half of the meeting. I was a fan during my teen years when I listened to a lot of Jazz. I listen to it less so now but it was great to hear him live.

I found the meeting itself to be fascinating. I was engrossed the entire time (and I’m not even a shareholder!). Howard Shultz (chairman) was a very polished speaker and came across with great sincerity. Jim Donaldson (CEO) was more dynamic, and while I wouldn’t say he came across as insincere, he certainly had an enthusiasm and gung-ho attitude that at times came across as spin. All the executives that presented on their particular domain in the company gave interesting presentations both on the fiscal and corporate achievements of 2005 and future goals for 2006 and beyond. The expansion into China was a particualrly interesting presentation, though Christine Day (President of the Asia-Pacific Group) was more restricted in her speaking style and obviously reading from her prompter. What her group is working on is remarkable in terms of market expansion to such a phenomenal potential customer base in China.

I came away with a few questions about the use of corporate social responsibilty as a marketing tool. I can see the merit if everyone benefits. I also felt that being a shareholder can have the benefit of having some potential influence in shaping a company (as can consumer power). This was particularly evident in the growth of the Fair Trade portion of their business. I’m also taking away a sense of some of the strengths of the company: commitment to their employees (“partners”) and a focused marketing plan that uses building a sense of community as a central value. Although I was aware that creating a consistent, predictable experience of Starbucks around the globe really hones in on the human fear of change and our need to feel some sense of control or predictability over and in our lives, it struck me quite strongly that change is really the only thing we can predict and it would be interesting to envision a world where large corporations encouraged people as strongly to embrace change as they currently encourage brand loyalty based on consistent, predictable experiences.

I will confess to being equally susceptable to the consistent, predictable experience myself. On our recent visit to Ireland last November I did have my cup of chai in the new Starbucks in the Dundrum Town Center. In fact I went in twice! It was bizarre and appealing to have their “coffee shop experience” transplanted to Dublin.

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This afternoon the girls and I enjoyed a second day of sun (after phenomenal weeks of rain) and went to Magnolia outdoor playground while James went up to the hospital to be with Jenn. Christian went in for surgery in the early afternoon. He’s come through the surgery okay, which is great but it seems they couldn’t get everything from his lung so it’s likely he will have focused radiation treatment. Christian and Jenn, I send my love and everyone else please keep them in your thoughts and prayers (or whatever way you direct your spiritual energy) that this time will be brief and as easy as possible.

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