Harnessing the power of self-giving

Flower from Bikash

One great theme which psychologists have sought to address over the last fifty years is why so much human energy is directed to serving the needs of others. From the millions of people who give their time and energy looking after kids sports teams or working with the homeless, to extraordinary tales of ordinary people sacrificing their lives for people they have never even met, there is an enormous amount of care and giving out there, sacrifices that often do not get due attention in a media preoccupied with negative stories. For psychologists, it can be very hard to reconcile this behaviour with the evolutionary principle that we are all individual agents in a battle for ‘survival of the fittest’.

Giving comes from the heart

Undoubtedly, the notion that we are all looking out for ourselves and our progeny does indeed have some foundation in truth. There is no denying that there is an animal part of our nature which is still a considerable force to be reckoned with – the world is still rife with ‘survival of the fittest’ behaviour, jostling for position, and looking out for number one. When we live in the mind, it is this kind of behaviour that takes prominence. The mind tends to cut us off from others’ hopes and feelings and induce feelings of ‘them’ and ‘us’, with all the feelings of superiority and stereotyping that come with that.

However, those of you who are frequent readers here at Sri Chinmoy Inspiration know that many of our posts are given to exploring a deeper part of our being beyond the mind. In the heart – that space in the middle of the chest where we can feel the core of our being – we have a part of ourselves that we often only connect with in moments of great beauty or silence, a part of ourselves that comes forward when the mind is still, and a place where all the best impulses of mankind are located – empathy, brotherly love, and oneness. We have the saying ‘my heart went out to him…’ and this is exactly what happens when we see someone in a state of distress; we instinctively empathise with his condition and and we can feel a part of us wanting to overcome the self-obsessed aspects of our nature and help. This is the root of all true self-giving. Continue reading “Harnessing the power of self-giving”

How to be friends despite having a different political or religious viewpoint

WHR Singapore

Everywhere we look we see issues dividing the inhabitants of this tiny planet – red states and blue states, religious people versus atheists, left versus right – not to mention the many emotive social issues that often puts people at daggers drawn against one another.

The unfortunate thing that the acrimony of these debates often prevent us from seeing those ‘on the other side’ as real people – people with hopes, dreams, feelings and problems just like us – and instead we choose as our social circle people with the same ideas and views. In this climate, it seems a miracle that there are still people who can stay friends despite having wildly different viewpoints – but there are, and the world is a better place for it. So, here are a few thoughts on keeping alive that flame of mutual respect and appreciation and not letting differences of opinion consume your friendship.

Resist the temptation to stereotype

Too often we are prone to characterize opposing political or religious viewpoints in a couple of contemptuous lines. In addition to its dehumanising effect, this summary often tends to be a distillation of all that we see ‘bad’ in the other position and can make people who hold that position seem much more extreme, so the two opposing positions seem impossible to bridge.

I was reminded of this when I watched a video of an extremely entertaining and illumining play, called Jefferson and Adams, describing the legendary relationship between the second and third Presidents of the United States. Originally close friends who worked together to draft the Declaration of Independence, they soon found their relationship increasingly strained due to their political positions – Adams was on the Federalist side which favoured closer ties with Great Britain and more centralized control, whereas the Republicans were led by Jefferson and favoured minimalist government. The relationship between the two very quickly deteriorated, the low point being the extremely acrimonious Presidential election of 1800 where the two sides characterized each other in most unfavourable (and often untrue) terms – it was so bad that afterwards Adams could not bring himself to attend Jefferson’s inauguration.

However, later on in life Jefferson and Adams reconciled and wrote long and touching letters to each other, which the play uses to create a dialogue between the two – one very moving scene is where they realise the stereotype they created of each other’s positions. “Did you really think I wanted to have an American King?” Adams asks; “Did you really think I wanted to have lawless mobs on the streets?” replies Jefferson, both with great sadness in their voices, as they recalled how this scaremongering on both sides misrepresented what they actually felt.

You can resist this temptation to stereotype by taking a couple of minutes to stand in your friend’s shoes. With your heart, really try to empathise with him or her, and why she feels the way she does. With the heart, you can also feel the qualities that made you friends in the first place, qualities that go far beyond any simple stereotype and transcend their stance on any particular issue. Continue reading “How to be friends despite having a different political or religious viewpoint”

A Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Universe within You


The inner art of meditation can sometimes be portrayed in a rather staid and boring light as the mere clearing of thoughts, but anyone who has meditated for a number of years will that this is simply not so. Meditation is self-discovery, and just as outer travel can allow you to absorb all of the beauty and diversity that the huge array of cultures on this planet have to offer, so inner exploration can reveal a vast canvas of possibility just as varied and beautiful as anything obtainable by outer travel. I have always been fascinated by the notion of meditation and self-discovery as one giant adventure, and I hope in this article to share with you some of that sense of adventure and exploration that meditation can bring.

So where to start? In keeping with the ‘Hitchhiker’s Guide’ analogy of our title, let’s think of our mere human mind as the planet Earth. There are quite a few similarities – it’s familiar, it’s a comfort zone, there’s a lot of “fury and sound, signifying nothing” (as Shakespeare’s Macbeth would put it), and there’s the definite temptation to fall into the trap of feeling that that what you see is pretty much all there is. Like the planet Earth, we often head off on a so-called straight line of thought and instead end up at the same place having gone round in circles, and of course the mind also insists that it places itself at the very centre of the universe, pretty much like it used to be on Earth!

But then, just as there came a time when we realised that right above our heads was infinite vastness, and that those little dots in the sky were signposts to worlds far beyond the our reach, similarly there comes a time when we realise that beyond our limited mind lies something very vast indeed in the middle of our chest, at the very core of our being. And just as astronomers of old lay with their heads staring at the night sky wishing that someday they could travel to the stars, a yearning builds up inside us for something deeper than the machinations of the mind. And yet various obstacles prevent us from making that journey; technological in their case, fear and lethargy in ours. But then one day push comes to shove, the call of the stars proves too strong to resist, and our journey begins.

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How to distinguish between love and emotional dependence

Myanmar childThe word ‘love’ is perhaps one of the most casually used terms in the English language – so much so that it has become an umbrella term for a whole variety of very different emotions! There is one thing we all agree on – that love is what makes the world go round, and that without it, the world is but a dry empty shell of a place. On the other hand, it is a word we very easily twist around to our own purposes to justify our emotional dependence on a person. If we can learn to distinguish love from emotional dependence and put this distinction into practice, then we make life more beautiful not only for us, but for everyone we come into contact with.

1. Learn to love yourself first

Our remedies oft in ourselves do lie, which we ascribe to heaven.

~William Shakespeare

Often when we are emotionally dependent on someone, we are looking to them as a ‘filler’ to cover over and distract us from unresolved emotional issues in ourselves. In order to truly love someone, we first have to discover and explore what love is, and that means starting with the person you spend the most time with – yourself! We can often name our shortcomings far quicker than our positive qualities, and we are very quick to beat ourselves up for anything we didn’t do to our satisfaction. This all has to change. Try every day to identify your positive qualities and bring them more to the fore and increase them, and when you do make a mistake, try and see it as a ‘work-in-progress’ rather than an absolute failure. When your own self-love and self-respect increases, you are then able to approach relationships with others with much more equanimity.

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How to maintain a lasting meditation practice


Many people begin a meditation practice with tremendous enthusiasm and excitement about the possiblilities of self-discovery, only to let it go after a few weeks or months as the initial novelty wears off. How can you keep up a meditation practice and, in addition, continue it with the same inspiration and freshness as you had when you first began to meditate? Here are a few suggestions:

Set a proper time each day.

Quite often the reason why a meditation practice gets pushed to the sidelines is that we don’t value it enough compared to the other things we have going on in our life.

Valuing your meditation practice means setting aside a definite time each day – even if it is only 10 minutes – that is dedicated to meditation, and non-negotiable as regards moving/cancelling to make room for something else. The best time is undoubtedly as soon as you wake up in the morning. Firstly, there is much less likelihood of unforeseen distractions and secondly, the atmosphere is much more tranquil, allowing you to have deeper meditative experiences and take the inner peace from those experiences as you enter into the day.

Your own special space

It is best if you have some part of your house dedicated solely for the purpose of your daily meditation, a place set aside for yourself and your own self-discovery. You can decorate this space with anything that inspires you and brings the beautiful qualities in you to the fore – candles, pictures of mountains or sunsets or any nature scene, fresh flowers, a statue of the Christ or the Buddha if you are religiously inclined, beautiful poetry that inspires you to go deep within – you can really make this place your own Aladdin’s Cave of inner wealth and treasures, so that every time you sit down, you are automatically reminded of the goal of self-awareness you are striving for through meditation. As you go deeper into meditation, you will find out different things that inspire you, and you can continually update your meditation space to reflect that.

A constant sense of newness

A successful meditation practice requires a constant sense of aspiration to get in touch with your inner nature. You need to find ways to continually regenerate this sense of enthusiasm and not drift into a sense of ‘same-old, same-old’ and to do it out of routine – this has been the death-knell for many a meditation practice, as then the mind takes over and wonders why we are doing something so joyless in the first place.

Try changing elements of your meditation from time to time, incorporating readings, nature meditations, mantras, music or anything else that inspires you – if you have a spontaneous inner feeling to do something, then go with it! Another thing that also helps is setting yourself little meditative projects, for example setting aside extra time to meditate once a week, learning new meditative songs, or chanting a series of mantras over a couple of weeks. Rather than sitting on ones laurels and being content with the same measure of inner peace you had yesterday, a meditation practice should always have a sense of adventure and exploration deeper into the self.

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How to Cope with Low Energy Levels

bird prints

Sometimes we go through periods in life when our body just doesn’t seem to be able to keep pace with all the things we want to squeeze out of life. I have been going through just such a period lately, and I thought I’d share with you some of the tips which really helped me in the last while.

1. Don’t be hard on yourself

Often we go experience a period of acute frustration and unhappiness because our level of output is failing to match our expectations. The phrase ‘beating yourself up’ is an extremely apt one here – the resulting annoyance only compounds the problem by robbing us even further of energy. The important thing here is to stop this train of thought, and start by acknowledging the conditions you find yourself in. In a game of poker, there is no point in cursing the fact that you didn’t get a royal flush – you play with the cards you are dealt. So it is with life. Being determined to deal with this trough of low energy as best and as cheerfully as you can is definitely half the battle to climbing your way clear of it.

2. Observe your surroundings

It could be that something in your environment is causing you to feel more tired than necessary. There are many things that can subtly exert a depressing influence on us – the food we eat, the continual barrage of upsetting news on Radio or TV, disharmony at work or home. Sometimes these under-the-weather stretches can even be a way of letting you know there is something you have to change. You have to become your own personal scientist and really look at everything you come across to see what little tweaks you can make to make things easier on yourself. I am often reminded of a story about Mahatma Gandhi – one day he had a headache. At this time he was living on only five pieces of fruit for nourishment. He tried adding and removing various things to his life, removing other things. Eventually he stopped taking his morning piece of fruit and the headache went away!

3 Learn to distinguish between lethargy and true need for rest.

Why is it that when we oversleep, we wake up feeling more tired than ever? Put simply, our body’s natural tendency is towards inertia and sleep, and it will often grab a mile if given an inch. It is this feeling of inertia that often stops us from getting out and doing things – sometimes we feel we are tired now, but when we get out and do something, it’s a whole different story.But – and this is is a big but – it is important to learn when the body is being lethargic and when it genuinely needs rest. If persisting with some activity makes you tired, unhappy and susceptible to negative thinking, then it is a definite signal you are pushing beyond your capacity. Many scientists reckon we sleep more than we need, but there are definitely also times when we need more rest, for example when coping with a transformative experience in our lives. With time, you learn to distinguish between lethargy and genuine need for rest and listen to what your body needs than what it wants.

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