The Power of Giving

I rarely get inspiration from TV. At best, it is a bit of occasional light relief and relaxation through good comedies. But, yesterday there was an interesting programme on BBC about How To Live A Simple Life. A church of England Vicar, Peter Owen Jones, went on week long travel living according to the philosophy of St Francis Of Assisi. This meant owning no possessions or money but relying on the goodwill of strangers for food / shelter and travel.

St Francis of Assisi philosophy was radical to say the least. He felt this lifestyle was the best way to live the spirit of the Gospels. To give up material possessions, makes one dependent on other people. Our ego hates this because we like to be self-sufficient; the idea of relying on the good will of strangers is difficult. There is also tremendous uncertainty. It requires faith, detachment from difficulties and a positive attitude to look for the good in humanity.

St Francis taught that this lifestyle has many benefits. It gave people the opportunity to give. When we selflessly give to others we can get great joy. By begging for food, the wandering mendicant learns to humble his pride. It is also an opportunity to connect with people in a meaningful way. If we are self-sufficient we can easily ignore other people. We can drive past in our comfortable air-conditioned car. But, when we are reliant on the good will of others it forces us to make friends with strangers. We may meet with well meaning rejection, but, we can also find and appreciate the good will of others whom we otherwise would have met.

I don’t have any inspiration to start following the life of St Francis (though I admire him deeply).  But, it nevertheless did raise some thought-provoking ideas.

The Joy of Giving.

It was heart-warming to see the genuine joy strangers got from giving. (A cynic will argue the presence of TV cameras offered an extra motivation for goodwill.) But, that aside, I think people were genuinely operating from their heart. It is also giving without expectation of reward. When we give to a stranger we may never meet again, we are giving without condition.

Of course, we don’t have to wait for a wandering Franciscan monk in order to be able to give (they aren’t exactly very common in Oxford). We can give where-ever we are. Even the poorest can offer a smile and expression of good-will to those who we meet. This in itself can mean a lot. It also means considering the well being of others, and how we can be of service to them.

Also, when giving we have to make sure we are giving with the right motives. Is it for the reward of name and fame or because of an inner prompting? We should feel giving is its own reward.

Fear of Strangers

I think in us all, we have a fear of the unknown. At the same time our inner nature, instinctively wants to feel connected / empathise with other people, to offer food / shelter to others is an almost instinctive reaction. It was interesting to see this play between the two forces.

I couldn’t help think of whether I would have given to a dishevelled wanderer who claimed to be without money? My instinctive reaction is to ignore beggars, because I tend to assume they are professional beggars – giving to them may be not the best form of charity.

I think you can get a feeling whether a person is sincere or not – whether he is sincerely in need. Hopefully, I would have felt the vicar’s sincerity. But, if I was in a rush, I could have easily gone into defense mode and rushed past head down. It is perhaps understandable if people ignore others. But, it is a shame.


If we have a feeling of self-sufficiency we can easily have an attitude of haughtiness, pride and even disdain for others. Often the ego aims for self-sufficiency, but, this is not desirable. It is good to be willing to give to others. But, it is also important to be willing to receive without feeling bad. Some people are very good at giving but too proud to receive.

He mistakenly feels
That what others have to offer him
Is of no value.
In the name of self-sufficiency
He is just riding his own ego-horse.

– Sri Chinmoy (1)

What is Important in Life?

In life it is easy to get stuck in a rut. We get on an escalator of money, career and family. We move in a certain circle around certain values. But, is this what we want? Is this the most fulfilling way. I love the idea of placing yourself in radically different environments to see life from a different perspective. I admire the vicar – he must be in his 50s. It is no mean feat to give up all creature comforts and make yourself reliant on the good will of others. (even if he does have a TV crew for backup) 🙂


(1) Excerpt from Twenty-Seven Thousand Aspiration-Plants, Part 18 by Sri Chinmoy

Photo by Pavitrata, Sri Chinmoy Center Galleries

Simplicity, Minimalism and Attachment


Life is really simple, but we insist on making it complicated.


I love simplicity. The idea of minimalism is also fascinating. The complexity of modern life only heightens the contrast between a path of simplicity and a path of complexity and clutter.

I am often drawn to a minimalist approach – this usually involves having a large scale clear out of all my clutter. I get great joy from giving unused things away. (though invariably, I will later find that the unused bike light of 2 years is suddenly needed.)

But, if life is stressful and cluttered it is very worthwhile evaluating what we can do without.

The More We Possess the More We Have To Worry About.

How many things are there which I do not want.

~ Socrates

The more we posses the more we worry about losing what we have. The more things that grab our attention, the more stressed we can be. Letting go of unnecessary possessions gives a feeling of relief. Rather than seeing how many possessions we can accumulate, we can take the alternative approach which is to make do with what we actually need.

Finding Space For the Important

We often have a subconscious fear of being with ourselves. We fill our life with external distractions. Superficial internet communications, hours in front of the tv. We want something to distract us, and we start to feel uncomfortable when it is not there. A life of simplicity enables us to be free of so many distractions and exterior pulls. It frees us to be able to know ourselves; it gives us freedom to concentrate on the important things in life. It gives us freedom to know the inner joyful nature of our being.

Simplicity is our natural or conscious awareness of reality. The moment we realise our highest transcendental Reality, we become simple. In the spiritual life, the higher we go, the deeper we go; the farther we go, the more we will see that Reality is only the song of simplicity and nothing else. The entire cosmic Game is extremely simple, but we look at it from a different angle in an obscure way.

– Sri Chinmoy (1)

Attachment and Non-Attachment.

There is a story about King Janaka from ancient India. He was a great King with tremendous wealth, but, he was also a great spiritual aspirant. He ruled wisely without attachment to his material wealth. On one occasion, King Janaka was visiting a holy man in the mountains. Then the King and all his people heard about a great disaster which was striking the city. Immediately, all the people rushed to protect their belongings. But, King Janaka alone stayed at the feet of his Guru in the Mountains. He had the most to lose, but, he also had the greatest detachment from his material possessions. This is a reminder that it is not the number of possessions that is important, but, our attitude. Having a small number of possessions is no guarantee we will be detached from unfulfilled material desire. We can be rich and at the same time focused on the inner life and what is important.

Pride and Minimalism

I sometimes take great pride in clearing out clutter. But, then regret it, as I realise later I will need to re buy what is now sitting in a charity shop. If we become dogmatic about our minimalism it can be as much a burden as a blessing. If we accumulate stuff for the sake of it, that is not helpful. But, if we are dynamically active in offering something to the world, we may find a garage overflowing with humanitarian aid. Minimalism is good if it helps us to reduce unnecessary desires, distractions and clutter, but, it cannot alone be the goal of life. The real simplicity needs to be in the mind and heart, not in external surroundings.

Photo by: Kedar Misani, Sri Chinmoy Centre Galleries


(1) Excerpt from Life-Tree-Leaves by Sri Chinmoy

The Power of Humility

Last week I wrote about gratitude, sharing my experience of how contrary to its associations with meekness, it can in fact be a form of unexpected power. Humility, if anything, is a quality that has even more of those mild saintly associations, leading us to think of doormats who turn the other cheek no matter what who is trampling all over them. And yet (surprise, surprise) nothing could be further than the truth, and here’s why….

First of all we need exactly to define what humility is. Because our ego often gives rise to excessive overpromotion, we feel that humility therefore involves the opposite extreme – publicly castigating ourselves and laying on excessive lashings of forced modesty. Yet the underlying feeling behind this kind of behaviour is insecurity and a desire to have others think better of us, and as such is just as much a manifestation of ego as excessive aggrandisement.

Humility is, quite simply, what happens when we go beyond the ego – a sincere and genuine self-appraisal, taking into account the entire being, all the faults and good points alike. As meditation teacher Sri Chinmoy points out “When you take a back seat consciously and deliberately in order to show others how humble you are, you are not being humble at all. True humility is something different; it is the feeling of oneness. Humility means giving joy to others. When we allow others to get joy, we feel our joy is more complete, more perfect, more divine.”

Continue reading “The Power of Humility”

Happiness from the inside out

“It is impossible not to notice that, in some of the poorest parts of the world, most people, most of the time, appear to be happier than we are. In southern Ethiopia, for example, the poorest half of the poorest nation on earth, the streets and fields crackle with laughter. In homes constructed from packing cases and palm leaves, people engage more freely, smile more often, express more affection than we do behind our double glazing, surrounded by remote controls. This is not to suggest that poverty causes happiness…but while poverty does not cause happiness, there appears to be some evidence that wealth causes misery. Since 1950, 25-year-olds in Britain have become 10 times more likely to be affected by depression. And it is surely fair to say that most of us suffer from subclinical neuroses, anxiety or a profound discomfort with ourselves.”

George Monbiot, The Guardian, 27 August 2002

Since childhood, we are subtly yet continuously guided to look to the outside world and the material benefits it offers for contentment and happiness, such that for many of us, it is the only real way we know. Yet as we become repeatedly disappointed by outer events, we begin to lose faith in the possibility of there being any happiness at all. Instead of looking to outer events for inner happiness (living from the outside in), let us consider instead what happens when we instead look inwardly for happiness and then bring what receive from there to the outer world – living from the inside out. To those who have been embittered against the possibilities of happiness, the life changing effects this simple change in philosophy can bring may sound too good to be true, and yet millions of people from all over the world can attest to a happiness that comes not from chasing after the material things of the world, but from being grounded in the joy and inner peace of their own being.

A sense of purpose

When we start the day by going deep within through some practice of meditation (or prayer for those who are religiously inclined), slowly we begin to get in touch with the deepest parts of our being, and feel a connection to something vast and infinite, a greater sense of purpose than our own narrow desires and wants. In this space, – who you are, and what you are supposed to be doing with the short span of life you have on earth.

The funny thing is, each of us instinctively know this, and deep within we are always meaning to stop and catch some space to find out what we want – we always tell ourselves we will do it when we finish whatever it is we are caught up in at the moment! The Tibetan Buddhist teacher Sogyal Rinpoche called this ‘Western laziness’ – “cramming our lives with compulsive activity, so that there is no time at all to confront the real issues.” The outside world is often guilty of driving this behavour along, as if it knows that if we ever slowed down, the whole thing would just fall apart. Continue reading “Happiness from the inside out”

Slow Down Fast!

A man was going to visit his father-in-law’s to see his wife. Before going to the station, he tried to tidy up many loose ends such as pay outstanding bills cutting the grass and taking back some faulty goods. By the time he had finished his tasks, he was getting very late, so he started to frenetically wave down a taxi. After a few minutes a taxi arrived, and wanting to avoid missing the train, the man offered a $10 tip to the taxi driver if he would drive extra fast. With the taxi speeding as fast as it could through the crowded streets, he got to the train station just a few minutes before the train was due. He ran to the ticket counter and shouted.

“A ticket to my father in laws”

“But, where is the place you are going to?

“O my father in law’s place, Please! Please! Quick!”

“Just tell me the name at once”

“I am telling you, my father in law’s place. For God’s sake, quick! the train is about to start!”

And the train started, leaving the man behind.

It may seem an obvious mistake to make, but maybe something like this could be happening to us all. Continue reading “Slow Down Fast!”

7 Simple Ways to Get On With other People


Maintaining good relationships with other people is something everyone struggles with. The nature of the human mind is that there seem innumerable factors that make it difficult to get on with other people. If you find yourself with many problematic relationships don’t despair, but, try to work through difficulties and learn the art of developing genuine friendships. These are some of the simplest ways to improve relationship with other people.


When we smile we are effectively offering good will to the other person. A sincere smile can say more than 100 words. When we smile we are effectively saying that we are happy to see the other person; this is the best way to start any conversation. If we give a miserable face then we are outwardly indicating that we are unhappy to be speaking with this person. We convey alot through our body signals; within a moment the expression on someone’s face can put is in a good mood or bad mood. When we cultivate a positive first impression then any problem will be easier to solve. We can smile at everyone, not just people who we like. If we can smile, even at our ‘enemies’ then we may be surprised at how much our interactions are improved.

Appreciate Their Good Qualities

This is a powerful way to help any relationship. In life we tend to get drawn to the negative. When we appreciate the good qualities of other people, we do two things. Firstly, we will make the other person feel better; it will encourage and inspire them to bring more good qualities to the fore. Through offering sincere appreciation we boost their self confidence and they will appreciate our kind words. The other benefit of appreciating others good qualities is that it helps us. It is usually people’s mistakes and wrong-doings that stick in the mind. When we take the effort to appreciate other’s good qualities we build up a more positive impression of our friend; it enables us to be more tolerant of their irritating habits.

Don’t Bear Grudges

This is one of the most important and perhaps difficult factors. At some point in a relationship something invariably happens which makes it difficult to forget and forgive their misdemeanors. This is one factor that can escalate and dominate a relationship so much that it sours. To let go of grudges is essential for maintaining healthy relationships. If we attach ourselves to a long standing grievance we will just make ourselves miserable.

When problems occur or we have issues with other people, it is important to talk in a positive way. Sometimes we don’t even need to talk about the problem, but just converse on a topic that helps rebuild trust. If we maintain a frosty silence, then we just brood on the problem and it tends to magnify the issue; the mind can easily blow it out of proportion. When we talk we regain contact with reality; we see that we have more in common than the problem which now seems less significant. The important thing is to avoid bringing up the issue in a confrontational way. It is better just to develop a normal conversation and find issues of shared interest. Sometimes if we can just share a humorous antidote or enjoy something together, the problem just dissipates of its own accord.

Continue reading “7 Simple Ways to Get On With other People”

10 Effective Ways To Clear Out Your Clutter

Japanese Garden

Is your workplace is surrounded by useless stuff and clutter that you find difficult to get rid of? If you have been planning to unclutter your room, these are some tips to make sure you can actually do it.

1. Do I need it? Is it Beautiful?

Do you really need the item? Is the item of intrinsic beauty? Even by just asking these questions we can help to decide whether we really need it. The problem is that often we accumulate things, without questioning whether we really need them. Go through each item, if you cannot justify its use then get rid without any qualms.

2. Start with Nothing and add only what you need.

Another very effective way to remove unnecessary clutter is to start from scratch. Rather than looking at things to throw away, imagine the room was completely bare, and then only add what you really need. This is a great way to decide whether a thing is of practical importance or just there out of habit.

3. Beauty in Simplicity

To get rid of clutter you should try and keep in your mind a vision of a better alternative. If you have something to aspire for, it will become much easier to throw things away. If you really value the beauty of simplicity then it will be effortless to make this a reality. Look at catalogues of dream houses, in these “show piece settings” you won’t see piles of old newspapers, unwashed coffee cups and piles of dirty laundry.

4. Don’t be Overly Sentimental.

Do you really need to keep your school notes from Grade 5? – It’s not as if you were any good at Maths anyway. Unless you are likely to reread elementary geometry in the next 12 months, you can probably chuck out these painful memories of old school days. This doesn’t mean you have to throw everything away. Do keep things of great sentimental value, but don’t feel guilty about not keeping everything.

5. Choose top 10 Items

If you have difficulty throwing ornamental things away, why not try making a list of just your favourite top 7 or top 3 items? This forces you to be ruthless and only keep the things that you really want.

Continue reading “10 Effective Ways To Clear Out Your Clutter”