Power of silence: Reflection on The Paradox of Our Age

Our lives have become unimaginably complex and paradoxical. We do more, but get less done. We know more, but lack insight. We seek purpose, but lose meaning. The complexity in our external lives had made us morally and spiritually shallow: Our criticality has replaced our curiosity, our rationality trumps our compassion.

Was life always so complex? So paradoxical? I look at my nephews (ages 8 and 3) and think not. Is this complexity just a part of growing up? Maybe, but shouldn’t it be that the older we get, the wiser we become to exercise judgement in realizing the faults of our self-made complexity? Is this complexity the inevitable result of living in our society? Perhaps, but it shouldn’t be the case that our lifestyles stagnate our inner development. It should be the other way around, in fact.

Our complexities make us “sophisticated,” which comes with “sophisticated tastes,” and so we seize to enjoy everyday life and crave things more “sophisticated.” Our complexities consume our lives, leaving us with no space for higher pursuits, such as love, service and self-awareness. We have to do this, do that, and we continuing doing. And in craving and doing, we lose what came so easy to us in childhood:  a state of being.

So what to do about all this complexity? I think we must first realize the things that make our lives so complex, to specifically identify those things which consume our mental and physical space. Is it your phone? The internet? Your professional work? Friends? Is it a particular thought or feeling?

I think the next step is practicing silence. Once you’ve identified your complexities, exercise putting them aside for an hour daily and maintaining silence. Silence is not just the absence of speech; it is the presence of an inner stillness.  So during your hour of silence, work on being still internally by calming your thoughts. One way to do the latter is to focus on your breath.

This may seem tough, but the very act of silence will help us reflect, and to some degree, simplify those complexities which make our lives so complex and paradoxical. Shedding the layers of complexity will lead to a better understanding of self and will help us maintain inner stillness in this fast-paced world. As Pancho says, “Sometimes the most radical thing to do in a polluted violence-based system, is to be still. The mud settles to the bottom and we then have a clearer vision about our next steps.”

For more on silence, watch this video on being alone, read this article on the importance of solitude in leadership, and watch this video on the man who stayed silent for 17 years!


The Paradox of Our Age

We have bigger houses but smaller families;
more conveniences, but less time;
We have more degrees, but less sense;
more knowledge, but less judgement;
more experts, but more problems;
more medicines, but less healthiness;
We’ve been all the way to the moon and back,
but have trouble crossing the street to meet
the new neighbor.

We build more computers to hold more
information to produce more copies then ever,
but have less communication;
We have become long on quantity,
but short on quality.
These are times of fast foods
but slow digestion;
Tall men but short character;
Steep profits but shallow relationships.
It’s a time when there is much in the window,
but nothing in the room.

-The 14th Dalai Lama

9 essential skills we should learn or re-learn

I recently read an article that discusses the need for children to learn nine essential skills: asking questions, solving problems, tackling projects, finding passion, independence, being happy on their own, compassion, tolerance and dealing with change.

I think these skills, or however you’d like to refer to them as, are thorough and invaluable to any parent raising children.

I’d like to add two things to this article:

1. I think the 10th skill should be “Connecting with self, community and nature.” Through such connections, we can exercise skills 1-9 to deepen our introspection, to serve our communities in humility and to live harmoniously within nature.

2. I personally don’t think I’ve mastered the above skills. I often take situations at face-value without being inquisitive.  When we accept a situation at face-value, we adapt to it, and by so doing, we forget that a situation is open to transformation. I also expect situations to turn out the way I’ve planned in my head, and by so doing, I forsake spontaneity. It seems to me that the older we get, the more we think we know the world and the less curious we become. There have been times when I’ve been dependent, lacked compassion, been intolerant, and lived as if life was changeless. I therefore think the above skills should be learned or re-learned not just by children, but by us all.

Are there any skills you’d like to add to this list?

A good way to start your week

Acts of kindness are the pillars of caring societies.


If you want to be a rebel, be kind

Pancho Ramos-Stierle’s words, actions and state-of-being have touched my heart. I recently read an interview in which Pancho shared his thoughts on Occupy Oakland and his arrest. The interview left me hopeful, and pushed me to deepen my understanding and practice of love and non-violence.

Here is a short excerpt:

“On Mondays we practice silence, and the police officer who arrested us thought that we were deaf because we were not speaking. So he got a notebook and a pen. It was very considerate of him, and I could feel his energy shift a little, and so when he gave me the notebook I wrote, “On Mondays, I practice silence, but I would like you to hear that I love you.” When he read that, he had this big smile and looked me in the eye and he said, “Thank you. But, well, if you don’t move, you’re going to be arrested. Are you moving or not?” So I wrote back, “I am meditating.” He said, “OK, arrest them one by one.”

And here is a short excerpt from another article on Pancho in prison:

“As Pancho is shackled up in solitary confinement, he creates a makeshift cushion with his shoes and starts meditating.  The guards themselves start taking photos to post on their Facebook walls!  Moved by his equipoise under conditions of extreme stress, some guards even inquire about the specifics of meditation.  One of them befriends him and gifts him an extra “package” — a toothbrush, a toothpaste, a piece of paper and a pen.  Pancho then cleans up his cell of all the litter, toilet paper and other waste; on the piece of paper he writes, “Smile.  You’ve just been tagged with an anonymous act of kindness!”, and leaves that extra toothpaste and toothbrush next to it.  “I wanted to beautify the cell for the next person after me,” he would later say.  Jails didn’t have any vegetarian food, so he smilingly fasted — having two oranges in four days.  He gifts away his ham sandwiches to other inmates, and connects with them in the spirit of generosity too.  In transit, when he has more contact with other prisoners, he educates them about their rights.  With the ICE agent who shackles him, he smilingly says, “Sister, your soul is too beautiful to be doing this kind of work.”  To which she smiled back and responded, “Thank you.””

I hope you read both the interview of and the article on Pancho. But remember, more important than reading Pancho is being Pancho: Serve, Reflect, Love.

What I’m reading: Pedagogy of the Oppressed

“A revolutionary leadership must practice co-intentional education. Teacher and students (leadership and people), co-intent on reality, are both Subjects, not only in the task of unveiling that reality, and thereby coming to know it critically, but in the task of re-creating that knowledge. As they attain this knowledge of reality through common reflection and action, they discover themselves as its permanent re-creators. In this way, the presence of the oppressed in the struggle for their liberation will be what it should be: not pseudo-participating, but committed involvement.” – Paulo Freire

Pedagogy of the Oppressed is complex and requires a thorough, patient read. I’d highly recommend it to educators, community organizers, community leaders, those dissatisfied with the current state of things, those questioning self and society and to those interested in any form of public service.

I suspect that this book will weave itself into my reflections to come.