Mar 20

International Day of Happiness

Today March 20, 2013 is the first ever U.N. International Day of Happiness. I first learned about it when I attended Visual Happiness an art exhibit at the Queens Museum of Art currently running through March 24th in their Partnership Gallery. The exhibit pairs photography from various cultures across the globe with writings on happiness from the pen of artist and author Sri Chinmoy. Sri Chinmoy placed much significance on the importance of happiness, enthusiasm and a positive encouraging approach to life. Here is one of his poems on happiness that I particularly like:

Happiness in cheerful self giving
Is beyond compare.
It is the highest delight
That God has created for humanity.
Sri Chinmoy, Twenty-Seven Thousand Aspiration-Plants, Part 109.

In so many ways I feel that I learned about happiness from the example of both his life and his writings. Whether in the satisfaction that comes from self-transcendence, or the peace that comes from simplicity, or the innocent joy that comes from a child-like outlook and remembrance to laugh, learning meditation as his disciple included myriad approaches to make spirituality and happiness inseparable.
So “Happy Happiness Day!” and if you are feeling inspired to delve further into the subject of happiness, check out this new website jewelsofhappiness.com for articles on happiness, excerpts of a new audiobook edition of Sri Chinmoy’s book Jewels of Happiness and much, much more.

Related:

  1. Here are some more photos I took of the Visual Happiness exhibit at the Queens Museum of Art
  2. Best Kind of Beautiful blog post
  3. My article on humor and spirituality in the Inspiration Letters Literary Ezine
Mar 03

Lasting Impression

Sri Chinmoy believed that spirituality and physical fitness are meant to co-exist and mutually support each other to help achieve a well-balanced life. While he strongly emphasized the importance of prayer and meditation, he also participated in sports as varied as soccer, track & field events, sprinting, marathon running, tennis and weightlifting. He explains,

I am also trying to show that the inner world has to be a source of inspiration to the outer world. They should not be like opposite poles—North Pole and South Pole. No, they have to be united. The body and the soul must go together.”
-Sri Chinmoy, Aspiration-Body, Illumination-Soul Part 1, Agni Press, 1993.

One unique and unforgettable expression of this joining of sport and spirit is a weightlifting series he named “Lifting Up the World with a Oneness-Heart. Ever a visionary, he combined his gratitude, oneness and goodwill towards others with his weightlifting and lifted individuals overhead on a specially built apparatus as a way to honor them for their contributions to society. As one ascended the platform, singers would perform a song composed by Sri Chinmoy – a theme song as it were for these lifts. The lyrics are:

Lifting up the world
With a oneness-heart,
The Hour of God
And His Victory-Start.
Song-Flowers, Part 3

Over a period of almost two decades Sri Chinmoy lifted 8,000 individuals in this manner. This number is mind-boggling when you stop and think about how many of those lifts involved large amounts of total weight including the individual(s) and apparatus.

To actually experience being lifted overhead by Sri Chinmoy makes a lasting impression. Helen Hunt spoke about getting lifted by Sri Chinmoy during a recent appearance on the David Letterman Show. She speaks about it as if it happened yesterday when in fact it was almost ten years ago. Get a closer glimpse of what it is like to be lifted in this video featuring Helen Hunt and Desmond Tutu:

Feb 12

Cat Custodians

When a much loved pet passed out of my life recently, I took the advice of some trusted friends who suggested that I should contemplate how my life changed and what lessons came from sharing a part of myself with a sweet Siamese cat.

One result of that investigation left me with a sincere wish to pay it forward and see if there was a way I could share with other animals some of the love and acceptance that they often bring to the table.

Now I am privileged to interact with animals (in my case the preference is the feline variety) by sharing a little time as a volunteer at an animal shelter near my house and by fostering cats until they can get adopted with another organization that specializes in rescuing strays and neutering/spaying feral cats.

The people connected with these organizations, the RISPCA and the East Providence Chapter of the Volunteer Services for Animals, are the real quiet heroes with their self-offering on behalf of helpless animals.

My personal inspiration was to see videos added to the descriptions to help get the animals adopted. Here is one video by yours truly showing a cat up for adoption named Claire that is the beginnings of this venture. And here is a picture of a little kitty I named Pixie Dust who I am fostering and may eventually adopt.

 If we can help the helpless, then God will be so pleased with us and proud of us. These children are not getting a mother’s and father’s affection. But if somebody comes and says, “Yes, I may not be able to give you a mother’s or a father’s affection, but I will try to give you a little affection, then God is so pleased. At that time God’s divine Pride in you increases beyond your imagination. You are getting very, very special Blessings from Him. Again, it is He who has given you the opportunity, the capacity and the wisdom to help these orphans.

           -Sri Chinmoy, Lord Buddha’s Compassion-Hand, Agni Press, 1993.
Dec 16

Finding Comfort in Grief

As the world mourns an unspeakable, unthinkable tragic loss in Newtown, Connecticut, we reach out to one another to offer consolation. Tonight an interfaith service was held in Newtown and the President came and met personally with family members grieving lost loved ones. Here in Rhode Island, a collection of teddy bears was held and have already been brought to Connecticut.

Those who cannot visit the memorial shrines to light candles in person are lighting candles at gratefulness.org. There are 898 candles lit in the group “Newto” and over a 100 in the group “Ct”.

Wise spiritual leaders and ministers can hold our hands and offer solace in moments of inconsolable grief. Sri Chinmoy offers the following advice in how to feel consolation when God feels remote,

Pradhan: You say that when we are suffering we should try to feel the presence of the Supreme. But one of the reasons human beings suffer is that we feel separated from the Supreme. So where does one begin that effort?

Sri Chinmoy: If you cannot think of the Supreme, then think of your physical mother or any relative or friend of yours with whom you have established a connection over the years. Since you were a child, there is bound to be someone with whom you have established your oneness. When you are suffering, imagine that individual is standing right in front of you.

So if you can imagine the presence of the person who is closest to you in front of you, sympathising with you with utmost sincerity, then definitely you will feel less pain. It may be more than one person; there may be ten or twenty individuals standing in front of you and sympathising with your suffering.

If somebody dies in your family and a few relatives come and sincerely try to console you, if they share your sufferings, your sorrows and your loss, then you feel much better. Some may not be able to come physically, but still you can remember them and know that if they were physically present, they would show the same kind of consolation, the same kind of oneness.
-Sri Chinmoy, My Heart Shall Give A Oneness-Feast, Agni Press, 1993.

One unconventional method to provide grief counseling takes the form of an innocent four-legged animal – Comfort Dogs. I have seen the magic of therapy dogs in the library setting where children read to dogs and gain a deeper love of reading. Now  the K-9 Parish Comfort Dogs from Lutheran Church Charities have traveled from Chicago to Newtown, Ct. to assist grief counselors in ministering to children and adults alike. Somehow it seems more than fitting to have innocent animals embodying unconditional love come to a place where so many innocent children lost their lives.

And as people around the world pray for Newtown, Ct., I contemplate these words from Sri Chinmoy:

There is no difference when we pray and meditate for others or when we pray and meditate for ourselves. If we have a wider outlook and larger vision, then no matter when we pray or where we pray or for whom we pray or meditate, it is all for ourselves. For all are part and parcel of our universal family.
-Sri Chinmoy, Flame Waves, Part 11, Agni Press, 1978.

Oct 30

Bowtie I will miss you

Bowtie came into my life in July 2010 and has now left it on October 30, 2012. He embodied “animal as teacher” with his overflowing affection and love during the 2 years and three months that our lives were intertwined.

I have never had a cat who was so friendly, social and vocal. He loved to sleep on my lap, have his belly, chin and ears rubbed and quite often would sleep alongside me with his head resting on the same pillow as mine.

Having come into my life as an outdoor cat, spending time outdoors seemed to be his nectar and raison d’etre. Being nocturnal, he liked to go out when I got home from work and then most mornings would wake me up to go outside for a little while at around 5 am. Ever so sadly, this morning going outside at that time when it is completely dark at this time of year until 7 am meant that he was attacked and killed by a coyote right across the street from my house in a residential and not rural neighborhood. Animal control came and said that it was definitely a coyote and that they run the area between Kent Field a mile to my east and the golf course that is alongside a bike path a mile to my west.

I am truly heartbroken to lose him and know that all the people who say you should never let your animal outside will say I told you so but having lived outdoors before “adopting” me, I found it impossible to keep him inside. That being the case, his life lasted about 7 years – what I think is the precise average for a pet cat who isn’t kept inside the house.

Geneen Roth wrote a beautiful and funny book about a cat that adopted her called “The Craggy Hole in My Heart and the Cat Who Fixed It: Over the Edge and Back with My Dad, My Cat, and Me” and in it is a beautiful eulogy for her cat which I will look for and append to this post when I stop crying long enough to find it. Ah, I am still crying but down below is the eulogy.

Rest in Peace Bowtie – I will love you forever. And I will treasure the lessons I learned from you, including the importance of living in the now and sharing kindness and love daily without fail until the chance to share is no more. For that at least, I have no regrets.

Here is the eulogy:

“You cannot see me splayed in the sunroom looking as if I am surfing on a wave of light, you cannot see me lapping up the dripping water in the bathtub, curled on the couch in the TV room, or snoring in the laundry basket. This deceives you into believing that I am not here. But you are only looking with your physical eyes. Look again. Look with the eyes beneath your eyes. The quivering light beneath what you call your life. As you are beginning to discover, it is what you can see with those eyes, that is most compelling. It’s time to begin living the shimmering, glimmering, sunlit life you gave me, but haven’t let yourself fully inhabit.
Everybody knows I had a better life and death than most people on the planet. Between the acupuncturists and the psychics, being hand-fed and carried everywhere, having mice heads to eat, dogs to chase, fences to jump, and corn on the cob to nibble on, there was nothing the physical world didn’t offer for my pleasure. And who wouldn’t want a death like mine? Carried around in a cashmere snuggly, touched sweetly, until my last breath with a Zen priest and a pearly Godmother chanting softly beside me.
All that was good, but the pleasures of the physical world;  jeweled collars and sparkly necklaces, downy blankets and soft salmon flakes, were not the real treasure, it was the love. It was always the love. It was the fact that you delighted every time you saw me. Every time, for seventeen and a half years, I knew just by walking into a room, your heart would fling out streamers of joy. So I kept walking, so that your heart could keep flinging. And I kept putting my paws on your face, so that your body could keep relaxing. And I kept purring, so you would know there was safety in this world. But it wasn’t me, any more than it was the jeweled collars, it was you. It was always you.
You used to mistake the symbol of the treasure, for the treasure. The marker for the thing itself. The gift from God, for God. As if all you could possibly hope for, was a thing you could touch, a token, rather than all of shining existence. Since you hadn’t let yourself know that shimmering fully, you kept turning to what reminded you of it, glitter and bobbles and sparkles. As if having those was having the real thing. As if that was the best you could do.
It was time for me to go. I told you I would stay until you were strong enough to live without me. And I did. And you are. Until your heart spread like dragonfly wings, until you didn’t need me to know that you had a heart. As long as I was in a physical body, you relied on me. You believed I was the locus of that love. Now you can find out for yourself what is true.
Do not grieve for me, I am in a place where tuna fish juice flows like water, where I can jump like the wind, and every place is silky and sunny. If you must, grieve for what you won’t allow yourself to have, grieve for all the ways you separate yourself from this radiance, from lying down in the sun, on a patch of grass, on any old day, and from knowing you are beloved on this Earth.
Thank you, it’s been my pleasure to be with you, may you know you are beloved on the Earth. ”

-Geneen Roth, “The Craggy Hole in My Heart and the Cat Who Fixed It: Over the Edge and Back with My Dad, My Cat, and Me”