Internet notebook about my work: deep listening to facilitate positive change


Sunday 15 February 2009

Pilgrim sites: communication without words

What are the eight great places of Buddhist pilgrimage we are visiting, telling me? How can I better phrase it than the great Indian poet and philosopher Rabindranath Tagore, who wrote in 1935: "I once had gone on a visit to Bodh Gaya, and it had thrilled me to think that he who hallowed the earth by the touch of his feet had once come to that very place in the flesh. Why, had I thought with a pang, had I not been born in this day, that I might have received his holy influence directly with all my mind and all my body." Visiting the sites on which between 500 BC and 1200 AD stupas and temples were build, reminds me also of the Teachings: developing a strong sense of compassion, responsibility and concern, cultivating sensitivity and sharing, developing deeper human insight, refraining from violence, engaging in social action that benefits society. In many places there is only a few hours electricity; our mobiles don't work; the beds in the viharas are hard; there is little water; we have to cook ourselves; the roads are dusty and full of pot holes; everywhere beggars flock - almost aggressively - around us: a training in patience and compassion. In the end helping to make the earth a better place by "living" the sustainability ethics, serves our own happiness.

Friday 13 February 2009

Engagement based on compassion

Buddhism is about transformational change of one's mind through training in compassion and wisdom. Many Buddhists just concentrate on their own mental change. Not so an engaged Buddhist such as Dr Adriana Ferranti. Since many years her Maitri (Compassion) center serves the poorest villages in the Gaya district with health care (leprosy, TB, HIV/Aids, mother and child care), primary education, animal care and natural resource management. The center operates in a decentralised way. Daily most of its 35 staffs are in the field advising villagers and patients, making sure medication is taken, looking after neglected animals and providing teachers to local schools. For Dr Ferranti it may provide her with good karma. At the same time her leadership contributes to transformational change beyond the individual level. Over the last decade the oasis of trees, she created in the midst of a desert, is an example of a different way of development compared to the urbanization that takes place in Bodhgaya town. The mud brick buildings combine aesthetics with local technology and climatic comfort. Contributing to better health, education and access to natural resources are small but basic steps towards sustainable development in the villages. Especially where essential government services are completely absent, true compassion has to lead to an engagement that benefits both the self and society.

Wednesday 11 February 2009

Sustainability: not missing out on the important!

In reality phenomena are not always what they look like. Or actually never are. As a consequence our distorted perceptions make us miss out on many of the good things of life and often cause us only suffering. This is one of the tenets of Buddhist philosophy. So the content of the first email I opened here in an internet cafe in Bodhgaya (India) resonated very much with me. The mail was from Tina Trampus, a colleague from Slovenia. This is the story - it happened in 2007 - she sent me:

Washington DC Metro Station on a cold January morning. He played six Bach pieces for about 45 minutes. During that time approx 2 thousand people went through the station, most of them on their way to work. After 3 mins a middle aged man noticed there was a musician playing. He slowed his pace and stopped for a few seconds and then hurried to meet his schedule. 4 mins later the violinist received his first dollar: a woman threw the money in the till and, without stopping, continued to walk. 6 minutes, a young man leaned against the wall to listen to him, then looked at his watch and started to walk again. 10 mins: a 3 year old boy stopped but his mother tugged him along hurriedly, as the kid stopped to look at the violinist. Finally the mother pushed hard and the child continued to walk, turning his head all the time. This action was repeated by several other children. Every parent, without exception, forced them to move on. 45 minutes; the musician played. Only 6 people stopped and stayed for a while. About 20 gave him money but continued to walk their normal pace. He collected $32. 1 hour; he finished playing and silence took over. No one noticed. No one applauded, nor was there any recognition.

No one knew this but the violinist was Joshua Bell, one of the best musicians in the world. He played one of the most intricate pieces ever written, with a violin worth $3.5 million dollars. Two days before Joshua Bell sold out a theater in Boston where the seats averaged $100. This is a real story. Joshua Bell playing incognito in the metro station was organized by the Washington Post as part of an social experiment about perception, taste and people's priorities. The questions raised: in a common place environment at an inappropriate hour, do we perceive beauty? Do we stop to appreciate it? Do we recognize talent in an unexpected context? One possible conclusion reached from this experiment could be: If we do not have a moment to stop and listen to one of the best musicians in the world playing some of the finest music ever written, with one of the most beautiful instruments .... how many other things are we missing?

Tina concluded: "Live here, live now, live THIS moment and enjoy it – is the best and the only you really have."

Sunday 1 February 2009

Bring The Comfort Of Indoors To Outdoors!?

In Europe already for some years, the market is lured into the new hype of patio heaters. As temperatures drop at nightfall, and people still want to sit in the garden, they invest in a patio heater of some sort. Since the ban on smoking, smokers flock round them outside bars. Restaurants now serve dinner even in midwinter on their terrace. It irritates me every time I pass these examples of extravagance. Why warming up the night sky by burning energy and therefore casting a carbon shadow? Ban not only smoking, but also outside heating. Yesterday with Copenhagen in mind my environment colleagues here in Delhi discussed how much less countries like India should contribute, compared to Europe. They took me out for dinner to their favorite Italian restaurant. We were to sit on the terrace - yes: with patio heaters! To sit inside was no alternative. This section is closed, said the sign on the door of the restaurant. As action speaks louder than words, I insisted to go somewhere else. The Delhi Supreme Court forced buses, taxis and rickshaws to change from diesel to natural gas. Why not also ban patio heaters? Until that time, environmental leaders should set an example as consumers both in the developed and the developing world.