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Meditation Saves Life

Thai Buddha StatueIt was an ordinary day in Ningbo, China, but an extraordinary miracle took place in a muddy 5-metre ditch.

Was it really a miracle, or simply the wise employment of a meditation technique? Maybe a combination of the two.

The Times reports:

“Wang Jianxin was working at a construction site in the booming city. The job that day for the 52-year-old worker was to dig a five-metre ditch…

“Without warning, a wall of the ditch collapsed, burying Mr Wang under a huge pile of earth. Like most construction workers in China, he had little in the way of protective equipment except for his tough plastic safety helmet. It was to be enough to save his life.” [original article]

The peak of his hat trapped a small amount of air in front of his face, which doctors said would usually have been enough to keep someone alive for five minutes. It was two hours before he was rescued. Mr Wang survived by practising Buddhist meditation techniques to stay calm, and minimise his use of oxygen.

There are countless legends from India of yogis, (obviously very advanced in their meditation practice) allowing themselves to be buried alive, and surviving for weeks or even years. I’m not about to discuss the verity of such stories, (let alone their questionable spiritual worth), but if a construction worker can survive for 2 hours on 5 minutes’ worth of oxygen, who’s to say those legends aren’t true? Just when you think you know what’s possible in this world, and what’s not…

“Be not afraid of the impossible.
Be brave!
God is always ready to help you
Conquer the impossible.”
Sri Chinmoy
Seventy-Seven Thousand Service-Trees #19030

5

The Road Home (Zhang Yimou)

The-Road-Home-1999Ostensibly this film is a glimpse of difficult times in recent Chinese political history, highlighting the perceived value of knowledge and learning, and illustrating the bonds of family love. It is a poignant reminder of fading noble values – values in danger of being lost to a world of mass-production and a society of short-termism.

A businessman returns to his family home when he hears his father has died. His mother wants to observe ancient traditional funeral rites that seem unnecessarily arduous to the son. The mother is undeterred, carrying the strength of her happy memories, and strengthened further by her own life’s struggles. This conflict of ancient and modern values sets the scene.

Like its characters it is honest and humble, revealing through its openness a formidable power. As only director Zhang Yimou (Hero, House Of Flying Daggers) knows how, The Road Home is formed of many subtle levels. As many layers of laquer, each aspect adds integrity and depth while preserving its clarity and lightness.

Visually it is exquisite, stretching straightforward photography to its limits – a refreshing break from our computer-generated age. In a reverse of the traditional, present day scenes are shot in monochrome, and memories in colour, reinforcing the ageing mother’s feeling that the present is harder and less beautiful than the past. As is customary for Zhang Yimou the use of colour is deliberate, precise and symbolic, always lavish but never gluttonous.

The star of the show is unquestionably Ziyi Zhang. This being one of her earlier films, her elfin innocence is even more apparent than in her later swashbuckling adventures, concealing as always behind her winsome smile a steely determination. All the characters have such an endearing natural air it seems really like eavesdropping to listen to them, and almost rude to enter their homes to observe their tribulations.

The political climate is implied rather than expressed, woven into the landscape and lives of the characters. The plot is simple but brave, dealing with death, with the fragility of human relationships, and also with their unbreakable bond beyond death. It frames human insecurity as well as superhuman transcendence of the self.

This film warms the heart and opens the eyes. Zhang Yimou gives us a firm nudge to reassess our values and priorities in life. He does it neatly and without excessive emotion… but make sure you have a handkerchief close by.

0

Mr Magorium and Pipe Organ Pizza

Mr Magorium’s Wonder Emporium

Mr Magorium''s Wonder EmporiumThe heart in this film is undeniable, and it’s definitely not just for children. As the film’s motto goes: “You have to believe it to see it.” (It’s alone worth watching for a cameo appearance by Kermit the Frog, out shopping, dodging stares from the public).

Mr Magorium (Dustin Hoffman) is a 243-year-old owner of a magical toy shop. Although he has been inventing toys since the mid-1770s, and is perfectly healthy, he has decided that the time has come for him to leave the world, so he bequeaths the shop to its manager, Molly Mahoney (Natalie Portman).

With his imminent departure the emporium itself shows signs of sadness. “We must face tomorrow, whatever it may bring,” says Magorium, to the very soul of the shop, “with determination, joy and bravery”.

Mahoney lacks the necessary faith in herself that she can continue without its magical owner. “Unlikely adventures require unlikely tools,” says Mr. Magorium, and in a rather Zen gesture, gives her The Congreve Cube, a solid block of wood, which he assures her will bring her the answers she needs. “Your life is an occasion,” he reassures her, “Rise to it.”

As the nine-year-old narrator says, “All stories, even the ones we love, must eventually come to an end, and when they do, it’s only an opportunity for another story to begin.”

Read more at imdb.com

Pipe Organ Pizza

Pipe Organ PizzaThe film not only reminded me of the childhood half-belief that toys are really alive (but only move when we’re not looking), I also remembered a special place I used to go to as a child: Scooby Doo’s Pipe Organ Pizza, in Houston.

The organ itself controlled a whole wall of pipes, drums, and strange gadgets, behind glass. The organist would play requests written on little white pieces of paper. I always used to request Tie a Yellow Ribbon because I knew he knew that one. To me it was the closest thing to magic, and all with the accompaniment of most amazing pizza.

It closed down soon after I left America. The organ was apparently salvaged, refurbished and installed in someone’s house.

16

John Milton and The Origin Of Space

Astrological Clock

“With thee conversing I forget all time,
All seasons and thir change, all please alike.
Sweet is the breath of morn, her rising sweet,
With charm of earliest Birds; pleasant the Sun
When first on this delightful Land he spreads
His orient Beams, on herb, tree, fruit, and flour,
Glistring with dew; fragrant the fertil earth
After soft showers; and sweet the coming on
Of grateful Eevning milde, then silent Night
With this her solemn Bird and this fair Moon,
And these the Gemms of Heav’n, her starrie train:
But neither breath of Morn when she ascends
With charm of earliest Birds, nor rising Sun
On this delightful land, nor herb, fruit, floure,
Glistring with dew, nor fragrance after showers,
Nor grateful Evening mild, nor silent Night
With this her solemn Bird, nor walk by Moon,
Or glittering Starr-light without thee is sweet.
But wherfore all night long shine these, for whom
This glorious sight, when sleep hath shut all eyes?”

—John Milton, Paradise Lost Book IV

This is my favourite passage from the man who is considered the second greatest English poet. If John Milton was ever irked at having to play second fiddle to Shakespeare in the poetic hall of fame, it may have comforted him to remember that his poetic works were not his greatest feat. Indeed, he invented Space.

Outer Space

Without him, NASA would be NA?A, there would be no “final frontier” into which Captain Kirk could boldly go, and no number 1 hit across 23 countries for Babylon Zoo (arguably a mixed blessing).

Four hundred years ago, “Space,” in the Outer Space sense of the word, was the relatively empty regions of the universe outside the atmospheres of celestial bodies. Thanks to Milton it is now in a handy 5-letter package, to which we can more readily append words such as man, ship, shuttle, hopper, and cadet.

Milton was not always so beneficent, as he also created “pandemonium” and “gloom”. But we are indebted to him for the words terrific, jubilant and sensuous. Without him we would never “trip the light fantastic,” or be moon-struck.

This week visitors to Cambridge University Library will have a chance to inspect the workings of Milton’s great mind, as some of his rare manuscripts are put on display.

John Milton

Milton’s influence on the modern world cannot be underestimated, says Dr Gavin Alexander, fellow of Christ’s College: “His writing took epic realms like fantasy, romance and science fiction and combined them with ideas about politics, morality and human nature on a huge cosmic scale nobody had really seen before… Without him, it is possible we would never have heard of The Lord of the Rings, Star Trek, or The Matrix.”

“He is among the world’s great poets,” says Professor Christopher Ricks in the preface to the exhibition. “Living at this Hour: John Milton 1608-2008” opens at the Cambridge University Library on Tuesday.

—Read more from John Milton: the poet who gave us ‘Star Trek’ and ‘The Matrix’ in the Independent On Sunday

Rarely do we know the exact circumstances surrounding the coining of a brand new word. But in the case of googol, a mathematical term for the number represented by a one followed by 100 zeroes or 10100, we know exactly who coined it and when, Milton Sirotta, the nephew of mathematician Edward Kasner, and the year was 1938. From Kasner and Newman’s Mathematics and the Imagination (1940):

The name “googol” was invented by a child (Dr. Kasner’s nine-year-old nephew) who was asked to think up a name for a very big number, namely, 1 with a hundred zeros after it…At the same time that he suggested “googol” he gave a name for a still larger number: “Googolplex.”

Later in the book:

A googol is 10100; a googolplex is 10 to the googol power.

The name of the search engine and software company, Google, is a deliberate variant of the mathematical term. The company’s founders, Larry Page and Sergey Brin, came up with the name in 1998. They altered the spelling for trademark purposes.

www.wordorigins.org

13

Read Your Own Bedtime Story: Oscar Wilde

Illustration by Charles Robinson from The Happy PrinceEnglish was secretly my favourite subject at school. I say secretly because as a teen it’s only considered proper to laugh at those stuffy poets in tights and ruffs or Brylcreem and cravats, puffing on long pipes in leather chairs. The fact is I, (and maybe secretly everyone) found them brilliantly riveting. I still do, but now I think I can safely admit to it. Shakespeare, Jane Austen and Oscar Wilde are my favourite comedians.

I knew Oscar Wilde from a younger age, through his fairytales, opulently illustrated by Charles Robinson. Snuggoled under an eiderdown with my mother and brother with mugs of hot cocoa I would travel through other times and climes on the wings of his words. He was a welcome relief from the dark grimness of the Brothers Grimm, or the fascinating strangeness of Dr Seuss, and AA Milne must sometimes have been ragged and tired from over-use.

I knew and loved Oscar Wilde’s words later at school through his plays, but I love them all the more now, the more I know them. Lady Windermere’s Fan, An Ideal Husband, and The Importance of Being Earnest are some of the wittiest stories I know, and with brilliant twists of plot. But the frivolous exterior (great fun in itself), thinly veils a profound sensitivity, and depth of perception. Although Wilde was Irish I must include him among the English, who have no greater joy than in laughing at themselves. (And as rightly pointed out to me on the Sri Chinmoy Inspiration Group recently, we do have so very much to laugh about).

Revisiting in relative adulthood the stories I loved as a child I am enchanted and deeply moved by the beauty of the writing. What’s more, and perhaps most surprising of all, their perfection is often completed with profound spiritual morals, especially in the case of his most famous: The Happy Prince. If you have not done so, or if you have not done so in a while, read yourself this bedtime story: The Happy Prince.

Another favourite is The Nightingale and the Rose. Its painful cynicism would be funny if it weren’t so exquisitely crafted in prose. I tried to read them each aloud recently but tears stopped my voice on both occasions, so moved was I by their unutterable beauty. I hope you enjoy them even half as much as I do.

6

The Near-Death Experience and Endless Consciousness

“You would know the secret of death. But how shall you find it unless you seek it in the heart of life.” – Kahlil Gibran

Angel by Abbott ThayerFollowing my last post, I have read some research on ‘Near-Death Experiences’ (NDEs), which I thought may be interesting to share.

Dutch cardiologist Pim van Lommel made headlines with an article in The Lancet. in 2001. In a study of 344 Dutch patients surving cardiac arrest, 62 of them reported NDEs when they were clinically dead. Van Lommel’s writings centre around what he calls “Endless Consciousness” :

According to van Lommel, the leading mainstream materialistic vision held by doctors, philosophers and psychologists on the brain-consciousness relation is insufficient to explain this phenomenon. There are good reasons to assume that our consciousness does not coincide with brain activity; it can be experienced separate from the body. [Source]

Two things I find most interesting in NDE research. The first and most obvious is that NDEs can be considered proof of an afterlife. I am not so surprised or fascinated by that evidence though; I have always believed in reincarnation, and have further studied the teachings of my spiritual Master, Sri Chinmoy, on that subject for the last 12 years. I am most fascinated by the fact that those who have had NDEs are very often permanently changed by their experience, and pretty much always for the better.

This phenomenon is not only reported by van Lommel, but by PMH Atwater who notes the following amazing findings (and more), in her article Another Look at the After-Effects of the Near-Death Experience:

  • Unconditional love — Experiencers perceive themselves as equally and fully loving of each and all, openly generous, excited about the potential and wonder of each person they see…
  • Lack of boundaries — Familiar codes of conduct can lose relevance or disappear altogether as unlimited avenues of interest and inquiry take priority…
  • Timelessness — Most experiencers begin to “flow” with natural shift of time, rejecting locks and schedules as they exhibit a heightened awareness of the present moment and the importance of “now.”
  • The psychic — Extrasensory perception and various types of psychic phenomena become normal and ordinary in the lives of experiencers…
  • Reality switches — Hard-driving achievers and materialists can transform into easy-going philosophers; but, by the same token, those once more relaxed or uncommitted can become energetic “movers and shakers,” determined to make a difference in the world. Switches seem to depend more on what is “needed” to round out the individual’s growth than on any uniform result.
  • The soul as self — Most come to recognize themselves as an immortal soul currently resident within material form so lessons can be learned while sojourning in the earthplane. They know they are not their body; it is a “jacket” they wear…

Atwater reports other remarkable patterns in patients following NDEs: substantially altered energy levels, hypersensitive to light and sound, stress easier to handle, lower blood pressure, increased intelligence, clustered thinking (as opposed to sequential), charismatic, quicker assimilation, reduction in red meat consumption, “merge” easily (absorption), latent talents surface, a hunger for knowledge, synchronicity commonplace, multiple sensing (synesthesia).

She notes that such positive life changes do not only depend on a person returning from clinical death (fortunately!); they can arise from a life-threatening or frightening situation for example. They can also be achieved consciously and gradually through spiritual practice:

I would also include those more tranquil in how they’re experienced: from the slow, steady application of spiritual disciplines, mindfulness techniques, meditation, vision quests, or because, in a prayerful state of mind, an individual simply desires to become a better person.

8

Into Great Silence — Film Review

Into Great Silence film posterI watched an illumining and interesting film last week. Into Great Silence is surely one of the bravest films ever made. Almost three hours long, no script, no score, no commentary. I was compelled to see such a daring feat of minimalism.

Over 20 years before the film’s release, German director Philip Groening applied for permission to film at the Carthusian monastery of Grande Chartreuse in a far corner of the French Alps. He was told it was too early, perhaps in 10-13 years it would be the right time.

16 years later his request was accepted.

You can read the rest of my review at WriteSpirit.net (a beautiful and fascinating site “sharing ancient wisdom and modern inspiration”).

If you watch it, or if you’ve already seen it, let me know what you thought…

9

Commuting Meditation

An interesting article called A Commute To Inner Peace by Trushar Barot caught my eye earlier this month at BBC.co.uk. It’s about meditating while commuting to work; making the most of time seemingly wasted, waiting for the bus, or even sitting at the wheel in a traffic jam. Tim Malnick, founder of Meditation at Work says:

“A lot of people think it’s all about sitting down cross-legged and closing your eyes. But if you look at the meditation traditions from the East, they clearly demonstrate the importance of transferring this state of mind into all your daily activity. It’s about becoming more aware of the environment around you and feeling comfortable with it.”

Trushar Barot tries it out while getting the bus, and notes:

“My heart-rate drops almost instantly, but jolts on hearing the dulcet tones of 50 Cent, which a kindly school boy at the back is treating his fellow travellers to. Too much of a coward to ask him to lower the volume, I realise this is the perfect test of my meditation techniques.”

This typically British response to outer irritation made me laugh, as I have responded in exactly that way (i.e. avoided responding outwardly) so many times on public transport, and have instead turned to my 21-year history of regular meditation practice in order to deal with it.

Perhaps the greatest test, and one of my most valuable meditation experiences, came to me when I was a teen living in a very crowded house. The guy in the room next door listened to a particular kind of music (that brings me out in cold sweat now if I ever hear it) struggling through distorted speakers, sometimes 24 hours a day. It was not just my British reserve that stopped me from saying anything; he was actually very dangerous. I had no choice but to deal with it. After 2 days and nights of no sleep with this rasping and pounding rattling my nerves and brain, I had to meditate my way to sanity. Were it not for my desperate necessity I may not have realised firsthand how powerful meditation can be. For about three hours I practised, and finally the peace came. Nothing could disturb me then. I was not less aware, but more aware in a wider sense where that sound was as insignificant as an ant. I slept like a baby.

There are lots of ways to meditate. As Tim Malnick so rightly said, we can bring meditation into our daily lives. I try to do that when I’m doing simple tasks, as well as… well yes just sitting cross-legged a couple of times a day purely for meditation. For the last ten years I’ve been following the teachings of Sri Chinmoy. In his own words:

“If we are practical in the inner life, if we are doing the right thing in the inner world, we will not be bound by anything, because we will have inner awareness. One who has inner awareness has free access to infinite Truth and everlasting Joy, and he will be able to control his outer life.”
—Sri Chinmoy
from SriChinmoyLibrary.com

Image: Kedar Misani at Sri Chinmoy Centre Gallery

5

Ramayana Bridge Seen From Space

I first became acquainted with the Ramayana when someone lent me a translation many years ago, written in rhyming couplets. It was originally written in rhyming couplets, but in Sanskrit, by the sage Valmiki.

I wish I had taken note of the translator, as I have never found a more charming version. The beauty of the writing alone made tears obscure my view of the pages. The story itself is in turns intensely moving and jaw-droppingly thrilling, studded with spiritual lessons which have endured their journey through time. The heart it warms is broken on the next page, and on the next made whole again. Passages of the sweetest purest devotion sit beside almost shocking displays of heroism.

Rama was a virtuous and spiritually evolved Indian prince, forced into exile by his jealous stepmother so her younger son might take the throne. Luckily that son was quite spiritually evolved himself and wouldn’t take the throne from its rightful heir, but that didn’t stop Rama dutifully doing time in the forest.

Rama was accompanied by his wife Sita and his devoted brother Lakshmana. Much of the story revolves around the abduction of Sita by Ravana, the monstrous king of Lanka (now Sri Lanka). In order to rescue Sita, Rama built a bridge of stone from India, with the help of an army of monkeys led by his greatest devotee Hanuman (the monkey god pictured at his feet).

There are many beautiful stories surrounding the building of the bridge. Some say Hanuman wrote the name of Rama on each stone before it was laid, and that his devotion gave the bridge its strength. Some say a spider carried tiny pebbles on its back to add to the cause. Rama was delighted with the spider because it was using its full capacity, however small. Some say the gods made the stones float, others say the gods held them steady so the army could cross. There are so many versions of the story from so many countries. In one Hanuman uses his tail as a bridge, as he had magical powers allowing him to change his size.

About five years ago NASA released pictures from space which show very clearly a bridge across the gulf between India and Sri Lanka. (They’ve named it Adam’s Bridge, but whatever). This finding has sparked much controversy over the age of the bridge, and whether it is man-made or natural. It has been in the news recently because its protection by devotees of Rama is holding up a proposed ferry crossing.

I am not about to chip in to the debate, as I know nothing of geology. As with Stonehenge and other prehistoric structures, we will probably never know the truth. What I do know is the thrill I got today when I first saw the pictures! As there is no concrete evidence either way, I am holding my fond belief that this is the remains of a legend.

You can see the pictures here.

The Ramayana formed a blockbusting 78-episode TV Series in 1980s India which brought the whole country to a standstill every time an episode came out. I’ve watched the whole thing twice, and the sequel Luv Kush about Rama’s sons. It’s very dated and the effects are like something out of a 60s B-movie, but the devotional lessons shine through victoriously. Put away your Hollywood-honed sensitivities and it is deeply inspiring.

The Ramayana was also the backdrop for the 1995 film A Little Princess. Okay I know it’s a soppy film but I secretly love it. Don’t hold it against me, and definitely don’t tell anybody.

Thanks to Rathin at SriChinmoyInspirationGroup for inspiring this post.

13

Good For Your Health: 7 Surprises

MOZART IS GOOD FOR YOUR HEALTH

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

Mozart’s music lowers stress, heightens intelligence and relieves heart disease. It could even improve your eyesight, and doctors may soon prescribe it for epilepsy. According to Roger Dobson in The Independent, Mozart is a Medical Maestro:

“Mozart soothes the beating heart. A study at Oberwalliser Hospital in Switzerland on the effects of music on heart-rate variability in 23 adolescents showed that listening to music may be helpful in heart disease. The study showed that listening to Mozart or Bach resulted in reductions of heart rate and variability.” [source]

It seems the benefits are not only available to connoisseurs of classical music, indeed it’s not even necessary to be conscious of the music for it to work its magic. Proof comes from the Agricultural University of Athens where scientists played Eine Kleine Nachtmusik to carp for 30 minutes at a time. The fish grew more and showed fewer signs of stress.

You might not recognise the second portrait above, as it was only unearthed last week. It’s deemed the most important painting of the great composer, considered more accurate than the most well known (first above), painted 18 years after his death. [source: The Telegraph].

BILINGUALISM IS GOOD FOR YOUR HEALTH

European Flag

Separation between countries in Europe is becoming increasingly passé. That has to be a good thing in itself, but it also means bilingualism is on the increase, maybe even for us reluctant Brits. Why is that so healthy?

“Researchers found that bilingual people are far better at retaining their mental abilities into old age than the majority, who speak only one language, in fact that they were less prone to problems such as Alzheimer’s disease in later life.” [source: Agence Bretagne Presse]

According to Omniglot.com, we use different facial muscles, not just when speaking different languages, but when using different accents. So, all us Brits reluctant to learn a language can practise our Scottish, Welsh, Irish, and English accents and we’ll at least give our faces a good workout, even if we lose our marbles earlier than anyone else in Europe.

CHOCOLATE IS GOOD FOR YOUR HEALTH

Chilli Chocolate

Yes, yes, I know, lots of fat and sugar and calories and often very garish packaging, but bear with me. We don’t want too many of those nasty free radicals radicalling around so freely do we? What we need is antioxidants then, just as your mother always told you:

“Eating dark chocolate could help control diabetes and blood pressure, Italian experts say.

Researchers found eating 100g of dark chocolate each day for 15 days lowered blood pressure in the 15 person-study.

The University of L’Aquila team also found the body’s ability to metabolise sugar – a problem for people with diabetes – was improved.

But eating the same quantities of white chocolate did not have an effect, the researchers said.

The team said an antioxidant called flavanol was responsible for the effect because it neutralised potentially cell-damaging substances known as oxygen free radicals, the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition reported.” [source: BBC]

A lot of disclaimers follow in the article above, so of course we must read them and take them very seriously before consuming large quantities, or at least consult a good chocolatier. Don’t consult your doctor, they’ve got enough to do.

Montezuma’s organic is my latest favourite chocolate in the world, especially their Emperor Chilli bar (pictured). If you haven’t tried chilli chocolate, (and especially if you have), you might want to get some (more) at Montezuma’s. No garish packaging there, and it’s good for you. Chillies are full of vitamins A and C, they stimulate the heart, kidneys and nervous system. Don’t get me started… [source: BBC]

(Did I tell you the one about the diamond burglar armed only with a box of chocolates? Chocolate is not only good for your health, but can be good for your bank balance. Don’t try this at home. No, really.)

BLOGGING IS GOOD FOR YOUR HEALTH

Lovely Readers

According to blogging scientists at Eide Neurolearning, it’s official: blogging is healthy. That’s very good news for all you lovely people on the left who have visited here recently (forgive me for not adding links to you all). Let me return the favour by telling you why blogging is so good for you. The Eides say:

  1. Blogs can promote critical and analytical thinking.
  2. Blogging can be a powerful promoter of creative, intuitive, and associational thinking.
  3. Blogs promote analogical thinking.
  4. Blogging is a powerful medium for increasing access and exposure to quality information.
  5. Blogging combines the best of solitary reflection and social interaction.

Maybe we shouldn’t spend all day at our desks though, according to The Independent:

“Scientists have claimed that it’s as risky as smoking, increases obesity, and that it could lead to deep vein thrombosis if you do it for too long. Yet 59 per cent of us do it every day at work. Sitting at a desk, it seems, can be hazardous to your health.”

So what’s the answer to maintaining physical well-being while keeping our brains healthy with blogging? Get out more? Not necessarily, you could take up Deskercise: steppers, Swiss balls and neck stretches. Yikes. Find out more here, it’s a very good article.

GIVING IS GOOD FOR YOUR HEALTH

Blossom by Sharani Robins

The BBC released an article yesterday about the proven health benefits of giving to others, based on some recent Canadian research, in: Charity Makes You Feel Better. Giving to others makes you happier, and therefore healthier. It could even save your life:

“Those who spent the cash on others reported feeling happier at the end of the day than those who spent the money on themselves, no matter how much they had been given.

Dr Dunn said: ‘This study provides initial evidence that how people spend their money may be as important for their happiness as how much money they earn.’

‘And spending money on others might represent a more effective route to happiness than spending money on oneself.’

Dr George Fieldman, a psychologist at Buckinghamshire New University, said: ‘Giving to charity partly makes you feel better because you’re in a group. You are also perceived as being an altruist.’

‘On an individual level, if I give to you, you are less likely to attack me and more likely to be nice to me.’”

…and not just giving, but forgiving is especially wholesome:

“In one study, people who focused on a personal grudge had elevated blood pressure and heart rates, as well as increased muscle tension and feelings of being less in control. When asked to imagine forgiving the person who had hurt them, the participants said they felt more positive and relaxed and thus, the changes dissipated.” [source: Science Daily]

SALT IS GOOD FOR YOUR HEALTH

Himalayan Rock Salt

Well, not all salt. According to a recent article in The Independent, if you put a sea fish into a table salt solution it will die. The sodium chloride most of us keep in a shaker on the dining table strains the heart and chivvies the blood-pressure, so too much of it will send us the same way. Unrefined rock salt, however, contains more than 84 different minerals.

“‘These mineral salts are identical to the elements of which our bodies have been built and were originally found in the primal ocean from where life originated,’ argues Dr Barbara Hendel, researcher and co-author of Water & Salt, The Essence of Life….

Without mineral salts, says Dr Hendel, there would be no movement, memory or thought and your heart wouldn’t beat….

Mineral salts, she says, are healthy because they give your body the variety of mineral ions needed to balance its functions, remain healthy and heal. These healing properties have long been recognised in central Europe. At Wieliczka in Poland, a hospital has been carved in a salt mountain. Asthmatics and patients with lung disease and allergies find that breathing air in the saline underground chambers helps improve symptoms in 90 per cent of cases. ” [source]

You can find out more about Himalayan rock salt at Indus Salz. They even make it into table lamps. Wizard! Must have.

INDIGO IS GOOD FOR YOUR HEALTH

Indigo, colour of Unity

According to the ancient code of Feng Shui, different colours affect us very differently, and indigo is noted for its healing properties. So are green and blue.

“Yellow is a happy color that promotes creativity and vitality. Use it in a kitchen or office. Green is a healing and calming color. It is great for living rooms or bedrooms. It renews and keeps us in balance. Blue is also a healing color as well as a mentally relaxing color. Add blue to a room when someone is sick. Blue will keep the room’s occupants calm. Indigo is not only relaxing but is also to keep good health in your home.” [source: Essortment.com]

Colour therapy is a well-established art. Everything you ever wanted to know about the science of colours can be found at ColourTherapyHealing.com, where we find that indigo is calming and good for studying. It also helps heighten intuition.

But what of the spiritual significance of colours? Kedar Misani has recently completed a beautiful and informative series of videos on the subject. It’s based on spiritual master Sri Chinmoy‘s book Colour Kingdom, where indigo is found to signify unity. That seems to be a good note to end on; if bilingualism and self-giving are good for the health, then unity certainly must be. You can enjoy the videos and find out more at Sri Chinmoy TV.

28

Manga Shakespeare: Homegrown Hybrid

Shakespeare in a comic book? This is serendipity, as I’d never have expected him there. In fact I wouldn’t have even looked.

The other day my mother was remembering the comics my brother used to read twenty-something years ago. We got as far as The Beano and The Dandy, when she said with a frown, “Did you have comics?”

“No!” I said as if stung, “I used to read magazines.”

“Oh yes, of course.”

I realised that even before my teens I regarded comics as something for those who are either just barely literate, or too lazy to read, or male and under the age of ten. As is so often the case, my mind was broadened only hours later, this time by an article in the Independent, heralding Britain’s latest homegrown hybrid: Manga Shakespeare.

Manga is Japanese for “random (or whimsical) pictures”. It firmly took root in the late 18th Century, drawing inspiration from 12th Century giga (literally “funny pictures”), blossoming in the early 19th Century, with the great Hokusai even producing his own manga collection. Originally wood-block prints, the modern story-based manga started to emerge in the form of drawings as Japan increasingly absorbed American influences.

Manga is much more culturally important to Japan than comic books are to the US. Weekly sales of manga in Japan even exceed annual sales of comics in America (source: Wikipedia). In the UK at least, manga, anime (animated manga), and in fact anything Japanese is no doubt rising in popularity.

Self Made Hero is a British team, set to release their Manga Shakespeare collection this Thursday 1st of March. Emma Hayley, director of SelfMadeHero says:

“With our fresh and innovative approach to the classics, we are creating exciting and unique books that will inspire today’s generation.”
SelfMadeHero.com

Good luck, I say. Anything (well almost anything) that makes the Bard more easily accessible has to be a good thing. Shakespeare is not a pompous poet in tights to be kept mouldering on the dusty shelves of aging professors; he’s a genius storyteller, and you shouldn’t have to be a genius to unravel the brilliance of his work. His plays are timeless, and infinitely adaptable. True, the original language is hard going, but if the essence of the stories is revealed to a wider audience, then maybe more will be inspired to delve into the treasure chest of his original works, while they’re young enough to keep up with the thrilling pace.

“Manga is a dynamic, emotional and cinematic medium easily absorbed by the eye. Its attractive art and simple storytelling methods will enthuse readers to approach Shakespeare’s work in the way he intended – as entertainment.”
SelfMadeHero.com

Later in the year a collection entitled The Classical Eye will be released by the team, so watch this space:

“…transforming classics into another art form. The books feature acknowledged leaders in the world of graphic novels and bandes dessinées, using illustrators and writers whose work is widely admired internationally.
SelfMadeHero.com

Image Source: SelfMadeHero.com

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Serendipity: Thanks, Horace Walpole

A recent post on SensitivityToThings.com, entitled Serendipity, prompted more in-depth pondering about the word and its meaning. Serendipity can be defined as pure luck in discovering unsought things, or yet more simply as good fortune. This might be a good time to explain the link between the name chosen for this site and its chosen motto.

Firstly, you might wonder how come this English girl has an Indian name. My first name, Sumangali, is a spiritual name, given to me by my meditation teacher, Sri Chinmoy. A spiritual name is like a mantra, reflecting the essence and purpose of its bearer at a very deep level. It was given to me after I had been studying and practising meditation for a few years.

The root of the word Sumangali (mangal) means auspicious. Sometimes two people may have the same word as a name, but the interpretation or aspect of it may be different. The main part of the meaning for me is auspicious good-fortune, so this is at once my essence and my primary purpose, and that’s what I hope to try and offer through this site, in any small way I can.

As for the word serendipity, there’s no way I would have guessed its progenitor: Horace Walpole, 4th Earl of Orford. It seems there was a gap in our language, and so the word was born, inspired by a Persian fairy tale called The Three Princes Of Serendip (Serendip being Sri Lanka).

So the princes were fortunate on their travels? Well it’s not so simple. It seems they were very wise as well. Perhaps Horace won’t mind me quoting the letter in which the word was first written:

“I once read a silly fairy tale, called The Three Princes of Serendip: as their highnesses travelled, they were always making discoveries, by accidents and sagacity, of things which they were not in quest of: for instance, one of them discovered that a mule blind of the right eye had travelled the same road lately, because the grass was eaten only on the left side, where it was worse than on the right—now do you understand serendipity? “
Source: Wikipedia

Well no, Horace, in fact your definition has sparked numerous debates on its meaning. Looking up The Three Princes Of Serendip we find a little more clarity:

“In the camel story, the Three Princes use trace clues to precisely identify a camel they have never seen (lame; blind in one eye; missing a tooth; carrying a pregnant maiden; bearing honey on one side and butter on the other). This result of abductive reasoning is not what is meant by serendipity (the discovery of something not sought). Because of their cleverness and sagacity, they are accused of stealing the camel and are about to be put to death by Bahram Gur. Suddenly and without anyone seeking him out, a traveler steps forward to say that he has just seen the missing camel wandering in the desert. Bahram spares the lives of the Three Princes, lavishes them with rich rewards and appoints them as advisors. These rewards are the unsought (serendipitous) results of their sagacious insights.”

So, Horace, what you mean is that wisdom is often rewarded, and if we do not seek to receive a specific reward, but receive it nonetheless, then we are serendipitous? Ergo: wisdom – expectation + reward = serendipity.

Back to SensitivityToThings.com, John Gillespie cited a quote from Sri Chinmoy about rainbows. Sri Chinmoy says that a rainbow siginifies success and progress, but we must be looking towards the sky in order to see it. In this case wisdom is looking at the sky. Rainbows are rare so we can hardly dare expect them. The reward for looking upwards anyway is the rainbow, so that’s serendipity. The rainbow is already there, we just have to be looking up in order to appreciate it: an analogy which could stretch to any corner of life.

These days employers are starting to realise a fact already well-known in the field of research and development (an industry heavily dependent on serendipity): that employees need a certain amount of time in order to be creative. One caveat is that that the optimum pressure–freedom ratio is different for each individual. There’s an interesting post on the subject entitled Time For Innovation at SlowLeadership.org. In this case wisdom is taking enough time out.

In other cases it might mean breaking out of routine. Have you noticed how problems you’ve been brooding over often resolve themselves if you have a break from ‘solving them’ and go for a run or walk? Ever taken a wrong turning and found something interesting that you otherwise never would have known was there? I wrote a little something along those lines in My Day finds A Motto.

Meditation is certainly conducive to serendipity, and it’s one reason I meditate every day. Even a few minutes can bring a fresh perspective, often bringing forward solutions to things I would not have thought of while facing them head on. Rather than shutting me away from the world it makes me more aware of my surroundings, and reminds me of what’s good in the world around me.

I could go on… Wikipedia has much to say on the subject of serendipity—much more than a blog-post-worth. One section says simply “See also Synchronicity“. Don’t get me started…

Image: The Horace Walpole at the National Portrait Gallery, London

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