Woods and Forests

I think that I shall never see
A poem lovely as a tree.

~~~ From “Trees” by Joyce Kilmer

Trees and woods make me nostalgic. They take me back home where there are so many trees around, with a captivating orchestra of birdsong, especially at dawn. The first blush of the early morn gives their leafy crowns a golden hue as the slivers of liquid gold fall on them. Another memory is that of a trip with Aathira and Praveen to the Arippa Reserve Forest in Kerala.

Every morning as I go for my morning walk, I feel an exhilarating joy pervading my being as I walk along the tree-lined avenues. It’s a pond park with a rubberized walking track.

 

The rubberized walking track 

And now the Neem trees are in bloom. In the quiet and silence of the morning, all one can hear is bird songs and calls, though in Dubai there aren’t very many birds that I can see and hear, like back at home. I do see bulbuls, mynas, parakeets, crows, sparrows, lots of pigeons and doves, and rarely migratory birds. I love to start my day with these simple joys – one reason to love summers is that the sun rises by 5:30 a.m.

Of late, I realize, trees have captured my imagination in a deep sort of way. The scented blooms of neem trees fill the morning air with a delightful fragrance that gives my spirits an instant high. I tend to be very mindful of these subtleties as I walk. I love sniffing the air that’s very high in oxygen content early in the morning. And the park is also not teeming with people at dawn – in fact there are just a few. Being connected and close to Nature is such a delightful and soothing experience.

 

That takes me to some of the articles that I have been reading about trees in general and forests in particular. One said that scientists and researchers have discovered that connecting with forests bring in amazing benefits. I can believe that. The Japanese even have a specific term for it: Shinrin Yoku*. It is said to be a practice in which people immerse themselves in the forest or literally ‘forest bathing‘. This has been found to be a wonderful way to cleanse oneself of stresses and negativity. Cleansing the mind thus rejuvenates the body and invigorates the spirit,  aids to improve immunity and strengthens healing power of the body.

It is also said that forests as well as other natural, green landscapes can reduce stress, improve moods, reduce anger and aggressiveness and increase overall happiness. Forest visits may also strengthen our immune system by increasing their activity as well as the number of natural killer cells that can even destroy cancer cells.

Do watch this amazing video on YouTube that so beautifully captures the magical healing power of forests. http://youtu.be/y-wHq6yY2CI

So, from the enchantment I seem to have developed for trees, woods and forests, it looks like am growing into being a Nemophilist. 😊 The word is derived from Greek  language: ‘Nemos’ meaning ‘grove’ and ‘philos’ meaning ‘affection’. So, nemophilist, a rarely used word, means ‘one who loves groves or woods’. Charles Augustus Keeler has used it in his Sequoia Sonnets, a collection of 113 lovely poems. The lines from the 6th sonnet titled ‘Heart’s Ease’ goes like this:
“The groves invite thee, dear nemophilist,
to care-free revel in their vernal bowers… “

Reference:
* http://wp.me/p7hH7A-c4

http://www.shinrin-yoku.org/shinrin-yoku.html

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Prayer of Oneness

Saw this wonderful prayer and wanted to share it with you. Hence re-blogging it.

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There are times, when even the most sincere seeker experiences ‘disconnection’. This disconnection can last hours, days or even weeks. Many seekers hence follow a daily ritual. Some follow a particular meditation style, some a breathing technique, because a daily ritual has a very simple purpose – it brings you back home.

This prayer was originally written by my brother GD to help a few friends who said they kept forgetting the core teaching; who kept getting disconnected… and needed a simple, short, crisp reminder of their true nature. So GD created this small reminder – in the form of an ‘advaita’ prayer – to help them stay connected to their essence.

Just one suggestion… please don’t rush through it.

Go slowly… and savor each line to experience the true power and energy of this unique prayer. It will reveal deeper meanings each time you connect with it.

PS: For those of you…

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Looking at Possibilities

While doing my MOOC with Coursera on Inspiring Leadership through Emotional Intelligence*, Prof. Richard Boyatzis, the Course Instructor shared with us a host of videos that were inspiring. Of it all, the one that captured my attention and being was that of a YouTube video on Under Four Trees – a school that was started by Mrs. Zikhali for a small community in Nkomo Primary School in rural KwaZulu Natal, Mnqobokazi, South Africa. The amazing project is sure to leave you inspired. Do watch this link below – and if you are in the field of education, this is a must watch.

To me it focused on two things:
The power education can wield even making the poorest of the poor, rich.
Passion for what one does can convert all of the problems into possibilities.

Two wonderful lessons. It is not that these are eureka moments – it has always been there. However, when one sees the fruits of the events through videos and films, it conveys home a very strong message, and encompasses you with an unshakable faith that there is nothing that we cannot accomplish. 

When Nomusa Haslot Zikhali, the Principal, reached Mnqobokazi to start the school, she was flabbergasted. There were no buildings. No resources. Just a wild field replete with undergrowth and bushes. The challenges were too many. Inclement weather. Rains that would make the stream they had to cross overflow with water. Crocodiles in the stream. Dust laden winds. Parents wanting their children to look after cattle or even younger siblings. And that was when she decides to move closer to the community and set up the school. She had to go from home to home in the community to impress upon them the need to educate their children. Her passion to educate these children weighed high than the troubles and travails.

In spite of that, in January 1999, there were just 10 children ready to join the school. And where was the school started? Under Four Trees!!! Each class – Classes 1 ,2, and 3 were allotted one tree each and the fourth one was Mrs. Zikhali’s office. As an educator, I am ashamed to say that I would have given up and just left the place for greener pastures. I am sure 99% of us educators would have done that. But not, Mrs. Zikhali. She persisted. And converted every problem into a possibility. The government did send other teachers to start the school, but they all gave up. Mrs. Zikhali on the other hand took the challenge head on. Thus from a one-teacher-220-student school, Nkomo Primary School has moved into another league now: 900 students and 23 teachers. Eight classrooms. And plenty of support from Africa Foundation to raise money for infrastructure.

Another challenge Mrs. Zikhali had to face was the presence of most vulnerable children in her school – whom she calls Child-headed Households, a chilling euphemism for those whose both parents were dead. Her school now has 153 of them – i.e. 17% of the under-13. To persist under these challenging and emotionally draining circumstances requires determination and the keen desire to make a difference in these students’ lives, which she had in plenty.  Her inspirational tale of nurturing, educating and transforming has been made into a movie called Under Four Trees by filmmakers Suzanne Cross and John Simpson.

Inspirational Leader

Inspirational Leader

Thank you Mrs. Zikhali for teaching me some very crucial lessons. The best one I will cherish and practice is to convert every problem into a possibility! If we look for solutions we can think creatively and find a way or two. However, many of us look only at the problems and therefore the possibility of a solution is just not there in the vicinity or in the periphery. May your tribe increase and be beacons that will enlighten the path of many educators like me.

Resources:
1. Mrs. Zikhali’s photograph from http://underfourtrees.co
2. http://bit.ly/14THso9

[* I wrote about being a fan of online learning vide my post http://bit.ly/18t4aUI. Am delighted to get a certificate signed by Prof. Richard Boyatzis, Professor of Organizational Behaviour at Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland, Ohio and to have completed it with 84.5%. If you have never tried a MOOC, please do it today! 🙂 ]

Guru Poornima Thoughts

गुरुर्ब्रह्मा गुरुर्विष्णुर्गुरुर्देवो महेश्वरः
गुरु साक्षात परं ब्रह्म तस्मै श्रीगुरवे नमः ॥

Gurur Brahma Gurur Vishnuhu Guru Devo Maheswaraha
Guru Saakshaat Parabhrahma Tasmai Sri Gurave Namaha ||

A timeless chant that pays wholesome tribute to all Teachers. Gurus. Who is a Guru? Derived from Sanskrit, Guru means teacher or a preceptor. The word comprises two syllables – Gu + Ru. Gu denotes the ignorance in the learner and Ru refers to the radiance of knowledge that dispels the darkness of ignorance in the learner. One who thus dispels the darkness of ignorance and brings in the light of knowledge is the Guru, the Teacher.

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Hindus all over celebrate the full moon day of the lunar month Ashaada (Karkadakom in Malayalam, Aadi in Tamil) as Guru Poornima. It is also called Vyasa Poornima because it is the birthday of Sage Veda Vyasa to whom we owe the codification of the Vedas. He also wrote the Brahma Sutra, the Mahabharatha, the 17 Puranas and 18 upanishads and the Sreemad Bhagavatham. The Bhagavad Gita, a small part of the Mahabharatha has been a beacon to believers as well as seekers and management experts who look at it as an ultimate source of inspiration to handle the day to day problems in life.

Having said this to me who is a Guru? Anyone who has taught me valuable lessons to enhance the quality of life, And where else will I begin? Well, the age old adage says, “Matha Pitha Guru Daivam” – i.e. the order of respect is first to the mother, then the father, followed by the Teacher and at last God. So on this Guru Poornima day I pay obeisance to my mother and father. A wonderful couple, who are celebrating their 56th wedding anniversary this year, they have been instrumental in giving us, their children and grandchildren, the right kind of values to live by. Thank you will be an oversimplified phrase; nevertheless let me use it to show my eternal gratitude to them. On this day of reflection and thanksgiving, I realize how lucky I have been to be part of their lives. My first Gurus and the ‘best-est’ ever!.

Teachers. May be I don’t have a phenomenal memory or I did not have inspiring teachers, I don’t remember any from my school days who have made learning a pleasure. However, I have had some amazing teachers at Government Victoria College, Palakkad, where I studies for 5 years – for my graduation through post graduation. I still remember the commitment of Dr. P. Achuthan (our Professor who took Eliot’s Waste Land for us for MA). Sir was transferred and there was an ongoing teacher’s strike. He asked all ten of us to come to his home where he held classes for us. Two full days. I have never experienced such an exposition to Waste Land, since that. Later I also had the pleasure of working under Dr. P. Achuthan, when he joined as the Principal of Chinmaya Vidyalaya, Pallavur, where I was working. I also remember two other teachers – Prof. K. Balakrishnan (KB) who had a fantastic sense of humour and Prof. P. Balakrishnan (PB), who was a dignified gentleman. PB’s classes of John Donne’s metaphysical poetry still ring in my ears. He was the one who asked us to read E R Braithwaite’s novel “To Sir with Love”. That year, I remember, the class gave him a new year card, addressing simply as ‘To Sir with Love’. I think it was a turning point in my life. I got introduced to teaching as a profession and from then onwards, there has been no looking back.

Bosses. Oh, yes. Sister Tresa Martin (Arikkat) who was my very first mentor at Marian College. An amazing human being, she was quick to appreciate and thus fostered in me the confidence in my own ability to excel as a teacher. When teachers have inspiring leaders as bosses, it shapes their views and practices of education. I have so many to remember with gratitude. Sri. Gopinath, who was the Principal of Chinmaya Vidyalaya, Kollengode, who gave me a break at a most needed time of personal crisis. A paternal relative, he not only opened the avenue for me but also ensured that ensconced safe and secure at the school. Then, Mr. A. M. Menon, the Principal of Chinmaya Vidyalaya, Pallavur. Mr. Menon had no doubts about handing me over Classes XI and XII, though I was just a new recruit after completing my Bachelors in Education. Even to this day, I look at it as a great act of kindness. If everyone is looking for only experienced hands, who will give young and new ones a break? So in my practice, I have taken the risk of appointing teachers without experience too. Mrs. Kalyani Nambiar taught me that come what may we must be sticklers to the right kinds of values as we are in the field of education. And my Professor, Dr. P. Achuthan,  honed not only my teaching skills but also enriched us with his vast knowledge of spirituality.

Mr. Sarvesh Naidu. Mr. Naidu is till date the lodestar to me. His leadership and multi faceted personality has always goaded me to follow that style of functioning. So many more mentors: Mrs. Lakshmi Ramachandran from whom I learned the art of maintaining a wonderful rapport with all stake holders in education (Till date, I marvel at Lakshmi Ma’am’s phenomenal memory – she remembered students’ and their parents’ names. Phew!!); Mr. Michael Guzder, who taught me it is best to utilize the strengths of team members to the optimum (the work is done and the is worker happy! – Simple logic and practical wisdom!! Truly Mr. Guzder style!!!); Dr. Aninda Chatterji, who made me look at things in different perspectives and find solutions to problems (out of the box thinking or no-box-at-all thinking, if you can call that!!); Mrs. Asma Gilani, who is more a good friend than a typical boss and from whom I have learned the art of speaking one’s mind, especially when you are in the right.

Students. With nearly three decades of teaching experience, their numbers are only growing. I have learned so much more from these students that it will go on into an endless list. And if I can say about only thing that these students of mine have taught me, it is this: PATIENCE! As a person, I do believe in speed. However, when it comes to my students I am infinitely patient; so much so that my daughter once complained to me: “Ma, you have more patience with your students than with me.” Ouch. Ouch..

Friends. So many of them, but can’t help taking some names. Because they are truly special. Neena Shoukath – with her undying faithfulness and warm love. She taught me the true meaning of friendship. Subhadra Kutty – with her ringing laughter. She taught me what it means to smile and that then the world will be with you. Mind you, these two friends and I – we are in touch even after  37-38 years of friendship. That speaks a lot, doesn’t that? Giribala Menon, for all the support, care and affection she shares generously. Seema Krishnan – for the wonderful rapport we share and talk about all and sundry – and best of all, how we cackle like witches! Then there is Sheela Anand who inspires me with her commitment to sustainable practices. Anitha Raghu who enriched me with a wonderful gift of Reiki that I really needed at that time. Anuradha Ajith Kumar, who gave me wonderful moments of camaraderie while leading her school.

Family. My siblings. My brothers-in-law. My niece and nephews. Each one of them is special. I have learned so much from each one of them that enlisting that will take another blog. We are a happy, large family. Then there is my daughter Aathira and the latest addition to our family, her husband, Praveen.  You learn from your children too. So they can also be called “Guru”. So, what have I learned from Aathira? To be forthcoming about what you think. To do whatever that gives you joy and have no qualms about it. And most importantly to say No, when you feel like saying it. And from Praveen? To stay cool and unperturbed. There will be challenges, but worrying won’t get you anywhere.

Gurus. Swami Chinmayananda has been a great influence in our family. I remember listening to his talks. The powerful voice, the enunciation which will begin in soft whispers will then reach to majestic crescendos, the beauty of the English language that tumbled forth like a roaring cascade – I guess this was when I realized the magnetic charms of the English language. Some of his saying were mind blowing. One that I always fell back upon when I confronted issues is, “A successful man is one who can lay a firm foundation with the bricks that others throw at him”. Then there is the Art of Living organization from where I learned the “Art of Living”. Sanjeev Krishnanji from Rhythm of life who shared with me his wisdom and nurturing practices. Sivanada Ashram from where I received the training for being a Yoga Instructor.

Books. Very many of them. Being a great lover of books, I have turned to them time and again for wisdom, solace and for just sheer joy.

So, all of you out there and who have taught me even a teeny, weeny thing, my salute to you. You have enriched my life and raised its quality. Thank you!!

Thoughts make Things!

Today when I checked my Facebook wall, I found Chitraji’s (Chitra Jha) status update:

“Our ‘ill-feelings’ towards others (and ourselves), make us physically, emotionally,    financially and relation-ally ill………….:)
When we are ‘sick’ of others (ourselves, our life, our circumstances, our problems), we become physically, emotionally, financially, and relation-ally sick………..:)
When someone becomes a ‘pain in our neck’, we develop a pain in our neck….:)
When someone becomes a ‘pain in our arse’, we literally experience that pain….:) When we say ‘it’s killing me’….it does…….:)
When we say, we can’t afford it, we can’t…..:)
When we save for a ‘rainy day’, it rains…..:)
It is time we ‘mind-ed’ our language to ‘mend’ our physical, emotional, financial, and relational health……♥ “

The lines were like a whip lash – flagellating my being. A couple of years back when I was struggling to get a grip over challenging times and when books were my favourite friends, I remember reading “Anatomy of the Spirit” by Caroline Myss and “You can Heal your Life” by Louise L Hay. I had come across similar strands of thought in these books and it made perfect sense to me. A dear friend gave me the gift of Reiki (thanks a ton, Anitha Raghunath for this) and I practised it regularly. To this day I believe that it is this energy of healing that helped me regain my health and well being. However, it was so difficult to break the existing patterns of thoughts. At some frail yet revealing moment I remember, I just wished I could take refuge in some serene place in the Himalayas, famed for its ashrams and monasteries. This can never happen for I belong to Kerala, the southern most tip of the Indian peninsula, whereas the Himalayas so far north… and so very far away. Anyway, it was a fervent thought and as things got better, I forgot about it all.

The one line that captures the essence of Paulo Coelho’s Alchemist is this line – “And, when you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.” Yes, the Universe did conspire to make my thought happen, in an ever so strange way. I might have forgotten the thought, but the Universe did not.

The job that I got was at Ranikhet in Uttaranchal. It would never have been a choice I would have opted for; it was so far far away from all whom I love and care about… my darling daughter, my ever so supportive and affectionate family, and friends. But then there are moments when one doesn’t have any other choice – besides, I was too keen to get back to work. At least it will keep me occupied in thoughts, words and deeds and give me the much needed security blanket of a steady income.

Before leaving for Ranikhet, I checked out about the place. These lines took my breath away : “Ranikhet is a hill station and cantonment town in Almora district. in the Indian State of Uttarkhand. It is at an altitude of 1869 metres above sea level and within sight of the western peaks of the Himalayas.”

I landed in the Ranikhet campus on an evening in May 2009. The evening also saw the first first hail storm of the season. As I bid goodbye to my brother who flew from Mumbai to see me safely through to Ranikhet, I took refuge in the warmth of the beautiful home and the picturesque locale.

The next morning I woke up and drew my bedroom curtains. Lo! What do I see? The wondrous sight of the snow clad Himalayas… and when the mist cleared the trident shaped Mount Trishul gleamed in the sunlight!

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Thoughts are powerful expressions of energy; so are words. They are like transmitters that send off powerful vibes. Every thing that we think and speak adds colour, shape, speed and vibration to this. Thus it snowballs either into something we want or never want, based on the emotion that was attached to it. This incident is a constant reminder to me about the need to choose intention with care – and the attention given to it as well as the feeling attached to it. They can either create happy and joyful experiences or make the  experience purely hellish.

And thank you Chitra Jha for reminding me this latent power of our thoughts and words, for I have overlooked this lately! 🙂

Gearing for 2012

2012 is almost there…knocking at our doors. We are at the threshold of a brand new year… It’s time for new beginnings, revivals and renewals.
Looking back at 2011, one has to admit that it goes in India’s history as a year that saw us slipping into the stigma of a corrupt nation, for scams galore benumbed us. We also saw the Anna phenomenon unfold! Thanks to social and online networking, we hope the political class will be a lot wearier of us – common people! 

Notwithstanding these turmoils, how can we make the year one with a difference? I am going to tread these nurturing paths so that each day, I become a better individual.
Meditation:
Invest 15 minutes in the morning and 15 minutes just before going to bed on Meditation. In the first week of December 2011, I got access to a wonderful meditation that has kept me sane and healthy amid the frenetically paced life. I am resolute about continuing this in 2012 as I find myself rooted in peace (amid the chaos around!) and my pre-hypertension reading have stabilized to a healthy 120/70. Meditation has long been considered one of the finest practices to gain peace & clarity of mind along with its other therapeutic benefits. What ancient rishis and seers practiced ages ago has been confirmed by modern science to be a potent tool in quietening the mind and its constant chatter.  To those of you who would like to start the New Year with the remarkable benefits one can offer oneself, please visit http://www.ishafoundation.org/Ishakriya. The tagline of the free meditation cannot be more apt: Be, Breathe, Blossom!
Gratitude:
Keep a Gratitude Journal. It is always easy to find fault with everything around us. Pause and ponder… we are sure to find countless blessings that have come our way. In fact the most difficult people in our lives happen to also be our best teachers, in retrospection. Today’s obstacles will no doubt seem to us as fine opportunities, five years from now. So instead of focussing on the troubles and imaginary fears, let us focus on the bounties we have.   It would be a great idea to write down in a note pad 5 blessings of the day, before we go to sleep. This has manifold effects as the subconscious mind registers the gratefulness. Researchers have found that when we think about someone or something we really appreciate and experience the feeling that goes with the thought, the parasympathetic – calming-branch of the autonomic nervous system – is triggered. This pattern when repeated bestows a protective effect on the heart.
Smile:
Smile a lot. A smile induces warmth in the beholder’s heart. Frequent smiling is indeed therapeutic in its effect on the body & mind. Besides it is so contagious that it can even uplift the overwhelmed and depressed. It improves appearances and makes people look younger & attractive. It is mood changing and is an instant stress buster. Research has shown that smiling releases endorphins, natural pain killers, and serotonin. Together these three make us feel good and therefore happier. Smiling therefore is a natural drug.

Mindfulness:
Seize the moment – Carpe diem, they say. Being mindful is focusing on the present moment. Many a time we are engulfed in the ruminations & regrets of the past and worries & anxieties of the future. Hence we are unable to live in the present. When you are mindful, you look at yourself in a non judgemental way. You realize that you are not your thoughts. You become an observer of your thoughts – you neither grasp them nor push them away. Thankfully, the meditation that I do is aiding me superbly in this process. The venerable Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh advocates practicing mindfulness of ourselves and others – mindful acts cultivate understanding, love, compassion, and joy. In our strife ridden world this is a panacea.
Forgiveness:
Forgive others and more importantly yourself. Many a time we make mistakes. Others make mistakes. Push comes to shove, we are easy on forgiving others but quite harsh on ourselves. We need to let go of our grudges and bitterness, and embrace peace, hope, gratitude & joy. Embracing forgiveness is a clear way forward. If we probe further, it is the perfectionist in us that wants us never to make mistakes. Weed out this disease. It can cause guilt, rigidity, pessimism, low self esteem and obsessive compulsive behaviour in us. To overcome this we need to acknowledge that we are liable to make mistakes. We need to forgive ourselves for our mistakes. Backsliding is just not the end of the world – we can always pick ourselves up and start all over again. In this sense every mistake is a profound learning experience.
Exercise:
Go for walks. Do back stretches to ward off aches & pains. I aim to go for a 30-minute walk everyday plus do the stretches recommended by my orthopaedist. I have the benefit of a huge park nearby where I stay. So there is no reason why I should be lax on these, given the benefits of one of the most inexpensive yet easiest & effective of exercises. Besides making me physically fit, it will also promote better sleep.
Hydrotherapy:
Drink lots of water. In fact I start my day by drinking 3-4 glasses of water. The elixir of life is by far the best liquid to intake. Dr. Batmanghelidj who is the author of “Water for Health, for Healing, for Life” is also the founder of the National Association for Honesty in Medicine and author of, “Your Body’s Many Cries for Water”, in his interview with Mike Adams speaks eloquently about the healing power of water. I find drinking 8-10 glasses of water everyday very energising.
These and other good practices that I indulge in like doing Reiki, reading plenty of inspirational literature and regular prayers will also keep me in good stead through 2012.
Do you have any nurturing practice to share???