Who Cleans Up After Us?

Who cleans up after us? Robin Nagle took this question to heart and she joined the workforce of sanitation workers in the city of New York. What she found that though this work is vital for our well being it is underappreciated. In most places around the world sanitation workers are scorned. This inspite of the fact that sanitation work is both difficult and dangerous. Robin’s talk not only brings our attention to the plight of the sanitation workers but it also draws us to the question of the waste itself. Why do we generate so much of it? How can we safely dispose it? How can we minimize it?

This is a great talk, one that will make you want to rush out and thank the sanitation workers of your town, for the job they so valiantly and effeciently do every day for us.

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Four Yoga Secrets For Success

Elephant Rider

Stephen Covey in his best selling book “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People” revealed that a large portion of our success is contributed by our habits.

Habits are things we do without thinking. These are like little programs that run in our head at a subconscious level that control our actions. For example the way we brush our teeth is automatic. It’s not random; instead it is an exact pattern that we use repeatedly without paying much attention to it. For example some may begin brushing by starting on the right side from the upper back and then stroke the brush in a specific pattern to work from there and progress to all other teeth. Every time they brush they will use the same pattern, without thinking much about it.

Just like brushing teeth, much of our lives are spent on “auto pilot” where our actions are governed by a set of fixed habits. Stephen Covey realized this and found that most successful people had similar underlying habits that propelled them to success.

Just as we have patterns of actions that we do without thinking, are there patterns of thoughts that predispose us to think in a particular way? If we use the term “habits” to describe repetitive behavior without conscious thought, what is the term we use for repetitive patterns of thoughts? The word “Attitude” comes to mind. Our Attitude describes how we are predisposed to think. If Habits are channels along which our actions flow, Attitudes are channels along which our thoughts flow.

What is the connection between Habits and Attitude? Some repetitive patterns of thought turn into repetitive pattern of action, and some of these turn into habits. This shows that attitudes give birth to habits. If we want to change our Habits we must look deeper inside towards our Attitudes. Here are four attitudes that we should cultivate for success:

1. Patience and Flexibility in face of discomfort

When faced with a situation where we feel discomfort we react in a predictable manner. Sometimes the discomfort comes in a form of hurt that somebody inflicts on our ego and we feel slighted or insulted. Our reaction then flows out in a predictable pattern of anger and vengefulness in an attempt to assuage the original uncomfortable feeling.

Sometimes that discomfort comes from a novel situation or a change in our circumstance. At other times it comes in the form of a new idea. To assuage the discomfort we may react in a manner to instinctively oppose change or oppose the new idea.

Successful people have an ability to hold on to discomfort. This is very important as it allows them the space to think consciously before acting. The urge for immediate retaliation is reduced. The urge to immediately expel an unfamiliar thought or idea is diminished. So also the urge to resist change. All this makes successful people more patient and flexible.

How can we cultivate the attitude of patience and flexibility in our lives? One answer lies in consciously teaching ourselves to live with discomfort without reacting to it. The other method is to practice yoga, pranayama, and meditation. All these reduce the size of our ego and allow us to be less reactive to discomfort.

The Yama “Ahimsa” (non violence) in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali also points us in this direction. We commit violence when we exhibit impatience or we are inflexible to accept new ideas or new situations. When we accept to become non-violent it is a commitment to cultivate the attitude of patience and flexibility.

2. Detachment

Here is a problem that most of us face: We are too vested in our actions and the outcome of our actions. Why is this a problem? The reason is that most our actions are not in our control as they are driven by our habits even without our conscious participation. We are like someone who is riding an elephant that is going where it wants to. Why then should we expend all this energy attempting to justify the actions of this elephant?

When the elephant we are riding takes an unexpected wrong turn, it is likely that the end result of its actions may not be to our liking. We spend huge amounts of energy worrying about the outcome of the actions of this elephant, which serves no productive purpose. One way out of this is to build an attitude of indifference to outcomes. But this is easier said then done. How can one become unattached to outcomes that we are so emotionally vested in?

The first step in this direction is to understand this model of riding an elephant. We have to understand that our actions and the results arising from our actions are largely occuring due to our habits and our attitudes. Both of these are not in our direct conscious control. We are like riders on an elephant that is only partially in our control. Once we absorb the lessons of this model, we go from thinking about our actions as “These are my actions!” to “These actions are a result of my habits and attitudes.” The detachment so created allows us to go from asking the question: “Why am I not getting the results I want?” To the question: “How can I train the elephant to automatically go where I want?” Yoga, Pranayama, and meditation can be key to build this attitude of detachment.

The Yama “Aparigraha” (non-possessiveness) also tells us to cultivate an attitude of detachment.

3. Acceptance and Humility

Non-acceptance is a disease. This is because it forces us to spend fruitless hours fighting what has already occurred and cannot be changed. Our ego and our arrogance are so strong that they have the audacity to deny what has occurred and fight it. One result of this attitude is that we treat the outcome as a “one off” and then spend more energy trying to “right the wrong”. Instead of learning our lessons from an unfavorable outcome we feel the need to “prove ourselves right”. Many people have wasted their entire lives in trying to prove a point.

There are two reasons why an unfavorable result may occur:

  • One is that the elephant did not go where it was supposed to go.
  • The other is that the elephant went where it was intended but yet the expected results did not materialize.

In the first case you spend your energy trying to train the elephant better and plot a course from where you are to where you need to be. In the second case you try to learn your lessons and come up with a new goal post where you want to drive the elephant to.

An attitude of acceptance and humility is a key to success. This attitude allows you to see that you are only partly in charge and the elephant is also playing a part in where you land up. It also allows you to assess your current situation and continually map out a new course based on what new things you are learning. This should prevent you from spending a life time “trying to prove a point” driving to a fixed pre-conceived goal post. Once again you will find that Yoga, Pranayama, and Meditation can help you build an attitude of Acceptance and Humility.

The Niyama “Santosha” (contentment) is something that comes about by having an attitude of acceptance and humility.

4. Compassion

Those with super-sized egos have an attitude of “I am always right”. Other people exist only as props for such individuals. This means other people’s opinion does not matter, or is relevant only if it confirms the super-ego’s ideas. There is no trace of compassion in such individuals. Listening also goes out of the door. An inability to listen compassionately and digest contradictory information is a key to lack of success. Large egos make us less compassionate and less able to invite criticism and feedback. Other people realize that we are not open to suggestions and leave us alone. Valuable information and feedback that would have otherwise come to us is denied. We are hence unable to get the full picture of what is happening and chances of our success is diminished considerably.

We have to consciously decide to become more compassionate listeners. This means we have to stop ourselves from interrupting others or be defensive when we get unflattering feedback. Cultivating a more open and compassionate attitude is a key to success. Yoga, Pranayama, and Meditation are known to help reduce the size of the ego and make us more compassionate.

The Yama “Satya” (Truth) is strongly linked to an attitude of compassion.The ability to listen dispassionately and embrace the truth comes from a loving and compassionate heart.

The metaphor of the elephant and the rider is a powerful one. This metaphor indicates that our habits and attitudes (the elephant) control where we go. Our conscious and logical self (the rider) has very little impact on our actions. Commenting on this metaphor Jonathan Haidt said, “The rider evolved to serve the elephant.” This means most of us will, without knowing, spend our entire lives at the service of an elephant that is running loose and out of control. This essay provides us with the tools to understand the situation and control the elephant. It shows that the principles as laid down in the Yoga Sutras can show us how to be successful in life.

Mastering The Art Of Failing
Seven Steps To Master Change
Six Things To Put On Your Do-Not-Do List

Credits:This has been written by Raj Shah and edited by Ketna Shah.

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Truth In Samadhi

Truth In Samadhi

What is yoga? The answer to this is in Yoga Sutras by Patanjali in the second stanza: “Yogah cittivritti nirodhah”. This is translated as “Yoga is cessation of thoughts”.

And what happens when the endless flow of thoughts cease? This is answered in the very next stanza: “Tada drastuh svarupe vasthanam”. This is translated as “Then the Seer abides in itself”. When thoughts cease you enter a state of Samadhi. Consciousness gives up its preoccupation with the outside world of duality and resides with the true Self.

These two stanzas in the Yoga Sutra are considered the most important ones as the very essence of the teaching of Yoga is in them. An exchange between a visitor and the sage Ramana Maharshi also illustrates the same ideas:

A visitor asked if the study of the sacred books will reveal the truth.

Ramana Maharshi (M): “That will not suffice.”

Visitor (V): “Why not?”

M: “Samadhi alone can reveal it. Thoughts cast a veil over Reality and so it cannot be clear in states other than Samadhi.”

V: “Is there thought in Samadhi? Or is there not?”

M: “There will only be the feeling ‘I am’ and no other thoughts.”

V: “Is not ‘I am’ a thought?”

M: “The egoless ‘I am’ is not thought. It is realization. The meaning or significance of ‘I’ is God. The experience of ‘I am’ is to Be Still.”

We now jump back 2000 years and reach out to the words Jesus said to his devotees: “Be still. And know that I am God”. In these words there is a very powerful message: A call to meditation. A call to stilling the mind so that we can find out what truly abides within. Are we willing to heed this message and seek the state of Yoga in Samadhi?

You may also like: Five Reasons Why The World Needs More Yogis.

Credits:This has been written by Raj Shah and edited by Ketna Shah. The story of Ramana Maharishi came to us from Harsha Satsangha Yahoo group

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The Pale Blue Dot

In 1977 Voyager 1, a 722 Kilogram space probe, was launched by NASA to explore the outer solar system. Voyager 1 has performed its task remarkably well, sending back spectacular pictures of Saturn, and Jupiter. As of today it is in the outer Heliosphere and the most distant man made object from earth.

A surprising thing happened when Voyager 1 reached the edge of the solar system in 1990. It was instructed to turn its camera back towards earth and snap some pictures. What it sent back was a stunningly humbling picture of earth seen as a “pale blue dot”. Carl Sagan recorded his thoughts on seeing this picture in this wonderful video:

“From this distant vantage point, the Earth might not seem of any particular interest. But for us, it’s different. Consider again that dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every “superstar,” every “supreme leader,” every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there – on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.”

The “Pale Blue Dot” has become a classic that has been watched by millions. It represents a cry to see in perspective the insignificance of our ego-centered antics in the face of our wider responsibility to each other and to the planet earth.

Related: Pale Blue Dot on Wikipedia with full text of his essay.

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Climate Change Needs An Elephant Whisperer

Climate Change needs an Elephant Whisperer

When it comes to climate change — and communicating about it — people seem to lose sight of a simple, longstanding fact about the human mind: It is split into two parts. On one side, there is a rational rider, on the other, an emotional elephant. The rider rationalizes and procrastinates when danger is not imminent, while the elephant, while slow to motivate and hard to steer, eventually takes the correct path and stays the course. Society needs to inspire that elephant, and quickly.

Climate change may be the gravest challenge facing humans, and most other living things. The science is clear, and the debate now focuses on the uncertainties associated with climate projections and the local, regional and global policies needed to adapt to warming — as well as approaches to mitigate the human footprint on the environment.

Climate communication must be an integral part of all efforts to face this daunting challenge. And yet, climate scientists appear to be ill-equipped for this job and lay people are confused, since no clearly defined “to do” list exists for the average person. The race to avert this impending global tragedy of the commons does not seem to have any sense of urgency. Climate change is now obvious thanks to accurate and precise measurements of greenhouse gases, and the increase in the global mean temperatures, although some people put the high correlation between the two in the context of Earth’s longer-term climate variability, and raise all kinds of doubts about causal links.

To be sure, climate always changes and has changed throughout the history of our planet. But scientists understand the physics of the system, and they know that the increase in greenhouse gases traps more outgoing longwave radiation, warming the planet. The recent increase in greenhouse gases, and the consequent warming, has been the most rapid in at least the last 20 million years. Carbon dioxide levels are increasing by about 3 percent every year now, and the concentration in the atmosphere is near 395 parts per million, by volume, compared to 280 at the start of the Industrial Revolution. The warming rate has been about 0.23 degrees Fahrenheit (0.13degrees Celsius) per decade during the last 50 years, which is twice the rate of warming for the past century. Both the increases in greenhouse gases and global warming are accelerating.

The perfect atmospheric blanket the planet inherited keeps Earth from getting as hot as Venus or as cold as Mars, the Goldilocks syndrome solved for us by a unique set of circumstances that likely made life itself possible on Earth. The gravitational trapping of the moon stabilizes Earth’s obliquity to a range of 22.5 to 24.5 degrees, varying slowly at a 41,000 year cycle, and keeping the seasonal changes relatively mild, preventing the climate from varying at a rapid rate.

The vast evidence for the impact of human activities on the functioning of our planet provides additional scientific foundation for the causal links: increasing humidity, a warmer and more acidic ocean, warmer atmosphere and land, melting of ice and glaciers, delayed arrival of winter and early arrival of spring, rising sea levels, and of course, the crazy weather and the rapid loss of biodiversity in many places.

Unlike the problem of the hole in the ozone layer, where all life on Earth stands to lose, global warming creates winners and losers. This, combined with the natural tendency of the human mind to heavily discount the future — and take a wait-and-see attitude when the risk is not imminent — has led to the current, glacial pace of climate negotiations.

Jonathan Haidt, a social psychologist, first proposed the concept of the human mind being split into two parts. The rational rider is thoughtful, logical and systematic, but rationalizes forever and never makes a decision, while the emotional elephant is slow to inspire and difficult to move, but once the path is clear, makes a decision and behaves steadfastly to achieve the goal. Numerous surveys indicate the rider has seen clear evidence of climate change, but is procrastinating. The climate community and the environmental movement are trying to save the planet, but are convinced that simply throwing up images of melting ice and polar bears — and issuing alarming messages — are enough to save the planet. This approach has failed to engage the human mind into action, other than inspiring small changes by a minority.

Buying a hybrid car, or switching to compact fluorescent (CFL) lightbulbs or a vegetarian diet, is not enough. All energies should now focus on motivating the “riders” to engage in fundamental lifestyle changes, from conserving energy from the time they turn on lights in the morning to saving water as they brush their teeth at night. The necessary behavioral changes are so monumental that society needs indicators and incentives that will show people throughout the day the extent of the planet’s resources being consumed, including electricity, gasoline, food and water. This should not simply be a case of putting up signs that warn people at every step and every minute that the world is about to end, since that will surely lead to a sense of hopelessness and futility. The messages should instead remind people of the incredible and bountiful future they will share if they do something about their consumption.

The human being is the most cooperative species on this planet and repeatedly has shown the ability to share intelligence to accomplish the common good. The human mind also is unique in making the correct choices, even when he or she could get away with not doing so — for example, stopping at the red light in the middle of the night even when nobody is watching. Surely, we can appeal to a human mind with such intrinsic values to save the very planet we live on.

Society must find a way to whisper to the elephant about climate change, to get that mind on the right path. With humanity’s ability to dominate the planet like no other species, it may be more important to understand whether we have it in us to save us from ourselves. That would mean reaching the emotional elephant.

Even though climate negotiations appear to be stuck or faltering, the very fact that the entire globe is at the table indicates, yet again, that the global human is seriously at work to face this daunting challenge in a cooperative way. Climate scientists will do well by focusing on specific and usable solutions instead of just talking about the problem. The rider has seen the enemy and realizes that it is us, but rationalizes and does nothing. The elephant is not sure what to do because climate scientists have not given it a clear way forward.

Society needs a vision for the future of the planet in order to motivate the elephant. It needs an elephant whisperer with the stature and conviction of Mahatma Gandhi, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., and Nelson Mandela. He or she should emerge to confront climate change in a non-violent and equitable way. The children of today and tomorrow should grow up dreaming about building rockets to explore the universe, not live in fear of the end of a habitable planet due to human actions — and inaction. This is well within society’s reach, once we find a way to whisper to the elephant. Moreover, saving the planet from ourselves would bring humans one step closer to understanding our purpose for being. It certainly is not to destroy the planet for ourselves, future generations and other living creatures. The elephant needs to get moving.

Credit: This has been written by Professor Raghu Murtugudde of the University of Maryland, Department of Atmospheric and Oceanic Science. Raghu Murtugudde is also the executive director of the Chesapeake Bay Forecasting System at the University of Maryland Earth System Science Interdisciplinary Center (ESSIC). This has been reposted with permission. You can find the original post here.

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