Does It Matter How You Look?

Face.2 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

After the International Women’s Day has come and gone, I am reeling with this question just as much as I was before the day.  I was a speaker at Women in Chamber’s luncheon, I was interviewed by ABC local radio, and I was a guest contributor on ABC Open ‘s “What’s your Story?”  

I am suddenly pushed into a public arena that is far open and wide for my own comfort as I am not confident about my looks and dress sense.  These issues (like the photo in ABC Open’s story) rob me off my self-esteem slightly, well actually a lot.  I do say ‘Looks shouldn’t matter’ but I know they do for me even for a little while and I am sure they matter for majority of us.

I feel shy and nervous and inferior in new surroundings because I don’t have a perfect smile or my clothes are never suitable for the occasion.  Once my passion for life and practical understanding of people shines through I get back into my groove.  It is strange and I battle with that every day.  It goes to show saying these things is easy, actually following it through is the most difficult part.

I don’t believe there is a single person on this planet who is not happy about some aspect of how they look.  The feedback we get from each other when we first shake hands or make eye contact says a lot.   The unspoken words, the facial expressions, the body language –  creates a sense of self instantaneously.  In the presence of some people, one is not so self-conscious, where as in the presence of some other people, one feels uncomfortable instantaneously.  Are they perceived judgments by me or real thoughts of people that I can sense?

Acceptance is crucial to belonging. When we are thrown into new surroundings, unless we feel accepted instantly, we don’t feel comfortable.

There is no respect in judgment is there? When there is no Respect, there is no Acceptance and therefore no Love.

Respect only arises when we recognise and address the Love within.  Would that come with practice or spontaneously?

I am not raped, I don’t live in abject poverty, I am educated, I don’t have to struggle to establish my rightful presence, I don’t have fistula caused by genital mutilation, I don’t face a civil war, or guns or bombs on a daily basis, I live in a country where I can speak up and speak for, my freedom is not impeded, I don’t live in fear of survival, I don’t have to flee from every known comfort and surrounding to protect myself, I feel protected and I am protected, my family is safe,…..  When I enjoy so many privileges automatically, for which more than half the women population fight for on a daily basis, why am I concerned about how I look?

Concern about looks is a first world country’s artificially created dis-ease that keeps one self-centered and selfish.  If living in such comfortable surroundings that I expect to be my right to have, creates a broody artificial sense of insecurity and makes me a demanding consumer, how can I come to understand let alone respect the situation that I just described above faced by women and children around the world?

I poke my head out of my comfortable silo, cluck my tongue in sympathy, more laced with pity and throw a silent gratitude at the same time that I don’t have to face all that.  I then quickly bury my head into my silo and start looking inward and feel sorry for my lack of beautiful looks or wardrobe or the ideal body weight.

Would I honestly be able to stand face to face in front of a woman who is permanently disfigured because of acid thrown in her face to stop her from getting educated and see her beauty without cringing at the dis-figuration or feeling sorry for her state, whilst sighing with relief that I will never have to live like that?  Can I see her inner beauty shining through her burnt face or mangled body and treat her as equal?  Do women who suffer need my sympathy borne out of a supreme attitude?  How would Respect manifest in such a situation?

Our silent unspoken judgments of ourselves, of and by others, build layers of those silos and the more the layers, the less the inner light visible.  The silo itself can be a beautiful structure but if it is not lit from within, it will be lifeless.

Every time I think ‘I am not beautiful’, ‘I don’t photograph well’, ‘I don’t have good clothes’ etc.,  or ‘what is she wearing’, ‘look at her hair’ or ‘gosh! she is big’, or pass a complement that I mean exactly opposite of, (and there are people who do this constantly),  I am covering my inner light with layers of soot which thicken the walls of my silo.

We need to dismantle those dark sooty walls of negativity and judgment and let the inner light shine.

Sai Baba says – ‘You are three people – The One who You think You are, the One who Others think You are and the One that You Really Are”

So who is that real us – we are really Love inside.  We are a Love that underpins and manifests in our Thoughts as Truth, Feelings as Peace, Actions as Right Conduct and Understanding as Non-Violence.

I think I am not beautiful, others think I am inspirational. Both those statements are true, but who am I really?

Really –  I am, you are and we all are the light of Love that shines from within us.  How brightly that light shines depends on how much soot of negativity and judgments is covering it.

So does it matter how I look? No it doesn’t.  The only way I can live with that knowledge is if I draw strength from that inner light of Love rather than from opinions of myself by myself and others.

I don’t subscribe to the women’s magazines because they scream that looks do matter and at the same time run a token story of a mishap faced by a woman.  If we all collectively boycotted the media that constantly draws our attention to our inadequacies whether it be body weight or perfect smile, then our focus can be drawn onto who we actually are.

It is actually a great service if we all did that,  not just to us but to our future generations as well.  Let us take a pledge here that “Looks do not matter” and that “we will live in Love of ourselves and of each other”

Would you like to take that pledge?

Love to hear what you think – do looks matter to you?

Until next week

With Love and Respect

Padma Ayyagari

Is There A Solution???????

Sathya Sai Baba movement
 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

… the echo after the horrific shootings at Aurora, Colorado.  It is the same echo heard from all around the world by people witnessing crimes of Genocide, Rape, Murder to crimes justified by superstition and religious fanaticism.

We cry out when the proportion of crime seems unfairly large whilst we are increasingly getting immune to the encroaching violence in our living rooms, on our dinner tables by the innocent sounding entertainment packed in little slim boxes that we call Laptops, X Box, IPad and IPod.  Violence is also normalized by Hollywood, Bollywood, Tollywood and Video Games.

The language of Values as well as good news that is uplifting is completely eroded from media.  Intentionally or unintentionally we seem to have worked up an appetite for normalized violence. Whether we remain apathetic to what is streaming or voice our justified rationalizations in our condoning or condemnation – we have come to accept that violence is going to be a good if not better part of the society that we live in whilst lamenting for Peace & Non Violence and Beauty & Goodness.

Is there a solution to this insanity – we lament.  What can we do – we cry.  In our desperate attempt to find solutions, we turn our heads to blame.

If only the Government ban the gun laws……….

If only there were more mental health services………

If only people were not so fanatical in their beliefs………….

If only people were more educated…………..

Yes, all these ‘if only’s’ are solutions that can work provided we as individuals take responsibility and not shift the blame knowingly or unknowingly.  Apathy arising due to helplessness in the face of enormity is also violence.  It doesn’t harm others but the individual suffers as the despair increases with the situation and then falls back into deep discontentment.  We settle.

Is there a better solution? Is there anything that we as individuals do to promote peaceful living? Is it enough if I am peaceful as an individual?

‘Yes’ and ‘Yes’ for the first two questions.  ‘No’ for the 3rd question.  We all know intuitively that as important as it is for us to be loving and peaceful in our own selves, we also have an obligation to become peace activists in the society that we live in .

How can we do that?  What is a solution if not THE solution?

Actively/openly educate the children in Human Values of Love, Truth, Peace, Right Conduct and Non-Violence as soon as they can start talking .  We do that when our toddlers are in our control.  When they start schooling, the entire focus seems to shift onto academic learning so when they grow up they can have a secure career that will lead to happy, fulfilled, peaceful life.

Is the focus on exclusively secular education enough?

Is the Religious Education imparted in Public Schools to the willing participants enough?  This religious education is mainly Christian oriented and other Religious teachings are excluded.

Is the Religious Education that is part of the Education System in Private Christian schools enough?

Are Religious schools like the Madrasas that drum the scriptures into the young minds and turn them into religious fanatics enough?

Clearly none of these models are serving the purpose.  If educating the young minds is to grow up into healthy and holistic individuals, none of these models are working.  They are not complete failures either.  Successful individuals coming out of theses systems have other support mechanisms in place like a good family & community behind hem.  Unfortunately, there are many number of children who don’t have that support and therefore flounder.

What is the solution?

Spiritual Education combined with Secular education – Education in Human Values is an answer for any number of social maladies that we are witnessing.  Values are Universal and  inherent in every human being. They are beyond the culture, religion divide.

We need to teach the children at home and at school the language of Love, Truth, Peace, Right Conduct and Non-Violence.  It doesn’t end there.  The teachers and parents and all the adults in the childs life need to be role models in living these values.

When children are actively taught about these values through simple techniques like Silent Sitting, Quotes/Affirmations, Stories, Music, Group Activity and Creative Visualisation revolving around one Situational Value at a time and the same Value is woven into the curriculum, demonstrated in action by influential adults in the child’s life, it helps the child grow holistic in all 5 personality domains.

The Five Human Values are the highest expressions of the 5 Personality domains.

Physical Domain is governed by the Value of Right Conduct

Intellectual Domain is governed by the Value of Truth

Emotional Domain is governed by the Value of Peace

Social Domain is governed by the Value of Love

Spiritual Domain is governed by the Value of Non-Violence.

Each of these values have situational values that demonstrate the value in action.  Eg., Situational value for Right Conduct is Discipline, Healthy Living, Determination etc.,  Situational Value for Truth is Honesty, Integrity etc., When these Human Values become living breathing systems around the child, why wouldn’t the child develop holistically?

Isn’t that a solution?

Human Values are not just abstract concepts but they are interactional and transactional.  They are instrumental in uplifting the individual and the society.  Educational systems throughout the world need to make Education in Human Values a part of their curriculum as a direct and  as an indirect approach.  Every subject taught in schools from Science to Social Studies to Mathematics to Literature, have values incorporated into them.  No subject is devoid of values.  It would be our job as adults to make those connections for the child.  We need to push for education systems to become integral education systems.

Education in Human Values is the solution for the societal maladies that we observe today. Sathya Sai Baba says:

“Just as the rays of the sun absorb water vapor from the sea, gather it as clouds, and drop it as rain on earth so that it may flow as rivers back into the sea, the senses of man contact the world and collect experiences, out of which the sacred and sustaining ones are selected, stored and utilized by the mind as values, as instruments for uplifting the individual and the society.  Those values are Truth, Right Conduct, Peace, Non-violence and Love.  For the first four, the last value Love, is the life giving spring.  They can be achieved most quickly by Love.  The value of love may be best expressed as an energy permeating all of life.  Love in Speech is Truth; Love in action is Right Conduct; Love in thought is Peace; Love as understanding is Non-Violence.” (Sathya Sai Speaks Vol. 15, Ch 13)

What do you think?

Love to have your comments.

Until next time

With Love and Respect

Padma Ayyagari


Do You Do This???

Words (Photo credit: sirwiseowl)

Alarm rings early………..

Hit snooze, too tired.  I will get up in a minute…..

Another hour passed before I jump out of bed.

It is Tuesday morning, my blog publishing day. I got up an hour late than I promised to myself.  Not much time to write, edit, polish and publish the blog post.  I hit the pages panicking with an eye on the clock.  I manage to  finish but the work I produce can be of a better standard.  The rush and anxiety I experience in meeting a deadline can be avoided and I can be more productive if I stick to my original thought that I should consistently work on it earlier than the due date and also get up when the alarm rings.

Promises made to myself, broken time and again.  Nothing earth shattering, little promises, little thoughts, expressed and denied in action as words try and justify the action through counter thoughts.  I am constantly contradicting myself.  There is not much congruence in what I think, I say and I do.

Result – minor irritating dissatisfaction with myself and a deeply settled discontentment and unhappiness for not having kept the word.  Lack of Unity in Thought, Word and Deed.

Now that might seem like a minor example that can be justified with a thousand reasons why I didn’t/couldn’t get up early.  Perfectly valid and I convince myself and make another promise to myself – ‘Tomorrow, Definitely,’ and the cycle may repeat again and again and again.  Before I know I even stop making that promise to myself and leave it in a too hard a basket with a permanent label attached to it, ‘I am not a morning person’ or ‘ I can’t get up early.’

When I don’t practice Unity in Thought, Word and Deed, what is my relationship with me? I can’t trust myself in my own capacities, I limit myself and settle with an increasing discontentment that is drowned in external noise.  I have lost a piece of myself.

Sounds extreme doesn’t it?

Same with my relationship with others.  I think one thing, say something different and do something totally different yet again.  When I behave like this, what is my relationship with others?  They can’t trust me.  I am not a person of integrity.

So what is the basis for authentic relationships?  Unity in Thought, Word and Deed or Unity in Head,  Heart and Hand.

What does it mean?  As it suggests, we think, say and do the same thing always, at all times, in all things, with all people including myself.  It is not just that, but the unity and harmony in the three should emanate from the highest and noblest in us.  Otherwise we will make more enemies than we can handle or justify our own actions to suit us.

The highest and noblest in us always thinks, says and does the right things that do not harm us or the others.  This is possible only when we live our lives in congruence with the 5 Human Values of Love, Truth, Right Conduct, Peace and Non-Violence.

Spiritual journey involves becoming self aware not just of our strengths but of our weaknesses as well, knowing our less positive motives, thoughts, feelings and prejudices and modulating our behavior in light of this knowledge.  As our knowledge of self increase,we start to go beyond body and mind identification.

Unity of Head, Heart and Hand is difficult when we identify with the body and mind.  When we belive the ‘I’ in us is the subject and everything around us is ‘object’, we are cautious in our actions.  We let our ego boundaries down only when we feel safe.  We open up with people whom we identify as ours.

Practicing Unity of Head, Heart and Hand in little things to big things makes us fearless.  We feel comfortable and at peace with ourselves no matter what the outcome. We do not need to pretend or defend ourselves.  As our personal integrity grows, our relationships based on Unity of Head, Heart and Hand are pure, unselfish, honest, free from personal agendas and we do not wear any masks.  We form genuine and authentic relationships that will be long lasting.

As our subjective happiness and sense of well being increases, our stress levels decrease and health improves.  Spiritual progress can only take place with Unity of Head, Heart and Hand.

So what Spiritual Practices can help in enhancing our self awareness?  What can we do to regulate our own thoughts, words and actions first and foremost?

Daily meditation is one practice that helps in growing self-awareness.  As the awareness increases we catch ourselves and stop even if nobody is noticing.

Keeping up small promises that we make to ourselves increases the capacity for Unity in Thought, Word and Deed.  So, tomorrow when the alarm goes off at 4AM, I know what to do and it is NOT hitting the snooze button.

Another helpful practice is a daily Self-Audit where you examine your actions throughout the day and modify anything that is not congruent.

What do you think? Is Unity of Thought, Word and Deed a required mandatory practice for Self-Transformation?

Eager to hear your thoughts.  Drop a line and let me know.

Until next time

With Love and Respect

Padma Ayyagari

First Understanding, Then Adjustment…………

The Conscience
The Conscience (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I have learnt profound lessons in the last couple of days and the depth of the simple statement by Sai Baba –  “First Understanding, Then Adjustment ” echoes in my ears from the bottom of my heart even as I am typing this.

The following anecdote shows how the above statement became clear as I was trying to  cross the chasm that appeared  and how it was possible to build a bridge over that across the Continents.

It sounds simple.  4 words arranged in an order that makes sense  – Yep, I know, I follow……..How very wrong was I?

There is no randomness in the arrangement of those words in that statement.  I never understood the order of the words nor did I ever bother to understand, rhetorically, parrot like, repeating the statement to everyone and anyone who had ears to hear – within context of course, but without much thought.

Why Understanding First, why not Adjustment first?

Isn’t that what we do? Try and adjust to issues and circumstances without complete understanding? I did.

Three days ago I have transgressed boundaries in an online writing class, trying to write for a given writing prompt, cleverly, albeit unaware  at the time that that’s what I was doing,  The result backfired.  Whilst the writing itself was OK (I think), the theme and the story line it followed was not mine. I have unintentionally picked up, a thread of another person’s story and presented a continuation to that story without thinking if it is correct to do that or ask for permission.

I have breached a basic rule of writing – I was writing about something that is not My Truth or My Story.

As soon as I realised it, I have deleted the post and sent an apology email for doing what I did.  But the damage was caused by then and my trying to make an adjustment by a simplistic apology with rationalized arguments, without actually understanding was not going to be enough to ease the pain I have created to the other party.

How could I do that – the pain that question caused in me was, well, painful…….incredibly painful.  I tried to justify, rationalize, explain why I did what I did – to myself and to the other party.

The number of “How could I’s” that my conscience raised were answered with equal if not more number of justifications by my mind.  However, my conscience will not be quiet.

With every justified adjustment, it rebelled with an increasing visceral response of pain, itch and high temperature.  I continued to adjust the body thermostat with more explanations, justifications, more Coffee, increased scratching – my conscience wanting to jump out of my skin and my mind trying to contain it within its reasoned explanations.

I continued to push against the edge and stretch without making any attempt to understand either myself or the other person.  In this confused state of altered egos weighed under rationalizations and justified arguments we started dialoguing.

What emerged was incredibly beautiful.  In my own mind after a pause in the dialogue, I started a conversation with myself.

For every ‘How could I’, I offered a simple, counter “YES, I DID”

For every “I did because…..”, I cut off the ‘because’ and remained with “I DID….”

Again and again I repeatedly accepted that…….

I DID breach boundaries…..

I DID step into a territory that I did not know anything about and tried to extend that story as mine……

I DID breach Truth and Non-Violence. I DID cause hurt….

As those I DID’s start settling into my heart without any barriers, I UNDERSTOOD, then Adjustment was simply a matter of admitting that’s what I did and asking if that was the reason for the other party’s anguish expressed publicly. ‘YES’ and then followed an explanation why, as the other party felt understood.

My itch and pain disappeared instantly.  “First Understanding, Then Adjustment”.

We try and lash out, hide, drink, smoke, watch mindless TV or use any number of distractions and think that we adjusted ourselves to whatever is happening.  In that process of adjustment first, we are masking our capacity to understand and pushing it further down.

Surface adjustments with unwillingness to understand causes resentments, hatred, illness, disease and even wars.  Trying to understand without judgments, justifications, explanations and reasonings is a profound spiritual practice which makes us vulnerable because we have no where to hide but look at what’s going on squarely from our own perspective first and then from the others.

First Understanding……

Complete understanding results in acceptance and adjustment happens instantly.  The tenderness one feels when this process is complete is incredible.  No nagging doubts, no concerns of right or wrong, a complete peace descends.  Not only is the distance between two parties is closed but also the huge distance we travel between the 15″ space of Head and Heart closes as well as they merge in the flowing Love and vulnerable tenderness.

The silence from a satisfied head and heart echoes loudly in the ears saying –

“First Understanding, Then Adjustment”

So, here is a tip.  If you have unresolved issues, pull them out and try to understand the truth in the issues without argument or reasoning.  How do you know what is truth?  Your conscience will not be silent with any of your mind’s arguments.  There will be nagging doubts, a dull pain in the middle of your body, a bad taste in the mouth every time you remember, always some physical reaction to what is going on – if you observe closely.  That’s when you know that you are battling with the truth that your conscience is trying to show.  Accept the truth without judgment first from your own perspective and then from the other person’s – see what happens.

You need not even go to the extent of the other party being involved in this process.  Just see it as it appears, accept without judgment and watch the issue dissolve its hold on you as your understanding deepens.

Remember “First Understanding,Then Adjustment”

Use this – until next Sunday

With Love and Respect

Padma Ayyagari