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The Power Of Words – An Experiment

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Where’s your Thank you? Where’s your Please? And, what about excuse me? We often find ourselves reminding our kids to use these golden words in their daily vocabulary. Yet time and again, we fail to use them. When was the last time we used “excuse me” when interrupting a conversation our child was having with a friend? When was the last time we said “thank you” when they made an attempt to clean up without us asking them to? When was the last time we said “please” when we asked them to make a quick run to the neighborhood grocery store?

Words have the power that is far beyond what we might expect. They have the power to destroy; destroy self esteem, the power to strengthen; strengthen the loving relationship in a family, society and the nation at large and the power to encourage; encourage and uplift one another materially as well as spiritually. So it is extremely important that we carefully weigh our words especially when speaking to our children. Be it when correcting them, disciplining them or even praising them.

Now, unless we live in a perfect world, amidst perfect circumstances chances are that we as parents will often find ourselves saying hurtful words to our children, which we often later regret. Some of the underlying causes of such outbursts are; anger, frustration and many a times lack of rest. Well, the reasons may be endless, but the repercussions it has on the minds of our children and their emotional growth is quite substantial.

I had recently read about an apple experiment to help understand how words can affect our bodies physiologically. I thought it would be interesting to carry out the same to actually measure the impact of our so called gift of the gab. Here’s how it went:

I cut an apple into equal halves and stored them in plastic jar. One was labelled G-Good apple and the other B-Bad apple. Everyday for eight days, I spoke kind, nice, uplifting words to the Good apple and harsh, nasty words to the Bad apple. Yes I opened the lid each time I spoke to both the apples :), many a times to the ridiculous stares from my house-help and my daughter of course. Nevertheless I persevered despite their confused look! 🙂 As you can see at the end of eight days, the results are quite astonishing. The Good apple is in much better shape than the apple who I spoke to harshly, which is completely rotten.

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Most often, we never see the negative impact speech can have in such overt, physical ways. But the truth of the matter is, it does. Imagine what impact it can have on the emotional as well as physical growth of our children? If we don’t mind our speech, we will be left to mend a lot of things as they grow up. We can let our words be weapons of mass destruction, or, we can let our words be instruments of mass awakening, awakening of love and respect for all.

Indeed, words do have power; What power are your words going to release today?

What is so special about Krishna’s birth? A query of a 10 year old

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With Janmashtami around the corner, I asked my neighbors 10 year old (who I love to chat with) what was she going to do on that special day. Her remark, “Aunty, what is so special about Krishna’s birth anyway? I don’t even celebrate my birthday anymore, well except for a cake and a sleep over.” I sighed, took a deep breath and asked if she was willing to discuss about it. It is important for us as adults to not sweep topics like these under the carpet. It is important that we educate children and make them understand the significance and celebrate every festival in the right mood and spirit and in doing so; it puts our intent in perspective too. So, with her approval we had a discussion and this is what transpired.

Me: OK tell me what does Janamashtami mean to you?

Her: The day Krishna was born or maybe the day He was taken by Vasudev to Gokul?

Me: Yes, both are correct. And?

Her: He was born in the month of Shravan (a 10 year old knows that word even?), at midnight, in the jail and when He was born the atmosphere was divine, peacocks were dancing everywhere and all the residents were cheerful. First He appeared as four handed Visnu and then upon mother Devaki’s request he assumed the form of a cute little baby with two hands.

I must confess I was expecting her to twiddle her thumbs, roll her eyes, shrug her shoulders and exclaim “I don’t know!” But she chose to pleasantly surprise me. I was thinking what next, is this 10 year old going to explain the Gita to me? I stared at her, then into oblivion and back at her and probed further,

Me: What else?

Her: Aunty what do you mean what else?

Me: What else is unique about Krishna’s birth?

Her: Ummm….We get to stay up till midnight? Oh, He arranged for the prison doors to open and all the guards slept off so Vasudev could carry him to Gokul.

She was now thinking, harder. I was amazed by how much she knew. She’s a reader, you know. And that’s what happens; you somehow have an answer for everything.  This game of “what else” did not go too far and now the ball was in my court. She wanted to know more about the significance of Janamashtami and what was so special about Krishna’s birth. I went on to tell her all that I had read and learnt from various books and spiritual teachers.

The uniqueness of Krishna’s birth is that not only did he choose His time and place of birth (exactly at midnight in a prison in Mathura) but also chose His parents. We don’t have that privilege. Even if the doctor may predict that we will be born on a certain date, the time or place can never be predicted. He even chose the complexion of his skin; that of a rain filled cloud. Again, we pretty much come color co-ordinated. He carefully pre planned His arrival and made all the necessary arrangements for being carried to Gokul. Miraculously the prison cell doors opened wide, the guards fell into the deepest slumber. The river Yamuna gave way to Vasudev so that he could easily cross the river, just like the Indian Ocean that gave way to Lord Rama. Ananta Shesha, the serpent, opened his hoods like a huge umbrella protecting them both from the torrential rains. These incidents did not happen by chance. Lord arranged for them to happen so. That is why His birth is not ordinary, rather extraordinary and special.

And the reason we celebrate Janamashtami is that, just as Krishna appeared to kill Kamsa and free the residents of Mathura from his atrocities, likewise, on Janamashtami, we must come together and pray for the Lord to appear in our heart and remove all the bad qualities and make us happy and joyful. Staying up till midnight,(even if you have school the next day) and getting to dress like the Gopis or Krishna is a bonus 🙂

She seemed to nod in agreement and sprang up with enthusiasm, hardly willing to wait, and said, “Thank you aunty, I am going down to tell all my friends about this.”

Recalling what I had learnt, with her, made me realize how sometimes, rather oftentimes we forget the real purpose behind a festival and how important it is to understand its true essence.

 

 

 

 

I can, BUT, I won’t – Teaching kids about Self-Control

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A friend recently sent me a link to an episode of the “Colbert Report” where Stephen Colbert invited Walter Mischel of the famous Marshmallow study done decades ago.  To know more about the study click here.

I got really excited watching this clip and tried it on my 5 year old and this is how it went.

Me: Hey Hari, look what I have for you, your favourite candy

Hari: Oh, yummm, (she started to open it right away, not surprising)

Me: But wait, here’s the deal, I will give this to you, but if you don’t eat it now and wait for 15 minutes, I will give you two more, which means then you will have 3, not just 1. (I thought I had almost nailed it, and then)

Hari: But mommy, you have told me NO MORE THAN ONE CANDY A DAY, so it’s ok, I don’t want 2 more and she ran off with the one.

Somewhere in her heart, she knew that her mother would NEVER give her give her even 1 without her asking for it (unless it was a reward), let alone 2 more. 🙂

And that, my friends, was the end of the marshmallow test. Although it did not go as planned, it taught me 2 important things – My daughter knows me too well 🙂 and I needed to know more about self-control. So this post is more like me talking to myself in the past and trying to implement these pointers in my present.

So, what exactly is self-control? Self-control is the ability to resist impulsive behaviour in favour of achieving more fulfilling positive outcomes/goals. Self-control does not mean denying oneself of things/pleasures in life, it simply is the art of understanding wants v/s needs. It may not be something we are born with, but can be cultivated best when started early on.

The 2 most important levels at which self-control often gets dissuaded are Body (physical) and Mind (emotional). However by practice, these can be overcome and mastered over time. The key is consistency and being aware of situations that test one’s ability to exert self control.

Here are some of the ways to teach kids about self-control:

  1. GOOD HABITS: Early application of self-control makes a rock solid foundation of our habits (which often undermine self-control). Help children develop good habits, by regulation of sleep, food, exercise (both mental and physical). Regulation is the key here.
  2. TRIGGERS: Identify triggers that make them behave impulsively. For kids these triggers are in the form of toys, food, gadgets, many a times studies etc. Help them understand those triggers and help them find alternatives to override their natural impulse. For e.g., it has recently become my daughter’s second nature to retort back angrily if I don’t understand something she is saying and vice versa. So, I often have to remind her to express her dissatisfaction in another way and not by shouting and being angry. I have to constantly remind myself to do this instead of retorting to her anger with “How dare you talk to me like this”, which might be my impulsive reaction.
  3. MOTIVATION: Many a times children may not lack self-control, they just need motivation. Motivate them by setting goals, rewards or simply making a task more interesting. . For e.g. Hari dislikes writing alphabets (she is a number girl) so I would make her understand that, by practicing alphabets she will ultimately be able to write letters/emails to her grandparents and friends when they are away. So this gets her motivated to finish without much resistance and perhaps renews her liking towards it.
  4. SELF DISTRACTION: Constructive self distraction is another great way to build self-control. So say if your child comes back from karate class super hungry and “as usual” wants to eat the bag of chips (when its actually time for dinner), distract him/her by asking for some help setting the table or offering an alternative food product or sharing some amazing incident that might have happened that day (all this while acknowledging and empathizing of how hungry they are and of course getting a healthy meal ready). Disclaimer: Over worked parents please don’t feel guilty if you find yourself becoming submissive to those bag of chips. 🙂 
  5. ROLE MODEL: Example is better than precept. So next time you find yourself (as a parent) in a compelling situation, talk it out loud with your kids and share with them your experience of exercising self-control and how it led to a better outcome and soon your children will follow suit.


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When children experience the rewards (tangible or not) of applying self-control, it boosts their morale and encourages them to face challenges. This goes a long way especially when they enter teenage years and subsequently need to make a lot of choices for themselves. 

Unconditional Love

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Growing up, whenever I saw my mother go above and beyond for us, I seriously wondered why she would do that? I remember telling her on many occasions to not stretch herself out for us (my brother and me) unnecessarily, to which, she always retorted by saying “When you will become a mother, you will understand!” And boy, I do now! That was her way of showing LOVE. Its just how we are all programmed. Its our natural instinct to love and serve unconditionally, to the point of exhaustion sometimes. So sharing some pictures that portray a mother’s love.

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Aarti – An offering of gratitude

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Few days ago, my mom and I were discussing the why’s of many Vedic rituals, something I have never done until recently, at least with her. It’s a case of ‘Curious George” these days, and I am happy to be so. You remember that big book of “Tell me Why?” So when my kids (the plural in reference to the many who attend my class every week) ask me anything related to Vedic rituals, I want to be like that book, know it all. It makes a whale of a difference when you do something mechanically v/s doing it with proper understanding. So here’s understanding the simple yet profound ritual that we ALL perform, almost every day in our homes, Aarti.

Aarti is a simple act of gratitude in which we symbolically offer various items that represent the different elements this creation is made of. Bhagvad Gita chapter 7 verse 4 talks about the 8 elements which comprise of God’s material energy namely earth, water, fire, air, ether, mind, intelligence and false ego. Great reference verse for children to learn/memorize when explaining about aarti.

bhumir apo ‘nalo vayuh 
kham mano buddhir eva ca 
ahankara itiyam me 
bhinna prakrtir astadha

TRANSLATION

Earth, water, fire, air, ether, mind, intelligence and false ego–all together these eight comprise My separated material energies.

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  1. Earth represents all solids, for e.g. flowers, cloth etc
  2. Water represents all liquids
  3. Ghee lamp represents fire
  4. The yak tail fan (also known as chamara) and peacock feather (vyajan) represent the air element
  5. The sounds of the conch shell and the bell represent the ether element
  6. The emotional involvement in the songs sung and mantras chanted during the aarti represent the mind
  7. The focus on the purpose of performing aarti (which is MOST important) represents intelligence
  8. and lastly the obeisances and respect offered to the deity is surrendering our false ego and humbly accepting the supremacy of the Lord.

By cyclic motion of each of the 5 gross elements we are reminded to always keep God as center of all our activities. The circular motion also fixates our attention on the deity while performing the aarti.

The best way to understand this type of offering is, let’s say your child brings you a flower from your backyard (which you technically own) and you lovingly appreciate his/her effort and accept it, because it is the thought that counts. Offering the aarti is on a similar platform, where we are presenting a minuscule part of the creation to the creator with love and gratitude even though everything belongs to Him. When we prayerfully perform or observe the aarti ceremony we become recipients of God’s grace and His divine energy. This energy is then transmuted through those items offered which explains why we pass our palms over the flames and subsequently touch our forehead.

So next time lets tune in to the frequency of love and gratitude when we are a part of the aarti ceremony.

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