Thursday, February 14, 2013

“I feel happy when...” - a very personal response to a Singaporean development planning “White Paper.”

One of my current projects is writing a reflection on a Singaporean development “White Paper.” It is entitled,  A Sustainable Population for A Dynamic Singapore.  The Paper was  recently made public by Singapore’s Office of the Prime Minister, Population and Talent Division.  Last week, this document was the subject of an unusually vigorous public-media and Parliamentary debate before being formally adopted.  A strong commitment to economic growth, requiring continued population growth to a possible level of 6.9 million or more, is one of the document’s major themes. I will be sharing excerpts from my more formal response to the document later.  This posting is about a personal one. 
A question emerging from the debate has also engaged non Singaporean scholar-practitioners  who struggle  with “sustainable development” issues is this:  “What is the relationship between economic growth/income on the one hand and feelings of well being (or happiness) of individuals living in a country on the other?”  In particular, my friends who are members of a leading sustainable development network, The Balaton Group, struggle with this issue.  In the course of discussing my reflection with a colleague, she mentioned an exercise she had heard about (I can’t recall the source).  She suggested I might give it a try as a possible help to clarifying my thinking.  The exercise was to take a few moments, without much preparation and for no audience other than oneself, and to write completions to a sentence that begins, “I feel happy when I..."   What follows is what I wrote early yesterday morning in response to this suggestion

I feel happy...
  when I experience unconditional love.
  when I greet someone and they greet me back.
  when I walk through the Singapore Botanic Gardens.
  when I can work with a supportive collaborator who will also tell me when I am wrong
  when I think about how my children are living their lives
  when I have finished a piece of writing that expresses what I envisioned it would express
  when I can help a student achieve his or her goals
  when a student, or someone else I have mentored, does great work
  when I look at the pictures of my mentors that I have posted in my apartment and remember how they have helped me
  when I have cooked a great meal and others have enjoyed it
  when I look at or through a book I have written and know I did the best I could do.
  when I have no debt and my expenses are less than my income
  when I can contribute to someone else’s happiness
  when, at the end of a day, I believe I have accomplished something good
when my commitments and the time I have to fulfill them are in balance
I feel happy when I reflect on many good choices I have made in my life

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Wednesday, February 06, 2013

Opening Ourselves to Others Through "Meditative Attention."

The following passage is from my current early-morning read, Arthur Zajonc (2008) Meditation as Contemplative Inquiry, When Knowing Becomes Love.  When I read the passage, I thought of a few luminous conversations I have had with students, especially during the latter part of my decade-long residency in American University’s Anderson Hall.  It is a goal to which it is worth aspiring, even if only fully realized on rare and because of that, memorable, occasions.  The passage from Zajonc’s book follows:
Our meetings with others can be a repeated occasion for the cultivation of meditative attention.  If we are sufficiently practiced in cultivating the meditative state of mind, then taking a few breaths, settling into ourselves and attending gently, openly and completely to the other is usually sufficient for a recognizable inner shift to take place.  We drop the combative stance, we live into the thoughts of the other, and so are practicing a form of self attention.  We need not correct what may be mistakes of fact or differences of opinion.  In this moment, we are positive and open to each other.  What we achieved in our preliminary solitary exercises becomes of practical use in relationships.  In my experience, the visual background surrounding my conversation fades and the face and voice of the partner are all that remains.  The exchange can even take a joyful sacramental character as a mutual recognition of the divine within each other suddenly arises.  

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