Thoughts on Lelyveld’s Gandhi Biography

Joseph Lelyveld makes some pretty provocative statements in “Great Soul: Mahatma Gandhi and his Struggle with India” and then seems to immediately backpedal on his analysis. Critical thinking, even criticism, is good. In fact, having read many Gandhi biographies myself, I recognize Gandhi’s contradictory nature. Who in life doesn’t change over a period of eighty years? But how far should criticism and analysis go?

For example, connecting Gandhi to Osama bin Laden in terms of Gandhi’s support of the Khilafat or whether we’d have a unified India without Gandhi.

Anyone else reading this book? What do you think?

Happiness and Suffering are Inseparable

Suffering and happiness are inseparable. We all have both and they both come and go throughout our lives – at least up to this point in my life. Our practice of Mindfulness is an effort to transform our suffering into happiness. It is an effort to move in the direction of joy. It is an effort to move in the direction of being truly present and to be present for our families, our friends, and our community. In doing so, we can alleviate a great deal of suffering for those around us, and to cause less suffering in the future. We can make the world a beautiful place in the present moment.

In the very first talk given by the Buddha, he outlines this foundational concept. The First Noble Truth says there is suffering, ill-being. The Second is about the cause of our suffering, and the Third Noble Truth talks of the cessation of suffering. This is the presence of happiness. We can learn how to produce happiness. We have many practices for this transformation, but I especially am drawn to the two foundational practices of meditation of “stopping” and “looking deeply.”

We can do this. Just a few short hours of practice and we can begin to train our mind. It’s quite simple to discover happiness in the present moment and to transform our relationships.

We have been offered mindful breathing exercises. The first is following our breath – mere recognition. This can be done anytime, anywhere. We can use sounds and images from the world around to remind us to return to our breathing. For example, I have a computer application that invites me to stop every 70-minutes. But it could be the telephone, a red light, a child’s laughter. We stop and come back to our breathing. This is stopping. It can be practiced anytime, anywhere. I love this practice. I begin my training with sitting meditation, but it doesn’t have to stop on the cushion. Learn to discover methods to following our breath. When we feel anger, frustration, or despair, returning to our breath can immediately bring us relief. Try it – it’s true!

The next steps outlined for mindful breathing is awareness of our body and releasing tension. Learning to calm our body. Where is our body? We can do this when we are standing, walking, sitting, and lying down – and know that we are doing each. My emotions often come through strongly in my body. How does my body feel? How does my body behaves? In touching this we can bring relieve. In recognizing the body, we see the connection between body and mind. This is especially true when we practice sitting meditation – we should see the unity of body and mind. For some, walking meditation works much better than just sitting.

If we can practice these first few exercises, then we can also nourish joy, happiness and learn to explore our feelings. Maybe we try something like this:

Breathing in, I feel joyful. Breathing out, I feel joyful.
Breathing in, I feel happy. Breathing out, I feel happy.

It is a simple practice, silly even, but it can bring a lot of transformation. There are people who have no peace and joy because they cannot stop their thinking. We can also practice joy by bringing awareness to those parts of our body we may not always remember – our eyes, our heart, our liver. Breathing in, I know know I have two good eyes. Breathing out, I feel joy.

Happiness goes a little further. The story often given is that of a person in the desert who sees an oasis. She is joyful upon discovering the oasis and she is happy when she takes a drink from the water.

Here I have outlined just the first six exercises of mindful breathing. These exercises of mindful breathing can bring about personal transformation, but it can provide the foundation to bring transformation to our relationships – relationships with our parents, our children, our consumption.

All Movies for All Ages

Is there an age appropriateness for film and media? Should we let kids see any movie out there? It seems that some parents seem to think it’s ok and others are horrified at the idea. In a recent Facebook discussion, a parent with young children posted an article When Can I Watch Indiana Jones with my Kids? — it certainly generated a lively discussion and got me to thinking about the topic.

I’m a parent of two children – ages seven and eleven. We all enjoy media and I’m definitely a fan of film. As a child, I was not allowed film or television until my teen years or just before my teen years. And though it was difficult for me, I was in elementary school when Star Wars came out in 1977, reflecting back I don’t feel like I missed much and it provided a different type of upbringing than most other kids.

I firmly believe that we should not legislate how parents raise their children. I don’t believe in the Motion Picture Association’s (voluntary) ratings system. And as a librarian, I definitely don’t believe in censorship because what you think is inappropriate may not be inappropriate for everyone. Parents need to determine the best method to expose their children to books, movies, music, sexuality, etc. Personally, I’m appalled when I see kids in movies with strong violence or significant profanity or sex. For example, the Dark Knight was a great film but I wouldn’t want my kids to see it yet but it would be cool if my 11-year old would watch Star Wars with me. The graphicness, the energy, etc. of a movie from 1977 versus a film from 2008 seem very different to me. This is my opinion, my judgement, and I should be able to make this decision for my children.

Some would argue that by exposing children to violence, sex, and profanity that we are helping them to grow-up and be stronger adults. Ultimately, I believe in letting children be children. There’s nothing wrong with protecting them from the horrors of the world for a while. Children will be adults in no time and the innocence of childhood is a real jewel.

My kids watch movies on Netflix and have seen a handful movies in the theater. My 11-year old has no interest in seeing movies in the theatre because of the sensory overload, but he’ll watch some (very few) at home. This is a case where what might be appropriate for your kid is definitely not for my kid. We’ve stuck to pretty tame and family orientated films, though I’ve tried to get them to watch Star Wars (they aren’t interested). I’m fine with that.

Ultimately, the guides for parents are nice to have but I think every parent has to try making the best decision they can on what to expose kids to in the media (a false reality, at best). Watch the movie first is a good practice. I’m not a prude, but the innocence of childhood is an important thing to protect. What do you think?