August 29, 2012

Listening to learn

They say, in order to learn we need to be good listeners and after listening, ask good questions – and ask these for clarification rather than to challenge - for if you don't know about a subject and are intent on learning about it, the objective must be to get clarification and elucidation. And the best way we can be sincere listeners is when we can suspend our assumptions as we hear out another person’s ideas. Assumptions are our already held opinions and views on a subject. If we attach ourselves so strongly to our views on a given subject or concern, we tend to block another’s view from entering our thought process. There is a psychological barrier created, for, given our own assumptions on that topic or concern, we will be always judging the validity of the other views against our pet view, and not giving that external view to be looked at afresh. If both don’t match, we tent to reject the other and find fault, or even become cynical, given our ego’s need to protect its point of view. We don’t even realize that, but that’s what’s happening inside us. What is holding us back is our ego, the pseudo personality or identity that has developed within us as we grew up to be what we are. Our attachment to this identity makes us defensive to anything that challenges it, and so, the opinions of others, even though they may have greater truth than what we may harbor, are rejected – just for the ego to protect itself. Remember, our ego never likes to lose.

In contrast, it is so refreshing to see little children so eager to learn everything that comes their way. They have no preconceived opinions or prejudices to hinder them from learning every day. That is why a child learns so easily and quickly, and adults find so hard to learn new things. A child is not limited by a filled-up mind – filled with opinions and assumptions as we adults are. The child’s mind has the “empty space” that can accommodate the universe. We adults have this capacity too, but we have turned blind to its existence. Whereas in our childhood, our true self kept it open, in our adulthood, our ego slowly shut it up. It is this child-like quality that we lose as we grow into adults, that makes for the hard and harsh and unaccommodating people we often become, demonstrated by the fact that we are averse to other diverse views. And society has perhaps also stereotyped this reticent behavior as being adult behavior. So we act it out and don’t cross the path lest we be called childish, immature, trusting, na├»ve, innocent or the like. But, unawares, we forfeit that wonderful nature of being a learner always by this very subconscious behavior we have come to accept and live. In contrast, have we not seen people who do accommodate others views, be seen as friendly and caring? And it is not difficult to find in each of our lives, those people towards whom we gravitate, just because they will always listen to us. We love our parents too because they don’t reject us but listen to us.  So why don’t we actively use this God-given gift of life to our advantage even in adult life by never losing the child in us.  

Learning is the platform for development. It is with knowledge and experience that we acquire wisdom that finally helps society to move ahead in what we call development. Listening is the way to imbibe the groundswell of knowledge that fill our lives and will continue to do so. But without a commensurate and receptive mind we can be morphed into a time warp from which no type of development can truly emerge.

August 27, 2012

The insidious path of jealousy

Jealousy is a pervasive feeling that strikes most of us, perhaps all of us at sometime or other in our lives. It’s a discomforting pressure in ourselves that arises as a selfish desire – wishing for ourselves the fortunes of someone else; a longing that says, why not me? Some of us live with this pervasive malaise – that guises as something as necessary to us as the clothes we wear -- day in and day out.  We are jealous when our peer is promoted to a better job at the office; wins a competition, scores more in class, gets the pretty girl or that cute guy, gets a new car, or house, and the list can go on.

While we continue to experience these emotions, few of us reflect on why we have these, or where it comes from. To some of us, that feeling of envy or jealousy may be something we want to carry with us always; something if we give up, we feel we may be losing a part of us. Or we are just not aware of this feeling being of any consequence for example of being detrimental – to our physical, social and spiritual wellbeing. That pain body has become an integral part of our very make up like an organ or a limb. That is the deception that our ego plants in us.

But this jealousy is the source of our discontentment in our society which manifests as conflict and turmoil. It is the ego fanning the selfishness in us to induce our feeling of envy that engulfs our behavior – at home, at the workplace, or on the street. It is always the manifestation of “why should someone else have what I don’t have” syndrome. This acquired sense of inequality in our minds – fair or not – is the goad that pushes us against brother, family, and friends.

Have you also not wondered why we feel jealous mostly of our peers rather than of more distant people or those much older or younger than us? The ego knows how to fiddle with the switches in our being, to push us towards rationality too, so that we don’t question it. Competition can only be with peers. We don’t compete with the old or with the kids, for it is never a challenge. Our ego grows when we can win in situations that can make our pride bloat. Usain Bolt will not be thrilled to win competing with high school sprinters!

So we can come down to two critical aspects of our being that are the culprits generating our jealousy -- our greed and our competiveness. Our modernization and economic development is predicated on these two characteristics. How ironical! Just the two very things that fuel social disruption and conflict being lauded as that which will bring us progress in this modern world. Our schools teach this, our families practice it, and our society welcomes it. We just accept this as an inevitability of modernization – a global phenomenon in which we seem inextricably mired in.

When the true decadence of greed and competiveness is realized through self awareness, they will cease to be important. As antidotes we have in our reach the noble behaviors of sharing, tolerance, and forgiveness, if only we care to reach out to these by scrapping the will of the ego and practice them. We have the choice – to bring peace into our midst!

August 23, 2012

Carrying forward the spirit of Ramadhan

Learning about the faults and quality of our humanity is important to sustain a serene and harmonious life. It is our nature, our basic character, which makes us what we become in life. Just as our physical structure on our outside changes as we grow in age, our inner character gets to be different too as we grow into adulthood and in age. Just as we become physically stronger in our bodily strength and size, our inner evolution we call the ego is also developing in strength – depending on how much and of what we feed it. Lust, greed, anger, selfishness and resentfulness that have been our past experience feed the ego to make us the very manifestation of these traits in our every day life experiences. In contrast, those behaviors that starve the ego such as caring, loving, sharing, thankfulness, gratitude all add up to our adulthood being the manifestation of these noble characteristics. So, being mindful of what we feed the ego to lift us spiritually is just as important as being vigilant on what we feed our body to make us what we are physically. Either way, we can be left sick or healthy depending on which path we choose to take.

Can we take time to reflect on our foibles that are the lurking dangers within us and seek actively to diminish or erase these completely? Only then can we allow our true self -- that is not selfish, not competitive, and not resentful – to shine through. Or if we already have that goodness in ourselves, let’s preserve it and share it. “Verily, Allah does not change the condition of a people until they change what is in themselves.” (Quran. 13:11)

August 18, 2012

Eid Mubaarak!

I would like to wish all Rukkuri readers a very happy Eid-ul-Fitr. May the year ahead be one filled with joy, social harmony and prosperity. Let's hope we can carry the good will that Ramadhan inspired in us into the months of our lives ahead and see ourselves in the oneness that we all are. May Allah Bless us all!!

August 17, 2012

We are our own healer

The other day, my wife and I were shopping for beds sheets and came upon this great deal of buy two for the price of one. We picked at the pile of plastic wrapped packets for some time trying to select the nicest color and size. My pick was always rejected as too blue or too green, while hers I seemed to be rejecting as too gaudy or too plain. We just didn’t seem to agree and finally we dumped the deal and moved to another section of the mall where other goodies were on for sale. Nothing serious happened here of course, but it could have if we insisted on buying something at the bed-sheet stand, our subconscious not quite willing to agree. Knowing that differences could lead to conflict, we knew by now when to let it go for the moment and then attempt later when our wits were a bit more sober and ready to come to a compromise. This vignette from our day is not unlike what most of us go through in life.

Don’t we sometimes wonder why we like someone, and dislike another? Why we like the taste of something and abhor another? Feel a certain color or style is gaudy or outrageous, and another absolutely mesmerizing? Surely, there must be those that will see our gaudy as mesmerizing also, and our tasty food horrible. But reflecting on this scenario brings us to the realization that these objects had nothing to do with what they actually were in our mind. All our opinions of likes and dislikes arose from within us -- from our own background of our formed assumptions and memories of the past that we carry with us.

Our opinions and assumptions are our individuality, and unfortunately, we hold on to this dearly. We form these peculiarities over time as we grow up and soon, unawares, have built a high wall around us that protects us to the varying degrees of defensiveness we have come to espouse. It can be a simple dissonance as in our case of shopping that day, to something quite serious that can turn into altercations that leave people feeling alienated for long periods of time. It can be a case where blame will be then cast on the reasons for the alienation. We rationalize that it is always because of the view of the other person that this situation came to be. It is what someone or the other did to us that we are in such misery in our lives, and the list can go on. In reality, any situation is what it is because of what we created; the value we imputed to the situation at hand. The raw material is out there as fact, totally neutral, and we create the story out of it by giving it meaning – good or bad.

The knife is a knife, but it is a good thing in the hands of a surgeon who will save a life with it, or it can be a bad thing in the hands of a criminal. The knife is still the knife. It didn’t do the killing; it was just an instrument in someone’s hand. The intension to kill or save a life came from the mind of the person carrying the knife. So we should not blame the knife, but ourselves. In fact, we should not blame anyone for anything that happens; we must see our role in it that landed us in that situation and focus on improving our action the next item. In every situation in our lives, this is the perspective we must take. Even in the act of getting angry, we have a choice -- of being or not being angry. If we can accept this truth – that we are indeed the source of our problems and our suffering, and that no one else is to be blamed, then our healing will begin in earnest. 

August 14, 2012

Eluding our Egos

Much of the partisan issues societies face in politics, and even otherwise, is about the clash of egos. It is ironical however, that the people we elect to lead us in a democracy should be fighting their own battles and forgetting the welfare of those who elected them. Should they not be fighting the battle with social, spiritual and economic issues of the nation rather than amongst each other? This is the sad scenario sweeping the political spectrum of many countries in our world today. And sadly, Maldives is not immune to such vagaries. In all such situations, corruption is the great instigator that lurks beneath, which is defined in this case as dishonest and fraudulent conduct by those in power typically involving bribery. While the reasons for this condition may be many, the root of this behavior lies in the strength of our ego – that aspect of our being that pushes us to indulge in the pleasures of life rather looking at the negative consequences such acts can hasten. To stop corruption, we can work from either end – a punitive aspect that prosecutes and punishes such wrong doing, or deal with the root of the issue embedded in our very make-up. Modern political governance attempts to do it the first way and falls increasingly deeper into the pit, for the ego, as long as it’s kept alive and kicking, finds ways to circumvent any punishment meted out. The other way is the path through spiritual means. Here, we need no law enforcement to be behind us, but it requires us to delve into ourselves to seek out our real self by controlling the forces of our ego. That is the only lasting solution while the former could only be a temporary one.

You see, the ego is the power that gives us our selfishness and the greed that fuels corruption. In Maldives, we call this aspect of our selves “hawaa-nafs” as opposed to our real self or soul which is our “nafs”. Power, position and fame fan this human aspect within us. To the degree that we believe that what endowments we enjoy in life are ours forever (our attachment to our material world--our feeling that this situation will never end) gives power to the ego. Such egos are many in the political arena and so results in clashes among themselves that brook little compromise. So the battle goes on among those who firmly believe that this day will never end. Even bitter experiences never seem to teach lessons and so the egos march on unrelentingly. These people continue to demand and bask in the realm of attention and the limelight and their coteries ensure that this is so.

To beat the ego we need to espouse anonymity and humility. When we are in our in anonymous circumstances, the ego gives up its hold on an opinion or deemed defensiveness. But when we are in the open, and in the face of being seen or challenged for our opinions, our ego’s defensiveness kicks in and we hold on to our views with pride, helplessly unable to budge from our pre-formed assumptions. This is when our ego emerges ahead of our rational mind and keeps us tied in as prisoners of our own mind.

This power of the ego is quite in keeping with the concepts in spirituality where, in order to gain mastery over our ego, we are asked to attempt seeking the state of anonymity  -- that of seeking to be as a non-identity.  In that situation of detachment we can learn to feel ourselves to be as a part of everyone and begin to see each other as a part of a whole life process and cease to see ourselves as individual entities that stand out as separate from others in our life.

In contrast, our egos bloom in situations where we occupy the limelight of leadership, power, fame and such where the ego revels in the adulation and attention it gets. In such situations we are moved to uphold that status that continues to give us that high. It is really our ego that pushes us to be that way -- wanting the most ostentatious position in any given situation commensurate with the superior social status we may have been used to and that which we feel needs to be protected. We attempt to protect this position at all costs by always wanting to be the cynosure of attention -- and we would fight tooth and nail to get that pole position. Please be aware, it is the calling of the ego that does not want to be in the shadow, but always bask in the limelight. Simple situations such as not getting a seat in the front row at an important meeting, others not complimenting you strongly enough for a feat performed, others not clapping hard or loud enough during your speeches, challenging you on an opinion, or not laughing for your jokes, all hurt the ego of people who have assumed this status of being self important – those who harbor bloated egos. That ego wants the status quo to continue. When it doesn’t, there is the reality of the suffering we feel in this life. There is no stronger hurt than for such bloated egos which are delusional about the permanence of their social standing to be placed into a situation of anonymity. Loss of position, power and authority bring intense suffering to the ego. Highly delusional egos hurt intensely from such falls from the pedestal, and often attempt by hook or crook to gain the glory of the past at all costs. This is the suffering that egos smite on us mortals. Liberation is when we can be the masters of the ego, rather than it being ours.

Yet for experiencing the tranquility of life, it is anonymity that can only take away our ego. However, this effort would have to be from a situation of acceptance of anonymity. And this state is not alien to us at all. Being one with everything else in nature is blissfully experienced in our daily moments of such accepted anonymity. Take for example the situations of us being just one person in crowd of people (without any particular status), or when we visit a foreign country where we are just one among many tourists, or when we stand shoulder to shoulder in our mosques at prayer, or be at Hajj with millions of ihram-clad pilgrims. Many other situations can make us feel this calm that anonymity brings – when this oneness is in the condition of acceptance. And it is in these moments of anonymity, that our ego is subdued, and kept cowering, for it loses its power when we voluntarily tuck it in the recess of our mind not allowing it space to grow.  For true calm and tranquility in our lives, we need to attempt a situation of learned acceptance -- a voluntary leap into the realm of acceptance that life is transitory and evanescent. Then we will be free, and hurt no more. 

August 9, 2012

Let’s not be fooled

In these chaotic times of our early democratic process in Maldives, not getting fooled all the time is something we need to be very vigilant about. We all know that a gift item is always considered less worthy than if we acquired it with our hard earned money. Yet, time and time again, such acceptance of presents is the folly we fall into whenever our politicians promise us gifts and freebies in the garb of promoting social and economic development.

Yes, this nature of ours is not without a history. We have grown up over the years, especially with rising economic affluence, receiving a lot of gifts. This was sparingly so in the more distant past of Maldives, when we did not receive that many gifts. Something I remember vividly is the rarity of presents I received in my childhood. We were even given our new clothes in conjunction with some festival -- like the Eids - to don when we went for the day’s prayers or mingle in a family or community function of the day. These were true moments of elation and its value cherished, because we knew we would not get another new kit till Eid the following year. But of course, today children and youth get new clothes and various other presents whenever they ask for it, and as if that was not enough, is supplemented by what many parents now offer them without even an asking, as surprises, often a silent apology for the increasing neglect of their children with whom little quality time is now spent. Yet, without a hope that their children will value what's given. Expectedly, boredom soon sets in and they ask for more – with the television and the billboards in the streets not missing a moment to coax the young minds to want evermore -- and the cycle goes on. Growing into adulthood, we don't fare any better.  We still want to receive without working for it. In such a social habituation, politicians make hay by extending that giving to whole communities. A harbor here, a mosque there, subsidies every where, are some of the gimmicks we fall for. Of course behind this culture of political giving and our acceptance, lurks the vestige of our authoritarian rule of the past - of kings, queens and strong individuals who have used this approach to keep people chronically indolent by their calculated benevolence.

But now in a democracy should this be so? How does this culture of largesse measure up to the democratic principles of independent behavior we need to be nurturing if we do not want democracy to die on our doorstep? By our very acceptance of gifts and largesse we are forfeiting the power given to us by our democratic principles. Our action is particularly foolish, given that what we are offered is often what belongs to us anyway. He who offers us gifts in this crafty way is taking us for a ride. Kings and queens in their benevolence may have given us what belonged to them, but democratic leaders only give us what they take from us as taxes. In the garb of the democratic process, our political parties practice this approach galore to keep members tightly aligned. But by such mindless acceptance of gifts, we acquiesce to the whims of another because we tend to feel indebted and compelled to vote in that direction. How ironical is this situation? We want to eat the cake and still keep it also. We want the gifts, but we would like to keep our independent stance also? That is impractical in reality and in morality too. We need to be true to ourselves and learn to live to earn our gifts rather than have these offered, and sometimes forced on our gullible and hapless minds, for the taking. Accepting this state of affairs must indicate to us our immaturity to practice true democracy, and that we are just dabbling in self deception. And no doubt, the politicians are happy, for they know they can fool us every time.

August 6, 2012

How familiar are we with Primary Health Care?

This wonderful idea was born in 1978. Perhaps many of us in Maldives, just like everywhere else, have forgotten it – or perhaps have accumulated some cobwebs in the recesses of our minds where this was stored. And why not, after almost 35 years no one can blame you if you have. But let me tell you, it’s a subject worth reviewing, for it is the backbone of our Maldives health system. In 1980 Maldives prepared its first national health plan with Primary Health Care as its basis. And we have worked with this idea in mind over the past several decades, and have achieved stuff worth crowing about. We have beaten Malaria and leprosy into its den, flattened diarrheal diseases, limited tuberculosis and filariasis, and squeezed down infant mortality to almost a tenth of what it was forty years ago. All of this achievement through the use of Primary Health Care, but perhaps without being consciously aware of the power of this exciting health strategy. Using this approach, our health workers have done a fabulous job over the past three decades and more. 

But now we in Maldives are faced with a major challenge in the face of the health sector decentralization where the island health councils will be taking the big responsibility for heath governance in the islands and atolls. But without an understanding of PHC, the results can be disastrous. The clamor to build hospitals and bringing in a flood of doctors to the midst will not be the solution. So, let’s first seek to understand PHC in its essence. Seek first to understand and then attempt to be understood. A detailed account would be too lengthy to put in this blog, but I will venture to highlight the very basics.

PHC has clear principles it embodies that give PHC its unique character or flavor. Firstly, PHC is an approach and not a method. It works along a process that embodies key defining principles that makes PHC what it is, and those that may not be violated for us to say what we practice is PHC. Contrasting this with other forms of care – such as primary care, secondary care, tertiary care, catastrophic care, etc -- these salient principles relate to equity and human rights --- which is about being fair to everyone in making health services available to everyone; community involvement --- which is about the need for everyone in the community to be involved in making the services that are provided, effective. Primary Health Care also says something about the kinds of services provided – that they must be made available to everyone at a cost people can afford, and also that these must be physically accessible and culturally acceptable in respect to the existing social and religious values in a given society. Other forms of care do not have these elaborate principles integrated. Mostly those are about taking care of individual patients and not the health concerns of a community which PHC essentially deals with.

Given these features of PHC, the model proposed by the World Health Organization together with UNICEF in 1978 stated at least 8 key areas of health service delivery which I will not elaborate here but those of you interested may look up on the internet (WHO website or just by asking Google). An overarching consideration that PHC calls for is its prime focus of Prevention. Public health consideration is key in PHC, for prevention is always better than cure. If we can take care of ourselves in not getting sick, we will save a lot of money that we would otherwise spend for the doctor’s bills. Additionally, by being public health vigilant, we will save our national exchequer heaps of money too. Just imagine, if few of us get sick, we will have more money to spend for the more serious of health interventions when we do need them. Now, that is the plus for understanding and practicing PHC.   

August 3, 2012

Peace will reign only when we can shatter our duality

 My thoughts began churning on the contents of this blog when I heard someone say the other day that laws are better followed in educated communities. I thought about it and felt there was the seed of rationality. These are thoughts that followed.

When people are educated, laws are easier to enforce than when the people are not. What education here means is not about going to school or learning a whole lot of lessons in reading, writing and arithmetic. Or the understanding of science and technology or the memorization of poems and texts the teacher wrote on the blackboard for regurgitating at exam time. Someone famously said that education is what remains after one has forgotten everything he learned in school. Yes, it was Albert Einstein who said that. Education is really about understanding the world around us, in the aspects of human relations and our relationship with the other species that inhabit our common world. Through this arises our compassion because we are travelers on the same boat in a common sea of the cosmos. An awareness of this proximity and our dependence on each other dawns on us the oneness of our existence and the need for mutual support to cement and maintain this cohesion. For, only in this cohesion may we survive. In division we would perish. This realization is what may be termed as education. Therefore, our education must make us aware of our place in the universe. The degree to which this realization is imprinted in our minds makes us understand that there are laws and regulations that determine the course of our lives in this common presence. It behooves us thus to comply because we know that failure to do so will annihilate us. So compliance become a natural process that needs little prodding. Thus, educated societies are more law abiding than those uneducated.  How educated are we within this yardstick?

So can we say that, given that there is so much conflict in this world of ours, it is because of our lack of education? Sadly so, our world has done little to make us aware that we are one. Perhaps all our glittering educational edifices are filling us with a whole lot of material content and little spiritual substance. Even from time immemorial the divisive force was in us for we have our duality inherent in our make up -- the good and the bad, the soul and the ego. Colonial times had divided us to force on us the duality – them and us, and so did our nation states provide the fuel to power our ego that harps unrelentingly on our separateness. Capitalism and the materialistic paradigm of development has further deepened the gulf between nations and even within our nations, between the rich and the poor, and no one wants to share, but live in the glittering world each one creates for himself. In fact, our whole existence is immersed in duality. Perhaps that was the test we were given, sent here to planet earth, to learn that this duality is a mirage – for us to understand this feature of our existence. When we can make this gulf evaporate, we merge with the universal soul, and we become the oneness that makes us liberated. When we can shatter this separation, we will bridge the gap that makes us feel we are separate and come home to the fact that we are indeed one. Conflict will then be no more!