New Year Reflection, 2014
Reflections on Gratitude, July 2012
My dear friends,
These days I have been reflecting on the power of Gratitude. What is gratitude? Gratitude is more than a feeling of thankfulness in response to receiving a tangible gift or a gesture of kindness. Gratitude is a way of life, a fundamental orientation. It is a conscious choice to focus on life’s blessings rather than on its shortcomings. We recognize sources of goodness as outside of ourselves, coming from others. There is a distinction between a short term feeling, and saying that someone is a grateful person, someone who habitually looks at life with gratitude glasses, with a gratitude focus.
However, gratitude is the fruit of great cultivation. We may not be born with a taste for good music, but it can be acquired. Great art often needs to be researched and studied before a person may fully appreciate it. Similarly, when we cultivate a grateful attitude, we learn to live in a state of grace. Every event in life, both good and bad, becomes an opportunity to learn, to grow, and to expand our capacity to love. How then can we cultivate gratitude? We focus our attention on grateful thinking. We count our blessings every day, keep a gratitude journal, write a gratitude letter to someone who has meant a lot to us. Children can wear gratitude bracelets as they are not abstract thinkers. We can become grateful to our families, our work places, our institutions.
Finally, what are the beneficial effects of the practice of gratitude? Gratitude allows us to celebrate the present, it is a magnification of the present emotion. It magnifies goodness, and therefore blocks toxic emotions such as envy, resentment or depression that destroy our optimal well being. We can’t be envious and grateful at the same time. The higher the gratitude coefficient, the lower the negative emotions. Grateful people are more alert, more energetic, more enthused, more attentive. They are more stress resilient because of the way they interpret life’s events. Gratitude also strengthens our social ties and self worth because it means that others are looking out for our well being. We feel supported and affirmed by them and we then become more altruistic, more outgoing, more sensitive, more helpful and less lonely and isolated.
When we live in gratitude, compassion becomes the foremost emotion when dealing with others. Gratitude and selfless service go hand in hand. Gratitude has the power to heal, to energize, to change lives. The practice of gratitude also enhances healthy behavior and healthy sleep, and it reduces blood pressure. Research demonstrates that even school children get better grades at school when they practice gratitude over the semester.
Gratitude is not always easy. There are many obstacles to a grateful way of thinking, such as pervasive negativity, complaint, dissatisfaction, a sense of entitlement, focus on deprivation and suffering.
Let us accept all of life as a gift and have a deep abiding sense of thankfulness for it.
Christmas Reflections, December 2011
My dear friends,
As we approach the joy of Christmas, the gifts under the tree, the lights in the windows, and the turkey dinners with family and friends, we are reminded of the fulfillment of the promise of God, his son Jesus, who dispels all darkness and is the everlasting hope of mankind.
As the angels heralded in the glorious news of the Saviour’s birth, they sang, ‘Glory to God in the highest, on earth peace and goodwill toward men.’ Jesus’ birth heralded peace and goodwill towards all mankind, even towards our enemies. Jesus himself taught us to love our enemies.
In the many encounters that I have had over the years with a wide variety of difficult individuals and networks, some of whom have been hostile, ruthless, or even violent, I have come to understand that evil is not final. It is not unchangeable, or irreversible. The message of the Saviour’s birth is the message of peace and goodwill. Active peacemaking breaks the cycle of violence and counter-violence. It leaves open the possibility of conversion. It is unlikely to alienate our opponents.
We may say to ourselves that we have never answered violence with violence. But even if there is an attitude of violence in our interactions, it inevitably arouses in the minds of both parties, emotions of resentment, fear, or even hatred. In a conflict ridden engagement, all the habits of forbearance and humaneness are lost, and nothing matters any more except victory.
Paul reminds us in Romans 12, ‘Let us not repay evil for evil, let us master evil with good.’ He is asking us to convert evil into good, to convert destruction into creation. Our opponents, whoever they might be, either at a personal or a wider level, can be weaned from error by love, by patience, by goodwill. If we engage in a constant, beneficial interaction with our opponents, we can arrive at ultimate reconciliation.
As we spread goodwill in all our relationships, mutual trust and respect is developed. Sometimes we may need to persist relentlessly in our peacemaking efforts, so that our own goodwill can harness the power of good in the other. What a beautiful way, a way that shows us that no one is an enemy. We are fighting the antagonisms, not the antagonist. The objective is not to assert propositions, but to create possibilities. This way, antagonisms can be liquidated.
An attitude of violence towards another can prevent an honest appreciation of our shared divinity and humanity. An attitude of violence against another is also violence against one’s own self.
This Christmas, as we remember the song of the angels, let us pray that active peacemaking and goodwill will become our Christian imperative, our creed, our way of life.
I offer you my grateful thanks for being such wonderful friends of Asha. May you experience God’s abundant blessings this Christmas and New Year.
Birthday reflection, 8th June, 2011
My dear friends,
As I turn 52 tomorrow, I think of you with fond affection and much gratitude for your friendship that has enriched my life in so many wonderful ways. Today gives me the marvellous opportunity to share with you some of my innermost thoughts in the hope that you will be blessed and encouraged.
My most favourite verse in the Bible says, God is love. This means that we are conceived and created in Divine love that is at the core of our identity. Love is the true nature of our souls, the essence of our being. Love is the purpose of our being alive, and the purpose of our lives. We are therefore only fulfilled when we are in a state of love, and empty without it. The power, force and energy of Divine love is self existent within us. Therefore it is in our nature to live and create experiences of Divine love.
The apostle Paul understood this truth, and said, Let love be your greatest aim, meaning let it be at the very centre of who you are, and inform all your thoughts, your behaviour and your actions. He also calls it the most excellent way. He describes it as an inner quality that sees good everywhere and in everybody. It insists that all is good, and by refusing to see anything but good, it tends to cause that quality to appear uppermost in itself and in others. Love takes no notice of faults. At its highest level, it demands nothing in return. It loves for the sake of loving. Like the sun, its joy is in the shining forth of its nature. It is therefore the great harmonizer and healer in life.
We may think that getting love depends on having the right person see us in the right ways. We then try to be what we think the person wants; we try to please, we try to be good enough to deserve their love. We put ourselves through so many mental and emotional rigours in order to get it. Actually, the only way to experience love is to give love, because we already have it. It is as naturally ours as the air we breathe. When we make a conscious choice to give love, we participate in the most powerful Divine force that is active in our lives and in the world.
From an early Christian manuscript comes a beautiful excerpt:
Nor can that endure which has not its foundation upon love,
For love alone diminishes not, but shines with its own light;
Makes an end of discord, softens the fires of hate,
Restores peace in the world, and brings together the sundered,
Redresses wrong, aids all and injures none;
And who so invokes its aid will have no fear of future ill,
But shall find safety and everlasting peace.
I shall always be grateful for your blessings, your prayers and your words of encouragement.
Easter Reflections, April 2011
My dear friends,
As the blessed festival of Easter approaches, I am once again reminded that God loves us not because of anything we have done to earn that love, but because God has decided to love us with an everlasting love. God so loved the world that He gave His only son… Jesus has come among us to make that Divine love visible and to offer it to us.
The world gives us messages that being loved is something we have to earn; people will help us if we help them, they will be good to us if we are good to them. We then always have to try to prove that we deserve to be loved, which is why we seek recognition and popularity. We live as though our worth depends on the way others respond to us. We submit our most intimate selves to the opinions of others.
At Easter we are reminded that God became human, that is, God with us, demonstrating His unconditional love for us so that our intimate communion with Him makes us feel safe and secure. We can therefore be free from the anxious concern to obtain recognition from people, or to long to be loved by others out of loneliness and low self esteem, for the resurrected Christ desires to give His love to us so abundantly. He knows our story, knows our sins and virtues, our fears and hopes. He knows us even more deeply and more fully than we know ourselves. We are fully seen by Him, including our deepest and most hidden thoughts; fully seen with eyes of forgiveness and unconditional acceptance. We are fully known and fully loved, fully safe and fully free.
As we receive the love of the resurrected Christ in our lives, God wants us to dedicate ourselves to communicating it to others. We can watch its magnificent power dissolve undesirable situations, unwanted circumstances, and all thoughts and feelings of a negative nature. As it flows through our lives, it can become the bond between ourselves and each person we touch. It can become the forgiving force where forgiveness is needed. It can purify our consciousness of every vestige of selfishness, bitterness and revengefulness. Its harmonizing power can restore our body, renew our mind, and lift us to ever higher levels of understanding and compassion. It can awaken in us the presence of God.
As we at Asha communicate this Divine love to His beloved children in the slums, there is more laughter and more joy. They express greater potential as we lovingly recognize and comment on the possibilities we see in them. They are comforted by the memory of our loving words when they take such hard and challenging exams along with other students from wealthy families who enjoy all the advantages that they don’t. They meet life’s challenges with greater faith and fortitude. The force of Divine love restores, rejuvenates, regenerates.
As we celebrate Easter, let us think, speak and feel the love of the resurrected Christ, and become so immersed in it that all else in our lives and our world is absorbed and melted into it.
I thank you for your generosity and your prayers, and I wish you a wonderfully blessed time with family and friends.
Christmas reflections for 2010
My dear friends,
It is with great joy that I think of you all once again as we approach Christmas; Christmas, that demonstrates the deep intensity of the love that God has for us, embodied in the One born into our world over 2000 years ago. It is the birth of that love into our world that we celebrate at Christmas, a love that is redemptive, that is unconditional, that is constant, like the sun that shines for millions of years with no change in its size or brightness. A love that is always present, although at times it may seem to be invisible. Even when the clouds of human emotions may hide it, it is always present, just as the sun is present when the clouds hide it from the earth. A love that gives out its powerful healing energy, flowing within us, changing us and enlarging us, opening hearts that may have once been closed with bitterness. A love that has the power to replace bitterness with acceptance and joy, corrosive hatred with caring and compassion. That has the incredible ability to unify all individuals inspite of the amazing variety of inner qualities and unique gifts.
As our lives thrive and flourish on this love, we can be a channel of its energy to flow from us to others, becoming a force for healing and transformation of lives. Like the sun, we can shine, and radiate it for all persons without diminution of its supply. Miraculously, the more of it we give, the more we have to give.
In the midst of all the gaiety, mirth and song, of good and wondrous gifts, may we enjoy this, the best gift of all, the gift of His love. A gift that we can’t touch, taste or feel, but one that keeps us warm on cold nights and safe when we are alone. Christmas is the living promise that no matter where we are in life, no matter in what condition we find ourselves, Christ the supreme lover will pursue us in love for eternity.
With my grateful thanks for your friendship and my warmest wishes for a wonderful and blessed season with family and friends.
Birthday Reflections, 8th June 2010
My dear friends,
As I turn 51 tomorrow, my heart is filled with pride at the thought of the astonishing success of nearly 300 Asha children from the slums in their high school exams. To me, their lives glow with the beauty of the rarest, brightest of gems. An education at Delhi University that many of them will now be able to obtain, will serve as a gateway to such exciting new opportunities. They will receive the chance to be taught by top experts in their fields, some of the best and most knowledgable people in our country. This stimulation will encourage them to think, ask questions, explore new ideas, and grow and develop in marvellous ways. The level of respect that they will gain will be a testament to their levels of intelligence and tireless devotion.
When I try to comprehend this many splendoured miracle of God, I am reminded that these children have suffered from poverty through not one, but many generations. Not just financial poverty, never having had money to purchase goods and services, but deep emotional poverty, the hardest of all. Until Asha came into their lives, it was hard for them to even choose and control emotional responses. They had no stamina to withstand difficult emotional situations and feelings. Many were physically weak from poor nutrition. They did not have the mental abilities and acquired skills such as reading, writing and computing, to deal with daily life, since most of them never went to school. They had poor support systems, no role models and no access to a nurturing adult.
What has happened can only be explained by the deep mystery of the power of love. A love that makes room for them to deposit all their hurts and worries. A love that is large enough for all their joys and sorrows. A love that understands what the child cannot say. A love that is instructional, unconditional and forever.
I am beginning to understand that the strength of love is greater than all natural laws. It is the fuel that enables a normal human being to do the impossible. It sees the miracle that is invisible to others.
Today I would like to pay tribute to my team whose deep devotion, kind precepts and wise counsel caused the clouds of darkness to dissipate from the hearts of these lovely children. May our love continue to nourish them and help them to grow, prosper and reach great spiritual, intellectual and emotional heights. May they always be able to count on us for the things that matter most of all.
I ask God to bless my hands that are folded in prayer for them today. May my hands ever be strong as they guide, and never ever be too far for a child to reach.
Thank you for the richness of your friendship, your loyalty and your prayers that have nourished my spirit all these years, and have encouraged me to grow and to become capable of what I am being. Thank you also for allowing me to share my innermost thoughts with you. Some of the happiest moments my heart has known are when I have heard from you.
March 2010 reflections
3000 families live in Peera Garhi slum in houses made of cardboard and discarded material. 6-8 persons share the only room they have. Thousands of people go to public toilets piled high with rotten faeces. Little children with bulging eyes, sunken cheeks and protruding ribs are a common sight. They are hungry and ill most of the time, many dying young. Parents cannot afford to buy enough food. They are at the mercy of employers who pay them appallingly low wages for dangerous work.
Stories of husbands beating their wives mercilessly, often in a drunken state, abound. The women look pale and tired of life. The residents are terrorised by the slum lord against whom they dared not raise their voices. He looks fearful, formidable and powerful. They live in constant dread of the bulldozers that can arrive at any time to turn their homes into rubble in an instant.
When we read stories like these, we can experience a dreamlike separation from reality. For those of us living in a relatively affluent and orderly society, the act of remembering the injustice and abuse in the world is not an easy one. We pass most of our days with our families in the gentle shade of a very fair garden. We have our problems and stresses, but on most days, if we are not indulging in our own self pity, the world we see seems cheerful indeed.
To make a difference in such a brutally unjust world can seem overwhelming. Our spirits are crippled by the sheer weight of the world’s injustice. But will the cries of the oppressed then arc out from the earth only to be lost in a dark, endless void that neither hears nor speaks?
The battle against oppression stands or falls on the battlefield of hope. No one knows this better than the oppressors. They know full well that their pre eminence depends on most people in their community, their nation and their world doing nothing. They also know that the primary reason we do nothing is because we have lost any hope of making a difference. Our lack of hope keeps us from the front lines of engagement. By sheer inertia, therefore, we lend our own weight to the downward cycle of despair.
The injustice and oppression in the world is powerful, relentless and pervasive, but as men and women of courage, we are not powerless to rescue those pulled under by its force. We can change things. Rank upon rank of people show us how they took sides – for life against death, for justice against oppression. And even as we remember this, we can lift our eyes to the horizon and ask – what great work of justice might be performed through our lives and in our time?
New Year’s reflections for 2010
My dear friends,
I have a dream for the New Year. That the poor will no longer live in the ugliness of squalor, alienation and disharmony, but that there will be more laughter, more joy, more peace, that there will be justice and goodness and compassion, caring and sharing.
I have a dream that not only can we all live as equals, but as brothers and sisters belonging to one family, cherishing one another and seeking the greater good of the other. That we no longer look at each other as rich or poor, but are able to see the real, true identity of each of us, and recognize our common humanity. Our destinies are bound up in one another’s and we can be human only together. When the poor are oppressed, we are diminished. When the poor are humiliated, we too are diminished. Our humanity is dependent on recognizing the humanity in others. If we dehumanize the poor, inflicting upon them harm and suffering, we get dehumanized more in the process. We lose our sensitivity, our empathy for the suffering of others, and eventually a share of our own humanity. We become more uncaring, less compassionate, and therefore less human.
The poor are as much creatures of infinite worth and dignity as the rich. Our intrinsic worth as human beings does not depend on our achievements, our wealth, our gender, our caste or our colour. We tend to treat the poor, the weak, the unemployed with disdain because we burn incense at the altar of the gods of success and power and look down upon human frailty. And the poor then begin to wonder whether they might not perhaps be somehow as the rest of the world defines them. They begin to believe that they are creatures of a lesser God, with far less value and worth than the rest, and that is one of the most tragic consequences of injustice and prejudice.
Every poor child is precious, every poor person is fully human, and without qualification, a child of God. God has no stepchildren. Let us see the poor through the eyes of God, and see their luminosity as His divine light shines through them.
Let us attempt to live lives of nobility and heroism, and have the faith and fortitude that can bring about momentous achievements. Let us remember that there can be no neutrality in a situation of injustice and oppression. If we say we are neutral, we have already taken sides with the powerful. Let us be those who speak up on behalf of the marginalized ones, those who are pushed to the edges of society, those who are faceless, voiceless. Let us work towards a new order, a new society, where human life is not just respected but revered.
Reflections on leadership – October 2009
I am realising that the older I get, the less I know about visionary leadership. Therefore, the older I get, the more I must listen and learn. The dimensions of my task are huge and multifaceted, full of complexity and contradiction. But then being in turmoil seems to be a part of visionary leadership. There is no smooth and easy terrain to walk on.
I am learning that talent and skill are important, but more important than that is authenticity, solidity, character and personal substance; the way we love, and how we serve.
I have a remarkable team, the members of which are marked out by their compassion, resolution and courage. I realise more than ever that I must be attentive to their nature and gifting. I must understand their needs, individual aspirations, weaknesses, vulnerabilities and motivations. Their values and perceptions will be shaped by the true intention behind my words, by the soundness of my heart and the accurate centering of my soul, and not through management techniques. They are precious people, and I long to see them grow in all the best dimensions of their lives.
My belief and my experience is that leaders are in great need of friends and mentors, people who will be able to show us how to cope with the many complex realities we face. Some one has said that one good and able mentor is worth more than a hundred consultants and a thousand motivational seminars.
I am particularly vulnerable because of the turmoil of my own upbringing. I often experience loneliness and fear right in the middle of such a vibrant and meaningful mission. I need friends and mentors who will renew me and be with me in times of pressure, change, shifting alliances and intensive tasks.
I have also learnt that disappointment and betrayal are part of the leadership reality, and I must embrace this with all the attending pain. So is resolved and unresolved conflict. But I must still go on doing what I know I must do. Also, moving forward does not necessarily mean moving fast, as most leaders feel compelled to do. Often the way forward is to stand still. Effective progress is not always related to rapid pace.
Most importantly, my times of retreat and reflection to gain strength and wisdom from God, and to be renewed and refreshed by Him, help me to receive boundless energy for my task. My prayer is that I will always have the loyalty of your friendship as I seek to nourish the land I touch, the land of the poor living in Delhi’s slums.
9th June, 2009 – Birthday reflections
As I turn 50 today, I wish to express my deepest gratitude to you for your friendship that as brought such great joy to my life and the lives of thousands of children, women and men in Asha’s slums, as we have all held hands and walked together on this journey.
My favourite verse in the Bible is found in 1 Corinthians 13:3 – ‘ If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body to be burned, but do not have love, I gain nothing.’
Little children would come and sit on my lap after a long, hard day of work, picking up rags from garbage, or working in roadside shacks, dirty, hungry and yearning for intimacy. Isn’t it wonderful that today they are 18, and getting ready to go to university?
I have come to realise that the embrace of true love is so powerful that even the ravages of poverty cannot break it. It is in the safe haven of love that these children feel most secure. It’s amazing how love can give them a boundless energy despite so much adversity. They are not disheartened, they do not lose faith and hope. Their souls are nourished, and they are rescued from the destructive emotions of hostility, bitterness and despair. I pray that I can always love them very deeply and treat them with great tenderness, and be fully reliable and worthy of their deepest trust, no matter how much hardship and heartache enters their lives.
There is so much freedom in a life of love. It is freedom from the prison of self that eventually leaves us isolated, unfulfilled, and even ill. We can feel empty and unhappy, and for years, we may give the proud appearance of fulfillment and prosperity. I have also come to learn that love, with all its warmth, compassion and emotional depth, casts out negative emotions, which need to be driven away because they don’t leave easily on their own. Long term negative emotional states destroy happiness and health. We can transform through love the vengefulness and callousness that threaten to ovewhelm our capacity for forgiveness and compassion. They can rule for a while, but they never win the day.
Isn’t it magnificent that we can do good even though the people with whom we interact may be unkind or small minded? Love triumphs anyway. If we are concerned about whether people will love us back, it is bound to lead to frustration. Let us just love, and the rest will take care of itself.
May we always count the poor among God’s blessed, and may our love for them be enduring, expansive and filled with great tenderness.
Christmas Reflections 2008
As I write this letter in the shadow of the terrorist attack on Mumbai on 26/11, I feel a great sense of sympathy for the families who lost loved ones. The lone terrorist, Kasab, who was captured, confessed that he came from a poor family and never knew the meaning of the word “love”. He ran away from home and joined a terrorist organization that gave him a sense of belonging, a sense of identity and a sense of purpose, and seemed to him to fulfil his deepest cravings. How many terrible problems in relations between nations, classes and races in today’s world arise from the sad deficiency of love! Are we not obliged to be concerned with the greatest need of our brothers and sisters, the need for love?
My dear friends, as Christmas approaches, I’d like to suggest that charity is not merely gentleness, kindness and affability. It is not enough to be charitable to our immediate neighbours, our family and friends, who share the same advantages and comforts as we do. Those who most need our love are the ones who are unfortunate, who suffer, who are poor, destitute, or who have nothing in this world and who therefore have a claim upon everyone else who has more than he himself strictly needs. True love is not satisfying an inner need to “do good”, a moral luxury that gives us merit in God’s sight. True love implies a deep concern for the needs of others. We are worthy human beings only when we give of our time, our possessions and our concern in order to help those less fortunate than ourselves. The sacrifice must be real, not just a gesture of lordly paternation that inflates our own ego while patronizing the poor. The sharing of material goods must also be a sharing of the heart, a recognition of and identification with the misery and poverty of the unfortunate, the underprivileged, the dispossessed.
Token acts of mercy and symbolic acts expressing goodwill have no real effect in helping the poor; all they do is to tacitly condone injustice and help to keep people poor. In fact, we implicitly cooperate with evils that prolong or intensify suffering and poverty when we stay silent. Our deep concern for social injustice must lead us to perform actions that participate in radically transforming the lives of the poor, so that the injustices and indignities they suffer will not have the last word.
Christ taught that we must all love one another as our own selves. To love another as oneself means to treat him as oneself, to desire for him everything that one desires for oneself; a relationship with God, a loving family, a safe, secure and comfortable home, good health, a good education, opportunities for dignified work, a desire for friendship, a need for human affection, recreation, rest and sleep – all that God has destined for every one of His creatures that He has made in His image.
October 2008 – reflections
When I began my work 20 years ago in August 1988 in Dr Ambedkar slum with a broken table and a chair, little did I imagine that the seemingly impossible would happen. That children who were once skinny, naked, barefoot and playing on dirty garbage strewn streets, would one day go to university. I would often tell these children as they were growing up, that they were not worthless, useless and unwanted, as they had been led to believe, but that they were God?s wonderful creation, bright and intelligent and deserving of the very best. And just imagine, today 30 slum children are studying honours courses in top colleges of the University of Delhi. We are on the brink of an educational revolution in the slums!
It is my belief that it is not enough to have dreams, but it is necessary to successfully articulate them. We can seek to overthrow the status quo, and work together towards a new world order that advances not with violence or bloodshed, hatred or revenge, but with inclusion, reconciliation and through a complete refusal to respect racial, class, caste, ethnic or economic barriers. In treating everyone with equality and respect, we show our primal kinship with all people.
This kind of revolution that God desires seems laughable to some, and for them it?s hard to imagine anything more unrealistic. On the other hand, what other kind of revolution could possibly change the world? Perhaps what’s crazy is what we are doing and pursuing instead, thinking, after all these millennia, that hate can conquer hate, war cure war, pride overcome pride, violence end violence, revenge stop revenge, and exclusion create cohesion? Let us think long and deeply about the meaning and message of this revolution, and be willing to sacrifice our time, our intelligence, our money and our energy to be a part of it. Each day can then be a beautiful page in the book of our lives.
I invite you to be a part of the process of restoring these lovely children from the degradation and humiliation they have faced through generations. I need your help to make that happen through your generous contributions and your prayers.
Thank you all for your support.