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By The Bivouac’s Fitful Flame


When the Civil War broke out in the April of 1861, Walt Whitman was staying in New York and Brooklyn, writing some extended newspaper pieces about the history of Brooklyn for the Brooklyn Daily Standard. He began visiting wounded soldiers, who were moved to New York hospitals. Later he went to Washington, D.C., where he spent countless long nights in the poorly ventilated wards nursing thousands of injured soldiers, both Union and Confederate, in the makeshift hospitals.

Based on his experience of a real battle that Walt Whitman wrote his powerful Civil War poems. Following is one of those Civil war poems that he wrote when he was at one of the army camps.

By The Bivouac’s Fitful Flame

By the bivouac’s fitful flame,
A Procession winding around me, solemn and sweet and
slow – but first I note,
The tents of the sleeping army, the fields’ and woods’ dim outline,
The darkness lit by spots of kindled fire, the silence,
Like a phantom far or near an occasional figure moving,
The shrubs and trees, (as I lift my eyes they seem to be
stealthily watching me,)
While wind in procession thoughts, O tender and wondrous
Of life and death, of home and the past and loved, and of
those that are far away;
A solemn and slow procession there as I sit on the ground,
By the bivouac’s fitful flame.

In this poem the poet describes how one night when sitting in front of an army camp fire his mind calms down and becomes introspective. His thinking is slow, deliberate and reflective. He describes his thoughts as “A Procession winding around me”. During these quite moments Whiteman reflects on life and death, of home and loved ones. He found this experience “solemn and sweet”. It was the surroundings, the poet found himself in, that invoked this sublime experience.

Whitman also wants the reader to participate in this meditative experience he was having. So he deliberately gives details of the scene around him in the following lines:

“The tents of the sleeping army, the fields’ and woods’ dim outline,
The darkness lit by spots of kindled fire, the silence,
Like a phantom far or near an occasional figure moving,
The shrubs and trees, (as I lift my eyes they seem to be
stealthily watching me,)”

On reading the above lines and visualizing the scene ones’ own thinking slows down and one does get a certain measure of the experience the poet is having just like when a teacher of meditation leads you into a quiet, sublime meditation.

In an age where the media through its trends almost prevents one from thinking as individuals, it is these poems that help us to step out of this mass culture and, quoting Edward Hirsch, “put us in touch with ourselves”. Indeed, in this poem of Walt Whitman there is luminosity in his thinking and inspiration in his writing.



Inner peace and Facebook likes

When I was at university 1994-97, none of my friends had a mobile phone or internet access. If you wanted to meet up with a friend, you would walk down to the other end of the corridor and knock on their door. I have to admit it was sometimes a little inconvenient, you could knock on their door, and no-one was there; but I seem to remember we had a good time!

From a spiritual perspective, how does social media and browsing of the internet influence our meditation and spiritual practise? Is it a harmless side-show or does it make it harder to achieve real peace of mind?

Like anything it can depend on how we use it, and also the inclinations of the user. A disciplined use of a work account a few times a week – is very different to those who find themselves spending hours everyday.

The influence of modern technology is definitely an interesting challenge for modern seekers. I now make a living from an economics website and regularly use email. However I constantly find myself (most weeks!) making New Year’s Resolutions to try and limit the time I waste on the internet. I don’t think I’m the only one in this boat either. Continue Reading →


Nivedita – Swami Vivekananda’s most rebellious disciple

The first time Nivedita met Swami Vivekananda was in London in 1895. It was an informal gathering at a private house in a west-end drawing room on a cold Sunday afternoon in November. The Swami was seated, facing a half circle of listeners. Nivedita describes the scene thus: “we were but fifteen or sixteen guests, intimate friends, many of us, and he sat amongst us, in his crimson robe and girdle, as one bringing us news from a far land, with a curious habit of saying now and again “Shiva ! Shiva !” and wearing that look of mingled gentleness and loftiness, that one sees on the faces of those who live much in meditation, that look, perhaps, that Raphael has painted for us, on the brow of the Sistine Child.” (1)

After the meeting most of the guests including Nivedita concluded that what they heard was nothing new. All these things had been said before. Later on Nivedita could not help revising her opinion. She said, “For my own part, however, as I went about the tasks of that week, it dawned on me slowly that it was not only ungenerous, it was also unjust, to dismiss in such fashion the message of a new mind and a strange culture. It occurred to me that though each separate dictum might find its echo or its fellow amongst things already heard or already thought, yet it had never before fallen to my lot to meet with a thinker who in one short hour had been able to express all that I had hitherto regarded as highest and best.” (2) From then on she took every opportunity that came her way, to listen to Vivekananda lecture whenever he was in London.

Even after listening to whole seasons lectures, Nivedita was awed and touched by the beauty of Swami Vivekananda’s thought but “could pass no judgment upon it, much less accept it”. Often she found what Vivekananda said was beyond her comprehension. She said, “…his system (of thought) as a whole, I, for one, viewed with suspicion, as forming only another of those theologies which if a man should begin by accepting, he would surely end by transcending and rejecting. And one shrinks from the pain and humiliation of spirit that such experiences involve.”(3) Yet, by the time Swami Vivekananda left England, she addressed him as “master”. She justified this by saying, “I had recognised the heroic fibre of the man, and desired to make myself the servant of his love for his own people. But it was his character to which I had thus done obeisance. As a religious teacher, I saw that although he had a system of thought to offer, nothing in that system would claim him for a moment, if he found that truth led elsewhere. And to the extent that this recognition implies, I became his disciple. For the rest, I studied his teaching sufficiently to become convinced of its coherence, but never, till I had had experiences that authenticated them, did I inwardly cast in my lot with the final justification of the things he came to say.”(4)

Nivedita came to India in January of 1898. A few weeks later a small group of Swami Vivekananda’s disciples from America arrived. Nivedita and this group of western disciples together began “the study of India, and something also of the home aspects and relationships of the Swami’s own life”. Then in the summer of 1898 Swami Vivekananda took them, along with a few of his Indian brother disciples, on a tour of northern India.

Up until this time Nivedita was skeptical of Swami Vivekananda’s philosophy even though she had accepted him as her “master”. She said, “My relation to our Master at this time can only be described as one of clash and conflict. I can see now how much there was to learn, and how short was the time for learning to be, and the first of lessons doubtless is the destroying of self-sufficiency in the mind of the taught.” (5) So, it was on this trip that Swami Vivekananda’s training began of “his most rebellious disciple”. He constantly rebuked her and attacked her thinking and line of reasoning which were her most cherished possessions. She said, “Suffering is often illogical, and I cannot attempt to justify by reason the degree of unhappiness which I experienced at this time, as I saw the dream of a friendly and beloved leader falling away from me, and the picture of one who would be at least indifferent, and possibly, silently hostile, substituting itself instead.” (6) Even though she was not prepared for this kind of treatment yet she did not retract her own proffered service to the master.

The master’s training of the disciple continued and it seemed there was no end to Nivedita’s suffering. Finally one of the older ladies of the party, feeling that “such intensity of pain inflicted might easily go too far”, interceded with the Swami. Vivekananda silently listened and went away. He returned in the evening and told the old lady, it seems with the simplicity of a child, “You were right. There must be a change. I am going away into the forests to be alone, and when I come back I shall bring peace.” Then as he turned and saw the new moon in the sky he said, “See! the Mohammedans think much of the new moon. Let us also with the new moon begin a new life !” By this time Swami Vivekananda’s “most rebellious disciple” – Nivedita was kneeling before him. He lifted his hand and blessed her as she put it “with silent depths of blessing”. Later recollecting this incident Nivedita writes, “It was assuredly a moment of wonderful sweetness of reconciliation. But such a moment may heal a wound. It cannot restore an illusion that has been broken into fragments. And I have told its story, only that I may touch upon its sequel.. Long, long ago, Sri Ramakrishna had told his disciples that the day would come when his beloved “Noren” (Swami Vivekananda’s pre-monastic name) would manifest his own great gift of bestowing knowledge with a touch. That evening at Almora (a city in northern India where they were camping during that time), I proved the truth of his prophecy. For alone, in meditation, I found myself gazing deep into an Infinite Good, to the recognition of which no egoistic reasoning had led me. I learnt, too, on the physical plane, the simple everyday reality of the experience related in the Hindu books on religious psychology. And I understood, for the first time, that the greatest teachers may destroy in us a personal relation only in order to bestow the Impersonal Vision in its place.” (7)


1) The Master as I saw him, Pg. 6, Nivedita, Longman’s, Green and Co., London, 1910.
2) The Master as I saw him, Pg. 13, Nivedita, Longman’s, Green and Co., London, 1910.
3) The Master as I saw him, Pg. 15, Nivedita, Longman’s, Green and Co., London, 1910.
4) The Master as I saw him, Pg. 16, Nivedita, Longman’s, Green and Co., London, 1910.
5) The Master as I saw him, Pg. 136, Nivedita, Longman’s, Green and Co., London, 1910.
6) The Master as I saw him, Pg. 137, Nivedita, Longman’s, Green and Co., London, 1910.
7) The Master as I saw him, Pg. 139, Nivedita, Longman’s, Green and Co., London, 1910.

“Vivekananda came into the world in an age seething with rank materialism. Spiritual values were at a discount. He held the mighty torch of spirituality high. Exceptional was his clarion call to lead the life of the Spirit. The soul-stirring message of Sri Ramakrishna was embodied in him, in this lion amongst men. And as regards the message of India to the world, “Remember,” declares Vivekananda, “not the Soul for Nature, but Nature for the Soul.””~ Sri Chinmoy

Choosing peace over conflict


This is a thought-provoking aphorism on peace [Source] . What can we learn from it?

Peace is the most valuable quality

Without peace, all the material objects in the world will not give joy. It is peace which will make us inwardly rich, yet peace is often the thing the world lacks most.

“This world has everything
Save and except one thing,
And this peace has to blossom
From within.”

– Sri Chinmoy [2]

Don’t wait for tomorrow

If something is good to do, now is the best time. If we have a bad habit, now is the best time to break it. Sometimes, we can feel ‘maybe when I am an old man and retired, I will then have the time to give up bad habits and meditate on peace.’ But, if we keep delaying, we may surrender completely to the bad habit and wrong way of living. By the time we are old, we are stuck with our bad habits. If we can see a new approach to life which will bring more peace of mind and happiness, we should choose this path straight away – whilst we still have the enthusiasm and aspiration. To meditate on peace requires determination and sincerity, the sooner we start the better.

How to buy peace?

We can’t buy peace with money. We can only buy peace with our own inner attitude. For example, sometimes we have to give up our pride in order to gain peace in return. If pride comes to the fore, it makes us unwilling to change and we can persist in a wrong course of action. But if we lose the desire to be proved right, then we can gain inner peace. If we live in a state of desire and expectation, we will not experience peace because some desires will always remain unfulfilled and we will feel frustration. This is the price for attaining peace – giving up our desire and pride.

Escalation of conflict or choosing peace

In life we come across situations where we have a choice how to respond. One choice is to respond to an initial confrontation with escalating the conflict. If we have hurt feelings, the response of the mind and vital is invariably to retaliate. If we feel hurt, we subconsciously want to project this back onto others. But, this tit for tat attitude will make peace more distant and harder to achieve.

The other response is to invoke the heart and the quality of peace. Rather than retaliating, the heart can be sympathetic to the struggles of others, and we seek to be the one to let go of the unfortunate situation. This magnanimous attitude is often the best way of bringing the good qualities of others to the fore. If someone else is full of anger, we won’t diminish their anger by getting angry in response. But, if we remain calm and peaceful, they will respond in a better way. Through forgiveness and maintaining our inner peace, their conscience will come to the fore and secretly they will be inspired by our calm attitude.

No price is too great to pay for inner peace.

“No price is too great to pay for inner peace. Peace is the harmonious control of life. It is vibrant with life-energy. It is a power that easily transcends all our worldly knowledge.”

– Sri Chinmoy [3]

Choosing inner peace does not mean sacrificing principles and truth. It means we reject the negative emotions of jealousy and pride, but invoke a real and meaningful quality of peace instead. It means whatever happens in the outer world, we hold onto our inner peace.

This inner peace is more than just intellectual understanding. We have to pray, meditate and serve to gain a real sense of peace. The peace that comes from the heart is a powerful reality that will convince the mind.


Quotes on peace

The secret of inner peace by Sri Chinmoy

We will prevail

On April 16, 2007, a student at Virginia Tech, had killed 32 of the university’s students and professors besides himself. The tragedy had plunged the academic community at the university into sorrow and grief. The entire nation was deeply moved by this tragedy. Amidst this morning rose a voice that was strong, powerful and defiant with a touch of rebellion. It was Nikki Giovanni. She was addressing the thousands who had gathered the next day at the memorial service for the shooting victims. She was asked by the president of the university to give a speech at the memorial service. As Nikki Giovanni is a professor at Virginia Tech, she was herself deeply affected by the tragedy. She found it very difficult to write a speech. Instead she composed a poem. In fact it was a poem chant. In her very opening lines she takes the tragedy head on and accepts the reality with courage to ‘stand tall tearlessly’ and with humility ‘bend to cry’. She said,

“We are Virginia Tech.
We are sad today, and we will be sad for quite a while.
We are not moving on, we are embracing our mourning.
We are Virginia Tech.
We are strong enough to stand tall tearlessly,
we are brave enough to bend to cry, and
we are sad enough to know that we must laugh again.
We are Virginia Tech…”

In the lines that follow she conveys the message to her listeners that even as the tragedy is very personal, yet they cannot afford to indulge in the pleasures of self-pity. And so she tries to connect to the tragedies suffered by other innocent people like them. She said,

“We do not understand this tragedy.
We know we did nothing to deserve it,
but neither does a child in Africa dying of AIDS,
neither do the invisible children walking the night away to avoid being captured by the rogue army,
neither does the baby elephant watching his community being devastated for ivory,
neither does the Mexican child looking for fresh water…”

In these very powerful lines the poet by embracing the sorrow of others, transcends from the personal to the universal. Even as they grieved, by reaching out to the sorrow of others, Giovanni tapped into the fundamental goodness of humanity that resides deep within every human heart. Some of her closing lines are as follows,

“…We are strong, and brave, and innocent, and unafraid.
We are better than we think and not quite what we want to be.
We are alive to the imaginations and the possibilities.
We will continue to invent the future through our blood and tears and through all our sadness…
…We will prevail…”

Many speakers spoke before her including the president of United States. But it was the lone voice of Nikki Giovanni that not only raised the spirits of the students and teachers at Virginia Tech, but also the entire nation. It is these rare voices like Nikki Giovanni who help us rise above hatred and intolerance. They help us to accept the reality around us and embrace our fellow travellers, on our life’s journey, with sympathy and goodwill.

“Our philosophy is the acceptance of life for the transformation of life and also for the manifestation of God’s light here on earth, at God’s choice hour in God’s own way.” ~Sri Chinmoy

…The journey itself is home

In one of his travel diaries, Oku no Hosomichi, the 17th century Japanese Haiku poet Bashō most famously wrote, “A lifetime adrift in a boat or in old age leading a tired horse into the years, every day is a journey, and the journey itself is home.” Born in 1644, near Ueno, in Iga Province, about thirty miles southeast of Kyoto, Bashō’s first poem was published in 1662. Over the next decade his poems continued to be published in various anthologies. In the spring of 1672 he moved to Edo to further his study of poetry. He undertook arduous studies in Chinese and Japanese literature, philosophy, and history. His studies also included Buddhism, Taoism, Confucianism and Shintoism. By 1680 he made a name for himself as a poet and taught poetry to quite a few students. Basho is considered one of the most learned poets of his time. In spite of his success as a poet, Bashō was lonely and dissatisfied. From 1682 Basho started undertaking long journeys on foot. On each journey he maintained a dairy which turned out to be a new poetic form he created called haibun. In haibun, Basho combined haiku and prose to trace his journey. This combination of prose and poetry was rich in two kinds of images: the external images observed on the journey and the internal images that these outer images invoked in the mind of the poet. Starting from 1684 Basho composed several such travel diaries that included Nozarashi Kiko, or Travelogue of Weather-Beaten Bones (1685); Oi no Kobumi, or The Knapsack Notebook (1688); and Sarashina Kiko, or Sarashina Travelogue (1688).

It was his last travel diary, Oku no Hosomichi, or The Narrow Road to the Deep North, that turned out to be his best and most famous piece of literary work. Basho composed this poetic travel journal on the last long foot journey that he undertook to the northern provinces of Honshu, covering 1,200 miles in over five months. He started his journey in the beginning of May 1689 and was accompanied by his student Kawai Sora. Their goal was to visit Oku that lay north of Sendai by following a narrow path that passed through the Sirakawa barrier, over the mountains. Both of them headed north to Hiraizumi, which they reached in one and half months. They then walked to the western side of the island, touring Kisakata and began hiking back along the coastline returning to Edo in late 1691.

When Basho was about to start on his journey many friends come to see him off. He describes this touching scene by putting into words an internal image that passes through his mind, “I felt three thousand miles rushing through my heart, the whole world only a dream. I saw it through farewell tears.” (1) Then he goes on to pen the following haiku:

Spring passes
And the birds cry out-tears
In the eyes of fishes

In this haiku, Basho is trying to convey the depth of his sorrow at parting with his close friends. The sorrow was so great that even the birds were crying and he increases the intensity by saying there were even tears in the eyes of fishes.

Many of the places visited by them had a lot of cultural and spiritual history behind them. These were places that were described by other poets of the past and Basho refers to these poems in his writing. For instance when he reached a beach called Shiogama, it was evening. After the summer rain the sky was just clearing revealing a pale moon over Magaki Island. This beautiful twilight scene reminded Basho of a line from Kokinshu’s poem, “fishing boats pulling together” and for the first time he understood what the poet meant.

Along the Michinoku
Everyplace is wonderful,
But in Shiogama
Fishing boats pulling together
Are most amazing of all.

On this journey into the deep north, often his mind soared into the rich depths of the Japanese history, culture and Zen philosophy. From those aesthetic heights, Basho came out with insights that are golden nuggets of human thought. The form was in prose but on reading the aftertaste is sheer poetry. When visiting a shrine at dawn, he gives the following description, “huge, stately pillars, bright painted rafters, and a long stone walkway rising steeply under a morning sun that danced and flashed along the red lacquered fence. I thought, “As long as the road is, even if it ends in dust, the gods come with us, keeping a watchful eye. This is our culture’s greatest gift.” (2). For a moment it is worth pondering on Basho’s insight. This shrine was five centuries old at the time of Basho. It seems what Basho is trying to tell us is that far into the future, maybe hundreds of years later, if a devout pilgrim visits this shrine and even if the shrine is in complete ruins, the pilgrim will receive the blessings of the gods he has come to pay homage to. The shrine which is something physical is time-bound (i.e.bound to decay with time) but its essence “the blessings of the gods” is timeless, eternal.

During their journey, Basho and his companion decided to spend a night at a place called Iizuka in a country inn. As it was a country inn the facilities were less than basic. After they had gone to bed, there was a heavy rain storm. Basho writes, “Suddenly a thunderous downpour and leaky roof aroused us, fleas and mosquitoes everywhere. Old infirmities tortured me through the long, sleepless night.”(3) At another time when for days and days they had to walk through rain and heat Basho wrote, “Through nine hellish days of heat and rain, all my old maladies tormenting me again, feverish and weak, I could not write.”(4) Sometimes for days they also had to walk through marsh land. These and other descriptions give one the impression that the journey was arduous and physically very difficult as Basho was of a delicate constitution and suffered from several chronic diseases. Also travelling by foot in seventeenth-century medieval Japan was immensely dangerous and hazardous. Yet Basho was willing to risk his life for the rich experience of his journey. In fact he considered it a pilgrimage.

By the time Basho composed his last diary, The Narrow Road to the Deep North, he had matured as a poet. The Narrow Road to the Deep North was the climax in his literary career. Using his close interaction with nature as a tool, Basho was always trying to be in resonance with something within him that was impersonal, deep and meaningful. Once when he was passing through a remote forest area where a few hermits lived in thatched huts under pine trees, Basho wrote, “Smoke of burning leaves and pine cones drew me on, touching something deep inside.” (5) Sri Chinmoy said, “Art in the most effective sense of the term is a sublime truth that draws our soul from within towards the infinite vast.” Through his poetry, Basho tried to achieve this artistic excellence. His poetry was based on the Zen concept that one attains perfect spiritual serenity by immersing oneself in the egoless, impersonal life of nature. The complete absorption of one’s petty ego into the vast, powerful, magnificent universe. Hamill writes, “When he (Basho) invokes the call of a cuckoo, invokes its lonely cry. Things are as they are. Insight permits him to perceive a natural poignancy in the beauty of temporal things – mono_no_aware – and cultivate its expression into great art.”(pg. xiv)


1. Narrow Road to the Interior, Basho, trans, Sam Hamill, Shambhala, Pg. 4
2. Narrow Road to the Interior, Basho, trans, Sam Hamill, Shambhala, Pg. 16
3. Narrow Road to the Interior, Basho, trans, Sam Hamill, Shambhala, Pg. 12
4. Narrow Road to the Interior, Basho, trans, Sam Hamill, Shambhala, Pg. 28
5. Narrow Road to the Interior, Basho, trans, Sam Hamill, Shambhala, Pg. 17
6. Narrow Road to the Interior, Basho, trans, Sam Hamill, Shambhala, Pg. xiv

The meaning of non-violence (ahimsa)

In the 1970s, my spiritual Teacher Sri Chinmoy met with Mohammad Ali. On one occasion the two meditated together. Although they outwardly had very different occupations (spiritual teacher vs boxer), there was a connection of spirit. After this meeting, Sri Chinmoy wanted to watch a boxing match in which Mohammad Ali was in. A student of Sri Chinmoy’s was a little surprised that Sri Chinmoy would watch the boxing because, according to his understanding boxing was seemingly quite un-spiritual.

Sri Chinmoy replied in a perhaps unexpected way. He said words to the effect that although yes, there was a lot of physical violence in a boxing match, there was often much more fighting on the inner plane between two people who were in inner conflict. The physical world is one reality, but the inner world of the mind and vital is also just as real. If we harbour very strong negative thoughts about somebody, it can be very damaging in an inner way. We may not always be aware – but this inner conflict can be like getting punched on the inner level, and eventually can manifest in different ways.

Non-violence – a timeless spiritual ideal.

Sri Chinmoy writes in The Vedas: Immortality’s First Call, Agni Press, 1972:

“The Vedic commandment for the human vital is ahimsa. Ahimsa means non-violence — non-violence in the vital and non-violence of the vital. It is from non-violence that man gets his greatest opportunity to feel that he does not belong to a small family, but to the largest family of all: the universe.”

However, non-violence isn’t just about restraining from physical violence, but also, just as important, is non-violence in our thought, motive and deed. We may assume we are being non-violent, but sometimes we have to check our thoughts and inner will to see our real attitude to other people – including our friends and family.

From a strict point of view, every time we powerfully hold a negative thought about somebody that thought can adversely affect them. If our will is strong and determined, it can cause significant suffering. If the thought is fleeting and not serious, it may have much less effect; though even from small thoughts, the idea can grow stronger and bigger.

Real non-violence means we have to constantly try to offer good will and seek the best outcome for others. We have to make sure we are not indirectly offering ill will – through the form of jealousy, envy, frustration or pride. Non-violence means we need to cultivate our own inner peace. Continue Reading →

How to avoid negativity

One of our great challenges in life is to avoid negativity – a negative attitude to ourselves and others. It is easy to become suspicious, critical, depressed, fearful, but, despite the prevailing attitudes of the world, there is no inevitability that we have to become a grumpy old man. It is quite possible to see the beautiful in the ordinary and bring to the fore the better side of human nature. If we avoid negativity we will see definitely see the positive in life, and enjoy life much more.


Understand why we can cherish negativity

Sometimes we have a tendency to negativity, without fully realising it. This can occur if:

  • We want to appear clever. Sometimes we criticise or find fault because we sub-consciously want to display our greater knowledge. If we look hard enough we can always find some minor blemish on a flower. If we think hard enough, we can always think of some reason to be suspicious or critical. It is not necessarily bad to think deeply, but there are times when we can over-think and over-intellectualise issues and use our knowledge to try and prove our superiority. Sometimes negativity can occur because we wish to feel we have secret knowledge other people don’t know.
  • Low self-esteem. If we feel bad about ourself, we tend to be more critical of other people. This is because we start to see the same faults in others. Also, we may criticise others to try and improve our self-esteem.
  • Habit. Negativity can become a habit. Always expecting the worse; the problem is that if negativity is a habit it can become self-fulfilling. Other people are put off by our negativity. Our negativity brings out the worse in others.

If these are some reasons we may cherish negativity, these are some things we can do to overcome negativity.

Criticise not

Criticising others is a very pervasive bad habit we all have. Sometimes we can actually go out of our way to look for the failings and faults of others. It is as if we are blind to their good qualities but their mistakes stand out in our mind. Even worse we can often imagine faults that others might have. This is the height of stupidity, but the nature of the mind can easily turn to negativity and we have to be on guard.

It is a great exercise to try and think about the good aspects of people whom you frequently criticise. The important thing is that criticising others has an unmistakeable impact on ourselves. If we are permanently finding fault with the world it affects our self.

To deliberately criticise
Another individual
May cause an indelible stain
On the critic.

– Sri Chinmoy

The world will not collapse if we halt our self styled criticism. If we look to encourage and praise the good aspects of others, we will bring these qualities to the fore in ourself.

Choosing consciously

All the time we are faced with choices. Do I see the negative or the positive? Somebody at work might pass a thoughtless and disparaging comment. Our instinctive reaction may be to nurse a sense of grievance and think of many equally unpleasant things to say about the person in return. However, another way to look at this situation would be to think. They are unfortunately wrong, perhaps they are feeling insecure and so try to unfairly put others down. In the past there may have been times when I may have done something like that. I will make an effort to be kind to that person as this will be the best way to show they were mistaken and also to help them overcome their depressed state of mind.

The first response invites a tit for tat response which will encourage negativity. The second response is dignified and requires nobility of character. But, we lose nothing by avoiding negativity – we gain a tremendous amount. The point is we always have a choice about how we respond to situations; avoiding the negative and unpleasant just takes a conscious decision.


It is vital to cultivate a sense of self-worth and self-respect. If we do not have faith in ourselves how can we have faith in anyone else? Self-belief should not be equated with arrogance or pride. We are seeking to cultivate a sense of self respect so we are at peace with ourselves. We are often our worst critic, sometimes we ignore genuine faults but worry excessively over minor issues that aren’t really faults. We need to learn from our mistakes and be honest with our weaknesses but it should not be at a cost of putting ourselves down. If we make a mistake learn to let go, don’t keep the negative memory at the forefront of your mind. If we can have a good feeling about ourselves it will be very easy to have a good feeling about others and the rest of the world.

Service and dynamism

Idleness is the worst cultivator of negativity. If we sit mopping aimlessly around we will inevitable become bored and negative. Life will seem no fun. The easiest way to change our mindset is to become meaningfully busy. If we really want to serve others there will always be some way that we can find. If we are really busy we will not have time to criticise the world. If we don’t have work to do, we can also just take physical exercise. This is also an excellent way of shaking off the cobwebs of our mind.


The nature of the human mind is that it consciously or unconsciously absorbs the vibrations from around us. If we spend time with negative people, watching 24 hour news, then we will be more prone to negativity ourselves. We have to choose our work, leisure time carefully. Don’t spend too much time in the company of those who cherish negativity and always want to share it with you. When we do spend time with negative people we need to be on our guard that we don’t share their world view.

Be young at heart.

I have already made two references to ‘grumpy old men’ this is not an ageist remark. You can be a grumpy old man when you are 20. You can be 80 years old but remain young at heart. Age is very much something of a mental attitude. We want to cultivate a childlike attitude which takes joy from small, simple, beautiful things. We want to avoid a great sophistication and mental dissection of everything. If we over analyse life we are living in the mind and unable to live in the heart.

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