Tuesday, June 30, 2020

A Focused Project for July

The Daily Prism will be empty of new posts through July 2020. I'm focusing on finishing a book project, some of which I've used in this blog.  

The book, "Connection with 48 Natural Contemplations," is a blend of eco-spirituality, memoir, science, and contemplations on nature. The work represents over a decade of research, study, and posting on this blog and others.

Presently the work is under review by specialists in the various fields of expertise found in this book.  

Much focused works remains to be done for this project which will be self-published.  

Meanwhile, here's a few thoughts from  "Connection with 48 Natural Contemplations:"

“Since the beginning, Native Peoples lived a life of being in harmony with all that surrounds us. It is a belief that all humankind are related to each other. Each has a purpose, spirit and sacredness. It is an understanding with the Great Spirit or Creator that we will follow these ways. And in this understanding we believe we are related to all other living species.” —Dennis Banks

“The forest is not a resource for us, it is life itself. It is the only place for us to live.” 
—Evaristo Nugkuag Ikanan

“What is man without the beasts? If all the beasts were gone, man would die from a great loneliness of the spirit. For whatever happens to the beasts, soon happens to man. All things are connected.”—Chief Seattle

We need nature, and nature now needs us. In fact, we need one another as humans. 

Can we do this? It’s a big job with forces diametrically opposed to the thoughts of Dennis Banks, Evaristo Nugkuag Ikanan and Chief Seattle, (and Princess Morning Star), not to mention the many persons whom I’ve quoted throughout this book. 

But like a newly planted seed that bursts open and pushes its way through the soil where it reaches for the sun and begins to grow leaves, limbs and eventually reaches its purpose in life, my hope is that we follow suit. First, however, we must understand our purpose in life. There are as many purposes as there are varieties of seeds. 

Monday, June 29, 2020

3 Practices to Developing Empathy & Kindness

“It’s been hard being an empathy scientist recently,”  Jamil Zaki, associate professor of psychology at Stanford University, and empathy researcher admits.

On one hand, he knows just how powerful empathy can be in our society: Empathic people tend to have stronger relationships, help others in need, and be less prejudiced.

At the same time, he sees so many people turning away from empathy in favor of blaming, dehumanizing, and ignoring the needs of others. That trend seems particularly pronounced given the intense political polarization and civil crisis around racism that are straining families and communities in the U.S.

...empathy and kindness aren’t things you have or you don’t, Zaki believes (and his research is finding). They are skills that take time and effort to develop.

The practice of empathy

Zaki’s research suggests that empathy isn’t a fixed trait but something we can build by putting ourselves in situations where we hear others’ thoughts and feelings, and then pay close attention. When someone is suffering, we can resist the urge we sometimes have to conclude that it’s not a big deal, they brought it upon themselves, or they deserve it.

“The message of my work and other people’s work in the field is not that empathy is easy or that it’s supposed to be easy, or that if you feel a moment of anger, even hatred, or disconnection that that makes you a bad person,” Zaki says.

Teaching kindness

...one practice asks students to “spend kindly,” giving their time or money to others rather than using it for themselves. 

... take in some art, music, or literature that can broaden their perspective on the world.

...learn to use technology in supportive ways, champion kind behavior in their groups and communities, and turn kindness inward toward their own struggles.

Hope for the future 

In today’s troubled times, Zaki still sees the beautiful side of human nature and believes good things will come if we do the work of trying to get to know each other better. Because of his research, he receives hundreds of emails from people who want to build a kinder world but feel hopeless and outnumbered—and every email brings him a little more hope.

“When you write about stuff like empathy, you hear from so many wonderful people who care about this,” he says. “I’m always like, ‘Can I put you all in a group chat? There’s a lot of you, you know.”

Editor's note: Zaki is the author of a new book, "The War for Kindness: Building Empathy in a Fractured World."   This post is an edited version of "It's Hard to Be an Empathy Scientist Today".

Friday, June 26, 2020

Birthing a New Spirit

A tablespoon of water plucked from the ocean that shows the
continual birthing of microscopic phytoplankton.

Birth is the starting point for all life forces. We also birth new ideas, new habits, and new points of view.  

A natural instinct to be a force for good is given to us at birth. 

Depending on how we nurture that natural instinct, it can either be the drop of water that becomes the ocean, or the drop of water that dries on the arid sand.

Birth is occurring at every moment in the sea. From the birthing of microscopic life forms, to the birthing of giant sea mammals, each birth signifies a new beginning and a unified effort toward maintaining the life-giving elements of the sea.

It’s a joyful moment to watch new life begin. We can take this joy and apply it to our heart, as we apply the oxygen from the sea to our breath. 

The contemplation
Today, I choose happiness, the kind of happiness that brings me to joyful tears. These tears will feed the ocean within me, and I will give birth to a new era of inner peace.

My newborn spirit glistens like the gossamer sea. I feel the oneness of this new inner life and wisdom, and I will carry it throughout this day.

--From "Connection with 48 Natural Contemplations," by Charmaine Coimbra.

Thursday, June 25, 2020

Ghandi Inspired Business Model Benefits Indigenous Families

Khadi Oaxaca’s farm-to-garment inventory spans the range from embroidered blouses to ponchos to pants and bags. Photo by Tracy L. Barnett.
Khadi Oaxaca’s farm-to-garment inventory spans the range from embroidered blouses to ponchos to pants and bags. Photo by Tracy L. Barnett.

High up in the southern sierra of Mexico’s state of Oaxaca, an innovative nonprofit business inspired by Mohandas Gandhi is helping Indigenous Zapotec families to weather the economic storm that COVID-19 has brought to the Mexican countryside.

San Sebastian Rio Hondo, a Zapotec highland village like many others, has traditionally supplemented its agrarian way of life through the wool industry. Long famous for its rich tradition of Indigenous handwoven textiles, Oaxaca has nevertheless fallen on hard times, along with most of rural Mexico, partly because of policies promoting urbanization and undermining the traditional rural way of life.

...This was the context that Eliseo “Cheo” Ramírez was born into. In his parents’ and grandparents’ time, villagers grazed sheep and helped cover expenses by making woolen textiles.

...Ramírez’ prospects for employment were so grim that he set off from home in 2006 at age 16 for the U.S., crossing the Sonoran Desert and nearly dying of thirst. The experience proved so traumatic that he never made the attempt again. Now 32, he has good reason to remain home: he’s the chief operating officer and head of sales and part of the core team of Khadi Oaxaca, a farm-to-garment nonprofit textile enterprise aiming to regenerate the village way of life in a sustainable way. He no longer harbors illusions of an American Dream; his dream nowadays is to help generate opportunities that keep more of his people at home with their families.

Khadi Oaxaca follows what is known as the Gandhian economic model in three ways: It focuses on producing gainful employment for many instead of big profits for a few; it strives to build local autonomy and resilience at the village level, building in a cash supplement that supports the traditional agrarian life; and it follows the Gandhian strategy of making clothing from scratch, with workers spinning their own thread from organically grown cotton. And now, with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic causing jobs to dry up everywhere, this handspun thread has become a lifeline for the local economy.

...Sales doubled at Khadi from 2018 to 2019, and that was without even concentrating on online sales. This has been possible... in part because people are willing to pay the actual cost to produce ethically and regeneratively fabricated products, and also because Khadi Oaxaca has been able to receive grants from private foundations in the U.S.

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Be "Gentle and Generous" with Yourself

These days, the drumbeat of bad news never seems to end. Current events remind us of some of our nation’s darkest moments...Unemployment rates rival those of the Great Depression, and supply-chain problems draw comparisons to World War II. The longer it lasts, the more this crisis feels life-altering.

"A moment like this, a pandemic moment, is a trauma moment," says Teresa Mateus a trauma specialist and co-founder of Trauma Response & Crisis Care for Movements, which offers training, online support groups, and one-on-one peer- support sessions that are geared to activists but open to everyone. Mateus says that during a crisis like this, it’s normal to feel sadness, anger, and grief, and those emotions make us feel vulnerable.

The key to getting through this tough time is to be "gentle and generous" with yourself. Here are some ways to do that.

First, Breathe

Pay attention to your breathing; it’s a regulatory system for our bodies. Often when people are in distress, they either forget to breathe enough or they hyperventilate, Mateus says. Something as simple as slowing down your breathing can signal your mind and emotions to slow down, too. Try the three-part breath used in yoga, which involves the belly, the ribs and lungs, and the chest. This simple exercise involves "fully expansive breaths that we feel through the whole center of our bodies," she says, to "decompress the stress that is building in our bodies on any given day."

Slow Down

Find an activity that helps you slow down physically. "Whether it’s listening to music that you enjoy, taking time to read a book that you’ve been working your way through, whether it’s writing in a journal and reflecting on what you’re feeling and experiencing, or walking your pet if you have one," Mateus says. The idea is to find something that helps you disconnect from the urgency of the moment.

Be Calm

Create pockets of calm and build rhythms into your day. Mateus suggests stopping to pay attention to the lunch you are eating or taking a break for a couple of hours in the middle of the day. Try not to succumb to the push to be productive all the time, she advises. Commit to a schedule, and close your laptop at a set time each day, for example.

Set Boundaries for Working at Home

"When you’re working from home, it can be very tempting to not set healthy work boundaries, but it’s really important that people set up a schedule for the day," says Darcy Gruttadaro, director of the Center for Workplace Mental Health at the American Psychiatric Association Foundation. "Set up your schedule in a way that everyone in your home is clear on what’s happening when," she says. Schedule breaks and designate blocks of "no screen time" to ensure you get a break from the news and social media.

Stay Connected

Connect regularly with people who are important to you. Most people have maybe four or five intimate friends, people who could really rescue them in a time of crisis, says Peter Yellowlees, a practicing psychiatrist and chief wellness officer at University of California–Davis Health. "My message to people is actually reach out to them more than normal." For example, he and his siblings are connecting by video during this period of isolation. "We’re having a weekly family call because we are spread around the world. So that’s a good thing that’s going to come out of this [isolation]. We will actually be closer."


Focus on one or two tasks you want to do well each day. There are so many external factors we can’t control these days and hundreds of things we may feel compelled to do, Mateus says. To avoid being overwhelmed by all the tasks that need attention and feeling a lack of control, identify one or two goals each day and focus on them.

For example, Mateus says, in her role as a nonprofit leader, when the Covid-19 crisis hit, she felt tempted to create new online programming for her community, such as meditation sessions, but she soon realized that other groups already have that covered. So she focused on long-term goals instead.

---Edited for space from Philanthropy Today

Tuesday, June 23, 2020

"How Can I Help?"

Have you been asking yourself, “How can I help?” 

This simple question of goodwill can easily turn into a cry of helplessness or despair as tragic events continue to unfold. You may be wondering: 
  • How can I right the wrongs of a deliberately unjust society? 
  • What actions can I take to create a nation where Black Americans feel safe and seen? 
  • How can I help fellow global citizens whose basic needs aren’t met because of the COVID-19 pandemic? 
  • How can I support health care workers whose personal protective equipment supplies continue to dwindle? 
  • How can I comfort fearful hospitalized patients who can’t have visitors?
These noble questions can overwhelm; taking concrete steps to help ease the suffering of others is a powerful way to lift yourself out of the pressure.

Concrete Steps You Can Take Now
The following are examples of steps you can take to help ease the suffering of others.
  • Offer financial donations to feed those who are hungry.
  • Demand that your city’s police department amend its force policies.
  • Provide phone chargers to COVID-19 patients hospitalized alone.
  • Take the time to give blood.
Sometimes you may feel paralyzed and unable to take action, and that is a normal reaction. You might feel that you are unable to bear the load of suffering that is dumped upon you week after week.

By practicing compassion cultivation meditation techniques, you can learn to stay present with the suffering you’re facing each day without getting overwhelmed. You can train your mind to express empathy for those outside of your normal circle of compassion and learn how to practice compassion for yourself.

---From the Chopra Center

Monday, June 22, 2020

7 Buddhist Ideas for Life Transformation

Here are the seven pieces of Buddhist wisdom that will transform your life:

1. Live your life with compassion.

Being compassionate isn't just about helping the world or feeling fulfilled. It's seeking to understand what's around you. And doing so will transform your life.

2. Forge new connections with other people.

And don't neglect the older connections! You don't have to be a super well rounded peacenik in order to promote peace. All you have to do is want peace.

3. Wake up.

…live life fully, to find joy in each moment, to overcome struggles, and to be fully present in this moment.

4. If you change yourself, you'll change the world around you.

You must be the change... It's the quote that we've all heard way too many times. But we've heard it so many times because it's true. We do have to be the change!

We have to start with ourselves. It's not you vs. them. There's no one vs. anyone in this case. 

Don't be afraid to change yourself to belong even better. Don't be afraid to be a part of the world.

5. Embrace death.
It's downright taboo in most cultures to do anything but pretend death doesn't exist, and when it does, speak of it in soft voices and lowered tones.

You don't necessarily have to meditate on your death, but open up about death. Think about it. Speak freely about it. Come to a better conclusion about it.

6. Give.

This doesn’t necessarily mean presents or even monetary donations. Give parts of yourself. Volunteer. Give when you see a part of yourself that needs to be given.

7. Remove your sense of attachment.

In our culture, we often cling to things like we would die without them. Like they give us the very life we enjoy.

In Buddhism, it's a common practice to forgo attachment. They forgo attachment to things, to art, to each other, and even to their own bodies.

Consider the things you have. Consider the people you have. Understand that this is in no way permanent.