The Strong Need the Weak

Jean Vanier is Awarded the Templeton Prize

When I get in the car with my twin two-year-old boys, I am never sure if they will allow for NPR. I crave little morsels of adult conversation but they are always quite sure about what kind of noise they want to listen to  - or create themselves. I won the little battle this morning - they were quiet and patient and I was rewarded with Jean Vanier.

It was an honest pleasure to hear that this man has just been awarded The Templeton Prize - though I hadn't heard of this award before. Here's what I found from the website: 

"The Templeton Prize honors a living person who has made an exceptional contribution to affirming life’s spiritual dimension, whether through insight, discovery, or practical works. Established in 1972 by the late Sir John Templeton, the Prize aims, in his words, to identify "entrepreneurs of the spirit"—outstanding individuals who have devoted their talents to expanding our vision of human purpose and ultimate reality."

Jean Vanier began L'Arche in France in 1964 when he and some friends offered assistance and care to disabled men. He created a little community where people could live together and help one another. His mission is to take those with intellectual disabilities out of the shadows in society and have them live with the value they deserve.

His mission has grown so that today there are 147 different residential communities operating in 35 countries, where those with intellectual disabilities live with those without disabilities. He believes quite passionately that the strong need the weak, more than the weak need the strong.  

I am left in awe….inspired and humbled. His work and vision seem not of this time. I was not even aware of him until some unknown day last year. When I saw that his book was called, Becoming Human, I just had to have it and Amazon Prime obliged. I put it neatly on top of  my "to read" pile in the foyer but never got to it.

Reading the title often though, gave me a peaceful pause - with a sense of hope for this senseless world with all it's ills. What did this man have for us? 

I am grateful that in this chaotic world full of stories of hate, there are men like Jean Vanier who have given us a different type of story altogether. He paved his days with utter love and acceptance. He made peace. 

The book is now off the table and will be read: 

"So human beings are in continual evolution. Every generation wants to achieve more than the proceeding one. We are in a culture of competition. The strong, the beautiful, the intelligent, and the capable are magnified and extolled. The weak and the vulnerable are often put aside. Our world is characterized by the huge gap between the rich and the poor, the oppressors and the oppressed, and by continual horrible conflict between national, ethnic, and religious groups. This struggle, which has existed in various forms throughout history, is in me and in each one of us. But history has also seen women and men rise up, seeing new ways of creating peace an unity amongst people and helping the oppressed to find new life through wisdom and love and a consciousness of their value."  (Vanier, Jean. Becoming Human)

The Mindful Brain

"Mindfulness should no longer be considered a “nice-to-have” for executives. It’s a “must-have”:  a way to keep our brains healthy, to support self-regulation and effective decision-making capabilities, and to protect ourselves from toxic stress." Harvard Business Review Jan 8 2015 "Mindfulness Can Literally Change Your Brain."

We love proof. This kind of news item makes my day. So much better than the tidbits here and there suggesting that meditation and mindfulness is just latest craze or passing fad. 

More than 20 studies were pool together by the University of British Columbia and the Chemnitz University of Technology. The remarkable finding show that mindfulness affects the brain areas related to: 

- self-regulation

- learning from past experiences

stress reduction

- perception

- introspection

 - complex thinking

- senses of self

The implications for the next generation can be powerful. Imagine a whole world of grown-ups who have been practicing mindfulness since childhood.

{{Oh and ps - I've finally exploited my twin two-year-olds - check out this video of them meditating! }}

If the Buddha Had Kids - Would He Set a Good Example?

If Buddha Had Kids: Raising Children to Create a More Peaceful World is an inspiring and wisdom-filled parenting book from Charlotte Kasl, Ph.D. that I reach for time and time again. 

The book draws on Buddhist and Quaker principles, but also draws on the Sufi poetry of Hafiz and Rumi - with interviews from parents of all backgrounds including Jewish, Protestant, Quaker, Buddhist, Catholic, Mormon, Muslim, and agnostic.

I always walk away with something new to work over - "Listening without interrupting, correcting, contradicting, getting excited, questioning, spacing out, or giving advice is one of the deepest spiritual practices anyone can explore.

On these lazy summer days -  that I'm happily sharing with my four young children - I have been reading more that ever. With little eyes watching, I've been careful to reach for books more readily than the computer. With my head in a book they are quick to ask what I'm reading and usually venture off to find their own stories. 

The added benefit for me has been in rediscovering some important reading.  When I picked up If Buddha Had Kids, again, I was immediately struck by an important and relevant quote from Pope Benedict. 

If the desire for virtual connectedness becomes obsessive, it may in fact function to isolate individuals from real social interactions while also disrupting the patterns of rest, silence, and reflection that are necessary for healthy, human development.” - Pope Benedict

Well said. Isolation. Disrupting.

I think about this issue a lot - social media, children, and their healthy development. My daughter is getting older, and she's not yet exposed to that world, but I am worried about the influence these medias will have on her health and overall well-being. 

As I work to create and teach my children's meditation classes this summer, it is helpful to be reminded with words like, "rest, silence, and reflection," at how important this practice is for our kids - and their parents. Am I practicing what I preach? Am I living my days with all tasks and responsibilities, fun and adventures - but also putting time aside for quiet and reflection?

Are you? Would love to hear how you are succeeding. 

About the Author

From her website - Charlotte Kasl has an M.A. in Piano from The University of Michigan, and a Ph.D. in Counseling from Ohio University in 1982. She was a Licensed Psychologist in Minnesota for 15 years and is currently a Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor in Montana. She is a Certified Addiction Specialist in the areas of chemical dependency and sexuality and has had a private psychotherapy practice for more than 30 years. She is the author of nine books and numerous articles.