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How to handle kids in pandemic times

Rwituja Gomes Mookherjee

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Children enjoy school, especially in their early years. Their lives revolve around the travel, friendships, eating together, sharing stories, creating things, playing, interacting with teachers, class participation, etc. There’s a lot more that children do in school other than learning.

The pandemic changed everything. Parents realised that with no clear end date in sight, children needed to quickly adapt to online schooling. But children’s initial excitement soon turned to boredom. What felt like a relief for most parents that their children could continue schooling within the safety of the home, gradually became a struggle.

Schooling from ‘home’

Unlike parents, with earlier experiences of working from home, most children had nothing to build on this novel experience. Besides, from their perspective, home and school are completely different physical structures, location and spaces. They represent different things and expectations from them are also distinct. This posed a hindrance to juxtapose life in school with schooling from home.

Earlier children had limited access to their parents’ devices. They used them judiciously for entertainment. With online classes, most children were given personal devices with the intent that they’re used exclusively for learning purposes. This shift from entertainment devices to learning devices was conflicting. Thus, parents occasionally found their children watching videos or playing games during online sessions.

Structure and discipline

Children need discipline and structure in their lives. Structure helps them understand what is expected of them, predict how adults will react to them and in turn how they should behave. Clear and consistent structure creates helpful boundaries.

Both the school and home provide these but differently. There’s flexibility at home and discipline changes form depending on each family member. At school, structures are rigorous, and they’re treated similarly based on established protocol.

Roles and responsibilities

Parents and teachers play different roles in children’s lives. Teachers prepare them to learn academic skills by creating lesson plans and assignments. Parents ensure children complete them timely and sometimes enrich their experience with tutoring and learning games. Schools were more responsible for the child’s education with parental support. Post pandemic, parental roles have increased significantly due to paucity of class timings and the need to safeguard them from excessive exposure to devices.

Anxiety

Children emotionally express themselves before developing the language to articulate their feelings. They quickly learn to manipulate emotions to strategically cope and manage their parents and environment. E.g., crying might work with one parent while whining works with another.

Teachers have a uniformed teaching style. Parents’ are emotionally lenient, and their personal styles are reflected when teaching. This difference confuses children so they inherently pick-up cues from teachers as they spend a significant amount of time at school. With online classes, parents have had to take the lead, while balancing work from home. This anxiety-provoking environment leads to conflict. Parenting role emphasises on being right and disagreements discourage them from giving in. This makes children feel compelled with no right to exercise their choice.

Parents equate this pandemic year as losing a year of schooling. They’re unable to demarcate between its short-term and long-term impact. Worries about the future overwhelm them and they resist sharing their fears and anxieties.

Social Skills

School participation and social gatherings build camaraderie and essential life skills. Children feel upset, lonely when isolated from their peers. During online sessions, their need to be heard aren’t satisfactorily met. Some push ahead while self-doubt of being judged make others apprehensive of class participation. Curiosity and experimentation help develop a thinking mindset. Also, building on each other’s competencies encourages teamwork. With restricted access to peers, children feel insecure and struggle under stress.

How can parents help? 1. Routine gives children direction and encourages independent behaviour. Parents should redefine schedules and routine. Children shouldn’t be allowed to wake up or go to bed late because they’re attending online classes. 2. Involve kids to create a comfortable and personalised desk space for school. With siblings and parents vying for room and space, children struggle to create boundary and ownership. 3. Set timings for gaming and TV. Restrictions and inability to participate in outdoor activities have forced kids to withdraw and create outlets online. 4. Children don’t think like adults. For them, gratification is mostly instantaneous. The language and tone used are important. What is said and what children hear can be very different. “Finish work now and play later,” may sound like their playtime is being restricted making the time to finish work seem longer. Be flexible and encourage children to define their future rewards. 5. When angry, parents exhibit certain patterns of behaviour or tend to repeat arguments. It’s important to choose one’s battles to retain the potency of an argument. 6. Conversations about behaviour change should happen when children are satiated, rested and attentive. It’s imperative to focus on the problem rather than being right. Too often parents believe that when children misbehave, it reflects their failure as “good” parents.

The writer is a mental health counsellor and blogger.

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Spiritually Speaking

TO LEAD OTHERS, HAVE PURE FEELINGS

Dadi Janki

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Good leadership is based on skills which are incognito, such as pure feelings, faith and trust. These keep both, your frame of mind, and the task, moving in the right direction.

It is human to err, but your high hopes for someone can actually eliminate errors. Doubting people has exactly the opposite effect. Believing in someone, extending feelings of trust, never telling people what to do, but stepping aside and watching, with faith; this is what enables a task to get done in the right way.

Spiritual skills like these are cultivated by avoiding complacency, learning to be sensitive, and staying alert. Also, keep an eye on your own spiritual health. Do not look to others for what is lacking, look within, see what remains to be done, and do it.

Never allow those with strong personalities to tell you what to do, especially when you feel something else to be right. This creates depression and you cannot afford to be disheartened.

Take care of yourself with understanding and love, and make sure you never compromise your own spiritual growth.

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Spiritually Speaking

TO CHANGE THE WORLD, START WITH THE SELF

B.K. Mruthyunjaya

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When we work on ourselves to become better individuals, it helps to check our progress from time to time and find out our speed of self-improvement. How far are we from our goals? Are we moving fast enough?

To what extent have we finished our weaknesses and defects? And have our attitudes, beliefs, and ways of thinking changed in accordance with our goals? We can develop a new perspective only to the extent that we change our old thought patterns.

When we keep a high aim in mind, we are not influenced by the weaknesses of others even though we can see them clearly. At the same time, we are often able to inspire change in them by the example of our conduct.

But are we doing this? Do we have benevolent feelings for all, including those who do corrupt or wicked things, or do we harbour feelings of dislike for them? Do we understand and feel compassion for them or do we despise them? On top of that, do we point out their defects to others in order to justify our ill feelings? In addition, do we wish to serve all our fellow humans or are we concerned only about those we know or those from our city or country?

Is our attitude so pure that our presence changes the atmosphere of a place? Purity, in fact, constitutes the power of our attitude, and the basis of purity is the awareness that we are souls, children of the Supreme Soul, and everyone else in the world is also a child of God, and thereby our brother.

Nowadays people accept and believe only that which they can see or experience; merely telling them about something does not convince them. If we claim to be helping others, but cannot stop our own waste thoughts, and are always crestfallen because of failing to achieve our goals, what impact will we have on others? We can only really help others if they can see, from our behaviour, that there is a better way to live.

Most people think that self-improvement is a difficult task and making the world a better place for everyone is well-nigh impossible. Consequently, there is a great deal of disheartenment. They will gain courage and strength when they see a sample of self-transformation. Becoming that sample is the best way to serve the world.

B.K. Mruthyunjaya is Executive Secretary of the Brahma Kumaris.

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Spiritually Speaking

ATTITUDE OF INCLUSIVITY FOSTERS HARMONY

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The year just past has pushed us to ‘re-view’ many aspects of our lives and our vision for collective harmony. The pandemic has affected the lives of everyone and tested our sense of inclusion and belonging. Diversity, inclusion and belonging have been the ‘loud’ themes emerging throughout the year.

Diversity is the state of the natural world. Nature exhibits the beauty of co-existence where every organism has its own part to play in maintaining a balanced ecosystem. It is also the natural state of humankind, as expressed through culture, religion, attitudes, beliefs, and opinions. Nature is free of the ego of comparison, inferiority, superiority and the complexes of shame and guilt.

However, humans see diversity through the lens of ego. If we could see human diversity through the eyes of equality and respect, we would see that each person is playing their unique part in the ecosystem of the human drama. Then we would understand the value of diversity and recognise our own part and how we fit into the whole. The impulse of diversity is natural and will always find expression.

Inclusivity is a feeling, a mindset, an attitude and a way of behaving, speaking and thinking. In a world of structures and tick boxes, diversity is easy to measure, inclusivity is not. Creating an environment of inclusivity requires personal introspection and fresh thinking, free from the subtle biases and belief systems shaped by our culture and past experiences.

True inclusivity requires a radical change in attitude. When I have an attitude of inclusivity, I see the value of each person, no matter their packaging. When potential is recognised, people can claim their seat at the table with strength and dignity, not from a place of shame and weakness.

A sense of belonging is the direct result of an attitude of inclusion. When not included, people become hurt and angry and the bonds of belonging bear the brunt of this. Broken bonds result in divisions and lead to exclusion. The human spirit, when broken, lacks the courage to be inclusive. Nurturing an attitude of inclusion requires healing of the spirit. The collective spirit of humanity also needs to heal.

Meditation is a powerful tool to release ourselves from the limited trappings of the ego’s insecurities and wounds, reconnecting us with our spiritual authentic selves. This healing process leads to more openness and kindness in interactions with others. We begin to experience the depth and value of our interconnectedness and the beauty of diversity.

Gopi Patel is a spiritual educator and senior Rajyogi meditator with the Brahma Kumaris, specialising in spiritual pragmatism in all areas of life.

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THE ESSENCE OF SPIRITUAL MATURITY

Ken O’Donnell

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I have been spending more time than usual during the current pandemic at our retreat centre in Brazil. Thus, I have been able to observe the exuberance of nature here; how all of the elements are able to live with each other in harmony.

You will never see trees fighting with each other in their effort to put their highest branches in the sunlight. The wind, clouds, rain and sunshine combine to produce refreshing scenes every day. Nature is forever recycling itself. Even looking out of the same window, where my office is, everything is different every time I look out — clouds and sunlight are always changing.

These are the things that remind me of spiritual maturity. For me, it is a sense of sufficiency, that everything is moving along nicely, not in the sense of standing back and just going with the flow. It is really because there is a relationship between internal order and how it influences the world we live in. There is an understanding that worry is low-quality thinking, and that it is much more profitable to have inner control and peace and, in that state, watch the wonders that happen around us.

I have been thinking more about spiritual maturity in terms of some indicators. How humble do I feel? How protected do I feel? Does my spiritual state reflect the more than 40 years I have dedicated to developing it? I can honestly say I do not have pride about what I have learned and know. It is that I am really happy about how spiritual knowledge has helped me and others throughout my life. I do not feel that I am better or worse than anyone else, just different.

There is an intuitive understanding that I do not need to compare myself with others. I just have to recognise and celebrate the many things we have in common. And any intellect or personality differences only provide variety for the theatre of life. I understand that truth will always be self-evident. I do not need to prove anything. Only that which is really true has a future. Everything that is intrinsically wrong, or false, does not last.

I recently found two words in Sanskrit that reflect an important part of spiritual maturity:

Gaunibhakti is ego-based devotion, in which the person feels that he is “saved” and looks with disdain at any other kind of faith. This means to love one ideal but feel aversion to other ideals.

Parabhakti (the highest level of devotion) means total loving devotion to the truth, so much so that there is no room for hatred of any kind. This, to me, is the essence of spiritual maturity.

Ken O’Donnell, an author and international consultant on strategy and leadership, is the director of Brahma Kumaris’ services in South America.

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Prajapita Brahma: A spiritual pioneer like none other

Jane Kay

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In two days’ time, on 18 January, more than one million people, living in over 130 countries across the world, will spend their day quietly remembering a man whose life became an inspiration for them to change their own.

Dada Lekhraj, later known as Prajapita Brahma, and affectionately referred to as Brahma Baba by the Brahma Kumaris, was someone whose search for truth set him apart from those around him. His love for God and devotional nature automatically inspired respect. He was also a wealthy diamond merchant, whose own nobility of demeanour, gentle humility and honesty in his business dealings attracted both Indian and foreign royalty as customers.

However, it was a series of visions that he received during deep contemplation that heralded the beginning of a life of such purity and simplicity that hundreds flocked to be near him and follow his example.

The light of Divinity began to illumine his life, and he renounced his business and devoted the rest of his days to demonstrating the reality of spirituality in action. This was not as easy as it reads on paper. His advocacy of a life of purity and of dignifying the role of women, by placing them as trustees and leaders of the organisation, met with great resistance.

Someone who had garnered respect and admiration became someone who was vilified and opposed at every step. No matter — he had found what he had been looking for and continued to deal with each one, however they approached him, as someone worthy of regard, spiritual love and mercy.

The message he conveyed has attracted peoples of all ages, faiths, nationalities, social status and beliefs.

The reason why the message resonates with those from so many diverse paths of life is threefold: The message says that firstly, each one is a spiritual being, a soul — each with a different role to play on this field of action. Secondly, that the Supreme Soul has a unique part to play here, and His task is to make the world a better place for all, by helping His children — each one of us — to regain their dignity and self-respect. The third aspect is that the cycle of time is coming full circle, and now is the moment to understand and participate in the beginning of an age of peace and happiness.

The sun can rise on this enlightened age only when human beings begin to live a life of virtue. Each individual soul can bring about this transformation in the self by connecting with the Supreme Being.

Prajapita Brahma perfectly understood this message that was given through him, and consequently gave his wealth, his life and his every thought to the upliftment of humanity. His life of truth, purity, peace, love and humility has become an inspiration for thousands.

It is a wonder; and yet no wonder at all that January 18, the anniversary of his passing, has become a day of quiet remembrance and gratitude.

Jane Kay is a university teaching fellow in the UK, and a Rajyoga teacher with the Brahma Kumaris.

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FARMING COWS FOR BEEF IS DISASTROUS FOR LIFE ON THIS PLANET

Arun Malhotra

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When Kamadhenu came out of the churning of the sea as one of the chaturdasa ratnam (fourteen jewels) and the saptarishi (seven sages) claimed her, little did we know of what lay destined for her in the existential scheme of things.

Humanity owes too much to the cow. Human civilisations and economies have been built because of cows. Agriculture, transportation, health, medicine, fuel and food—cows have provided for everything.

But, unlike other parts of the world, the cow has always been like a religion in India. Hindus who worship nature and everything in nature worship cows. They say if you kill a cow, it is equivalent to killing a Brahmin. Killing a cow is a great sin for a majority of Hindus who are vegetarians. Hindus were the first ones to build their culture and economy around the cow, which is evident in the high regard for gau dugdha (cow milk), gau ghrita (pure ghee), gau mutra (cow urine), gau maya (cow dung) and the power of bulls. In fact, bulls provided the only horsepower technology for tilling fields in India for centuries. They are still used for transport, running oil plants, irrigation and construction work.

Astonishingly, billions of bovine animals are also farmed for producing beef. It sends shivers down one’s spine to hear that bovine animals are being farmed for beef today at a speed and scale which have never been seen in the history of the world.  The explosion of the human population from 1.8 billion in 1910 to 8 billion today has led to an abnormally high number of beef eaters who are turning the earth’s landscapes into fields of blood.

For Hindus, killing a cow is the greatest sin and killing a cow for beef is a sin far greater. However, the Hindu ethos has been reduced to an oxymoron because of the fact that India is the largest exporter of beef in the world. A science magazine has said that, “You eat a steak, you kill a lemur in Madagascar. You eat a chicken, you kill an Amazonian parrot”. This is because the human appetite for meat is leading to biodiverse forests being turned to pastures. Similarly, killing bovine animals for food is causing rapid and permanent destruction to the environment, extinction of other species, and global warming, which is resulting in more natural disasters.

Animal farming for meat accounts for 51% of greenhouse gas emissions, which is three times more than all transportation put together, and one third of the world’s methane production, which is 85 times deadlier than CO2, which will make our world a permanently hotter place to live in.  Cattle farming for beef is responsible for 80% of deforestation, which is resulting in a decreased availability of oxygen, lesser rains and climate warming. 

Every year, 77 billion cattle, goats, sheep, pigs and other land animals are killed to produce meat. It takes 15,415 litres of water to produce one kg of beef (while a hamburger costs you 660 gallons of water), 8,763 litres of water for one kg of mutton, 5,988 litres of water for one kg of pork, 4,325 litres of water for one kg of chicken, 3,265 litres of water for one kg of eggs, 962 litres of water for one kg of fruits, and 322 litres for one kg of vegetables. This means that more than 50% of our agriculture production and 50% of water usage goes to the meat eaters. 

Moreover, the beef industry is growing fast and is running one of the biggest scams, bigger than the oil or sand mafia, bank frauds or public exchequer scams. Against the 8 billion human population that drinks 5.2 billion gallons of water per day, 1.5 billion cows drink 45 billion gallons of water daily. Meanwhile, against the 8 billion humans who eat 135 billion pounds of food every day, 1.5 billion cows eat just 21 billion pounds of food daily. This means that the beef industry is causing major imbalances in the earth’s resources of food and water, besides affecting the climate. The industry is paralyzing the earth for its so-called economies, and even though we hear a lot of noise from groups touting cowism, the beef industry is thriving in India.

Simply put, beef farming is unsustainable for the planet. Killing animals for the sustainability of food tends to make the planet unsustainable because animal farming will overproduce farmed animals, which shall create an imbalance in the ecological equilibrium of the planet and make other wild animals and plants go extinct by causing enormous deforestation and climate change. If someone says that sustainable farming of animals for meat is the answer, it is a lie, because to do that, we would have to shut down the world to feed billions of animals. The fact of the matter is that neither grass-fed nor farm-fed animal agriculture is sustainable for the earth. 

About 10,000 years ago, humans were less than one percent of biomass and the rest were wild animals. Today, humans and land-based vertebrate animals that humans breed for meat constitute 98% of the biomass, while only 2% are wild animals. The planet still grows as much food as is required for 8 billion people without disturbing the landscape and wildlife. But humans craving to devour that packaged slice of beef have grown disturbingly high in number, without realizing that a living animal stacked and branded as SKU in a supermarket is making this planet more unsustainable and threatening the existence of life. 

A revolutionary step would come with changing unsustainable food habits and shunning beef-eating to prevent the world from suffering an imminent ecological disaster. Thankfully, humanity is becoming aware of this fact and avoiding unsustainable habits of beef-eating. In Europe and countries like Israel and the US, people are turning vegan and getting hooked to healthier and more ecologically sustainable food options. 

What had begun as Kamadhenu and Nandini, who fulfilled the hunger of the seven sages engaged in meditation, has turned into mega-beef factories. With billions of dollars in investment, the best management and technological, scientific and medical practices, humans have learnt to grow the production of beef to an optimal enormity in order to gratify their greed in the name of human needs. History shows that during the regimes of Emperor Bahadur Shah Zafar and Emperor Maharaja Ranjit Singh, killing a cow was a crime punishable with death to deter people from rearing animals for producing beef. India and the world should wake up to the truths of beef farming and ban the practice.

To end with a beautiful story: When Ramana Maharishi would sit in communion with his disciples, one of his disciples was a cow named Lakshmi. This remarkable cow would reach right on the time, so much so that people would set their clocks at her arrival. On many occasions, Lakshmi would keep looking into Maharishi’s empty eyes, shedding tears, and Maharishi would declare that Lakshmi had gone into samadhi. When Lakshmi died, she embraced death in the state of samadhi, which meant that she left the cycle of life and death. 

The author is a spiritual coach and an independent advisor on policy, governance and leadership. He may be contacted at arunavlokitta@gmail.com.

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