Wednesday Wisdom: The Journey of Life

 

“We lead our lives like water flowing down a hill, going more or less in one direction until we splash into something that forces us to find a new course.”

– Arthur Golden, in Memoirs of a Geisha

 

Image: Mountain stream with boulders (public domain).

 

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National Cell Phone Courtesy Month: Time to Renew Your “No Phone Zone” Pledge

At 55 miles per hour, it takes an automobile just five seconds to drive the length of a football field on a traffic-free highway. That’s fairly basic math, but an important statistic for any parent hoping to teach his or her child to use the family car responsibly.

This tidbit of driving data takes on even greater importance when one realizes just how many teens today are making those football field-length journeys on a daily basis – and are effectively doing so with their eyes closed. According to a recent poll by AAA, 35 percent of teenagers admitted to texting while driving – even though 94 percent of those same teens acknowledged that it was a dangerous practice.

If that thought strikes you as terrifying and prompts you to take action to protect a loved one, then this article will have done its job.

Killer Texts

Distracted driving was already an epidemic in 2010 when Oprah Winfrey launched her campaign to educate the public about the dangers of talking on cell phones while driving. That year, according to the Centers for Disease Control, 3092 Americans were killed and another 415,000 injured in automobile crashes involving distracted drivers.

Shocked by that statistic and by other data revealed in Winfrey’s television program, America’s Deadly New Obsession, many of her regular viewers opted to take her “No Phone Zone” pledge that year, and encouraged their teens to do so as well:

I pledge to make my car a No Phone Zone. Beginning right now, I will do my part to help put an end to distracted driving by not texting or using my phone while I am driving. I will ask other drivers I know to do the same. I pledge to make a difference.

Unfortunately, as cell phone use became second nature to teens with the advent of texting and to average working adults when bosses realized that they could demand that employees respond to questions at any time and from any location – regardless of whether or not it was physically safe or socially appropriate to do so – those statistics only continued to climb. By 2014, nearly 13,000 more Americans had been killed in distracted driving-related accidents with another 1,663,000 injured. (For those trying to form a mind picture, that latter number would be the equivalent of having the entire populations of Indianapolis and San Francisco injured by distracted drivers in the same year.)

And if that weren’t enough, research over the past several years has shown that Americans’ interactions with family, friends and co-workers are also being harmed. According to a recent article in Fortune, 55 percent of bosses surveyed stated that texting and cell phone use were the largest sources of distraction for their employees with 48 percent indicating that this usage had negatively impacted the work of their employees, and 38 percent noting a clear decline in the morale of other employees forced to “pick up the slack” of their cell phone-addicted colleagues.

That same year, Brigham and Young University scientists released a study showing that “conflict over technology use, lower relationship satisfaction, more depressive symptoms, and lower life satisfaction” has grown between life partners as computers, smartphones or televisions have increasingly interrupted “couple leisure time, conversations, and mealtimes.” Such “technoference” appears to be more damaging than partners realize “even when unintentional or for brief moments,” said researchers, because “individuals may be sending implicit messages about what they value most.”

So What Can Be Done?

While it’s not realistic for working men and women to totally eliminate email or smartphone use in today’s technology-driven world, it is possible for most to take a time out. And there’s no better time to do so than during the summer, according to Jacqueline Whitmore. Whitmore, a business etiquette expert, launched National Cell Phone Courtesy Month in 2002 “to o encourage the increasingly unmindful corps of cellphone users to be more respectful of their surroundings by using some simple cellphone etiquette principles.”

Six years later, she released a list of tips which still serve as a useful, basic etiquette guide for adults and teens trying to make their work and social settings more productive and pleasant. Among her suggestions, let calls go to voicemail when you’re in a meeting or at a restaurant so that you can focus on the person who should have your attention at that moment; if you must take a call, then at least be polite enough to “take it outside” so you won’t interfere with others trying to engage in their own activities in that same setting. Be discreet with what you share over a cell phone during your commute on the train. And for heaven’s sake, turn your cell phone off when you’re in church or at temple.

Be Smart with your Smart Phone – Tips from The Contemplative Traveler

  • Drive Mindfully: Fight distracted driving during the month of July. Take the “No Phone Zone” pledge shown above, and then spend the remainder of the month driving mindfully. Turn your cell phone off and put it away before you get behind the wheel. If need be, notify your co-workers in advance that you won’t be available by phone for 30 minutes (or whatever the length of your commute is), and just drive. Convince your family, friends, colleagues, and members of your congregation to do the same.
  • Work Mindfully: Improve workplace morale and work-life balance by limiting “technoference.” Review the effectiveness of policies which regulate how and when employees may use their cell phones and the Internet while on the job, and make a concerted effort to reduce the unrealistic expectations of supervisors who require employees to respond to text, emails or phone calls at all hours of the day and night.
  • Eat Mindfully: Get each day off to a good start with a breakfast powered by mindfulness. With your mobile phone off, use the time you would have spent getting a jump on your email by having your morning meal outside on your deck or at the picnic table in your backyard (while watching the sun rise if possible). Think about the comforting warmth and aroma of your first cup of coffee or the way the strawberries you’re savoring enhance your morning cereal. If you must use the time for work-related matters, then use that time as mindfully as possible by planning out key parts of your day without the distraction of calls and other interruptions. Then, renew that focus over lunch. Put your cell phone away. (Resist the temptation to set it to vibrate and simply turn it off.) If you’re eating alone, take at least 20 minutes to focus on your meal, or better yet? Lock your cell phone in your desk drawer and take a 20-minute stroll sans cell phone. Walk briskly to get your heart pumping, or just mosey along enjoying the sites and sounds around you. You’ll feel lighter without the phone and will be more focused when you return to your desk. If you’re scheduled for a lunch meeting, encourage group members to turn phones off so that participants can enjoy their meals and be attentive to the topic at hand. And your dinner mindfulness practice should be an even bigger no brainer. No texts. No cell phone interruptions. Period. Just laughter, love and a good meal.

 

Image: Public domain.

 

Meditation Mondays: Practicing Gratitude

 

At times our own light goes out and is rekindled by a spark from another person. Each of us has cause to think with deep gratitude of those who have lighted the flame within us. 

– Albert Schweitzer

 

 

Gratitude Practice:

Think of a time in life when you were profoundly grateful for something. Who or what was the catalyst for the event that inspired your gratitude in that moment? How did you feel before the event occurred? After the situation was resolved, what sensations accompanied your feeling of gratitude? Easier, deeper breathing? Less “weight” on your shoulders? A feeling of warmth or deep love? A sense of finally being at peace? Recall, meditate on, and re-live your feelings.

As you gradually come back to the present, ask yourself, “Who in my circle of friends, neighbors or co-workers is having a hard time right now? What single act of kindness could I perform today to make that person’s life easier?” Then, do it – and thank the universe for giving you the opportunity to be mindful enough to make a positive difference in someone else’s life.

 

Image: Single candle flame (public domain).

 

 

A Decade of Satisfied Travelers: Alaska Air Honored Again by J.D. Powers

Alaska Airlines’ logo on the tail of a Boeing 737-800 (public domain).

 

“Our 20,000 remarkable and kind-hearted employees are what distinguish Alaska Airlines, Virgin America and Horizon Air.” 

– Brad Tilden, CEO, Alaska Airlines

 

For the tenth straight year, Alaska Airlines has taken top honors in traditional airline carrier customer satisfaction, surpassing Air Canada and American, Delta and United Airlines in the North America Airline Satisfaction Study, an annual assessment conducted by consumer research giant J.D. Power and Associates.

“To have this recognition from the highly respected J.D. Power organization for 10 consecutive years is both extraordinary and humbling,” says Brad Tilden, the CEO of Alaska Airlines.

Alaska Airlines earned consistently high marks across the board, garnering five-out-of-five-point ratings for passenger experiences with costs and fees, reservations, and check-in and boarding, as well as aircraft experience and staff interactions, leading to the airline’s five-out-of-five overall satisfaction rating – the only traditional carrier to reach that pinnacle of success.

“Our 20,000 remarkable and kind-hearted employees are what distinguish Alaska Airlines, Virgin America and Horizon Air,” observes Tilden. “The rest of the leadership team and I would like to thank them for their incredible dedication to our guests.”

The reviews on TripAdvisor back up the results from J.D. Power with comments ranging from, “Always leaves on time, or before. Friendly attendants. Clean plane,” and “Impressed” to “I wouldn’t have trusted another airline to handle plane changes with my child. Alaska Airlines is just that consistent. You don’t have to dread flying if you book with Alaska Airlines.”

Adds Tilden, “We’re working to achieve our higher purpose of creating an airline people love and recognition like this confirms that we’re heading in the right direction.”

 

Before You Go:

Alaska Airlines/Horizon Air: For current travel options, visit the Alaska Airlines’ flight deals page.

Virgin America: To  learn more about the Alaska Airlines-Virgin America partnership or arrange travel on a Virgin America flight, visit the airline’s Book a Flight page.

 

 

Thursday Temple Tour (Byodo-In, Kahaluu, Oahu, Hawaii)

Byodo-In Temple, Valley of the Temples, Hawaii, USA (Carol Highsmith, 1980, U.S. Library of Congress, public domain).

 

Stunning. Majestic. A hidden gem that’s off the beaten path. Those are just a few of the many adjectives which have been used over the years to describe Hawaii’s Byodo-In Temple.

A non-practicing Buddhist temple, the exterior, grounds and artwork are immediately recognizable to fans of television shows such as Hawaii Five-O, Lost, and Magnum, P.I., which all filmed episodes here.

Initially built in 1968 to memorialize the arrival of Japan’s first immigrants to Hawaii more than a century ago, this particular place of pilgrimage has since become a popular destination for graduations, military re-enlistment ceremonies, funeral services, and weddings – and a time travel device of sorts for 21st century contemplatives, who find the grounds so picturesque and restful that they are transported back to the years of 1052-1053 when Japan’s original Byodo-In Temple complex was erected in Uji, Kyoto Prefecture by the Regent Fujiwara.

Hawaii’s namesake temple is, in fact, a replica of one of the complex buildings at that famed Japanese complex – the Phoenix Hall (also known as Amidado Hall) – which opened its doors in 1053 and houses the Amida Nyorai (or Amitabha Tathagata), a seated, nearly eight-foot tall statue birthed by the master Heian Period sculptor Jocho to depict the principal Buddha of Pure Land Buddhism.

Hawaii’s Byodo-In Temple

Just as the Japanese temple complex is being preserved for future generations (as a UNESCO World Heritage site), so too is Hawaii’s smaller version of the Phoenix Hall – now designated as a Hawaii State Landmark. Situated in the Valley of the Temples Memorial Park at the base of the Ko’olau Mountains near Kaneohe, Oahu, the hall first opened its doors on June 7, 1968.

Visitors here encounter strutting peacocks, black swans, turtles, frogs, and other animals wandering the temple’s verdant grounds, as well as small waterfalls, a meditation pavilion, a reflecting pond with Japanese koi, a tea house/gift shop, and a bell house with a five-foot tall, three-ton, bronze and tin sacred bell (bon-sho), which was cast in Osaka, Japan. When struck by its shu-moku (soft wooden log), the bell’s warm tones ripple gently across the grounds, banishing temptation and evil spirits while conferring happy longevity.

Amida Buddha, Byodo-In Temple, Hawaii (public domain).

But it is when visitors enter the temple itself that the 21st century truly fades away. Towering above is another of the world’s great religious icons – the Amida Buddha. Surrounded by fifty-two smaller Bodhisattva sculptures, this nine-foot-plus tall Amida, which was sculpted and dressed in gold lacquer and gold leaf by Masuzo Inui, is reported to be the largest figure of its kind to ever have been fashioned outside of Japan.

For the less spiritually inclined, a series of concerts and other memorable activities bring visitors together regularly on the temple’s grounds in the spirit of fun and fellowship.

Obon

Among the most important of these special events held at Byodo-In is Obon. Typically celebrated by Buddhists in Japan every August, this festival welcomes the spirits of long-dead ancestors on their annual return visits to loved ones. Lanterns are lit, and sent floating down rivers or placed on buildings, helping to guide loved ones home as the living honor the departed through colorful dance ceremonies, temple food offerings and grave visitations.

If You Go:

Bring mosquito repellent, and be respectful. Remember that the temple and its grounds are a place of worship for area Buddhists, as well as a columbarium and cemetery for people of all faiths. Be quiet and thoughtful in your movements, remove your shoes before entering the temple’s sanctuary, and adhere to all regulations posted online and on site.

Memorial Park schedules may change without notice. Call ahead to verify regular and special event hours. Group tours are available by appointment. The Temple Grounds are open daily from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. The Gift Shop is typically open from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. on weekdays and Saturdays and from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. on Sundays. Restrooms are available.

Photography:

Mornings offer the best lighting; however, because the temple and grounds are privately owned, reservations must be made for all amateur or professional shoots. Paid permits are also required for professional and commercial photography. (Contact the events coordinator for pricing.) Aerial photography and drones are prohibited.

Temple Admission: $3 (adults), $2 (seniors), $1 (children).

Address:

Valley of the Temples Memorial Park
47-200 Kahekili Highway
Kaneohe, HI 96744
Telephone: (808) 725-2798
Email: info@valley-of-the-temples.com

Directions: Easily accessible by car. See directions on the Byodo-In website.

Also accessible via bus with a roughly half-mile walk to reach the cemetery. Fees average $2.50 each way. For more information, call: (808) 848-5555.

 

 

Wednesday Wisdom: Keeping Things in Perspective

Annapurna Conservation Area, Mardi (Anuppanthi, January 22, 2017, CCASA-4.0).

 

 

Never measure the height of a mountain until you have reached the top. Then you will see how low it was.

– Dag Hammarskjöld, Secretary-General of the United Nations (1953-1961), in Markings, 1964

 

 

 

CHANGE FOR GOOD: Innovative Aer Lingus-UNICEF Partnership Soars to New Heights Thanks to Compassionate Travelers

Aer Lingus is helping compassion soar to new heights with its Change for Good partnership with UNICEF (photo: public domain).

Sometimes, all it takes to make a big difference is a small gesture. And when hundreds of people make that same small gesture, they change the world for the better.

That is precisely what has been happening since 1997 thanks to UNICEF, Aer Lingus, compassionate cabin crews, and mindful travelers who have been banding together to halt deadly wildfires of famine across Africa and the Middle East.

Twenty years. More than twenty million dollars raised. The lives of countless numbers of children saved – all due to “Change for Good,” an innovative effort by Aer Lingus that encourages transatlantic travelers to “lighten the load” by emptying their pockets of currency unused on their travels abroad. Collected by cabin crews on long haul flights, those unwanted foreign coins and notes are then pooled and donated to UNICEF.

“I was particularly keen to get more involved with this special partnership,” says Helen Condon, an 11-year cabin crew member of Ireland’s flag carrier and second largest airline. “I have recently returned from a field trip with my fellow Aer Lingus cabin crew Ambassadors to Rwanda and saw there, first-hand, the incredible impact our guests’ donations have made to communities there in helping to provide education, health care, immunisation, nutrition, water and sanitation.”

For those who doubt that pocket change donations can truly make a difference against soul-crushing poverty, consider this:

  • It takes just €5.50 to purchase one insecticide treated net, which will protect a mother and child against malaria for five years while a donation of €3 provides school supplies for one child; and
  • Pitching in unused currency worth US$17 can protect a child for life against diphtheria, measles, polio, tetanus, tuberculosis, and whooping cough.

A little mindfulness goes a long way.

So much so that the latest round of funding from Aer Lingus resulted in the April 2017 delivery of a million euro-plus check to UNICEF – and that check presentation couldn’t have come at a better time. Staffers of the longtime children’s champion are presently engaged in fighting new food crises in Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan, and Yemen.

“What is really special about this partnership is the incredible effort Aer Lingus cabin crews make on our behalf. I would like to express my gratitude to them, even as we ask them to redouble their efforts on behalf of the 1.4 million children at risk of famine,” says UNICEF Ireland’s Executive Director Peter Power. “The €20 million Aer Lingus has raised for children has literally changed the world.”

So, next time you fly Aer Lingus? Pitch in. You might just be helping to save the life of a future artist, inventor or healer.

 

Meditation Mondays: The Relationship Between Stillness, Mindfulness and Clarity

Lama in Meditation, Sikkim, Alice S. Kandell, photographer, c. 1965-1979 (U.S. Library of Congress, public domain).

 

When the mind begins to become still, we then begin to truly see it. When you first try to stabilize and pacify the mind, initially it will become very busy because it’s not accustomed to being still. In fact, it doesn’t even necessarily want to become still, but it is essential to get a hold of the mind to recognize its nature. This practice is extremely important… Eventually you will find yourself in a state where your mind is clear and open all the time. It is just like when the clouds are removed from the sky and the sun can clearly be seen, shining all the time. This is coming close to the state of liberation, liberation from all traces of suffering.

– Ven. Gyatrul Rinpoche

 

 

 

Wednesday Wisdom: The Human Need for Communication and Connection

Translation of an electrical signal into a chemical one as sending and receiving neurons communicate across a synapse (public domain).

 

 

The well-being of a neuron depends on its ability to communicate with other neurons. Studies have shown that electrical and chemical stimulation from both a neuron’s inputs and its targets support vital cellular processes. Neurons unable to connect effectively with other neurons atrophy. Useless, an abandoned neuron will die.

– Lisa Genova, Still Alice

 

 

Meditation Mondays: Overcoming Suffering

Resting Breath (Laurie Snyder, ©2011-present).

 

Just as heat displaces cold, light eliminates darkness. We will not overcome suffering just by making prayers or engaging in thoughtless meditation, but by understanding reality.

The third noble truth, cessation, refers to the elimination of suffering and the way to it is the path of the fourth noble truth.

The ultimate method to overcome ignorance is wisdom understanding reality.

– Tenzin Gyatso, His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama of Tibet

 

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